Okay, after spending a great deal of time with this game last week end, there are a lot of things that strike me about it. On the one hand, this is all rather esoteric… and in some cases I’ll devolve from raw opinion to pure speculation and on the generalizations based on a specific group of players. But in another sense, all of this is the point of the rules even if not all of it derives from them. I can’t really explain why people feel so strongly about some of this stuff, but people will get their feelings hurt reading this. If you can’t handle that, go play a game where your character can’t die and where you’re guaranteed to level up every session.
SO… now that I’ve actually played this thing, I have to say that the ACKS rules system is very solid. Oh, I have my quibbles… but people will play it and they will keep on playing it. And that’s what really matters about an rpg rule set. I think it addresses the most commonly perceived problems with the iconic B/X rule set… but it does so in a very even handed way. Like I said in my review, it gives you what you think you want, but there is always a catch or a tradeoff involved. This undercuts some of my favorite things about old school play in some cases… however, if your players have already picked up a lot of new school assumptions, this may be as close to the old school approach that you’re liable to be able to drag them. And note that these comments are entirely focused on play at the first level. We’re not really applying any of the domain rules which are the primary draw of the system. (After all, no one’s going to want to play the domain system if the bread and butter adventuring rules don’t hold up.)
The real surprise here is just how useful the Player’s Companion is. It’s something that comes off at first as being ACKS’s answer to Labyrinth Lord’s Advanced Edition Companion, but in reality it’s more of a Generic Universal Old School System. I’m amazed at what all is in it, really. While the ACKS core book is really sort of a souped up retroclone, the Player’s Companion is really where the game earns its “S” for system. And it’s not just neat in theory, either… it’s loaded with stuff that can actually be used in role playing campaigns that are run by mere mortals. Someone else has dealt with all the painstaking game design issues so that I can just focus on running the game. I love it!
You know, when people walked past my table at Madicon 24, my battered old B/X rule books with the Erol Otus covers would stop a lot people in their tracks. Those sorts of people would invariably look crestfallen when they’d find out that we were actually running this “ACKS” thing instead. Just based on these sessions, though, I have to say that it’s well worth the effort to takes to master. You see, as long as I’ve been into gaming I don’t think I’ve ever legitimately overseen players that succeeded in making it to second level in this sort of “classic” style game. The gamer equivalent of ADHD and the difficulty of of getting people together regularly was just too much for me to seriously pull that off. But ACKS and Dwimmermount gave me that experience– an experience I’ve wanted ever since I was a kid when I stumbled across that Moldvay Basic Set at a teachers supply store. That a game like this could accomplish that in today’s frenetic and jaded world is a big deal. I’m pretty happy that these rules combined with a flagship adventure product could pull this off. Thank you, Autarch! (And thanks for the players sticking to it– this couldn’t have come off like it did without you guys…!)
I have no idea what “1554” is; it’s probably not in my budget. I was dedicated to recreating the “beer and pretzels” scenario just one time; I don’t think you saw the pretzels as “Dickhead Gamer” and I scarfed them down. I would like my clunky glasses back! I was disconnected while you were typing the reply above, and managed not to see that you had kindly removed the “previous version” to which I refer below.
That last needed an edit; the previous version was virtually unreadable. I would like to add a play-based observation about the use of Armor Class in ACKS. Although it seems awkward and arbitrarily different from other D & D variants, it is as well-designed and counterintuitive as Second Edition’s THAC0 (to which it is equivalent).
Alexander Macris’ players probably already figured out that they need to shout at the DM when rolling to hit. Unlike in 2E, the AC 0=unarmored scheme doesn’t lend itself to telling the Dungeon Master your “THAC0” when you attack. However, I believe it does lead you to get in the habit of subtracting your “roll-to-hit,” as I believe it is called in ACKS, from your d20 result. I expect that by the time my fellow players and I begin to hit AC 0 on an 11, we will already be accustomed to illustrating the narrative with the familiar statement, “I hit AC ___.”
I’m glad you said that last thing! Makes the math clearer, and it’s still very “D & D-like.” I think the fighter’s base-to-hit goes down to 9 at third level (I misspoke when I indicated that it goes up).
As far as your first point, a retrogame with any veracity (some would say atavism) has to somehow preserve the precedent of descending to-hit and save targets. ACKS’ approach to AC is elegant, welcomes the preconceptions of players migrating from later editions, and only that inobvious step in its final comprehension keeps it from being altogether brilliant.
Wow, thank you for the incredibly kind words! I’m thrilled you and your players are having such a blast with ACKS.
If you want a game world with less min-maxxing and more verisimilitude, you can require that the players roll for a Template (from Player’s Companion). Some Judges are reluctant to do this because it takes away a lot of the character generation choice that is otherwise presented to the players, so you have to decide how “new school” your group is.
Over time, your players will end up with 2-3 characters each, typically a main PC and 1-2 henchmen. It’s a great opportunity to add breadth to the classes and proficiencies that are in play. Even if you don’t use the Templates for PCs, I *highly* recommend you use them when rolling up NPCs for them to encounter as henchmen. It’s vastly more fun to have them hire “Shakoth, the Eunuch Sorcerer” and “Malekith the Templar” and it makes for a lot more variety.
We players are working hard to learn the ins & outs of ACKS. While I don’t see a core rulebook in my immediate future, others in the group are in better financial shape than me! I was surprised to learn that the Engineering proficiency is not involved in the operation of ballistæ and catapults. I may be failing to appreciate the fun of building the edificial infrastructure of an empire, but I think I would rather enjoy a skill that let me drop rocks on my opponents/drop them onto rocks. On a related note, is there a proficiency you would use to build mechanical traps? I am also critical of the illumination power of a lantern. If nonmagical means are only capable of lighting the surrounding 30 feet, I wonder what alternatives there are which would allow one to see danger farther away in a dungeon. Faerie Fire, perhaps?
I’ve been a player in an ACKs campaign that’s runs about a year’s worth of weekly 4 hour sessions, and I’ve got to say “Wow!” In regards to hopeless characters and Min/Max Proficiencies, I’ve found that theft-of dungeon activities are as engaging, if not more so, than the actual dungeon crawl, and I LOVE dungeon crawls , my characters ability scores topped at 13 (Con) and bottomed at 8(DEX), and CHA and WIS of 10(+0 MODs). My GM (approx. 40 yrs of GM and game design experience) assigned prerequisites to class, and I only qualified for the Grunt class (slightly underpowered fighter. Magic items are minimal (found while exploring or commissioned, with the expense, uncertainty and time span that accompanies creation). Customized Classes are the rule, and are usually underpowered compared to the standard ones.Due to events in the mega-dungeon we are exploring, character switched class to Oath-Sworn (Divine Fighting class, more of a Deacon rather than Paladin). At the current time, my character is a 6th Level Oath-Sworn/ 4th Level Grunt, owns 5 buildings in town, transformed a ruined temple in the city into a profit making Mead Hall, picked up Man at Arms as a proficiency so as to train 30 street kids as Light Infantry (Leather and Dual Kukris), and employee 2 henchmen, 1 Master Level, 2 Journeyman level and 6 Apprentice level specialists full time, as well as the Urchin Light Infantry (with sergeants, uniforms, unit badge and funding the unit’s healing GP reserve.) Kids have been contracted by the Duke’s Guard to maintain order in half the capital while the Duke engages Orks on his borders.
The amount of out-of dungeon play really affects the choices all of the group’s players make when leveling up characters, and the system is very successful at creating not just a “You are standing at the top of an entrance in the cliff face. Stair Lead into darkness” experience, but a fully fleshed, logical and engaging world. I’ve never played in a system where encumbrance (and containers) were so viscerally present. Where the attitudes of towns folk mattered so much. Where the party had to ride for a week in order to purchase 3 war dogs due to availability. where the demographics show how many spell casters are available in a location when searching for someone to create magic items. It’s Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarion instead of Tolkien’s Aragorn.
I’ve played and read a lot of rule systems over the last 35 years, and ACKs is by far the most enjoyable system I’ve played in (with the possible exception of Mazes and Minotaurs).
That last part makes me wish I would’ve put my Moldvay Basic book on the table with your Holmes one–but then there wouldn’t have been as much room for snacks! It would be nice to play someplace with an actual conference table (Madicon didn’t provide that), but if you keep on running once a month I think at least most of your current players will keep coming back…and I can always bring that actually AADD guy. I’m already in games that meet once a week and every other week, so if you can present once a month as a compromise (with your wife) I know I can make it.
You should’ve had players leveling up before. It took an epic second session, but it is happening now. I’m a True Actor, the college student is a Dickhead Actor; the player who complained about rolling a 16 and an 8 is a Dickhead Gamer (and I hope they read this), so there are people whose characters aren’t awesome by default. J’accuse! My first character had Caving proficiency, and I was too drunk to be making a statement when the second took Alchemy & Loremaster (and boy, did the others rib me for taking Detect Magic as my spell)!
I absolutely agree that whatever their age, players today want to get to the bottom of the dungeon (end of the empire, whatever) no matter how long it takes. Having powerful character-building options just gives them a way to work toward that goal, whatever their play styles. And I’m not concerned about the perceived weakness of Wisdom; as in other Third Edition-derived games, it’s vital to the all-important Perception ability; and in this game as well, it increases the saving throw opponents need to make against Cleric spells, making that appealing class even more awesome at mid- to high-levels.