Aria: Canticle of the Monolith is a Role-Playing Game published by Last Unicorn Games in 1994. Unlike many other role-playing games which centered on individual characters in a preprepared game world, Aria was intended to facilitate the creation of gameworlds, complete with cultures, histories, and politics. Players play not a single character, but a series of characters across the history of the game world, in essence playing the role of a given guild, city or culture, and telling a larger, grander story than would be accomplished with individual characters.
The emphasis for character, culture, and world creation is placed on concepts over statistics, and is meant to encourage players and game-masters to create fully fleshed-out, realistic worlds and cultures with feasible histories and politics. Magic is largely left open for the Mythguide to decide, in terms of how magic is performed, how one learns it, and what it is capable of within the world. As with most other aspects of Aria there are no set rules on how magic has to work, which races are available, or any other aspects of the culture or world.
Aria is based on the concept of the 'monomyth', the fundamental story that is at the core of most if not all myths, legends and fairy tales. The system is meant to encourage and inspire gamemasters and players to come up with grand tales that not only tell a story but serve a deeper purpose and meaning, in the vein of Joseph Campbell's assertions about myths and The Hero's Journey.
Being a difficult read, it was not a success commercially, though some critics appreciated aspects of it. It is thoroughly out of print.
Aria provides examples of:
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The book includes (pretentious) new terminology for all RPG mechanics, such as "Mythguide" for Game Master.
- The Hero's Journey
- Magic and Powers: Anything you want for your world.
- The Matriarchy: One example featured in the book is the city-state of Ärtee. It has a resistance groups of men who want to take power back from the women.
- Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Averted. There's an example of a Dwarven society which inhabits a chasm full of hot springs in a desert.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: Sadly, the game is written in such a convoluted style that people have wondered whether it will be available in an English translation.