Monthly Archives: February 2012

Fighting Magic-User

The fighting magic-user is my human variant of the B/X elf class. A fighting magic-user divides attention between martial and arcane pursuits, hence the slower (elf) level progression.

Level remains limited to 10. If you want to be able to prepare the most powerful spells (sixth level), you must play a dedicated magic-user. “No man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Fighting magic-users may still cast sixth level spells from scrolls.

Fighting magic-users lack the following elf abilities:

  • Infravision
  • Increased chance to discover secret doors
  • Immunity to ghoul paralysis
The fighting magic-user is, however, able to wear any mundane metal armor, unlike faerie creatures (such as elves), which are pained by iron and steel.
Unlike the standard magic-user, the fighting magic-user has no chance of spell failure when wearing armor.

Against Armor Restrictions

In my B/X house rules, any class can wear any kind of armor.

There are, of course, trade-offs though.

Encumbrance is the primary penalty from wearing armor, and this applies to all classes. I use the LotFP encumbrance rules, modified slightly to allow characters with exceptional strength to carry more. Fighters are, practically speaking, likely to have higher strength than other classes, so this also in effect makes them less likely to be penalized for wearing armor (though clearly this will vary on an individual basis). To maximize mobility, a prudent fighter will not carry much other than armor and primary weapons. Squires or porters can be hired to carry extra weapons and other equipment.

Wearing any kind of armor interferes with the delicate gestures required for a magic-user’s spell casting. The following chance of spell failure applies: leather 1 in 6, chain 2 in 6, plate 3 in 6. If a prepared spell fails, it is not lost, but the round is wasted. The same goes for casting from a scroll; the scroll is not consumed.

Armor heavier than leather also interferes with the following thief skills: move silently, hide in shadows, climb walls, and legerdemain. Wearing heavier armor introduces a chance of failure: chain 1 in 6, plate 2 in 6.

Elves (or their human class variants, fighting magic-users) are not subject to spell failure when wearing armor. Faerie creatures such as elves are, however, not able to use mundane metal armor (such as armor of iron or steel) because close proximity of metal pains them greatly. They may use specially forged faerie-metal armor, which can only be procured in faerie realms. Elf armor tends to degrade if it spends too much time outside of elf lands, however. Dwarves are known for crafting durable faerie armor, but their prices tend to be steep and not just in terms of money. Dwarf-made armor is thus highly prized by elves that must journey in the sunlit realms.

The Varieties of Fatal Experience

Being various and sundry interpretations of hit points & death.

By dying in the following examples I mean losing one HP per round.

Rules that allow dying characters generally provide some way to stabilize the dying character, either by performing an action or using a skill. Healing magic will also generally stabilize a dying character.

  1. Classic. Dead at 0 HP. Monsters and PCs are treated the same. Anyone can be knocked unconscious by bringing them to 0 HP with nonlethal damage. See below for the exact OD&D wording, which, as usual, is open-ended and ambiguous.
  2. AD&D. Dead at -10 HP. Unconscious at 0 HP and dying (DMG page 82). Monsters are dead at 0 HP and so are treated differently than PCs. 2E defaults to dead at 0 HP but provides an optional rule (which everyone I knew used) Hovering on Death’s Door (2E DMG page 75) which was basically the same as the original AD&D rules. [2012 06 16 edit: 1E AD&D is actually a bit more complicated; if you go from above 0 to -4, for example, death is immediate. See this comment for more discussion.]
  3. 3E. Disabled at 0. Unconscious and dying below 0. Dead at -10. Instant death if 50 or more damage is taken at once and a DC 15 fortitude save is failed (source: D20 SRD on death). Dead if constitution is reduced to 0 through drain or by taking constitution damage (source: D20 SRD on ability damage). Pathfinder is similar, but characters are dead at negative HP equal to their constitution score rather than at -10 HP (Pathfinder Core page 189).
  4. 4E. Dead at negative ½ max HP or 3 failed death saves. Incapacitated at 0 HP. A death save is required every round if a PC has 0 or fewer HP. Note saving throws in Fourth Edition are unrelated to either level or ability scores: there is always a 55% chance of success. Monsters are dead at 0 HP. 4E PHB page 295.
  5. Castles & Crusades. Unconscious at 0. Harder to heal between -1 and -6, but not dying. Dying at -7 to -9. Dead at -10. Feels like AD&D, but more fiddly. C&C PHB page 134.
  6. Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing (free downloadable Rules & Magic book, page 35):

    When a character (or creature) suffers damage, the amount of damage is deducted from the character’s current hit points. When hit points reach 0, the character becomes unable to take any action, and in most cases falls completely unconscious. The character becomes mortally wounded at -3 hit points and will die in d10 minutes. No healing, magical or otherwise, can prevent death at this point. Death is instantaneous at -4hp.

    This is surprisingly fiddly; before double-checking the text, I assumed LotFP was just dead at 0.

  7. Crypts & Things. When HP is gone, characters start taking constitution damage. Any constitution damage requires a save or the character falls unconscious. I don’t have a copy of this, so I am relying on the review over at Tenkar’s Tavern.
  8. ACKS. 0 HP requires a roll on the wounds table which may lead to anything from unconsciousness to injury or death (ACKS page 104). There are many potential modifiers to this roll, so the system looks somewhat fiddly, though I haven’t seen it used in play.
  9. DCC RPG. Dying at negative HP, dead at negative HP equal to character level (corollary: 0 level characters are dead at 0 HP). Any character that falls to negative HP but survives loses a point of stamina permanently. DCC RPG Open Beta Page 78.
  10. Robert Fisher: Classic D&D injury table. When a PC is brought to 0 HP, they must roll on the 2d6 injury table. Results include no effect, severed limbs, and instant death. Most monsters are dead at 0 HP, but important NPCs might get to roll on the table. See also Trollsmyth’s variant.
  11. Ramblings of a Great Khan: Save or die at 0 HP. When a character is reduced to zero HP, they may make a saving throw versus death ray (or whatever category is closest in the game you are playing). On failure, the character is slain. On success, they live but are knocked unconscious. There is a similar idea in this comment: the save is done after combat rather than immediately.
  12. Jeff’s Gameblog: One Last Breath:

    Any time a PC runs out of hit points that character is allowed a saving throw versus Death if they haven’t already failed a saving throw to get 0hp. If the roll is made the character is at 1 hit point. At the Labyrinth Lord’s discretion they may also be stunned, unconscious, comatose, feverish, nauseous, mangled, bleeding, or otherwise in a world of hurt. If the saving roll fails, see the rules for replacement PCs below.

  13. Silver Blade Adventures: Wounded at 0 HP:

    A house rule used in the World of Silver Blade is that characters brought to zero hit points or below are wounded and out of the fight, suffering ongoing penalties until the injury is healed, regardless of hit point recovery.

    This is similar to Robert Fisher’s injury table, but a wound at 0 HP is assured.

I don’t generally use wound tables, because the idea of mutilation freaks me out. I don’t need that level of detail in my games. I’m not categorically opposed, however. The simplicity of Robert Fisher’s injury table, for example, is very attractive.
The exact OD&D wording (Men & Magic, page 18) is as follows:

[HP is] the number of points of damage the character could sustain before death. Whether sustaining accumulative hits will otherwise affect a character is left to the discretion of the referee.

My current 4E hack game is using the AD&D rules (unconscious and dying at 0, dead at -10). If I were to start a classic D&D game right now, I would either use dead at 0, Robert Fisher’s injury table, or allow a saving throw to be knocked unconscious rather than die outright. I would probably avoid any option that required bookkeeping.

Other relevant reading:

Anyone know of other interesting death & dying house rules floating around?

Magical Research Mishaps

A little while back, Evan over at In Places Deep noted that carousing did not seem to be appropriate for all classes and suggested some alternatives. In particular, magic research for magic-users, with potential mishaps. I went a bit crazy in his comment section because I absolutely love this idea. Some of the potential side effects on Evan’s table (and Jeff’s original, too) are a bit too dire for my game, however. Lose all personal possessions? My players would kill me. So these side effects are a bit tamer.

It seems like the idea of spending money on magical research for experience has a precedent. The Dragon #10 (1977, Orgies, Inc., by Jon Pickens) offers the following categories of expenditure to gain experience:

  1. Sacrifices. All Classes.
  2. Philanthropy. Lawfuls only.
  3. Research. Magic Users and Alchemists.
  4. Clan Hoards. Dwarves and other Clannish Folk (probably Neutrals).
  5. Orgies. Fighting Men (excluding Rangers and Paladins), Bards, Thieves, and all Chaotics (excluding Monks).

Unlike Jeff’s carousing rules though, all of these options are risk free. It might be interesting to create a modern hierarchy of such methods using Jeff’s save/mishap mechanic. (Incidentally, I like the characterization there of Neutrals as Clannish Folk, i.e. those who would just like the world to leave them alone and do not care to concern themselves with any cosmic struggles.)

    Thanks to Aaron for recently blogging about that Orgies, Inc. article and thus bringing it to my attention.

    Anyways, on to the magical mishaps. Rules follow Jeff’s carousing, adjusted for type of save.

    Magic-users may spend d6 x 100 gp to earn that many XP. Then save versus Spells or roll on the Magical Research Mishaps table below. If you roll more money than you have on hand you now owe the difference to some sort of criminal (perhaps demonic) unless another PC can cover your expenses.

    1. Minor explosion: eyebrows burned off, frizzy scientist fro. Local wizards may begin to think you are incompetent.
    2. Rupture in the space-time continuum: small (1d6 inches) hole in the fabric of reality opens. Consider as a bottomless hole.
    3. You summoned it, but you can’t figure out how to unsummon it. It follows you around and does things at inconvenient times. Roll 1d4; it is: 1 – thumb-sized demon, 2 – two-headed rodent, 3 – small flying squid that swims through the air, 4 – floating bubble that follows you around and reforms if popped.
    4. That growth spell didn’t go the way you thought. Size as halfling for next 2d6 days. Clothes and armor no longer fit.
    5. That other growth spell didn’t go the way you thought. One of your companion’s mounts is now half sized, maybe permanently. Determine which randomly. (Random local livestock if party has no mounts.)
    6. Determine randomly one spell you can prepare. This spell must now always be prepared if you prepare any spells at all. You just can’t get that tune out of your head. Referee may rule on some way to undo this.
    7. Grow a useless tail 1d4 feet long.
    8. Vampiric synthesis gone awry: you no longer have a reflection.
    9. Experiment with the plane of shadow, to which your own shadow escapes.
    10. Overcome by the transience of life through metaphysical research. You new weep whenever you witness death. Further, the tears are blood.
    11. Super soldier serum of unknown potency. Re-roll strength.
    12. That love philtre didn’t go quite the way you expected. You now smell like catnip for (d6) 1-3: canines, 4-6: felines. This may make you unutterably delicious to monstrous versions of these creatures as well.
    13. Grow a small pair of demon wings. Much too small to do anything useful with.
    14. You manage to banish the demon you summoned successfully, but somehow its image was burned into your flesh. You now have a strange, moving tatoo. Roll for location: 1 face, 2 chest, 3 back, 4 left arm, 5 right arm, 6 rear, 7 left lef, 8 right leg. Maybe it can see what you can see.
    15. Beauty potion. Re-roll charisma.
    16. Grow horns. 1 – curled goat horns, 2 – antlers, 3 – pointy devil horns.
    17. Grow younger or older 1d4 years (odd younger, even older).
    18. Gain a reputation as an expert in an esoteric subject that totally bores you. You now must spend 1d4 days giving seminars in towns you visit that have magic-users or gain a reputation for being rude, standoffish, and secretive.
    19. You look into the abyss, and it looks back. A duke of hell or other powerful demon is now aware of you.
    20. Experiment with magicoluminescence gone awry. One area of your body now radiates a pale, eldritch light. Roll for location: 1 face, 2 chest, 3 back, 4 left arm, 5 right arm, 6 rear, 7 left lef, 8 right leg. Impossible to surprise others unless that part is covered completely. Permanent unless dispelled.
    Credit to James for #19, and many of the other comments on Evan’s post for inspiration.

      DCC Beta Rules

      The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Beta Rules are can be downloaded for free. I just saw this link over at Beyond the Pale Gate, but the scratchings on the PDF seems to indicate that it is from June 2011, so you very well might already have seen it. If you haven’t, you are in for a treat.

      Even if you don’t have time to read the PDF right away (I certainly don’t), download it anyways just to skim through and look at the art. The many full-page Peter Mullen pieces are worth it alone. Not to mention the works by many other artists, including an excellent Erol Otus picture on page 44. The comics sprinkled throughout are also a nice touch.

      RIP Weathervane

      On Sunday, the thief Weathervane (played by me), along with the cleric Brother Winston (played by dragolite of RPG Rants and Raves) and three hirelings (Hilmyr, Ulmat, and Wergrim) ventured forth Beneath The Tower of Zordaz (run by Il Male™ of the The Yaqqothl Grimoire). We explored many mysterious chambers bathed in weird blue light before being claimed by the evil of the tower.

      Weathervane made his save against a spike trap that impaled the poor henchman Hilmyr. He succeeded in picking two locks though his skill was a measly 15 percent. He located a secret door. And he backstabbed some foul little creature that was attacking the Cleric Brother Winston before they were both overwhelmed by the little beasts. He avoided all damage until the end, when he was slain by a single 4 point attack. It is possible that Ulmat may have escaped the dungeon with the map, as he was still standing when the thief and cleric went down.

      Thus ended my first ConstantCon experience. We had a blast even though we all died. We plan on continuing The Tower of Zordaz game next Sunday, and I believe Il Male™ is looking for more players, so if you are interested get in touch with him via the ConstantCon page.

      So, RIP Weathervane, my first Labyrinth Lord PC.

      Here, in memoriam, is his character sheet:

      Level 1 Thief

      Ability Scores (3d6 in order):

      Str 13 +1
      Dex 12
      Con 11
      Int 12
      Wis 8 -1
      Cha 11

      HP 4
      AC 7 (leather)
      3d6 for starting gold: 110


      • leather armor
      • sword (1d8)
      • 3 daggers (1d4)
      • sling (1d4)
      • mirror
      • 3 large sacks
      • lantern
      • tinder box
      • water skin
      • thieves’ tools
      • rope, 50′


      • falsely convicted and then escaped from jail
      • wants to sire a child
      • jolly looking
      • careless about possessions
      • ruffian
      • skeptic, rash
      • swashbuckler

      ACKS Endgame

      The domain rules for Adventurer Conqueror King System are mostly contained in chapter 7: Campaigns. This chapter covers advanced magical research, accumulating divine power, building strongholds, and mercantile ventures. Basically, this chapter is about what high level characters can do. First up are options for high-level mages.

      Mages can create many different kinds of minions: constructs, undead, cross-breeds. The general formula is 2000 GP per hit die plus 5000 GP for each additional special ability plus 5000 GP per plus on the magic research throw (and some one-time facility costs). There are some other minor differences between the required components, but the creation template for all minions is approximately the same. The limit here is fundamentally economic, as it seems like there is no other limit to the number of minions that can be created. Individual minion hit die total is restricted based on caster level. As a player, I’ve always loved having minions (that is probably why the necromancer is one of my favorite classes), so I think this is great.

      It also helps answer the naturalistic question of where all those damn weird monsters came from. A mage did it. This has been the backstory to plenty of D&D locations in the past as well, but somehow encoding it in the rules like this makes it feel more internally consistent. Trivia regarding cross-breeds: the chaotic alignment is a dominant genetic trait. As in, if you crossbreed a lawful and chaotic monster, the result is chaotic. I wonder if this holds for PCs too? (Take away: be careful who you breed with.)

      On to strongholds. In OD&D, everyone built castles, though guards and retainers varied by class. The list of possibilities given in ACKS are highly class dependent, and include, for example, border forts for the ranger-like explorer class, castles for fighters, sanctums for mages, and vaults for dwarves. It’s a nice list and we are treated to the standard info about how much gatehouses, towers, dungeon corridors, and walls cost. Personally, I would probably disassociate many of the strongholds with classes (or at least make some of them open to all classes). Not all thieves want to run a crime syndicate, for example. And if a mage wants to build a castle, become a king, and attract soldiers, why not? What better cover for the dark and arcane rituals that proceed deep beneath the keep? In any case, there is nothing wrong with the guidance given, and it is easy enough to overrule on a case by case basis.

      I find the whole issue of demihuman and humanoid civilizations working analogously to human civilizations, but with only slightly different input parameters, highly problematic. Perhaps there is no other way to design the rules in a way to allow demihuman PCs. This was brought into focus for me by this sentence from page 127:

      Elven fastnesses are settled by elven peasants.

      There are elf farmers? Do elves do everything that humans do, but just take longer and do it in a different language? To me, these elves and dwarves are really more like another nation of humans, but readers of this blog will know that this is more of a longterm personal issue of my own, and so it probably won’t come up for most players of ACKS (who I’m guessing are probably fine with standard fantasy elf nations and dwarf nations). I mention this only because in ACKS these assumptions about the nature of demihumans are baked into the domain rules.

      It is even suggested that PC mages build a dungeon and stock it with monsters. These rules are pure win and a triumph of Gygaxian Naturalism. Apparently, many magical research procedures require materials such as 4 basilisk horns. Yuck, right? Way too much like an MMORPG grind. But wait, there’s more. Check this, on page 141:

      Many mages devote their later careers to magical research. This vocation demands a constant supply of rare components, generally monster parts, such as the fangs of 20 hellhounds or skulls of 50 ogres. Rather than squander their time hunting beasts for these components, many mages build dungeons within their domain with the aim of luring monsters to lair within. There they can be harvested at the mage’s leisure.

      The text goes on to explain how more powerful monsters will displace weaker monsters in the lower levels, creating a natural sorting effect such that monsters residing deeper will be more dangerous. Sound familiar? I could see this turn into an odd role-reversal game, as the referee roles up parties of low-level adventurers to delve the PC’s dungeon. Man, that sounds like fun. In fact, reading further, that’s almost exactly what they suggest (page 142):

      Some results on the Wandering Monster table will indicate that NPC men, dwarves, or elves have arrived. These results mean that adventuring parties have come to clear the dungeon! Such encounters are best resolved by having the player whose mage owns the dungeon run a one-off session with the rest of the group playing as the wandering adventurers. The dungeon-owning mage may, of course, intervene personally when his dungeon is invaded.

      Thus, it all ends up tying together, almost seamlessly. Endgame PCs are the nemeses of starting PCs. It’s almost too clever. In fact, though this justifies pretty much every classic D&D dungeon delve, it does do away with one of the central old school dungeon design principles, which is that dungeons were originally built for something else and only later populated by monsters. It seems to me like a dungeon actually designed for housing monsters would have dramatically different architectural principles and dungeon dressing. Maybe I’m just being too picky though.

      There are other things you can do at the domain level. If you are running a thief, assassin, or elven nightblade, the default stronghold is a hideout and your followers end up being a criminal gang. You can earn passive income from your underlings, as they provide all kinds of shady services (ACKS calls them hijinks). Some examples are thievery, information gathering, and assassination. There are tables provided so you can (mostly) just roll for this rather than roleplaying it out. Once you accumulate a certain number of underlings, it would really be impossible to roleplay it all out anyways. There is also extensive information about penalties and costs for underlings that get caught.

      The system for resolving trade looks really complicated. Here are a list of some of the numbers and modifiers you may need to take into account to resolve a trade expedition: market price, base price, demand modifier, monopoly bonus, moorage and stabling fees, market class, market toll, modifiers for economic and political factors, labor fee for loading and unloading, customs duty, extra earnings for taking on passengers, and extra earnings for taking other shipping contracts. Whew! That’s a lot of moving parts. Maybe it’s easier in practice than it looks on paper, but if I had a character that was doing this regularly, I would probably write a program or build a spreadsheet to automate it.

      I should mention the tremendous number of prices that ACKS provides. It doesn’t matter to me if these numbers are exactly realistic so much as that they seem to make sense within the context of the other prices in the game. The price of land per acre is given. And many more such things. This is very useful, even if you don’t really care about all of the sums tallying. All these numbers really show the scale of the protagonists in ACKS. A single stronghold securing a portion of wilderness must cost at least 30,000 GP per six mile hex. The land value of 16 such hexes is given at over 1 million GP.

      One nice side effect is that hexes can only support so many people, so if you have a healthy and growing domain there will be expansion pressure. You need to send out the legionaries to secure more land. Which in turn requires increased defense investment to maintain the conquered land. Another option is to build a city, which can support a higher density of population.

      It looks like this will lead to a nice little sim city minigame. How many peasants do I have per hex? What do I have to spend to maintain the infrastructure? What do I earn in taxes? Has my population grown this month? That is determined by what looks like an exploding random walk to me, but I haven’t investigated the math in detail. I’m not sure if this is for everyone, but it certainly captures the actuarial spirit of AD&D.

      Finally, characters earn standard XP from many of these domain activities, such as building strongholds, earning domain income (if above a leve-based threshold), trading (also if above a level-based threshold), and expensive magical research. So you could theoretically sim city your character up a few levels, though of course any decent ref will present continuous challenges.

      I would like to close with a quote from Frank Mentzer about high-level characters from the Companion set (Player’s Companion: Book One page 2):

      Characters are more independent. When the characters started their careers, they needed each other just to survive. But now a few trolls present nothing more than exercise, rather than deadly danger. Now the characters aren’t as dependent on each other; each can survive and prosper as an individual. The persons with whom a character adventures are now more important as friends, than as as each others’ bodyguards.

      I think this is an important point regarding how the game changes from explicitly team-oriented at low levels to more self-reliant by the time characters start building strongholds. I have not read much discussion of this change in ACKS so far. I imagine many referees will by default favor an “Avengers Assemble!” style of play regarding domain level characters. By that I mean that between adventures, PCs will probably separate and go their own ways but then reunite to investigate the mysterious floating citadel (or whatever). Given that so many of the new rules that ACKS provides (over and above classic B/X) are focused on domain level play, it would be nice to see more discussion about adventure design and how it should change to accomodate powerful PCs. I haven’t read chapter 10: Secrets (the referee chapter) fully yet, so maybe there is more guidance there.

      My next post on ACKS will focus on the setting creation guidelines.


      Check out this necromancer’s staff. His gesture must be a command he’s giving his undead army. This was an individual mini purchased on Ebay sometime late in 2011. I strongly prefer the old style of miniature with integral metal base. If people made minis like this in pewter now, I would be one happy customer.

      ACKS First Impressions

      Adventurer Conqueror King System is a dialect of B/X D&D with highly elaborated endgame and domain rules. As such, it is easy to lift elements from it into other similar games, even if you don’t want to play it all as written. There is a lot to like here. It would be easy for anyone familiar with basic D&D to jump in and be able to play based on their knowledge of that game. In some ways, it is even closer to Moldvay than Labyrinth Lord. But it does not idealize an old school feel. Would I play this game straight, either as a referee or as a player? Without the proficiencies, absolutely. Also, I realize that this is a silly and subjective thing, but I like that they refer to the referee as a Judge rather than inventing yet another title for the Dungeon Master.

      ACKS goes out of its way to provide a modern facade while maintaining a classical essence. It has actually retained many of the most controversial aspects of old school D&D, such as race as class, but the essence is obscured because there are multiple classes for each demihuman race. For example, there are two elf classes available: the spellsword (fighter/mage, basically the traditional B/X elf) and nightblade (thief/mage). These classes are only available to elves, and are also the only classes an elf may choose. This retains the special demihuman flavor provided by race as class while sidestepping the issue of why elves can’t be thieves (or whatever). And all classes have level limits (ranging between 10 and 14). This is how I would play B/X, it just makes the human level limit explicit, and softens the level limit blow by not including any classes with extremely low level limits (like the B/X halfling, which only shows up as a monster). I think this design is masterful.

      Another example is that many resolution mechanisms have been replaced with a d20. Elves detect secret doors by casual inspection on 14+ (i.e., 35%). That’s close enough to the d6 roll in B/X to be functionally the same, though it is phrased as a proficiency check. Thieves use d20s for their skills. I prefer d6 checks, but I realize that this is a cosmetic thing. Interestingly, they seem to have been much more consistent about “modernizing” the player-facing rolls than the referee rolls. For example, surprise and monster reaction still use the d6.

      There are many other cases of classic game mechanics. Save or die poison. 1 in 8 chance of encountering a dragon on many of the wilderness random encounter tables. Does that sound familiar to anyone else? It is from page 18 of The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. There are five saving throws and they vary by level (even though there are no death rays).

      One more example of this kind of updating, regarding doors in dungeons from page 93:

      Some dungeons are so drenched in evil that the doors themselves are antagonistic. Such evil doors automatically swing shut when released unless spiked or wedged open. Evil doors always open easily for monsters, unless the door is spiked shut, held firm, or magically closed.

      That is a wonderful way of making the original rules for doors acceptable to a modern audience. Someone familiar with the old rules will nod knowingly, while someone encountering this for the first time might just think it is fun and creepy.

      Some notes on spell casting. Mages work like 3E sorcerers; no spell preparation is required. They have spells in both their repertoire (immediately accessible) and their spell books. It costs money to replace spells in the repertoire (though adding new spells to the repertoire as a result of gaining a level does not cost money). Incidentally, spell selection is also reminiscent of OD&D and B/X; the highest-level arcane spells are sixth level and the highest-level divine spells are fifth level. The are provided in nice d12 and d10 lists.

      What about the proficiency system? First, I have to warn you. I hate reading lists of skills and feats. And that is what proficiencies in ACKS are: a mixture of feats and skills. The list is quite long. I count 97, but the real list should be longer, because some have sub-proficiencies which must be selected such as Combat Trickery. Some of them provide a minor mechanical bonus. Some of them open up abilities from classes that are not included in the core. For example, there are Sensing Evil, Lay on Hands, and Berserkergang proficiencies. Another category of proficiencies are 3E-style profession skills (such as the Art and Perform proficiencies) which allow adventurers to earn a mundane wage when not adventuring.

      Here’s what I like least about the proficiency system: it contains skills like Adventuring and Mapping. Does that mean that a party sans mapping proficiency cannot map? It’s not clear, but I think that is the implication. If not, why have the proficiency at all? Thus, a skill tax. Adventuring is given to all PCs, regardless of class, at first level, but the fact that it contains a clear list of capabilities helps foster the attitude that a PC can only attempt to do things that are spelled out on the character sheet. I don’t think there is any need to systematize cleaning weapons or setting up camp.

      There are some good aspects to the proficiency system. Each proficiency is relatively simple and self-contained. The chance of success is not generally modified by ability scores, so the ability to optimize is limited. There are a number of well-written proficiencies that I think would make great class abilities. Example: Sniping, a ranged backstab. Many of the social proficiencies are designed as a modifier to the reaction roll, which is exactly the right way to do social skills (in fact, I think that general idea might deserve a whole post of its own). This is not the worst skill or feat system in the world, but it is a skill and feat system.

      There are now two old school games in print that I think may appeal to new or modern players directly: Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Adventurer Conqueror King System. Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry are great, but they require the appreciation of a certain aesthetic. ACKS is the first of the retro-clone or simulacrum games to tackle the possibilities inherent in the third LBB (specifically, the rules for generating wilderness domains). In some ways, the endgame and domain rules are the strongest parts of ACKS. I will discuss them in a follow-up post soon.

      Dwimmermount Preview

      For those of you with the ACKS PDF, check out the last page. You will find a dungeon level map and this text:

      This map can be used in your campaign if you need to stock a dungeon or provide a handout for players who have unexpectedly found a map as part of a treasure hoard. Only the wisest – or those who have been visiting the Autarch website at, and following James Malizewski’s updates at — will recognize that this is also a preview of the legendary Dwimmermount, to be published using the Adventurer Conqueror King compatibility license through a partnership between Grognardia Games and Autarch.

      I haven’t seen any mention about the publication of Dwimmermount using the Adventurer Conqueror King compatibility license. Google searches limited to don’t turn up anything, so I don’t think I missed an announcement. You heard it here first! (Sort of.)