Arduin Eternal review!





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    Arduin Eternal review!

    What is Arduin Eternal?
    Arduin Eternal is the fourth and latest incarnation of the Arduin role playing system that started life as a hand-typed, saddle-stitched, document entitled The Arduin Grimoire published by Dave Hargrave in 1977; a loose collection of rules that made reference to the then emergent Dungeons & Dragons game system. Since that time, the Arduin role playing system has undergone a number of significant revisions, seeing two other new editions along the way and, ultimately, culminating in this massive 822 page core rule book for use by both players and Game Masters alike.

    The pages of Arduin Eternal are dedicated to four general types of information: character creation, action and combat, special effects (e.g., psychic powers, spells, etc), and tools designed to aid the Game Master in running adventures. Finally, a large number of sidebars have been added throughout the book that give valuable insight into the setting of Arduin itself (i.e., Khaas), making the book a useful guide of sorts for those who have not previously ventured into the wilds of the infamous kingdom and its surrounding environs.


    The Physical Book
    Arduin Eternal is a sturdy, digest-sized, hardcover with stitched binding and a glossy black cover depicting a full color image of an intrepid adventurer, surrounded by a swirling vortex of magical sigils, fighting a large, green-skinned, humanoid that is hell bent on making him dinner. This image alone gives the prospective buyer a good idea of what awaits them inside the book, though the back cover teases one's imagination even more, noting that “It's all there; inspiration, blood, guts, glory, and battle! All the feats of derring-do and bare-assed wickedness that made Arduin an infamous legend!” Arduin is the original Metal fantasy game and the cover of this most recent incarnation makes no bones about it.

    As I mention above, this is a massive tome. If you have any doubt that you are getting enough content for the asking price of $74.95 (USD), it will immediately vanish as soon as you actually see the book. Indeed, I have to admit that, when my review copy arrived, I briefly wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. The book measures roughly two inches from its front cover to its back cover, ranking it up there with such giants as Monte Cook's Ptolus and The World's Largest Dungeon. Arduin Eternal isn't just a rule book – it's a monster!

    Finally, Arduin Eternal boasts a utilitarian two-column layout and makes use of black and white line art throughout. While some might argue that for $74.95, a product should boast glossy pages, fancy layout, and full color artwork, the use of a two-column layout and simple line art has more in common with both the aesthetic established in past Arduin products and with the 'old school' aesthetic in general. Given this, the art direction of Arduin Eternal makes perfect sense. Having said that, it is important to note that the actual quality of the artwork in Arduin Eternal is noticeably better than that found in many past Arduin products. I have been told that most of the art in Arduin Eternal was commissioned specifically for this title, and I think that it shows in the finished product.

    I am sufficiently impressed with the production values of Arduin Eternal, finding that they both raise the bar for the Arduin product line as a whole and help establish the book as a kind of 'luxury tome' without betraying the old school aesthetic that fans of Arduin have come to expect.


    The Introduction
    It's worth mentioning, if only in passing, that Arduin Eternal includes a standard-is “What Is Role Playing?” type of introduction. I'm aware that such introductions are frequently frowned upon by jaded old timers in our hobby but it is my opinion that they (i.e., simple introductions, not jaded old timers) are a necessity when it comes to making a given game accessible hobby newcomers. I have met a lot of other wise intelligent people who have absolutely no idea of what a role playing game is. These are the people for whom the “What Is Role Playing?” type of introduction is written. I've tried to explain role playing games to some of these people but being able to point to a clearly written explanation on paper has almost always worked better for me and, with that in mind, I'm glad that Arduin Eternal provides one.


    Characters
    Characters in Arduin Eternal are not unlike many faceted gems, with each facet representing a different aspect of the character. The core aspects of each character are:

    • Race
    • Attributes
    • Characteristics
    • Cultural Influences
    • Professions
    • Paths
    • Skills
    • Secrets
    • Social Dimensions

    A character's race is just what it sounds like – and there 26 of them to choose from in Arduin Eternal, including High Fantasy classics such as Dwarves and Elves, as well Arduin originals, such as Deodanths (a different spin on 'dark' elves), Phraints (insectoid creatures), and Saurigs (lizardmen). And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

    A character's race influences their Attributes and provides some standardized racial abilities, as is standard in a number of fantasy role playing games – but Arduin Eternal goes one step further. A player also gets to choose a limited number of special abilities for their character based on their race. To be clear, there isn't a static list of abilities that each character of X race is endowed with – the player is presented with a list of choices, yes, but they then choose a limited number of abilities from it. In practice, this means that Dave's elf may be radically different than Gary's elf from the outset.

    I personally enjoy the approach that Arduin Eternal takes regarding character race as it makes the different races of Arduin come alive in my mind's eye, rather than simply reducing them to one-dimensional archetypes. The freedom of being allowed to choose special abilities based on race adds extra dimension to characters and the unique nature of those abilities immediately ties a character into the world of Arduin (i.e., Khaas), systemically.

    Attributes and characteristics are undoubtedly the least exciting aspects of an Arduin Eternal character, but they are necessary to simulate the imaginary physics of the titular setting. Each character has nine attributes rated on a 01-100 (percentage) scale as determined by their race and eight characteristics determined by combining related attribute scores. There are additionally, a few other calculated values, such as saving throws that fall neither fall under the heading of attribute or characteristic, but are likewise determined by a character's race or attributes. There really isn't much more to say about attributes and characteristics right now, though I will later explain how they are used in the game.

    Each culture in the game's setting has a list of standardized skill bonuses associated with it, as well as a list of cultural influences that a player may choose from for their character. Cultural influences are a very nice feature in Arduin Eternal, essentially being 'packages' of skill bonuses or other mechanical options tied to different cultures in the game's setting. A character who has spent a large portion of their life in the Dreaming Isles, for example, may have an Arcane Birthright that grants them bonuses to magic-related skills and allows them to read magical languages – or they may take advantage of the region's Plutocracy, gaining skill bonuses based on knowledge and increasing their wealth.

    The mechanical integration of the setting's cultures into Arduin Eternal's core system is to be lauded for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, as was the case with racial special abilities, both the standardized skill bonuses associated with the various cultures and the cultural influences immediately tie an Arduin Eternal character into the world of Arduin. Further, the selection of cultures and specific Cultural influences associated with those cultures gives a player several more options for customizing their character, again making it entirely possible that two characters who hail from the same race – and even the same culture – will be entirely different from one another. I cannot help but approve of this.

    Professions and paths are closely related in Arduin Eternal, in that a profession represents a general occupation, while a path represents a specific area of expertise – a character with the profession of Bard, for example, may opt to follow the path of the Assassin. All characters have a profession by default, though paths are intended to be purchased with Experience Points (EPS) as a character grows over time (at the discretion of the GM, however, a path may be acquired at character creation by sacrificing two of a character's profession options).

    Mechanically speaking, a profession is a package of skill bonuses, secrets (discussed below), and special abilities unique to a given occupation. Arduin Eternal boasts a total of 15 professions, including the obligatory Mage, Priest, and Warrior, as well as less common fare such as the Courtesan, Techno (a master of SuperScience), and the Trader. Each such profession provides a number of skill bonuses related to the specifics of the occupation detailed, as well as secrets and special abilities known as “profession options.”

    Profession options work much like the special abilities of a character's race mentioned earlier – the player is presented with a list of choices and they choose a limited number of abilities from it, allowing characters with the same profession to achieve a large degree of mechanical differentiation. Secrets are, well. . . secrets are their own thing entirely and I will discuss them shortly.

    A path is, as previously mentioned, a specialized area of expertise linked to a profession and intended to be grown into. As such, in order to pursue a given career path, a character must also possess the linked profession. There are 11 total paths in Arduin Eternal, including such exciting options as Beast Master, Saint, and Witch Hunter (as well as the aforementioned Assassin).

    Systemically, paths are very similar to professions, providing skill bonuses, “path options” (as opposed to profession options, and secrets. Mechanically, these things work the same for paths as they do for professions – which brings us to Skills.

    Skills in Arduin Eternal are the most straightforward facet of a character, after Attributes and Characteristics. Skills, simply put, represent a character's learned aptitudes. Skills are granted by race, profession, and path or chosen from one of six groups: Power, General, Interpersonal, Maneuver, Mechanical, or Undefined. Skills range from the level of untrained at zero points to legendary levels of aptitude at 150 points or more, with this scale being broken up into different levels referred to as “skill plateaus.”

    There are eight skill plateaus in Arduin Eternal: Untrained, Proficient, Trained, Experienced, Specialist, Expert, Genius, and Legendary. Each such skill plateau represents a specific level of skill mastery and grants a player access to secrets; special abilities linked to a given skill, professional or otherwise (i.e., the Bard skill granted by the Bard profession has its own associated list of secrets, as does the Acrobatics skill). How do secrets work?

    Secrets are special abilities that are linked to a character's skills, with a new selection of secrets available for a player to purchase at the cost of one EPS each made available at every new plateau of skill mastery that their character achieves past Untrained (i.e., secrets associated with a given skill are not available for purchase until that skill has been learned to at least the Proficient skill plateau). A player whose character, for example, has the profession Bard (and, hence, the profession skill Bard) at the Proficient skill plateau may opt to purchase the Emissary, Graceful Exit, Perfect, or Sharp Memory secrets at the cost of one EPS each.

    Every secret in Arduin Eternal is effectively its own sub-system, granting a bonus in the form of skill points, flat bonuses to rolls of a specified nature, the ability to ignore standardized roll penalties, and so forth. I've heard at least one person compare secrets in Arduin Eternal to the “feats” of Dungeons & Dragons and, while it's true that the benefits imparted by each are similar, the acquisition of secrets and feats are implemented in different ways. Ultimately, I prefer the implementation of secrets to feats because their distribution is more tightly controlled, but this is merely a matter of personal taste.

    At this point it is worth mentioning that there is a special selection of combat skills known collectively as “martial arts” in Arduin Eternal. Martial arts are, for the purposes of practicality, presented after the section of the rule book dedicated to combat but, with regard to character creation, a martial art works like all other skills except that it has prerequisites.

    The final core aspect of an Arduin Eternal character comes in the form of social dimensions. Social dimensions in Arduin Eternal address things such as quality of life (Is a character poverty stricken?), though the real focus is on social motifs – special abilities developed during actual play. Examples of social motifs include Connected, Holy, Knighted and Wealthy. Each such social motif bestows a special bonus or ability upon a character who possesses it (frex, if a player has the Connected social motif, they gain a new Associate level contact with 5d10 trust for every game month that they spend in an urban area).

    A character's journey to obtaining a social motif begins when their player chooses a motif for their character to pursue, after which time the player rolls some dice (d100+Lead+Intel Skill+Advancement Bonuses) any time that the character indulges behavior associated with the chosen motif. If the dice roll result is equal to or greater than the assigned TD (see the discussion of action resolution later in this review), the player rolls some additional dice and adds the result to the Fame rating associated with the social motif. When the Fame rating in question reaches 100 in this manner, the player's character gains the social motif and all benefits associated with it.

    The concept of social qualities in a tabletop RPG isn't unique, though their implementation in Arduin Eternal very well may be. I can't personally recall any RPG that introduces social traits in quite the same manner that Arduin Eternal does, making them something that must be worked toward through roleplay, rather than a trait that one can merely pick off of a list prior to actual play. I like this new implementation, as I think it makes social qualities mean something in actual play, rather than reducing them to just another ability on the character sheet. That's cool.

    As I mention earlier, the above facets of a character are their core aspects – all characters have equipment, some classes have access to magic or other special effects (discussed later in this review, as the rules devoted to special effects comprise a significant portion of the Arduin Eternal rule book), other classes have a vested interest in religion, still others have access to martial arts (mentioned briefly above and discussed in more detail below), and so forth. The real meat of character creation in Arduin Eternal is, however, laid out above and, as you can see, the authors put a lot on your plate.

    Arduin Eternal provides a wealth of options for players when it comes to character creation. While it's possible that there may be some potential for exploitation lurking in the system due to this same wealth of options, the game boasts tight design that will make finding such potential for exploitation difficult (I wasn't able to immediately ferret any out during my review process). The way that the different character creation options of Arduin Eternal compliment one another is clearly the end result of a carefully executed plan, and it shows.

    Ultimately, I feel that many players, especially those acquainted with modern games, will appreciate the wide array of character creation options available to them in Arduin Eternal, though those players more comfortable with characters as simple archetypes may initially feel overwhelmed by the same potential for customization that the system allows. I personally believe that this trade off is worthwhile, though I can understand why it might not appeal to everybody. Luckily, the authors of Arduin Eternal thought to address this.

    Early in the book, there is a section entitled “Arduin Eternal Lite” that advocates ignoring racial choices, cultural influences, profession options, path options, and secrets to create a slimmed down starting point for people intimidated by the whole system. This section is then followed by advice on how to add those elements back into the mix during actual play to ease a new player into the full system without intimidating them. Really, it's sound advice and it goes a long way toward mitigating the potential problem that I mention above.


    Action, Combat, and Martial Arts
    All action resolution in Arduin Eternal hinges on a very simple mechanic: roll d100, add modifiers to the result, and compare the result to a Target Difficulty (TD) assigned by the Game Master. When a player's character attempts to perform an action that pertains only to raw physical or mental aptitude (including saving throws versus poison, fear, etc), they roll 1d100, add the most appropriate attribute or characteristic value and any bonuses to the result, then compare the final number obtained to the assigned Target Difficulty. If the player's modified roll result is equal to or greater than the TD, the character's action succeeds. Similarly, if a player's character attempts to perform an action based on learned aptitude, the player rolls 1d100, adds the appropriate skill ranks and attribute bonus to the result, then compares the final number obtained to the assigned TD. Again, if the player's modified roll result is equal to or greater than the TD, the character's action succeeds.

    Opposed attribute or skill checks build on the basic action resolution mechanic, calling for the players of both characters engaged in the contest of abilities to roll 1d100 and add the appropriate modifiers, as determined by the GM. The results are then compared, with the character whose player obtained the highest modified die roll result triumphing over their opponent. In the case of a tie result, the character who has the highest number of ranks in the skill being tested or the highest attribute rating, wins the contest.

    Now the question: Is unified action resolution a good thing?

    Personally, I like it – it is my belief that a unified system of action resolution makes for more internal consistency in a game and that, in turn, makes for better gaming. Internally consistent mechanics make it easier for me, as a GM, to put together level-appropriate encounters for characters and to throw together encounters on the fly. Likewise, such internal consistency helps players to suspend their disbelief, as it establishes a mechanical baseline for the game world's reality, one that players can trust will remain the same from one game session to the next. Having made this argument, I'm aware that there is another point of view on the matter.

    Some people feel that a unified system of action resolution makes things too predictable and, when taken to extremes, unfairly favors player characters by forcing the GM to create encounters in such a way that makes them easy to overcome. I don't personally buy into that argument but there are those who do and, for such folks, the action resolution system of Arduin Eternal may be a deal breaker (especially if they are fans of past Arduin incarnations). I would urge such individuals to at least give the new system a try before they dismiss it but, if they are not inclined to do so, I can certainly understand why.

    Combat in Arduin Eternal is a natural outgrowth of the basic action resolution mechanic, adding additional a 'tick-based' system of measuring time in combat based on the Count Factor (CF) of characters. Each CF cycle starts at melee round 40, with the GM counting down to melee round 1, until all characters or creatures involved in the combat have taken their allotted actions as determined by the CF Chart. A character with a CF of 20, for example, can take a normal action in melee round 20, 13, and 6. Further, for each round that they can take a normal action in, they may also take a quickened action.

    The difference between normal actions and quickened actions is small, but important. A quickened action is a fast, simple, action often defensive in nature (e.g., block, dodge, parry, ready weapon, etc) and a normal action is a more complex action (e.g., attacking an enemy, using a magic item, casting a spell, etc). A character can normally take one normal action during each round that they are allowed to act, per the the CF Table (as outlined above) and one quickened action whenever they want for each normal action that they are allowed.

    This particular system of ordering combat is, mechanically, largely a hold over from earlier Arduin games, but it is one of those things that I think needed to stick around. Why? Well, in simple terms, it works. The CF system is intuitive, simple, and achieves its goals of ordering combat quite well.

    Actual action resolution in combat occurs almost exactly as it does outside of combat. A player whose character is making an attack, for example, rolls 1d100, adds their player's Coordination (COORD) rating and skill ranks to the roll result, as well as any special bonuses and compares the result to the opponent's Defense (DEF) rating, with that DEF rating serving as the TD. A character that is being attacked can choose to use a quickened action in order to repel that attack, making their own attack roll and putting the rules for opposed action resolution (as previously discussed) into play.

    In its purest form, the combat system of Arduin Eternal is concise, simple, and easy to grasp. If you have already learned how to resolve action outside of combat, you know how to resolve action in combat. There is, however, an added layer of complexity in the form of martial arts, which I briefly touched on earlier. Martial arts are, mechanically speaking, special combat skills that can be acquired after a character meets certain prerequisites. A character with the Athletics and Combat skills at the Trained skill plateau, as well as the Urukk Culture skill at the Experienced skill plateau, a Strength (STR) rating of 9+, and an Adroitness (ADROIT) rating of 7+ can, for instance, acquire the Mlu-Kjuk martial arts style of unarmed combat.

    As previously mentioned, martial arts function largely as normal skills, except that they have prerequisites. They also grant bonuses to characteristics, such as Attack (ATK), Count Factor (CF), Defense (DEF), and so on. Like non-combat skills, martial arts have their own selection of secrets based on the plateau of skill mastery that a character achieves in the martial art. Systemically, martial arts add another method to customize your character and enhance combat by introducing special maneuvers that make combat less predictable and more exciting.

    Finally, since grappling rules are a bit of a bugaboo in many game systems, sparking lots of online discussion, I think it is worth taking a look at Arduin Eternal's grappling rules before I move on. In Arduin Eternal, grappling is handled via an opposed Athletics skill test. Yep. That's it. Make an opposed Athletics skill test and, if you succeed, your character has grappled their opponent. This kind of simplicity is a welcome change of pace from what I am familiar with when it comes to grappling rules in RPG.

    There are a few other corner case rulings in combat (e.g., charging, knockdown, wielding a creature as a weapon, etc) but they are all logical extensions of the basic action resolution rules and, as such, do not add much complexity to the system. Even with martial arts added into the mix, the combat resolution in Arduin Eternal is just slightly more complex than the non-combat action resolution. I like that I can wrap my head around this system. It has just enough moving parts to be tactically interesting without being completely overwhelming. This is a tough balance to strike, but Arduin Eternal manages it well.


    Special Effects Systems
    Alchemy, Herbalism, Mental Powers, Prayers, Runes, Spells – special effects can come in many forms and Arduin Eternal has them by the boatload. Arduin Eternal covers all of the aforementioned special effects in exhaustive detail, as well as covering Schematics (the Techno character's art of superscience), Animate Powers, Fetishes, and the process of creating permanent special effects in the form of magic items. Indeed, the section of the Arduin Eternal book dedicated to detailing the various systems of special effects is a whopping 277 pages long.

    Broad rules apply to the creation of magic items (including fetishes), mixing alchemical or herbal concoctions, and cobbling together superscience gizmos, with specific deviations noted where appropriate. Likewise, a broad set of rules applies to casting magic in the form of mental powers, prayers, rituals, and spells, with specific deviations being spelled out in the section of the rules dedicated to a given special effect. Only animate powers and runes seem to be truly set apart from the other special effects by virtue of unique rules, though these rules are simple enough that I do not feel they will present any kind of a stumbling block to new players (at any rate, they didn't pose an issue for me).

    Special effects in Arduin Eternal account for the highest degree of mechanical inconsistency present in the game, although that is not altogether bad – after all, alchemy should be different than ritual magic. Special effects cease to be special when they all function in exactly the same way. The good news is that the various special effects systems share points of commonality. This alleviates the potential pitfall of mucking up an otherwise simple game system with loads of exception-based rules, while also sidestepping the “everything's the same” issue. This is, I think, the best solution to both problems that could have been reached and I am personally glad that the designers chose to go this route, rather than shoot for either extreme.

    I have no complaints with how special effects have been handled in Arduin Eternal, especially given the wide selection of such effects. There were plenty of opportunities for the various special effects rules to turn into overly specific, exception-based, sub-systems that would have mired the system in unnecessary complexity. I am glad that didn't happen. Likewise, I am pleased that the designers didn't take the easy way out and homogenize special effects by creating a single system to handle everything. Having said this, I am aware that my own tastes are not for everybody – those who prefer extremely intricate sub-systems to handle multiple special effects and those who prefer one single, unified, system to handle all special effects may find Arduin Eternal lacking in this department.


    For the Game Master
    The last 12 pages of Arduin Eternal (not including the character record sheets) are dedicated to the Game Master. Herein you will find common sense advice on issues such as character movement, how to interpret Knowledge roll results, how to handle downtime between game sessions, and how to award EPS. Eight of these 12 pages are, however, dedicated to those most infamous of Arduin tables describing critical strikes with blade or spell, weapon fumbles, skill fumbles, and random nexus events.

    This is, in my opinion, the one area where Arduin Eternal falls down. For a book that is intended to serve as the primary rule book for players and Game Masters, there is relatively little information presented solely for the Game Master. Arguably, this isn't a big deal if you're coming into Arduin Eternal with past RPG experience but the lack of detailed guidance for the GM may potentially present a stumbling block that a newcomer simply can't overcome. This is unfortunate, as Arduin Eternal is just the kind of wild and crazy thing I know I would have loved to play when I was a hobby newcomer.


    The Sidebars
    I mentioned the sidebars detailing the world of Arduin (i.e., Khaas) earlier in this review, though they are worth mentioning again here, as they mark a first in the history of Arduin games. As a friend of mine pointed out, in past Arduin games, the setting was implied – in Arduin Eternal, with sidebars such as “Arduin Legend: Daier Lichtouched,” “Arduin Legend: Gorbragna,” and “Arduin Legend: Warlike Times” the game is explicitly tied to the setting of Arduin. These sidebars, taken together with the various character creation options and special effects, come together to form the definitive Arduin game experience.


    Conclusions
    Ultimately, as a longtime Arduin fan, I am immensely satisfied with Arduin Eternal. I feel that this is the book all previous Arduin games have been working toward. If you're an Arduin fan, I definitely recommend that you snag a copy of this game while you can. If, on the other other hand, you're not an Arduin fan, you may want to give Arduin Eternal a pass – it's still a fine game with some really neat ideas, but it is distinctly Arduin in scope so, chances are, you can find something less expensive to scratch your itch that is better suited to your non-Arduin needs.

    [Note: I was provided a complimentary copy of this product for review. My affiliation with the publishers extends no further than this. Also, I couldn't find the reviews forum since things got moved around. If you need to move this thread, mods, feel free.]
    Last edited by jdrakeh; Thursday, 10th June, 2010 at 05:50 AM.
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