Posts Tagged ‘classes


0-Level ACKS Alices

Introductory Complaining

If I’m running a low-power game, I like 0-level play: It sets the tone, establishes more of the character at the table, and introduces new players to the game in play rather than in prep. What I don’t like about it is a tendency for the (scant) modules to concretize class restrictions in a particularly unbelievable way. Consider N4: Treasure Hunt:

Zero-level characters all know how to use one weapon. Before your adventure gets underway, have each player choose his character’s weapon proficiency. (Weapon proficiency is explained under “Weapons” in the Players Handbook). A player may only choose dagger, quarterstaff, or dart. Tell the player to write his character’s weapon proficiency on the character sheet.

If, in the course of the adventure, a character picks up a weapon and states that he’s going to try to learn to use it, let him. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that, while these characters are in their “state of grace” and learn things speedily, they can learn a weapon proficiency after using the weapon in two combats. A character can learn no more than three extra weapon proficiencies.

Tell the character he should swing the weapon around for a while, get used to its heft and characteristics, and that after a couple of combats in which he uses the weapon, he will have a proficiency with it.

The characters are not limited to dagger, staff and dart after they enter the adventure but, again, the choice of the weapons they learn can limit their character class choices.

If a character tries to learn more weapons during the course of the adventure he starts limiting the number of character classes he can choose. For instance, a 1st level magic- user can only have one weapon proficiency. If the 0 level character learns a second weapon before taking 1st level, he can therefore not be a magic-user when he reaches 1st level. That’s how it works.

Some of this is a consequence of the AD&D weapon proficiency framework, but I’d dread having a conversation at table about whether a PC wanted to surrender the chance to become a magic-user because they used a dagger and a dart. I get bored just thinking about it. Instead, I thought projecting a Jack-of-all-Trades class backwards to 0, with accreting abilities after creation, would work better with the group I’m running a game for.

The ACKS approach to weapons, classes and proficiencies gives a GM some tools to work around the rough spots in the 0-1 progression, and I thought that an ACKS conversion of the Alice class from A Red & Pleasant Land would make an especially good 0-level class for the group I was running.

The Alice: A 0-Level ACKS Conversion

As you might expect, it’s pretty easy to convert between LotFP and ACKS. The Alice is built on the Thief without a backstab ability, and over the course of the 0-1 progression they:

  • Get a +1 to hit (going from 11+ on AC 0 to 10+)
  • Get a +1 to saving throws (going from Thief 1 with a -2 modifier to a -1 modifier)
  • Get a +1 to skill throws in 3 abilities (equivalent to the 1/2 level progression in RPL)
  • Get an ability from the Alice random progression table (see RPL, this happens twice)
  • Get the exasperation ability (see RPL)

There’s a lot of room there to set up minor XP milestones or success feedback checks along the course of an adventure to result in level 1 Alice characters, and none of it is jarringly binary (with the possible exception of exasperation, but that worked well to establish the kind of fantastic space the PCs were in).

The ACKS Thief skills improve more-or-less by 1 with each level, so I started them with thinly renamed throws as follows:

  • Take Things Apart: 19+
  • Find Hidden Things: 18+
  • Sleight of Hand: 18+
  • Be Not Heard: 18+
  • Climb: 14+
  • Be Not Seen: 19+
  • Eavesdrop: 14+

Three of those are 1 better than would be expected from the ACKS Thief, but I thought it was fair for the worse initial climbing and rounding the 1/2 level progression down to improving 3 skills instead of 4. Given the style of progression, I found it easier to leave the throw targets static and have the players record a modifier on their character sheets.

Play Report: Waking Up, or Possibly Falling Asleep, in a Library

Caddy Jelleby, Percy the Urchin, Robert Call-Me-Bob, Scotia and Tadcaster awaken with a start from the falling dream in a library (map) with a ruined roof. A quick wealth roll revealed the quality of their clothing and the number of things in their pockets (modifier of a 3d6 roll, +1).The room they were in was full of numerous books, crockery, broadsheets from all over the world, several partial decks of playing cards, and a military saber (with which Scotia armed herself). Feeling like they needed to find a place with a sturdier roof to escape the snow beginning to fall, the 5 of them set out to look for an exit.

When two of them tumbled into the giant pneumatic tubes under the map room’s floor, the rest followed and were shunted to a reference desk staffed by the last remaining librarian: A hulking bear in a tweed suit named Ian. Ian drinks gin from a porcelain tea set (-3 to hit and AC when drunk, save vs poison each round or lose an attack to hiccoughs). Ian dissembles over questions he doesn’t know the answer to, and is prone to fib responding to those he does. Ian regards the PCs as items from Special Collections, and makes up elaborate classifications for them that shape the contents of rooms in the library.

Ian can be tricked into classifying PCs as outdoor goods, he can be killed leaving his pneumatic controls to the PCs to decipher, or he can be bargained into “remaindering” the PCs outside by bringing him the 2 dozen or so catalog cards that have gone missing. His catalog is full of many shifting cards- if the drawers are turned out, the cards will flap through the air on a middle crease like a swarm of bats.

The 5 PCs set out to find the cards. They discover a talking penguin named Birdtha who just wants to go home to Pengland, and promise to aid her (Caddy: “a quest!”). They discover the missing cards being used as a makeshift deck in a Euchre-LARP conducted in an inexplicable garden party in one of the library’s salons. After establishing one of their own as the best, correct, and right bower, the PCs won most of the tricks (but not all). They cheated by swiping the last trick, and an enraged Left Bower (a level1 Alice) came after them with a sword-cane. Scotia confronted him in the doorway with the saber, and Poor Percy seized the opportunity to drive a silver letter opener into the poor Bower’s neck. The rest of the party fell into panicked chaos as the Left Bower fell dying to the ground, and the PCs escaped with the cards.

Ian proved trustworthy enough in the card exchange, and the PCs ended the session shunted into a bin outside the library with the saber, some maps and newspapers, and about 40 xp apiece. The xp is earning them 2 of the accumulating abilities before the next session.


Last Chance to Back the Adventurer Conqueror King Player’s Companion

Cover for the Adventurer Conqueror King System Player's Companion. Art by Michael C. Hayes, design by Carrie Keymel.

The Kickstarter for the Player’s Companion ends today, Friday March 16th at 10 pm EDT. After Autarch’s crowdfunding campaign for the Adventurer Conqueror King System wrapped up, we often got comments from people saying they wished they had known about it while the Kickstarter was still going. I hope that this announcement can help save people from a repeat of this terrible fate!

It’s worth noting that, if you haven’t picked up ACKS yet, by backing the Player’s Companion backer you can choose rewards that’ll get you both the core system and its first expansion. Two Sought Adventure gets you both books in PDF, each of which has a coupon that’ll give you a discount on a future upgrade to its hardcover equal to the price you paid for the electronic copy. Pair of Kings gets you ACKS in hardback + PDF and the Player’s Companion limited edition softcover pre-release, shipping together as soon as they’re available (weeks before they’re in stores), after which you’ll get the final Player’s Companion in hardback + PDF once it completes its final development based on feedback and playtest reports from backers. You can also add to your Player’s Companion pledge to get various other combinations of ACKS and its new expansion, including using the coupon in the ACKS PDF you may already have for a hardback upgrade. Email if you have questions about how to do this!

Yes, you may say, but what is this Player’s Companion of which you speak? Good question! It’s an expansion for the widely acclaimed Adventurer Conqueror King System, designed to give players new tools for creating the kinds of characters they want to see in their campaigns. Because ACKS builds directly on the legacy of the original fantasy roleplaying game, the material in the Player’s Companion will also be useful to groups playing other variants of that lineage. No conversion should be necessary to use the Player’s Companion with Moldvay/Cook’s original B/X and its inheritors Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy, and adapting the material to other TSR-era editions and their retro-clones will likely present no problems to those hip to the essential similarities between all OSR systems.

Here is what is in the pre-release version of the Player’s Companion that we will have at Gary Con IV. Thanks to the backers who helped us reach the first three bonus goals and thus enabled this list of contents to be much more expansive than originally planned!

  • 16 new character classes to expand your campaigns, including the anti-paladin, barbarian, dwarven fury, dwarven machinist, dwarven delver, elven courtier, elven enchanter, elven ranger, gnomish trickster, mystic, paladin, shaman, Thrassian gladiator, warlock, witch, and Zaharan ruinguard.
  • 238 character generation templates with pre-selected proficiencies, spells, and equipment options to create archetypes such as the Aristocrat Bard, Buccaneer Thief, Gladiator Fighter, or Runecaster Shaman.
  • A host of new spells, including never-before-seen dweomers such as dismemberearth’s teethand trance, as well as ritual spells including cataclysmplaguetemporal stasis, and undead legion
  • A point-based customized class system that lets you create the perfect blend of fighting, thievery, divine, and magical power. The custom class creation rules are 100% backwards compatible with every class in the ACKS core rules and all of the classes in the Player’s Companion.
  • Additional equipment and proficiencies to provide options for character classes new and old, plus prices for building traps to defend your stronghold
The final edition will have still more content, including guidelines for creating new spells through magical research and a system for side effects from experimentation we’re developing using Gygaxian democracy.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Player’s Companion is the explosion of player-created content it’s heralded, either because it gives many tools for custom creation to the user, or simply because it coincides with the ACKS PDF having been out there long enough for people to start sinking their teeth into it. Every game designer wants to know that their stuff is being played with, so it’s really gratifying to watch this happening. Check out the Autarch forums for a sense of the creative ferment that’s out there!

The Incredible Indestructible Halfling

In B/X, halflings are much like fighters, but with a slew of minor changes that seem geared to make them good ranged combatants. On the one hand, they get a bonus to hit with missile weapons, an initiative bonus and an Armor Class bonus against larger than man-sized creatures. On the other hand, they can only use weapons “cut down to their size” (limiting their offense in melee) and they use six-sided Hit Dice instead of the fighter’s eight-sided dice, making them more fragile than their human and dwarven counterparts.

But in actual play? It’s all frontline halflings in plate mail, all the time.

Your typical halfling warrior in plate mail, ready for action.

The reason for this is an emergent property of the B/X rules for ability score adjustment (p. B6). Characters can drop points from some stats to raise a prime requisite on a 2-for-1 basis. And who has Dexterity as a prime requisite? Halflings. So everyone who plays a halfling trades away Intelligence and Wisdom to get an 18 Dexterity, which is impressive when a natural Dexterity score is rarely higher than 15. Combine that with plate mail and shield and you’ve got a base Armor Class of -1, which goes up to -3 against larger than man-sized creatures. The resulting survivability boost more than makes up for having one less hit point per level than the fighter.

The first question here isn’t what’s to be done, but whether anything should be done at all. Is there anything fundamentally wrong with a party with a bunch of plate-armored hobbits anchoring the front line? If the players seem happy enough with the situation, it may be best to let them keep doing what they’re doing.

On the other hand, if the DM’s dissatisfied with the resulting flavor, there are a number of approaches to be taken:

1) Disallow ability score adjustment, so halfling PCs are stuck with their initial dexterity roll. The downsides here are that this may be a case of taking out a housefly with a hand grenade if it’s the only problematic situation caused by ability score adjustment, and that a player who rolled a high dexterity can still choose to play a plate-armored halfling anyway; this makes the situation rarer but does not abolish it.
2) Put a limit on how much of a dexterity bonus a PC can get from heavy armor, like in later editions of D&D. So plate mail might cap the wearer at a +2 (or even +1) AC bonus from dexterity. This meshes well with the movement rules; if metal armor slows you down, it’s reasonable to think that it also makes you less agile in combat.
3) Remove plate mail from the halfling’s list of allowed armor types. This may have an overly negative effect on the halfling’s survivability, and unlike some other solutions, it requires grandfathering in exceptions to the rule for existing characters if you want to let them keep playing as they have been playing. But it has the advantage of matching the race’s original Tolkienian flavor; they’re not the sort to dress up like knights in full armor.


barding and goldilocks

actually, I think "dungeonpunk" works for the Bard

Jeff Rients wrote about 2e Bards earlier.  It’s probably my favorite class too, but it’s very curiously designed.

Twenty years ago, after my 2e Psionicist accidentally disintegrated himself on his very first action, I played a 2e Bard for six months or so.   I had fun, but our group was pretty small – a Fighter, a Magic-User, and a Bard. I was basically playing the “5th man” position in a 3-person group, and in hindsight should have held things down as the Cleric or a straight Thief.  I just wasn’t adding very much.

As a quick comparison, the Bard is probably about as good at fighting as the Thief or the Cleric, at least on paper.  The Bard shares the same horrible 1:2 THAC0 progression as the Thief, but has access to heavier melee weapons, like the bastard sword, as well as chain armor and shield, so they’re doing more damage and lasting longer than a Thief would.   On the other hand they don’t have the Thief’s backstab attack and likely don’t have as high a Dexterity.  It’s hard to generalize about 2e Specialty Priests, but the Bard has worse Hit Dice and THAC0 and probably same-or-worse armor, but better weapon selection (especially regarding ranged attacks).

But what I found in practice is that the Bard really isn’t cut out for the front-line.  The d6 Hit Dice and mediocre Armor Class means that she’s going to get chewed up really fast and end up draining a disproportionate amount of the party’s healing.  The smart thing to do is probably hang back, shed the armor, and use spells and ranged weapons.  All that stuff about being able to fight half-competently is a trick.

A Bard can cast spells, but doesn’t gain new spells every level: she’s got to compete against the party’s Wizard(s) for scrolls.  This suggests that the Bard will have a very thin spell book with mostly “reject” spells.  So, you’re hanging back to cast spells, and your spells probably stink.  (As the player of Arnold Littleworth, I can testify that playing the auxiliary caster can be a lot of fun, though.)

You also have Thief skills, but not the “real” Thief skills.  (Pick pockets sucks.)

But even the special Bard-y stuff you can do is highly situational:

  • Counter-Song isn’t the sort of thing you need every day
  • Knowing legends is unreliable at low levels, but the Dungeon Master may give a plot-dump even without you
  • Rallying allies is nice, but it doesn’t scale and requires advance notice of a particular fight in order to prepare
  • Bonus to social interaction is pretty nice if the adventure allows for it

    2e class philosophy at work

So what you’re left with is a highly likeable, unarmored archer who muddles around with spells and can hear noise with the best of them.   You can recover Plot Hooks, give a pretty minor boost to combat effectiveness, and reliably sweet-talk low-level NPC’s who don’t already hate the party.

These situational class abilities are pretty common in 2e: it’s like every “exotic” class is Goldilocks, waiting for a dungeon that’s just right to bust out the awesome. The Druid’s spells are largely wasted in a dungeon, and the bonus against electrical attacks, identifying plants, and moving through the woods without leaving a trail are nice, but are likely to come up only rarely. A Ranger’s ability to track, befriend animals, and slaughter a particular enemy are also pretty limited. (The Paladin has a little bit of Goldilocks design goin’ on, but not quite as bad as the others.)

why didn't Korgan kill you, dude?  I would have

why did you have to ruin this class for me?

Compare that to a (say) Fighter / Mage / Thief.

  • At around 30,000 XP, you’re looking at a Bard 6 vs. F4/M4/T5. The multi-class has comparable combat stats, a wider range of Thief abilities (the “real” Thief abilities like stealth and trap-mongery) plus backstab, making for a more formidable opponent in combat and better utilization of magic items. On the other hand the Bard has social powers and a slightly higher caster-level.
  • At around 90,000 XP, you’re looking at Bard 8 vs. F5/M5/T6, and it works out about the same as above.
  • It looks like the Bard begins to pull away from the F/M/T at much higher levels (1,200,000 XP give or take a level)

But there’s something about t

he Bard that I really dig.  It’s fun playing the crafty, not-quite-competent bullshitter–like Jeff’s desire to play Gandalf as a Bard, my character Arnold is essentially a Bard in M-U drag.

I could never figure out the music aspect of the Bard, other than as an unnecessary nod to history.  The mechanics say, “Spare tire.”. Which is a fun niche. But the incidental color of the class is, “Poet/musician.”   That’s not rooted in the mechanics very deeply, but it seems to have indelibly stained the class concept as a goofy adventuring playwright dandy type.  So it’s a lot like a Fighter/Mage/Thief with a sizable dollop of camp.



the binocular thief

The Thief, right?  Nobody digs this class.  Every blog and every forum has about 20 different variations on the Thief.  Most of the complaints fall into three categories:

  1. The Thief is weak.  You cannot suck this much without professional training.
  2. The Thief bolts a weird-ass percentage skill system onto D&D, which is as elegant as a brick upside the head.
  3. The Thief doesn’t model the Grey Mouser very well.  (I’d argue, though, that it’s a pretty good fit for the ridiculous number of thieves in Dunsany’s Book of Wonder, which may have been the primary inspiration.)

So check it out: my theory is that the Thief wasn’t really meant to work as a class in its own right.

  • Debuts in Supplement I: Greyhawk
  • Greyhawk introduces AD&D style multi-classing for demi-humans, finally making sense of the OD&D Elf
  • All demi-humans are eligible to take levels in Thief
  • All demi-humans have strict level caps . . . but unlimited advancement in the Thief class (even in 1e)
  • All demi-humans get sick Thief skill adjustments
  • The Thief is pretty much a joke at low levels, so the demi-human is getting half XP in the main class for little benefit.  Maybe this is a handicap to compensate for the demi-human’s racial bonuses over a Level 1 human character.
  • By Levels 7-9 or so, the Thief no longer stinks out loud, and this is approximately when the demi-human hits a level cap in a “real” class.  Thus the Thief class becomes viable around the time the demi-human has nothing better to do. (Halflings hit the level-cap earlier, but their insane Thief bonuses are like having an extra level or two of Thief so they’re viable earlier.)
  • In Greyhawk your XP will always be divided by your number of classes, even after you hit the level cap.  So a Halfling Fighter/Thief who’s hit level 4 as a Fighter is still only going to be getting half-XP to devote to the Thief class . . . which may explain why the Thief XP chart is so ridiculously easy to level.

I mean, I can’t help you if you think the Thief’s percentage score ability thing is a kludge implemented without any forethought (it obviously was), or if you think that the Thief absolutely must model the Grey Mouser (it mustn’t).

But looking at the Thief as a component of a multi-class character, rather than as an independent class in its own right, helps me understand why the class was designed in such a weird way.

No Joesky tax today because I am late for work.


Dabbling with the Thief (pt. 2)

(Following up on part 1 here)

So, with the goal of re-organizing the Thief, I’d begin by breaking the Thief skills down into circles, or levels, by the Magic User spell they imitate (or close enough, and with some additions to play up an alchemical angle):

First Circle

  • Intoxicating Draught (Charm Person)
  • Read Languages
  • Sap (Person) (Sleep)
  • Sleeping Draught (Sleep)
  • Sleight of Hand (Ventriloquism)

Second Circle

  • Climb Walls (Levitate)
  • Find and Remove Traps (Locate Object and Knock)
  • Hallucinatory Draught (Phantasmal Force)
  • Hide in Shadows and Move Silently (Invisibility)
  • Pick Locks (Knock)

Third Circle (Just go with it)

  • Elixir (Cure Light Wounds)
  • Paralytic Draught (Hold Person)
  • Sap (Structure) (Fireball)
  • Serpentine Powder (Fireball)

Hear noise I’d treat somewhat differently, awarding an escalating bonus with level.  I’d match this with a bonus to missile weapon damage, with the idea that the steady hand and anatomical knowledge required for the draughts (not to mention the sapping) makes the character a deadlier shot.  It may be too much, but these numbers are all hypothetical. Speaking of numbers:

target numbers for skill checks

Two notes:  First, any character should be able to attempt non-alchemical first and second circle skills.  I’d recommend a target number of 10, with mishaps on 2-4: This is effectively the same as success on 6 and mishap on 1 on a d6, but puts the targets in the same framework as the proposed mechanics.

Second, the preparation of draughts, elixirs and powders should require a facility not dissimilar to a Magic User’s laboratory for research. Moreover, these alchemical efforts should be expensive- 5g and a day of work at first circle, 25g and a week at second circle, and 100g and a month at third circle.

I’d stick with the same hit dice (d4) and combat progressions (Cleric/Thief).  I think a class like this- well, frankly, it sucks less that the Thief, so I’d bump the experience progression up.  This post is already getting unwieldy, so I’ll leave notes about the skills and mishaps for another post.  What do you think?  Does thinking of the Thiefly bits as an outgrowth of tinkering and alchemy work?


Red Box Workshop: The Lizard Man PC


These humanoid reptiles dwell at the border of land and water—swamps, rivers, along the coast—where they can keep their scales damp and hunt for fish and amphibian prey. Though most are semi-intelligent at best, some are fully as intelligent as any human. Whether these are a new breed or an atavistic strain is unknown. While these ‘smart’ lizardmen tend to gather into tribes of their own ilk, some prefer to go forth on land to travel among civilized folk.

The prime requisites for a lizard man are Strength and Constitution. A lizard man character whose Strength or Constitution score is 13 or higher will receive a 5% bonus on earned experience. Lizard men whose Strength and Constitution scores are 13 or higher will receive a 10% bonus to earned experience.

RESTRICTIONS: Lizard men use eight-sided dice (d8) to determine their hit points. They may advance to a maximum of 8th level of experience. Lizard men may wield any melee or thrown weapon, but they have no training in projectile weapons like bows and crossbows. Their scaly hides grant them a base AC of 5, but they may not wear armor or use shields. Due to their aquatic nature, they must immerse themselves in water for at least one hour per day. Failure to do so results in 1d6 damage per day. They also suffer 1d6 damage each day they spend in cold or dry environments such as snowfields or deserts. Lizard men must have a minimum score of 9 in Strength and Constitution.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Lizard men may attack with their fangs or claws; such an attack inflicts 1d6 points of damage on a successful attack. They are difficult to spot in verdant environments, blending in seamlessly with forest foliage, swamp growth and seaweed. They have only a 1 in 6 chance of being detected in this kind of cover. They can also hold their breath underwater for 1 turn/level. All lizard men speak Common, Lizard Man and the alignment language or dialect of the character.

SAVING THROWS: As dwarves.


ADVANCEMENT: As per the fighter advancement table.

Past Adventures of the Mule

February 2017
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