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Video Game: Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura
aka: Arcanum Of Steamworksand Magick Obscura

Arcanum is an expansive and very open-ended Role-Playing Game where Tolkienian High Fantasy meets Vernian Steam Punk, courtesy of the designers behind the first two Fallout games.

Much of Arcanum deals with Item Crafting and character building — many of the items in the game can be used to build other items and The Dev Team Thinks of Everything. It contains a very detailed setting and a well-designed scenario, as well as vast amounts of political backstory in the game's libraries, newspapers and legends. The game retains a cult following similar to its cousin Fallout, and is additionally often very favorably compared to Baldur's Gate II and Planescape: Torment, although Arcanum's detail focuses more on its setting's history and mechanisms than on its playable characters.

The IFS Zephyr has just begun her maiden voyage, a marvelous, high-society venture through the clouds. Aboard, the cream of high society enjoys the flight, playing chess, sipping fine wine, etc. Sadly, nothing gold can last forever — and, out of the blue, the airship is attacked by a pair of ogres flying primitive fighter planes. Within moments, the vessel goes down in flames.

There's only one survivor, the player character — and, as they crawl out of the wreckage, a dying gnome begs them to take his ring to "the boy". The player character soon meets a man named Virgil, who claims to have found the reincarnation of a long lost prophet... and that's where the story properly takes off.

The player can join up with a large amount of playable characters. Although their personalities are often not as well-defined as those of some non-playable characters in the game, many of them are (very nicely) voiced, and they all contribute to the plot and interact with each other. Many of them are hidden, and many of them require very specific alignment, charisma stats and dialogue from the player before they even suggest joining the party. Similarly, the player often needs to meet very specific aptitude requirements before certain quests are even mentioned, meaning that no two playthroughs are the same and that each new player character will have a unique experience.

Arcanum has a level cap of 50, which encourages players to specialize in very specific types of magic or technology. (However, a no-CD-patch combined with a level cap remover patch can quickly fix that.) Uniquely, knowledge of technology in Arcanum disables magical aptitude, and vice versa, so that the player will always have to choose between the two (or find a very, very careful balance) and (eventually) be shunned by the other branch.

Remarkably, the game is still being tested and patched by a squadron of devoted fans today. A new release by Good Old Games is now available, with the notorious bugs fixed and the game adapted to modern systems.

A sequel — titled Journey to the Centre of Arcanum and using Half-Life 2's Source engine — was in its initial planning stages, but Sierra and Valve had disagreements, and Troika Games' dissolution sealed the game's fate.


This game provides examples of the following:

  • Absurdly Low Level Cap: The level cap of 50 can be reached before you've even finished half the game, quite easily at that.
  • The Ageless: Anyone banished into the Void becomes this. Time seems to pass, but no one gets any older. It is unknown whether this quality only applies to beings from Arcanum.
  • A God Am I: The player character may become this at the end of the patched game if s/he sides with Kerghan until the very last moment and then declares godhood when he demands to know the reason for the betrayal.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Franklin Payne combines this with Gentleman Adventurer.
  • Alternative Calendar: Averted, oddly enough—the game begins on January 1, 1885, despite this being another world.
  • Alternate Identity Amnesia: Cynthia Wit has no idea that she's a lycanthrope, or that she's responsible for butchering the rabbits that her father farms. She tells you that she's been hoping to catch the culprit herself, but all she remembers is feeling terribly exhausted, falling asleep before the attacker arrives and waking up the next morning to find another dead rabbit.
  • Amazon Brigade: One of the few Role Playing Games with enough female NPCs for a complete party - any combination of a female PC, Cynthia, Druella, Z'an, Raven, Janya and Swyft can become this.
  • An Aesop: Near endgame Nasrudin summarizes the moral of the story to Virgil: "Blind faith is bad, question everything". This holds true with the Panarii religion run by the agents of its devil-figure, and the deceptions of Min'Gorad which Loghaire admits that he should've been more suspicious of, and even the Gnome Ogre-breeding conspiracy which only functions as long as not too many people question the mysterious increase in the Half-Ogre species.
    • The other Aesop is "even when life is suffering, it's still worth living".
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Torian Kel's fellow Gray Legionnaires; undead warriors whose bodies have rotted away.
      • "Nothing will ever raise my comrades from the dust. They will live on... without voice, without dreams, without vision..."
    • Arronax has spent the last 2000 years imprisoned in a magical shell, as punishment for attempting to destroy Kerghan when he was first banished to the void.
  • ...And That Little Girl Was Me: One of the Isle of Despair's inmates will offer to tell you a story, which ends with the revelation that he's the rightful heir to the throne of Cumbria, deposed during a coup.
  • And Man Grew Proud
  • And Your Reward Is Clothes: See Shout-Out below. The clothes happen to be the ones the mage was wearing.
  • Anti-Villain: For most of the game, Kerghan kills, tortures, and generally acts in an indisputably evil way. But when you are told his motivations for doing so, particularly when Virgil confirms what he has to say, you can easily understand his point of view. Which is kind of disturbing given that he's an Omnicidal Maniac.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: The manual is written like this. Mostly in an in-universe style.
  • Apocalyptic Log: In Vendigroth you can find newspapers reporting about an elven wizard who threatened them and how they told him to screw himself. Vendigroth is now a giant lifeless wasteland — guess who's responsible for that.
  • Arbitrary Gun Power
  • Artifact of Doom: The Bangellian Scourge, at least story-wise (in game terms, it just slashes your alignment a bit).
  • Artificial Brilliance: The AI's capable of some pretty complex interactions. If you kill a man in the street while no guards are watching, you might think you're off scot free — but you'd better drag the body into an alley, because if a guard on patrol spots you standing next to a corpse he'll figure out you're the killer. Also, unlike in most RPGs, if you take off your clothes and go running through the streets NPCs will actually react to your obscene behaviour.
    • Artificial Stupidity: You can use the AI's proactive behavior against it, though. If an NPC spots a piece of equipment sitting around unattended, they might pick it up for themselves... and if it looks better than what they're currently using, they might equip it. Even if it's actually a cursed chainmail shirt that continually poisons its wearer. There is also a guard captain whose patrol route occasionally takes him right through a campfire. Left to his own devices, he'll walk through that fire until his platemail melts right off his back.
      • There is still no justification for picking up large, massive objects that greatly encumber the character. Like big boulders.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence:
    • St. Mannox was believed to have done this. He was actually murdered, making this a subversion.
    • In some of the Multiple Endings, the PC can do this.
  • The Atoner:
    • Virgil was a thief and gambling addict until his brother was killed to collect on his debts. He claims that he himself was "an evil man" when Virgil tells the PC this.
    • A bigger one is Arronax, who can be recruited during the final part of the game, tells you about how much he regrets the horrible crimes he committed in his youth, and how having 2000 years to stand in a single spot and think about it has that effect on you.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • Being a Technologist is often seen as this. While it's actually more of a Magikarp Power due to the sheer number of points required, there's plenty of easier ways to break Arcanum before you even hit the midpoint.
    • The Vendigroth Device is capable of killing a mage with no possibility of resurrection... except it only works if the mage has a certain ability which few are powerful enough to master, and that they typically only use when critically injured, so you have to go to the trouble of killing them normally first.
    • The Disintegration spell deals an absurd amount of damage to a foe, but will completely obliterate their equipment. If you care about looting, you probably don't want that to happen.
    • Jormund has access to several powerful spells from the Force and Fire schools of magic, but the penalty he takes to spellcasting due to being a Dwarf wizard means he'll often exhaust himself before the end of a fight.
  • Badass Boast: Loghaire Thunder Stone gets a pretty epic one if you happen to be stupid/flip with him as a first impression.
    Loghaire: YOU HAVE THE AUDACITY TO TAKE THAT TONE WITH ME? I'VE SPILLED OCEANS OF BLOOD WITH THIS AXE. THE BODIES OF THE FALLEN WOULD MAKE A MOUNTAIN TO HIDE THE SUN. AND YOU DARE?
  • Badass Bookworm: The player character can be one of these.
  • Badass Normal: You can eschew super science and high magic in favor of good old fashioned stabbing things in the face (or in the back in case of thieves). Very effective. Persuasion builds often require it.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Turning opponents into sheep is one option for mages with spells from the Morph college.
  • Ballistic Discount: It's quite easy to buy something that's ridiculously expensive, then promptly kill the guy you bought it from and get your money back. This applies to weapons, but also to (for example) a ship.
  • Beef Gate:
    • The first town has a very literal Beef Gate; that is, a gate guarded by three Beef Gate characters. All but a very few character builds can get by them without abusing the system to make them incapable of fighting at full strength. Trying to go to the various cities out of order can potentially land you in random encounters well above your ability to handle, but this is hit and miss.
    • There's a pack of wolves outside the first area that will slaughter you unless you follow Virgil's advice and use the World Map to bypass them. However, as long as you can goad them into single combat, an attack mage or melee character can reliably kill all of them. It's good for early EXP.
  • BFG: Several, including the terrifyingly powerful Elephant Gun, the armor-defeating Rifled Cannon, the enormous Hand Cannon, a freaking Grenade Launcher and various Vendigroth artifacts, such as the Large Bore Rifle, Bronwych's Gun (essentially a plasma pistol) and, of course, Droch's Warbringer.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Comes up in the quest where you deal with the Bedokaan. The diplomatic solution to the quest is to have the Bedokaan chieftain explain his philosophy to you, then help him to understand how different his thought process is from humans.
  • Bomb Throwing Anarchist: Subverted. Donn Throgg's resistance movement resembles some of the more militant socialist movements from the mid-to-late 19th century, but Throgg isn't really a bad guy, and he saw violence as the only way to change the hideous working conditions in the factories of Tarant. He can be persuaded to pursue his goals in a peaceful manner. This ends up with him becoming the future president of the Unified Kingdom, and judging from the art style on his posters, he's running a socialist platform.
  • Bonus Boss: Stringy Pete and his crew are significantly harder to beat than the final boss. You can, however, give yourself an advantage by using your accumulated Fate Points to Critical Success Pickpocket all his gear before the fight.
  • Book Ends:
    • The very first side quest that can be found involves a spirit stuck on the mortal plane, where every moment brings pain. While said spirit very much deserves this fate, the fact that the mortal world is "painful" is the Big Bad's motivation.
      • Though it is ultimately revealed it was only painful because the aforementioned spirit was evil.
    • And another variation. The plot of the game starts when someone escapes Void (although you are not involved in it). It ends when you do the same thing.
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • The first spell of the Black Necromancy college, Harm, does decent damage with little Fatigue consumption.
    • There's also the humble Balanced Sword and Featherweight Axe, a pair of simple and easily-obtainable melee weapons that are easy to use, extremely powerful, light, and fast, and so will usually be a technological melee fighter's primary armament for most of the game. The latter can also be upgraded into the deadly Pyrotechnic Axe, a fire-damage axe that is practically indestructible.
    • Healing salves. The resources to make them are pretty plentiful, they require only a little investment in one of the tech skills (or a certain follower who can be recruited fairly early on) to make, and they restore 20hp per use, making them a solid choice of healing item for a technologist who can't benefit from Vergil's magic. You can also steal them from shops for nothing at all, assuming you have maxed out lockpick or unlocking magic.
    • For inventory management, the humble keyring. You are going to collect a lot of keys over the course of the game, which weigh nothing but each takes up an inventory square. A keyring takes two squares, also weighs nothing, and holds infinite keys. All you have to do is buy it for a few coins from a thrift merchant.
  • Bow and Sword, in Accord: Characters can be built who switch between guns or bows and melee weapons, but carrying multiple weapons of your chosen type is also common because Breakable Weapons is in effect and swords are no good for breaking open stubborn chests.
  • Breakable Weapons: A sword is not a proper tool for opening stubborn doors and chests. Neither are your fists, and it will hurt like hell to boot. Bring an ax. Or an elephant gun.
    • Certain monsters and objects are hard (metal doors, machines, golems) or hot (fire elementals, normal fires) enough to destroy most melee weapons on contact, even axes. The exception to this is similarly damaging or extremely powerful weapons (the pyrotechnic axe and arcane weapon variants, for example, can smash anything). Gauntlets and boomerangs are also unbreakable and with save you from damage.
  • Cast from Hit Points: A variation. Using magic doesn't decrease your HP, but runs out your Fatigue meter. An unwise mage can exhaust themselves into unconsciousness.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Part of the reason why magic and technology are in opposition of each other.
  • The Chosen One: Almost from the moment the game begins you're told that you're the reincarnation of Nasrudin, a messianic figure. Later subverted when you actually meet Nasrudin, who's still alive and living in seclusion. Or possibly played straight, since the exact wording of the prophecy says that the spirit of Nasrudin will be reborn, rather than the guy himself. Since Nasrudin was a force of order and righter of wrongs in his time, and you can become one too, it could be argued that you revived that spirit alright.
    • Subverted in some of the ending choices.
    • The Chosen Zero: If you happen to be, say, a dumb ogre, upon first meeting Virgil, he will make an awkward "the gods move in mysterious ways" excuse while trying (and hilariously failing) not to be offensive.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The Master instructor of Backstabbing will stab you in the back, figuratively and literally.
  • Circle of Standing Stones: The Ring of Brodgar stands at the point where Arronax the Destroyer was banished by Nasrudin, the Messiah figure of the Panarii.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Green monsters mostly mean they’re poisonous and red ones are usually fire based. Dog, would you please kill them for me?
  • Combat, Diplomacy, Stealth: Most of the quest solutions boil down to one of these, with Magick and Technology allowing you to either cast spells or build and maintain items to complement your preferred play-style.
  • Cowboy Cop: Doc Roberts. Even though he isn't an actual cop. He'll take the job from the useless sheriff if you save the town and help him stop the bank robbery, though.
  • Crippling the Competition: A self-inflicted example. William Thorndop, formerly the world's greatest marksman, has taken a vow of non-violence, and cut off his own trigger fingers to make sure he can never hold a firearm again.
  • Crutch Character: Virgil allows a non-combat character (and even a pure combat character may have difficulty with this at level one and no real gear) to fight the random wolfs in the starting area (even if one at a time) and provides free healing. While Virgil never becomes a bad party member, it's almost impossible for some character builds to survive the early game otherwise.
  • Cryptic Conversation: Virtually everything the Silver Lady has to say. It takes at least a second playthrough to fully decipher her visions, which include not only advice on where to go next but also tidbits of backstory as well as hints to the true nature of the villain. Her mention of a lone figure floating above a plane of mirrored glass is worth remembering when listening to Kerghan's motivations.
  • Cursed with Awesome: The Dark Helmet (obtained from The Lord of the Damned in the Ashbury Castle), is one of the most popular cursed items in the game. It will make you more evil and increase your magic meter every time you don it (unless your technological meter is too high). It's great for three reasons: (1) If you want to be more evil, (2) to make your spells or you magic items more effective or (3) balance your magic/tech meter.
  • Cutscene Power to the Max: Well, Back Story power to the max, anyway, overlapping with Informed Ability. Arronax single-handedly destroyed the largest and greatest technological city of the Age of Legends. In-game, he can't even use Disintegrate (which he actually does use in a cutscene). It mostly amounts to a game engine limitation. Since all characters run on the same type of build (that is to say, they function as you do), it's impossible for him to be as powerful as advertised. Still not a sufficient excuse, though, because there are other characters in the game who are legitimately more powerful than he is, so someone overlooked something with him.
    • Arronax's weakness is, at least in part, a programming error of some kind. When you look at his character sheet, he has 55 unspent Character Points, which is almost as many as you get for leveling from 1-50. If he were allowed to spend them he would easily be among the strongest creatures in the game.
  • Da Chief: The Police Chief in Caladon.
  • Damage Discrimination: Averted. One stray bullet or misaimed boomerang is all it takes for two townsfolk to start laying into each other.
  • The Dark Arts: Averted. Black Necromancy and even demon-summoning are morally neutral, though in point of fact Black Necromancers tend to be jerks.
    • Also played straight. When Black Necromancy was first discovered it was considered an abomination. Hence why it's discoverer, Kerghan, was banished to the void.
  • Dark Action Girl: Due to their racial strength bonus (which allows them to reach the 20 strength and gain the double damage bonus) and to the Fantastic Racism, Half-Orcs females are this by default.
  • Deadly Doctor: You can buff yourself with therapeutics and drug, corrode, poison or even “zombify” your enemies with chemicals. Oh, and remember to pick the Mad Doctor background trait.
  • Death by Irony: Kerghan's goal is to create a technological portal that will exploit the fragile balance between magic and technology and free him from the void. The game encourages you to destroy him with the Vendigroth Device, a technological weapon which utilises the same principle to turn his own magic against him.
  • Death Is Cheap: Both mages and technologists have ready access to spells, scrolls, and chemical concoctions that can resurrect anyone body and soul intact. This is precisely why being banished to the Void is such a big deal, since nothing can apparently return from that point.
    • Being able to nullify magical resurrection is also why the Vendigroth Device is so desperately sought after by both sides of the conflict.
  • Deconstruction: The game see-saws randomly back and forth between deconstructing and reconstructing Heroic Fantasy tropes.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: For the Steam Punk genre. The game takes pains to point out the more unpleasant side of the Victorian era, including hideously unsafe factory working conditions, strikers being gunned down, classism, racism (try playing the game as an half-orc), eugenics — there's a very uncomfortable book that talks about a way of solving the Orcish Question via use of a breeding program and removal of a 'malignant gland'. Not to mention the Half-Ogre breeding project, which has some distinctly unnerving parallels with antisemitic conspiracy theories of the time.
  • Defiant to the End: Multiple characters play this straight, subvert it, or avert it depending on the actions of the player. One notable aversion that takes place before the plot begins is the Banishment of Kerghan to the Void. Banishment was viewed to be a Fate Worse than Death, and everyone who earned it was dragged kicking and screaming. Kerghan meekly goes to his fate. Of course, this is something of a Batman Gambit, as he was counting on continuing his research in the timeless Void.
  • The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: Every voice-acted NPC has extra dialogue depending on your status. This isn't merely limited to whether your character is retarded or talking to the NPC's ghost, but also includes invisible, transformed, shrunken, and whether they're dressed as a Barbarian or completely naked.
    • This also extends to the numerous ways you can solve any problem. For example, early on, you need to get a local merchant to identify who made a ring you're trying to identify. You can simply roll with his request for an item from the nearby haunted mine, hand over a rare camera in trade, butter him up with social skills, or steal his key and look through his documents in the back. If all else fails, you can even use Black Necromancy to interrogate him (or any other quest-giver related to the main plot) after he's dead. Even Virgil can be questioned this way. Talk about Videogame Cruelty Potential.
    • Merchants have chests which are tightly locked. Only a master mage or master lockpick can open them. Of course, they're always the simple way of beating the chests open... but then the merchants never restock because you've destroyed their inventory.
  • Disc One Nuke: Recruiting Magnus in Tarant or investing a few points in the Smithy Discipline will allow you to create a balanced sword, a very fast, decent damage weapon that's a solid choice for most of the game (unless your character is a mage, or a technophobe).
    • Even better is the (in)famous Pyrotechnic Axe which can be made as soon as you set foot in Tarant. The schematics can be found in a locked chest under Mr. Willoughsby's trap door guarded by three mechanical arachnids. Four free Dwarven Ores can be found in a warehouse infested with rats and the Oaken Axe Handles can be purchased from Junk Dealers. Simply put three points into Smithing or have Magnus make the Featherweight Axes for you when he's high enough level and put either put one point into Explosives or buy an Explosives Technical Manual.
    • What makes the Pyrotechnic Axe so powerful, other than it being a Infinity–1 Sword for melee tech users, is that it does not suffer weapon damage from hitting hardened targets like golems or chests. The 30-50 fire damage bonus is also guaranteed to rip through basically every enemy except the ones that also do fire damage, since almost nothing in the game protects against fire damage.
    • One rather often-overlooked, yet quietly exceptional, weapon is Almstead's Axe, the property of Blackroot's blacksmith. In terms of damage and speed it is slightly inferior to the Featherweight Axe, but it is aptitude-neutral and has +15 to-hit. In the early game most characters struggle to hit the broad side of a barn in broad daylight, making accuracy extremely valuable. It is definitely worth the Fate Point you'd spend plucking it out of Almstead's hands.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Defeating Kerghan, who's more or less a Physical God at this point.
    • But then again, so is the player, especially if you use the patch to remove the level cap. The game even lampshades this: if you side with Kerghan, the two of you kill every living thing in Arcanum together, after which he'll try to kill you and you end up defeating him. And of course, earlier in the game an evil character can do a quest to depopulate the entire town of Stillwater by him/herself...
  • Disadvantageous Disintegration: The Disintegrate spell handily destroys your enemy's loot, as well.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • An in-game character called Gilbert Bates. Considered the inventor of MS-DOS steam engines, actually turns out he stole the idea from the dwarves. Reminds you of any old, debunked conspiracy theories? He even has a pissed-off, borderline incompetent competitor named Cedric Appleby.
    • Also, the first NPC character that can join your party and act as your early guide to the world of Arcanum is a man called Virgil. Possibly doubles as a nice Shout-Out.
  • The Dog Bites Back
  • Dummied Out: Characters in-game frequently mention the island of Cattan, a tourist destination. You can see it on the map, but you can't actually go there in-game. Should you use a glitch or cheat to get there anyhow, it's empty.
  • Dump Stat: Beauty. It only really helps to keep people from being hostile on sight and resolving a small few situations without combat. You can get by with a 2 (and even maximize your Charisma). Lampshaded in the game's manual, which tells the player that an intelligent, charismatic but ugly character will reap the full benefits of a speech-based playthrough more easily than a beautiful, but uncharismatic and stupid character.
    • Additionally, people will never turn hostile because of your beauty alone, and having a maxed out beauty will never prevent a fight, so its biggest effect is to determine shop prices (Shopkeepers will make you better deals if they like you).
    • To a lesser degree; spending Skill Points on Health and Fatigue boosts alone. Yes, you gain more health and fatigue for each point spent than on Strenght, Constitution and Willpower, but you'll gain health/fatigue boosts on level-up. You’re better off with the additional bonuses with Strength, Constitution and Willpower.
  • Elemental Embodiment: The four elementals: Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Air and Water are annoying, Earth ranges from a nuisance to a respectable threat, and Fire is outright one of the most dangerous enemies in the game.
  • Elves Versus Dwarves: Played with.
    • Elves and dwarves have traditionally gotten along fairly well — the recent industrial revolution has, in fact, caused both civilizations to dislike humans far more than each other, though elves are still a bit bitter about the dwarves letting Gilbert Bates get his hands on the steam engine. However, a faction of racial supremacist elves manipulates the dwarven king by threatening war between elves and dwarves unless he banishes one of his own clans as punishment for elevating humans. Years later, the king realizes that it was not, in fact, the elves' doing.
    • King Thunderstone points out that the two races don't get along (but are civil about it) because their moral and ethical philosophies differ too much for them to understand each other properly. Ironically, if you consider the philosophies, they are actually very similar.
  • Enhanced Archaic Weapon: Several have arisen following the continent's industrial revolution; compound bows that can be upgraded to shoot either poisoned or burning arrows, knives and hammers fitted with clockwork mechanisms, swords and axes that can give electric shocks, inflict pyrotechnic damage or are permanently envenomed, and tesla-staffs that shock enemies with jolts of electricity are all available to technologically-savvy adventurers.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Trellian, known as The First Assassin, severs an alliance between the assassins' guild he leads, The Molochean Hand, and the Derian-Ka, a cult of necromancers, when he learns of the atrocities committed by the cult's founder, Kerghan, and leads the Hand in a war to purge the Derian-Ka from existence. In the present day, The Hand's current leader, Gideon Laiar, will do the same to the Dark Elves of T'Sen Ang if you tell him they want to bring back their leader-in-exile Arronax.
    • Vollinger, a Hand assassin who you can recruit as a follower, supposedly gets sickened if you take him to a vivisection laboratory/factory farm which the gnomes of Tarant used to force-breed Half-Ogres.
    • Many evil Companions will turn on you if you side with Kerghan.
  • Evil Weapon: There are plenty, but none are as infamous as the Bangellian Scourge. Its creation involved atrocities, and it is an Artifact of Doom.
  • Fake Balance: Of the "everything is cheap" type, with most builds having access to abilities that can destroy everything in their path. The exception is guns, most of which are woefully underpowered; on the other hand, the Elephant Gun is one of the most damaging weapons in the game.
    • Archery is another exception. Archers lack any high-end weapon and the skill has no particularly special use.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Everyone looks down on orcs. Elves and dwarves simply hate them; humans and gnomes use them for slave labor in a direct allegory of black slavery. The book series "The Orcish Question", found in the Tarant library, goes into a lot of detail about both sides of the debate, including some contributions by Orcs themselves. There are many almost-explicit comparisons to Africans and to Jews in the discourse, which neatly lampshades the trope: unlike in real world racism, Orcs actually tend to have lower intelligence and a more violent nature than the authors. Odd thing, though — if you play a half-orc they have the same base intelligence stat, and a lot of the orcs you can talk to don't really seem stupid or violent at all, just uneducated and underprivileged. As for the manual entry...
    • Elves and dwarves don't especially like humans, though this is justified by the fact that humans have been making a mess of things recently. Gnomes, for some reason, are not nearly as disliked by either. Everyone likes halflings, more or less, and racism towards half-ogres is limited by the fact that it's a bad idea to tick off something that big and strong.
      • Racism against half-ogres is usually too subtle for them to notice. The one you meet on the Island of Despair (who was unusually intelligent, as well) didn't realize he was a factory slave until years afterwards, when he'd gotten an education and time to think about it.
    • Subverted by the half-elves who are almost universally liked and admired (and tend to become diplomats, merchants and... trophy wives because of it), except for the almost universally disliked half-orcs, who loathe them.
    • Good luck playing as a half-orc.
      • If you're half-orc, you can hilariously ask a exeptionally friendly priestess in Stillwater why she's nice to you.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • The Unified Kingdom, which actually no longer has a monarch and is run by a cabal of gnomish capitalists, is obviously modelled on late Victorian Britain. The fantasy races are mostly Tolkienian stereotypes.
    • Before the release of the game, the official site carried several front pages for a fictional newspaper from the gameworld. One article had an amusing account of a fantasy version of the historical controversy concerning Darwinism. The gist of it was that the Elves consider themselves the oldest race on Arcanum, and are rather irritated at recent discoveries that seem to indicate that the humans and dwarves evolved first and that elves and some other races branched off from them the due to the influence of magic.
      • Talking about that, one of the in-game texts was a journal of local Archaeological Society. It turns out they are very unhappy about "heroes" raiding ancient tombs and ruined temples for magical treasures and ancient lore, without any reverence for scientific methodology. It could be a Shout-Out to Heinrich Schliemann's methods — but it's a fantasy role-playing game, and we all know what the characters in every fantasy role-playing game ever excel at.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Played With. The battle between Science and Magick is an actual rule of Nature and a major sort of world-point. Guns are considered technology, and therefore magic interferes with them. Thus, the archetypal mage cannot use a gun without it exploding in his hands. Firearms are both common and fairly effective... against unarmored humans and low-level monsters. Enchanted armor and mid-to-high-level monsters laugh at handguns, meaning that late-game technologists will be packing BFGs and lots of ammo. It's a recurring plot point as well in many of the sidequests, though it only becomes important to the main quest near the end.
    • The backstory examines the "conscript versus knight" problem, and for some reason, policemen rarely carry guns even in Tarant.
  • Final Boss Preview:
    • After you visit the Isle of Despair, but before you reach the Wheel Clan, Kerghan posing as Arronax appears before you as a phantom, taunts you and uses a spell which knocks you and all your followers unconscious.
    • More of a "Final Mook Preview," but one quest in Blackroot involves shutting down a portal to the Void, the game's final dungeon. During it, you fight monsters normally not seen till the final dungeon. When you kill them, more spawn, changing to different monsters after you've dealt with enough of one type. Though they run out eventually, leveling here is pretty quick, enough to get you near the top in one go.
  • Flunky Boss: The Final Boss can summon two of the Elite Mook blue zombies to aid him in battle. Even if you're maxed out for that battle, the zombies are at least a respectable annoyance (because they do fire damage).
  • Free-Love Future: The society of the elves of Qintarra (and presumably T'sen-Ang) is sexually open and nonmonogamous. In fact, in Qintarra, living together monogamously is considered perverted to the point of threatening the social order, which becomes a plot point in one quest.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: Several, with perhaps the most notable being the one where a party member told to wait will disappear forever.
  • Game Favoured Gender: Male characters get a considerable number of advantages over female characters. First of all, out of the 8 playable races only 4 of them have a female option. Woman also have a stat difference then men, start with +1 CON and -1 STR. This means they can never obtain the double melee damage bonus for having 20 STR without taking a background that increases their strength. Which naturally excludes them from taking another, more useful background. Males also have more heterosexual options for sexual encounters in the game.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: The game deserves credit for the fact that the resurrection spell enables new quest options via restoring a person.
  • Gay Option: Seducing a lonely widow is harder if you're also a woman, but it's certainly doable. Then there's the female Dragon, who, when faced by a female hero, is actually more likely to be the one doing the seducing. Finally, there's an actual brothel in Tarrant, which isn't that discriminating about its clients. Or its employees. Near endgame if Raven is in your party, the player is human/half-elf/elf and said the right lines to her in before she joined she will have sex with the PC regardless of gender. In fact, it appears the only straight option for females are two filthy gnomes (one being a prostitution job), and the orgy in you're invited to in Stillwater for finding the cult's statue (there are some dudes lying around in the aftermath, although you're not linked to anyone specifically).
  • Genius Bruiser: Thorvald's Half-Ogre guard. Potentially the player too.
  • Global Currency: Averted in-universe (the lack of such actually comes up as a plot point a couple of times), but played straight gameplay-wise.
  • Government Conspiracy: The Industrial Council is running one of these.
  • Great White Hunter: Franklin Payne.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Notably averted. Policeman NPCs notice and react to bodies, as well as the presence of armed characters in the vicinity of those bodies, and may attack the player if they happen to walk in while you're standing over a fresh kill with your sword drawn. In the event of an assault they'll leap to the victim's aid, and it is possible to get them to fight on your side if you don't fight back against your attacker until they get involved.
  • Guide Dang It:
    • Recruiting the dog can be quite the hassle unless you know exactly what you're doing. Then again, it's equally possible to just stumble upon the dog by accident, since recruiting him is time-sensitive upon arrival. Unless you have resurrection spell or a resurrection potion handy.
    • The blessing from the All-Father. You have to make blessings at the alters in a certain order, some of which have to be repeated at least once, then find the final altar buried in Vendigroth. Oh, and if you're a technologist, you better have one of your followers carry a tech-based resurrect. The All-Father kills you in the process of blessing you, then casts Resurrect to bring you back... except a 100 tech-aligned character will block the spell, thus leaving you dead if your party can't bring you back. The game does give you a book and a vague diagram which can allow you to reasonably figure it out, and trial and error allows you to realize you messed up (other gods will curse you if you do it wrong).
    • Some Fate Points require counter-intuitive behavior to trigger. For example, a Fate Point gained for aiding Magnus against the necromancer jewelers requires that you almost betray him first. Simply aiding him outright earns you nothing.
    • Good luck finding the Aerial Decapitator, the best non-grenade throwing weapon, without looking up the coordinates of its location.
  • Guile Hero/Magnetic Hero: Persuasion-based characters can get anyone to do pretty much anything they want, often without charge, and get a lot of companions (around six) to do your dirty work for you. It's even possible to have a decent combat build on top of this, including some use of magic or tech.
  • The Gunslinger: You can play this kind of character.
  • Gypsy Curse: Killing Madame Toussaud is a bad idea. Can also be inverted with the quest's good ending.
  • Half-Human Hybrids: Now in three flavours: half-elves, half-orcs and half-ogres. Unusually for the genre, the writers have an in-game explanation for why halfbreeds are even biologically possible (Pre-release marketing material in the form of a fake newspaper suggests that humans and elves are really just distantly related races rather than separate species, half-ogres are a eugenics experiment that has gone though countless non-viable offspring until a breeding population was produced while Orcs are suggested to be humans that have undergone some form of mutation or deformity, and why only those three variants exist.
    • The game manual contains an in-universe academic study of Natural and Supernatural Selection. The study claims proof of humans being the original race that evolved through pure natural selection, from which elves and orcs evolved through Supernatural selection during a time of unprecedented global magickal activity some 900000 years ago. During this time many of the fantastical magickal creatures of bygone ages came into existance, such as hydras, sea-serpents and dragons. Also, some humans became the progenitors of a race of literal giants, which have now become extinct, but their evolutionary descendants, the ogres, still remain. The fact that humans can produce viable offspring with these three races, while the three cannot interbreed with each other, is considered proof they they all originally stem from humans, much like gnomes and halflings stem from dwarves, who in turn had a common natural ancestor with humans some 2 million years ago.
  • Hand Cannon: With a large enough bore to literally qualify as a 'cannon'; in Real Life, anyone attempting to wield it as a pistol would shatter their own arm. Not that anyone cares.
  • The Hat Makes the Man: The Helm of Dark Magics, which permanently lowers your alignment every time you use it.
  • Heroic Fantasy: Melded with Steam Punk.
  • Heroic Spirit/Heroic Willpower: Raven is the first character where the evil strategy of 1) murder 2) cast Conjure Spirit - doesn't seem to work. Her ghost doesn't feel any pain from the summoning, and actively mocks the PC's attempts at interrogation.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The Elven Council went around righting wrongs and doing hero stuff in the Age of Legends, but their heads got pretty swollen from all of the heroic carnage, until Arronax finally went over the edge and nuked Vendigroth in the name of the Council.
  • Hidden Elf Village: Two of them. And four dwarf ones (only one's left, though). Probably more, but they're just too well hidden to be in the game. And one for super-powerful "good" wizards. And one for Lizard Folk.
  • Historical In-Joke: While the use of an engine muffler to make a silencer may look like just another example of the game's approach to item crafting, both items were invented by the same person (Hiram Maxim) on the same science.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Vendigroth device exploits the unstable relationship between magick and technology to turn a mage's powers against them, but only under very specific circumstances. It was built when mages were ridiculously more powerful, and most modern mages do not have the skill to reach that level.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Although, since semi-automatic pistols have yet to be invented and normal revolvers can't be silenced, it can only be used on a certain custom-built firearm.
  • Holy Ground: Falcon's Ache is sacred to the elves, and anyone who sheds blood on the ground will have their life taken by the spirits that live there. This becomes important in a quest when you have to drive away some lumberjacks that want to claim the site as a timber yard; you can't hurt them, but you can goad them into attacking you and let the spirits kill them, so long as you don't fight back.
  • Hulk Speak: Orcs, ogres and half-ogres usually speaks this way. You can too, if you have less than 5 IN, or have the Idiot Savant, Bride of Frankenstein or Frankenstein Monster background traits.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Dwarven technology in human hands has propelled Arcanum into an industrial revolution, which has led to the destruction of Morbihan Forest and rendered Tarant the world's most polluted city. Dwarves and elves offer several reasons for why this trope is in effect; Humans have much shorter lifespans than other civilised races, so they don't live long enough to develop wisdom, they are driven by fear of their own death to make their mark upon the world before they die, and they rarely live long enough to see the destructive consequences of their actions.
    • Of course, the other races aren't exactly bastions of innocence, the Gnomes in particular.
  • 100% Heroism Rating: The PC gets better reaction from other characters (including shopkeepers who give them discounts) if he or she helped the inhabitants of a given settlement. Additionally, characters sometimes mention specific deeds of the PC and act accordingly. Of course, evil deeds get attention and respect of shady characters (including party members who base their decision to join the PC on his or her karma meter).
  • Idiot Savant: One of the possible backgrounds you can give during character creation. It gives a bonus to your character's intelligence and gambling stats, representing their love of mathematics, but they've lived in a mental institution for most of their lives, stunting their social skills and causing them to talk as though they have a much lower intelligence.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: The Dark Elves of T'sen Ang will offer an alliance to an evil-aligned player character; their first quest requires you to massacre the village of Stillwater.
    • This isn't arbitrary evilness. If you ask Min'Gorad for reasons, she tells you that the town is too close to the forest, and people making forays into the elven lands are using it to resupply. It is across a dangerous mountain pass, and you can argue this to her (to the effect of mildly annoying her) but it fits with the intensely xenophobic and paranoid mentality the dark elves have.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: Subverted. You'd expect the ring given by the dying "gnome" to be either magical or at least the key to unlocking some ancient horror. However, the signet ring is merely a clue to figuring out the identity of "the boy", and it's fully possible to identify, locate him and acquire his aid even if you let the ring be stolen within 5 minutes of obtaining it. Keeping it only allows you to sell it back to the owner for a small sum.
  • Impossible Thief: It is technically possible to steal equipped armor and weapons, just rather difficult. Fate Points let you get around the difficulty, assuming you're willing to spend them.
  • Infinity+1 Sword: There is a BFS in the final dungeon which does as much if not more damage than any other weapon in the game. If you neglected to bring the Vendigroth Device or handed it over to the Dark Elves, then said sword is one of the few ways to pierce Kerghan's barrier and kill him.
    • For technologically inclined characters with the sufficient skills there also is Droch's Warbringer, an insanely powerful pistol made from Vendigrothan weapon parts. Even its inventors - with all the physics-defying technology they've had - considered it to be the ultimate weapon. This is reflected in its in-game stats.
  • Interface Spoiler: When the Mysterious Apparition appears after your visit to the Isle of Despair you can see the crossed pistols icon of a Human character in the info box. This is a huge spoiler, since it invalidates his claim that he's Arronax, who is an elf. The Mysterious Apparition is actually the human mage Kerghan.
    • Gar the "Orc" also has the character icon of a Human.
  • Inventory Management Puzzle: Characters can only carry a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of space. Objects like guns and bows, though not overly heavy, can take up about a twelfth of your inventory space, while things like potions only take up a single square. Crates, chests and such can hold a much larger number of items, and have no weight penalty, but still have a space limit.
  • Item Crafting: Make a suit of plate armour with only two items and some theoretical knowledge! No tools needed! Results in literally no time at all! Or, for that matter, a sentient super dangerous attack spider from only a steam engine and a cogwheel. Oh, the marvels of modern science!
  • Killer Rabbit:
    • The summoning spell for the Nature magick college, at full power, will summon an ordinary-looking white rabbit called the "Vorpal Bunny".
    • Also, the blue rabbit that is allegedly the shapeshifting Stillwater Giant. You do find it in a cave filled with bones, after all...
    • Also, the blue rabbit that is genuinely the shapeshifting Stillwater Giant, which you meet in a random encounter immediately after finishing that questline.
  • Lampshade Hanging: When dealing with a possible demon, the town sheriff complains that such things always require an unnecessarily long trek to retrieve some absurdly specific weapon with which to defeat it. You are naturally forced to do just that.
  • Large Ham: Franklyn Payne, adventurer extraordinaire!
  • Lizard Folk: The Bedokaan.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: The game has fate points, which may be used to force a critical success (or do something else if you prefer). This is most useful for forcing a critical pickpocket success, allowing you to steal the unique items from certain NPCs.
  • MacGyvering: You'll do this a lot if you play as a scientist.
  • Magic from Technology/Clarke's Third Law: Technology in this setting is capable of doing things so fantastic that it's essentially indistinguishable from magic in many ways (though magic itself is still a separate, distinct thing). A healing salve that closes gashes and mends broken bones in literally seconds? A staff that fries your foes with pinpoint-accurate bolts of lightning? A ring that gives you limited Super Speed when wearing it? A chemical concoction that can bring people back from the dead? A device that can create zombies? All of this and more can be yours through the wonders of late 19th Century SCIENCE!
  • The Magic Goes Away/The Magic Comes Back: Its implied that, because of the Magic Versus Science rules discussed below, Arcanum goes through cycles of a period of high technology, a period when magic and technology coexist in uneasy balance, a period of high magic, another period of coexistence, and so on. Bates' manufacture and marketing of steam engines to the humans is causing a new age of technology to begin and magic to wane. Certain in-game books and conversations imply that magic was once stronger than it is now, and some of the relics from Vendigroth and The Iron Clan hint at what technology might achieve in the future. Although the Vendigrothian relics suggests that it is quite possible for the periods of uneasy coexistence to have both magic and technology be what the 'present day' of the game would consider high.
    • The game manual mentions an unexplained event some 900,000 years ago that caused the magickal energies of the world to suddenly skyrocket. Scholars call this time period in Arcanum's history the Epoch of High Enchantment. It is in this highly magickal time that the Elves and Giants evolved from humans, and many of the more fantastic creatures, that have since become extinct, came into existance by either transforming or merging together creatures that existed at the time. It is implied that ever since then magick has been slowly draining from the world.
  • Magic Versus Science: One of the best justifications on record; Magick alters physics to do stuff, Technology uses physics to do stuff. Machinery operating around people using spells are performing nonsense actions - powerful spells will break weaker machines just by being used in the vicinity. Likewise, spells used around machinery are basically inserted into said machinery - powerful machines will cause weaker spells to fail just by operating in their vicinity.
    • A hilarious and quickly-tiresome conversation occurs every time you try to buy a train ticket, basically boiling down to "Are you a wizard?", "Are you sure you're not a wizard?", "You might be a wizard, if-" and quickly turns out to be completely redundant, since the conductor has a device that detects hazardous levels of magic before letting you board a train anyway. Conversely, simply being inside a train station instantly lowers your magicka stat.
      • And by "device", we mean that he holds up his watch and checks so it doesn't start running backwards when you come near.
  • Magikarp Power:
    • Most schools of magic work this way. The first level of a spell tree is some weak utility spell, the second is stronger and likely has some use in combat, the third is hefty, and the fifth (which requires a lot of dedicated status-requirements) is super-powerful. On top of that, spell strength is dependent on your magic rating; a truly powerful mage needs a full 100 rating, which requires putting points into several spell trees. Special mention goes to summoning spells, which summon different creatures based on your magical rating. The higher it is, the stronger the summon.
    • Technologists as a character build are an even greater example. While they get a far worse rap than they deserve from a lot of players, there are some serious issues with using them to their full potential, most notably the extreme cost in points to fill out their disciplines (seven compared to five for mages). Playing an effective technologist requires you to finesse your abilities and items for the utmost advantage, but a proper build can lead to a character who is mighty enough to defeat Stringy Pete and his crew of the damned by themselves.
    • Lockpicking on either side of the fence. Any lock you can pick without maxed out skill is probably a chest you could have beat open just as easy. Maxed out skill lets you pick storekeeper chests, for infinite money and free gear. Tech lockpicking has the benefit of being silent, letting you pick more chests without being caught than the noisy unlocking spell.
  • The Magocracy: The Elven Council in the Age of Legends.
  • Malaproper: Anytime Lukan the Witless attempts Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.
  • Master of Unlocking: There are two ways of becoming this. Either max out the Lockpick skill, or learn the Unlocking Cantrip spell with 100 Magicka. Being seen by guards while picking a lock will cause them to attack, so the former option is best for stealth, since all spells raise awareness levels (because they're flashy). The latter is better for repeat business (say, if you manage to unlock a shop's inventory, or plan to squat a house for storage), since a lock unlocked by magic will never be relocked.
  • Mercy Kill: The Big Bad wants to do this to the entire world.
  • Modular Epilogue: The game has this kind of ending, displaying how the player's actions influenced the fate of certain states and factions of the game world.
  • Money Spider: There is a warehouse in Tarant home to a giant rat inexplicably carrying several hundred gold coins.
  • More Dakka: The Repeater Rifle is a more subdued version of this; for players desirous of further Dakka, there's the fully-automatic Mechanized Gun, which can dish out an absolutely terrifying amount of damage but chews through ammo at an astonishing rate.
  • Multiple Endings: In the manner of Fallout.
  • Mutually Exclusive Party Members: Raven and Z'an will refuse to travel with one another thanks to the differences between Elves and Dark Elves, in addition to the fact that you need a completely opposite moral alignment for either one. Magnus also develops a hatred of the undead as a result of the quest involving P. Schuyler and Sons, and will refuse to travel with Torian Kel. Subverted if you have a Charisma stat of 20 and Master Persuasion, which allows you to recruit anyone regardless of alignment or personal issues.
  • Murder, Inc.: The Molochean Hand.
    • Highly-Visible Ninja: Played straight and averted. Unless you pickpocket every person (barring Random Encounters, who are quite open about their intentions) you talk to, you don't know who's in, but they are easily identified by the necklace once you do.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: In one quest, you're asked to investigate the murder of Wrath, an elf wizard, and one conclusion you can draw is that he was killed by Sharpe, who was living with a woman that Wrath lusted after and saw Wrath as a threat to their friendship. If you dig a little deeper, it turns out to be an inversion; Wrath committed suicide in a manner that he hoped would get Sharpe framed for murder.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The dark elves are basically elven supremacists.
  • Nice Hat: A bullet deflecting top hat.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: If you have the Bane of Kree in your party at the end of the game and gave him the Infinity+1 Sword you found in the same area, an ending sequence has him waging war upon all of Arcanum, for which you are blamed. While it would seem obvious what effect bringing him back would have, there's no real dialogue or even a hint as to how to trigger this unless you have a specific follower in your party. Contrast with the half-man, half-dragon Kraka-Tur, who will explicitly threaten to do this should you release him yet won't (no doubt being a coward dissuaded him from causing trouble with you around).
  • Noble Demon: Z'an Alurin is supposedly Alignment -30, and won't work with good PCs unless they have Master Persuasion, but nothing in her actions or dialogue besides this point backs this up; in fact, she's the one who gives Loghaire Thunder Stone a massive What the Hell, Hero? later in the game if you bring her to meet him.
  • No Ontological Inertia, shown early on.
    • The Other Wiki states that technology is liked by humans because the effects of machines are permanent.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Gar the Orc AKA Garfield Thelonius Remingtom the Third. A child of two human parents physically identical to an orc. Introduced as a sideshow act; the "World's Smartest Orc". He was forced into indentured servitude after his genuinely caring parents lost their entire fortune trying to help him. The player may negotiate his freedom and gain him as a party member if they're intelligent enough to discern Gar's true nature.
  • The Obi-Wan: Elder Joachim to Virgil.
  • Occult Detective: You can solve Garringsburg Robbery with the help of a gypsy fortune teller.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: If you go to the Pit of Fires to retrieve a magic sword, you may find a group of adventurers who are there to obtain the sword in exchange for monetary compensation. If you can convince them that you need the sword for a noble purpose (Like, for example, destroying L'Anamelach), they will go into the cave, brave all the nasty things waiting in it, return to the entrance, and promptly hand the sword over to you. Not a single one of them dies in the process.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Kerghan, and a rare example where one of your morally good characters will actually admit he kinda has a point.
  • One-Gender Race: An in-game reason was made up to explain what amounted to space limitations. Dwarf women are rare (you never see one in-game, and bringing up the issue with male dwarfs can somehow trigger homicidal rage), while gnome and halfling women apparently suffer from Stay in the Kitchen syndrome.
    • As for Half-Ogres, the Gnomish Industrial Council keeps all the females that result from their breeding program at their farms to breed more half-ogres.
  • One Size Fits All: Averted. Body armor comes in three sizes: medium for humans, elves, orcs, half-elves and half-orcs, small for dwarves, gnomes and halflings, and large for ogres and half-ogres. Also, ogres cannot wield pistols or other small firearms because their hands are too big.
  • One Stat to Rule Them All: Dexterity and weapon speed, in both combat options. In Arcanum, number of hits simply outweighs raw damage by a huge amount.
    • God Stat: Dexterity, and Speed in general if you're playing the game in Turn Based mode.
  • Our Elves Are Better: The major elf groups can be colossal Jerk Asses to anyone who isn't an elf...up to the Dark Elves who want to bring all non-Elves under Elven domination, or else just kill them off.
    • Can't Argue with Elves: Raven can be frustratingly unwilling to help you clean up a mess that the Dark Elves made by forging a letter from their ruler. Yet you really have no choice but to play her games and help with her problems before she'll let you talk to the Silver Lady.
    • Screw You, Elves!: Unless you are totally unwilling to put up with her shit, in which case it's time to start killing (or pickpocket her).
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same
    • Played straight to the extent that female dwarves are simply a rumour dwarves never discuss (and your player can't be one), so all dwarves to be found are bearded males.
      • The reason for this is speculated by an in-universe evolutionary biologist to be that dwarven males outnumber females 2:1 and that it takes about 10 years for a dwarven woman to carry a child to term, meaning that they have to be kept perfectly safe for long periods of time.
    • Averted with city dwarves, who eschew the old clan customs, and are more proud of their city of origin than their dwarvishness. They still don't talk about their females.
    • Attempted invocation by Magnus, who's so ashamed to be a city dwarf, he makes every attempt to be More The Same like he imagines real dwarves should be. Even when he doesn't exactly know the customs he should be following, he'll make them up as he goes along. He gets most of the facts from a dubious book on the subject, which was written by a human.
    • Also subverted by Preston Radcliffe, the dying 'gnome' at the game's intro. He's actually a dwarf who shaved his beard to disguise himself. To the rest of his clan, this is an unthinkable disgrace only partly forgiven by the severity of the situation. The player, if a dwarf, can lampshade this by saying, "We dwarves would rather cut our throats then cut off our beards."
  • Our Orcs Are Different: For the most part, they fit the Tolkien-Orc archetype, being either wandering barbarians who will try to extort money from you or street thugs who harass you if you walk down the wrong alleyway at night-time. Some of the orcs in Tarant's factories can come across sympathetically, however, as an oppressed underclass of labourers doing poorly-paid work.
  • Pacifist Run: Possible if you have a high Persuasion skill and one of the following: High prowling skill, technological non-lethal explosives, or the Invisibility spell. Unless you side with the dark elves (where you need to go Omnicidal Maniac on a town) and/or count Kerghan's letting you kill him nothing must be killed to beat the game, or at least nothing sapient.
    • Technical Pacifist Runs are a bit easier: just build up your Charisma until you can sign up a bunch of henchmen to do your fighting for you.
  • Physical God: Anyone of sufficient personal power is effectively a deity. Nasrudin and Arronax are even worshipped as such, and they're hardly the most powerful beings in the setting. In the ending, you can declare yourself a god, and given that you just took Kerghan apart, it's really more of a Lampshade Hanging than anything.
  • Point Build System: Arcanum has one of the most flexible character creation systems in all of gaming.
  • Point of No Return: Once Nasrudin banishes you to the Void you cannot return to any previous area in the game. You are at least given fair warning to prepare. However, if you try to kill Nasrudin, he'll banish you before dying whether you like it or not.
  • Portal of Power Leveling: One early Side Quest involves the discovery and destruction of a one-way dimensional portal spawning an endless array of enemies. Destroying the portal allows you to complete the quest, but it's actually possible to just sit outside the portal and kill the not-quite-endless swarms until they simply run out. You'll jump about twenty to thirty levels for your trouble, in a game where the Level Cap is only fifty.
  • Powered Armor: The Machined Plate, powered by a Minute Steam Works which makes it essentially a Steam Punk version of its Expy the T-51b Power Armor and like the T-51b, it grants +3 Strength. There are actually three versions of the Machined Plate in the game:
    • Basic Machined Plate (Armor Class 25, Damage Resistance +30, Fire Resistance +10, Electrical Resistance -20, Noise Penalty -90), found in a house during a quest and grants no Strength bonus.
    • Machined Platemail (Armor Class 30, Damage Resistance +20, Fire Resistance +20, Noise Penalty -90, Strength +3), worn by certain NPCs.
    • Machined Plate (Armor Class 25, Damage Resistance +45, Poison Resistance +20, Fire Resistance +20, Electrical Resistance -10, Noise Penalty -90, Strength +3), can only be made by investing 7 points into Smithy to craft the Elite Plate and combining it with a Minute Steam Works. Arguably the best Technological armor in the game.
  • Protagonist Without A Past: Of course, if you take the trait "child of a hero", the game claims that everyone knows your father is famous, but no one will acknowledge it (although they will tend to react more positively to you).
  • Psycho for Hire: Sebastian, Vollinger, and Chukka.
  • Purely Aesthetic Gender: Averted. Females of any race (where applicable) gain one point of Constitution and lose one point of Strength. The maximum possible value for a stat is 12 added to the starting value from race and background, and hitting 20 in a status gives you bonus (for example, doubling damage for strength) on top of normal effects for increasing stats, so females can't get that bonus without an artificial boost. Gender also affects dialog, though there's only a few times this is more then just sir/ma'am pronouns etc, such as the Gentleman's Club in Tarrant.
    • However, it does mean that female characters are slightly early-game better mages (because of the Endurance boost), and the Tomboy background gives +1 STR / -1 CON, essentially undoing the gender adjustment. This does, however, prevent females from accessing other, more useful backgrounds.
  • Railroading: The main plot quest makes a good deal of the world inaccessible until you reach certain milestones. Of particular note, once you make one of the last major good vs. evil choices, choosing evil causes the writers to practically shoo you out of the game, cutting out two major areas and a good deal of story.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil:
    • Half-Orcs are subject to a lot of Fantastic Racism, partly because most people assume that at some point in their ancestry, a male orc violated an unwilling human woman.
    • Arguably, one of the most disturbing and sickening parts of the game is visiting the factory farm where a large number of Half-Ogres were 'bred' by the Gnomish conspiracy.
  • Ragnarok-Proofing: Much of the technology of Vendigroth still functions over two thousand years after a (localised) Earth-Shattering Kaboom, including, unfortunately, the defense systems. Same goes for the Iron Clan Guardians, although it's not clear how old these are.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Kerghan has an epic speech where he explains why basically life itself sucks and must be wiped out, accompanied with FMV stills. What makes the speech extra creepy is that he actually makes a fairly convincing case for it, since what amounts to Heaven is demonstratedly real in-story if you keep Virgil in your party until then.
  • Religion is Magic: Making offer to gods whose altars a scattered around Arcanum gives you very real stat boosts. It also gives you very real curses if you don't respect their interpersonal relationships when doing it.
  • Religion Is Right: Partly subverted and partly played straight with Panarii. Most of their myths actually happened. Their prophecies, on the other hand, need some work. You are not the Chosen One and reincarnation of Nasrudin, as Virgil believes. It's really hard to reincarnate when you are still alive.
    • Played straight and deconstructed with the pantheon of old gods. They're all real, and their powers are easily demonstrated, but in a world where magic is mundane and sometimes a nuisance most people have lost interest. Halcyon and Gestianna's followers amount to village cults, and the latter has an annual orgy as a main selling point.
  • The Reveal: Towards the end of the game. Arronax has done a Heel-Face Turn, wants to atone for his misdeeds, and is stuck in a crystal unable to interact with his surroundings or communicate with the normal world. Kerghan is the real Big Bad.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Averted; most of the upper-tier handguns are either rolling-block or semi-automatic, and the title of best firearm overall is tied between a steampunk rocket launcher, a bolt-action Sniper Rifle, a gigantic break-action elephant gun, a heavy machine gun and a Lightning Gun. Revolvers are by far the most common type of firearm in the game, though, and will be the main armament of any gunslinger character for the majority of the game.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Averted. A few decades prior to the beginning of the game, the nations of Cumbria and Tarant went to war. The mighty army of the kingdom of Cumbria, renowned for their skill at arms, consisted mainly of mounted knights and heavily-armored swordsmen. The poorly-trained conscript military of Tarant consisted of riflemen, artillery, and machine-gun teams. The battle is exactly as one-sided as it sounds. The Cumbrians only ever won any battles through ambushes in dense terrain, and these were few and far between. By 1885 (when the game starts), Cumbria is a decaying, run-down shadow of its former self, while Tarant is thriving.
  • RPGs Equal Combat: Technically it's possible to complete the game without fighting and it isn't even hard, but it requires you to have a very specific character build. The non-combat gameplay parts are still better than those in most RPGs anyways.
  • Scaled Up: Kraka-Tur, a human who transformed himself into a dragon using dragon's blood and a magic scroll. The Final Boss will also shapeshift into a vaguely draconic form if you choose to fight him.
  • Schizo Tech: Showcased as early as the brief animation that plays when you first start the game, in which a traditional knight in plate armor with an enchanted sword is showcased alongside a warrior with a revolver and a suit of Steam Punk Powered Armor. Things only get more ridiculous from there - the market district of Tarant, for example, has a gunsmith selling machine guns next door to a weapons shop peddling swords and maces, airplanes and commercial airship lines exist but nothing even resembling an automobile can be found, etc.
  • Science Destroys Magic: One late conversation mentions that the world goes through cycles of magic, uneasy balance, tech, etc., with the game taking place during the uneasy balance leading into an era of technology. There's an Unreliable Narrator at work, however, and other indications (such as the state of the world in the Age of Legends) indicate that it's possible for high technology and high magick to exist simultaneously.
  • Science Hero: you can play a technologist character yourself, but there are straight examples among NPCs as well.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Averted. They're cheap, light, and compact but are still objectively one of the worst firearms in the game, with terrible range, poor damage, no armor penetration and a slow fire rate.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Void fulfills this purpose. Arguably, L'Anamelach counts as well.
  • Selective Memory: Our hero was going from the second largest city on the continent to the largest one, but does not remember where these cities are located. All our hero has is a map which shows the major topographical features of the continent, but none of the settlements. The player character is supposedly from a different continent which makes their lack of geographical knowledge about Arcanum understandable.
  • Serial Killer: L'Anamelach.
  • Sheathe Your Sword: There's a side-quest where you have to get these human prospectors off of elven holy ground. The ground is cursed/blessed so that anyone who acts violently while on it is killed instantly. You have basically two options; talk/trick the humans into leaving, or goad them into attacking you thus getting them killed. If you're going for the latter option, make sure you have Automatic Combat switched to "off." Also don't wear the bullet deflecting hat, when it reflects a bullet it counts as a hostile action.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Several to Fallout. You find a power-armor-wearing man outside of the secret mage city. He was sent to find a water crystal but now they won't let him back in because he's been contaminated by the outside world.
    • The entirety of Vendigroth Wastes - a huge desert littered by ruins of an ancient, technologically advanced civilization that vanished due to an unknown cataclysm.
    • There's also a two-headed cow in Parnell's museum of curiosities. Lampshaded when your character claims to have seen one somewhere else.
    • The weapon you retrieve for Throwing mastery is the Glaive in all but name.
    • The very secret Easter Egg "Aerial Decapitator", taken directly from Master of the Flying Guillotine.
    • Evil Virgil tells Joachim "Your powers are weak, old man."
    • A sidequest involves the player in an investigation around prostitutes murdered and disemboweled in a district called "Whythechurch". An obvious shout-out to Jack the Ripper, the "murderer of Whitechapel".
    • Settlers Of Catan; see Dummied Out above.
    • The in-game book The Orcish Question Volume 2 includes the line "We can rebuild them! We have the Technology!"
    • If you can recruit the demon Gorgoth as an ally, he will sometimes scream "GET IN MY BELLY!" during fights.
    • Arronax' name is very similar to Professor Aronnax, from a certain piece of Victorian science fiction.
  • Skippable Boss: The end boss can be talked into letting you kill him without resistance, again echoing Fallout.
  • Sliding Scale of Undead Regeneration: Undead will eventually decay into dust if left for long enough, but a magic potion exists which can restore them into flesh and blood humans.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Magnus, who tries too hard to be a traditional dwarf when it's apparent to all around him that he's not, and gets defensive when called on it. He does at least get better about it over the course of the game, and finally admits to it when the dwarven king himself starts prodding.
    • Cedric Appleby’s ego is of the size of a castle. His capabilities? The size of an kite.
  • Sniper Pistol: One of these can be made, although the trope is played with a bit in that the resulting firearm is designed and built specifically as a sniping weapon rather than just being an ordinary pistol with a scope bolted on.
  • Sniper Rifle: One can be purchased (or built by characters exceptionally skilled in Gunsmithing). It has the longest range of any weapon, spell, or ability in the game, and can easily hit targets three or more screens away. The Elephant Gun can also serve in this role; it has slightly shorter range but deals much more damage.
  • Space Jews: The gnomes are small people with large noses and exceptional prowess at handling the money who own a large part of the industry and banking. Moreover, they've been subject to much prejudice because of these.
  • Speedrun: Normally, the game can take upwards of 20 hours to complete, but that's if you try to do everything. However, if your goal is simply to beat the Big Bad and get the ending, it can be done in 11 minutes and 32 seconds, as demonstrated in this video.
  • Spiritual Successor: To the first two Fallout games - which is a given, since it was created by the same team of developers, just under a different brand.
  • Spot of Tea: Debating the merits of green tea over earl grey is required to recruit a certain Cultured Badass as a follower.
  • Standard Fantasy Setting: The whole idea of this game is that industrial revolution broke out in an SFS. Probably the only obvious departure from SFS model is that gnomes, instead of being obsessive inventors, are the bankers that own these inventors, but only if you count it as such.
  • Start of Darkness: You can find Kerghan's journal in the caves of the Stonecutter Clan, detailing his descent from a well-meaning mage wanting the respect of his fellow Council members, to a virtuoso necromancer pitying his peers for failing to appreciate his grand understanding of death.
  • Stealth Expert: You may play as one, which is of particular importance for pacifists and backstabbers. Why, you can hide in an open field if you're good enough!
  • Steam Punk: Steampowered armour! Clockwork fighting robots! Electrified swords for that additional sting! Magnetised top hats avert bullets! Firearms are strangely weak!
  • Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum: Kerghan
  • Suicide Is Shameful: The elves of Qintarra are horrified by a member of their community committing suicide, believing it to be an abomination against nature that will deny his soul any chance of reincarnation.
  • Take a Third Option: In the Boil, you have the option of joining one of two gangs to defeat the other. To get the good ending for that section, you have to wipe out both gangs. This is actually a quest in itself, but you could be forgiven for never actually receiving that quest since it's a bit difficult to find.
    • Most of the quests in this game have a third option that can be taken in lieu of the "correct" one. For example, one quests tasks you with retrieving a gem from a shrine, only to be told that making any noise (i.e. failing to Sneak) will summon a bunch of monsters to kill you. There's nothing to stop you from just walking up, murdering the hell out of the monsters when they appear (it's not even that hard), then taking the gem at your leisure. Quests only ever give you an objective, they never say it has to be completed a certain way. That said, quest-givers do occasionally reward you better if you do it according to their instructions.
      • How you deal with Kerghan can boil to this. The most obvious outcomes are to fight or join him. The third and most difficult outcome is to talk him out of it.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Diplomacy is a good solution to several of the quests. In particular, the Final Boss will agree to debate philosophy with you, and submit to an assisted suicide if you can show him enough holes in his logic. The Golden Ending absolutely requires the player to be a master of Persuasion.
  • Telefrag: Implied with the portals in Tulla. High-level technologists are forbidden to use them because the results would not be pretty.
    • Outright stated by Min'Gorad as the reason why Arronax couldn't yet leave the Void using the technological portal that Stennar escaped through. Stennar's non-existent magical aptitude let him get through the tiniest cracks in the seals, whereas Arronax's god-like magical power would break the machinery of the portal and lead to "an excruciating death, to say the least".
  • Third-Person Person: Ristezze in Shrouded Hills, the first town you come to.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Magic Scrolls end up being this to many players. You rarely encounter them lying around, and they cost a lot of money; even the nearly-useless ones. So they just end up sitting there, waiting for "that time" where you'll want that Scroll of Fireflash.
  • Ultimate Evil: In-universe example. Arronax is deliberately portrayed as this by the Panarii religion or rather, by the Dark Elves running the church. Kan'Hua specifically states that "ultimate evil" is a fantasy that can be reasoned away or presented as a metaphor. The real idea of Arronax merely being a very powerful mage sealed behind magical wards is played down to avoid anyone seeking to repair the deteriorating seal.
  • Unidentified Items: The game has magick items which must be identified to unlock their potential; this can be done by either learning "Divine Magick", a fifth-level divination spell, or paying 100 gold to a wise woman. Since character points are finite and gold isn't in short supply, sensible players opt for the latter.
  • Universal Ammunition: Pistol? Rifle? Hand Cannon? Elephant Gun? Same bullets.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: The dying gnome at the start of the game helpfully informs you that "unimaginable evil" is coming to "destroy everyone and everything".
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential:
    • Use Charm Beast to befriend a wild animal, like a wolf or bear. Walk to the nearest town. Have your animal friend enter an occupied house while you wait outside. Magelock the door shut. Then dispel Charm Beast. (You might want to magically seal the windows, too — you don't want anyone to escape the wrath of Mr. Disoriented Grizzly.) Is also an effective means to assassinate someone without the guards finding out it was you (whereas if a cop NPC walks into a room and you're standing over a bloody corpse with a sword in your hand, they'll usually put two and two together and attack you).
    • There's also the fact that there exists only 1 NPC in the game who can't be killed (The Silver Lady). Every major character can be murdered, then have their ghost summoned and interrogated. A true villain may kill the dwarf leader of the Isle of Despair, then raise his spirit just to tell him that you're going to travel to his home clan and kill everyone - oh, and that you'll drag the corpses into the daylight just to add insult to injury (sadly, you can't actually drag the corpses outside). There's almost no limit to how much cruelty you can inflict upon the populace of Arcanum.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment:
    • While most things in this game can just be killed to deal with them, there are two instances where the game will punish you severely for trying. The first instance is a quest Raven sends you on. The area in question is cursed so that if you or your party harms anything there, you all die automatically. The trick is to get your targets to do this to you. The second is dealing with Stringy Pete. You have to do three quests to get his boat. You might wonder why you can't just kill him instead. After all, he's just one high-level skeleton. He is just one high-level skeleton... armed with the best magical armor available, and summons six similarly high-level skeletons to back him up. While it is technically possible to win, it's very unlikely unless you bring a huge group and prepare for it. Too bad one of his quests is impossible to complete if you pick up the Torin stone before speaking to him and the priests. Or if you lose the stone. Then killing him is the only way to get to his ship.
    • Killing the fat perverted Mr. Franklin who hires a female PC to sleep with him (while he is fast asleep from the sex) will result in the quest-giver attacking when going to pick up the payment. Can be averted by killing him after payment is received.
    • The fortune teller sidequest. To elaborate, Tarant has two fortune tellers, Madame Toussaud and a fraud in upper Tarant. Once you speak to the fraud, she'll ask you to steal Toussaud's crystal ball. Upon arrival, Toussaud will know why you've come and demand you choose a side. If you choose her side, you get the ball with no conflict and give it to the fraud, who dies upon touching it. You get a decent blessing (stat boost) for the trouble. Side against Toussaud, though, and you get hit with an equal curse (stat reduction), while the fraud rewards you with nothing worthwhile. No sane person ever sides with the fraud.
  • Villain-Beating Artifact: One quest requires you to find a specific dagger so that you can kill a wizard whose soul is bound to a demon. Killing the wizard with any other weapon will release the demon into the world. Also, the final boss can only be killed with one of two items, the Vendigroth Device or Kryggird's Falchion, or with a magical attack strong enough to bash through the shield.
  • Walking Techbane: Due to the setting's Magic Versus Science laws, technological devices malfunction in the presence of magick, or magically-inclined beings.
  • Wake Up Call Level: While the game can be incredibly easy with the right character, the Black Mountain Clan Mines will absolutely murder a low level party. This is made all the more frustrating since the game's narrative actively pushes you to travel there in the early stages.
  • We Buy Anything: Played with; vendors will only buy things related to their stock (smithy shops only buy armor and weapons, for example), except for the junk vendors, who will buy anything short of destroyed items. Get mastery in Haggle, though, and they will not only buy anything, they'll sell you the clothes off their backs.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Kerghan wants to kill everyone because he believes that the afterlife is better and more peaceful than life. Interestingly, that particular theory is somewhat confirmed in-game, since one of your party members who dies and is resurrected agrees with him but still thinks that people should be allowed to choose their own fate.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Good party members will object to you killing good NPCs or doing quests that give you evil alignment, and will leave your party if you do it once too often.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer: Virtually any problem can be solved with the right application of force. Locked door? Beat it down. Guy holding an item you like? Kill him. Interdimensional portal releasing demon hoards upon the land? Whack it closed. Note that while this method may work, it is not exactly the most subtle way of doing things. Also, some of the Golden Endings for various places require that you be skilled in Persuasion, such as taking a diplomatic solution to the matter of Donn Throgg.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Played with; elves are both the most magically talented race in Arcanum, and have the longest lifespans (up to a millenium), and humans with a talent for magick live slightly longer than those without, according to the manual. On the other hand, dwarves and gnomes have respectable lifespans (600 years) despite having no natural affinity for magick, and orcs and halflings, thought to have been mutated by exposure to large amounts of magick, have shorter lifespans than the races they evolved from (40 years and 400 years, respectively).
  • Wretched Hive: The Boil. One of the city guards even delivers a Shout-Out to Star Wars, the Trope Namer, when warning you not to enter.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The writing in this game deserves credit considering that the completely sane Kerghan is this while also making a genuine Omnicidal Maniac. He's decided that because being alive is painful (summoned spirits suffer terribly from being forced back into life as well) and the final afterlife is perfect bliss, the logical solution is to end all life. He reasons that if living is unpleasant and death peaceful, then having to live must be a terrible crime to force upon a soul and one that must be permanently removed. Even Virgil will more or less confirm his opinion, though he isn't about to force it on others. Remarkably if the player can explain the flaws in his philosophy he'll willingly abandon his genocidal agenda and submit to having his soul banished forever. He even shows some slight regret that he never learned how to enjoy life himself: "Perhaps some souls are destined for death; they never know how to live."
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: Played with inside The Void. Stennar Rock-Cutter refers to the elderly Gilbert Bates as "the boy" because although time passes at the same rate as in Arcanum, no one ages and their mental state doesn't degrade. All the banished entities behave as they did 2000 years past, though Arronax and Kerghan managed to learn introspection in that time. If the PC tells Arronax they killed his father, he admits that he sometimes forgets how much time must have passed since his banishment.

Ancients 1 DeathwatchWestern RPGArx Fatalis
Aqua NoxWebsite/GOG.comARMA
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alternative title(s): Arcanum Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura; Arcanum; Arcanum
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