[Let’s Study: Early Dark] Part 5: Manual of Artistry

Today we take a look at Early Dark’s Arts.

Arts is the catch-all term for Early Dark’s powers. Defined as bodies of knowledge possessed by the characters, I find it very interesting (and appropriate) that both mundane skills and magic involving the Arcane and the Loom all fall under this category. Considering the fact that these civilizations are are fairly young, and it was a time where transfer of knowledge was nowhere near the level it was during the Renaissance era, simply knowing the tricks of a given trade may seem at par with magic already.

As you can imagine, the Arts in Early Dark are segregated into three primary categories: Mundane, Arcane and Loom.

The Mundane arts range from cultural forms to early sciences and martial skills. Each of them allow for the practiced use of a given skill set bestowing associated perks as the hero grows in proficiency and granting access to special Talents and Masteries unique to the Art.

I’m glad to see that the Mundane Arts focus on noncombat as much as they do with combat skills. In the mythic setting of Early Dark, characters that are known to be cunning tricksters and wise sages definitely need to have a place and the game makes sure that there are Arts that reflect that.

The Arcane arts are one of two magick systems in Early Dark. Working on the basis of the game’s pre-history and metaphysics, the Arcane form of magic is the one that is inherently disruptive. It works against the Loom in the sense that it twists things into “unnatural” forms. That said, Arcane art aren’t inherently “evil” by any stretch. There are seven different Arcana in the game:

  • Protagony – magic designed to assist allies
  • Antagony – magic designed to deal damage
  • Summoning – magic to call the spirits and beings of another world
  • Manipulation – mastery of trickery and deceit
  • Blood Magick – magic that twists and transforms the body
  • Enchanting – blessing and blighting of objects
  • Kinesis – levitation and movement of objects and/or people

Loom Magick on the other hand is the reverse of Arcane Arts. This is magick that works with the loom, following it’s currents and being able to enact changes without disrupting the flow of nature. It’s effects are at times more subtle while sometimes being more spectacular.

While having a single magickal paradigm underneath everything is good for rules consistency, I feel that Early Dark missed a great opportunity here to tailor fit certain spells for certain Civilizations. Given that many of the historical cultures exhibit different belief systems when it comes to magic (Chinese alchemy vs western alchemy as a basic example) it would have been nice if the Arts were somehow either subdivided between the civilizations to show which peoples were more attuned to a given form of magick.

As is the magicks feel less flavorful as everyone (regardless of their civilization) can do the same things assuming they have the same Talents. After all the work in making the civilizations feel as real as possible in the setting, having this kind of treatment with the Magick section is a little bit of a disappointment. Still, there’s nothing wrong with the spells themselves, they’re functional and neat in any rpg, but it does feel like there was a missed opportunity for more flavor.

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