Archive for July 22nd, 2011


What do New-Schoolers Want?

One of the Visionary backers for the ACKS Kickstarter described this illo, which I love. She's also done some great edits on v.16 of the rules MS. Yay for patronage publishing!

I’ve been thinking that the integrated economic system in Adventurer Conqueror King may interest fans of other editions of the “world’s most popular fantasy RPG”: debatable but not unreasonable. I’m also thinking that Mule readers include folks who aren’t exclusively old-schoolers, and also a large-enough group of people who don’t read EN World’s General RPG Discussion forum or the D&D Meetup boards. Running with those assumptions, here’s how I broke down ACKS over there in search of some insights about whether and how new-schoolers might kit-bash bits of our system into the one they prefer.

The game’s tagline is “fulfilling the promise of the original fantasy RPG with support for every level of campaign play.” What that means is:

1) it’s built on the chassis of the retro-clones, especially Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy RPG, but instead of emulating a particular older edition it’s designed to enable a certain kind of long-term gameplay

2) it presents comprehensive guidelines for all the different “tiers” of the classic game, from dungeon crawling to wilderness exploration to building a stronghold and ruling a kingdom, with lots of other stuff in between like running a thieves’ guild, mercantile trading by land and sea, spell research, etc.

#1 means ACKS plays like the old-school games I’ve increasingly come to love. But to do #2, we had to create an integrated economic framework that ties all this stuff together. That’s because:

a) getting and spending gold is tightly tied to character progression in the classic game, and thus serves kind of the same role as encounter levels, treasure parcels, wealth by level, etc: an integrated framework lets you predict pretty well that a character who can cast fly can also afford to buy a pegasus mount, and design adventures around that expectation without having to dissociate it from the concrete things in the game world

b) different characters and campaigns will have different goals, but spending gold in pursuit of those goals is a universal constant; rules for all the things you can do with money are always going to be useful and allow the progression from low levels to the end game to proceed organically in response to player actions

c) making these things self-consistent, so that the price of hiring mercenaries and forging swords for them is consistent with how much skilled characters could earn as a sell-sword or a blacksmith and also how much it costs to buy food and a place to sleep, is hard work that no previous edition has gotten exactly right and maybe one of the few good answers to Gary and Dave’s question in OD&D: “why have us do any more of your imagining for you?”

OK, with that background in place, I’m getting to my question for y’all. One of the things I did when I was one of the guys whose names were going to be on the cover of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium was to design mundane items. And because I wanted them to be things that you wouldn’t just buy at first level, I worked out this same kind of comprehensive economic structure for 4E, based on the range of existing prices from a wagon to a galleon to a spelljammer. I was surprised to see that the difference from previous editions (the d20SRD and the B/E/C/M/I Rules Compendium were my main sources) was within the margin of error!

So you could use the economic structure from ACKS in pretty much any version of the game you play. The changes in prices for items, hirelings, and the like are minor and not the main benefit; the big benefit would be that if the party wants to do things like manage a caravan going between points of light (the theme of one of the most fun 4Ecampaigns I’ve been in), you have a sound basis for calculating things like how much demand there will be for goods in different-sized cities, the profit the caravan might expect to realize from carrying different cargoes, etc.

What I want to know is: would you want to include skill DCs, designing skill challenges, and other such new-school stuff if you were going to use this framework in your game? And if so, how would you fit it in?

In that caravan game that me and my ACKS co-author Greg Tito played in, even though it used the 4E rules that we were elbows-deep in at the time while writing the Forgotten Heroes books, neither he nor I paid much attention to how the profit-and-loss part of the operation worked. I was playing a fighter, so I was happy if we made money, but I left the details up to others. This is maybe part of why I like old-school play. Even though caravan wandering monsters were something my character cared about, I preferred to let the DM roll these behind the screen instead of being the outcome of my character’s Survival or Nature skill checks, and so likewise my inclination is to have the price the caravan goods be something the DM determines based on supply and demand, not something that emerges from my character’s skills.

What about you?

Past Adventures of the Mule

July 2011

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