Adventure, Conqueror, King is the second of the five systems I am looking at for the Dark War campaign. If you have not heard of this game, you should visit Autarch and check it out. It is a slick old school revival game, that is not a clone of old school DnD. Alex, Tavis, and the others at Autarch did a great job of coming to their own unique system that feels Old School rather than just recreating an older ruleset. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the clone games too!) The premise of the system is found in the game’s name. Adventurers should move away from dungeon crawls, and into conquering and ruling domains. Fighters become kings, clerics guide flocks, and thieves rule thieve guilds. So let’s see how ACKS would fit the world of Ta’nar
How closely does the system match to the high magic, epic fantasy style found in Ta’nar? 9/10 – Like 13th Age, ACKS is based off of Dungeons and Dragons. Therefore it, by that relationship, will be a good fit for the most of the themes of Ta’nar. However, as it replicates a style of play from the early years of Dungeons & Dragons, it doesn’t have an epic feel for starting characters. One of the best descriptions of old school gaming I have heard is that your character starts off as a normal guy and ends up as Batman. ACKS is not a fantasy game like Pathfinder or 4th ed Dungeons and Dragons or 13th Age, where you start off significantly separated from the rest of the population. It plays at a much more human level, and while that is ok with me, but that would require a slight change in play style at the table. The players would not have characters that were starting off as experts in their fields, they would start off as the peasants and apprentices that would someday change the world.
World Score: 9/10
Ascending to Godhood 3/10 – As mentioned above, the end game of ACKS is more Batman than Superman. So there are not built in rules for this level of play. However, as it is compatible with older versions of D&D, I have 30 years of rules, magazines, and netbooks to reference and pull mechanics from. I am sure that within the depths of my Rules Cyclopedia or other OSR supplements, I could find rules that supported this level of play. So ACKS doesn’t get a 1 in this category but the work I would need to do to adjudicate this doesn’t let it score higher than a 3
Establishing & Management of Nations 10/10 – This is where ACKS shines as a system for me. The Adventurer, Conqueror, King System is broken up into tiers of play that take the characters from landless tomb raiders to the commanders of armies and kingdoms. That is a major component of the Dark War campaign and the rules for domain creation, management, and even experience from those events are a major part of this ruleset. As a side note, you cannot find a better set of sandbox world creation rules and guidelines than ACKS, in my opinion. You will do a lot of setup work, but then can sit back and let your players explore. The game is $9.99 at drivethrurpg.com, and well worth the money.
Customized Deities 9/10 – ACKS has a very strong class creation system, which I will look at below, so creating custom priests for the varied deities of Ta’nar will be very simple. Also, I can use the spell list rule, where I can just take the base cleric class and alter the spells their gods grant their priests and call it a day. I feel like this is slightly better than the ICON system from 13th Age, at least mechanically. I just have to take the time to complete design.
Mass Combat 10/10 – Hand in hand with the domain management rules are the mass combat rules. While I don’t have my hands on the hard copy yet, the Domains at War supplement for ACKS is out in PDF to backers. It is amazing. As I mentioned in the last article, I will probably use it for 13th Age. Their goal was to present a fun rule set that allowed you to convert any monster from a d20 game in unit stats. From my read through, they have done just that. It goes beyond just mass combat and includes how to use magic and monsters during war, maintaining supply lines and other logistical necessities.
Creation of Races 9/10 – ACKS has very simple racial creation rules. Spend some points on abilities and possible class levels and you are done. I have created two of the races of Ta’nar already with their rules, and while I need to do some tweaking, they are close to being done.
Creation of Classes 9/10 – Like their race creation rules, ACKS provides a great set of rules for making classes. However, ACKS replicates a time from gaming history where race and class were separate entities. You were a Fighter or a Dwarf. Autarch does bring some updating to this ideal. The majority of the classes in ACKS are for humans only, but the races are not limited to one class only. They get cultural classes. While this is very customizable, it basically means I have to come up with custom classes for all of the non-human races that I am bringing to the table, which at current count is fifteen. While I can plunder their classes for the elves and dwarves, this would still take at least 3-4 months of work to develop the races and come up with 2-3 cultural classes for each.
Simple Monster Creation Rules 10/10 – The monster creation rules of ACKS are pretty simple. Picking a level gives you the attack throw, hit dice, and throws of the creature. The XP values are simple to calculate from there. Also, due to its design, there are many, many monster manuals that I can pull from and adapt. Finding the right balance would be the most difficult piece of creating the monster, but that holds true for most OSR games.
Fast interesting combat 6/10 – ACKS has fast combat, but it could fall flat on the interesting side. The reason for this lies in the players and the GM. If the group is focused on narrative combat, the players are willing to step up the descriptions of their actions, and the GM is able to adjudicate on the fly, ACKS can be very interesting. However, if the players want a list of cool abilities their characters can do, this is not the system for them. ACKS has cleave, and a couple of example combat maneuvers, but the old school game can very easily be boiled down to ‘I swing my sword again’ if you let it.
Mechanics Score: 66/80
Does my play group enjoy it? 7/10 – When I last ran ACKS, it did not go as well as I normally like from a ‘player enjoyment of the mechanics’ perspective. Personally, I feel like there was a huge amount of system shock, going from Pathfinder and 4th to ACKS. I think that I could have done a much better job of explaining the differences and putting the group in a better mindset. I also have some optional rules that I would use to give the players a leg up at the start of the game.
Did I enjoy it? 10/10 – ACKS appeals to me on a number of levels. Its simplicity and the easy of content generation are very attractive to me. As a GM that is more narratively focused, its light rule set enables me to react faster at the table and run a game that fits closer to the narrative of the story I am telling.
Is the system one that lends itself to mastery? 10/10 – ACKS has a lot of mechanics to learn, but it scales well. At the beginning you are only concerned with learning the basics of your class. As you level, it introduces more complexity. Proficiencies, economics, domain creation, domain management, spell research, spell creation, and mass combat all roll out as you need them. Mechanically, I feel there is more than enough here to keep the players constantly interested and learning throughout the campaign.
Mechanics Score: 27/30
Combined Score: 104/120 ~ 87%
*Note: The ACKS scores for World Feel, Monster Creation, Player Enjoyment, and Mastery have been adjusted after speaking with my gaming group and rereading the ACKS rules. It turns out I just missed the monster creation rules, and the main player who really disliked ACKS was my wife.
ACKS ends up very close to 13th Age. A score of within 2% means I will have to really dig in and look at the two systems again if they are the top choices. However, both are still only in the 80% range. While good choices, I don’t know if this makes them the best choice. Next Monday, I will look at the Cypher system for Ta’nar. And Thursday, you can expect a review of Dragon Kings by Tim Brown!