Lately I've been getting closer to fantastic, sci fi and futuristic RPGs and Arcana of the Ancients will be my testing ground. Even if I'm sure it's a phase of my journey as a storyteller, it doesn't stop me from playing it; nor to drag the group with me, with obvious repercussions. Obviously such a drastic change of setting (from classic to futuristic) is not easy to digest, neither for me nor for my players. So I tried not to change the system (D&D 5E) but to look for a closer "setting". The research focused on finding "fantastic / scientific" material for the fifth, easily landing on Numenera, SJ but ending up in nothing. Whether you like it or not, the material for D&D in settings other than medieval seem to be few (if you don't want to fall into homebrew).

I was thinking of abandoning the project when I fell on Kickstarter, and it was here that I found Arcana of the Ancients, a project conceived by the Monte Cook Game, a cauldron of all my most languid wishes.

One of the representations used in the Kickstarter
One of the representations used in the Kickstarter

What is Arcana of the Ancients and why is it interesting?

In the misty recesses of time, before the kingdoms and lands you knew existed - before the elder elves, ancestral dwarf lords and even dragons - unexpected civilizations rose and dissolved. And as they passed, they left behind the remnants of the powers they wielded. They built citadels of metal, glass and light, now hidden in the deepest recesses of the world, and crafted wonders and harnessed energies that we can only imagine. These places, objects and even creatures can all be called Arcana of the Ancients.

Ancients of the Arcana looks like this, making it clear that it is a manual for the fifth edition of D&D. A more than rare unique manual that sees its focus on bringing to the table extravagances of the future and mysterious technologies in traditional campaigns. Already from the description one could smell the presence of Mount Cook, already famous for his numerous works, which in fact is co-creator and designer of the manual together with Bruce Cordell (City of Torment who?) And Sean K. Reynolds (Magia del Faerun thing?). With such a trio, the masterpiece is practically around the corner, especially when it comes to ancient civilizations, forgotten eras, technologies that mix science with magic and… well, everything else.

Arcana of the Ancients in detail

The Kickstarter is not lost in excessive turns of words or in commercials, aiming straight to the point and explaining what will be found in the manual. In summary, we will find:

  • Adventures. Arcana of the Ancients will begin with an adventure to be included anywhere in your ongoing campaign. This will serve to introduce the concepts of the book: ancient entities and populations, forgotten technologies and monsters never seen before. From this adventure all the various concepts will then develop.
  • New technologies. The book will open its doors for hundreds of unique and strange objects, belonging to worlds still to be discovered or now decayed. Between objects capable of shaping time and space and other lethal energy dispensers, the characters will have a lot to do.
  • Creature. As is now customary, this manual also brings with it dozens of new creatures, further increased to more than a hundred thanks to the unlocked manual "Beast of Flesh and Steel“, Available as an add-on. It will be interesting to see how certain creatures behave and what kind of abilities they have at their disposal, and I smell of arcane-mechanical dragons in the air.
  • Aid for the narrator. Guidelines for how to incorporate the “futuristic” theme into the current campaign, suggestions on how to introduce characters to this ancient technology and how to build a campaign based on this manual. All that, in essence, is missing from the canonical Dungeon Master's Manual.
  • Options for players, probably summarized in some background, some more specializations (the archaeologist for the thief and the scholar of ancient technologies for the magician are the first that come to mind), mutations (perhaps talents or gifts), cybernetic grafts (probably objects magic with bond) and much more.
  • Illustrations, illustrations and more illustrations.
One of the representations used in the Kickstarter
One of the representations used in the Kickstarter

A useful manual, an indispensable tool-kit

The basic manual is only the most substantial slice of the Kickstarter, to which you can add Your Best Game Ever, a useful manual for anyone who has approached role-playing. The add-on manual Beast of Flesh and Steel it is also a gem for anyone who wants to immerse themselves even more in the ancient-futuristic climate and needs to throw handfuls of monsters on the players.

What I find more juicy than the manual, however, are the options for characters and guidelines for storytellers. The former are always useful and can, with very few precautions, adapt to most of the settings of this type, therefore practically evergreen. I just hope they are playtest properly to avoid introducing inappropriate excesses at the table (yes Xanathar, I'm thinking of you and your Hexblade slipped on top of the powerbuilds).

The guidelines for the narrator instead they are a must have since the part concerning wordbuilding advice is really lacking in the basic manual. Although I appreciate the absence of the rivers of tables as it was in the third, I think at the levels of the manual of Dungeon Master 2 (both of third that of fourth, don't get me wrong) no product has arrived yet. Here, this manual could help bridge the gap by providing young storytellers with more insights.

One of the representations used in the Kickstarter
One of the representations used in the Kickstarter

If the project interested you, here you can find more information. Arcana of the Ancients is expected in March 2020.