Friday, July 6, 2018

Adventurer, Conqueror, King Character System Review

After finding that the ENine nominations were out (vote for Holy Crap: the Great Sects Change Operation my friend Andy's game supplement. It's good), I was listening to the (also up for an  ENnie) Hobbs and Friends of the OSR podcast. I am currently in a love-hate relationship with podcasts (as well as youtube videos and live streams) since many are talking about interesting subjects, but I find after five minutes of people droning on my attention wanders (this is true of those talking head youtubes as well). Hobbs was talking with Alexander Macris, one of the authors of the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS) rules and they happened to mention something very interesting, the  Handbook allows you to create your own character classes. Now I have bought into the majority of  ACKS Kickstarters (a bit at the .pdf only level) because they produce nicely formatted and illustrated books. I am also grateful to them for pulling Dwimmermount's bacon out of the fire (Warning Kickstarter "want-to-be"s actually producing a product, even when you have a good start is tougher than it looks). However, I have always relegated the ACKS stuff to the "read-later" folder, as I am unenamoured of the "race-as-class" system ACKS inherited from it's Labyrinth Lord/BEMCI roots. Given the revelation I received from the podcast, I thought I would open up those files moldering on my hard drive and take another look. The player's guide does indeed include a section on custom character classes. The system is very simple for humans: You have four build points to spend on five class categories: Hit Dice, Fighting, Thievery, Divine, and Arcane; Each category is allocated between 0 and 4 points. Based on your selection your strength in each category is determined. Every build point allocation adds experience points to the experience required to level up.  Non-human races get an additional four build points to spend on racial attributes, however as you spend more points your level cap drops. I like the simplicity of this system. I do not like the Non-human level caps. I find the different experience levels for different classes cumbersome and hard to balance (although in the Greyhawk supplement the general weakness of the thief class was countered by the classes low experience cost making the thief usually a level higher than the rest of the party {until the wizard picked up his bonus level at 7th}). If you don't feel like making your own classes the Players book has 18 more character classes: Anti-paladin, Barbarian, Dwarven Fury, Dwarven Machinist, dwarven delver, elven courtier, elven enchanter, elven ranger, gnomish trickster, mystic, Nobiran
Wonderworker, Paladin, Shaman, Thrassian Gladiator, Venturer, Warlock, Witch, and Zaharan Ruinguard. If that's not enough the newly released Heroic Fantasy Handbook adds seventeen more: Beastmaster, Berserker (revised), Chosen, Ecclesiastic, Elven Spellsinger, Halfling Bounder, Halfling Burglar, Loremaster, Nobiran Champion, Nobiran Wizard, Occultist, Runemaster, Thrassian Deathchanter, Venturer(revised), Warmistress, Zaharan Darklord, and Zaharan Sorcerer. The  also newly released Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu includes fifteen more: Blessed Undertaker, Bugman Ovate, Bugman Dredger, Bugman Praetor, Cultist, Deep One Hybrid, Dragon Incarnate, Geckoman Spirit-Talker, Geckoman Stalker, Lizardman Gladiator, Lizardman Hunter, Lizardman Priestess, Lizardman Warrior, Lizardman Witch-Doctor, Mog Brute, Necromancer,
Nephil, Terran Cosmonaut, Terran Starman. Are all these classes fair and balanced against each other? With this many classes, there is a good chance a few of them are broken, although I have not done enough math to confirm this.  If classes stick to the Hit Dice, Fighting, Thievery, Divine, and Arcane model and the names are mostly fluff it could work. If every new class has its own special moves and spell list this system will collapse quickly. Could the number of classes have been reduced by not using a race-as-class model? I think so. While I can no longer complain about the lack of classes in ACKS, I am a little worried that the proliferation of classes offered as a solution will boost the complexity of the game to unmanageable levels. At least I can no longer set ACKS aside as lacking class diversity.

P.S. One of the most perplexing features of "Old School Renaissance" is their proclaimed desire for simplicity which they achieve by cutting out classes in their first book, and then immediately destroy in their next supplement by adding classes back in. Although I have to admit this is actually "Old School" since Original Dungeons and Dragons did similar things by adding new classes with every supplement from Greyhawk on.

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