Game: The Diamond Throne
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
Series: Arcana Unearthed: d20
Review Dated: 5th, September 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 13
Average Score: 6.50
Arcana Unearthed, The Diamond Throne, Dor-Erthenos or Serran. The campaign setting for Monte Cook’s variant d20 player’s handbook (and run away success) can be called many things. We can smile wryly because this is a setting where truenames are important.
The Diamond Throne is a large area, a kingdom, ruled by the giants on the continent they call Dor-Erthenos. The world itself, a planet slightly smaller than our Earth, is called Serran by humankind. The Diamond Throne is also a supplement supporting the setting from Malhavoc Press.
This is a review of the PDF, as is typical of Malhavoc products, a paper edition of the book will follow the PDF.
The Diamond Throne supplement does not restrict itself to just a gazetteer of the Diamond Throne, it goes further than that, to every edge of Dor-Erthenos and even the island of Noal and White Shoal off the east coast.
I actually found the southernmost area of Dor-Erthenos more interesting. This is the Verrik Empire and was never fully conquered by the dramojh. There’s a claim to fame. The dramojh were truly sinister and truly scary. The best thing about the dramojh is that they’re not coming back. Really. Honest. No stats for the dramojh. If Monte sticks to this, if he maintains the integrity of the game (and the giants’ majesty and honour) then it could well be the most important, toughest, success he has ever won.
The Diamond Throne doesn’t restrict itself to just being a gazetteer. The supplement doesn’t just discuss places and people.
I imagine die-hard Malhavoc fans will whoop in joy at the addition of 8 prestige classes. There are 12 new monsters and a look at magic items too.
This is a humble product. Arcana Unearthed may be one of the youngest campaign settings today (unless you’re reading this review sometime next year) but it already has more right than most to use words like “ultimate”, “definitive” and “capstone”.
It doesn’t. Instead, we’re encouraged to use as much or as little of the setting as we want. Readers are positively urged to invent a key new god to fit their campaign, to detail a new city and to shuffle things around as required. There’s certainly no suggestion that the Diamond Throne is sacrosanct. This works both ways.
The vanilla core rules aren’t sacrosanct either – in fact, that’s the whole point. When there’s a clash between the setting and the main set of rulebooks from Wizards then it’s the main set that gives way. There’s no drama here.
It’s common sense stuff. There are no elves in Dor-Erthenos and so DMs (Dor-Erthenos Masters? DEMs) are discouraged from handing out Elven Chainmail as treasure. There are no alignment rules (huzzah!) in Arcana Unearthed and so there shouldn’t be any magical items that detect alignment either.
If I had to find a fault in WotC’s core d20 rules, an annoying fault and a fault which seem to have infected the entire d20 industry then I’d point my finger straight at the assumed level of magic and its availability. In 9 out of 10 campaign settings, in 19 out of 20 campaign settings even, the designers don’t even try to overcome the veritable rush of magic items and spells.
Carefully designed drama can be ruined when the characters slaughter another bunch of orcs and find a particularly useful magic item in the random treasure. Arcana Unearthed is high fantasy, there are magic items (but not any orcs), and so the characters could find magic treasure.
However, since the rules explicitly ban a whole of items and implicitly ban many more the treasure charts in the basic rules become obsolete. Arcana Unearthed becomes one of those 1 in 20 settings that fight for their independence.
There could have been variant treasure charts in The Diamond Throne but DEMs are encouraged not to roll randomly and are advised to keep control of their game and award treasure deliberately and after some thought.
There are no alignments because it is better to have characters take responsibilities for their own actions and to see in shades of grey. There is no random treasure because it is better to have DEMs take responsibility for the power level in their game. It would be easy to describe Arcana Unearthed as a d20 game for intelligent players. I think it gets even better. There’s more transparency.
We’re told that although some people do create magical items that they don’t normally do it for profit. These items are unlikely to be on sale and are therefore harder to buy.
The gazetteer does its job. Chapter one, pages 6 through 40 of the 98-paged PDF, offer up a tour of the setting. I like the cartography. This is new for Arcana Unearthed, we might have guessed that it would be good, but it is nice to see that the maps live up to expectations.
It’s also it is also nice to see Dor-Erthenos itself, she already feels like an old friend. The tour takes brief but interesting looks at key locations; regions, cities and geographical wonders like Harrowdeep and the Elder Mountains. Monte’s good at writing terse but flavourful descriptions and this is ideal for the gazetteers roaming around the continent.
The supplement gives us more than just an atlas view of the Diamond Throne and the surrounding area. We also have the culture of the land and differences between the regions.
The northerners see themselves as more refined, summarized nicely by preferring wine over beer, whereas it’s more rambunctious in the south, where they’ll take the beer rather than the wine. There’s a calendar. We’re told the holy days.
On Runecurse, the festival commiserating the day the Rune Messiah went missing, all living creatures have a -1 luck penalty. It’s details like this that are far more important to me than yet another monster. The Diamond Throne had to be won over and counting it as value for money in just a few pages.
I like the way the supplement deals with deities. Real gods, the “full-blooded” deities, aren’t super-hero like humanoids who occasionally turn up and give the PCs some silly quest. In other words, they’re not typical D&D deities.
They’re abstract instead, beliefs, ideas and figureheads. Other gods are only gods because they’re worshipped as such. If a human village worships a powerful Outsider that just happened to save them once – then that Outsider is just as much a god as anything else. Many people don’t even believe in gods.
The status “demi-god” seems best applied to any being that’s managed to accrue enough power. By the way, if you want to know how common Outsiders are then that’s another issue addressed here.
The prestige classes are nice and varied. The Darkbond catches my attention. It makes sense that if it was possible to bond with the Green then it must be possible to bond with the Dark. Ah, necromantic goodness. If we invent some filler about how it is much harder to bond with the Dark than it is to bond with the Green then we don’t have to paper over the fact that the Darkbond is a prestige class and the Greenbond isn’t.
The Giant Paragon allows the Giant race to grow even larger. Rituals determine a giant’s size and so this prestige class makes sense.
The Crystal Warrior is a slightly strange prestige class where the character can actually weave crystals. This power doesn’t come entirely out of the blue, elsewhere in the Diamond Throne you can read about the mysteries of the original weaves of crystals.
Rune Lords are the natural extension of Rune Children and the dream-stealing pseudo-spy Somnamancer may well become the next big ‘mancer class.
I’d better mention the Beast Reaver, the Ollamh Lorekeeper and Rune Priest just so they don’t get left out. We’re told which of the prestige classes from the vanilla rules, Eldritch books and Sword and Sorcery (Malhavoc’s parent and White Wolf’s child) can also be used in the setting.
I reckon Monte has a bit of power here. Small d20 companies will kick their heels in joy if he ever recommends one of their products as being suitable. We’ll have to see how this ties in with Mystic Eye Games’ support license.
Humanoids dominate (but not fully) the new monster section and a few of them seem easy enough to use as a PC race. The Cyclops is, perhaps, the most interesting inclusion since they’re basically one-eyed bestial giants.
The giants had stories of such horrors from their home continent but never actually met one before coming to Dor-Erthenos. DEMs might be tempted to conclude that the giants originated on Dor-Erthenos after all (or just come up with a Pangaea-like explanation, another, or ignore it entirely).
If Arcana Unearthed wowed you then so will The Diamond Throne. The Diamond Throne manages to achieve what seems like mutually exclusive successes. The setting isn’t so hugely different from fantasy games most d20ers have played and so is likely to reassure those who found the Arcana Unearthed book slightly too alien.
On the other hand, Serran is different and exciting enough to appeal to those of us fed up to the back teeth with cheese fantasy.
This supplement marks a strong line of continued success for Arcana Unearthed; I fully expect the print edition to fly off the shelves and it deserves to do so.
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