Perhaps the biggest difference between 1est edition and Classic versions of our favorite fantasy game was "race as class". In 1e and its descendants, race was a selection made separately from class. You could choose to be an Elf, and then choose to be a Fighter, Magic-User, etc. In Classic (B/X, BECMI, and Rules Cyclopedia), the various races were actually classes - Elves were of the Elf class, Dwarves of the Dwarf class. These differences have manifested again in the various retro-clones.
Fantasy gamemasters attempting to create historical plausible game worlds are faced with a major problem whenever and wherever they include elves: The elven lifespan. Tradition dating from the middle ages carried into D&D by way of Tolkien has elves as immortal, or nearly so; the 1st edition D&D had lifespans as long as 2,000 years from some elven sub-races.
Nothing I've seen has provoked so much controversy within the old school community as ascending versus descending armor class. Labyrinth Lord, like B/X, uses a combat matrix with to hit rolls against descending armor class. Basic Fantasy RPG and DCC RPG, like 3.5, use an attack bonus versus 10+ ascending armor class. Swords & Wizardry splits the difference.
When it comes to old-school fantasy gaming, there are a few topics that seem to provoke endless discussion between fans of basically the same game. I've listed these below, and over the course of the next few weeks, we'll discuss how the Adventurer Conqueror King system (ACKS) tackles each one.
Ascending v. descending armor class and attack bonus v. THACO
One question we get asked a fair bit is whether the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) is a retro-clone.
ACKS is not a retro-clone in the sense that it doesn't seek to replicate the experience of any particular rules systems. But it is built upon the excellent foundation that was laid by the retro-clones, in particular by Dan Proctor's Labyrinth Lord and Chris Gonnerman's Basic Fantasy RPG, without which our own work would have been vastly more difficult.
Once I figured out the wage rate of a peasant and the value of an acre of land, that put ACKS on solid economic footing. From there I was able to extrapolate the income of a wide variety of professions, as well as the income of various levels of lords and nobles. Since the classical "gold for XP" mechanic drives the advancement of characters, the wealth of the society in turn told us how many characters of various levels could exist in the setting. Here, then, are the demographics of heroism...
In my prior post, I showed that each square mile of land supports 21 peasant farmers and their wives and 3 kids, or (21x5) 105 peasants per square mile. 105 peasants per square mile is roughly the historical population density of Medieval France. Other historical population densities are noted below.
Unlike many contemporary fantasy RPGs, the Adventurer Conqueror King System has been designed with the view that many gamemasters want to be able to simulate an ancient and/or medieval world in such a way that their campaign world makes sense. The income of peasants makes sense in relation to the income of kings. The cost of swords and the income of the swordsmiths who make them has some relation. Treasure exists in more forms than simply gold, gems, and magic. The easiest and best way to achieve a world with versimilitude is to start with historical assumptions.
This email from Greg, dated 1/15/10, marks the beginning of Autarch. We didn't know it then, of course...
Upon moving down here to NC, I joined my boss’s first edition game. The 8 or ten sessions I’ve been to have been pretty awesome, and have gone a long way in convincing me that the old school rules still have a lot to offer. Alex is passionate about house-ruling and creating a story rich campaign.
“This is a pretty damn impressive set of tools that allows a dungeon master to create, demo, and craft Dwimmermount into their campaign back drop, and as a of a damn fine science fantasy campaign that they'll want to run.”
“'Matthew Skail, the dungeon designer [The Sinister Stone of Sakkara], really instills a sense of cumulative horror as the creepy images and icons found in the upper level are revealed to be more than just artwork later on', states Alexander Macris. 'Some of what’s in the lower level is horrific enough that Raggi would be proud.'”
“The Player's Companion extends the core rules by adding a series of new classes, the dwarven machinist and spelunker, the elven ranger, and some human classes - mystic (monk), shaman (druid), and priestess. I'll come out and say it though, the thing that got me fired up with the book-love was the extensive list of templates. (I think they claim there are 144 of them). An ACKS template is basically some pre-selected options that speeds up character generation and gives the character a bit of early flavor. ACKS supports the old school roll-and-go - it's got basic 3d6 in order for abilities and simple classes, like classic D&D. The templates take it the rest of the way, by adding a preconfigured set of starting equipment, starting money, and suggested proficiency selections.”
“This game (Domains At War: Battles) does for mass combat what Steve Jackson did for tactical combat with Melee and Wizard. Even better, the basic system of armor class, hit points, and d20 to-hit rolls will be immediately recognizable to most role-players. It’s great that people that could never be convinced to sit down to a game of Commands & Colors or Dragon Rage will play this, but the fact that it provides a context for martial characters with high levels of Wisdom and Charisma to really make a difference totally seals the deal. This is something I’ve wanted for a long time even if I didn’t quite know it and it addresses a wealth of design issues that emerge in many of the older role playing games. This is a very big deal, an achievement on par with the development of playable megadungeons.”
“I have greatly enjoyed reading through my copy of the book. The world of Dwimmermount is called Telluria, and the lore and history of the setting are tied inextricably with the history for the megadungeon. There are many oddities to the dungeon that appealed to me, and every level is designed consistently with the history that is provided.”
“This is what a rationalised 21st century dungeoncrawling RPG can look like: enough old school aspects to appeal to grognards, but with enough mechanical crunch to appeal to new(er) school players. The systems maths is robust enough that it doesn't fall to pieces if you breathe on it, but simple enough that you only need to do simple-addition-up-to-20 in play. And we did it crowdfunded and with substantiative fan base interaction and customer feedback.”
“...The Sinister Stone of Sakkara is more embedded within its setting (the Auran Empire) than The Keep on the Borderlands ever was. B2 was released before there even was an official setting for D&D (that came with X1 The Isle of Dread). Nowadays game consumers seem to prefer more flavored, setting-based content. So whereas the Keep was led by The Castellan, Türos Tem is led by Legate Ulrand Valerian...”
“To sum it up, Dwimmermount is a well-written, information-dense, traditional megadungeon with hints of science fantasy, designed to facilitate a game based around exploration and discovery. The tools and information presented inside this huge tome are aimed at helping achieve this goal; and with success, I must say.”
“Adventurer Conqueror King adds a new wing to the Old School with its epic-scale world construction rules, which help the Judge develop an entire setting, logically and organically, in the sandbox spirit of the hobby's earliest campaigns.”
— Allen Varney
“What does this offer that the OSR books and rules already in your collection don't? Strongholds, domains, and even mercantile ventures are addressed. Yes, your character may just outgrow the dungeon life. If you play in any fantasy type RPG and are interested in building your own campaign, many of the tools are here.”
“What struck me in the read through is how to use Dwimmermount as an example - a how-to on presenting a themed dungeon or campaign world...It is a font of ideas - not only setting ideas, but presentation and preparatory ideas, not only for someone who would want to create their own dungeon, but for someone just setting up a sandbox environment, and wanting some structure to hang hexes up on...All of this, then, for $10.00; a madly underpriced PDF for what you're getting out of it, especially as compared to other megadungeon products. Take it as it is and you'll enjoy it just as much as if you dismantle it first; either way you're getting real value.”
“I've been running this game for months now using an open world sandbox game, similar to Ben Robbins' West Marches game, and it's downright amazing. Love the comprehensive rules for everything economic and the B/X framework with layered extras, like proficiencies and special maneuvers (disarm, wrestling, etc.). If you're at all into D&D, I would check this out.”
“If you run anything even marginally compatible with B/X, or based on the original through 2nd editions of the paternal game, you can take advantage of this book (Player's Companon). There's dozens of little $1 Labyrinth Lord classes or extended spellbooks spread around RPGNow - this is all of them, and more.”
“This book is a great addition to the ACKS system, as well as any OSR game, for much of the material in here could be easily ported to another game of choice. If you are running ACKS, this book will help tailor make the system to your world. If you are on the fence about ACKS, check this book out. Its flexibility and substance just might make you a convert.”
“I will also make a note that Domains at War is my favorite RPG purchase since I bought the ACKS books in the first place. On a recent reread I was struck by suddenly realizing the formula for maximum spell damage being dealt to a unit is based on what percentage of the unit the spell's area of effect can cover. I had to stop reading for a few minutes while I admired it.”
“It makes good on D&D's largely unfulfilled promise to take characters from lowly insignificance to the heights of power. There are rules for building castles, establishing and ruling domains (as well as wizard's sanctums and thieves guilds), and trading -- just about anything a high-level, power-hungry fantasy character might be interested in pursuing. Adventurer, Conqueror, King is a very cleverly designed game whose rules are quite compatible with most retro-clones, particularly Labyrinth Lord, making it extremely valuable to any player or referee looking to add any of its rules to their existing campaigns. This is good stuff and well worth a look.”
“If the history of wargaming is the Sun, Domains At War: Battles is that point of light you get after focusing what's good about wargaming through the lens of DND. It's quick, flexible, and dead simple to pick up for anyone that's rolled dice with purpose...If you are not running ACKS, or you're not in an ACKS game that's putting any emphasis on domain management, this (Domains At War:Campaigns) still has a lot of use for you - if you ever want your game to feature war as a backdrop, or have the PCs interact within that war, or your players have ever wanted to take a mass of henchmen and mercenaries to a robber knight's keep - and you want that war and those battles to be as simulated as the PCs actions are - if you want it to be gamed and real, you still want this book.”
“The Sinister Stone of Sakkara succeeds in it's goals as an introductory module, and serves as a great example of what today's authors are doing with the concepts introduced some 40 years ago by the original team. For new players, what most folks think of as cornerstones of "old school" play - faction dynamics, multi-path dungeons, resource management & logistics, are all introduced within the two levels of the titular dungeon. Interacting with monstrous or human NPCs in a non-combat function is well rewarded, exploration delivers results, and the "solving" of the dungeon; with secret doors, traps, and treasure extraction all in play, is baked in. ... the whole thing serves as an example of what can be accomplished with Chapter 10 of ACKS. New and experienced Judges will find this example invaluable. ”
“Autarch has created a lens with Domains At War. This finely crafted piece allows you to view mass combat within your game. It is up to you to focus the lens, choosing when to pull back and see the whole of a war campaign and when to zoom into a single battle. The rules of D@W work seamlessly, allowing a group to flow back and forth between both rule sets as the story of the game and their interest demands. If you are looking for a rule set for a d20 game that abstracts mass combat in a fun, simple way, while still providing players influential choices, check out D@W”
“I think its safe to say that I have never seen a set of rules and guidelines for stronghold and dominion management in any other D&D game (or even any other game remotely similar to D&D) that were this complete. The mechanics in the BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia books pale in comparison. Even Pendragon, which probably has the most detailed rules on manors that I’d seen systematized until now, doesn’t really match up. You get complete rules for just what kind of stronghold each class can make, how many followers it will attract, what every little bit of it will cost, how many peasant families you can attract and support, and what kind of revenue you can collect. On top of that you get rules for how to expand your domain, what kind of various expenses are involved on a regular basis, rules and tables for being a vassal of a lord or king, morale rules for your dominion to see if the peasants are revolting, rules for building and running villages, towns and cities, and building and managing markets.”
“...not a lot of people are talking about the combination of the fighter damage bonus with the cleave rule. That’s a huge deal that makes fighters more the premier class of the game– especially when you take in all the things done to dial back the mages”
“The campaign chapter also contains a bunch of amusing rules for magical research – not only can you create your own spells, but you can also cross-breed monsters and turn yourself into a lich! Perhaps the best part, though, is the conceit that wizards can build dungeons somewhere (probably not directly under their tower), wait for monsters to settle inside, and then send adventurers inside to harvest their parts. It sounds tremendously inefficient both for the PC (hoping you get a sufficiently interesting creature!) and the player (dungeons get stocked by making wandering monster roll…after roll…after roll).”