The Hidden Elegance of ACKS...A Little TOO Hidden

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Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10
The Hidden Elegance of ACKS...A Little TOO Hidden

In the last week, several people have, in various ways, alluded to the "hidden elegance" of ACKS and Domains at War.

"I may do small article series that show the players the nuances of the hidden rulings that can make or break a fight [such as] the differences simulated between heavy and light cavalry. Not many rules sets pull that off the differences as well with mechanics."

"The nuanced nature of some of ACK's best features may make it harder to find an audience quickly."

"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."

I am obviously thrilled that people find ACKS and D@W to be an elegant and nuanced system. My mentor in game design, Arty Conliffe, had similar things said about his designs and so this is delightful praise.

However, in a market like ours, with so many retro-clones competing for similar space, nuanced differences can easily be lost. The harshest critics of ACKS are those who say it's just a re-skin of B/X.

I'm soliciting feedback from the community on whether you agree with the sentiment above, and if so ideas of which rules are the "hidden gems" and how I might make them a little less hidden within the gamer community that might be interested in ACKS!

Jard
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Advice to the specific question asked:
Many people come on these forums and end up asking questions about how to extrapolate numbers provided in the book, and in your answers they uncover how you cooked up these numbers. You could pre-empt them having to ask this with sidebars.

RPGs like 13th age employ this to great effect, including sidebars attributed to each of their authors explaining why they made certain decisions and how the individual DM could tweak. I think your books could benefit from sidebars where you give a rough overview of how you calculated some of the more obscure values provided in a table and how ambitious judges could build off those assumptions or insert their own.

My own random thoughts:
I've found your writing style to be very prosaic and inspirational, and does a good job of helping me envision how rules model situations.

That being said, as a reference document, it's full of ambiguous language and rules which, though they interact frequently with each other, are in entirely different chapters.

I think your books could benefit from having "TL;DR" or reference versions where it is very easy to find exactly the rule you need and where to find related rules if they're not right there. I'm not sure it would make sense to write in this style first, since the first job of a rulebook is to inspire you to try the system.

Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

Thank you for the feedback!

In some of my more recent work I have begin to share the numbers and decision-making. It shows up in D@W a bit. I haven't read 13th Age so I didn't realize that they had pioneered that practice. It is definitely a good practice. I'll work on doing more of it.

Questions for further feedback:
1. Do you find the rules in ACKS, PC and D@W to be equally ambiguous or is one more than the others? ACKS was written first with some prior retro-clones. Conversely, PC was written from scratch, and D@W was written from scratch with wargaming in mind. Is it apparent?
2. What are some examples of rules that are not placed correctly for reference purposes?

Jard
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1) Each seems to get better at more explicit language, but I know recently there was some confusion with regards to the effect of losing conscripts and militia, and I read that section several times, but it wasn't until someone was trying to actually utilize it that I realized there was ambiguity. I have to imagine detecting something like that is even harder for the person who wrote it.

2) the best example I can think of off the top of my head is going on a wilderness adventure:

*ok, let's figure out our overland movement rate (pg 93)
*wait... how slow is everyone? we need to check encumbrance of everyone (pg 48)
*hmmmm, we have an exploration of 60' so we can only move 12 miles a day. what if we put some people on horses? we've got 5 slow plate wearers, can we buy 5 horses? let's see how much a horse costs (pg 42).
*ok, the cheapest horse is medium riding at 40gp, how many of those are there in a class IV market? (pg40).
*hmmm, only 1, but we could also commission another 5 which would cover us. how long does it take to comission a horse? (commisioning rules, not on a table, but at least on the same page!)
*ok, so 40 days later we're ready to roll... how fast do we go now? it doesn't say on the table with it's cost... oh but it's here in the entry for Horse, Medium (pg 45). also there's a table for all the speeds of the mounts farther down (pg 49)
*solid! so a medium horse is 180/90 for loads of 30/60 stone... well I can't carry 30 stone of gear so it must be the higher value... unless it counts my weight in stone... I said I was a fat dwarf of 250lbs so... 25 stone? how would any dwarf ever ride a donkey or mule?
*whatever, we'll just assume 90. so now we go... 18 miles a day. alright let's do this! ok judge, roll some random encounters.

*ok, the entry under wandering monsters in the wilderness says i roll once per day if you're stationary, otherwise once every time you enter a new hex. your city is built around a watefall, so it must be in the hills which means an encounter on 5+ of 1d6 (both 244)
*let's see... on the second hex, 12 miles from the safety of town, i rolled an encounter. Let's roll on "Mountains, hills", I got humanoid... subtable is on the next page... I got hill giant.
*ok, the wandering monster flow says i roll to see if it's in lair, which is in it's monster entry. (p 170)
*now, this IS a hill giant lair. "seriously?" asks the players "We're 12 miles from town. anyway, treasure type N is inside, that's on pg 206, but I have a utility to do it and they might not go in so i'll just wait to roll that.

*ok, so there's giants... how far away are we from it? pg 97 has encounter distance... there's no hills. whatever, the encounter table said hills, mountains so let's use mountains. 4d6x10' so we're maybe 140' away... but we actually see him at 280' because the giant is probably twice as tall as us.
*alright, right next to encounter distance is surprise! As long as he keeps rolling 2- we can close with the ones at the entrance. Ok, it worked once, we move our... per-round movement so 30' closing to 240', let's try that again... ok he spotted us this time. now what?
*well right after surprise is reactions (Alright! this is working out!) let's see, our face has +0 charisma but has mystic aura (assuming the judge allows it)... we got a 3... he's going to smoosh us, let's run!
*ah, here's evasion next... for dungeons... oh next page is wilderness evasion. (pg 100).
*darn, we got 11 and needed 14+, oh but one of our henchmen is an explorer! he adds 5 to that roll (pg 30)

*alright, you got away... back to the rolling... next hex... dragon. what?
*oh, hang on, look in the campaign chapter, under populating a dungeon: roll once a month in civilized hexes, week in borderlands, day in wilderness domains (141)
*oh... so are we civilized or borderlands? well according to pg. 129, hexes that get populous enough will grow from wilderness to borderlands and then into civilized...
*"so do all domains start out as wilderness?" not quite, according to page 125, a city or larger makes 8 hexes around them civilized, and 5 hexes beyond those civilized hexes are borderlands.
*so when I converted my setting, I figured out the start town was class IV which makes it... either a large town or a small city (pg 134).

====end====

That was me sort of taking you through my own process. as you saw, some parts worked out quite well (The combat sections flowed nicely into one another), but other parts require knowledge that other sections exist. Some of it can't be helped: a lot of the equipment sections are going to be separate from the adventuring sections and should probably stay that way, but there's a lot of cross referencing until you basically memorize which tables you need to look at (assuming you have a collection of tables) or else you memorize the tables.

alright, my fingers are cramping up, i hope this helps. and certainly i don't mean this as criticism, I think the extent to which I backed D@W shows that I'm a big fan of the ACKs system.

staticispunk
Joined: 2014-06-19 21:24

Yeah, I love ACKS, and if I were to make one criticism it definitely wouldn't be anything to do with it being "just" a retroclone, but rather would have to do with the organization and emphasis on "natural language" rather than clarity and concision in the core rulebook. The writing is often super evocative but particularly with class abilities I would have preferred them to stand out from the text in a clearer way. Things like how normal characters open doors, search for traps, etc. being fairly hidden such that I missed them entirely were a problem too.

For "under the hood" stuff the forum and blog are super fascinating and inspiring, but if there were a choice between including that stuff and re-organization, I'd definitely choose the latter. IMO anyone who thinks ACKS is a reskinned B/X and nothing more just hasn't looked closely, and I think anyone who gives it a close and honest look knows it's its own system with a B/X core.

Beragon
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As you said, some of this can't be helped. I think two things can mitigate this:
1) A very thorough index
2) A Judge's screen

On the second part, one of the first things I did was make myself a Judge's screen specifically because of the cross-referencing you describe above. I've even thought of making a couple of screens for specific purposes... for instance a screen just for recruiting hirelings.

Lord Crimson
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I created a screen, too. I love having so many tables in one place so I don't have to go looking them up over and over again.

Aryxymaraki
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I think sidebars would be good, if not overdone.

The thing I would be leery of is having too many numbers on the page (which likely seems a weird position for me to take, given how much I love numbers, but I'm going somewhere with this). After playing D&D 4E, one of the things I learned is how difficult it is to read a page full of mechanics and numbers when you're trying to read an RPG book. It's also true that that kind of thing can turn off a lot of people, and it's even worse when it's real numbers and formulas.

On the other hand, a little sidebar or similar that just says something like "For quick reference:
Civilized Domain Income = # of Families x 4.73
Borderlands Domain Income = # of Families x 3.73
Wilderness Domain Income = # of Families x 2.73" (which I flagrantly copied and pasted from the abstracted domain thread) could do a lot towards letting people see sort of an intermediate stage between "Here's the final result" and "here are all of the entire set of calculations". I feel like the end of D@W Battles is too much math for most people (not just calculating battle ratings, the entirety of chapter 8; I think it's great, but I know plenty of people who would look at that and just say 'nope').

For me, the elegance comes from the fact that the rule is itself simple to understand and simple in play, but is backed up by the math that allows a Judge to extrapolate balanced numbers that went off the edge of the table. It's relatively easy to write a rule that says a spell can't kill more members of a unit than its area of effect covers; it's elegant to boil that down to a simple percentage of max UHP as maximum damage dealt. (On the other hand, a sidebar with the constants used seems to me like it would fit in perfectly, as opposed to a significant amount of formulas, though in this case we get to skip math because it's reasonable to assume that most people either know how to calculate the area of various shapes or know how to look it up).

So I would like to avoid seeing excerpts from Chapter 8 of D@W Battles in sidebars on every page, and I definitely value the natural language feel of the rules. It's true that this sometimes leads to ambiguities. But another thing I learned from 4E is that it's impossible to avoid ambiguities entirely (anyone ever try to figure out how resistances and vulnerabilities work with combined or multiple damage types in 4E? It's horrible. I don't remember the exact situation, but I remember there was one such situation that the Wizards forums concluded that RAW has no answer. At least if it was in ACKS Alex would have told us the answer at some point over the year we debated it.) ACKS doesn't have significantly more ambiguities than any other system I've played, and less than many.

This post is even more rambling than most of mine because I'm not entirely sure what my own opinion is. Overall, I like numbers, but I am wary of too many numbers because I like the simplicity of the rules when taken at face value. Fractal complexity is awesome, tons of numbers at face value takes that away.

susan_brindle
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Anecdote from my own experiences: I spent a great deal of time searching for how much a person healed per day, because I assumed that it'd be under the exploration rules instead of under the combat rules.

Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

This is very valuable feedback, everyone!

Personally, I find that natural language tends to embed the rules into the world, while abstract language tends to disassociate the rules and the world. When the crunch is embedded in the fluff, and you encounter situations which are not covered by the crunch, you can reason from the fluff as to what the crunch ought to be. (This of course requires a tabletop culture where it is understood that this is a proper responsibility of the gamemaster - one reason I prefer to call that position "judge" is because I see the GM as a common-law judge who makes rulings based on the precedent established by the game design).

Conversely, when the rules are strictly abstract, this becomes impossible and one must resort to making an arbitrary decision or asking the game designer for a ruling.

Since I am a firm believer that each judge must make the game his own, I find that when the rules are written in "abstract language" (such as 4E), it tends to encourage an approach to the game that I dislike. Justin Alexander, in his article on Disassociated Mechanics, make this point well.

Recognizing the weakness of natural language, I attempt to use abundant in-text examples to make ambiguous areas more clear.

Nevertheless, I think ACKS Core has considerable room for improvement without adopting an entirely different writing style. ACKS was written as a mash-up of my campaign notes mixed with LL and Basic Fantasy, both themselves based on the D20 SRD mixed with Moldvay/Cook. As a result the language is a mix of natural language in places, 3.5-esque rules in others, and weirdly parsed sentences designed to not be phrased in the (clear, natural) syntax of B/X. If I were to do a revised edition I would certainly work to clear up a lot of the most painful ambiguities and stylistic choices.

For those of you who have read Domains at War, I am curious as to whether you find the writing there substantially more or less ambiguous and/or natural than ACKS. I personally think it is much better written than ACKS.

As far as Chapter 8, I almost left it out of D@W entirely, but I ultimately felt that it would be an incomplete product without it.

Aryxymaraki
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As far as Chapter 8, I almost left it out of D@W entirely, but I ultimately felt that it would be an incomplete product without it.


-

To clarify earlier statements: I think Chapter 8 is awesome. I just think it's the kind of thing that can easily be overdone, and I wouldn't want to see the core book rewritten to look like it.

susan_brindle
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I'm certainly glad that Chapter 8 is present and expect to spend the most time in it. (Although, as long as we're on the subject, I thought it was very curious as to why Chapters 9 and 10 in D@W:B were so small. Most books I'd assume would come with a half-dozen example scenarios.)

D@W certainly felt easier to read and less confusing than the others, even if I did have a few questions I had to bring to the forum because they weren't immediately apparent (Although, I suppose the important thing is that there were far, far fewer of them than when I read the core book)

koewn
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The content is vastly different between the products as well - the Player's Companion is very much a bridge between ACKS Core and D@W as far as presented content.

ACKS Core is, setting aside Ch. 7 & 10 and a few other details sprinkled in, very much a d20 RPG book. It has a very common flow and organization - it is what it is, and that's fine.

The PC spends two chapters being the same, but then explodes into something very unique and customizable. It very much overrides much of Ch. 2 & 5 of ACKS Core - that's something you can't quite do in a "core" book.

D@W is the most 'technical' of the texts, but Battles is busy being a real hex war game, and deserves to be technical. Campaigns is very much an extension of Chapter 7 & 10 of ACKS Core, but is extremely focused on one theme.

A book in the style of D@W:Campaigns for the peacetime domain management side of things, with everything that's been developed on the boards, would be great.

---

Alternatively, think of it like this: ACKS Core is "Basic ACKS". It's what a player expects to get picking up the book of the shelf.

If you spread that out and replace it with the later product, you're getting Advanced ACKS. Imagine a core book that gives you the Player's Companion Ch 4 and 5 *instead of* ACKS Core Ch. 2 & 5. 'We're not giving you classes and spells because we know you know DND and can do it yourself'. That's a hell of a thing.

To me, the direction of ACKS seems to be heading towards building a frame each Judge can finish into his or her own house.

If you want to revisit some of the themes in ACKS Core and expand, keep doing what you seem to have been doing - have Lairs & Encounters be the extended build-out of ACKS Ch. 6 & 8 - lairs and encounters are the bread and the butter of adventures.

Or, listwise:

ACKS Ch 2 -> Player's Companion
ACKS Ch 5 -> Player's Companion
ACKS Ch 6 -> Lairs & Encounters
ACKS Ch 7 -> D@W:C, Player's Companion
ACKS Ch 8 -> Lairs & Encounters
ACKS Ch 10 -> D@W:C

It's probably safe to assume that the Auran setting book will add more into Chs. 7 & 10.

Heroic Fantasy comes back around and builds on top of the Player's Companion, as a third iteration of Autarch's design into a specific theme. Guns At War will do the same for D@W.

Let the iterative process happen.

susan_brindle
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If you spread that out and replace it with the later product, you're getting Advanced ACKS. Imagine a core book that gives you the Player's Companion Ch 4 and 5 *instead of* ACKS Core Ch. 2 & 5. 'We're not giving you classes and spells because we know you know DND and can do it yourself'. That's a hell of a thing.


-koewn

You know, I've always felt like ACKS was a little heavy on the DM-bookkeeping side of things, as RPGs go, but I feel like it's a plus that it doesn't *mandate* you homebrew a dozen classes before playing.

staticispunk
Joined: 2014-06-19 21:24

Have to agree with this. One reason I like ACKS is because it offers multiple levels of character creation (from templates, to building characters by hand, to building classes by hand) depending on what you want to do. Eliminating the more basic options would make character creation a chore.

koewn
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Which was my point with that, however poorly executed - ACKS presents classes in two/three ways:

1) An unfinished, build your own form

2) The form that equates to "regular DND"

3) Then, in a new iterative branch, "Heroic Fantasy" with the upcoming supplement of the same name.

I was imagining the structure of the ACKS product line as "Here's the engine" (PC) > "Here's the body of the car" (ACKS) > "Here's a model trim" (HF).

jedavis
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> A book in the style of D@W:Campaigns for the peacetime domain management side of things, with everything that's been developed on the boards, would be great.

I... don't know that I'd actually use this. One of the things that gets me with some of the domain houserules/proposed rules I've been seeing recently is that they add substantially more complexity that I'm really looking for. Ultimately, I think there may be a disconnect between player-groups who view domain play in-and-of itself as worthwhile, and those who wish to use it more as an enabler / context-provider for adventures. On the flip side, I suppose part of the problem with domain play as it stands for the Context crowd (ie, my former group) is that Paperwork To Excitement Ratio is fairly high; were I to propose further rules for peacetime domain play, I think that would be the focus of my efforts, rather than realism.

I'd also like to see more macro-scale world-enginey material; generating personalities for neighboring rulers and vassals, fomenting or combatting conspiracies among the nobility, arranging marriages, and so forth, as well as Oriental Adventures-style random event charts. One of the things that bothers me about the Vagaries tables is that they're very flat and quite random in comparison with an OA-style system, where one major event is determined for the year and the rest are (typically) related to that event, either foreshadowing or following from.

nDervish
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I basically agree with this. My paperwork tolerance is pretty high when I feel like I'm getting something out of it, but there also comes a point where I'd rather just do something simple and abstract that produces roughly the same end result.

I don't remember the OA tables, but I was a bit disappointed in the Vagaries tables because random events happen even when you're not recruiting, on campaign, or in battle.

CharlesDM
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An example immediately comes to mind.

I read on a forum where one person was singing the praises of ACKS, and another responded with “it’s just B/X … B/X fighters are lame”. The first replied along the lines of, “Actually, ACKS fighters pretty much kick ass. Cleave is great.” “Cleave?” “Yeah, it’s a hidden class feature. Other classes can cleave, too. Read the combat chapter.”

ACKS’ cleave might become “unhidden” to, say, someone browsing ACKS in a store, if it were mentioned in each class description. (Until that’s possible, getting the word out through other means can work, like the article series mentioned.)

Also, IMO, a good set of Judge’s tables can overcome some of the cross-referencing mentioned above. (Preferably part of a Judge’s Screen, perhaps with Thrice-Hidden Secrets of ACKS included, nudge, nudge …)

I too, like sidebars. 13th Age is an interesting example because much of the text is extraordinarily conversational; the sidebars add context to how/why the rules are as they are, and when the authors bend them this way or that. (Warning: if you are not familiar with it, 13th Age takes elements of 3E, 4E and adds player narrative control mechanics. It could be viewed as an "opposite" to ACKS, but is worth browsing, at least, for ideas. There are snippets I'd like to work into some ACKS classes, for example.)

That said, I think ACKS Core is more “cloaked” then PC and D@W. PC and D@W have things in them few FRPGs have (and fewer still do remotely well). I suspect/hope PC and D@W result in folks taking a second look at ACKS.

James K
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Charles DM:
"Also, IMO, a good set of Judge’s tables can overcome some of the cross-referencing mentioned above. (Preferably part of a Judge’s Screen, perhaps with Thrice-Hidden Secrets of ACKS included, nudge, nudge …)"

There are generic screens available that can be filled with printed-out pages (I know there's one for Savage Worlds). So all Autarch would really need to do make a 6-page pdf (3 for the players' side, three for the Judge's side).

bobloblah
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Yeah, I use one of those myself. I actually prefer game-specific cardstock screens from an aesthetic point-of-view, but in terms of practicality, these customizable screens are great.

James K
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They're especially helpful for small publishers that may not have the wherewithal to do a full production of a screen, but could manage to publish a 6-page (or even a 3-page) pdf.

koewn
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I'm waiting for the Auran Empire book so I can have an all-ACKS-covers timeline screen on the backside.

Player's Companion (beginning) -> ACKS (conquering) -> D@W (early domain) -> Auran Empire (late domain).

bobloblah
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Buy a colour laser printer -> Google Michael C. Hayes -> Profit?

Alex
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Dude. Duuuuuuuude.

(EDIT: Overly vague. Just thought that was an awesome idea.)

koewn
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Dude?

bobloblah
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I claimed I bought the colour laser printer for productive purposes, but who am I kidding? It was originally for printing out colour images of monsters for RPG sessions.

bobloblah
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ACKS definitely suffers from the nuanced nature of its benefits. I recently argued with a poster who claimed it was really no different than "Companion D&D (minus the mass combat rules) and the trade system was ripped straight from the GAZ series"...now, aside from the fact that this isn't even true, it would still be a worthwhile game even if it were true; those are all products that have been out of print for 25 years or so, and some of them (the Gazetteers) were never that popular when they were out. But, if you've been around the hobby for thirty-odd years, and then skimmed the book, you could easily be left thinking this. I have argued on other fora with posters (Grognards, frankly) who insisted or suggested, based on this sort of read-through, that it was simply a B/X retro-clone. It's really not. It's neither of these things. It's a "neo-clone": something new that builds off the framework of B/X and BECMI.

The elegance of the game itself is a large part of what attracted me. I feel it is the most elegant and coherent RPG I've played, and I find that stunning when I consider its origin is D&D (a game I love, but that is a long way from "elegant" or "coherent"). It has incorporated reworked versions of many of the best B/X or BECMI houserules I have ever seen, and then gone further with simple additions like Cleave. That's a great example, actually. It's a tiny rule in the combat section, but the impact it has on the game, particularly by mid-levels, is huge. It's the kind of thing that most people cannot grasp on a read-through; they have to play the game to get it.

Another gem that I didn't even expect to like was the semi-Vancian spellcasting. I really disliked the Sorcerer in 3E, but, somehow, ACKS manages a middle-ground with enough utility and flexibility to mitigate the "problems" with playing a low-level Mage, while still maintaining the strategic resource aspect and tactical application of spells.

The integrated economics and how - it - just - works. But how do you sell "Economics!" as sexy when it comes to the game? I really have no idea. You either like that kind of thing, or you have no problem with infinite Cantrips (Just kidding! Sort of...).

The Racial Classes, and I can hear the Grognards laughing, but a separate suite of Racial Classes for each race has more flavour than any other D&D variant I've played. Beats some special skills and an ability score adjustment six ways from Sunday. It also neatly solves the rampant issues with multi- and dual-classing.

The Proficiency system, which adds just enough mechanical differentiation to a character to appease new-school players that don't want every Fighter to be the same, but is still light enough to avoid the CharOp dreaded by old-school players. It's really only the hard-core Grognards (not that there's anything wrong with that) that dislike any kind of widgets, usually because of the time it adds to character creation (neatly solved by Templates).

Alex said: 1. Do you find the rules in ACKS, PC and D@W to be equally ambiguous or is one more than the others? ACKS was written first with some prior retro-clones. Conversely, PC was written from scratch, and D@W was written from scratch with wargaming in mind. Is it apparent?
Yes, it's apparent, as far as I can tell. The writing is increasingly clear. Mind you, I haven't delved as deeply into the PC, as of yet (Classes and Templates, mostly), and I've barely used D@W, so perhaps it's more that I've spent less time puzzling out the later mechanics.

Alex said: 2. What are some examples of rules that are not placed correctly for reference purposes?
This is tough to answer. The overall way the ACKS core book is arranged requires flipping around, but I'm not sure there is any way to get everything together, as some things would have to be in multiple places. Frankly, this is what a really good index is for, and ACKS has a pretty decent one. The above cited example about Healing could've been solved in about 30 seconds by checking the index (Healing, pg. 105).

Jard said: 1) Each seems to get better at more explicit language, but I know recently there was some confusion with regards to the effect of losing conscripts and militia, and I read that section several times, but it wasn't until someone was trying to actually utilize it that I realized there was ambiguity. I have to imagine detecting something like that is even harder for the person who wrote it.
It's funny...as I proofread something like D@W, I am actively trying to understand the intent of the rules, just as if I was intending to play it, in order to make sure the writing supports the intent. I double-check my understanding by trying to calculate the examples. But you can understand a rule like this, and still easily miss the greater ramifications (similar to Grognards reading Cleave, actually). I spent ages reading and re-reading these sections while proofreading, but haven't actually used most of D@W in play, yet. This is probably the area where boxed notes on "design intent" or "author's intentions" can go a long way towards avoiding interpretation problems. However, no system is going to be perfect, or perfectly understandable. That's what a Judge's judgement, or an online forum, is for.

Jard said: 2) the best example I can think of off the top of my head is going on a wilderness adventure:
Your example had me laughing; it's so true! And yet, I've found this relatively straightforward in play, and I think that comes back to years of playing B/X and BECMI, with the procedures somewhat engrained. Once you get the hang of the ACKS equivalents (and get a good Judges screen for a lot of it), it goes much smoother.

Staticispunk said: eah, I love ACKS, and if I were to make one criticism it definitely wouldn't be anything to do with it being "just" a retroclone, but rather would have to do with the organization and emphasis on "natural language" rather than clarity and concision in the core rulebook. The writing is often super evocative but particularly with class abilities I would have preferred them to stand out from the text in a clearer way. Things like how normal characters open doors, search for traps, etc. being fairly hidden such that I missed them entirely were a problem too.
I vastly prefer natural language, as it keeps the mechanics rooted in the game world. Precise game-speak starts down the path of considering mechanics in a mechanical vacuum, completely divorced from in-world considerations (see 4E, and, to a lesser extent, 3E). From plenty of experience, this doesn't really do anything to cure ambiguity, it just moves where the ambiguity sits. It also has the side effect of divorcing rulings from in-game or setting logic. That way lies tripping oozes.

Alex said: Nevertheless, I think ACKS Core has considerable room for improvement without adopting an entirely different writing style. ACKS was written as a mash-up of my campaign notes mixed with LL and Basic Fantasy, both themselves based on the D20 SRD mixed with Moldvay/Cook. As a result the language is a mix of natural language in places, 3.5-esque rules in others, and weirdly parsed sentences designed to not be phrased in the (clear, natural) syntax of B/X. If I were to do a revised edition I would certainly work to clear up a lot of the most painful ambiguities and stylistic choices.
I've wanted to try and do a read-through of ACKS with an eye to editing for clarity, particularly now that I have experience with it (unlike while I was working on D@W). But it's time-consuming, and with no prospect of a 2nd edition any time soon (not that there should be, necessarily), and I just haven't committed the time. Would you be interested in this for the purposes of updating the .pdf?

Alex said: For those of you who have read Domains at War, I am curious as to whether you find the writing there substantially more or less ambiguous and/or natural than ACKS. I personally think it is much better written than ACKS.
It is generally much clearer. It's slightly less natural, I'd say, but to an inconsequential degree (it is, in part, a wargame after all).

Alex said: As far as Chapter 8, I almost left it out of D@W entirely, but I ultimately felt that it would be an incomplete product without it.
I am so glad you put it in. I'm really looking forward to using it in the future, and I agree that D@W would've felt incomplete as an RPG aid without it.

koewn said: ACKS Ch 2 -> Player's Companion
ACKS Ch 5 -> Player's Companion
ACKS Ch 6 -> Lairs & Encounters
ACKS Ch 7 -> D@W:C, Player's Companion
ACKS Ch 8 -> Lairs & Encounters
ACKS Ch 10 -> D@W:C

I love this idea, but I'd like Lairs & Encounters to cover all sorts of encounters, including, for example, what a Thief-type class runs into when creating a syndicate, or what a Mage might deal with, or a Cleric, etc., which would be Ch 7.

Jard
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I actually feel that pathfinder's writing for their classes does a pretty good job of bridging the gap between abstract and natural language. You have a few tools that help you quickly wrap your head around an entire class: the class progression table with class features and the class features each having their own header. But in each of those class feature headings is an in-world explanation of the justification. Granted, even 4e powers had "flavor text" that was frequently ignored, but I think some degree of using headers to divide units of information about a class can go a long way to helping people quickly understand what their class does.

bobloblah
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Is it that it takes that long to read the Class description? What about if the abilities all had a proper name or term that was bolded (as some currently are)?

Jard
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It may be my own experiences with technical documents, but I tend to favor things you're going to need to read and occasionally re-read being as clear as possible.

On the one hand, sometimes the prosaic writing is great for getting inspired for what a particular character COULD be like. On the other hand, sometimes I've already determined this PC, henchman, or NPC is Class X and I just need to confirm exactly how one of their features works or when they get it.

I don't necessarily think ACKs should be re-written, absolutely the way it was originally written is a big part of the reason I decided to start playing. But if there was a document that took the rules and distilled it down to the bare essentials (as often happens in 3rd edition SRDs), I would probably use that document for working through my game, and point some of my players to it.

I have players who don't have the time or inclination to go over the rulebook with a fine-toothed comb and also check in on the forums. They play other games in other systems, and often get blindsided by something and say "Oh! I had no idea I could do that".

Come to think of it, I think the mental cache thrashing of switching between editions contributes to a lot of our problems. It took several reads for us to realize divine casters have their entire list available as a repetoire at casting time. It was such a large list, we assumed it was meant to be prepared from like in 3.x/PF

koewn
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There is an SRD being worked on. I bet between everyone on the forum and the Autarchs we can add in informational bullets like that where needed - that'd be the perfect place to do it.

The repertoire point is a good one; the cleric's entry is in no way as spelled out as the Mage one.

May look like:

Mage

* Can cast a number of spells per day equal to the class progression of spells
* Has a repertoire equal to that progression plus INT bonus per level <example>

Cleric

* Can cast a number of spells per day equal to the class progression
* Divine Spell Repertoire is predefined by the class - see the cleric's divine repertoire (here)

or something to that effect.

bobloblah
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I understand. My other question was missed, so I'll ask it again: what about making sure every ability had a proper name that was bolded in the text (e.g. like battlefield prowess), followed by its description?

Jard
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Sorry, I saw that question but never directly addresses it. The bolding is much better than no bolding, but in terms of quickly assessing what a class does, it doesn't compare to having a class table with the name of each feature at the level you gain it, and somewhere in the class description there's a header with the same name. That's just more clear and easier to reference.

Of course, I could completely understand if, for some people, those big headers break up the flow too much as compared to a string of paragraphs that are essentially telling you the story of what it means to be a fighter, a mage, or a zaharan ruinguard. I do not, by any means, think my preferences for clarity are the right answer for ACKs the way they are for pathfinder. Just like when I brought up 13th age, that is a VERY different animal in how they present their book, and ACKs is and SHOULD be very different from that, but some ideas are strong enough to warrant consideration.

So to summarize (for clarity :-P ), bolded in paragraph is good for ease of reading, but not as good as paragraph headers.

bobloblah
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I understand. Not particularly where I'd want to see ACKS go, but that's totally subjective. I do think the (hopefully) forthcoming SRD will address a lot of your needs.

Jard
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I've been using the text documents posted by Caphenid to great effect, but the lack of formatting makes reading some blocks of text a bit difficult. Is the plan for it to be hyperlinked as well?

bobloblah
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I could be completely wrong about this, but my understanding was that it would eventually be a hyper-linked version hosted here on the site.

staticispunk
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I think you're right about that; the github is just the raw version 1 text or whatever.

I would love to see the classes formatted in AT LEAST a 3rd edition style, in my opinion. I think that could strike the balance between "natural language" rules-in-the-world stuff and actually being easy to reference and use.

Capheind
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Some Clarification (or further obfuscation):

Its going to be a while before I have the time to work on it further.

It will be hyperlinked when its put on the site, the txt is basically just a simple master to work from.

It will likely not be in 3rd edition style (unless someone else wants to do it) since I don't play 3rd ed. (Nothing against it)

Anybody who wants to help clean-up/improve the SRD can certainly do so though, thats why I stuck it on github.

James K
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"The integrated economics and how - it - just - works. But how do you sell "Economics!" as sexy when it comes to the game? I really have no idea. You either like that kind of thing, or you have no problem with infinite Cantrips (Just kidding! Sort of...)."

The economics system was a real draw-card for me, but then I actually am an economist, so I'm not really typical.

The Dark
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I'm not the only economist! Huzzah!

Alex
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I never realized we had so many actual economists in the community! That's very cool, albeit intimidating.

susan_brindle
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I'm finishing up a double-major in creative writing and statistics this year, and then onward to a PHD in Stats eventually.

Alex
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ACKS: The High IQ OSR game.

Aryxymaraki
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I was thinking ACKS: Economist-Tested, Statistician-Approved.

Alex
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With branding like this, it's no wonder we're outselling D&D 5E 6 to 1*!

*According to a survey conduct among members of my weekly gaming group.

bobloblah
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Well, that certainly begs the question: what am I doing here?

TBear
Joined: 2014-05-26 22:03

Wow...I have a new reason to want a chance to actually run or play ACKS...my IQ might rise!

koewn
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People used to laugh at my undeveloped campaign world. I was ashamed to reveal my lack of economic coherency and demographics. Then I sent in the mail for Alex Macris' Adventurer Conqueror King System. It made me such a complete specimen of a Judge that guys and gals can't help but notice my perfectly trimmed hex maps and fully developed custom classes.

Mail for your own copy of the Adventurer Conqueror King System, and take you and your players from zeros to heroes!

Gryph
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I posted an article on my blog, in part with this thread in mind. I'd appreciate any feedback.
Http://free-strife.blogspot.com/2014/09/conquerors-and-kings.html

nDervish
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Most of the article is trying to rationalize a discrepancy that I don't see. If the minimum domain size is 1 square mile, then there can obviously be multiple baronies in a single hex, regardless of whether 1 hex is the average domain size - about half of domains will be smaller than average. (Assuming that "average" means "median". If it's the mean domain size, then the majority of domains will be less than the "average" size to balance out the domains that are up closer to the 16-hex upper limit - a single 16-hex domain plus 32 half-hex domains work out to a mean domain size of 0.97 hexes.)

Regarding your final thoughts on building a stronghold and claiming a domain prior to 9th level, ACKS core explicitly covers that on page 134, under the heading "Establishing Strongholds Before 9th Level". Also note that one of the examples on page 147 mentions the possibility of a 0-level son of a petty noble inheriting his father's domain and how long it would take him to reach 1st level from the domain XP alone. There is no level limit on when you can rule a domain (other than your ability to hold on to it). As you theorized, the 9th level benefit is that, if you have a stronghold/tower/hideout/etc., you then gain followers. It's not the ability to build a stronghold/tower/hideout/etc. in the first place.

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