Well, since I'm out from under the NDA, and they're actually shipping the product, I feel that I can actually talk about this openly now, at least a bit.
This is not a review, since I don't actually have the finished product in my hands yet. I was lucky enough to be a playtester for Arduin Eternal, the third version of the game (or, maybe, 3.6, it's kinda hard to tell), and I'm eager to see what Monte actually put together in the end with this. I say this, despite the fact that I've seen the beta test, because the very last thing I or many of the other playtesters have heard is that "big changes" have occured, so pretty much everything I say here may be entirely wrong. Also, despite the fact that I am no longer under NDA, I'm going to act as though I am for the most part because, well, frankly that agreement I signed scared the crap out of me. If, when I finally get my hands on this book and get a read through, none of what I say here applies, I will gladly retract it all.
So, many of the grognards lurking about the web are already familiar with Arduin, if only in the format of the little booklets that were nothing more than options books for the original LBB version of D&D. Few people remember, or for that matter want to remember, that there was a second edition released entitled The Compleat Arduin (spelling intentional). That was a very curious set of books if only for the novelty of them. They were the first set of books out of Hargrave's mind that attempted truly to turn Arduin into more than just "Hargrave's Campaign" and house rules and into a singular and whole game if its own. It's also remembered frequently as a truly terrible game, which is mostly unfair really. Was it simple and easy to understand? Not a chance. But in the end, it's still a very enjoyable game and I recommend that version to anybody who's got the temperment to take a hammer to it and make it into their own.
Now, Monty StJohn, author of The Worldbook of Khass, has put together a new, completely revisualized version of the Arduin game that will lock in with his previous work. Of course, being a systemless book, saying that anything at all will lock in with the worldbook is . . . meaningless, but you probably understand what I'm talking about at least.
This new book, called Arduin Eternal, is a significant leap away from the original system (essentially D&D) and the Compleat Arduin systems. People looking for a game that is a strong inheritor of the D&D mechanic, any of them, will be sorely dissapointed. Certainly there are identifiable elements of Gygaxian DNA in the thing, this is a whole other monster that will twist the undies of a fair few.
First, this is not entirely a class based system. Yes, there are classes, and yes, they do, in very broad strokes, outline the general thrust of your character and his abilities, this is, in no way, the class system where fighters, magic-users, and clerics are identifiable and quantifiable packages of specific rules. Instead, being a part of a class nets you access to specific skill sets and talents that are not accessible from the outside, or in some cases as easily improved. For instance, while anybody can learn to use armor and weapons and to hold their own in a fight, Warriors of all stripes have access to deeper and, in some ways, more powerful understanding and abilities in the arts of combat and war than others.
You know, that last sentence seems fairly . . . blatantly obvious now that I'm rereading it, and perhaps in a way it really is. However, it's just not when you're looking at the gaming industry as a whole any more. We currently reside in a world where RPG's largely cater to the wish fulfillment and "give the player what he wants" mentality. A world where "character build" and "fun" are the vast overriding factors, even over the power of the referee. This, though it looks to be that at first blush (and even second and third blush) is not that. There are a great deal of Old School sensibilities here, mixed well with some of the best traits of New Schoolism. Youngin's will have all the choices they could imagine in their wildest dreams, and will be able to build to their heart's content, but some of the older folks will truly love, I think, that things here are very easily stripped down and jiggered into a bare skeleton on par with even the dustiest of grognard lore.
At its heart, at least last time I saw it, there is a core mechanic that governs the entirety of the mechanics. Essentially, roll D100, add modifiers and skill ranks, and compare to a target difficulty number (either set by the ref, or set by an opposed roll). It's really that simple. It just has so much else slathered on that it may throw people off who came here looking for simplicity. Those who come looking for infinite diverersity in infinite combination will also be dissapointed as many choices are not universal and are largely attached to others based on Arduinian flavor.
What the game does very well, though, is to provide tools for both the GM and the players to . . . well . . . the only way to adequately describe it is "go hog wild." Bare bones ideas of how to build magic items, both from the GM's perspective of including them in adventures, and from the players' perspective, of having their character build them. The most logical minds here, though, will probably find them infuriating in their spareness. Not to mention similar rules for demi-urges, spirits, technology and alchemy. A section worth special mention is the rune-magic section, which will drive many people absolutely insane: instead of rune spells as in prior editions, we are provided with actual individual runes that produce specific effects on their own (ranging from fire, earth, air, and water all the way to runes that affect time/duration and dimensions) and in combination with others. Every rune casting is, literally, a recipe that has to be discovered, experimented with, and perfected. The same goes for much everything else.
At its heart, and the last time I saw anything official, the game was all about economies of scale. At its heart, the game is a single, simple mechanic which can be used entirely satisfactorily on its own. Everything else can be added on bit by bit as desired, or left out as you please.
I'm excited to see what the "big changes" are, and if anything I know still actually applies.