What Is Adventurer Conqueror King?

I’ve been talking about my role in creating Adventurer Conqueror King, but as James pointed out in the comments to that post, I haven’t said what it is. Here is the text I wrote for the back cover of the mockup we made, along with Ryan’s illustration to the right:

In a world of fallen empires, some relics of the past are good only for a beastman’s bludgeon; others make ruin delvers rich. You may start out with no higher ambition than a sack full of ancient coins, but each gold piece you spend ties you into a dynamic realm of commerce and carousing, driven by the hidden engines of court intrigues and distant wars. As you grow in power, will you fight to hold back the darkness looming at the borderlands of an aging civilization, or will you pull down the last decadent barriers to the coming of a new dawn?

The Adventurer Conqueror King system fulfills the promise of the original fantasy role-playing game by providing comprehensive, integrated support for play across all levels of a campaign. Any referee who has ever checked for random encounters, and every player who’s has rolled a twenty-sided dice to hit a wandering monster, will find the rules of Adventurer Conqueror King as elegant, familiar, and comfortable to wield as a heirloom sword. The system’s cutting edge is the way every table, chart, and assumption in the game encodes Gygaxian naturalism, Arnesonian barony-building, and the designers’ own experience of hundreds of sessions playing and running old-school games. With Adventurer Conqueror King, you get both the versimilitude and consistency of thorough world-building with the power of improvisation and discovery through play. We look forward to seeing what you do with these tools!

In that description, I had an imaginary general audience in mind. Mule readers, however, will appreciate that what we’re talking about here is a second-wave retroclone. As Alex says at the Autarch blog, the first wavers were focused on using the Open Game License and the d20 SRD to reverse-engineer the experience of playing some particular older edition. In a first-wave retroclone, the assumption is that the differences between its system and the original it emulates are due to the desire to avoid legal infringements; the creator inevitably also makes changes and judgement calls based on the way they believe the original game should be played, but these are controversial and have often led to the creation of an alternate retroclone that seeks to be a more pure translation.

The second wave of retroclones build on the invaluable foundation laid by the first. What distinguishes a second-wave clone is that now the changes are intentionally designed to support a specific kind of play. As the Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Game tells you in its title, its system is intended to support encounters with the Weird. The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is almost as up-front about its intent to emulate early-70s Appendix N inspirations – which we refer to as swords & sorcery, but to his credit Joseph recognizes also include a huge bong hit worth of fallout shelters and Civil War soldiers astrally projected to other planets after falling asleep in a cave. I’d be interested to hear other candidates for the “second-wave” tag, and also whether this terminology is new to me or if there’s already a term for this elsewhere.

Anyway, the goal of the system is to support campaign play across all levels; one of the major tools for doing this is an integrated economy, which Alex talks about here and here. One of the reasons to present ACKS as its own system is because the ways this economy gets worked into the rules are pretty far-reaching; the rules differences aren’t major compared to any classic edition, but the tweaks to things like item pricing, hireling costs, etc. we made throughout the text are extensive and subtle enough that there’s some virtue to having it all laid out as a single volume.

Note that this kind of detail is something that I am notoriously bad at – the White Sandbox runs on an economy based on lammasu using infinitesimal twists in the astral plane to collect gold pieces that, over the course of millions of years, are erupted from bags of holding that get placed inside portable holes. Which is awesome, but I like the idea of having a rulebook do the work for me so I can look up how many acres of peasant-tilled land support the king for whom this lammasu treasure is a king’s ransom, because that gives the fantasy traction. (James can attest that terrible things when my GMing style is combined with eleven-year-olds utterly uninterested in realistic traction.)

So having ACKS gives me the ability to translate one aspect of the imagined world, like character level, into versimilitudinous data about the demographics implied by a character of that level; this way I get the benefits of thorough world-building and the freedom of rolling up a sixth-level fighting man as a wandering encounter without having to have known ahead of time what keep he is the Castellan of.

If this sounds useful to you, contribute to our Kickstarter effort – and/or spread the word to those who might want to do so. We need your help to make it happen!

17 Responses to “What Is Adventurer Conqueror King?”

  1. July 7, 2011 at 3:50 am

    That ogre is still my favorite drawing from all of this =]

  2. 2 kenneth
    July 7, 2011 at 6:19 am

    So if I am getting this right ACKS has a bundle of computer-mediated tools that can take on the End Game, like the Domain Game project at the Hill Cantons?

  3. July 7, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    I’m in. Paypal is slow in Canada, and it’ll be a week or two before I get funds in the account, but I’ve bookmarked the Kickstarter and put it where I’ll be sure to see it.

    You know why I love the cover? It’s not the art style – I’ll appologize, but the art style does look like fairly generic fantasy art; I could imagine it on the cover of an FFG game. The reason I love it is that the first question that popped into my mind was ‘Which one is the PC?’ and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a right answer.

  4. July 11, 2011 at 8:48 am

    This sounds great! I love dominion style games, raising armies etc. The problem is that few systems out there handles this without resulting in endless tedious book keeping and calculations. Will ACKS avoid this pitfall? :)


  5. July 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Havard, in order to keep paperwork manageable, the game assumes that you only worry about the player’s top-level domain and the domain one step below (his direct vassals) and you use standardized averages for everything below. So, for instance, if you were managing a Kingdom, you’d monitor the King’s personal domain, and the domain of his subordinate Arch-Dukes, and use standard values for the Earls and Barons. (You can go all the way down, but it’s not necessary).

    In actual play, I was able to manage 6 different player-run domains with a total of 20 different sub-domains with about 1 hour of upkeep per week (total). Each domain’s details can be fit onto a notecard.

  6. July 11, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Thanks for the quick response Alexander! It sounds like you have been able to find a good way of avoiding the problem of many such systems. Some others I have liked are Pendragon (Lordly Domanins) and ASIFRP. I am looking forward to seeing if this one could be even better :)

  7. 7 Aos
    July 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    “I’d be interested to hear other candidates for the “second-wave” tag,”

    I think what I’m working on (The Metal Earth) probably qualifies; the tagline on my blog probably best states my intentions “Science Fantasy Role playing at the end of time.”

  8. July 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Aos, do you think we need a different name for things that take the first retro-clone work and use it for different genres? I am convinced that old-school D&D is Science Fantasy anyway and have no problem using stuff you do at The Metal Earth in my OD&D campaign, I’m thinking of things like Stars without Number, the other Polish sci-fi OD&D whose name escapes me, the caped crusader OD&D I also can’t call to mind, etc.

  9. 9 Aos
    July 20, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Honestly, I’ve never given it any thought until just now. I was actually kind of jazzed to see that you had come up with a name that seemed to fit my project. And you are right, OD&D is Science Fantasy, of course; however, I think the distinction may be more of rule alterations and the type of play a particular game supports. I think your label works well for games like mine, yours, and stuff like Mystery Men, because all these games go beyond the first wave attempt to emulate the older rules sets and either intentionally alter or augment the old systems.

    Please excuse the digression, but my underlying design philosophy is to change everything I want to change, but still have everything I introduce (e.g., ray guns) remain compatible with OD&D/S&W White Box. The reason for this is that I think that the widely understood “Common Tongue” of OS mechanics ties with what I believe you refer to as their “stark elegance” as the greatest features of these games.

    Anyway, I’m rather surprised (and a bit flattered to be honest) that you seem to know about my site.

  10. July 20, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    “Anyway, I’m rather surprised (and a bit flattered to be honest) that you seem to know about my site.”

    Seriously? I thought everyone read Metal Earth, or at least looked at the drawings.

  11. July 20, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Wow, I’m as desperate for attention as anyone, but the thought of that terrifies me.
    Anyway, good luck with your game, I’m looking forward to it, specifically and watching this whole OSR/RPG Kick start thing with interest in general.

  12. July 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    “I’d be interested to hear other candidates for the “second-wave” tag”

    I’m honestly not sure if you would count Adventures Dark and Deep in that category.

  13. July 26, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    I can’t decide if Adventures Dark and Deep meets the ‘lousy acronym’ criteria for a second-waver, or if it’s instead much too brilliant to qualify.

    I think we need another term for “reconstructing a particular edition that never was,” and if you come up with one I’d love to use it to talk up your AD&D, aldarron’s Champions of ZED, etc.

  14. July 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Personally, I’ve been using the term “reconstruction”, and in this post on my own blog: http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com/2011/01/moving-away-from-retro-clones.html I use the term “concept game”, but that doesn’t quite do justice to what I’m trying to label.

  15. July 26, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    What about “retro-construction” to fit with ‘retroclone’?

    “Concept game” could fit the second-wavers too if the concept is a style of play rather than a concrete what-if, but I agree it’s a better overall concept than a label.

  16. July 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    It’s a bit too close to “retcon” for my liking. I think “reconstruction” is a good enough term in and of itself. I haven’t checked, but what does “Dragons at Dawn” call itself? I didn’t see any catchy term on the ZED website.

  17. June 10, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Hi! Your system fascinates me, particularly because of the economy. Is it possible to buy it on paper as of now?

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Past Adventures of the Mule

July 2011

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