At the most recent session of the White Sandbox campaign, Greengoat passed around a copy of the Adventurer Conqueror King System, which had been freshly printed that morning by Adjua at McNally Jackson Books. I’m going to be talking about this game a lot in the coming weeks, and I want to start by explaining why.
First is that I’ve been involved with the making of ACKS for months. As anyone who’s tried to become a parent knows, it’s wise not to talk publicly about the forthcoming arrival of a new baby until you’ve passed some milestones. The initial one was having a tangible book, with stunning cover art by Ryan Browning. The second was when the website for Autarch, the partnership we formed to release ACKS, went live earlier this weekend, thanks to Ryan and Carrie Keymel. Now that these concrete indicators have convinced me that this thing is really going to happen, I’ve got a lot of pent-up things to say about it.
I had Adjua digitally print and perfect-bind a copy of ACKS to use as a prop in the video I shot at Greengoat’s studio. This video will serve as an introduction to the Kickstarter project, launching later this week, which will fund the publishing of the game. We worked hard on making the cover look right (Carrie’s layout assistance was invaluable here as in the composite image above), because the cover is what was visible in the video. Although the 256 pages of the interior do indeed contain a complete and playable fantasy roleplaying game, at this stage in ACKS’ development there is still plenty of stuff left for us to add.
One of the things that’s currently missing is a credits page. Eventually that’ll include Ryan for illustration, Carrie for layout and Greengoat for cartography, and Alexander Macris, Greg Tito, and myself on the text side of things. When we get around to assigning ourselves titles I’ll probably get an Additional Design credit, since that’s what I have for a similar role on the DCCRPG: telling the guys involved in the actual design work what I think they should do to make the game better suit my lazy ass. In this I join many great minds in the old-school renaissance scene who have similarly been putting forth great ideas they didn’t have to implement themselves; we have used as many of their ideas as we could make fit into ACKS. (This is not to say that there aren’t OSR folks who are expressing their great ideas in design form; in this case my role has been to point to the sources we should steal from. Another of the things left to do is to write for permission to specifically credit the originators of these stolen ideas. Ironically, it’s often harder to thank those whose ideas we used when they were originally put into practice than it is when they were just thrown out there half-baked. This is because the former are usually released under the Open Game License, which makes it easy to copy but hard to credit what exactly you used from where. My old publishing company Behemoth3 released books with a limited license to use the name of our books & our company to make this possible, but it never caught on – probably because Section 14 of the OGL which creates this problem and the legal language we used to get around it are both pretty arcane, and also because it was and is generally easy to get hold of folks in our little community and get permission on a case-by-case basis. I digress because of a recent post of Jeff’s; as he says, it’s a shame that more people don’t do this, but the way the OGL is set up means it’s not a simple courtesy.)
Perhaps this telling the writers what to do job is what they call being a developer at places like Wizards of the Coast where that’s a separate role from being a designer. If so, it reinforces my conviction that it would be sweet to work there, because this development thing is nice work if you can get it. This brings me to the second reason I’ll be talking about Adventurer Conqueror King a lot. Unlike the work I did for Wizards where I got paid the same whether the book was a hit or a flop – or even, as with Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, when it never got released at all – I have a direct stake in the success of ACKS. I don’t think there is necessarily a financial conflict of interest between my selfish desire to see ACKS sell a zillion copies and my responsibilities to entertain and enlighten my fellow followers of the Mule. The best way to get y’all interested in ACKS will be to have a ton of interesting things to say about it, which I do (at least to the usual blogging standard of “interesting enough to me to wax on self-indulgently about”). Contrariwise, an excess of boringly crass hucksterism will cause you to tune out and me to lose this free marketing channel, I mean, esteemed podium from which I am honored to be able to share my exudations of hot gas.
The last reason I’ll be talking about ACKS around here a lot is that in a very real way, the game is an outgrowth of the Mule and the New York Red Box community from which both sprang. Over at Autarch, I posted the original email in which Greg – an old gaming buddy from a pair of long-running 3E campaigns and one of my co-authors on Goodman’s 4E Forgotten Heroes books – introduced me to Alex, whose online magazine the Escapist had seduced Greg to leave Brooklyn for Durham, NC. I waxed fannish about how I’d been reading the Escapist since the beginning due to its laudable practice of hiring my tabletop RPG heroes to write about all manner of interesting stuff. In his reply, Alex said that he’d similarly been reading the Mule and the NYRB forums since their inception. I originally thought he was blowing smoke up my ass, but it turns out that yes our pond may be tiny but some of the fish swimming in it really have done stuff like turning startups into multi-million dollar media empires. Better still, said empires can then indulge their publisher’s lifelong devotion to funny-shaped dice by running columns like Check for Traps (written by Alex and Greg) and Days of High Adventure (featuring installments not least by the Pope of Old-School himself), video shows like Zak’s I Hit It With My Axe, and one-off articles like my own D&D Is The Apocalypse.
Adventurer Conqueror King is the product of several long-running old-school campaigns. Glantri and the White Sandbox you’ve been reading about here and maybe also participating in as a player and referee, like I have. The third is Alex’s Auran Empire, a sandbox which he credits the Mule and the Red Box forums as having helped inspire him to launch. Our campaigns started influenced each other even before we began development on ACKS – for example, the 4:1 ratio of XP from treasure to combat that I use as a rule of thumb in the White Sandbox was suggested by Alex in a comment here at the Mule, based on his own experience on what worked for his group in the Auran Empire.
Although we didn’t know it then, during Gen Con 2010 Greg and I took the first steps towards the game that the players of the Grey Company passed around last weekend. He was telling me about the appreciation for the Old Ways he’d gained as a player in Alex’s campaign, in particular how awesome the expansion of scale was when they emerged from the dungeon and started doing wilderness exploration. They had warhorses now – heck, one of them had been reincarnated as a centaur – and the baffling-on-paper transition from 1’ = 10 feet to 1’ = 10 yards expressed the visceral and compelling evolution in their party’s ability to dominate much larger battlefields through their fighters’ unconstrained mobility and the power of their mages’ area-effect spells. We started kicking around ideas for mapping the 4E idea of tiers of play onto the classic adventuring concepts, sketching out what scales of time and space the players can act upon in each tier, what key abilities must be gained to permit advancement to the next tier, and what activities constitute the campaign during each stage. ACKS is, among other things, the culmination of that late-night conversation.
At one point as Greg was telling me these war stories from Alex’s campaign, I thought to myself “some of that sounds a lot like the Caverns of Thracia.” I was right: ACKS is a game by and for slayers of the Beast Lord. To the extent you’ve enjoyed reading the Mule posts that have come out of our engagement with these ‘70s gems – which is just about all of our posts in one way or another – I think you’ll enjoy Adventurer Conqueror King when it comes out, and I hope you won’t mind me going on about it until then.