Remember… Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura?

Remember… is a series of retrospectives, some from our magazine archives, and others from our more recent nostalgia dreams.


My Dearest Mrs Grottytumbler-Smythe, 

Well, blast & confound it all! This damnable IFS Zephyr zeppelin has contrived by some unpropitious Means to ruin itself here among the Stonewall Peaks; mayhap those beastly Elves have sown some Truths midst their delirious Babblings of Technology & its ill-favouredness. It appears I am the sole survivor of this Unhappy calamity, although I did stumble upon a dying Gentleman earlier, who bestowed upon myself a Ring of peculiar likeness & charged me with its Safe delivery to a Person named only as “the boy”. Most queer! Yet barely moments later, I was accosted by a strange & somewhat addled fellow, who promptly declared me the Reincarnation of some Elfish mystic. What a very peculiar Business indeed! He has entreated me to accompany him to his Elder, a Gentleman named Joachim who resides in the nearby hamlet of Shrouded Hills, who may lend some much-needed erudition upon this perplexing matter. 

I hope this finds you and the Children in pleasant health. I shall be off on adventure in the meantime. 


Merwin Grottytumbler-Smythe, ESQ. 

Anyone who calls themselves an RPG fan but hasn’t played Arcanum should be rounded up and shot in the town square. Not only was it made by more or less exactly the same people who made Fallout, and not only does it feature the same ingenious classless character system as Fallout, but it’s also an RPG of another exceedingly uncommon rarity because it’s set in a steampunk universe. That’s right, there’s no tedious mucking about with watercoloured Tolkien-inspired clichés here – we’ve got muskets and clockwork and trains and all the other marvelous stuff of sooty industry crowding out the wizards in pointy purple hats.

Hilariously (and not entirely unexpectedly), the recent introduction of  technology is bothering the world’s Fairy Union (or wherever it is that magic comes from), precipitating all sorts of calamity. Spellcasters doing their thing around engines might have their fireballs explode in their faces, for example, while simultaneously prompting all the machinery around them to fail. Elsewhere, social tensions are escalating as half-orc factory labourers demand pay rises and dwarves abandon their subterranean heritage for urban capitalism and commerce, plying cheap jewellery on street corners for cash. Oh, it’s like a whimsical, campy Victorian sitcom, except people die.

Much like its post-apocalyptic predecessor, it’s possible to play Arcanum with an extraordinary range of different character concepts, and it’s often playing on the extremes that offers the most entertainment value. Fumbling through what is suddenly an overwhelmingly complex plot and daunting dialogue sequences as a half-orc barbarian with a zero intelligence score, for example, is every bit as amusing as playing an analogous character in Fallout. Lacking any sort of subtlety, sophistication or elocution, you’re relegated to grunting and bashing your way through a narrative that’s lost about a third of its content because you’re simply too stupid to know it’s even there.


We’ve teamed up with GOG to give one NAG reader a free copy of Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. Simply drop a comment below and we’ll randomly choose a winner on Friday.

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