Introducing the Adventurer Conqueror King System

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.


13 Responses to “Introducing the Adventurer Conqueror King System”

  1. July 4, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Color me interested. This looks to be really good. Can’t wait to learn some more juicy tidbits.

  2. July 4, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    So, in all this talk about Adventurer Conqueror King, you didn’t say what it IS, exactly. I’ve got some idea due to the Red Box forum, but I’m not sure other readers would…

  3. July 5, 2011 at 6:04 am

    Saving that for another post! Unfortunately net access is more limited in NZ than expected, so it may be a little while.

  4. 4 Bargle
    July 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Just read the blog of this game. I love the barony world building section. Look forward to reading more. I prefer a more “round it up” approach to how much money a barony makes so as to keep the math simple. Interestingly I ended up with a peasant making a lord 10th a month and having only 10 months a year–that way if a heavy footman costs 3gp a month I know instantly with near zero math how much my yearly costs are for my men at arms/army.

  5. July 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Interesting approach to world building. Curious to see where it leads. Good luck with it Tavis et al !

  6. 6 Adam
    July 7, 2011 at 5:59 am

    This sounds really neat.

    Incidentally, I just tried to leave a substantive comment on autarch.co’s blog, and it appears to have been eaten–which may be related to why there are currently 0 comments on each post on that blog. Maybe it’s awaiting moderation, maybe it’s gone for good–but you might want to check to make sure that the blogging set-up is working properly. If they’re not all queueing up and awaiting moderation, you have a problem. (And if they are, a message saying that the comment is waiting for moderation would be nice.)

  7. July 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    @Adam – I just approved your comment at autarch.co and changed the comment settings. Right beside your comment was a referral for a great place to buy Viagra, so hopefully open comments won’t kill the site just yet :)

    Also, there haven’t been many comments as the site was just finished 3 days ago!

  8. 8 Adam
    July 7, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    @Ryan: Thanks!

  9. 9 Adam
    July 8, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    @Ryan: As a follow-up, my comment still isn’t showing up. I think the settings on the Autarch blog are off.

  10. July 8, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    @Adam – Really? I can see it – approved it yesterday. Here is the post you put it on: http://www.autarch.co/2011/07/starting-from-the-ground-up-literally/#comments

    send me an email @ ryanbrowning@gmail.com if something still seems wrong from your side

  11. July 10, 2011 at 3:15 am

    Adam – you were absolutely right – when logged in I could see all comments, but when logged out, they were hidden. Turns out it was a plugin conflict w/ WordPress. So sorry, and big thanks for pointing that out!!! The comments work now, for real.

  12. July 11, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Interesting! I will be following this project closely :)
    Wrote a small piece on it here: http://blackmoormystara.blogspot.com/2011/07/adventurer-conqueror-king.html


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Past Adventures of the Mule

July 2011

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