One happy circumstance from Gencon was that a few of my players dropped in on the ACKS playtest and picked up printed copies of the pre-release v.0 rules. I've been skimming the pre-release PDFs for a few weeks now, but a hard copy just begs to be used at the table, so here we go.
ACKS is an acronym for Adventure Conqueror System, a D&D neo-clone being developed by some old time gamers under the imprint Autarch - check out the site and blog (Autarch), it's good reading. I've mentioned it here on the Lich House a few times; they had a recent (successful) kickstarter that brought in nearly $12k on a target of $4k. At this point the final version of the core book is getting the layout and art for publication in the Fall.
I love the old D&D Rules Cyclopedia and Mentzer's edits to D&D (BECMI) because they provided rules for domains, economics, and warfare - the D&D end-game - when AD&D and the earlier versions stayed firmly rooted in dungeon crawl ad nauseum. Name level characters have always had a kicker - build a stronghold and get free followers - but most versions of D&D haven't done a good job of following through. A wizard builds a tower or a thief builds a hideout, now what?
When I go back on my blog's "Wayback Machine" (which isn't too far - I've only been at this less than a year) - you can see posts where I talk about applying the Mentzer domain and War Machine rules to Greyhawk - "War Machine for Greyhawk?" - and wonder if anyone has statted up all of Greyhawk using Mentzer's system. While I haven't done it yet, I did build out armies for various holdings around the Earldom of Sterich using War Machine so I could prosecute the zombie war - when the players accidentally unleashed 13,000 ghouls and zombies on Sterich last year.
All this bring me back to the ACKS book and some of the stated goals of the designers. ACKS takes a very familiar classic D&D chassis (my own Rorschach test sees alot of Moldvay BX and Rules Cyclopedia in there) and builds out interesting campaign roles for the core classes to make use of their strongholds, temples, towers and hideouts. It provides coherent economic rules for goods, services, trade, and supply and demand, if that's important to you or your players. Players can seize domains, settle the wilds, and the DM now has systems to help adjudicate population growth, morale, taxes, tithes, vassals and the growth of urban centers, fixing some of the math problems in Companion so they're consistent with historical norms.
Giving Gothic Greyhawk the ACKS
I'm behind on a play report or two for the home game - what else is new - but recent sessions have seen the group defeating the vampire Strahd and begin clearing the rest of Castle Ravenloft. They have every intention of claiming it as their own and trying to take control of Barovia. (Barovia is a sheltered valley in the mountains of southwest Sterich.)
It's a perfect opportunity for me to take the ACKS rules out for a test drive and compare them to the Mentzer approach; in the next day or so I'll put up stats for how Barovia and Sterich would look as domains under the ACKS rules.
More importantly, we're going to start implementing some of the campaign roles, as well. For instance, the group's cleric, Mordecai, wants to rebuild the town's chapel, build out the clergy, begin strengthening the congregation. How does that work? ACKS has some pretty simple mechanics for covering the kind of stuff a cleric would do in his down time to expand the faith and spread the religion.
Future rumors and adventures will often come to the player's attention via "Hijinks" - systems for how thieves and their ilk can be deployed for rumor gathering, spying, committing heists, and digging up treasure maps and leads. (Hijinks aren't risk free, as there are consequences to failed rolls that can lead to imprisonment and worse for the thief, overall they look like a fun subsystem).
For the magic users, there's not so much in the campaign roles at the lower levels unless they want a head start on making potions and scrolls, in which case they'll certainly want to establish a library and workshop. Higher level mages get assistants, apprentices, and are expected to develop magic items, build constructs, create undead via necromancy, and build and populate their own dungeons to attract monsters. All those magical creations need components, after all!
Finally, I see us adopting troupe-style play. All the primary player characters have a henchman, and if the main characters need to spend time establishing some of these campaign roles, it will give us a chance to get some of the henchmen involved - either holding the fort as seneschals or lesser priests, or going on their own missions.
For instance - the big question facing the group is this: While they've been hiding out in the mountains, either staying at the Dwarven Citadel of Stonegate, or in the remote valley of Barovia, what has been going in lowland Sterich regarding the zombie apocalypse? Who won the zombie war?
I won't say (yet) but they'll have to go down out of those mountains eventually! Muhaha.
That's all for now - I should get a chance to post those stats for Barovia and Sterich in the next day or so.