I’m doing a little something different here. I joined a project where we were supposed to write why we like a certain table top RPG. I decided to write about Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved. Here’s that post:
In the decades since Gary Gygax brought Dungeons and Dragons into this world, there have been a ton of fans and other companies coming up with their own games. Of course, the most popular one being Dungeons and Dragons thanks in part to the Satanic scare of the 1980s. There have been people trying to add some new ideas to this system and for me one system that does it best is Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved.
First, a little history lesson. I first came across Arcana Evolved back in 2005 in Free RPG Day. One of the pamphlets there had the Ritual Warrior from the book. I took it home, looked at the class and fell in love with it. It took a long while before I actually bought the book. When I got it, it has a ton of things that made me squeal like a Japanese schoolgirl.
Now, let’s look at the races. The first that needs to be mentioned is the giant. Monte Cook has made a giant class that is not just a really tall human and does not need a racial level. Also, unlike normal giants in the Monster Manual, these giants are civil. Hell, in my mind they’re kinda like the Ancient Romans/Greeks. When you give a traditionally violent race a +2 to Diplomacy, Sense Motive and all Craft checks you can say goodbye to fee-fi-fo-fum. Of course, you can make them like that with a feat called Chi-Julud (basically, a type of rage that can last as long as you want. However, you DO suffer from wisdom and charisma damage if it lasts longer than ten minutes.)
Going back to the Ancient Rome/Greece thing, these giants are more concerned with crafts, philosophy and art. That is something that’s pretty genius. Imagine if Socrates or Aristophanes was seven feet tall. There’s your giant.
There are also the dracha. Imagine a humanoid dragon with the typical dragon mentality minus the “I’m going to burn a city because I can mentality.” They even have a love of gold. Of course, the downside to playing them is that giants HATE the drahca because in this book dragons (called the dramojh) enslaved the people of this world and the giants came and destroyed them. This can make for some, well, interesting encounters.
Of course, none as instructing as playing a mojh (pronounced MOEZH.) These are former humans who have gone through a ritual to become dragon-like. This is despite the fact that the dramojh enslaved them. This can be used for a lot of interesting roleplaying and maybe even a few brawls between giant and mojh characters.
Although Monte Cook did not design them to be like this, there are two races that can lead to a ton of jokes. They are the litorian (kitty!) and sibeccai (doggy!) Even though the personality of each race is serious, there is a ton of room for a lot of cat/dog jokes. Hell, a giant can even call a sibeccai Rover and then toss him a bone. This is, of course, not the giant being mean; just playful.
Then there’s the faen. Three types of fae to choose from (loresong, quickling and spryte.) The only thing worth noting here is that why would anyone want to play a character that is a foot long and can only use tiny weapons? Well, they make great akashic and spell casters.
The closest to an elf is the verrik. Unlike normal elves, the verrik are more super curious and helpful, but they’re kinda like that one awkward kid in elementary school who does not quite understand how to talk to normal people (me.) One thing this race has is the ability to go blind or deaf (or both) at will. I knew a guy in college who said “wouldn’t be great to play verrik who has no idea he’s a verrik? I’M BLIND! OH GOD no wait, I’m fine.” If you have a player like that, give him extra XP just for coming up with that idea. Also, for those wondering how those abilities are useful? Easy: when fighting a medusa make the verrik go blind and make sure he has the blind fighting feat. Works wonders, I tell you.
Before I get to the classes I just have to say it right now: The warmain is the absolute worst class in the book. The only thing they have going for them is that they’re D12 and the armor specialization and weapon increase. They don’t get these until level 12, so by then the other fighter classes would already have them.
Now to the good stuff: The ritual warrior, the class that caught my eye years ago. What drew me to this class is that these are fighters who view everything as some type of ritual. In a world full of rituals, these guys are masters at it. One thing this class has, even though it is not unique to this class, is combat rites. Combat rites are kinda like spells for fighters. Every class has them, but when you look at each class the ritual warrior knows the most. Hell, they can cast an unlimited amount of them at level 25.
Yes, level 25. Every class in this book goes up to level 25. This may confuse some people, but the book explains it in a way that makes sense. You see, most campaigns only really go up level 15 and usually max out at 25. So the idea is 25 is the best class to cap off.
I’ll admit, I have yet to play a ritual warrior, but I have played an oathsworn and a mage blade. Oathsworns can best be described as monks on steroids. The artwork for it is of a giant breaking two columns. That was my oathsworn. Also, these guys pretty much become gods at level 25 (no need to eat, sleep, drink or breathe.) Of course, they can only continue to be like this as long as they swear an oath and must complete it within a year. Some may say this class is broken, but once you look at the other classes they even out. Hell, these guys are your tanks. A tank with no weapons or armor. Combine that with a giant and the Chi-Julud feat and you got a human tank that doubles as a missile.
Hmm, throwing a giant oathsworn will really mess up the enemies.
The mage blade is a lot of fun to play. Image a fighter that can cast spells out of their weapons (called athame.) Some people may look at this class and call it weak, but with a smart player this class can be unstoppable. Just choose the bets spells possible, choose a good weapon and here’s your backup fighter.
Two great things this system introduced are combat rites and tenth level spells. Combat rites are there to make the fighter classes do more than just swing their weapons. There are rites that add to saving throws, add to defense, skills like tumble and even deflect missile weapons. This makes combat a lot more strategic and can create unique fighters.
Tenth level spells are something else to behold. Unlike normal spells, these spells act more like a spellcaster’s calling card and must be approved by the DM before use. My favorites are invoked apocalypse which, to put it simply, can destroy an entire city and consume man which wipes out a target from existence. Then there’s magical fortress which, like its name says, creates a permanent castle or fortress to the caster’s specifications. Yes, you can just cast a spell to make your own wizard’s tower and be as messed up about what’s inside as you want.
Now for the world. One of the best things that can be said about this world is that there are no alignments. This is actually one the best things any system can do because usually a character is bound by that alignment. Also, the real world isn’t black and white. People are complex, they do things for various reasons and sometimes the justification is that this is what they think is right because they were brought up thinking that. No mustache twirling bad guys or high and mighty good guys here.
In fact, alignments hinder what you can do with a character. It becomes more like your character is bound by alignment and causes some very cliché archetypes. By getting rid of them, you can create a well-rounded character.
The world itself is basically most people are now living peacefully with the threat of the dragons gone and the giants have created a Rome like setting where everything just works. There are people who refuse to be ruled by the giants (mojh, dracha) but they’re not evil. In fact, since there is no alignment, most encounters will be against nonhumanoid beings.
Even though I have not played a proper Arcana Evolved game I still think it’s a great system. It has races and classes that are outside the norm, the combat rites are awesome and the world is well thought out.
Other Essays from this project: