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Overview

Magick and technology thrive together in the land of Arcanum where an adventurer might just as easily wield a flintlock pistol as a flaming sword. In taking a trip from Caladon to Tarant on the zeppelin, IFS Zephyr, the player's life is quickly turned upside down when it is attacked by bandits flying monoplanes.

The zeppelin crashes killing nearly everyone on board except for you and an old gnome who begs the player to deliver a ring for him. The gnome dies soon after from his injuries leaving the player with many questions, but it is only the beginning of an adventure that will uncover the secrets of Arcanum, its history, and set them on a collision course with destiny against an ancient evil that had been thought long forgotten.

Arcanum's world embraces both magick and Victorian-era technology, such as steam engines and flintlock pistols, as Tolkienesque races such as elves and gnomes live in a world that is quickly becoming 'modernized' with such advances. It's a blend of both steampunk ideas as well as classical fantasy.

It was Troika Games' first RPG and was designed by RPG veterans such as Timothy Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and Jason Anderson who were also responsible for Fallout and the direction and work initially done for its sequel, Fallout 2. They had left Interplay to found Troika.

The game had strong reviews upon release despite reported bugs such as those that would corrupt saves or break certain in-game events, a reputation that would follow the developer's other titles. Despite these issues, it had gained an Editors Choice award from several publications in 2001 as well as being one of Troikas best selling games with sales of 234,000.

In the years since, it has come to be hailed by many as one of the more innovative RPGs to have ever come out in the West for both its setting and its classless character mechanics, earning a place as a true classic on many role-playing game lists.

One of the games most prominent aspects is its open-ended game-play. The non-linear style gives players a chance to shape the main quest through their own doing giving their actions real consequences even if that means closing off various quest paths.

The game was also multiplayer capable allowing players to come together and adventure through Arcanum in a LAN setting or over the Internet. An editor was also included with the game called WorldEd allowing fans to create their own scenarios and share them with others. With it, players could shape terrain to create new NPCs with dialogue.

Arcanum's manual was written from the perspective of its own fiction with allowances made to describe aspects of its mechanics such as those within character creation. It is filled with lore covering the setting of the game such as essays describing the use of magick to an analysis of the races of Arcanum.

In another example, the lore also gives the impression that magick is seen as something of an older tradition while technology is seen as a revolutionary concept. But the two are diametrically opposed to each other. In the entry for elves, for example, it is mentioned that because of their extremely magickal nature, they may become ill when near significantly advanced devices while lesser machines may actually fail instead.

Gameplay

The game is played from a fixed, isometric perspective with an active day/night cycle, status bar on the bottom displaying health, magick energy remaining for spells, and quick slots for items and skills along with showing how much money the character had left. Fallout fans would find the visual cues to be instantly familiar which wasn't surprising given that the game was designed by the same developers.

Statistics and other tangible measures of a character's effectiveness are highly interrelated within Arcanum. Little "wasted space" was left unused in linking many of the character's abilities which could make management of the character a daunting task for newcomers to the statistics-heavy world of the classic PC RPG. Not only are actions accounted for within the game, but weapon preferences and magick ability also play a part in shaping the character's growth.

Character interaction with NPCs was handled by clicking on them and initiating a dialogue sequence and the relatively open nature of the story assured the player that they had many options to explore in how they were to resolve it. There is an alignment system that can determine who will follow you or what you might be able to use, but much of the emphasis is on the consequences of your actions which could alter what opportunities would be encountered similar to that explored most recently with CD Projekt RED's, The Witcher.

Character Creation

A set of statistics with a standard amount of points are initially assigned to the player's character, but the choice of race and background can also alter them. A few points allotted to the player to learn skills, spells, or improve existing traits is also a part of the process. Attributes cannot be lowered to gain more points to spend, but the choice of race can do so to the benefit of others, as is typical among most RPGs.

Races

Arcanum allows the player to pick from several different races in creating their character. These choices can also open up different options during character creation as well as affect certain traits and attributes.

A fictional author, John Beddoes, had endeavored to study the races of Arcanum and had come up with the following conclusions. Experimentation within the character editor will yield more tangible results as to the benefits and downfalls that each can offer.

Races are divided into three different classifications: the Minute races (dwaves, gnomes, and halflings), the Gigantic races (Ogre and Ogre Hybrids), and the Median races (Humans, Elves, Orcs, and Human Hybrids).

  • Human: According to John's work, the author considers humans as the oldest race on Arcanum and the root for most every other of the Median races. This is a 'safe' choice without any real negatives or great positives.
  • Half-Elves: Human-elf hybrid that have decent magical ability and some of the human hardiness of their other half. Predictably, they make excellent mages or those that can both fight and use spells at the same time.
  • Half-Orc: As with many other RPGs, these hybrids tend to be slightly more intelligent than their pure orc halves and almost as tough. Can be decent fighters if you don't expect to have a philosophical discourse with one.
  • Elves: They're still around and disdain much of the technology brought to the world thanks to Progress. They are close to Nature and are strongly magickal practitioners as a result, although their superiority complex (although they regard halflings with a friendlier attitude) can grate on everyone they meet. Not exactly a tough race leaving them a poor choice as swordsmen.
  • Orc: Ugly, twisted, and brutish creatures, orcs aren't entirely without some spark of intelligence and can make considerable warriors. Highly resistant to disease, they are also quick to heal and far more adaptable to extremes of climate.
  • Ogre: Perhaps descended from the Giants who are now only myth from the Epoch of Enchantment, ogres are strong, though, and mak excellent fighters. Primitive and more bestial than the orc, they nevertheless find employment as muscle. Or onboard a zeppelin through whatever circumstances had sent them there.
  • Half-Ogre: Although John spends some time trying to describe how this hybrid turned out, suffice it to say that it shares the strength of its ogre parent and some of the intellect of its human half opening a few more doors to what it can achieve out of life.
  • Dwarves: Also diminutive, dwarven clans are considerable warriors but are completely without any ability to wield magick. However, their expertise in the lore of Natural Law have enabled them to invent, build, and construct mighty monuments to their genius. Great warriors who can also think their way into providing new weapons for themselves make them a good choice for the technically minded.
  • Gnomes: While they may be descended from dwarven stock, they are very different in approach to life. While not as strong as dwarves or as hardy, they adapt well to politics, business, and maintain an open, cosmopolitan, view on life in general making them very sociable creatures. They are also very family oriented and as John points out, while the impression may be that they are greedy misers, the ulterior motive is always that which might help their family survive.
  • Halfling: Perhaps descended from gnomish stock, halflings love the outdoors and the freedom of movement that it gives them. They are quick, agile, and make excellent farmers and wine makers. There is a slight magickal resonance to their person, although they're not the first choice when it comes to deciding on a mage.

Statistics

There are the statistics that all races share and can be altered by the choice of race, background, and by the player during creation.

  • Strength (ST): Raw muscle that determines anything strength related from being able to wield certain weapons to how much a character can carry in their pockets.
  • Constitution (CN): This determines how tired a character can get, how quickly they heal, and their resistance to poisons.
  • Beauty(BE): This determines the first impression that others receive from your character whether they will be attracted or repulsed. It can determine just how easy it is to talk to certain characters as a result.
  • Intelligence (IN): The power of a character's Cerebral aptitude. It impacts certain Skills, definitely has an affect on learning Spells and Technological Disciplines. What the player can say to others is also limited by this, so a distinctly challenged character won't be able to wax poetic on the virtues of a waterfall with a noble if they are as smart as the rocks at its feet.
  • Dexterity (DX): Determines how well a character performs their Skills.
  • Perception (PE): How alert a character is and how well they can use it with ranged weapons, affecting their aim.
  • Willpower (WP): Mental toughness. Determines spell availability, how well a character can haggle, contributes to hit points, resistances, and hit points. Fatigue is also affected by this statistic.
  • Charisma (CH): Your character's personality and charm. Affects your ability to persuade others and how many NPCs are willing to follow you into death.

In general, these statistics range from 1 to 20 points with 8 considered as the average. Racial bonuses include the typical dwarven bonus of a point to Strength, for example. Reaching 20 in any skill will bestow considerable bonuses because of how rare an event it is. For example, having a 20 (or more due to a racial modifier) in Strength can give a character a double damage bonus.

Derived Statistics

Certain statistics improve only during course of gameplay and cannot be altered during creation.

  • Level: A staple of many RPGs, levels are milestones indicating how far a character has come thanks to earned experience. Points are earned to spend on Skills, Statistics, and Spells. The maximum level that can be reached is 50.
  • Experience Points: A character starts with nothing, but eventually earns enough to become a formidable force...or failure depending on how they develop.
  • Alignment: A character starts out neutral and through their actions, will veer towards Good or Evil. This can determine who will follow you as well as what items you can use in more extreme cases. One interesting note is that if you are evil and slay a creature of lesser evil, it isn't considered a good deed unless you are less evil than it was.
  • Reputations: Characters can have more than one reputation and these can affect how NPCs recieve you.
  • Fate Points: A character has no Fate Points when they start out but earn them through the completion of quests in the game. These are like wild cards and can be used to alter events in the player's favor. For example, you might use a Fate Point to guarantee that the next attack you make will be a critical one.
  • Character Points: These are acquired at each new level and can be spent on Statistics, Skills, and Spells.
  • Poison Level: It starts at zero, but when it adds up, it will sap your health and eventually kill your character.

Skills

Arcanum features an extensive skill system allowing you to develop your character in any number of ways. Mixing together fighting, technological, and even a little magic into a character's build is not unusual in this game.

Although you can invest points into a skill upon leveling up, the additional benefits don't become active unless you find a trainer who can allow you to assimilate what you've learned. Dumping a lot of points into Melee, for example, won't help when your character is still considered an Apprentice. Finding a trainer and investing just enough points into a skill are both important considerations to make.

Skills are divided into four different disciplines: Combat, Thieving, Social, and Technological.

Combat

These are the skills most concerned with fighting with passive effects that can also apply to different situations, such as dodging the explosive effects of an invention gone wrong.

  • Bow - applies to anything requiring a bow and arrow
  • Dodge - a character's ability to dodge trouble, accidental or intentional
  • Melee - the ability to land hits, whether bare fisted or in striking with a weapon such as a sword
  • Throwing - Hurl deadly things at different degrees of accuracy.

Social Skills

These are the skills concerned with such things as business or in trying to get others to see that your idea is the better one.

  • Gambling - The better the gambler, the higher the stakes, and the bigger the pot if you win.
  • Haggle - How to squeeze the best deal out of stubborn shopkeepers is a fine art.
  • Heal - How best to use those healing accouterments to staunch particularly nasty wounds is determined by this. Fortunately, failure is not rewarded with that of the lethal kind. At least, not right away.
  • Persuasion - How well it can help to get people to see your side of the story.

Thieving

The fine art of the five fingered discount hasn't gone out of style in Arcanum despite the onset of industrial progress, and these skills can help a character become much better in getting what they want or in secretly dealing with particularly annoying people.

  • Backstab - Improves the use of a dagger making it deadly in the right hands
  • Pick Pocket - How to add and remove things from an NPC without having to pay (or kill) them. It does carry the risk of being found out, though, which diminishes the better your character gets with this.
  • Prowling - Affects sneaking about without becoming noticed. Armor affects this as well, which makes sense considering how hard it is to move in plate.
  • Spot Trap - Just as it says, this helps to spot traps.

Technological Skills

These determine how well a character can use technology in general. Very useful for things such as being able to use that weird gun that you mght have uncovered in your journeys.

  • Repair - This gives you a chance to fix anything, from swords to Tesla guns, depending on how well it is developed.
  • Firearms - After fixing that Tesla gun, this can help you fire it, along with anything else, with deadly accuracy.
  • Pick Locks - Tumblers don't care what turns them, just as long as you're good at making them spin in the direction you want them to. Valuable talent to have in discovering what others don't want you to find.
  • Disarm Traps - What's the use of being able to spot traps without having the aptitude to disarm them?

Technological Disciplines

The player's character doesn't necessarily have to go to school, but these disciplines work in a similar fashion. There are eight of them, each one affecting related aptitudes and improving the character's ability to do certain things such as in learning how to use schematics for inventing new items.

Each one also has seven degrees and each one has to be learned in turn before rising any higher in any particular discipline.

  • Smithy - A discipline useful for making armor
  • Mechanical - Useful for creating gadgets
  • Electrical - Explores the mysteries of electricity
  • Explosives - Research and formulate even bigger explosives
  • Chemistry - How best to use everyday substances to wipe out your foes
  • Herbology - Focused on the body and nature's cures
  • Gun Smithy - Enables a character to be able to build firearms

Spells

Sixteen colleges exist in Arcanum, each one with its own specialty and five spells apiece.

  • Conveyance - This concerns spells that focus on movement
  • Divination - This focuses on discovering knowledge
  • Air - Focuses on the element of air
  • Earth - Focuses on the element of earth
  • Fire - Focuses on fire based spells
  • Water - Focuses on the element of water
  • Force - Focuses on manipulating "cosmic" energies
  • Mental - Influence and manipulate whoever you want
  • Metaphysical - Spells that can affect other spells
  • Morphological - Focuses on the material substance of the target
  • Natural - Focuses on nature, such as plants and animals
  • Black Necromantic - Can negatively affect the life force of a target
  • White Necromantic - Can positively affect the life force of a target
  • Phantasmagorical - Illusory spells
  • Summoning - Call forth strange creatures
  • Temporal - Focused on wielding the power of time

Automated Leveling

The interlocking relationship between the large number of disciplines, statistics, and skills can be initially overwhelming, but the game does offer a way to automate your character's growth and assign everything earned on the basis of a pre-set Scheme that it will follow.

Magical/Technological Aptitude

The character starts at a neutral state when it comes to technology or magick, but as they go through the game, this will change. A character that has used quite a bit of technology may find their aptitude having shifted to reflect that, making it easier to use devices although at the detriment of any magickal aspirations that they may have. The same goes for magick.

Combat

Combat is handled is almost the same fashion as it is in Fallout 1 and in Fallout 2 with a combination of action points and turn-based combat. Real-time combat, however, is also an option and depends on a character's speed and agility to quickly calculate their attacks as time passes. Both modes can be toggled back and forth during the fight without penalty.

The manual also states that it is possible to attain the highest level possible in the game without laying waste to everything that might stand in your way, either by knocking out your enemies or in carefully avoiding them. There are a variety of side-quests that can be undertaken in the game and while encounters are set and do not respawn, there is more than enough to fight and experience within the game.

NPC Followers

Like many other games in the cRPG genre, Arcanum allowed the player to recruit a number of NPC followers to join them. These followers each had specific requirements before they would join, based on the player's Charisma, Alignment, Reputation and Actions taken within the game world.

ArronaxThe VoidAgainst his will, Arronax has been imprisoned in the void for over two millenia. Much of the game story points towards Arronax as the primary antagonist, although by the time he is met, he is unaware of the plots that he is being framed for. If the player attempts to free him from the void then he will offer to join them and is a vital character in attaining a peaceful resolution to the game.
ChukkaBates MansionChukka is the personal bodyguard of Gilbert Bates. After the player has investigated the Black Mountain Clan on behalf of Bates and agreed to travel to the Isle of Despair, Bates will potentially offer the services of Chukka, just once, provided the player meets all the criteria of having him join, including a relatively high charisma, technological inclination and a good alignment.
DanteBlack RootDante can be found drowning his sorrows in the Sour Barnacle in Black Root. He has fallen out of favour with King Praetor of Dernholm who could previously have tasked the player with collecting Black Root's taxes. If the player makes this task known to Dante then he will see this as an opportunity to regain the favour of the king and offer his services to the player. When the player then turns in the taxes to the king, they are presented with the opportunity to speak for Dante, in which case he will leave the party.
Dog (Worthless Mutt)AshburyDog can be found slumped on the floor near Ashbury inn. He is being berated and kicked to death by an angry gnome, at which point the player has the option of rescuing him. If the player takes too long to do so, then he will die. Once he is rescued, Dog will immediately join as a companion and despite his helpless demeanor when first encountered, becomes the most powerful melee companion available.
Franklin PayneBlack RootFranklin Payne is the most renowned adventurer in all of Arcanum. He is a thrill seeker, always looking for adventure. While searching for a boat to travel to Thanatos, the player might encounter Franklin Payne in his house at Black Root. If they mention that they are traveling to Thanatos, Payne will see this as an opportunity for adventure and offer to join up. He has knowledge of many of the more dangerous locations in the game and regales the player with anecdotes of his adventures as they travel the world of Arcanum.
GarTarantGar is a particularly ugly human who is being displayed as an attraction at H.T. Parnell's in the city of Tarant. A player character with a high level of intelligence and persuasion could uncover Gar's true intelligence by speaking to him, at which point is possible to blackmail Parnell into freeing Gar.
Geoffrey Tarellond-AsheAshburyGeoffrey Tarellond-Ashe is a necromancer, suspiciously located outside a graveyard with a problem of risen dead. If the player character has a particularly evil reputation, Ashe will recognise this and offer to join.
GorgothThe VoidGorgoth is one of the Legends, banished to the void for his insatiable hunger and willingness to eat anything, including entire villages. Although his statistic page lists him as Human, he is always referred to as bestial and has a monstrous, disfigured appearance. In order to convince Gorgoth to join, all the player must do is momentarily satiate his hunger.
Jayna StilesDernholmJayna Stiles is a Herbologist with a technical affinity. If the player character has a high enough technical skill and is capable of conversing with her on the subject of her study then Jayna will offer her services as a party member.
JormundQintarraJormund is a Dwarven Wizard, as strange as it sounds. He is being held under contract to an elf, who dies under mysterious circumstances after Jormund drops hints to the player that he wishes the contract would end sooner, at which point Jormund is placed under arrest. If the player finds the true murderer and frees Jormund then he will offer his services as a follower. However, as a technical race employing a magical class, Jormund takes a penalty to the mana cast of every spell he casts.
Kraka-TurThe VoidKraka-Tur is another of the legends serving out his imprisonment in The Void. If the player character is evil then Kraka-Tur will offer to join their party, provided they return to him his journal from the Lair of Bellerogrim. Failing this, a highly persuasive character could convince Kraka-Tur that they will free him from the void.
Loghaire Thunder-StoneThe Wheel ClanLoghaire Thunder-Stone is the self exiled leader of the Wheel Clan Dwarves, the Dwarf responsible for the banishment of the Black Mountain Clan. A highly persuasive character can convince Loghaire to end his exile and retake his throne as the rightful king. After traveling to Qintarra, the player can return to the Wheel Clan and Loghaire will offer to join the player.
MagnusTarantMagnus is a Dwarf attempting to trace his heritage and can be found loitering outside P.Schuyler & Sons in Tarant. He will join any character with a good alignment.
Perriman SmytheTarantAfter returning from Qintarra, player's can stumble upon Perriman Smythe in conversation with Willoughby at his residence in Tarant. Perriman is devoutly against the practice of Necromancy and will refuse to join any party that features Geoffrey Tarellond-Ashe.
RavenQintarraAfter speaking to the Silver Lady in Qintarra about the Black Mountain Clan and M'in Gorad, and returning from T'sen-Ang, Raven will be waiting outside to speak with the player. She will offer her services, but refuse to join any group that also features Z'an Al'urin and vice versa. It takes high persuasion and negotiation to get the two characters to come to terms with each other.
SebastianThe BoilIt is possible that Willoughby will recruit the player to help clean up The Boil and direct them to speak to Sebastian who will join up with the player's party in taking down the gang leaders.
Sogg Mead MugShrouded HillsSogg is a drunk Ogre, drinking away his boredom in Shrouded Hills. A player with high enough charisma can convince him to put his strength to good use and he will agree to join. Sogg is a good alignment character, however he loves to drink and an evil character can often keep him happy by plying him with alcohol.
The Bane of KreeThe VoidExiled to the Void, it is possible the Bane of Kree will not offer his services but instead attack any party of characters. It is not certain if this is due to madness from his imprisonment, a lack of respect of the player's ability, therefore deeming them deserving of death, or respect for the player's abilities, therefore providing him with the dignified combat he so desires. If The Bane of Kree does offer his services, however, he will do so only for the thrill of battle.
Thorvald Two StonesThe Isle of DespairThorvald Two Stones is a Wheel Clan Dwarf, exiled on the Isle of Despair. A player must have a high persuasion to convince Thorvald to attempt to escape and return to rejoin the Wheel Clan. If the player then approaches the Wheel Clan then Thorvald will leave the party.
Tollo UnderhillThe PitTollo Underhill is a Halfling Thief, imprisoned in the Dernholm Dungeon. The player can rescue him from The Pit, but he will only offer to join them if they have a high evil reputation.
Torian KelAncient TempleWhen the player finds Torian he is a cursed undead in the Ancient Temple and must be brought back to life using blood from the Dungeon of the Dragon Pool. He will only join with an evil character and there is a chance that in the final battle against Khergan he will betray the player character.
VirgilCrash SiteVirgil is a Panarii priest and one of the first NPCs any player will encounter in the game. He believes the player to be a reincarnation of an ancient legend and will automatically join the player party from the start of the game, unless the player goes to extensive lengths to convince him not to. Part-way through the game Virgil will leave the player character for personal reasons, and at a later point the player will arrive just in time to find him being killed. It is possible to resurrect Virgil, but he will have undergone a serious personality change.
VollingerDernholmVollinger is a gunslinger who can be found drinking in the King's Inn in Dernholm. He will offer to join the player upon meeting, and if the player has Virgil in the party then Virgil will strongly advise against it. This is notable as Vollinger will eventually betray the player.
WaromonThe Bedokaan VillageWaromon is a Bedokaan warrior who will only join the player's party if they successfully resolve the poacher conflict through diplomacy. When speaking with Kan Kerai in the Bedokaan Village he will suggest Waromon as a strong warrior.
Weldo RubinGateway to the WastesWeldo is an adventuring Halfling who can be found at the Gateway to the Wastes. He will offer to join any party so long as they do not mock the possibility of a Halfling being an adventurer.
Z'an Al'urinT'sen AngZ'an Al'urin is a dark elf who can be found in T'sen Ang. She is second guessing the motives of the Dark Elves and if the player is honest with her in conversation she will offer her services, however she does not get on well with Raven and may not wish to join if Raven is present in the party. It would take persuasion and negotiation to have the two characters come to terms with each other.

Unofficial Patches and Mods

When Arcanum was released it was generally quite buggy, with frequent crashes, broken quests, balancing issues, and numerous other glitches. On some systems it was completely unplayable. Thankfully, the modding community has done a fantastic job fixing all these issues to bring Arcanum to the polished state it should have been when released.

The Below patch, created by Drog Black Tooth, fixes a huge number issues:

Using the link below, additional patches, modifications and modules can be found to enhance Arcanum:

Soundtrack

Arcanum's original soundtrack was composed by Ben Houge and is available for free download on this website [ Link]. Eschewing the prevalent trend of orchestral RPG soundtracks, Arcanum's score predominantly features a string quartet.

#Track TitleLength
1."Arcanum"2:37
2."The Demise of the “Zepher”"1:33
3."Wilderness"2:12
4."Tarant"2:07
5."The Tarant Sewers"2:13
6."Caladon"2:39
7."Caladon Catacombs"2:55
8."Dungeons"3:00
9."Battle at Vendigroth"1:34
10."Tulla"3:11
11."Towns"2:01
12."The Isle of Despair"2:27
13."Mines"2:41
14."Cities"2:20
15."Radcliffe's Commission"1:35
16."The Vendigroth Wastes"3:05
17."Villages"2:46
18."Qintarra"1:56
19."The Wheel Clan"2:06
20."The Void"0:50
21."Kerghan's Castle"2:25
22."In Memoriam (bonus track)"2:45

Original System Requirements

Minimum

  • Processor: Pentium II 300
  • RAM Memory: 64MB
  • Graphics Card: DirectX compatible 8MB video card
  • OS: Windows 95/98/2000/ME
  • Hard Drive Space: 1.2GB
  • Sound Card: Windows compatible sound card

Multiplayer-Requirements

  • 33.6 Kbps Modem
  • TCP/IP Network
  • Requires low-latency Internet Connection with support for 32-bit applications

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