Sunday, January 28, 2024

LOTFP Review: The Curious Conundrum of the Conflagrated Condottiero

This capsule review will have spoilers.

Here's some boring facts about the book up front to avoid diving right into the spoilers.  The Curious Conundrum of the Conflagrated Condottiero (henceforth referred to as "4C" for the rest of this review) is 26 pages, with Kelvin Green doing the writing, art, and cartography, as he is known to do.  It's 26 pages and you can get the PDF here: 4C on DriveThruRPG - where apparently it's a gold seller.  Okay, have we given the spoiler-averse enough time to bail on this review?  Good, let's get into it.

4C is a revenge piece about an implacable undead hunting its murderers.  From the back cover:  Five men went to war.  Four men returned.  Now something is burning them to death.  We learn that the five men found a treasure cache during the war; after a disagreement over the treasure, the four murdered their compatriot and buried him in a shallow grave, then returned home with the loot.  There are several ideas on getting the players involved shortly after the time the first murder happens, and most of the adventure takes place in the environs of the small German village of SchwartzfuƟ where the players will get to put on their best Scooby Doo impersonations and unravel the mystery.  The village is briefly described, with a focus on a few key NPCs and some red herring side plots.  Like many books in the LOTFP canon this is meant to take place in the 1630's in and around the 30 Years' War.

As I was reading this, I kept thinking about 1980's horror movies like John Carpenter's The Fog with its theme of vengeful dead (in the case of The Fog, they are drowned lepers betrayed by the villagers).  In the afterword Kelvin relates The Fog was indeed a primary influence for 4C.  In the movie The Fog, the undead are terrorizing the town of Antonio Bay on the 100th anniversary of its founding and the event that drowned the mariners.  The original The Fog is a low-budget movie but I think it's held up well, highlighting the uncomfortable fact that many of our settlements or historical founders (hello, America) committed horrific things we've either suppressed or forgotten.  At the same time, watching an implacable foe exact revenge on "innocent" generations removed from the original crimes is also unsettling.

From that perspective the targets in 4C are less sympathetic (they're the actual murderers, not some distant descendants).  I don't believe it's mentioned, but there could be an opportunity to place the first murder or appearance of the revenant on the anniversary of the crime or murder pact, tying it to some kind of auspicious date where old crimes resurface to plague the living.

I suppose I've said enough about this one. There's no dungeon to be found here, so let's take a moment to acknowledge the wags who'll gripe about a Call of Cthulhu style horror investigation published for a class and level D&D style rules system. I'll conclude by saying I liked the premise and the set up of this one and will consider using it, perhaps in a future LOTFP campaign placed in the Holy Roman Empire.  By now I believe there's a critical mass of official and unofficial LOTFP adventures set in Germany.  Nor would it be hard to transplant it to ye olde England with the aid of a name generator, so we may not have to wait for a future campaign after all.

Thanks for reading.  As I work backwards through the LOTFP catalog our next visit will be to The Obsidian Anti-Pharos.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Catching Up with the Pillories (York 1630 Campaign)

 I've been away a while - 6 weeks!  I have several alter egos, in one of them I lead a global IT department and spent the last month of the year focused on "landing the plane" - making sure we delivered annual commitments and finished the critical projects.  Then the kids came home from college (I have two in college right now!  A senior and a freshman) and then it was off to Mexico to spend time with the hippies on the beach at a music festival (another persona).  But table top gaming continued apace, it was only the blogging that fell by the wayside.  Now the year has started afresh, the rum and tequila have worn off, the tie dyes are put away, let's look at what's been going on with our Lamentations of the Flame Princess York campaign.

Since it's been a while, here is the cast of characters: they've named themselves The Pillories, and include Allister (an Oxford scholar who used the library's forbidden books section during his tenure there to learn charms and enchantments); Father Blackburn, a Solomon Kane-like puritan monster hunter; Remi Knotwise - a halfling burglar; Yuri - an elf wanderer from Central Europe; Toby and Wood, two war veterans and former bandits, now henchmen (a thief and fighter, respectively).  I've kept demi-humans in my alternate 1630's setting.  Halflings are creatures of comfort that live in southeastern England, although some are employed keeping the gardens at Cambridge.  Elves are ill-trusted creatures of sorcery, banished to the dark woods of Eastern Europe and unwelcome in Christian society.  Yuri spends most of his time disguising himself.  We haven't met any dwarves yet in-game.

The character along the bottom - left to right:  Wood, Allister, Remi the halfling, Yuri the elf, Toby, and finally Father Blackburn

These players were all new to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, so the campaign has been set-up as a bit of a "greatest hits sandbox".  The first adventure they did was Tower of the Stargazer, out on the Yorkshire Moors.  They learned of a mysterious patron, "The Doctor", who collects oddities and curiosities.  They were lured north and west to a challenging puzzle dungeon called The Grinding Gear.  The last game report was about halfway through The Grinding Gear (all the previous ones are here:  York 1630 game).

The Grinding Gear Wrap-Up

There's a point half-way through The Grinding Gear where the party can become trapped in the dungeon, and it's critical the group has been keeping records of food, water, and light resources.  This isn't a game like 5E with infinite light or "we're all mutants with darkvision"; darkness is an actual obstacle and the players need light to solve puzzles and escape the dungeon.  When the Pillories got trapped they had 2 days of water, rations, and 16 hours of oil for their lantern, and a small number of torches.

If the players have been reasonably astute along the way, navigating The Grinding Gear's remaining puzzles isn't terribly difficult.  Early on in the campaign, they adopted the practice of avid note-taking, using a shared Google sheet to track marching orders, supplies, XP totals, handouts, in-game notes, etc, and it's really helped with game recaps and memory.

However, my players couldn't resist playing the organ, they were sure something good would happen - see the picture below.  It could've been worse; several characters were rendered deaf for a few hours, but the effects weren't permanent.

Play that organ!

Beyond the puzzles, there's a trick sarcophagus that hides something important, captured here in another sketch by one of the players.  All-in-all, the Pillories were able to escape the Grinding Gear with 8 hours of cushion on their light sources, having found the principal rewards left behind by the dungeon creator, Garvin Richrom.  (Garvin Richrom will be a recurring character in the campaign, there's a lot that can be done with him).

Yuri and the sarcophagus

The LOTFP rules enable magic-users and clerics to write scrolls in their downtime, and The Pillories have discovered the benefits of investing profits into their library, which enables scroll writing, so downtime between adventures is not idle time.

The Downtime Interlude

There were several items founds in The Grinding Gear that the players didn't know how to use right away; the magic users needed to research and develop an Identify spell, and then there was trial and error to figure out the command words.  For instance, they had recovered a wand that belonged to the Medieval alchemist Sylvanus Fulgur; with Identify, they learned the wand could paralyze or immobilize a target.  Fulgur's manuscripts were in Latin and Greek, so Allister spent weeks working through all the different ways a Medieval alchemist might say "freeze" to find the triggering combination to activate the wand.  At one point he was luring in destitute people off the streets of York to practice on them.  "Would you like a sandwich, you look hungry?  Just step into my parlor while I point this innocuous looking shaft of rowan at you."

Allister trying to figure out the command word

Father Blackburn learned the workings of a gnarled staff of almond, like that carried by an Old Testament prophet.  In fact it was a staff of healing, and each time he uses it, his hair and beard grow long and flowy like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments.  So he carries it but hasn't used it much.

Also during the interlude, they met The Doctor.  I've introduced The Doctor as an actual physician, apothecary, and lecturer at Cambridge, in addition to a collector of rare curiosities.  He hosted the player characters at his estate near Harrogate, where he studies the healing property of the nearby baths.  His time in the library at Cambridge brought a reference to a pre-Roman cult that had discovered the secret of immortality, that which eluded his Medieval predecessors, and was looking for a book that contained a reference to the location of the cult.  Correspondence between two 16th century bishops alluded to a place of safe-keeping beneath an English church, from before the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  He wanted the player characters to be his agents in finding the church, discovering if there actually was a secret store of hidden books beneath it, and finding the book in question.

The Doctor:  apothecary, madman, flautist

He showed them an arcane symbol they could expect to find on the cover:

The players spent some time calculating costs for the expedition - per diem for the overland trip to Dover and back, and reasonable wages.  The Doctor is only interested in the death book; if they find other treasures beneath the old church, they can claim salvage rights.  Of course he'll disavow them if they get caught breaking any laws.  Furthermore, he expects the death book (Loqui Mortuis) to point towards the mountaintop stronghold where the Romans overthrew the death cult that was terrorizing the surrounding highlands.  There could be further opportunities for the players on such an expedition to western Scotland if they handle this part of the operation well.  A deal was struck, and our characters set out for Dover.

If you know the LOTFP canon well, you'll recognize the pre-Roman death cult as an arrow pointing towards the adventure Death Frost Doom; the items sequestered beneath a church in the English countryside lead to the adventure The God that Crawls; the Doctor himself is the mastermind behind Kelvin Greene's Strict Time Records Must Be Kept, although perhaps that adventure is still some way in the future.

This is a good-sized recap for today, we'll resume with how the players have been faring in The God That CrawlsSpoiler:  It's been great fun.  We'll be back soon.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

ACKS 2 Kickstarter - Last 24 Hours

Before I forget - Adventurer Conqueror King is coming out with a second edition.  The kickstarter is in the last 24 hours.  Alex had been posting playtest versions of the rules and we've been using them in our bi-weekly Greyhawk game - he's created procedures for thief skills and dungeon crawling that we've found immediately useful in our Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, so I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing.  ACKS takes the promise of the BECMI line - Basic Expert Companion Master Immortal - with tiers of play where players engage in domain building and conquest - and packs the main arc into a concise levels 1-14 like the original red box/blue box Basic-Expert rules.  It captures those high level campaign elements in a way that no other clone game has embraced, while still being a fully realized dungeon crawler if that's the end-all be-all for your style.

The two games I'm running - Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Adventurer Conqueror King - come at old school gaming and D&D from radically different places.  It's worth a discussion!  I'll write about it this weekend as I'll have some time.  In the meantime get over to the ACKS kickstarter before the clock runs out:  ACKS 2 Kickstarter - Last 24 Hours

Sunday, November 19, 2023

LOTFP Review: Winnie the Shit

Get yourself a blender, pour in a parody of Winnie the Pooh, a heap of The Island of Dr Moreau, a pinch of seasoning from Animal Farm, and some references to the Kelvin-Verse, and you've got the adventure locale for Winnie the Shit, Kelvin Green's latest offering for the LOTFP line.  This one is a 48 page hardcover with Kelvin doing the writing, cover, and interior art.  This is a solid addition to the Kelvin-verse; I don't rate it up there with the big three - Strict Time Records, Forgive Us, or Green Messiah - but it definitely has play and should go in your "Kelvin-verse" sandbox.  You can get the hardcopy at the LOTFP webstore (here) or DriveThruRPG (here)

The book describes a mini sandbox area in a place called Lancaster Great Park (modern day Ashdown Forest) in early 17th-century England.  A misanthropic sorcerer, AA Moreau, had fled to the forest to work on his master spell, The Ascendant Synthesis of the New Man, which creates sorcerous human-animal hybrids.  He had hopes of replacing humanity with a newer, better race.  At the start of the adventure, Moreau's creations, the New Men, have imprisoned him and depopulated the nearby village of Hartfield of its people who were used as raw materials for more New Men.  Their sadistic leader, Edward Bear, tortures AA Moreau and forces him to cast the spell each day to create another hybrid (assuming the New Men have a ready human victim and animal to synthesize).  There are several loose plot hooks that can get players investigating the area, but the moment the characters run into a few violent hybrids, the game is afoot, as they say.  There's something extremely satisfying as a referee to imagine wailing on the player characters with a hatchet-wielding Piglet or a savage Winnie the Pooh.  The sandbox gameable content includes lairs of the various main characters (all allusions to the main characters from the 100 Acre Wood, after being re-envisioned as misanthropic human-animal hybrids), and some places to explore like AA Moreau's house, Rabbit's underground warren, or the creepy Woozle's spinney.

There is something solid and accessible about the adventures set in the Kelvin-verse.  When you open a non-Kelvin LOTFP book, there's a risk of being confronted with a tortuous premise such as... "This adventure takes place in July of 1647 in a Swiss chateau overlooking the Bodensee on the exact day before that year's solar eclipse..." and you're wondering, "neat idea but how am I ever going to fit this thing into an actual campaign?"  Many of the Kelvin-verse adventures are set in England and feature an uncanny locale where something nefarious is happening - that looseness makes them extremely referee-friendly to place and establish.  The premises allude to pop culture in a fun way; there will be puns and humor (checking off the box "entertaining for the referee to read"); you'll still get a dose of horror and weirdness before you're through.  Over time they've started to reference their own Kelvin-verse mythology that connects to other locales in the Kelvin-verse... John Dee's 'Men in Black' from Green Messiah make an appearance in the 100 Acre Wood, for instance.  I suppose the highest praise I'd offer is that I'm actively working several books from the Kelvin-verse into my 1630's York game - we'll feature Bee-Ware, Magic Eater, Strict Time Records, Green Messiah, Fish F*ckers, and this fella, Winnie the Shit, just off the top of my head, along with some of the LOTFP classics.

With this review done, I've finally finished looking at the summer's batch of LOTFP books.  I still think The Yellow Book of Brechewold is my pick for favorite new book from the past summer.  Both the ACKS Greyhawk game and LOTFP York 1630 are going strong, so I don't know that we'll get to visit Brechewold any time soon (unless I make time travel a thing for the York crowd...) but Brechewold is high on the list to get the campaign treatment in the future.  Apologies for the glacial pace of my blog of late; the end of year has been quite busy in the real world (the pay the bills world) but have some time off with the USA's upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  I'll be getting back to older LOTFP reviews next, starting either with something called The Obsidian Anti-Pharos or The Curious Conundrum of the Conflagrated Condottiero.  Should be fun.  Oh, and I'll get some game reports posted - the players are chugging along in Greyhawk and York. See you soon.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

LOTFP Review: Galileo 2: Judgment Day

Let's establish something right from the start - this is mostly set up as a one-shot adventure designed to evoke a vibe that blends slasher horror and a little dark humor.  The player characters are ostensibly deep in debt to the Inquisition, destitute and working off their debt by carrying out surveillance against a man under house arrest - the famous scientist Galileo Galilee.  They watch his villa day and night, until one evening they see him fleeing into the night, disguised poorly as a nun.  They're faced with a crucial decision… do they recapture Galileo, or use his escape attempt as a chance to ditch their post and loot his wealthy villa?

Unbeknownst to the players, Galileo's villa has hosted a prison warden for the past several years, a merciless automaton created by the Church and equipped to use the voice of Galileo's oppressor, Pope Urban VIII.  When you are a fictionalized version of the Church, of course you can invest untold sums into manufacturing a weird science robot to torture enemies of the state.  The scenario kicks off when Galileo has zapped the mechanical terror with a kit-bashed device to give him time to escape.  If the players explore the villa looking for loot, they'll need to deal with the automaton as it reawakens; if they head off into the night in pursuit of Galileo, the automation emerges from the villa to track them through the woods and into the nearby city.

The meat of the scenario involves chase rules and the tactics and capabilities of a powerful opponent with a series of pro-wrestling style finishing moves and a sadistic streak.  Depending on whether the players loot the house or hit the road with Galileo, there are opportunities to introduce bystanders and similar 3rd parties to get in the way of the automaton and allow it to demonstrate its killing potential.  As a 9 HD terror, it's probably a death sentence if the players assume they can beat it without wearing it down, luring it into water, getting it to fall from a high place, or some other clever environmental tactic.  (Galileo used an electrical device in his basement to zap it, so players looting the villa may also chance upon that device).

That's about it for this one.  If you believe your referee style could create a suspenseful adventure portraying a ruthless automaton with the voice of Pope Urban VIII relentlessly pursuing the characters, while executing deadly wrestling finishing moves with panache and showmanship, this could be a fun one shot scenario.  Even in the realm of dedicated horror games, there aren't too many scenarios that capture the "relentless killer" vibe, putting this in a rarified spot.

So what do I think about it?  Well, I don't typically run convention games or one-shots, so I'm probably not the ideal target audience.  I do think a creative referee could integrate this into a campaign without too much trouble… its 1637, Galileo is a brilliant scientist under house arrest, and he may be in possession of books or knowledge a typical group of early modern LOTFP adventurers (or their patron) could require, necessitating a side trip to Florence and a mission to evade the spies of the Inquisition and secure a surreptitious audience with Galileo.  It could be like a heist or infiltration adventure that transposes into a slasher horror.  It's a short scenario and would probably get done in a 2-3 hour sitting.  There are a few thousand XP available for looting the villa, and a similar amount in payment for helping Galileo escape.

Galileo 2:  Judgment Day is available in hardcover (40 pages) at the LOTFP web store or PDF over a DriveThruRPG.  It's written by Bradley Anahua (a LOTFP rookie) with art by Charlie Gillespie.

The Automaton

Saturday, October 21, 2023

LOTFP Review: Black Chamber

A new challenger has rattled its spurs and stepped through the batwing doors onto the dusty streets of Review Town to take on the LOTFP-verse.  This one is called Black Chamber, and features a theme of arena combat with unwitting victims popping out of the floor in an alien danger-room setting.  Maybe that's why the phrase "a new challenger approaches" is on my brain.  We'll look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of this one as we break down the walls of the Black Chamber.

As usual, reviews are meant for referees, there will be spoilers.

The Good

I enjoy dystopian science fiction and horror movies like Cube, or The Platform, that unsettle the viewers with a dangerous, unknown environment, and force the characters to survive long enough to figure out what's going on and escape.  Black Chamber leans heavily into that theme, temporarily trapping the players in a pitch-dark arena where bizarre and random opponents will be thrust upon them.  Adversaries can range from zombie conquistadors, robots that grind opponents into sausage, to ordinary people who have been trapped in the dark and just want to escape.

There is a back-story to this one that involves an infectious alien intelligence that co-opts living creatures, making them part of a collective while it changes their blood and organs to black oil and coal - a kind of alien zombie.  There's a constant threat of infection to the players while fighting in the arena itself, including guidelines on handling "alien rabies".

Beyond the chamber (and it's expected the players will figure out a way to escape) there's a small dungeon, where the players can learn the ancient history of the place, find potential allies, and deal with a few powerful foes.  One of the foes is a potent magic user, controlled by the alien collective, who can cast a quirky spell called Seven Gates, which opens up seven portals throughout the dungeon.  The portals can last up to several hours once created.  You can imagine some madcap chase sequences like a Looney Tunes cartoon or a Scooby Doo chase scene, as different groups use the portals to pop around the dungeon.  Oh, and the destination each time someone enters a portal is random.  Zoinks.  Cue the Benny Hill music.

Finally, if you like the flavor of Gamma World, or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, there are hi-tech devices the players can loot, and a fair amount of treasure.  This adventure creates a balanced tone of horror, sorcery, and super science that checks off a bunch of interesting boxes.  I'd love to hear how the playtests went for this one.

The Bad

If you're in the market for a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure for your 1657 Portuguese campaign during the Portuguese Restoration War, you are in luck my friend.  This one is not quite "tell me you're a one-shot without saying you're a one-shot" territory, because it wouldn't be too hard to scrub the historical context and place this in a decade or setting that actually matches your LOTFP campaign.  There are certainly cases where LOTFP authors pursue their vagaries and make obscure adventures difficult to integrate into an existing campaign.  This one isn't too bad.

The Ugly

My eyes.  I love dark mode on my computer screens and iPad, but it was a bit jarring for a game book.  I'll put a picture of one of the pages below.  The aesthetic certainly drives home the oppressive theme of black, seeping infection and gives it a metal vibe.

The Judgment

I loved this one - it's why we come to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  It's a challenging adventure, it's got horror, weird science fiction stuff, and puts interesting pressures on the characters to escape before they all succumb to infection.  I'm not sure a first level party would even make it out of the chamber, so this is probably something for a party with a little experience.  Access to cure disease would improve their long term odds.

It's a 40-page softcover, but this should have been one of the hardcovers and gotten the deluxe treatment - it's a keeper.  I think the softcovers were community submissions.  The author here is Becami Cusack.  The best of the summer LOTFP releases have been Yellow Book of Brechewold, Temple of the Wurm, and this one.   Let's see where it lands as I finish the last two new books.

You can get a PDF of Black Chamber over at DriveThruRP (DriveThru), and it looks like physical copies are available at the LOTFP web stores (LOTFP Web Store).

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Game Reports - ACKS and LOTFP

York 1630 - F*ck Around and Find Out

I'm a few weeks behind on game reports for this one.  Our players, the magic user Allister, cleric Blackburn, Yuri the Elf, and Remy Knotwise the Halfing, have been exploring a puzzle dungeon called The Grinding Gear, a dungeon beneath an abandoned inn within the woods west of Aldfield.  Allister has two henchmen as well, a fighter named Wood and a specialist named Toby.  Rather than post a dull play by play, I'll just focus on some highlights.

At one point they encountered a set of stairs that led up to a landing, the passage turned right, and the stairs continued up.  The landing was one large pressure plate trap, and anyone that triggered the trap got launched in the air by a spring-loaded wall that threw them off the top of the stairs, like a giant pinball bumper.  The players avoided the trap and straddled the corner to avoid the pressure plate - that's not the interesting point.  Later in the dungeon when they ran into some "fast zombies" (ie, ghouls) the cleric used a scroll of turn undead to drive them down the same hallway - he quickly reasoned he could make them flee down the stairs and let the pinball bumper take care of them.  There was a moment, much later in the game, when they went by that way again and found the broken bodies of the zombies at the base of the steps, horribly mangled after being launched into the air.  I think one of them was still snapping it's jaws futilely at anything that came near, unable to even crawl with it's broken body.

They were running low on water and needed to leave the dungeon and return to the surface (they hadn't yet found the water source in the dungeon).  So they returned to the surface and carefully retrieved water from the well, cautious that there were still mosquito bats in the vicinity living in the attic of the inn.  It had been several days since the players first smoked them out.

A random encounter while the players were staying top-side brought some inquisitive bandits into the area of the inn, and they caught sight of some of the players fleeing into the inn and barring the door.  The bandits gave up investigating the statue and bodies in the clearing to mess with the players in the inn.  "You better leave us alone - don't f*ck around and find out", yelled one of the players through the door.  (We're from Philly where Gritty - the Flyers mascot - is basically the mayor of f*ck around and find out).  One of the quick thinking players ran up stairs with a pot and pan and started waking up all the mosquito bats in the attic with a huge racket, while the players continued to goad the bandits into yelling back at them through the front door.  This picture perfectly captures the moment the bandits got swarmed by angry mosquito bats while the halfling and elf laughed at their misery from the safety of the inn.  I love how this group repeatedly figures out how to use the environment as a weapon.

Here's a pic from a previous session when they were exploring an area with pits, and the halfling went down to explore after they killed a ghoul safely from outside the pit.  The halfling player was over the moon with the way his character has been depicted in these game vignettes.  He's even got a tiny pin with The Pillories logo on his hat.

ACKS Greyhawk - Let's Look Fabulous

In Greyhawk news, they did it.  The players finally had enough of Temple of Elemental Evil level one and started exploring the second level.  They seem to be figuring this D&D thing out.  They murdered a minotaur, and cut through a lair area with room after room of bandits wiping them out with a barrage of sleep spells and scooping up the spoils.  As an impartial observer, I believe they'll start getting more experience and leveling up... their insistence on grinding out all of level 1 was getting a little tedious.  Note - there is a horrifying room in the top center of level 1 with like four Earth Elementals patrolling it... the players learned about this place by interrogating some bad guys, and astutely decided to leave if for now.  They found a scroll of protection vs elementals on level 2, so now the wheels are turning.

Their fabulous moment came when exploring a junk-filled room with chests and wardrobes... full of many garments, clothes, dresses, and other sartorial accoutrements.  Old Gary (or perhaps Frank) was being generous when he wrote, "If care is taken in sorting, adventurers can fill three large sacks with good garments, worth 500gp per sack".  This was the last thing the players did on their way out of the dungeon for the night, and many jokes were made... "gee, we barely get any experience for fighting in deadly combat, but bargain hunting for clothes in the bandit's thrift store and suddenly my mojo is pointing up".  Like my son the football player always says about his "drip", look-good, play-good.  That's 1500xp of looking good for you, fellas.

In other ACKS news, I just learned that ACKS 2.0 (second edition) will be hitting the kickstarter later this month.  Oof - I love the compactness of the original book, it's an all-in-one, but ACKS 2.0 will have a player's books, judge's book, and monster book.  It's a great rules set for combat heavy, oldish school heroic fantasy, but a three book set is not an auto-buy for me - I have questions.  We may stick with first edition, we'll see.  Anyone else in the same boat or you diving in?