The Arcanum


Stephan Michael Sechi and Vernie Taylor
Date of Publication

The Arcanum is a role-playing game by Bard Games. Like many early published systems, it closely followed the tropes of AD&D and other contemporary games, such as Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game. The game is set in an Atlantis of the Antidiluvian Age, 10,000 to 12,000 years BCE, in a mythological land similar to Earth.

Game OverviewEdit

The game is written to function as either a complete game system, a set of optional rules, or a sourcebook on magic and alchemy. As a stand-alone game, it is a class-based fantasy role-playing game with an extensive skill system and in-depth treatment of magic that is the the centerpiece of the game.

Character GenerationEdit

  • Attributes: A pool of attribute points is randomly determined, then spent on attributes within racial limits. The Arcanum uses the attributes of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Speed, Intelligence, Willpower, Perception, and Charisma. A score of 10-11 is considered typical, with 18 being the absolute maximum for a human and 6 being the minimum for an adventurer.
  • Race: The choice of race sets maximum attribute levels, and may provide other benefits, such as bonuses to certain saving throws. The available races are Humans, patterned after many ancient or legendary peoples; Aesir, powerful giants who often exceed seven feet in height; Andaman, beast-men created through magic; Druas, mysterious black-skinned humanoids with an affinity for the mystical arts; Dwarves, hardy miners and craftsmen; Elves, eldest of the humanoid races; Nethermen, crosses between humans and goblins; and Zephyr, winged humanoids.
  • Class: Determines starting skills. Classes are considered either single-classed or dual-classed, with dual-classed characters requiring more experience points to advance. For instance, the Assassin class combines features of the Martial Artist and the Spy. Classes also determine combat training: highly skilled, skilled, or untrained. Characters are free to develop extracurricular skills, but their class is fixed, considered the result of years of training.
  • Background: Provides additional skills.

Combat mechanicEdit

  • To hit: 1d20 + mods from stat, combat level, conditions, etc. for 11+
  • To defend: 1d20 + mods as to hit, for to-hit roll or higher.
  • Damage: Damage is rated in dice, and subtracted from hit points to track injury.
  • Armor: Absorbs points of damage.

Non-combat mechanicEdit

Skills are gained by class and level tables, with more advanced characters gaining greater capabilities. Skills usually rated by percentages, with a certain base upon aquisition that increases per additional per level thereafter. Additional skills can be bought with experience points.

Many actions are determined by saving throws, which in The Arcanum are made by rolling a d20, adding a relevant attribute modifier, and trying to make 11+. The difficulty of a feat may modify this roll.

Magic mechanicsEdit

Spells per day equal to 1 + level
each spell may be of any level up to half caster's own (round up)
no spellbooks needed; spells can be cast from books without damage to book
lots of fields, few spells per field. each field associated with one or two classes
Spells can be learned outside one's class-based fields
learning spells costs XP.

Second EditionEdit

The second edition contains a number of edits, plus the inclusion of some new material, including two classes.

Third EditionEdit

The third edition was essentially a reprint of the second edition, this time published by Death's Edge Games. This edition added one race: the Selkie.

30th Anniversary EditionEdit

The 30th Anniversary Edition proposes to keep the feel of hte game but update the page layouts and the editing to a much higher standard. ZiLa Games ran a Kickstarter Campaign in 2013 for this edition which was successfully funded. However, ZiLA was never able to complete the project and the book remains unreleased.

The 30th Anniversary edition was published and is available in pdf and in print. I have one in front of me now. The 30th Anniversary edition stays true to the 2nd edition with only minor changes but also includes a bestiary and is a more complete game. It was still published by Zila games.

Relationship with TalislantaEdit

The Arcanum is a separate game line from Talislanta, also by Stephan Michael Sechi. In many ways, Talislanta is a further evolution of ideas explored in The Arcanum. As a result, there are many parallels. The Druas are similar in form to the Ariane of Talislanta, and according to one origin story came from a land called Talislantis which sunk under the sea. Many class concepts and tropes are repeated, such as beastmasters, sorcerous hybrids, religious theocracies, and untrustworthy naturalists known for their predilection for intoxicants. One oppressive regime in Talislanta, the Aamanians of Aaman who worship the god Aa, resemble the Quechuans of the Atlantean Age in social structure and share a name with an archdevil, Aaman. Nonetheless, it would be difficult to reconcile the two worlds as sharing a history, considering they both claim a Korak, and have remarkable similarities it would be difficult to ascribe to chance, such as being set in the second age after a major cataclysm.

Relationship with other Bard Games productsEdit

Many of the concepts that became The Arcanum originated in Bard Games products such as The Compleat AlchemistThe Compleat Adventurer and The Compleat Spellcaster. Intended, essentially, as third-party extensions to AD&D and other similar games, the classes as presented included a proto-version of the The Arcanum game system.

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