Monte Cooke’s Arcana Unearthed (Amazon) is an alternative Players Handbook for Dungeons & Dragons that ditches the game’s time-honored fantasy classes in favor of wholly new classes that contain echoes of their predecessors, but represent something entirely different. It does an excellent job of breaking the fantasy molds, and it’s surprisingly well-suited for a libertarian campaign.
The game throws out D&D’s alignment system, which should come as welcome news to anyone who’s every struggled with the traditional definition of lawful good. Several of the game’s core races and classes have libertarian tendencies, offering the possibility of creating PCs whose natural inclinations tend toward individualism and love of freedom. The Diamond Throne (Amazon) gazetteer expands on the core role book, introducing oppressive villains, a primary realm ruled by benevolent dictators, and a more distant one home to a far more laissez-faire lifestyle.
Introducing the Realm
In the lands of the Diamond Throne, the greatest threat ever known to civilization — the tyrannical demon/dragon hybrids known as the dramojh — have been dead for generations. The giants, a noble, if authoritarian, race from across the seas came to this land, found that the dramojh had enslaved the continent, and went into “Chi-Julud ” mode, a war-like, ritually-induced racial mindset that compelled them to hunt down and kill every last one of the draconic spawn.
Once the dramojh were slain, they reverted to their more peaceful “Si-Karan” state. They set about rebuilding the land, establishing laws, and imposing their authority, restoring peace, but at the price of obedience to their newly-forged “Diamond Throne”. Theirs is the aforementioned “benevolent dictatorship” — they impose law and order upon the realm, and uphold the peace, but they are the ones laying down those laws, and it is to the giants that they expect individuals to pay fealty. There are advisors from among the other races, but it is the giants who rule.
There are a few lands that remain free of giant influence. The half-lion litorians remain free on the plains, while halfling-like faen retain dominion in their northern forests. Humans have managed to hold on to a few southern realms, namely the gutted Fallanor Empire and the unaffiliated Free Cities,
There are no major evil threats left on the continent — if there were, the giants would be back on the warpath — but there are myriad smaller threats, including a reach of land suffused with extraplanar dangers left over from dramojh experiments, old minions of the hybrids still hoping for a return to their diabolical glory, and lost treasures from the ancient empires pre-dating the dramojh invasion.
An undercurrent to the campaign setting is that not everyone is pleased with the giant usurpation of the realm, even if they did drive back the dramojh. In particular, there is the Order of the Axe, a knightly order that had originally sought to assist the Diamond Throne in maintaining law and order within the land. The Diamond Throne, preferring its own giantish order, disavowed them. Outraged, the Order are now “dedicated to upholding order, but not supporting the rule of those in power. They work outside the bounds of law to seek justice. They protect the innocent, but not always through lawful means”.
I can work with this.
The Freedom to Roam
Because there are no major enemies threatening the realm, my libertarian Arcana Unearthed campaign would focus on exploration, dungeoneering, and interaction with the larger realm. I foresee having a group of adventurers bound together by a common love of freedom, whose quests are split between defeating threats to liberty and dungeon delves aimed at improving themselves intellectually and monetarily.
It would be a campaign very much motivated by rational self-interest, with players actively encouraged to research specialized spells, craft unique magic items, and seek out lost knowledge while simultaneously discovering new secrets of their own. In some ways it would an old-school campaign, oriented more towards exploration than shaking the political pillars of the realm, but after running campaigns in which the PCs are constantly saving the realm from one threat or another, this would be a welcome change.
Of course, if the players tire of that, the setting offers opportunities for political intrigue as well. The PCs could join up with the Order of the Axe or another resistance and work to undermine the giants rule in the realm, fighting in the classic vein of “no taxation without representation”. Depending on how the players proceed, that could lead to an outright war with the giants, pitting individual liberty vs. the “collective good”. Or it could lead to more interesting out comes, with perhaps some of the giants agreeing to the demands of the rebels, while others — shocked at such concisions, launch a civil war to defend their nanny state. Or perhaps the Order of the Axe and their allies decide to abandon the lands of the Diamond Throne and head west to the unexplored lands to establish their own realm. Still another possibility might be an evil cult determined to sow discord in the realm by artificially inducing a corrupted version of the giant’s Chi-Julud state.
And then again, maybe not. The great thing about the Diamond Throne realm is that there are so many options, and it would be possible — and fun — to run a campaign in which players do nothing else other than pursue their own, personal goals. Regardless of the path chosen, I find the potential of an Unearthed Arcana campaign invigorating.
I’ll go into the specific races and classes I’d use for the PCs in an Arcana Unearthed campaign in my next column.