Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: Adventurer Conqueror King System (Part 2)

Okay, so I'm finally getting around to continuing my review of the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) rules.  (You can check out Part 1 here.)  For an  OSR game, there is a lot of detailed content in ACKS.  I'm fine with that, but it makes for more work when doing a decent review.

Chapter 6 is entitled Adventures.  This starts by covering dungeon, wilderness, and ocean travel, survival, and encounters.  You've got your solid bits on movement, mapping, time, traps, etc.  There's a nice chart of stats for sea vessels.  I was amused to see that the carrying capacity for ships is given in stones.  It adds a nice bit of flavor, but I'm pretty sure it will throw non-UK type persons off a bit.  Then you've got encounters, surprise, reactions, etc.  This section is good basic stuff.

Combat initiative is done by each player rolling 1d6 and adding the character's Dexterity bonus. Mathematically that increases the relative value of the bonus over using a 1d20 roll: roughly, each +1 is now worth +15% rather than +5%.  Why not just use a d20?  I have no idea.  In ACKS spell casters must announce their spell cast before initiative is rolled, which I rather like.  Since it should take most of a round to cast and they would have to start at the beginning of the round to have time to cast that same round.  Hmm, I might add this to my Pathfinder games.

But then comes How to Attack.  This section has charts for monsters attacking and for characters attacking, with separate columns for fighters, clerics & thieves, and mages.  Just looking at the charts put me off.  Rather than going with increasing To Hit bonus with levels (as in 3rd or 4th edition), it uses a decreasing Attack Throw Value which must be equaled or exceeded on the roll to hit.  The target's armor class is added to the Attack Throw Value and any bonuses or penalties for Strength, Dexterity, or magic are added to the die roll.   Yes, it's really just another way of expressing the same thing in the end, but I didn't see any advantage to this system.  If anything it complicates the math because you're routinely making adjustments to the Attack Throw Value and then also to the die roll rather than applying all modifiers to the d20 roll.

Two-weapon fighting, however, is more realistic in ACKS.   The fighter gets only one attack but gets a bonus to hit for having the 2nd weapon (plus any magical bonus on the 2nd weapon).  Two weapon fighting is very rare historically.  Even then the off-hand weapon is usually for defense or opportunistic strikes, like a rapier and main gauche.  Because of the body mechanics involved you don't get double the attacks with two weapons, except perhaps with very light weapons like knives.  I prefer this treatment of the skill.

Speaking of doubling, I wish they'd done something with doubled damage.  The problem with specifying double damage, particularly for critical hits, is that if you roll low then the doubling effect is inconsequential.  It's sort of a gyp.  In my games, for critical damage the attacker gets full damage and then a normal damage roll on top of that.  That makes all critical hits do seriously critical damage.

Then there's the Mortal Wounds table.  It's a fun read, what with all the gruesome permanent injuries and colorful effects, but I'm not sure I would use it.  The brutal permanent damage is certainly realistic, but I can see it resulting in the abrupt retirement of lower level characters merely on a bad roll.  Many of the injuries require Restore Life and Limb to repair, which is a 5th level spell.  Either the party must have a high-level cleric or there must be one in travel distance and the party have sufficient funds to pay.  Okay, so these injury effects do make for interesting "remember when" stories, and the retired characters can even hang around as NPCs, but does it make for a better game?  It still has that Old School "we're going to create rules just to f*ck with you for no good reason" vibe to it.  I'd probably ditch it.  The complementary Tampering With Mortality table is more to my taste.  The results are more likely to provide interesting role-playing and plot ideas.  The difference between the two tables is like the difference between someone jabbing you in the eye with a spoon or using that spoon to feed you a mix of very hot peppers and spices.  The eye jab will leave you with partial or permanent blindness, disfigurement, and possible pains for life.  Afterwards you'll want to hunt the a**hole down and gouge his eye out with a spoon.  The peppers and spices will cause intense effects, but only temporarily.  Afterwards you will have positive memories of the interesting mix of flavors and maybe want to invent some great mixes of your own to share.

Then we're on to the old school style saving throws, with tables by class for Poison & Death, Staffs & Wands, etc.  I was never really comfortable with these, particularly when you needed a save against something which didn't exactly fit one of the save types.  It's another area which feels like "reinventing the square wheel" of OD&D.  The old style structured tables are retained in ACKS when there's probably a simpler, smoother way to get the same effect.  As a DM I find the Ref, Will, and Fort saves of 3rd/Pathfinder simpler and easier to apply flexibly as situations arise during play.

After that are more specialized combat rules  and then the very, very important section on earning experience.  In the old school groove, ACKS awards XP for treasure items--but only if they are sold right away.  Items retained and used do not bring XP if sold later.  I really have no idea why characters should get XP for treasure--except maybe thieves.  Well, okay, if you think of all classes as simply variations on a core Murder Hobo Robber class then they all should get XP for treasure. As noted earlier, characters with high scores in their class prime requisites get a 10% bonus to experience earned.  I've never understood this rule.  Why should a character get more XP just because the player got lucky with the dice?  It's another "we're going to create rules just to f*ck with you for no good reason" situation, this time by giving lucky players a chance to repeatedly gloat over less lucky ones.  The completely illogical bonus provides constant irritation and resentment for players who just were simply unlucky with the initial rolls.  It's rules like this which led to the development of point-buy systems (and probably communism).

Anyway, that's some thoughts on Chapter 6 and all I have time for tonight.  Next time we'll continue with Chapter 7: Campaigns.


  1. The Alexandrian does a fairly good job of explaining the reasoning behind prime reqs here:

    I imagine init on 1d6 is used in part because it's simpler to count down across the entire possible range of values, as ACKS requires every round, than a d20 would be. Also traditional, for whatever that's worth.

    Our experience with ACKS' attack throw system has been that characters calculate their to-hit with strength and magic included; then, when rolling an attack, they announce "I hit AC x", where x is 1d20 minus their to-hit number. It's a little ugly on paper, but it works pretty well in play (particularly coming from a Traveller background, where effect (the degree by which you beat the target) is routinely part of the report of a roll). To-hit numbers rarely change much, especially compared to 3.x; there just aren't that many buffs or situational modifiers in ACKS.

    I'm willing to concede Death and Dismemberment and saving throws as matters of taste. ACKS does make it pretty easy to find and afford a 5th-level divine spell, though; a large village will have one such caster about half the time, and 500gp a pop (plus a side effect) isn't much compared to missing an arm.

  2. John, thanks for the comments. I checked out the Alexandrian's posting. His explanation is interesting, but for me it just reinforces what was wrong with the earlier editions. They aren't very concerned with fairness and balance. I prefer to present my players with a better deal.

    1. As is your right; I wished merely to bring to your attention that there is a(n admittedly harsh) logic underlying it.

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