Posts Tagged ‘Adventurer Conqueror King


what does it take to run a Dungeoneer bachelor party?

I am happy to say that my friend – New York Red Box’s foner, known to those who follow the White Sandbox campaign as the player of E.N. Lightenment, cleric of the Killing Frost – is getting married. I am further happy because his brother has had the wisdom to hire my company Adventuring Parties LLC to put together the bachelor party.

As often happens when you make a business out of a hobby, this involves doing stuff I would be delighted to be asked to do for a friend for free. The main advantage of being able to treat it as a job is that I can better justify to my wife why I will be schlepping out to Harrisburg, PA to play roleplaying games all weekend. (My first instinct was to reach out to Rob Conley and see if Adventuring Parties could employ his immense talents for this gig, but apparently PA is so large that I am still closer to Harrisburg than other Pennsylvanians are. Who knew?) Justification was achieved without having to make rhetorical arguments about how she should be glad Adventuring Parties isn’t in the traditional bachelor party business, in which case I would be going away all weekend to get drunk and hoot at strippers.

The other advantage is that having a budget for this party allows me to indulge my passion for stuff. We chose Paul Jaquays’ classic Night of the Walking Wet scenario as the basis for the bachelor party, first published in his Dungeoneer fanzine in June of 1977. The party favors for guests reflect this theme:

I had a great time at the North Texas RPG Con going through Badmike’s giant bins of Judges’ Guild stuff and picking up these later issues of Dungeoneer, so I am happy that giving these out to the party guests will clear the way for me to have this experience all over again at NTRPG this year.

Also on the stuff tip: Needing to deliver a gaming experience worth paying for gives me the motivation to bust out the top-shelf liquors and the foxiest strippers, so to speak. Here is the kit I’m bringing to assist me in playing the role of Judge for this expedition:

The ones you might not recognize here are a Men & Magic-styled compilation of the Adventurer Conqueror King rules that face towards the players, which I’ll be using to help us get on board with domain-level play if we choose (this is a good scenario in which to levy mercenary armies and undertake the rebuilding of a ruined stronghold!), and the spellbook compiled by the mages of the White Sandbox’s Grey Company, which will add a little Eldrich Weirdness, Arduinian gonzo, and player-driven inspiration to the incantations our casters choose to memorize. Both were compiled and laid out by Red Box’s jedo, who makes it look easy, and printed via Lulu.

The White Box and those two Dungeoneer issues were bought by my first wife’s elder siblings at the Argosy Book Shop in Grand Rapids, MI. (In case mentioning a former marriage, like giving knives, is considered bad luck for a soon-to-be newlywed, let me point out that it wasn’t until my second wife that I got to have a D&D bachelor party; the fact that you’re doing this right from the start predicts a lifetime of happiness without requiring a do-over.)

At NTRPG Paul said that he remembered cold-sending issue #1, on top, to area stores like this one in hopes that they would pick up a subscription. I should have put issue #5 on top in this picture, because it is the one on whose cover a bearded, big-footed, cigar-smoking wizard in a hat marked DM poses the question at hand:

I like how the cover implies that the essential test of one’s ability to defeat a deity is one’s willingness to plunk down 60 cents (50 p in the UK!) for dis ‘zine. It would be good marketing to say that I similarly trust that anyone savvy enough to hire Adventuring Parties has what it takes. But in this case, I know that to be true just because everyone there will be friends and family of my friend Carl, and there is no better recommendation for people I want to party with in the realm of the Slime God.


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!


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.

Past Adventures of the Mule

March 2023

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