Sometime in the mid-1970s a guy named David Hargrave started to mess around with ideas which broke the accepted rules of the fantasy RPG genre. These ideas gave birth to Arduin.
I'd not heard of Arduin. That was, I'd not heard tell until Fr. Dave mentioned it on his blog, almost in passing, in an article.
Fr. Dave recommended the "Dragon Tree Spell Book" by Ben and Mary Ezzell. I tracked it down and took a look... and found options for alternative ways to use D&D-type magic. But I also noticed other publications on their site... like Arduin.
Eventually I managed to track down Arduin Eternal.
I have no idea why I bought this book. It was a cold purchase, out of the blue, unplanned.
At around 820 pages it's a massive tome. If ever there was a book in need of a .PDF version, this is it... and the electronic version would be best provided with the chapters separated as well as the whole book as one.
It's daunting; unwieldy as a book because it's too heavy to hold for any length of time. Arduin Eternal (AE) is also poorly written and riddled with missing words, typos and linguistic mistakes. It's raw. The art is poor.
But AE is actually fairly awesome to use.
For all of my attempts to reconnect with the roots of my gaming, AE has got me the furthest in the shortest amount of time.
Arduin is an interesting world. Many things within the setting (which is only vaguely sketched) are intriguing... and remind me of how many ideas worlds like Warhammer pinched from other sources.
The best thing, though, is being reminded of two things:
- Fantasy should be fantastic.
- Choices make the game.
You could, I suppose, play a time-travelling techno with a laser pistol alongside a macho barbarian cleric hefting a mace. The thing about Arduin is that, although it is fantasy, it pushes the boundaries of how you define that genre. And it does so in a retro kind of way.
While I could review the book, and perhaps I might some other time, the thing that I want to reflect upon is how much of fantasy is now completely predictable.
In a rational world we have opted to rationalise our fantasy. We know what we want and how it should look: magick should be like science; faith is just another form of magick, understandable through predictable systems; cool powers and amazing abilities excite us in their familiarity... bore us with the same old same old.
That's not to say that unpredictable and random is the name of the game. Oh no.
Yet, somehow, Hargrave and his successors who wrote Arduin Eternal have retained the fantastic feel by allowing a mix and blend of possibilities. It's up to the players to take or leave the bits as they like.
Some folk like their Vancian predictability. They'd dislike Arduin, perhaps. Yet, for me, the game is one I'd like to play because it mashes up so many things that I'd forgotten.
Just one example: Clerics.
When was the last time you actually saw a Cleric-type character wrestle with a moral question? If you game with the actor-type gamer then you are luckier than most. Arduin, however, has a simple system for what happens if you transgress against your deity's moral teachings. Real, tangible consequences arise from the choices you make... good or bad.
It's something I've not seen in a long while.
Reading Arduin Eternal is to be reminded that a simple game engine can support a complex web of choices: 20+ races, 30 professions; options within races and professions that make your Mage different from mine. And that's just for starters.
There's a reason for 820 page books: they didn't skimp on the options.
Arguably this is too much. You might suggest that it's overwhelming. Choice can lead to paralysis.
Maybe. Yet... isn't roleplaying about choices?
The big drag with computerised adventure gaming is that it is always limited by the imagination of the designer. Some tabletop RPG systems overcome this by taking out all the rules and leaving the players to fill in the gaps from their own imaginations. Arduin, however, provides options up the wazoo. But they are meaningful choices. Options, variants, choices.
Arduin makes you manage multiple resources while you play... none of which are arduous. All the choices fall back down to the core d100 roll high mechanic, however, which keeps it simple.
Do choices make something complex or varied?
On one level choices make for complexity - will I ever understand all of the permutations that can arise from AE? Probably not. Is that a bad thing?
On the other hand, variety is spice.
Illusion of choice is not the same as meaningful choice. When we played D&D4e the main thing I hated was how each "power" ultimately felt like most other powers. The Fighter and the Mage felt too similar. Choice was an illusion in 4e.
Arduin makes you think. It makes you choose. Each character becomes highly varied, unique even. I realise that this is what I want.
Will I Play Arduin?
I'd like to say, "Yes!"
Probably we'll end up not doing so, however.
Character creation took me a couple of hours. All those choices make for slow. 820 pages is a lot to read... although I am enjoying the effort.
The truth is that Arduin is a game I can steal from. As I develop my own game system, Beta, I feel that Arduin offers me a way to develop a lot of good ideas that appeal to me. My work will be derived from this (and other) games. But then I'm writing for me... for my players... for our needs.
AE was totally worth buying . Worth every minute of reading and play so far. Arduin Eternal is a mine of great ideas and systems just waiting to be used... or stolen.