Saturday, March 7, 2015

Adventurer Conqueror King: Player's Companion (and March Autarch Sale)



All of Autarch's product is on sale at RPGNow until March 31st - 25% off - and that's damn near theft at $7.50 for most of it.

That includes ACKS Core, the Player's Companion, Domains At War, a mass battles and campaign system, also strongly realized and modernized nod to the origins of the game, and Dwimmermount, which is already a ridiculous value for what you get..

I've not said a lot about the Player's Companion, though there's a lot of content on this blog either created by it's included tools or inspired by it's systemic approach to the structure of classes and such in D&D.

It was my first-ever purchase of OSR product, in fact. I bought the PDF copy inbetween the end of it's Kickstarter and it's final publication. I'd been introduced to ACKS by a friend who'd picked up the book, and I quickly hungered for more.

Let's do a quick walkthrough, then I'll explain why I think this particular book is one of Autarch's best, and, in fact, a tool every Judge should have access to.


Chapter 1: Introduction

In which the content is previewed, and we are told that this book is both an expansion of content and a toolbox for creating your own.

Chapter 2: New Character Classes

If you recall from ACKS, there was a short section in it's Chapter 2 detailing 'Campaign Classes', classes that may or may not be appropriate for all campaigns (unlike the core 4 classes, perhaps).

In this chapter are 18 more classes in that same vein - all built with the rules in this very book, that expand a player's options even more.

Campaign Classes:

Anti-Paladin: The classic blackguard. Aside from being protected from the attacks of Lawful creatures, they may command undead at half-level. If they become intelligent undead, they may even continue to progress in their class, taking the moniker Death Knight.

Barbarian: Built off the base Fighter, they trade some armor and damage capability for a some culture-specific proficiencies, some bonuses to surprise and initiative, and the compelling ability to roll twice on ACKS' Mortal Wounds table, choosing the better result - modeling their savage resilience to harm. They give up relatively little from the Fighter; and as such they level slowly, just a touch slower than Mages.

Mystic: This is a take on the classic Monk. The class creation rules we'll look at in a later chapter are really given a workout here, as the class receives a special ability every level from 1st to 10th, then one last at 14th. This Mystic is much more ... internally focused than the classic D&D monk, receiving far more personal bonuses to various things than powers which act externally - no quivering palm, or slow fall, but they get bonuses to save, surprise, reactions, and vs. poison/diseases.

It comes out to be a solid build for a contemplative martial artist, rather than a grab-bag of wuxia powers.

Paladin: There's been a lot of takes on the Paladin over the years - this is one of the better. It gains the protection aura, the immunity to disease, the detection of evil, and the laying of hands, from the box-of-paladin abilities that's been floating around for 5 editions now.

Priestess: The priestess is an example of a non-combative cleric - settling back into a wizard's hit dice and martial capability for more divine spell power - gaining a divine spell at 1st level, and ending at 14th level with a spell slot loadout of 9/8/8/8/6.

Shaman:  The shaman is a tribal spellcaster; as the cleric is to the fighter, the shaman is to the barbarian. It trades away armor training and turn undead for a host of powers relating to the spirit world - communing, a spirit walk. The shaman also gains a totem animal - a more martial version of a familiar -an animal that is manifested partly from the soul of the shaman herself.  Later on, she'll be able to shapechange into that same animal.

Venturer: The Venturer is the class that only ACKS can bring to life. They fight as thieves, and gain the thief's hear noises, read languages, and gain a bonus to not getting lost in wilderness travel, plus a bonus to diplomacy, some of which comes in the form of bribery, where they gain additional reaction roll bonuses when offering money.

They are unique in that they tie directly to ACKS' economic subsystem. First, they gain a 10% bonus to purchasing and selling goods; making mercantile adventures that much more attractive. Secondly, they may treat a previously visited market as one class higher - something the entire party can benefit from, as both buying equipment and divesting themselves of loot are made easier.

Warlock: The warlock is a strongly themed mage, explained as having made pacts with fell creatures from beyond the natural world. They give up some arcane progression for a familiar; the ability to command undead; a hex ability (bestow curse); contact other planes. They also may eventually alter their shape, and summon infernal creatures, like invisible stalkers or similar daemons.

Witch: The witch is a themed divine caster - same build as the Priestess, but giving up the ability to turn undead for a set of powers at 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th levels. Four different traditions are presented:
  • Antiquarian: the classic village witch; concentrating on healing
  • Chthonic: compacted with dark powers, this witch combines necromancy and charms
  • Sylvan: friend of beasts; may alter her form or change shape into something fantastic
  • Voudon: They gain back some ability to turn undead, and focus on charms and illusions.

Demi-Human Classes:

Dwarven Delver: While they share some skills with thieves, Dwarven Delvers are very much like Explorers for the dwarven race - specialists in underground exploration and survival. Where the Explorer is the vanguard of Man in the wilderness, the Delver holds that honor in the dangers of the Underdark.

Dwarven Fury: This is an odd duck. Tied a bit into the backstory of dwarves in the Auran Empire campaign world, the Fury is very much a sort of Viking Berserker class; an unarmored rager relying on tattooed runes for protection.

Dwarven Machinist: We get a bit of steampunk in our fantasy here - the Machinist is the 'tencho' class of the ACKS world. It borrows familiarity with locks and traps from the thief. As one would expect from Autarch, it includes well explained rules on designing and building automatons, which may be mindless drones or vehicles requiring an operator. 

Doesn't have to be steampunk, obviously - could be explained away as any number of sorts of animating forces.

Elven Courtier: These are styled as "High Elves" - giving up some of the martial and arcane prowess of the Elven Spellsword from ACKS for a bonus to reactions, a performance skill, and two musical abilities - the bard's Inspire Courage and the ability to charm sentients or soothe animals.

It's quite a bit more flavorful than the Spellsword, which may have been somewhat hindered by having been the representation of the classical "Elf" from B/X, and I personally prefer the Courtier over the Spellsword - I'd actually use the Courtier as the "regular elf" and the Spellsword as a "noble elf" in a campaign where I'd keep the "main 3" demihuman races.

Elven Enchanter: This is the quintessential "Elf Wizard" - an arcane caster specialized in enchantments and illusions - the view of elves in the Auran setting seems to reflect the reclusive, arcane forest-dwellers, in the theme of Tolkien's Lothlorien, and this Enchanter would easily model someone like Galadriel. 

Elven Ranger: As the Dwarven Delver is for dwarves, so the Elven Ranger is for elves - the Explorer analogue. Instead of the trackless wilderness or the lightless deeps, the Elven Ranger is the first line of defense for the elves against the world outside their sylvan homes.

Gnomish Trickster: The Gnome as a player character is introduced in this book, and the exemplar class of this race is the Trickster. The Trickster is a bit of a light mix of thief and mage, with some ability in brewing potions at 5th level. They have some racial spell-like abilities, all illusions, and gain infravision.

Nobiran Wonderworker: The Nobir are a noble race of "High Men", which we'll touch on more later. The exemplar class here is the Wonderworker - a class that enjoys full progression in Divine and Arcane spells. It's paid for, for sure - needing 3,125 XP to reach 2nd level.

Thrassian Gladiator: The Thrassian race is essentially a player character lizardman or "dragonborn" (wings may be available, but not a breath weapon). The Gladiator is literally a monstrous combatant - they increase in combat capability as monsters. They gain a claw/claw/bite attack, have a base unarmored AC of 3, infravision, and have a swimming movement rate.

In trade, they advance slowly (3,000XP for level 2) and take a -2 to all reaction rolls with humans and demihumans (and a bonus of +2 with actual lizardmen)

Zaharan Ruinguard: The dark mirror to the Nobir, the Zaharan are another alternate race of Man whose bloodlines intermix with the forces of Chaos, which lend them a host of abilities.  They are "spellswords" in the literal sense of the word - they may expend spell slots to do more damage with physical attacks, or heal themselves. They gain the ability to store spells in their weapons in later levels.


All in all, Chapter 2 shows us a mix of things drawn from the long history of the game, and several things that are brand new.

It also shows us some example of what can be done with the rules for custom classes coming up in Chapter 4, whether that be to customize a class for a specific campaign world, or give a player the ability to have a unique character.


Chapter 3: Character Class Templates

This is one of the things in ACKS that should be in every edition and clone of the game - a random roll that gets you your starting equipment, skills, and leftover coin.


The 3d6 roll that generates a character's starting wealth is here transformed into a roll against a table, where you gain a template name, starting proficiencies, and your starting equipment - cutting out the tedious paging through of the equipment tables.

Let's look at the Fighter. We'll pick the lowest, middle, and highest results. Note the middle results are the templates presented in the ACKS core book.


3d6 RollTemplateProficienciesStarting Equipment
3-4ThugDungeon Bashing, IntimidationShortbow, quiver with 20 arrows, morning star, scarred leather armor, wool tunic and pants, leather belt, low boots, backpack, 1 week’s iron rations
11-12MercenaryCombat Reflexes, Manual of ArmsCossbow, case with 20 bolts, well-oiled sword, steel shield re-painted many times, slightly battered chain mail armor, armiger’s tunic and pants, low boots, backpack, 2 weeks’ iron rations
17-18LancerCommand, RidingLance with pennant, polished sword, steel shield bearing noble house’s crest, banded plate armor, armiger’s tunic, high boots, light riding horse, riding saddle and tack, saddlebags, 1 week’s iron rations

Aside from the obvious speed and convenience of rolling one set of dice, there's another key value from these tables - background.

The template name, proficiencies, and equipment tell a story. The Mercenary'd probably assume the Lancer had never seen a day of war in his life, from all the shining metal on the man. The Lancer would hazard to guess the leather the Thug is wearing was not originally his.

It's really a very interesting way to customize your campaign, or to show how your campaign world is built in very few words.

The 3d6 roll for the template threatens to go far beyond just another convenience for quick character generation. It's very close to becoming a 7th ability score - Social Status, or something like that. A result of 'Thug' may follow a character all the way to 14th level; and color his or her rise to emperor in the eyes of many.

It certainly grants a lot of depth to the initial wealth rolls - who can remember what they rolled for starting wealth? This way you might never forget.

Chapter 4: Custom Classes

The impossibility of the 3.X era was while you could damn near be anything, you could be damn near anything. The amount of splat from just WoTC meant you  as Judge had to either set limits or hope for the best on character class choice.

And there weren't a lot of guidelines.

ACKS, however, and by proxy any B/X compatible clone, has guidelines now, in these custom class creation rules.

In essence, it works as so:



  1. You gain 4 build points to use to build your class.
    1. You may choose from Hit Die, Fighting, Thievery, Arcane, or Divine.
    2. Each point you spend increases your value from "0" - so, Hit Die 0 is d4.
      1. Each of those point values has a certain XP cost. Arcane 4, for full Mage spellcasting, is 2500 XP.
      2. Each of those point values has a certain benefit. Fighting 2 gives you the ability to advance in fighting ability as a Fighter.
  2. Adding up the build point XP value gives you the XP cost to advance to level 2 in the class.

A Fighter is Hit Die 2 (d8), Fighting 2 (Fighter), adding up to 2000 XP, as Fighters do.

The magic of the capped point buy is that you have to give things up to be out of control - want d12 hit die? That's Hit Die 4, and you'll fight as a mage. Whoops.

Want to fight as a monster? That's Fighting 3 - you could then do Hit Die 1 for d6 hit dice. (That's not actually that bad, maybe call it Duelist)

Within many of the build categories, you can do tradeoffs. Lose the ability to wear armor heavier than chain to grant yourself a class ability, for example. Classes with Divine value can trade away Turn Undead ability for other abilities.

Demihuman custom classes, an idea unique to ACKS, I believe, add up to 4 more points to spend on racial abilities. Each point spent here, however, including the "0" value, reduces your maximum level - so a Mage 4/Elf 4 class, while casting 100% more spells than the traditional mage, is limited to 9th level.

So our Nobiran Wonderworker from before is built as Mage 4/Nobiran 2, where the value in the Nobiran demirace is the same as taking a point in Cleric value - hence, the class has a full Arcane and Divine progression. It's limited to level 12 - one of it's racial powers is "Heroic Spirit", which raises it's maximum level by one, not to exceed 14.

In a game that's designed from the start to support the late "domain" game, knocking down your maximum level is a big deal.

Any class abilities  you gain through point spend (Thievery; a thief in ACKS is Thievery 3, for 10 abilities) can be traded off for later benefits - usually on a 1-for-2 or 2-for-3 basis, as the idea is that later skills are worth less than earlier skills.

The standard Thief, for example, takes her 9 classic initial skills  and trades the 10th skill for Read Languages at 4th, and Read/Cast Scrolls at 10th.


The possibilities are incredible. To demonstrate what can be done, let me point you to this thread on Autarch's boards, where that creative community has collated dozens of custom classes. It's astounding what can be done with it. The one I'm most proud of so far is my Wormpriest, which, mechanics-wise, isn't all that special. What it does do, however, is highlight the real power in the system as far as lending flavor - everything in that class is a proficiency or power that was originally described as something else, and I rewrote just the description to fit my theme.

It's even more amazing that the core classes - Fighter, Mage, Thief, Cleric - aren't left behind by any of it. Several of the examples you'll see up there are certainly more mechanically interesting, but the balancing factors in the build system make sure you're giving up something else for it.



Chapter 5: Spells

If you play any sort of B/X clone you owe it to yourself to get the Player's Companion for this chapter and the previous. What Ch 4 does for classes, this part does for spells.

The chapter starts off with an expansion of ACKS' magical research rules - detailing magical experimentation. You can take a bonus to your magic research roll, which helps your success. If you have a great success, rolling 5 or 10 more over the target number, you get a breakthrough.

Breakthroughs can include anything from granting your constructs more HD, reducing the level of the spell you were researching, granting extra abilities to created undead, and the like.

However...you risk a mishap if your roll still fails. You may go temporarily insane; you may lose spells from your repertoire, you may be injured. You could be blasted to smithereens, or mutated, or drawn into the raw Chaos by daemons.

It's a good time had by most.

---

A long time ago, there was a d20 supplement for playing in Glen Cook's Black Company fiction from Green Ronin. It spawned a separate product, True Sorcery.

The magic in both was freeform point-buy - you cast Fireball by choosing a range, an area of effect, damage level, saving throw, etc. and blah. You'd add all this up and roll against the calculated difficulty class (using Spellcraft skill, I think) to throw the spell. I have no idea how well it worked in play.

 It was a Herculean effort to take the d20 spell list and reduce it to a series of point-buy categories.

Autarch does that here with the much more modest B/X spell list, and does it well.

You will have very little issue with players wanting to research new spells using these guidelines - the selections are simple, and there's not too many ways to min/max spell effects.

The spells available in ACKS are broken down into 11 categories:
  • Blast: Fireball and the like.
  • Death: Necromancy - Animate Dead, Finger of Death
  • Detection: All the Detect * spells, Locate Object
  • Enchantment: Charm Person, Confusion, Sleep
  • Healing: Cure *
  • Illusion: Phantasmal Force, Invisibility
  • Movement: Fly, Dimension Door, Teleportation
  • Protection: Dispel Magic, Protection from Evil
  • Summoning: Invisible Stalker, Summon Animals
  • Transmogrification: Polymorph, Alter Self, Gaseous Form
  • Wall: Cloudkill, Wall of *
The categories are exclusive - a Wall spell cannot contain Enchantment effects, or what-have-you. The whole system is very .... Classic D&D - existing spells were classified and deconstructed, so what you're getting out of this is a spell that ends up "fitting" with the rest.

The build system is pretty easy. You choose a base effect, then you apply multipliers based on targeting, ranges, durations, ability to save versus, or the type of magic (Arcane or Divine - Divine casters have a lower multiplier than Arcane for Healing spells, for example).

Sleep is an easy example. It looks like so:



Sleep: 
  • Sleep targets (15),
    • target 1 creature of up to 4+1 HD or 2d8 HD of creatures up to 4 HD (x2.3)
    • creatures must be living (x0.75)
    • fewest HD affected first (x0.75)
    • range 240' (x1.25)
    • duration 4d4 turns (x1.2)
    • no saving throw (x1)
The total cost of the Sleep spell is 28 - divide that by ten and round up to find the level.

You'll note Sleep, as written, is a 3rd level spell.

The reasoning here is that the commonly known version of Sleep, like Fireball (technically 5th level), is a spell that was researched as a major breakthrough by whomever invented it, and that's the version that's out in the wild.

That is a hell of an idea - imagine the first wizard that knocks Disintegrate or Wall of Force down to 4th level - there are going to be adventurers stalking the hell out of that guy to get that version of the spell. 

Magic research rules that imply a magical 'arms race' and competition within the wizarding world. It's great when mechanics can inform the behavior of the world, and Autarch consistently pulls it off.

Not all spells are or can be built with this system - Bless isn't, for example. Some things just defy explanation.

The Spells chapter ends out with more spells, as one would expect. There are a handful of original-to-me spells, like Choking Grip (Vader-effect) or Curse of Swine (via Circe). Much of the remainder are fill-ins from other versions of the paternal game.

12 more Arcane and 8 more Divine Ritual Spells finish it off - great stuff like Life Trapping, Cancellation, Longevity, or Cataclysm.

Chapter 6: Supplemental Rules

Some of this is to support the new classes - starting age table, and a follower table. There's some extra equipment; tools for the machinist; loincloths for the barbarian.

A few proficiencies are added - some are for class support, such as Jury-Rigging for the machinist, who gets bonuses to repairing automatons. Unarmed Fighting and Armor Training are added here too.

Construction costs for traps are detailed here as well, which is nice to have during stronghold season.

The Book

...or, the PDF, rather, I still need to get physical copies of ACKS and ACKS:PC.

I've mentioned elsewhere Autarch's production quality, and it shines here again. They have a very crisp, clean style, and it's one of the most professional looking efforts I've seen out of years of gaming - having lived through the glut of 3rd party d20 product, there's been some doozies. Simple, clean greyscale. It's immediately readable, and does not rely on font effects or faded backgrounds. The text is allowed to speak for itself.

I like it so much I actually miss it in Dwimmermount.

The art in the Player's Companion is, page for page, the best Autarch has put on paper. The classes are each detailed with a shaded pencil drawing that gives character to each. The same artists of those pieces also have a few full-page sketches scattered throughout the book, utilizing the same characters again.

The cover is as beautiful choice; representing how we'd all like to envision the moment of character creation.



The Close

It says Player's Companion on the cover, I'm not real sure why - this is a companion for the Judge, as well.


Custom Classes are a powerful way to customize a campaign world. Custom Spells and Magical Experimentation lend dynamics to the whole of D&D magic.


Both balance themselves; leaving a Judge free to create without having to hope they're not breaking something inadvertently.


Templates turn a simple starting funds roll into an instant backstory - turning a poor thief into an outlaw and a rich  bard into an aristocrat.


If you run anything even marginally compatible with B/X, or based on the original through 2nd editions of the paternal game, you can take advantage of this book.


There's dozens of little $1 Labyrinth Lord classes or extended spellbooks spread around RPGNow - this is all of them, and more.

At $7.50 until March 31st ($10 after) in PDF, it's essentially free for what you'll get out of it. So go get it.



2 comments:

  1. Good review! I still need to do a True Sorcery-style "roll to cast" system for ACKS based on the spell construction rules...

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! May even do the core system one day.

      Yea, I got one of those in flight somewhere too...maybe halfway realized. I may wait until they put the Heroic Companion out so I can lift a couple things from it.

      True Sorcery/Black Company CS is one of those 'never got to try' things, alongside d20 Conan.

      The ACKS:PC tables are clean enough I think to be usable in play; espc. with a proactive player that knocks some things down ahead of time.

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