Arcana Unearthed, later Arcana Evolved, was Monte Cook's formal dissent from the "3.5" edition of Dungeons & Dragons, especially as it pertained to clerics and druids and, we concede, he had a strong point. White Wolf published this, having already run their own parallel rules in Relics & Rituals among others. As to whether this was the correct alternative... read on, and judge accordingly.
AU features several new races, classes, feats, and theory-of-magic - all in accordance with the 3.0 / d20 rules. The first book was billed as an alternate Players Handbook but the revamp peed all over that, by incorporating setting-specific information (see further below).
Several of the AU features parallel points of Stephen R Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, especially the first one. The Giants who travelled here by ship from the east, and now cannot get back home? Oh yeah. The weaponless fighter who powers himself by the sheer force of his oaths? That's the Oathsworn. The Diamond Throne is on its way to pull the horses and the Forestal. Also the emphasis on ritual over one-shot melee spellcasting. By extension, these rules - and the setting, which we'll get to - has no cleric.
Like Talislanta, this setting prides itself on lacking elves also... and promptly dumps the next best thing here, namely the faen. Other races include dogmen and catmen, here the Sibeccai and the Litorians. The Verrik are emo humans. And finally there's the Runechildren, for all your Mary Sue needs; and the Mojh, ultimate dragon weeaboos. These "scions" were human once and have undergone a ritual to be lizardlike (faen have body dysmorphia too - they become sprytes).
This book was written about the same time as was the third Eldritch Might book, The Nexus; and as The Banewarrens (and Ptolus). Some ideas are shared in common. With the former, once upon a time There Be Dragons but not now (although, wait for it...). With the latter, at least once Ptolus gets out, we'll be seeing litorians and rhodin.
Here, everyone shares the same XP level chart, so each class progressed at the same rate, rather at the rate the DM deems just.
Akashic taps into the Akashic Memory. Consider if "speak with dead" was a character-class instead of a spell. They're here to filter exposition on behalf of the DM for whatever setting you're playing in. Really should be restricted to NPCs unless the DM has a little sister or a spouse he's training to be the next DM.
Champion abstracts out the cavalier, itself a secular abstraction of the paladin. The book presents the beta male for Light, Darkness, Life, Death, Magic, or Freedom. "Light" is good and "Darkness" is evil so, here's the AU paladin / antipaladin.
Greenbond is the nature-mage, one of this book's several routes to replace the 3.5 druid.
Magister is the pure mage, taught in schools for that. Since this is a Monte joint lots of people do magic already, so the Magister gets access to "complex" and "exotic" spells that others don't.
Oathsworn is the monk by way of the Land's Haruchai.
Runethane is another mage but this one taught by a tutor rather than in the Magisterial Academy. He sticks (simple) spells on things or in the air by way of runes. Redundant as fuck unless you got a tattoo fetish.
Totem Warrior is the CoDzilla shaman who can GROAAAWRR! Or, be hawklike, sharklike, snakelike, wolflike... wolverinelike.
Unfettered is the swashbuckler fighter/thief really really good at NOT getting hit.
Warmain is the alternate-fighter of AU, the tank of the team. Parallel to the Weeaboo Fightan Magic Warblade.
Witch is the sorcerer by another name but with additional witchey ways. AU offers six types: iron, mind, sea, wind, winter, wood. They are manifested by: blade, fire, song, storm, word.
Overall, you see where AU is going with this: Death To CoDZilla. The druids' abilities are spread out among various shaman classes, and clerics go to the stake. Meanwhile the sorcerer is re-imagined (again) and the para-fighter is buffed so better balanced. Some of these classes borrow from Relics & Rituals, particularly the Witch (two prestige-classes, there).
On topic of prestige classes AU assumes them setting-specific, so read on for those. Arcana Evolved will offer more base classes. AE also suggests how to balance these classes with, say, the Rogue (knew we forgot something!) or visiting fighters from elsewhere: basically, you need to give your aliens an extra Feat.
The Diamond Throne
Alignments are NOT part of this text. Look at you, "with us or against us". What are you, some kind of George W Bush voter?! (These books were a Product Of Their Time, as the saying goes.)
Errr... alignment is sort of not part of AU. The AU tweaks were playtested in a special setting, Diamond Throne. Good and evil couldn't quite be glided over. At the very least it contrasts the Green, which is life (and death!); and the Dark fueling unlife. The moment you allow undead into a campaign-world, you've dragged all the living into a coalition against it, willing or not. We actually own a snapshot into how this happened to Monte in his "Between Life and Death", reviewed below.
Above all DT makes clear that on this world Serran did once used to be such a thing as eeevil. Lord Foul was played by the dramojh, something like "our scions" in Draconic. Some asshole dragons got into their scaly horny heads to juggle some demon-testes or something. Thereby were spawned these nightmarish mixes of dragon and spider (because creepy) who subsequently took over THE WORLD, at least the northeast side of their continent.
After centuries of tyranny and body-horror throughout this book's map, the Giants got loose from Donaldson's book and anchored off the coast. The liberated humans sided with them; the lore is less clear on the Litorians, who might have rebelled by themselves first, but they too rallied to the giant-human alliance. Subsequently ensued a war to the knife, eradicating the dramojh, much to everyone's surprise. The humans soon found themselves under new management - Giant management. Suckers!
DT suggests Arcane Archer, Assassin, Dwarven Defender (for giants!), loremaster, shadowdancer. From Eldritch Might 1-2 (but not 3...): Embermage, Mirror Master, Eldritch Warrior. The Scarred Lands' Relics & Rituals series get a shout-out in the Vigilant and the Spirit Walker.
Specific to DT are: Beast Reaver, Crystal Warrior, Darkbond, Giant Paragon, Mage Priest (to replace the cleric), Ollamh Lorekeeper, Rune Lord (who replaces the EM1 Graven One), Somnamancer.
The Giant Paragon will be extended to several other races in AE, in the form of racial levels.
Monster, Monster, Mo-mo-mo-monster
Alabast are alien Noldor from elsewhere (but they're Not Elves because shut up).
Chorrim are militaristic hostile humanoids from the caves but aren't orcs or hobgoblins because get bent.
Cyclops, you get it. Of interest to the giants because they look like they might be evidence that the giants are not, as everyone says they are, aliens here.
Dark Warden aren't Forestals from The Illearth War. In this context they are an undigested prestige-class of NPC druids so redundant.
Harrid aren't nagpa but quit bugging me. They live over on Skaraven and subsist on magic.
Inchon aren't bullywugs.
Radont aren't the sentient horses from Lord Foul's Bane.
Shadow Troll well you know.
Rhodin are scavenging thieving humanoid scum but aren't goblins because fuck you. There's something like 'em in Ptolus.
(Ed. = The whole AU / DT universe never was as original as it wanted to be.)
Slassan are about as close to dramojh as you're likely to meet. Half snake, half spider, all nasty.
Xaaer aka death ooze are Dark-infused big slimes.
Excuse me, would you like to discuss our Lord and Savior?
We mentioned above, no clerics as such. This may be worth a discussion.
Giants and litorians are atheists, verrik hope to ascend to godhood, and faen are basically animists who think up gods on the spot. Humans have organised religion - but for the most part, that's a past-tense had. Half this demographic are atheist and most of the rest can be classified as "spiritual". Maybe getting thoroughly boned by two alien races in succession might have something to do with that . . .
To be noted, Serran conjoins at least one hell, Kaleknos; and Beyond Countless Doorways is coming to retcon and describe another(?) one, Kin-Li'in. (Also an Earth elemental plane, Deluer.) Infidels on Serran, who we repeat make the majority, hold that such terrible abodes are mere conjunct worlds like - well, like Deluer; they are not an afterlife. They say the same of heaven although, there is much less evidence here for that. The main philosophic dissent comes from the cult of Rallonoch who assure their faithful that their chrism is effective to, we suppose, grease the locks to [the only] Heaven's gate.
Most Serranese, correctly interpreting "heaven" and "hell" as supernatural to Serran, deduce that these effect the Green and the Dark in this world. Such people skip right past theology and go with local druid analogues instead.
Ergo: no real clerics. Unless and until Tracy Hickman runs a campaign here, which he won't. Or until someone traipses across the Monteverse to find one or more of the (many) planes which do host clerics, and reports back...
All this had to be playtested, and new
puntersplayers had to be convinced it could be fun to play without getting paid.
Three short adventures were posted gratis on the Malhavoc.com site.
Between Life and Death, by Monte Cook. This was how the AU rules and DT got introduced to his readers. That might explain why the plot revolves around two massive electrodes between Green and Dark, where the latter anode is considered the Pillar of Death. That is, of course, not how AU / DT in published form works; death is a natural part of the Green, where the Dark is undeath. Also the Council of Magisters is active which they are, canonically, inactive in DT - although there's a fanclub trying to revive it in one of the magisters' old universities. But maybe we're judging from an early edition because we're just that damn old. We do get to see some undead in this world.
The Depths of Hunger, by Tom Lommel. Lommel, a playtester for this series, composed this as "Fate of the Iron Witch" which he ran at GenCon 2003. AHOY, MATEY as your party moves a macguffin from Ka-Rone to Shana, one of the Free Cities southward. There's a time limit because tournament.
The Thrice-Cursed Crown, by Mike Mearls. The crown of "Varran" here is dramojh or maybe pre-dramojh, acting like Sauron's Ring in that it has its own opinions as to who gets to wear it. Luckily, the last owner realised what a bane she had and locked herself in a castle at the Harrowdeep up north. Unluckily, some nosy mojh has found her vault. If you've played WGR3: Rary the Traitor or GAZ13, you get the idea: no matter how bad your hairline is getting, this is not your hat.
Diamond Throne accumulated a few extra splatbooks. First and foremost Legacy of the Dragons for some NPCs and new-ish monsters, by Monte Cook with Mike Mearls; who wrote Mystic Secrets himself, for power-rituals, runes, and settings. The former retconned dramojh origins: from "Tenebrian Seeds".
We do need to discuss Mystic Secrets, on its own criteria that it "draw logical conclusions from the tone and feel of the core book". This offered that runechildren become runechildren because of a backstory, including REVENGE. It further proposes a Spock Goatee Universe runechild, Herald Of Annihilation, serving the Dark. The three settings are: Bone Cathedral, an ancient meeting-place within the ribcage of a dead dragon; Infinite Library, which stores in manuscript form all the Akashic Memory; and Roof of the World, on "Arathamis" on the Bitter Peaks. To put it politely much here constrains (at least) the mysteries of the Diamond Throne.
If runechildren can be made from some past trauma this implies (further) they are not messianic forces of good, but are branded by some powerful outside force for its own shits n' giggles. The Herald, as a creature of the Dark, (further) marks the dramojh as not being of the Dark intrinsically. The dramojh perhaps fought the very undead they'd raised themselves in Verdune; and was Vahr of Verdune - Legacy, 122 - a Herald? Arathamis vies with Herrosh as the tallest of the Peaks, but maybe that's its dragon name. Within Arathamis, the Hall of Kings has several portals to Verdune... which is interesting in that Verdune was to be the NON magical realm of this continent until the dramojh got there, contrast Thartholan. Above all (as it were) The Infinite Library is structurally incompatible with the lore of akashics, which is pre-literate; and one must wonder about something so powerful here. The DM will certainly have to limit its scope, say to Terrakal only.
Your mileage with Mystic Secrets will vary, to sum up. A lot.
Also the minor publishers Fiery Dragon and Mystic Eye offered some adventures around Ebonring Keep, nigh on the Floating Forest between the two north/south mountain-ranges.
Oh, and there was a short-story collection, Children of the Rune.
Starting 2003, The Community tested out how the AU / DT / LoD world with its overhauled d20 system was going to work. They found a number of stress-points and opportunities for improvement. Come 2005, we got Arcana Evolved.
This rewrite had to justify its existence so, in addition to the fixes, and the appendix, AE has new material. The Ritual Warrior is herein introduced. Alongside this was Mike Mearls' Transcendence book which offered the Totem Speaker class, several new Feats and prestige-classes, and "Tylonian" (crystal) equipment.
Evolved is where this sequence and this setting jumped the shark. Start with the colour-theme, which AU had as a nice eye-pleasing yellow-on-black formerly and in AE is an eye-blasting white-on-red.
Most of all - just as players and DMs were figuring out all these weird new rules and how they worked in Diamond Throne - OH HI WE'RE THE DRAGONS AND WE'RE BACK NOW. We didn't even get a gazetteer of a single starter location.
So, here come the Dracha, dragon-men. And the dragons come behind them, bearing gifts... Tenebrian Seeds. Some races can use these to become Evolved or Transcendent or whatevs; giants become taller for instance. Because nobody ever listens to the historians. And we thought Cook was writing fantasy...
This is perhaps the Malhavoc Press answer to Dragonlance. Takhisis doesn't come to conquer; she comes to seduce.
Anyway, the massive AE book makes a Dragon-sized blunder in bundling the player material with the DM's, guaranteeing that the DM is going to make some awful decisions in how to parcel the former to the players - handing a PDF excerpt to them, most likely.
This version at least had a first-party adventure-module. Mearls, Ruins of Intrigue. The ruin (singular) is an arena, between dragon and giant. The ruin was once a dramojh nursery; the giants and dragons are working out who gets the loot. Mearls tries ever so hard not to take sides, because a major theme in this universe is that alignment is Nuanced, but... only one side can make new dramojh, and that's the dragon side. Did anyone even play this thing who wasn't playtesting it?
Nobody's done much with the AU/AE rules, nor with the Diamond Throne setting, in some time.
It was full to bursting with ideas. And it's not like you HAVE to play a morally-ambiguous campaign; there are plenty of baddies left post-dramojh, especially in the mountains' underdark. D&D parties were doing just great thumping goblins in B2's Caves of Chaos, or managing diplomacy or even running a kingdom in the Companion set.
What killed this setting was the dragons. Whatever the party does, in the back of their heads they have to know it won't matter here, because they don't matter here anymore.