Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Goodbye to ACKS (for now)

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted. Gotta get back on doing that.

So last time I wrote I think we had just started, or were about to start our Adventurer Conqueror King campaign. Well now after several months of play we're moving on to a Star Wars game (using the current Fantasy Flight system), and after that we'll likely give King Arthur Pendragon another try. I'm pretty excited about the Star Wars game which should start next week. But first I want to do a bit of a shore retrospective on ACKS and what I liked and didn't like about it.

Let me start by saying I'm still a pretty big fan of ACKS. I think it's a good system with a lot of fun tools in it, many of which can easily be ported into other game systems. I like the balance of simplicity and complexity in the character classes and I LOVE the system for making your own character classes. I think the system worked pretty well, though maybe not GREAT for our group and for the campaign we were running.

The biggest problem with the system isn't a problem with the system per se but with it's presentation. The main book is somewhat confusingly organized, and many passages are fairly ambiguously written. You have rules that are spread out all across the book. A few examples: if you want to figure out your movement rates in different situations you'll have to look in several different parts of the book to get each kind of movement, and it's not always clear where those bits of information will pop up. If you want to figure out when your character will get proficiencies, you won't look at the level progression charts. Instead, you'll have to read a very confusing passage about when different classes get them, and then ignore what it said, and look at a chart which lists the classes and when they get different types of proficiencies.

Now I'm sympathetic to how this happened. This is a system made by a group of semi-pro's with day jobs. The main book was, from my understanding their first project. I doubt I could have done nearly as good a job as they did if I were asked to make a game system book. And they are improving. The Players Companion isn't perfect, but it's much better organized and information is better consolidated in it. A lot of the info for classes is better consolidated in this book (though still strangely not the proficiencies). Then there's the fact that surprisingly often the answer to questions about the system (like information on encumbrance for some non-humans) is found in another book entirely, (Domains at War, the wargame supplement, in the case of the encumbrance question). Some day I hope they put out a revised edition which consolidates and reorganizes the books, and clears up some of the ambiguous writing of some of the rules. I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

The other issue I think we had was that our campaign was sort of built on a few premises that partially conflict with some of ACKS's assumptions. We had a stable of characters and occasionally switched them out depending on the adventure which meant our XP and treasure was spread out a bit more than I think the game assumed. This wasn't fatal at all, just caused a bit of weirdness here and there. We also started out almost immediately going to a big city, rather than starting out on the hinterlands and working our way up to bigger cities. This mean that even as 1st and 2nd level characters we didn't have much trouble hiring fairly large groups of hirelings. Again, this wasn't fatal to the game at all, and we had a good time, but it became pretty clear pretty quick that this wasn't really the assumption the game was based on.

One thing that did work reasonably well was trading off GMing duty. That was a lot of fun and mostly worked pretty darn well once we worked out our own houserule for how much XP the GM of a given adventure would get to give to one of their characters.

Again, I'm still very impressed with and a big fan of ACKS. I hope some day to run another ACKS campaign, using the lessons learned from this campaign and trying to run things a bit more "by the book." I might use the ACKS version of +James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount, (which looks like it will finally come out in the very near future!). It'll be great to see an example of an ACKS megadungeon put together by those who know the most about the system.

Heck, I think people were happy enough with the game that we might some day come back to the campaign we just ended. We did end on a cliffhanger!

Anyway, it's been fun playing ACKS. I think I learned a lot about the system, and could do an even better job with the system next time. I'll be back to it some day!

Now on to a galaxy far far away...