[Kickstarter] Adventurer Conqueror King

edited July 2011 in Directed Promotion
Over at nerdNYC, Deliverator reminded me to post at S-G about the Kickstarter for a game I'm helping create, the Adventurer Conqueror King System..

The goal of ACKS is to support all the kinds of things players have wanted to do in my White Sandbox campaign, some of which I talked about in my Canon Puncture advocacy of OD&D - dungeon crawling, wilderness exploration, spell research, stronghold building; devising heists to rob a giant's treasury, then investing the proceeds in mercantile ventures, recruiting an army for mass combat, or blowing it all on wine, women, and song. It reflects years of steeping in the old-school renaissance by myself and lead designer Alexander Macris. Co-author Greg Tito has been a PC in campaigns run by both Alex and myself and keeps us on track for making sure this is going to be fun for players, just as I keep Alex's simulationist, world-building tendencies focused through my own oracular power of dice improvisational style.

For me, the promise of ACKS is that because its tables thoroughly encode an integated economic backbone, I can discover the setting at the same time the players do and still have the results add up to the kind of imaginary space that's consistent enough with itself and with real world intuition that players can get enough traction to anticipate the likely outcome of their schemes.

I think it's not entirely wack to say that ACKS also fulfills the promise of the original fantasy roleplaying game. Everything that we're doing is tantalizingly implicit in the early-70s notes Arneson published as the First Fantasy Campaign, rudimentarily worked out in OD&D, elaborated inbetween all the baroque ornamentation of AD&D's Dungeon Master's Guide, and done a boxed set at a time in B/E/C/M/I. What we've done is to use the advantages of modern scholarship to reconcile some inconsistencies in Arneson's starting assumptions, and then re-build the framework that governs everything from hiring a henchman to building a wizards' tower so that all the activities that revolve around gold - and one of the key insights of the OSR is that gold is a nearly universal way of making all player goals concrete and achievable in a discrete set of steps - hang together so that the progress of a campaign from buying war-dogs to equipping an army flows organically from player choices on how to spend their treasure, not as a pre-defined "end game".

ACKS is a second-wave retroclone, not a fantasy heartbreaker. That is to say that, rather than assuming folks are going to give up playing the game that's burned into their cortexes already for the sake of something that's much the same plus a few design innovations, we build on the work of the first-wave retroclones (which reverse-engineered the d20SRD to make it possible to publish stuff compatible with specific older editions) to produce a specific classic play experience. Second-waver LotFP's focus is encountering the Weird; the DCCRPG's is emulating '70s Appendix N fiction; ours is supporting the flow of a campaign from start to finish, and all the activities that entails.

If this sounds like something you're into, check out our Kickstarter - if you know someone for whom this might be their cup of tea, spread the word! Your help is much appreciated either way.


  • edited July 2011
    The thoroughly integrated economic backbone sounds fascinating. Could you tell me a bit more? I haven't really seen that done before and it sounds interesting. I would also like to see a preview of the rules, if there is one.

    I'll gladly come and play with you at GenCon.

    I'll contribute if you get rid of that rather sexist art. Seriously, this isn't the 1970s. It looks cheap. It'll lose you as many sales as it gains.
  • edited July 2011
    Posted By: GrahamThe thoroughly integrated economic backbone sounds fascinating. Could you tell me a bit more? I haven't really seen that done before and it sounds interesting. I would also like to see a preview of the rules, if there is one.
    geordie racer's links comprise an excellent summary of Alex's explanations of the economics, thanks! At The Mule Abides, I added:
    Note that this kind of detail is something that I am notoriously bad at – the White Sandbox runs on an economy based on lammasu using infinitesimal twists in the astral plane to collect gold pieces that, over the course of millions of years, are erupted from bags of holding that get placed inside portable holes. Which is awesome, but I like the idea of having a rulebook do the work for me so I can look up how many acres of peasant-tilled land support the king for whom this lammasu treasure is a king’s ransom, because that gives the fantasy traction. (James can attest that terrible things when my GMing style is combined with eleven-year-olds utterly uninterested in realistic traction.)

    So having ACKS gives me the ability to translate one aspect of the imagined world, like character level, into versimilitudinous data about the demographics implied by a character of that level; this way I get the benefits of thorough world-building and the freedom of rolling up a sixth-level fighting man as a wandering encounter without having to have known ahead of time what keep he is the Castellan of.
    Posted By: GrahamI'll gladly come and play with you at GenCon.
    Awesome, send me a message at tavis.allison@gmail.com!
    Posted By: GrahamI'll contribute if you get rid of that rather sexist art. Seriously, this isn't the 1970s. It looks cheap. It'll lose you as many sales as it gains.
    We had a very interesting internal discussion about this - I'll see if we can post those emails at the Autarch blog, some of the data may be proprietary to Themis Media. For video game players at least, the opposite is true by a factor of about five. We probably lose some potential sales by having the female on our cover realistically proportioned, but the study didn't quantify that part.

    Probably no one on the tabletop side will ever have the money to do a similarly sized study, so we just relied on the female players in Alex's campaign, Ryan's wife who posed for the sketches, etc. for our sample size.

    It won't improve the sample size, but we could do an experiment with our specific audience by offering an alternate cover as a bonus if our Kickstarter contributions exceed the target by the appropriate amount, and then giving backers the ability to choose which cover they want. Suggestions on the appropriately non-sexist point of comparison are welcome!

    For my part, I'm just glad to have the ability to specify a realistic, non-European character in the description of an image and have it come out not only as I asked but in fact full of details I didn't even envision. Ryan is an art history major and Alex is a history buff, so my vague impulses in this direction come out much more fully realized.
  • Tavis, you didn't link directly to the Kickstarter. It's here.
  • Hello Tavis I read about the game on an Italian forum (I' m Italian) and I became curious about the game.
    Now I see this topic on story-games and so some questions arouse :) .

    1) Will the game have a "master chapter" like many games played by people here on story-games? I' ll make some example.
    Chapter like those of Solar System or Anima Prime. But in some way even "master chapter" like the one in Prime Time Adventure. I mean procedure for mastering, and playing, and not only rules.

    I know it' s a clone and not another type of game but a good "master chapter" (a one like I described) would be useful even in a retro clone.
    I would call a chapter like that a "real" chapter for the master. I hope this doesn' t seem a polemic. It' s only that my words are limited in English :) .

    2) I think that a major influence for the game is D&D in many of its versions (obviously :) ) and the other retroclones but are there some other influences in the game?
    Or however if not directly in the game, some influences on your way of game designing. Yes I' m speaking about the kind of games I listed before (Solar Systme, Prime Time Adventures, Apocalipse World and so on).

    Ciao Simone
  • I found this an interesting read. However, I also find the idea that a world with monsters and magic has the exact same economy and technology as medieval Europe rather violates my suspension of disbelief. I played and ran OD&D from 1974 onward, and most campaigns I was familiar with did not assume anything like an unmodified medieval society. And between the APAs (A&E and The Wild Hunt) and the convention circuit, there was a fair amount of exposure to other folks games. Yeah, I realize that OSR isn't the same as the actual old school as it was played in many cases, but still, if nothing else, the existence of Magic Users is going to change warfare considerably, and the existence of Clerics (even rare ones) has the consequences for public health.
  • I had many of the same thoughts. In any society where fireballs can roast 1st and 2nd level footsoldiers in a hurry, the actual value of such soldiers would be much lower than historical, with a proportionately higher value for...dudes with enough hitpoints to survive a magical battlefield.

    I don't know what the spell book for this game looks like, but we had a lot of fun making up a society where cure disease, create food, create walls, create golems, dig, continual light, tensers floating disk, levitate, teleport, charm person, etc etc were common enough to actually impact social change. And what would castles look like in an environment where Magic missle renders embrasures and arrow loops less effective and flaming spheres can clear a hall way in short order. I suspect basing things on the amount of labor required to produce a bushel of wheat would not be the foundational equation for such a society.

    I'd be tempted to base the economy on the cost to create flesh / iron / and stone golems...given 100 years and a reasonable D&D assumed level of magic-users in the population, what %age of a country's labor force would be performed by constructs. One can easily see a stable of low level M-Us "rented out" for their dig and wall spells as the fantasy equivalent of renting a bobcat. Would there even be anythng resembling a feudal society after that. I mean if a rich lord can get his lands farmed by constructs and building projects handled by magic, there really isn't a need to protect a population of serfs. And without a lord's protection from the monsters that roam the typical fantasy world what would the people do to survive?

    Our fantasy world wound up looking alot more like a wild west movie with swords than a feudal society with knights, with mid level "heroes" being hired on as "sheriff's" and "marshalls" to protect towns full of people. Orcs and other such "greenskins" played the role of John Wayne indians (i.e. savages to be killed without compunction) while companies of mercenaries took on the role of the U.S. cavalry operating out of forts and collecting "protection" money for driving off the orcs and such.

    The bigger towns had wizard locked banks as the only place to keep your money safe from theives (who can pretty much pick locks at will) and continual light lamps instead of gaslight. There were no cemeteries because in any fantasy world with undead it wouldn't take long for people to start cremating and / or dismembering their dead just-in-case. Of course in areas ruled by necromancers, traditions were..different...
  • TartaRosso, that's awesome that it was discussed on an Italian forum; I love the international nature of gaming! Do you have a link I could read with Google Translate?

    I’m very interested in master chapters; one of the challenges of the original D&D texts is that the procedures of play aren’t spelled out. (This is especially true in AD&D, which I mostly played as a kid; OD&D may have more lacunae, inconsistencies, and paradoxes in the text, but at least the bare bones of what you do in play are closer to the surface.) And I think that the practice of explaining how the rules are meant to be used, and why they were written that way, is one of the great contributions of modern indie design.

    However, the play styles of ACKS’ authors are diverse; it’s interesting to see that even within the little world of people who venerate Judges Guild’s Ready Ref Sheets, there are productive tensions between the different ways we approach the game. This has been a strength for many aspects of the design: a system that satisfies each of us is likely to be robust and have something to offer to the full range of gamers who might be interested in something like this. But it does make a master chapter harder. I’m hoping that the experience of co-refereeing the continuous demo at Gen Con will help us identify the procedures we all have in common (and the feeling of playing in one another’s campaigns reinforces that what we do is less different than the way we think about how we do it). Feedback from backers may also help us identify the kind of things which are so obvious to us that it doesn’t occur to us that others need to be told – these are, I think, the best kind of procedures to lay out but also the hardest.

    On other inspirations, I felt like Apocalypse World did a great job of explicitly stating some of the GM principles that I picked up implicitly from the old-school revolution and elsewhere. Its move mechanic has influenced the way I do carousing, as I've talked about in the Dungeon World sub-forum of the barf forth apocalyptica boards, which is then feeding into the ACKS rules.

    'Peter and Valamir, on a fantasy economy, historical data from medieval societies is one of the foundational assumptions, but what happens in long-term play using the original RPG is the other. For example, taking the number of experience points necessary to reach a certain level and assuming that 80% of those XP will have come from treasure allows for some really interesting extrapolations about how many characters of that level there are in a society of a given size, defined by having an economy able to process that much treasure. The OSR has made a bunch of this kind of game-historical data available to add to our own experiences of campaign play – the Rythlondar chronicles spend as much attention to how much gold was recovered per expedition as my White Sandbox game does, for example. These two sources of data support each other and make it possible to answer questions like “how common is spellcasting" which can then be used to modify the medieval assumptions.

    I love reading about ways that people have extrapolated their own starting assumptions to work out the details of a fantasy world. ACKS should make that easier by making the framework explicit - showing the math lets you skip the step of having to figure out how the different figures inter-relate.
  • Thank you for the anwsers Tavis.

    The link you can follow is this: Old School Renaissance Italia but I don't know if google translate can make a decent translation.

    What you say is intersting. I have to say that something that block me from playing a retro clone is the lack of a "master chapter" (and the fact that most of the people I play with like only dirty hippy games :) ).
    The direction in which you are going with the game, becoming a "manager" :) of a Reign, is intersting.
    And, excuse me if I repeat myself, a "master chapter for doing that" would be wonderful.

    I too agree that one of the biggest contributions of the "indie scene" is the way of explaining procedures.

    Ciao Simone
  • Posted By: TavisACKS should make that easier by making the framework explicit - showing the math lets you skip the step of having to figure out how the different figures inter-relate.
    Can you give an example of this? I love the fantasy economy topic and the fact that ACKS intends to address it, but I don't know what "show the math" means here.
  • Sorry I didn't have the physical book to show you when we went to dinner, David, but just having sent the files to the printer for the test run that day (and thus being convinced this was all going to come together) meant you were still one of the first people to hear about the game!

    By "show the math" I mean explain all the assumptions that go into the fantasy economy and detail the ways they produce the listed figures. The original sources don't do this, so there's a lot of reverse-engineering to be done to make sense of the ways things like mercenary wages, the cost of a meal, and the price of a sailing ship hang together. One of the reasons I feel OK about throwing around the tagline of "fulfilling the promise of the original fantasy RPG" is that you really can reconstruct a coherent economic framework from the "three little brown books" and Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign; we've just cleared it up a little and brought it to the surface.

    So if, for example, you decided that golems did X percentage of the farm labor in your fantasy world, having the assumptions and interrelationships spelled out would make it easy to recalculate how that X factor extrapolated through the system.
  • So, like, the book says, "50 farmers produce food to feed 70 people and generate 20 shillings surplus to spend on other goods." And then, in another place, "Your average golem is 25% more productive than your average farmer." So then I can be like, "I'm making up a barony in which the farmers are golems!" and take the two facts (sets of relationships, really) from the book and calculate how many shillings my farmer golems should wind up with?

    Bad example, but did I get the logic right? Please feel free to give a better example of what a player might actually do with this! Is it mostly world-building, mostly adventure prep, mostly on-the-spot arbitration, or a variable mix of all three?
  • David: Yes, that's the logic, although the productivity increase of golem farmers is left as an exercise to the referee!

    The economic framework is useful for:
    - on-the-spot, in-play adjucation of characters' schemes ranging from domain management to running a thieves' guild to throwing banquets and hiring bards to increase their renown
    - worldbuilding for referees who are putting together a backdrop for a sandbox campaign
    - adventure prep and on-the-fly generation of events and outcomes using random tables that encode the framework, so that (for example) if you roll up a band of orcs as a wandering monster you know that they've come from a lair that has 7,000 gp in trade goods, which tells you about the size of the community they raided, where those trade goods might have come from and where they can most profitably be sold, etc.
  • I funded and I can't wait to play with you guys at the penthouse! Woot!
  • Awesome, looking forward to it! For those who missed this cool aspect of what we're cooking, here is the description.
  • Posted By: Tavisif you roll up a band of orcs as a wandering monster you know that they've come from a lair that has 7,000 gp in trade goods, which tells you about the size of the community they raided, where those trade goods might have come from and where they can most profitably be sold, etc.
    Nice! So, should I take it that you've tried to guess what will be most relevant to GM/players, and provided those as facts, and then given reference for creating supporting facts?

    What I mean is, when I roll wandering monsters and get orcs, the "orcs" entry on the lists "7,000gp lair", but not, say, "enmity with nearby dragon". It lists the former because you expect it to be relevant most of the time with orc bands, and you don't list the latter because it doesn't apply to most orc bands. But, if the GM wants, they can flip through the book looking for "enmities" and find a factoid like "solitary monsters dislike having active raiders nearby" to inspire him.

    Yes? No?

    If what you're providing is quick and easy to use in play, that's extremely cool! I can't wrap my brain around what that would look like though... I hope you guys are layout and organizational geniuses...
  • edited July 2011
    Posted By: David BergNice! So, should I take it that you've tried to guess what will be most relevant to GM/players, and provided those as facts, and then given reference for creating supporting facts?
    I'm hoping that "creating stuff that the authors know will be useful in their campaigns" is a good-enough substitute for "guessing what what will be most relevant to GM/players" because the diversity in our approaches, as I mentioned above, may well mirror the range of gamers out there. Getting feedback from backers also helps make sure that a representative set of needs are met.
    Posted By: David BergWhat I mean is, when I roll wandering monsters and get orcs, the "orcs" entry on the lists "7,000gp lair", but not, say, "enmity with nearby dragon". It lists the former because you expect it to be relevant most of the time with orc bands, and you don't list the latter because it doesn't apply to most orc bands. But, if the GM wants, they can flip through the book looking for "enmities" and find a factoid like "solitary monsters dislike having active raiders nearby" to inspire him.
    At this point we're still putting the last nails in the framework. Organizational genius is still in the future, but we are definitely thinking about how to tie together the output of the game's inter-related procedures into chunks that are easy to use in play. Some ideas:

    - providing online generators that let you quickly run and agglomerate the different procedures (lair demographics for # of orcs of different kinds, treasure table for 7,000 gp and what % of it are trade goods, demand table for where those goods might have come from and been headed to, society demographics for what size settlements would trade in that kind of good, wandering monster table for the nearby dragon). Alex did a bunch of these procedures by hand when he was setting up his sandbox, and we'll release those sample lairs etc. in the future for those who prefer a static list; ones that get used up can then be replenished by the generators (or by hand - the online tools just automate the process that's in the book).

    - giving examples in the book that collapse the variance of all these procedural inputs into a manageably-sized table - so that under Orc, instead of just having one average example, you get a d10 worth that shows the range of possibilities. Rolling a 1 would give you a lair that was like if you rolled especially low on all the linked procedures, rolling a 10 would give you an example of a lair that rolled high on size, treasure, etc; results inbetween would be representative of the middle of the curve of possible results.
  • edited July 2011
    This being Directed Promotion and all, I will shamelessly bump this thread to say that our Kickstarter - linked here - has made its basic $4K funding goal (yay!) and we're now gunning to go from the $5,585 current funding to the $6,500 we set as the target to similarly illustrate and publish our first supplement, Domains of War, which adds rules for armies and mass combat that derive from the core game's assumptions about demographics, economics, etc.

    Since it is Directed Promotion, I want to solicit y'all's opinion - especially if you're backing it up with campaigns that have developed their own fantasy economies and/or been running since 1974 - about something we've been talking about in the backer/developer forums.

    In doing publicity, I've found myself talking about the adventurer-conqueror-king progression of one class in particular:
    ACKS builds on the foundation of its predecessors by providing an integrated economic framework that seamlessly handles the transition from finding your first scroll in a dungeon and scribing it into your spellbook, to planning the caravan routes that will keep you supplied with the exotic beast parts that make your inks, to building a dungeon of your own beneath your wizards' tower so you can harvest ritual components from the resident monsters.
    I think this is because, in my White Sandbox campaigns, it's been magic-users that OD&D really provides with tools to start doing economically constructive things at lower levels - scribing spells, spell research, etc. One each of our fighting-men and dwarves have invested in recruiting private armies, and our assassin sought to create an assassin's guild; both of these I would have handled better if I'd had the ACKS rules back then. But it's worth noting that the player of the army-building fighting man isn't that interested in doing the guerilla war action we've been playing out recently, where his troops convey a real advantage; he feels like going into dungeons is the most satisfying use of our time at the table because it best engages everyone. Another of the magic-user's advantages is that the early activities tie in more clearly to these group-cohering moments of play: you go into a dungeon to find scrolls and beast parts that let you gain new spells to better go into dungeons.

    What other ways have you seen, or can you imagine, characters of different classes get tied into the world through spending gold on class-related activities? How did this integrate with what the rest of the party was doing?
  • Have you read the Guardians of the Flame series?

    The initial premise was that of a bunch of RPG playing college kids transported into their game world to become their characters in order to free the evil wizard from his exile (as their college professor). But the rest of the series really built up the development of dungeon crawling adventurer characters into an actual influence in the world, settling a small territory, establishing diplomatic (and not so diplomatic) relations, launching a crusade to free slaves and defeat the slave guilds, that sort of thing. If you haven't read them they might be worth mining for ideas as what adventurers do when they hit "name level" is a big part of the story line.
  • Posted By: ValamirHave you read the Guardians of the Flame series?
    Hell yeah - both as a kid and recently, where I was impressed by their window on a kind of dysfunctional early-80's play group that the narrative manages to transcend to immerse itself in the fantasy world it presents while still dealing with the personalities involved, which I think is a great metaphor for the experience of lots of players then and now. I hadn't thought of that for the ACKS reading list but you're totally right.

    Some other fiction influences:
    - The Deed of Paksennarion has a cool character arc from mercenary to paladin, and although she doesn't build any organizations she does rise through many of them and encounters several others
    - Kage Baker's fantasy novels like The Heart of the World have a satisfying focus on the economies and cultures of different fantasy societies rubbing against one another
    - The original Conan stories are obviously a big influence on the title and the idea of playing out the stages between being a carefree freebooter and brooding on a throne
  • Just wanted to update and say that Adventurer Conqueror King is now out as a PDF, thanks to the support and creative input of our Kickstarter backers, lots of other folks who cared enough to provide feedback and guidance, and even more creators and players over the last 40 years who provided inspiration, a toolbox full of shiny bits, and a gateway to adventure.

    A thrown-together collection of links to reviews can be found here, and information on how to buy it is here. In brief, the hardback should be available in mid-April, and the $9.99 PDF comes with a coupon for a $10 discount when you buy the print edition; likewise thanks to Bits and Mortar, when you buy the hardback you always get the PDF for free whether you buy it online or at your FLGS.

    If you were a backer and haven't gotten your PDF yet, let me know at tavis@autarch.co! We've had some birthing pains with the system we're using to send these out; until it's better automated, please bear with us and get in touch ASAP so we can fulfill this part of your reward.
  • I got my PDF and devoured it. Travis' description of the game in the original post is spot on. It's exactly that. I'm impressed.
  • Ummmmmmmm.

    So, I checked out the latest "Player's Guide" Kickstarter, and confirmed against the original: It says that the project is originated from "Durham, NC".

    Are these guys really in the Triangle area? Do we have yet even more game designers around here that we didn't know about?

    -Andy (Cary/RTP)
  • edited February 2012
    Yes, designer Alex, developer Greg (Tito), production manager Greg (Lincoln), graphic designer Carrie, and web designer Tim are all down there; they all work at/run the Escapist, and our partnership is basically what happens when you cross the streams. Greg Tito moved to Durham from Brooklyn, where he and I had been in a couple of 3.5 campaigns (one running 4 years, another overlapping for two) as well as the playtesting that led to and resulted in our 4e collaborations. He left right around the time that I was discovering the OSR Kool-Aid, and when we roomed together at Gen Con he was telling me about the awesomeness of the Escapist-centric old-school campaign he was playing in down there. I was like "OMG he's describing Caverns of Thracia, must learn more," so Greg was the bridge between these NYC and Durham scenes.The latter represents an even bigger pool of shared actual play; Alex has run several campaigns each of which has had with as many or more sessions as New York Red Box's Glantri, and his two weekly games are actually weekly whereas one of Greg and I's was more often monthly in practice.

    I was really excited when Clinton Nixon became a backer and I saw he was down there with y'all, and was equally sad when David Berg joined the NYC-to-NC migration, and am exploring cool day-job possibilities with Jason Morningstar, and I didn't even know you were down there, Andy. Who else is local that I don't know about?

    I fantasize about y'all getting together all the time and playing these awesome games together, but I know the Escapist crew spends all day writing about games and then at least two nights a week with long-term high-committment RPG campaigns that can happen in nice living rooms. My sense is that Durham having plentiful private space + lots of players means that people there tend to get happily wrapped up, like molecules in a frozen state, whereas NYC having lots of players + a constant need for public places to play means people here bump into each other all the time like in a liquid; either is better than having too few players, which results in a gas!

    Oh and hey the new Kickstarter Andy mentioned is the ACKS Player's Companion and it's going like gangbusters, thanks for the support everybody!
  • What's the Escapist?
  • I'm guessing it's this Escapist?
  • edited February 2012
    Yes, wide-audience gaming site that devotes an inordinate amount of coverage to tabletop games instead of the video/computer kind because the staff loves them escapistmagazine.com, not noble RPGs-and-kids advocacy and myth-debunking site theescapist.com. What city the latter folks are in I dunno.
  • Whisper sent.

    Yeah, that's awesome! Always looking to expand the social circle of Story-Game folks/interesting geeks in the RTP area!

  • The Triangle is like a super mass neutrino star of game design. I love it.
  • Only 9 days to go on the Kickstarter for the Player's Companion for Adventurer Conqueror King.
    And less than US$ 800 away from bonus goal #3 :)

    I've been reading the draft version, and it's shaping up to be a pretty cool resource on how to build your own classes, as well as providing more ready-made options. The lists of class templates (each template has a name, suitable proficiencies and a list of starting equipment) are inspiring and handy too!
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