Friday, September 28, 2012

Grinding the Axe

I mostly stopped paying attention to message boards when I began blogging, although perhaps that was a hasty choice - entertainment springs aplenty on them.  I was drawn into reading a laborious thread over on the RPG site when Tenkar posted a link to a rant (the Osric guy rails against ACKS).  After a few years away, the acerbic dialogue generated a bit of nostalgia for the good old days of boards.

Sprinkled liberally amongst the complaints about the Dwimmermount kickstarter were charges levied against the ACKS system by various folks, most of them fairly pedantic or priggish - like, was the right population density factor and historical sources used for determining the economic assumptions - or because the game included a chapter on campaign rules, doesn't that mean it's completely abandoned dungeons and wilderness for bookkeeping?  In the aftermath, a few bloggers took up the call to discuss "How much reality simulation do you want in a fantasy game, anyway?"  (I'm a little pressed for time, so I'll see if I can get some links - but I know Noisms had one of those posts:  Medieval England did not have dragons...).

One of the complaints that's actually kind of interesting is that ACKS borrows too much from modern versions of D&D, like 3rd edition, by implementing a proficiency system that's reminiscent of 3rd edition's feat system.  Although the authors all play or run old school campaigns as well, it's clear they've had their feet in the waters of 3E as designers, players, and writers.  A handful of bloggers are running ACKS campaigns, but board discussion for ACKS seems to center on the big purple and Enworld, sites with more resonance amongst new schoolers, rather than old school hubs like K&K or Dragonsfoot.

The last poll I conducted out here is still on the pane to the right - 88% of the folks visiting the blog identified themselves as DMs.  This corresponds to the prior poll, where the majority of folks indicated they didn't need mechanics to differentiate their characters.  I wondering how much correlation there was between mechanics-light as a DM value, vs mechanic-heavy as a player value.

So how about this for a Friday theses; Folks that hang out on old school message boards and blogs are heavily skewed towards DM's that want to run lighter versions of D&D, without a lot of mechanical bits for player characters, whereas players generally would prefer a system with more player-facing toys.  There's nothing too revelatory in that statement; in my own current campaign, The Black City, my players have been clamoring for us to switch to ACKS, whereas I've been fairly content running it using the stripped down and lower-powered LOTFP rules.  I just think it's interesting to consider how we , players and DMs, come to the table with different expectations and agendas that need to be balanced.  (I did tell my players we'd run an ACKs trial for The Black City in the near future and try it on for size - there's plenty I like about the system, and I certainly expect to feature it heavily in my Asian themed setting.)


  1. Bravo. Well-stated. Exactly the issue I have with the issues I've seen verbalized against ACKS.
    And if you haven't perused my recent series on ACKS domain-level. This comment is sponsored by the makers of -

  2. ACKS doesn't do it the same way I do it, but I too cut my house rules with some nods to 3E (very simple feats, ascending AC, tripartite saves). My challenge was to see how much of that I could get away with while keeping the simplicity of basic D&D.

  3. I think you've hit the nail on the head with regards to DM expectations/wants and player expectations/wants. I know as a DM I prefer a system that doesn't get to unwieldly or intrusive, especially these days when time is so precious...but my players get bored with simplicity; they want to be engaged, but can afford to focus on one specific level of engagement that can be very complex (their character). If I can find a system that balances those two divergent needs, I'll be a happy camper.

  4. I never responded to your most recent poll, because there wasn't a slot for being a player and a GM (which I am at my table).

    My table is split when it comes to your assessment of DM = light rules set and Players = heavy rules set. I will grant that there are a couple of guys that do like the character build aspect of 3e+; however, (and I include myself in this) I much prefer the light rule sets as a player and I am not alone in this feeling at my table.

    Indeed, when our table experimented with Paizo's Kingmaker last year, it was only because I (as a player) was interested — I convinced enough rules light guys to give it a try. Otherwise, the majority of the players actually prefer the lighter rule sets because it gives us a lot more freedom with how we play our characters.

    While I think it an interesting observation and even a potential rule of thumb, as with all rules of thumb it cannot claim to be universal.

  5. My players, being relatively inexperienced roleplayers, just want to play, and resist any attempt to play a rules-heavy game, especially one that requires too much game comprehension to make a character.

    We're currently playing LotFP, of a kind. But I've toned down the 'Raggi' (other classes do increase their attack bonus - though slowly - there's no threat of compulsive genital mutilation if you miscast Summon [indeed, the spells are a mix of LotFP and Labyrinth Lord]) and I am trying to take the character of the game from classic D&D and Fighting Fantasy.

    When I show them a RQ character sheet the blood drains from their faces...

  6. Yup, that's pretty much why I stay away from message boards unless I'm advertising for work.