I had hoped The Character Archaic was a distillation of the noted games from which the author claims inspiration with an addition of something original. Unfortunately, this game is merely derivative and unnecessarily crunchy.
First, the writing and layout are both clear. Thank you! That earns three stars in itself and sets this game apart from the masses. No amount of artwork and layout genius compensates for poor copy. Well done.
The Character Archaic (TCA) uses four primary character attributes: Prowess, Brawn, Insight and Wit. In terms of the classic six atributes, these are roughly: DEX, STR, INT, CHA. However, any time you go from the classic six to fewer, there is some overlap.
The primary attributes are fine, but TCA uses the term Compond Attributes for attribute modifiers. I think the term Compond Attributes is less clear than Skills, Talents of even Specialisms (though I loathe that particular term). Examples of Compond Attributes include three types. Here is a sampling:
SIMPLE: vivacious +1, quick-witted +1
EXPLANATORY: more charming than a bar wench +1, can see well in the dark +2
SPECIFIC TO PRIMARY ATTRIBUTES: good lung capacity +1 (Brawn), cerebral +1 (Insight), worst aim in history -3 (Prowess)
Finally, TCA includes Special Attributes, "Special Attributes describe an unusual talent, power, or disadvantage." An example of a Special Attribute is the Dwarves cultural (not racial!) ability to See in Darkness.
Once you get past the overuse of "attribute," TCA generally uses a roll + modifiers versus a GM-assigned target number. All dice are d6, with the base roll being 2d6 (though TCA abbreviated 2D). Rolling high is good. A roll of twelve (boxcars) explodes as does a two (snake eyes).
TCA uses two types of health, wounds and stress, both with scales to penalize attribute rolls as your character becomes more injured. Both stress and wounds heal with time, but time frames leaning more toward reality than the insta-heal naps that power murder-hobo games. There are rules for first aid, potions and magical healing, though a magic system is not included in this volume.
The equipment and armor lists are very nice, but the section on Equipment is full on crunch for tracking encumbrance, armor per hit location, different protection based on the armor in each location, etc. Not for me, thank you.
As you might guess from the armor focus, combat is a ticky afair, too. In addition to the simple math (attacker's (Prowess Attribute+Compound Attribute) vs defender's (Prowess Attribute+Compound Attribute)), there are rules for grappling, charging, determing the impact of a missed ranged attack, parry, block, hide, hit locations, different damage effects by weapon type... Had enough? I have, so I'll not detail the several other rules for different types of damage. By this point, I know I have no interest in playing this game. I'd rather play something narrative and fun without the bookkeeping and tracking of rules.
In summary, The Character Archaic is a well written, clearly presented game full of crunch. It isn't Rolemaster-level crunch, but more old school than I care to play.