Let's Play Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magicka Obscura

Arcanum. It’s an interesting game to talk about.

Introduction

In Which Arcanum Is Introduced, and Various Concepts and Mechanics Are Explained

The first of three games by Troika, Arcanum is an ambitious game. The basic hook is an engaging one: what happens as time passes and your standard D&D-esque fantasy setting enters its own Industrial Age? It presents a world where wizards, gadgeteers, and knights with flintlocks all co-exist. A world where orcs toil in factories exploited for their labour, and the traditional force of Magick competes against the rising force of Technology.

But while the setting’s interesting, the most ambitious part is probably in its character-building. Arcanum tries to give you a shocking amount of ways to approach it. Sure, as in Fallout there’s the diplomat and thief approaches. But overlay a frankly ridiculous magick and tech system over that, and things get a lot more complicated. It’s a game where you can kill any major NPC, summon their spirit back from the dead to interrogate them, then bring them back with a Resurrect spell. Gunslinger, summoner, grenadier, super model – all theoretically characters you could make in Arcanum.

So given that ambition, it’s not surprising the game is a mess. Yes, it can be buggy, but that’s not the whole of it. By default, Arcanum presents its combat in real-time. It is blatantly not designed around it. Want to see something fun? Get the Harm spell, then spam left-click on a monster as fast as you can. In a flash you’ll have obliterated your enemy… or knocked yourself unconscious from suddenly exhausting all your mana. Whichever comes first!

You can switch on a turn-based mode, but then the game throws a few too many enemies at you at once for that to be fun. Realistically, you’re probably best off switching between the two depending on situation (which you can do with spacebar).

And in terms of balance, well. Arcanum is not balanced. Both tech and magick are ultimately viable paths, but magick is certainly the simpler one. If a technologist wants to blend in with the wildlife, they’ll have to learn the Animal Scent schematic, fetch ingredients to craft multiple instances of it, and then apply it before engaging. A mage can invest one point into the Charm Beasts spell, at which point they can cast it at-will whenever they so please.

Hell, one of the stats you can pour points into? Alongside Strength, Dexterity, Willpower and all those other things that demonstrably affect your combat performance and non-combat capabilities… is Beauty. It has the main impact of influencing the initial greeting characters give you. It does little else, other than slightly adjusting shop prices… in a game where money isn’t really an issue.

But don’t get the wrong idea. It’s still a game with a great amount of flexibility. Know what you’re doing and you can beat the game without ever getting into combat. Or while killing everyone on sight, whatever floats your boat. Easy to bounce off, yes, and it’s easy to just get lost, but maybe that makes it a good one to Let’s Play. So let’s go on a journey, you and I, to the world of Arcanum. Step one: character creation.

Presuming this gets some comments, I’ll let you responders choose what build exactly we go with, but I can give you some idea of what you’re getting into. First, you can decide if you want to pick a ‘pregenerated’ character or make your own. For example:

If the past two screenshots didn’t make clear, the UI in Arcanum isn’t great. There’s a lot of fiddling between menus to get where you want, the text could be easier to read, and the dialogue interface is pretty bare minimum.

Still, as a female half-orc, Clarisse here gets a boost to her melee skills and the Constitution stat… at the cost of Charisma and Beauty, because half-orcs are despised. It’s usually nothing gamebreaking, but can have some impacts. By default, stats cap at 20, and reaching 20 gives you a bonus. But if you’ve got a racial -2 in a stat, your base stat cap might be 18. You can still boost it to 20 with stat-boosting buffs, potions or equipment, but it will make things just that bit more complicated.

How significant that bonus is, eh, it really depends on stat. Maxing Strength, for instance, will provide a hefty melee damage buff. Maxing Charisma just prevents followers from leaving, but that usually only happens on a Good playthrough if you run around slaughtering civilians.

I’d generally recommend you go with your own character, though. For one, the pregenerated characters use levelling schemes, automatically spending their level-up points to grab certain features. They’re also not necessarily the most well optimised routes. Still, they provide an interesting little starting look into the lore of the world.

Plus you’d miss out on the wacky world of backgrounds. There’s not any specific interactions for each background in-game, but they each have a gameplay impact that ranges from minor to pretty damn significant. Sometimes you might get -1 stat in return for +1 in another. Sometimes, woah, you might even get some different starting equipment.

Others can really screw you over if you don’t know what you’re doing, though. Ban yourself from using either any magickal item or any technological one? Might seem wise if you know you want to be a mage, but it could bite you later. Or you can lock yourself into using the ‘dumb’ dialogue no matter how smart you are. Lets you be a dumb technologist, at the cost of permanently locking yourself off from a bunch of quests and diplomatic solutions.

Decide on a race, gender and background and you can get into the meat of things. You start with 5 ‘Character Points’, then gain 1 CP every level henceforth plus an extra CP every fifth level. You can use these to bump up your core stats, directly increase your health/fatigue, grab a spell, learn a schematic, or increase your skills. If you’re familiar with RPGs, you might have a gander at what most of those stats means. If not, everything is annoyingly acronymed, so if you need an explanation:

The Stats

  • Strength: Hitpoints, melee damage and carry weight. That’s right, hitpoints aren’t Constitution! Some weapons, including firearms, have a Minimum Strength Requirement to use properly (due to their weight).
  • Constitution: Heal rate and fatigue points. No one really wants to dump this, but since casting spells drains fatigue, it’s mainly of interest to mages.
  • Dexterity: Affects how fast you move in combat, and all combat skills require investment in Dexterity before they can be trained. This makes it pretty vital unless you’re actually going for a pacifist build, in which case you’ll still probably want some because it affects Pick Pocket, Pick Locks and how fast you can run through areas.
  • Beauty: Affects whether people like you when first seeing you. Pragmatically useless, but maybe worth not dumping if you don’t want everyone to open conversation with racist tirades.
  • Intelligence: Offers some extra dialogue options, but mainly of interest to technologists since learning and building schematics is locked behind high-INT. Certain brands of mages may also want investment, as it lets you maintain more buff spells at once. You need 5 Int to be able to learn spells, but you need 5 Int to talk properly anyhow.
  • Willpower: The mage stat. Increases your fatigue (which spells basically use as mana) and is needed to learn the highest-level spells.
  • Perception: Affects your ability with ranged weapons, and the Firearms skill requires high-Perception to be trained. So does Prowling, perhaps unexpectedly. Finally, it affects how far away you can move the camera from your PC.
  • Charisma: The social stat. Unlocks many dialogue options and is necessary to train Persuasion, which unlocks even more. As in Fallout 2, it also decides how many followers you can have at once.

But this is where we get back to the whole “fiddling between menus” thing. See those three circles up top, over at the right?

Those are ‘Skills’, ‘Technological Disciplines’, and ‘Spell Colleges’ respectively. Each is then further divided up. So the full list of skills is:

  • Combat Skills: Bow, Dodge, Melee, Throwing
  • Thieving Skills: Backstab, Pick Pocket, Prowling, Spot Trap
  • Social Skills: Gambling, Haggle, Heal, Persuasion
  • Technological Skills: Repair, Firearms, Pick Locks, Disarm Traps

As you can see it’s not the cleanest division. Firearms is really something of a Combat Skill, and Pick Locks is of interest to thieves. The catch is that investing in that final category of skills aligns you closer with technology. Throughout the game, investing in schematics or spells will move you closer to either being aligned with Tech or Magick. Align with one, you get more out of it but the other becomes harder to use. You can try to stay neutral and quote-unquote ‘technomage’ builds are possible, but staying uninvolved is easier than striking a careful balance.

Spells likewise are divided into several Colleges. You can intermingle spells from different schools pretty easily, although the highest-tier spells will require more dedication. If you want the full break-down:

Spell Colleges
  • Conveyance: Disarms people, unlocks doors, and lets you teleport from place to place. Immensely convenient once maxed.
  • Divination: Shows you what’s in containers, how people are aligned, etc. Interesting, but less useful for a player willing to just look things up.
  • Air, Earth, Fire, Water: Four different Colleges, actually, but similar. Manipulate the elements and summon a College-appropriate elemental to fight with you.
  • Force: Shields, lightning and… disintegrating people.
  • Mental: The charmer spells. Gradually increasing stuns until you get to the final tier and can mind-dominate enemies to fight alongside you.
  • Meta: Antimagic magic. Shuts down spells, spellcasters, and can eventually reflect spells back at your opponent.
  • Nature: Actually a bit eccletic beyond the nature theming, but can control beasts, trap people in vegetation, and increase the party’s heal rate.
  • Necromantic Black: The one that lets you summon spirits back for interrogation and summon an undead follower.
  • Necromantic White: Heal spells, eventually including the ability to resurrect people. Useful.
  • Phantasm: Blinds people, creates illusions, and eventually lets you turn invisible. Imagine actually investing in Prowling for stealth, what suckers.
  • Summoning: Don’t want to do your own fighting? Summon a bunch of creatures to do it for you. Some other schools can kinda do this, but this is the one focused on it.
  • Temporal: Freeze people in time, buff the entire party’s speed, and even lock doors and windows. Funny way to ‘deal’ with an enemy if you can finangle it right.

Finally, Technological Disciplines. You get a few schematics from these. Mercifully, there are less disciplines than there are colleges. One of the things making technology more complex, though, is that you can find schematics out in the wild that mix disciplines, requiring investment in multiple of them. But scour around and you can find some pretty bizarre gadgets that start to rival magic. Let’s just say resurrection isn’t only the domain of the white mage…

All Disciplines
  • Herbology: The technological version of healing.
  • Chemistry: Poisons and chemicals that eventually focus on paralysing and wearing down the fatigue of enemies. You can mix these together with other disciplines to create stronger non-lethal weapons that focus on fatigue damage, but actually going that route is a little clunky and takes a while to set-up.
  • Electric: Wondrous equipment that does weird and varied things through the power of electricity.
  • Explosives: Grenade crafting. Boom, boom.
  • Gun Smithy: Gun crafting. Goes hand in hand with firearm builds.
  • Mechanical: Robots! Get enough parts and you can craft your own personal Mechanised Arachnid army.
  • Smithy: High-tech armour and platemail.
  • Therapeutics: Tonics and potions that provide mostly temporary, sometimes permanent stat boosts.

Phew! That was a lot of words and I’m still not sure I really gave you much of a sense of how to build a character. But don’t worry! That’s your problem now. One beginner recommendation is that you look at things from two angles. Imagine you’re picking an approach to the game: Melee, Ranged, Thief, and Diplomat. Then imagine you’re either aligning yourself to Tech, Magick or staying Neutral. But as you can see, that’s a bit of a simplification. A mage could be a lot of things.

Still. If you want, it can be in your hands. Elven mage? Half-orc debutante? Dwarf who only invests in Beauty? Who shall we be?

We can talk more about how Arcanum handles race once we get into it, although there are probably some conversations to be had. The full race list is:

Races
  • Humans: You may have heard of them! The most common race and at the forefront of the technological revolution, but not inherently aligned any which way. They have no stat boosts and can do whatever.
  • Elf: Magickally inclined, they’re long-lived, perceived as arrogant, and like to live in forests. They have penalties to tech skills, but you can still make them work as a techie.
  • Half-elf: Slightly magickally-inclined, but less so. They’re the more popularly-received half-breed.
  • Half-orc: Whereas half-orcs, of course, are the less liked one. The game doesn’t really shy away from people being racist towards them and orcs.
  • Dwarf: The tech-aligned race, it actually costs double for a dwarf to cast spells. Fortunately they’re all of pretty hardy Constitution. They’re not at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution because they deliberately live isolated from other races in mountains. Alas.
  • Gnomes: Ostensibly neutral in regards to Magick/Tech but good businessmen, gnomes get a bonus to Haggle and Willpower. That makes them slightly easier to take down the magick path, but only just a bit.
  • Halflings: Small, light-hearted and more in touch with nature. Halflings are said to be likeable, but their stats make them decent thieves.
  • Half-ogres: The only race with more drastic stat changes. A half-ogre has +4 Strength but -4 Intelligence, which means they’ll start with dumb dialogue unless you invest in Intelligence (either through a background or a Character Point). They also can’t use firearms or other certain tech items because their hands are too big. A half-ogre technologist is possible, but would be a challenge.

Only humans, elves, half-elves and half-orcs can be female. While there are explanations in lore about why you don’t see the women of other races, my suspicion is that it’s mainly a cost-cutting handwave to avoid making some extra models. Shame, though.

Women in Arcanum get -1 Strength but +1 Constitution, and some quests can be different. It’s relatively minor on the whole, though.

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The Crash Site

In Which an Aircraft Is Attacked, a Priest Is Confused, and a Task Is Entrusted

Technomage it is! I adjust the stats and spells a little, but it’s nothing major.

The final part of character creation is a shop where you can change some of your starting equipment, then we get into things. I grab an elegant dress, some lockpicks in case we need to manually unlock something, and a boomerang (since we’re already investing in Throwing for explosives).

Once again, item descriptions are entirely acronymed, so I hope you read your manual. But the two main concerns are Armor Class and Damage Resistance. AC makes you harder to hit. DR reduces how much damage you take when you are hit. So with 1 DR, we take 1% less damage. That’s not much; unsurprisingly, dresses should mainly be worn in social encounters.

With that, Arcanum officially begins with two short cinematics:

Arcanum Intro - YouTube

If you read all the pregen backstories, you’ll be aware they all end with the character taking a trip aboard the IFS Zephyr, a zeppelin headed for Tarant. As you can see, it doesn’t end well. As the sole survivor of the crash, we’re asked for help by a dying gnome…

Help… help me, please. [We pull some wreckage off him.]

Thank you, my friend. Gasp. I haven’t got much time. Cough. You must find the boy. Find the boy, and give him back his ring. He’ll know… what needs to be done. Harder coughing. L-listen to me. We had to do it. He did unspeakable things to us. We– we had no choice but to do as he said. There are… so few of us left, but the work is almost finished, and then… then he’ll

You can’t imagine– He’s, he’s coming back to destroy everything. Everything and everyone. Please. Just find the boy. Cough. Tell him that I escaped and came back to warn… He will know what to do. You, my friend… It’s all up to you…

Ominous! It’s probably nothing to worry about.

This is Virgil. He’s our first companion, and the most vocal and developed of them. This being an older RPG, you can just tell him to shove it, but we may as well hear him out. You know, assuming you like knowing what the main plots of your games are.

By the gods, man! I almost died here! Didn’t you see the crash?

[The man’s jaw drops open.] You speak! I mean…of course you speak…what am I, a blathering idiot? Wait! What did you just say? Maybe I should be writing all this down… [He fumbles in the pockets of his robe.]

What the bloody hell are you talking about? Out with it, man!

[The man wrings his hands, obviously flustered.] I’m at a loss here, I don’t quite know what to do…uh…I mean you ARE the…of course you are, I mean you DO know who you are, right? Of course you do, what sort of brainless, half-baked question is that for the uh…what do you call yourself?

Am I being unclear? YOUR BABBLING IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE!

Please, forgive me…I’m making a bloody mess of this whole affair. [He takes a deep breath.] My name is Virgil, madam. And I’m new to the Panarii religion, er, your religion, and I…oh! Wait! [He kneels on the ground in front of you, then hesitates, as if trying to remember something.] I…uh hereby dedicate, no, uhm…commit my life to the Living One. I, Virgil, am at your service, madam.

Virgil, please. You REALLY need to explain things here.

Yes, yes of course. You see… you’re him, I mean, the uh…reincarnation of…er, what’s his name? I can never remember…and I’m always getting him mixed up with the other fellow…the bad one. You, uh…well, you know how all of those old elven names sound the same…heh, heh…er…hmmm…

As a sign of my mercy, I’m going to spare you the full ramble. See, Virgil, bless, doesn’t actually know the prophecy. He is, at best, vaguely familiar that there is a prophecy, and that this seems to fit it. A powerful ancient elf wizard will be reborn “on wings of fire” to fight some sort of “Evil One”. Super.

So that leaves us with two main goals for the foreseeable future:

  • Track down the ring’s owner. It has the letters “GB” inscribed on it, along with what appears to be a company name: “P. Schuyler and Sons”. It’s not much to go on.

  • Find out what the prophecy is. While Virgil might be a new initiate to the order, Elder Joachim should just be at an inn nearby, at the town of Shrouded Hills. Finding him and getting the lowdown should be easy. (It won’t be.)

In the meantime, Virgil joins our party. As a Panarii initiate, Virgil is set up to follow a sort of White Mage build, learning healing spells and a bit of melee. And also a bit of lockpicking, suspiciously.

Oh, and fun touch: apart from a few specific corpses, all the bodies belong to whichever pregenerated characters you didn’t pick. In essence, we were deciding who survived the zeppelin attack.

Exploring clears up the prophecy a bit, but only a bit. We learn that we’re meant to be Nasrudin, specifically, and given that we’re near Shrouded Hills that there’s a bit more basis to this prophecy than just “crashing in an airship”. Unfortunately, Virgil still completely blanks on who the Evil One is meant to be.

The area as a whole is filled with wolves and corpses, the former of whom we could avoid fighting with a Charm Beasts spell. But they’re also the weakest enemies in the game and avoiding them means no XP, so, you know. On the gnome’s body, we find a passport for a “Preston Radcliffe” and a matchbox from the Roseborough Inn, while on others we find a camera and a letter to a loved one.

Further exploration gives us some extra clues. We can find the remnants of one of our attackers. It’s an ogre in some sort of advanced technological flying device. Which is odd. Ogres aren’t known for intelligence, let alone advanced technology beyond anyone else. On the ogre’s body we find an amulet with a strange symbol: an eye in a hexagram.

And when we try to leave, we’re confronted by a strange robed figure…

Virgil interjects:

[Virgil whispers to you.] I mean no disrespect, uh, madam…but I don’t trust this bastard one bit. Bloody convenient he happened to show up here just now, don’t you think? [He seems to remember himself.] Excuse my language, madam…

I’ve, uh, dealt with buggers, er individuals like this before. Perhaps you’ll let me talk with him for a few minutes…?

There’s a trend throughout his dialogue that Virgil is… well, clearly trying to act more sagely and priestly than comes naturally. Get a critical miss and he’ll instinctively start to cuss you out, only to backtrack and try to wish you “uh, better luck next time, madam!” Here, it comes in handy. When the robed figure starts questioning us, he questions him right back.

Eventually the man escalates to veiled threats, which Virgil matches… causing the man to scarper off in fear. It’s only afterwards that Virgil admits he’s terrified and that it was all bluster. If you do lack Virgil, this inevitably ends in a fight, of course. If you do stop to rifle through the man’s pockets, though, you’ll find he wears the same amulet the ogre carried on him…

So, superb! It appears we’re being hunted by some sort of cult. Something to be aware of, then. What’s their deal? No idea. In a sense, Arcanum’s plot is really a mystery dressed up as a chosen-one narrative.

But this is an RPG. You’re not really here to solve any strange mysteries or fulfill any grand prophecies, are you? The true reason we’re here: to do random tasks from strangers.

Enter our first sidequest. It’s short, but it’s also easy and grants a permanent buff. Besides, it gives us our first little look into the wider world of Arcanum. In a cave filled with barrels of explosives, we find a ghost:

What happened to you?

I was…cursed by…evil…priest. My name was Charles Brehgo…my friend and I…asked only for something to eat…some sustenance…we were poor, wandering…and he cursed us…my friend cursed with madness…attacked me…killed me…the pain…I am cursed to be held in this realm, unable to be released…please…I need your help…

Depending on race, you may find Brehgo a bit sycophantic. Play an elf and call humans lesser? He’ll agree. Say you’re a half-orc and that he’d spit on you were he alive? No, no, back in life he protested the poor treatment of orcs.

But I suppose being torn between worlds and unable to move onto the afterlife would make one a little desperate, so perhaps we can forgive this. The only way to save him, Brehgo says, is to slay the priest who cursed him, Arbalah. He promises to give you the location of some buried treasure if you help.

We open up the world map, arrive at Arbalah’s house at night, then nap until he wakes up and unlocks his door. Assuming you don’t just immediately murder him, he’ll tell a very different story:

Him and his friend, Fahrkus, I believe his name was, came to my house looking for sustenance, or so they said. After I fed them they terrorized me and my family and ransacked my house for whatever they could find. When they finally found my one object of any value, a sacred holy artifiact, they…killed my family. They left me for dead, as well…

[He winces in pain, once again.] I retired from the priesthood some years ago, but it was all I could think to do, in my pain and grief…their souls will never leave this plane of existence!

In fact, according to him, there was no curse of madness. Bregho’s friend attacked him out of, he assumes, greed; he probably didn’t want to share the loot.

Classic dilemma. You might wonder who’s telling the truth here and there’s a few giveaways. One, there’s signs of a fight in Arbalah’s house and there are two graves outside it, which supports his story. Like I said, Brehgo’s cave was just stashed with weapons and explosives. Two, you can just go back to Brehgo and see his reaction to being called a liar.

So Charles Brehgo is kind of an evil shit. I don’t mean that derogatorily. I mean he’s openly a card-carrying villain who looks down at “noble types”, to the point he holds no grudge against the person who actually murdered him. After all, that just means the other guy was quicker with his betrayal.

Which is slightly aggravating, as his accomplice took a sacred artifact from Arbalah and we want it back. If we want to progress we’ll have to use the handy option of Lying™.

I will convince Arbalah to release you if you help me. [Lie.]

You would, wouldn’t you?..If there is one…thing…about you noble…types…is that you’ll do the right thing, even…if it kills you…very well…anything to be released from this…pain…[he points to a location on your map]…Fahrkus is…here…

Unfortunately, Bregho doesn’t quite realise the story he’s in. Not only we will not be doing that, we literally can’t. There are two ways this quest ends: giving the artifact to Arbalah, or rando-murdering him (at which point you go back to Brehgo and he reveals he lied about the treasure).

We head to Fahrkus, convince him to hand over the item, and then get our reward from Arbalah. It’s a blessing that slightly increases people’s initial reaction to us. Not exactly mindblowing, but it does mean we get slightly better shop prices.

Unfortunately for Bregho and Fahrkus, while this was the Good path for the quest and we got positive karma for doing it, that does mean they’re still doomed to eternal torture. Presumably, one day Arbalah will die and the curse will end, but he’s a half-elf. I think half-elves live for centuries in Arcanum, so they could be there a while.

I hope this doesn’t become a trend.

Next time: I maintain a Good alignment while doing a monstrous amount of criss-cross betrayal in Shrouded Hills.

Shrouded Hills, Part 1

In Which the Double-Dealing of Shrouded Hills Begins

Welcome to Shrouded Hills! A peaceful mining town with just two minor problems.

A talk with the local bobby establishes that they have a ghost rendering their mine unusable, and that bandits block the only way out of town. We only have to deal with the bandits to progress, but you know, while we’re here. Constable Owens is willing to pay us 50gp to deal with the bandits and absolutely nothing to deal with the ghost.

One thing I didn’t mention last update is that it’s possible to walk here, rather than using the World Map. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour, the area in-between is probably procedurally generated, and it’s almost entirely barren. But it’s a thing you can do. The whole of Arcanum is out there, even if there’s not much point in it.

If you’ve invested a point in Persuasion, Lukan and company are trivial to run off. If not, while Lukan may be a buffoon, the half-ogres backing him up make these bandits one of the game’s first real challenges for a first-time player. There are a few ways around them, including pickpocketing the bridge-key off Lukan and just leaving, but if you have to fight them they can be tough.

Now, there is an easy no-cost, build-agnostic way to bypass them: offer to help them and they’ll just ask you to destroy some town supplies, which can be trivially done. But agreeing to help Constable Owens locks you off from this route, and that’s the first thing most people will do upon arriving in town. Otherwise they’ll stick to a demand of 1,000gp to let you cross, a quite pricey fee this early in the game.

Still, we do have a point in Persuasion, which means we can claim to be a thief:

I suppose it’s possible…your dress seems fairly non-descrepit. Hmmm. If you are a thief, what you doing HERE?

The word gets around…you know how it is…

Oh! So you’ve heard of us through the Thieves Underground! Fantabulous! I knew it was only a matter of time before we were noticed!

Yeessss…Thieves Underground. Right. They sent me here.

As you can see, we are a master of deception. It is possible to fail here, if you pick the wrong dialogue options. Still, feed into Lukan’s desire to be recognised by the Thieves Underground and you should be able to swing things in your favour.

Hell, since Owens isn’t paying us beyond the bare minimum, we may as well get some money here. Now that they’ve bought into our deception, we can claim we’ve come because they’ve accidentally crossed a line:

What? Oh no! We’ve gone and trespassed on someone’s territory, haven’t we? Believe me, good woman, we’d never do such a thing intentionarily! You must believe me!

But that’s fine. I’m sure we can make the Underground look the other way. If they make some reparations.

Then they run off with a promise never to return. Actually getting rid of the thieves, whether through dialogue or just stabbing them, awards you a Fate point. Fate points are immensely useful on non-thieves since, among other things, they can be used to guarantee a successful lockpick or pickpocket. I’m going to waste it this update.

In the end that makes for a score of 250gp in all, once we get our money from the constable. Good, but we can do better. Does anyone else have some work?

Why, yes! Doc Roberts has heard other bandits are going to rob the bank. He wants a friendly hand in defending it. After all, his stuff is in the bank too! We get there and, what do you know, the robbery’s in progress. We help put an end to it, earning us a reputation as a Hero of Shrouded Hills. It’s good to help.

That done, it’s time to go burgle the bank.

See, in the inn there’s a half-orc who happens to know the bank’s safecode. He’s not an experienced thief, so he’s willing to split the money if we go perform the actual theft. It just so happens that during the defense of the bank, the guard is always killed by the would-be robbers… meaning we just need to bypass the one Bank Teller. It’s an easy score. Even with no Pick Pocket investment we can swipe her key off her, letting us waltz right into the bank’s back room.

Look, as the foremost magiscientist in Arcanum, our experiments won’t be funding themselves. But lest you think I am without heart, we can make some amends through further burglary. We couldn’t use my Unlock spell on the bank door because it makes noise and the Bank Teller refuses to move.

That doesn’t go for other NPCs. I drop a single coin outside the Herbalist’s, then use a Fate point to bump my next spell’s power to maximum. She leaves to pick it up, I cast Unlock, and I’m free to ransack her merchant chest for a Restore Life potion.

That’s right. The coin distraction from Hitman works in Arcanum.

Ta-dah! The dead guard’s back to life again. Really playing both sides of the moral spectrum here. Alas, we’re not going to do the same for any of the robbers; their AI is set to just start attacking people again. You know, strictly speaking, this Restore Life potion I used saving bank staff is worth more than what I took from the bank. I mean, I didn’t pay for it, but still. It’s the principle of the thing.

We could now report our partner in crime to the authorities, to keep all the money for ourselves, but I decide against it. Honour among thieves, eh?

Any other mildly dirty deeds to do?

Jongle Dunne here wants the town’s steam engine destroyed, because as a piece of complex tech it’s dampening his magic. Obviously that would be a bit too far. The town needs that. I may have made a generous withdrawal from their bank, but I’m not going to completely screw over a town just so I can complete a sidequest or two.

Unless…?

Next time: We try to progress the main quest, there is more betrayal, and you all find out the real reason I secured easy access to Restore Life potions.

Shrouded Hills, Part 2

In Which a Ghost Haunts a Mine and a Man Is, Temporarily, Beaten to Death

Right, right, I forgot in the middle of all this that we came to this town for a reason. Virgil said that we should be able to find Joachim at the inn. No time like the present.

Well, that’s not good. On the floor we find a letter to Virgil:

Virgil-

I assume you are not alone. As you can see, there are people in Shrouded Hills looking for me. Luckily for me, these fellows were easily dispatched. Do not speak with anyone about the zeppelin crash, or your new companion’s involvement with it. When you are able to make your way to Tarant, check the telegram office there. I will leave a message telling you where to contact me.

Joachim

Looks like we have to shelve our second main goal for the moment. In the meantime, Virgil seems to be taking Joachim’s absence hard.

Clearly there’s a story there, but nothing he’s willing to open up about right now.

But that wasn’t our only concern. Let’s find out what we can about our ring. If nothing else, people might recognise the company. After asking around, people tend to point us towards the local “exotic” goods seller, a man by the name of Ristezze.

There’s a few ways to get the info about P. Schuyler and Sons off him, but to my knowledge only two get you XP:

  • Fetching an item for him. He wants a memento from Bessie Toone, who just so happens to be the ghost haunting the mine.

  • Interrogating his dead spirit. Tempting as it is, I think the town might mind us murdering random shopkeeps. We’ll keep the option to violate the boundaries between life and death in mind, though.

Besides, we should probably deal with the town’s other big problem before we leave anyhow. And I always wanted to be a ghostbuster.

Talking to Toone’s son is interesting, not least because he initially assumes we’re assassins. What’s his take on the matter?

The main takeaway, though, is that he’s willing to give us 500gp to free his mother’s spirit. While the mine’s now infested with critters, this isn’t much of a problem for a half-elf with a boomerang and an inexhaustible supply of molotovs.

I’m willing to bet there’s a reason this ghost is chanting “Sarah, Sarah” over and over, but confronting Percy causes a marked change of tone.

I “spoke” with your mother’s ghost.

You…d…did? What did she say?

She said “Sarah, my dear Sarah.” Who is Sarah?

[He looks disgusted.] Sarah. [He spits the name.] Sarah. That is my sister. A hateful person, really. She deserted us…left us here to go to that dilapidated kingdom, Dernholm! What an affront to our family!

I see. Could you tell me where Dernholm is?

Why? Why would you want to know that? You want to go speak with her, don’t you? I don’t think that’s wise…she won’t tell you anything useful, I mean.

He, unsurprisingly, clams up at this point, refusing to tell us Dernholm’s location nor the address of the unhappy, new owner. But I did promise to deal with the ghost, even if he’s now backtracking. A quick chat with the generic civilians roaming around town gets us Dernholm marked on the map.

While exploring the mine, we find one of Bessie Toone’s old boots and some pure ore. This is actually a little lucky: there’s a sidequest in town to get some pure ore, but most characters will have to solve the ghost problem before any will start appearing. This just means we can cross it off early.

Finally, we find a spare part for the steam engine. If it were to break down, this would be vital to fixing it. Hm.

Well, that’s that taken care of. Steam engine destroyed, as per Jongle’s demand. He didn’t say we couldn’t fix it afterwards.

But there’s an issue. The steam engine is guarded by Hervor, and after an hour he’ll report our actions to Constable Owens, locking off the “fix engine” quest. We could hand Owens the part in that time, but that will alienate Jongle Dunne, who happens to have a second task for us: fetching a package from Dernholm. It’s not just any delivery, either: he thinks he’s discovered how to turn lead into gold, and what sort of scientist would I be to ignore the age-old alchemist dream?

The only way to do both tasks would be to kill Hervor, and that’s a line I’m not willing to cross.

Not without some further preparation first. After all, last update we secured a quite easy way to grab resurrection potions. Remember the bank guard? We took the herbalist’s only potion, but waiting a day with a shopkeep and their chest off-screen will cause them to restock.

So, really, we don’t have to permanently kill Hervor. We just need to, uh, take him out of commission for a moment. While we wreck the Steam Engine, so he can’t report it.

Ethical dilemmas must be harder when you’re not a wizard.

Bye, bye, Hervor! You saw nothing!

And that’s that. All that’s left is to hand Ristezze the boot, and we can be on our way. We’ll deliver Jongle’s package, then fix the engine when we return. Everybody wins. Or at least, I win, and everyone else is still around to bask in my glory.

There is one last sidequest here, to fetch an amulet the elven herbalist lost years ago. But we won’t be able to solve that for long, long while now.

Conveniently enough, P. Schuyler and Sons is in Tarant. After we finish our deliveries, we’ll be able to find Joachim and get some more info on the ring in one fell-swoop.

On our way out of town we’re ambushed by one last cult member. You can actually run into him in town, posing as a grieving Radcliffe and asking for a ring. We ignored him and now he’s here to grab the thing by force.

Or he would be, if I didn’t just fling a stun grenade at him and walk past him. Some people.

Next time: The end of “everything and everyone” continues to wait patiently while I traipse around the country.

Heads up that in future towns I’ll be skipping over more of the sidecontent. But there’s a bit of quest-connectivity here that I thought I’d take the extra effort to show off.

Dernholm

In Which a Doctor Is Recruited and a King Is Besmirched

So here we are at Dernholm, the centre of the Kingdom of Cumbria. It’s not a happy place. Talking with some locals can get us the low-down on this run-down capital.

This is Lianna, a warrior and daughter of the Dragon Knights’ former captain. See, in the grand philosophical war between technology and magick, Cumbria is Team Magic. Their prior king, although otherwise spoken of highly, went to the extreme of banning technology entirely. It went about as well as you’d expect once they went to war with the technologically-inclined Tarant:

It was a terrible battle. The Dragon Knights were called upon to defend Cumbria…and, as always, they heeded the call. My father told me of that day. The Knights upon their war-steeds, dressed in armor of gold and silver. The trumpets sounded, and they charged…

…they charged, wave after wave of the finest soldiers that Arcanum has ever known. Charged directly into the bullets fired by the Tarantian foot soldiers. The Dragon Knights never stopped. Not once. [She shudders.] My father said the piles of the dead were like great, metal mountains rising from oceans of blood. It was a massacre…

Remember how last update Dernholm was described as ‘dilapidated’? The grand theme here is a failure to get with the times: Dernholm is stuck in medieval fantasy while the world around them advances into steampunk. Dernholm had chivalric knights who were noble, skilled and the stars of many a brave tale, and Tarant had lines of rifle-holders. The latter won handily.

Still, it’s in this environment we’ll pick up our second follower.

Meet Jayna Stiles. Jayna is a would-be doctor, and those keen-eyed among you might have been wondering how far the ban on technology goes. I mean, what is technology, really? A sharpened stone tied to a stick might be primitive, but it is technology of a sort, right? So here you go. In Arcanum:

  • Magick is the bending of natural law to produce miraculous or physics-breaking effects.
  • Technology is the use of natural law – down to minute details – to create devices, chemical substances and whatever else.

So while mechanically there’s a line drawn between ‘Neutral’ and ‘Technological’ items, it’s more that as you get more complex, the more likely the physics-bending field a mage projects is going to interfere with things. That’s why mages have increased chance to critically fail with firearms and the like. Conversely, having lots and lots of complex machinery seems to reinforce the laws that exist, somehow.

But unfortunately for Jayna (and really Dernholm as a whole), that means yes: medicine does come under the scope of ‘technology’. And when a plague swept through that couldn’t be handled by what few magickal healers they had, that really screwed the place over.

Everyone died, Jayna’s parents died, and because magick is supposedly hard to learn let alone master, there was jack-all anyone could do but stand by and watch. Unsurpsingly, this had an effect on Jayna:

[She dries her eyes.] And it was then that I decided.

What did you decide?

I decided that I never wanted to watch people die that way again. I decided to become a great healer…to save others from the pain I felt when I saw my parents die. And so that’s what I’ve been trying to do…

Of course, it’s hard to become a skilled doctor when medicine is banned and you have no one to teach you. Jayna would leave to go learn in Tarant, but that costs money, she’d have to survive alone without any combat training, etc. But if we were to offer she come with us…

We’d be flatly rejected, because Jayna wants to learn about technology and we’re radiating magic. Alas. But you may remember our Day Mage background, which boosts our magic at day and weakens it at night? Wait until evening and…

We are the Technomage: there are no limits, only obstacles to overcome. Unfortunately, to my knowledge that’s where Jayna’s story ends. Arcanum has a few characters that are involved in the plot and get voice-acted lines, and a few characters who silently come for the ride and never say much. Virgil’s the former; Jayna’s the latter. But I feel like Jayna has a more interesting hook than some of the other randos you can pick up.

Still, that’s not to say Jayna is without merit. Virgil is a magickal healer, so I imagine Jayna is included here so you can quickly pick up a technological equivalent. Assuming, you know, you don’t just head straight for Tarant, since only side-quests point us here. For us, she enables us to dip into the early Herbology and Therapeutics schematics without investing in them ourselves. As you can see, she also learns a bit of Dodge and Melee and, as she’s level 6, she’s actually starting a level higher than us.

While running around we can find a newspaper on the floor:

You know, it’s somewhat depressing the main newspaper we find in Dernholm is The Tarantian. It’ll be relevant later, but for now just know that Caladon is the third ‘kingdom’ at play here: Tarant is the capital of the Unified Kingdom, Dernholm is the capital of Cumbria, and Caladon is the capital of Arland. And yes, some of these names are more creative than others.

This is an RPG, so obviously nothing stops us from just marching up to Dernholm Castle and speaking with the king.

The king mentions a war with Arland here, which might be a writing mistake or might imply other, additional conflicts. But don’t make the mistake that he’s too reflective of his own errors. We ask him about using technology and suffer an immediate drop in disposition, and he almost kicks us out of the castle as a result. But questgivers gotta quest-give, so we’re able to talk him out of it.

I have need of a courier. There appears to be some sort of problem with Black Root, one of our outlying provinces. I could use someone to look into it.

What’s the nature of this problem?

Two years ago, Black Root sent word they could not meet their taxes, their crops had failed. I haven’t heard from them since. I need someone to investigate and collect what I’m owed - 5 gold bars, I believe.

We’ll get around to it.

You may be getting the sense that King Praetor is not the best king, given that the ban on technology is still upheld and the kingdom continues to openly descend into irrelevance. It’s another way Dernholm echoes traditional fantasy. Tarant and the UK were happy to overthrow their monarchy and become an ironically-named republic. Praetor, meanwhile, wasn’t firstborn and is viewed as something of a false-king as a result. Policy-wise, he lives up to it.

There’s some sidecontent I won’t go over. I fetch Jongle’s package. An old lady wants her ring back from a man, although it turns out they both lost loved ones in the plague and it somehow ends with me matchmaking the two. But you may recall we had some ghostbusting to do. Time to meet with Sarah Toone:

Unsurprisingly, she tells a very different story to Percival. The mine was an important part of the family’s heritage and their mother wanted it to stay in Toone hands. In fact, she wanted Sarah to run it, but Sarah wasn’t yet of age… so Percy convinced their mother to give him the inheritance “for legal reasons”. So when he immediately sold it to handle his debts…

Sarah only left when he obtained the mine because she saw the writing on the wall, and couldn’t bear to just sit back and watch. You can announce here that you intend to give her control of the mine, once you get your hands on the deed. She appreciates the sentiment, but warns you she can’t pay you anything for it. In any case, Sarah does know the address of the new Tarant owners and is happy to hand it to us.

And with that we’re done in Dernholm. A quiet update, really. Ironically, despite Shrouded Hills being something of a frontier-town, Dernholm doesn’t have as much to do. There is another follower you can pick up here, but you have to be level 15 or so.

Someone to consider picking up later, then. For now, the road ahead continues.

Tarant, Part 1

In Which Our Heroes Remember Their Main Task

It’s time we visited the big city, and there’s two main ways we could get there. We could head to Black Root and board a train to our destination, but I’d like to leave that town for later. Instead, we’ll head back to Shrouded Hills, then just make the long walk over to Tarant – you know, that industrial capital where the main quest wanted us to go? While stopping at Shrouded Hill we can turn in our quests and confront Percy about Sarah’s comments.

While I weigh up the pros and cons of planting some dynamite on Percival Toone, he tries to backtrack his outburst.

She doesn’t know! My life was in danger! Stanton would have killed me! I had to sell…I owed him money. The silver had dried up, and the iron wasn’t bringing in enough money fast enough!

Calm down, I am simply trying to find out how to help you.

[He composes himself, slightly.] I uh, am sorry. I am excitable, you must understand. You must do what you feel is right, of course.

Confirmation of Sarah’s version of events, though: he did owe someone money. Otherwise, we hand over Jongle’s package (though he remains tight-lipped about his discovery) and fix the town’s steam engine. Then it’s back on the road.

Arcanum never was the prettiest game, even when put up against other earlier isometric RPGs, but I do have to admit: arriving at Tarant in the evening makes for a nice contrast to both the dilapidated Dernholm and the outdoorsy Shrouded Hills. Here we are in the centre of Arcanum’s Industrial Revolution. Jayna does have something to say here, incidentally, one of about three location comments I think she has:

And yes, I know. The famous inventor is called Gil Bates. But he has an archrival, you know. His name… Cedric Appleby. Some references are more on-the-nose than others.

But how does Tarant live up to its reputation as fantasy London? Well, it’s certainly not lacking in size or content. It’s a really large city with a lot of shops, nooks, crannies – and that’s without factoring in its gigantic sewers (which are of course filled with hostile rats and other lovely critters). Even at night, when things quiet down, Tarant doesn’t really stop the way Dernholm or Shrouded Hills might. There’s always people up, guardsmen walking around:

And in terms of questing, well, there’s a lot to do in Tarant. Some of this is fairly generic filler: fetch a wedding ring someone dropped in the sewer, clear a factory out of rats, deliver a message, etc. This stuff, I’ll do, but won’t bother to jot down. But it also has some longer chains of sidequests that we can get into.

Still, one of the more easily missed minor sidequests relies on you being something of a compulsive looter. Do you remember the letter to a loved one we found on a crash site victim?

Said loved one is one of the trainstation guards, and we can deliver the note to him. It’s not very significant, but he does ask us to go to a stonecutter and commission a tombstone for her, which is worth some karma and a bit of extra XP.

Not every quest is available right now and Tarant is, naturally, a hub we’ll spend some time in. Still, we came here for a purpose. Let’s head to the telegram office; we were told to pick up a message from Joachim.

Naturally, he is not going to be able to meet us nearby after all, since he’s off carrying his own independent investigation. He tells us to meet him at Stillwater at some point, a place he handily provides no directions to. Thanks, Elder Joachim. We’ll have to shelve this for now.

This starts a dialogue with Virgil, who gets a bit flustered when I admit to not really buying into the Panarii stuff, but the rift in the fellowship is easily mended. In the meantime, we have an open invitation to ask around at the Panarii Temple.

This is all entirely optional, but it does give us the first indication of who this Evil One actually is. This priest actually knows the prophecies, and the Evil One is supposed to be Arronax: an elf banished to the Void aeons ago for trying to kill all the non-elves. I mean no offense to Virgil here, but forgetting the name of one of your key religious antagonists seems a bit embarassing.

Arronax isn’t alone in the Void, though. There’s an all-star cast of history’s greatest monsters, the ones who couldn’t or weren’t put down by more… traditional methods.

But all this isn’t really why I came here. See that chest there? Inside that chest is a really good item. I’m not actually strong enough with my magic to unlock it right now. If only there was a way to suddenly boost my Magickal Aptitude…

Walk away from the hustle and bustle of the city and visit the very outskirts of Tarant, and we find a ‘wise woman’. These lovely ladies happen to sell a few magickal items of note, one of which is the Dark Helm. Sinister name aside, what’s it do? Why, when you equip it Magickal Aptiude goes up 20%! …And alignment goes down -20. It’s our first ‘HEXED’ item, magickal items with curses or drawbacks attached.

Fun fact: in the initial game, the effect was permanent and stacked each time you equipped it, meaning you could just slap it on and off for instant magickal supremacy. It’d utterly tank your alignment, but ah well. That just means you can just recruit the Evil companions without doing anything… Evil.

The Unofficial Patch put a stop to all that, though. The effects now reverse when we take off the helmet, meaning we can just take it off when we’re done. See? No harm done flirting with just a teensy bit of dark magic. We unlock the Panarii chest and find the Jewel of Hebe: an amulet that gives us +2 Beauty, +1 Charisma. Nice.

Now, was there anything else we came to Tarant for?

Oh, right. The ring. Well, the shop’s just there. Surely it can’t be that hard to get some info out of the owners.

Next time: Things get spooky.

Tarant, Dealing with the Schuylers

In Which Chemical Concoctions Grow the Fellowship

In the last update you probably saw that dwarf standing outside P. Schuyler’s. Let’s go introduce ourselves.

Now that might sound a strange tradition to you, and don’t fret. Virgil has Opinions™:

Excuse me. You don’t need to take such treatment from this dwarf. Bloody annoying little runt if you ask me…

You opinion has been noted, Virgil…

I mean, look at him! Putting on airs like he’s some sort of native dwarf…I’d be surprised if he’s ever been out of the city in his entire life. You can always smell a city-dwarf a mile away. He’s probably got a manicure. His beard looks a bit scraggly, too. Probably out past his bed time…

If you’re a dwarf, you can confront him yourself, saying that you’re aware of no such tradition. He’ll be taken aback, but will then backtrack and hastily admit that there may be different traditions among different clans.

In any case, this is Magnus. (He refuses to divulge his family name on grounds of it being blasphemy.) Talking to him reveals he’s here on an investigation of his own: to find his lost clan. His only memento of his clan and family are the gauntlets he’s wearing. How strange it was, when he found some P. Schuyler jewelry with similar markings on them…

If you pickpocket Magnus, you can find Roan’s Almanac of All Things Dwarven on him, which is a book on dwarven traditions that explains some of where he’s coming from. Magnus quotes the thing word-for-word… except Roan’s Almanac was written, you know, by Roan:

It’s not a very good source on dwarven traditions, but it’s the best Magnus has got. It’s worth keeping in mind a lot of the lore of Arcanum comes from similar in-universe perspectives. If you read through the manual, for instance, it tends to speak of each species and their development as a current Tarantian professor would understand them.

We can also interrogate him on what he knows about the company. They have a great reputation for being reliable jewellers… and a not-so-great reputation on the rumour-filled streets. No one has personally seen them in decades. There are rumours that the women who bought some of their jewelry were found murdered, their eyes plucked from their heads. At night clanking, moaning and muffled screams are heard.

All in all, it’s a bit suspicious. In any case there’s but one solution: we must team-up to crack the case.

Oh, right. As mentioned before, in Arcanum your party size is determined by your Charisma: one follower for every 4 Charisma you have. The Jewel of Hebe only took us to 10, which means we’re still at two followers: Virgil and Jayna. We don’t really want to just come back for Magnus later, as we’ll start to outlevel him.

But don’t fret: there is a solution, and it only requires ingesting the singular mind-altering substance.

We just need to take advantage of our Persuasion. See, as you advance in a skill you can pay NPCs to train you as an Apprentice, an Expert or a Master. You will, of course, need to invest in the skill and, in the case of Mastery, complete a special quest for them. Each tier of a skill comes with a special perk, and an Expert in Persuasion gets one extra follower.

The problem is that we fall a little short at the moment. See, skills are set at a value between 0-20. Each CP we invest is actually worth 4 points, but carries with it an escalating Charisma requirement to invest further. We’ve been able to invest two CP into Persuasion, for a total of 8 points. We need 9 to become an Expert.

Following so far? This is where Jayna comes in. She can craft a few Elixirs of Persuasion, which give us a temporary +2 to Persuasion. That gives us enough time to take the potion, get the training, then recruit Magnus. We’ll need a more permanent solution in the long-run – but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Welcome aboard, Magnus. This might seem a bit much effort to grab one grouchy dwarf, but he is nice to have along. Like Virgil, he’s voiced, and he has his own small quest we can look into. He’s another melee tech follower, investing in the early Smithy and Mechanical stuff, which we might take advantage of. And all else aside, hey, it’s another body to throw at enemies.

If you’re curious how the Charmer build would be doing right now, they’d have rounded out this team with a big ol’ half-ogre from Shrouded Hills. This game really throws a lot of melee followers at you early on.

No way in like the front door. We barge in and claim to be an inspector. The receptionist immediately breaks down and gives you a key, then hints that he’s cursed should he provide any more information. You can press him, and he will die on the spot the moment he gives you more info, so, uh, while I do like prying for info. We’ll just let him run out. Just this once.

I can only carry so many Restore Life potions, you know.

The key takes us underground and, yep, the place is built on a burial ground. Typical, isn’t it? It’s also filled with zombies. This marks the first little mini-dungeon within the main story, but it’s not too long. Just be aware of poison and the like.

Although, on the record, I do get pummeled. I stop and go restock on molotovs. I should really get Jayna some actual combat equipment, but money’s a little short after our early splurge on the Dark Helm.

In the bottom floor we finally find some non-hostile zombies: dwarven undead roaming around, seemingly doing menial tasks.

And at the heart of it all: the Schuylers. But we don’t actually need to talk to them. The info we need, on the ring, is in that leftmost cabinet. I magickally unlock it from far away, then sneak up and grab what we need. As I do so, however, the Schuylers see us and confront us.

So here’s what’s been happening. The Schuylers are an old family in Tarant, and got their start practicing the dark arts. Even as Tarant as enterred a technological age, they’ve continued to do so. Hey, if it works, it works. It does mean the family have had to start being more secretive about their practices, however. In case you’re curious, that corpse in the chair is their father: they conjure his spirit for advice every now and then, at his own request.

The dwarven bodies are ‘spiritless’: that is, they’re just reanimated corpses. So strictly, the Schuylers aren’t inflicting harm here, at least not in this instance. They are, however, defiling and looting their graves for a profit. They also use some more disturbing justifications: these dwarves were probably outcasts, they might have been illiterate, they were probably a lesser dwarf clan – so who cares?

You might see where this is going. Magnus, who came here to search for his possibly lost clan, takes offense. Two options:

  • Make a deal with the Schuylers. Agree not to tell anyone about all this – it is bad PR, after all – and they’ll, just this once, break confidentiality. They’ll conjure up their father and he’ll tell you the ring’s buyer. Magnus will, of course, turn hostile. Even if you don’t leave Magnus upstairs, he’ll never want to speak with you again if you take this option.

  • Fight the Schuylers. The Schuylers sit at neutral alignment, which lends some validity to their claims that they’re not actively harming anyone. But if you do take offense, well. This would be the most direct way of stopping them, no? You do get some alignment for this.

I don’t care much for being locked into options, and I guess the overall theme here is playing both sides. I’m not going to be forced into agreeing to keep silent. But I also keep Stun Grenades on hand, and like I said, we already have the information we need. And, well, I might have taken the moral highground on another character, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to be defiling the dead later ourselves, so…

I stun them, tell my followers to stop, and run off. In the safety of upstairs we open the note from the cabinet: an age-old telegram sent by a Benjamin Bates, requesting a ring for his son… Gilbert. Well, then. Small world.

Tarant, Exploring the Big City

In Which Our Hero Burgles Items and Tackles Fantasy Racism

So by the time we leave the Schuylers it’s evening again, and a little too late to go look into Gilbert Bates. That being the case, why don’t I just take a brief break to give you a quick tour? You know, fit in some stuff we’d miss otherwise.

Like this charming fellow at the pub, surrounded on all sides by onlookers and guards. This is J.M. Morat, verbose speaker and master of the Haggle skill. Usually we’d come here if we trained Haggling near to max (17/20). He’d give us a task, we’d complete it, and in reward we’d get a special ring and Master training in Haggle.

We’re here early for the ring. If you’re able to strike a deal with the Schuylers but side with Magnus anyway, you can squeeze out an extra Fate point. The fact we blatantly lacked the commitment to actually put an end to them is irrelevant. So while the ring may be immensely precious and Morat may be guarded on all sides… a guaranteed Pick Pocket success is a guaranteed Pick Pocket success.

On paper, the Ring of Influence is a little ridiculous. I mean that’s 6 attribute points, plus a bit of Persuasion and Haggle. Immensely useful to a Haggler, however, since Haggle keys off Willpower despite being a social skill.

For a regular character, well. My intent here to was to show off how clever use of Fate points and a bit of meta-knowledge can really be gamechangers in Arcanum. While Beauty might be the weakest stat and a non-mage won’t get the full +3 to everything (due to their lack of Aptitude), this can still jump you about four levels of CP ahead on a diplomat build. More if you grabbed the Jewel of Hebe for its +1 CHA.

The worst part is that this isn’t the last potential Charisma buff in Tarant.

Incidentally, looks like I was wrong about Expert training in Persuasion running out. Your skills can be reduced a bit, if you temporarily raise your stats to then invest in them. But looks like we’re keeping the Persuasion and now Haggle training with us forever, even when our elixirs run out and our ring’s unequipped. Nice. In any case, let’s put our newfound Charisma to use.

This is HT Parnell’s, a showcase of the exotic and bizarre run by Parnell, a self-proclaimed showman. Ringing any bells? Parnell is a pretty overt riff on the famous P. T. Barnum, known for skirting the line between “showman” and “blatant con artist”. There’s a lot of exhibits here, and they’re all pretty unlikely to be real. Although I am obliged to mention one is a brahmin from Fallout.

(Actually, if the screenshot doesn’t tell, I came here earlier but couldn’t wrap things up due to my lower level.)

One of these exhibits, however, is a possible companion. Meet Gar, the world’s smartest orc.

Gar speaks slightly stilted English but possesses a basic understanding of world politics, how to make a fine cup of tea, all sorts. He can tell you what a “democracy” is, albeit in a somewhat clunky way. Truly, the world’s smartest orc.

But not all is as it seems here. With a bit of Persuasion, things start to unravel.

Surely you jest. Everyone knows green teas are superior to black.

[Gar’s demeanor seems to change. His eyes open fully, and he seems to take on the manner of a foppish gentleman.] Oh come now, that is rubbish! Green tea is for the foreign constitution, not for consumption by those with discerning…uh [he seems to realize something.] I mean, uhm Uhg. Gar no like green tea.

Gar is not an orc. He’s a human pretending to be a ‘smart’ orc, although that still involves acting like a bit of an idiot: no Tarantian gentleman would believe an orc to be capable of actually being cultured and matching a human intellect.

But he’s not in greenface or the like, either. Gar was born to a noble family and received a noble’s education, hence the instinctive tea posturing. His chances of a proper noble life were ruined, though, because he looked like this. Presumably, one side of his family has an orc ancestor somewhere, but at any rate, he sold himself into indentured servitude to Parnell after his family fell from grace due to the scandal surrounding him. He did this against their wishes, but they did need the money.

While Gar’s mostly content with the situation – since there’s far worse places an ‘orc’ could end up – all this isn’t exactly cricket. And it’s an opportunity for us. With a few implied threats, we can take Gar off Parnell’s hands. Orc slavery is fine in Tarant; one of the backgrounds available for half-orcs has them as an escaped factory slave. Human slavery, on the other hand, is scandalous.

Now here’s the moral choice. You can now recruit Gar as a follower and add him into the party. Fortunately after those Charisma buffs we’re sitting at enough to let him into the party. Gar’s a strong melee companion, but his orc-like body means he can only use certain armour. However, you can instead just give him his freedom.

And off Garfield Thelonius Remington III walks out of the story, not that I think he actually had any further follower banter. While it costs us a potential companion, it does give us an extra Fate point. We’ll hang onto it for now, but as you’ve seen, it’ll more than pull its weight if put to good use. Plus, uh, I guess it was the moral thing to do, also.

If you’re curious as to how it could be for an orc, well, we can take a trip to the nearby factory and ask them about it.

There’s a few conversations you can have, and as far as I can tell none of the orcs here specifically are slaves. That doesn’t mean they’re living the good life, though. Pretty much all of them hint at bad conditions, poor pay, and fear of beatings from the (human) foreman. You can play this in a few ways, from being an orc-racist to sympathising with their plight, but there’s not much you can really do right now. You can suggest they form a union, but all you’ll get is a growl and a “mebbe” in response.

Obviously there are real-life parallels at play here and I think a modern game would probably treat this whole thing with more tact. As mentioned, your responses are pretty polarised and cartoonish, either loudly saying “How awful” or going “Serves you right, damn orc”. If we’d been a half-orc or half-ogre ourself, the racism in the background would’ve been pretty unavoidable, something we might explore in a later update. Still, I’m not inherently against exploring these aspects in an RPG; these are, after all, important parts of the real-world Industrial Age.

We’re starting to see the seedy underbelly of Tarant, and on that note. Do you remember how we solved the Lukan / Bridge-Thieves situation diplomatically? Doing that got us a lead on the Tarant Thieves Underground. Time to follow up on it.

Sure enough, in some alleyway we can find a thief. He’ll send us to his boss and, if we’re lucky, he’ll let us officially join the thief club.

Now, we haven’t exactly gone with a thief build, so I don’t know how well we’ll do in this thief club. But potions, elixirs, and all those ingredients I use to craft grenades? It adds up. The life of the scientist isn’t cheap, so I say a job’s a job. And the Thieves Underground have a lot of jobs.

Ignore that the crime lord’s just inexplicably standing on his bed; I caught him as he was headed for sleep. He’ll let us join the Underground provided, of course, we prove ourselves first. His task is simple: the city’s sewers are expansive and potentially really useful, but also a godforsaken maze filled with danger. But if they had the city’s official maps… We just need to head to the city managers and perform a little heist.

An easy enough task for a would-be thief, and sure enough, careful use of the Unlock spell gets us through. However, once we turn in the maps, our new boss lets something slip…

Now isn’t that a coincidence. I’d forgotten about this, actually. But it could be useful.

But tell you what. Thieving can be fun in Arcanum, but it’s not going to be particularly exciting to read about. So why don’t we end things here, I’ll loot what I can from the more general jobs, and I’ll just tell you what the overall haul is next update. Capiche?

Tarant, Getting to Gilbert Bates

In Which the Heroes Attempt, and Fail, to Steal a Corpse from their Grave

Our investigation to the ring has led us to Gilbert Bates, a character pretty much everyone in Tarant has an opinion on. Most view him positively, viewing him an industrialist and inventor, the economic linchpin of Tarant. Others, mainly elves and the like, express skepticism at the rapid growth of technology and the destruction of the natural world.

Whatever your opinion, though, we’ll need to find out what he knows. Bates’ mansion is big, well-guarded, and blocked off by a massive gate – so without an invitation, we’re going to have to be inventive.

But first, I promised you a description of my thieving haul, and you shall have it. There’s some obvious steals here, like some flawless dwarf rubies and some magical artefacts. There’s more concerning stuff we hand over, like some wyvern venom and some jewelry from a favoured prostitute.

Then there’s stuff that’s just not feasible to get unless we become a better thief. A mage, even one mercilessly exploiting coin-drops and the day/night cycle, does have their limits. For example: one of the citizens of Tarant is actually a wizard with a potion of ‘dark power’, but their house is simply cramped. Remember that the Unlock spell’s trade-off is that it’s noisy, so even if we come in at night we’ll just wake the household and start a fight. Maybe we’ll revisit it once Virgil gets better at picking locks.

What we do steal, but just keep to ourselves for now, is the Ring of Virility. There’s a, uh, “story” behind why the owner likely has this on them, but we can get into that later. For now, just know that it’s a +2 to our Constitution and it cost us our Fate point. Actually, for those who want a deeper dive into our overall character:

What's going on with Alyssa O'Doyle?

Looking good, if a bit skimped on Throwing and Willpower. A sewer rat actually gave us a scar, but the -1 Beauty reduction is more than countered by the Jewel of Hebe. This can happen in fights if you’re unlucky, but it’s usually not worth fussing much about. We can get it treated at a doctor or get Jayna to try and heal it up, but for now I guess we’ll just live with it.

I ever tell you about the time in Morrowind I forgot to keep a stat-restoration potion on me? I was midway through some questing when an enemy mage hit me with a few dastardly Strength-drain spells. They didn’t just reduce it a bit, oh no. I wasn’t paying attention and my Strength plummeted to 0. End result: I had to drop all of my items, hobble out of a cave naked, flee to the nearest town I could find, then desperately search for a priest who could fix me up. Good times. Arcanum is much more merciful.

The other reduction is a -1 Perception. This one is just caused by wearing a helmet. Most helmets reduce Perception a bit and the Dark Helm isn’t an exception. Any other stat stuff going on? Well, not in this image, but if I wanted…

See that 17 Dexterity? As a mage, the first spell in the Fire line is ‘Agility of Fire’. While it does need maintaining and takes up a spell slot, it boosts our Dexterity by 4 and it stacks with itself. Not strictly necessarily, but certainly exploitable. Similar spells exist in the other elemental lines for Constitution (Air), Strength (Earth) and Beauty (Water).

The kicker is that these are the first spells in each line. 1 CP spent for Agility of Fire and we can give ourselves +8 Dexterity whenever it’d be convenient, more if we raise Intelligence later on for the extra spell slots. Bless you, Arcanum designers.

Otherwise, the affinity we get from race, background and the Dark Helm disguises that we’re a little shortchanged magickally right now. I’ve consciously chosen not to grab the Harm spell, even though that’d probably be the optimal play, in order to leave my focus on chucking molotovs and grenades. Still, the spells we do have are making a difference, as I hope this dive into thievery makes clear. Outside of what I’ve mentioned, we’ve begun to invest in temporal magic – which isn’t too useful now, but will be vital to our plans later.

Enough stalling. We need to talk to Bates, and our most reliable lead is Cedric Appleby. Appleby’s character is a simple one, and it’s that he’s always been second-best. The leader of the second-largest steam engine company in Tarant, he’s always been just behind the great Gilbert Bates. True to form, we find him standing in front of a broken-down non-functioning steam engine, presumably one of his prototypes.

He’s also possessed of a great ego and prone to outbursts, meaning it’s incredibly easy to tick him off and turn him hostile if you don’t play the suck-up. Unsurprisingly, then, while most people in Tarant have sung Bates’ praises, Appleby has a different version of events:

Gilbert Bates is a common thief, nothing more. I have known him since childhood, until he began consorting with the dwarves. They gave him the steam engine, I’m sure of it! And everyone thinks he invented it!

The scoundrel! But how has he invented so much since then?

He has stolen everything from me! I know for certain that he has hired mages to read my thoughts for all his designs. I can not count the instances I have been envisioning my newest invention and he produces it!

No, he doesn’t have any evidence backing that up, but that’s why we’re here. Appleby has two tasks for us:

  1. Smash one of Gilbert Bates’ new prototype engines. Amusingly, we already broke into the factory holding the engine for an unrelated burglary. Keen-eyed readers, glancing through my journal, might have noticed we’ve also already robbed Appleby. It all balances out in the end.

  2. Sneak into Bates’ mansion and find his diary. Appleby wants dirt on Bates and this is where he’s sure he’ll find it: proof Bates lied about his invention of the steam engine. This here’s our way in and, as a proven thief, we have the option to just skip the first task.

If doing Appleby’s bidding is starting to sound a bit dodgy to you, yes, you’re correct. Actually completing either task slightly lowers your alignment and, since we’re likely here for an ulterior motive, the game makes it clear you can just be [Lie]-ing to Appleby when you promise to find the journal for him. I can only assume someone in Troika Games had a bad time with a Mac.

Still, we’ve already established we’re willing to engage in a bit of industrial sabotage to secure some funding for our own experiments. And while you can just charge into the factory and murder everyone in there, it’s possible to do it more quietly. Ensure no guards are nearby and we can magickally unlock a back door. Then we wait for the patrolling guards inside to move out of our way, and happily waltz over to the prototype undetected. So long as we time it appropriately, we’re in no danger.

In addition to a bit of money as reward, Appleby provides us with two ways into the Bates mansion. First, he gives us a Servant’s Dress, letting us look like we’re a member of Bates’ staff. That would be enough to get me through the gates if I was on my own, but the entourage backing me up will give the game away. Second, he gives us a key to the Bates mausoleum, located in Tarant’s graveyard: apparently there’s a secret, trap-filled tunnel into the mansion. That’ll have to do.

Interestingly, Appleby isn’t the only one with a task for us at the local graveyard…

In the university area of Tarant, among other learned men, we can find a phrenologist. Some of you might be familiar with the term. If not, well, in his own words:

Phrenology, of course, was a real-world field of study that enjoyed popularity in Victorian times, although nowadays we consider it pretty much pseudoscience. The basic idea is that the shape of your skull reflects your brain and how you use it: depending on which, ahem, ‘brain muscles’ you exercise most often, you’ll get different bumps on your skull from these specific muscles growing bigger. In turn, this means you could get an idea of someone’s character by measuring their head.

Presumably it works about as well in the world of Arcanum as it does in real-life: subject yourself to a head examination, and Benjamin’s great evaluation is… that you’re a half-elf. Great, good job, thanks. Figured the ears would give it away.

It’s easy to sit back and mock now, of course. Phrenology’s heyday as a ‘real’ science in Britain was roughly between the 1820s-1840s, although it lasted in popular psychology and the fringe long after it had mostly been discredited. Think about how Freud still casts a large spectre over the public’s understanding of psychology, even though the field itself has largely moved on. 1902’s The Hound of Baskervilles, for instance, has a physician comment to Holmes:

The great detective, incidentally, completely ignores this hilarious remark.

Anyway, there’s your historical trivia. On with the fantasy questgiving.

Benjamin would have us fetch the skulls of two scandalous conjoined elves. The problem: we’re going to have to break into their mausoleum to do it. You can see why he’s outsourcing this task and the pay’s pretty piddling – but hey, if it’s for Science. We agree. It’s a simple task anyway, right?

Naturally, things don’t go to plan. We enter the graveyard to find the mausoleum already pried open. The coffin inside is empty… apart from a matchbox from the local Gentleman’s Club. We’ll have to follow that surprisingly obvious lead later.

In the meantime we have another, more important mausoleum to break into. The route into the Bates mansion is positively filled with locked doors and traps, but we’re able to open the doors, tank the traps and, eventually, emerge to the other side…

We’re in. And fortunately enough, the room we emerge to is apparently where they keep the servant’s clothing: we’re able to find disguises for all sizes and genders. This’ll keep any guards from turning hostile. This wasn’t the only way into the mansion, nor was it necessarily the most profitable way, but this route does get us a Fate point.

Now let’s find that journal and see what Bates has to say.