Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: ACKS Player's Companion

So the long awaited Adventurer Conqueror King System Player's Companion is now out in PDF.  I don't know know if it is out in stores yet at all or if people that supported it on Kickstarter have their physical  copies, but it is up on DriveThruRPG.

I have talked about ACKS in the past:

Those are the main ones, but I have been talking about it for a bit.

Now full disclosure time.  I did provide some support for the witch class.  I was able to look at an early copy of the witch and provide some feedback since it had been based on some work I had done for d20.  I shared a copy of my spells research notes and some material that would be part of my own Witch Book.
Neither group was looking for cross-compatibility except int he broadest terms.  We did though develop from similar source materials and there is a bit of cohesion between the two classes.  To be clear though, I didn't actually write anything for this.  The authors had their ideas in a pretty solid form when they talked to me.

That being said let me proceed.  ACKS Player's Companion reads like an "Unearthed Arcana" or even a Player's Handbook 2 for the ACKS set.  In many ways it is very similar to the Complete B/X Adventurer.
There are a number of authors that were brought to together to author the various sections.  Sometime you can tell, other times no.  This is not a big deal to me except for maybe there are some redundancies in various classes.

Chapter 2 covers all the new classes.  We get: Anti-Paladin, Barbarian, Dwarven Delver, Dwarven Fury, Dwarven Machinist, Elven Courtier, Elven Enchanter, Elven Ranger, Gnomish Trickster, Mystic, Nobiran Wonderworker, Paladin, Priestess, Shaman, Thrassian Gladiator, Venturer, Warlock, Witch, and Zaharan Ruinguard.  Not a bad list at all.  That takes up about 44 pages of the book's 160.
The classes vary a bit.  I liked most of them to be honest. The new feature of ACK:PC are the templates (Chapter 3), so all the new classes also have these templates.  They define starting proficiencies and equipment.

At first I expected to hate the new racial classes but they provide a nice bit of background that goes beyond just crunch and fluff.  In particular the Elven Enchanter and Elven Ranger add something interesting to the game.  Sure, you could do this in AD&D in 1978, but here it has a bit of different feel.  In fact I reminded of the old Dragon article back in the mid  80s about the Elven Cavalier.  Sure it was something you could do on your own, but the article and this book give you something a bit more.  The Gnomish Trickster could be reskinned if you are like me and miss the Halflings.  The Mystic is a suitable Monk replacement in the vein of the old D&D Rules Cyclopedia.   There are few ACKS unique race-classes too.  We also get a Priestess, Warlock and Witch.  Those I'll deal with later.

Chapter 3 introduces Templates.  These are part roleplaying tips and part mechanical. If you remember the old 2nd Ed Kits these remind me of those, or the Backgrounds in newer games.  Several are presented for all classes, new and old.  Each character gets Proficiencies and Starting Equipment.  It's a really fun idea.

Chapter 4 is an interesting one.  It is a custom class creation tool.  I have not seen how it compares with similar systems I have seen on the net or in Dragon.  I know that the classes in this book were "Verified" with it, so it at least has ACKS internal consistency.

Chapter 5 is Spells.  There is a section on magic experimentation and mishaps.  Really fun stuff to be honest. Also a section on creating new spells. This is from the same school of thought on the Class Creation.  in theory you should be able to check on any spell in the book and get the same numbers.
This followed by the Spell lists.  Spells are listed by type and level  then the descriptions are alphabetical by name. There is about 38 pages of spells here.

Chapter 6 covers Supplemental Rules.  Things like Aging and various equipment.
There is a hyperlinked index and two more for spells and powers.

Utility for other Old School Games
Well the classes can be ported over outright for the most part.  The Proficiencies and Templates are a nice addition to any game even if you ignore the mechanics and use them only as role-playing guides.
I am not sure if the Class Creation guidelines will work outside of ACKS or not.  My feeling is that they will with some tweaking.  Same with the Spells sections.  Chapter 6 should be fine for any game.

Witches, Warlocks & Priestesses
There are three (four if we throw in the shaman) classes that fit the witch archetype.  The Priestess is a female cleric dedicated to what we normally call Mystery Religions.  They honor a Goddess for example.  Now in other games this would just be another type of cleric, or a cleric with role-playing notes. To me it actually seems weaker than the regular cleric.   The Warlock is stereotypical "Evil" warlock and that works well here really. But the real utility for me is when you compare the Warlock to the Witch.
The Warlock is an arcane caster and the Witch is a divine one.  So depending on what sort of archetype you want to build you can choose a witch or a warlock.   This is a dichotomy that I have also used in the past and it works out well.  You can even rule in your games that witches and warlocks were once one class that split or two classes with similar methods or not even related at all.
Witches are most similar to my own.  Witches in ACKS:PC also have Traditions as I have talked about briefly before.  The Traditions here are Antiquarian (a classic witch), Chthonic (dedicated to dark gods), Sylvan (woodland and faerie) and Voudon (voodoo or even Shaman-like).  You can adapt these traditions to work with my book or my trads to work with ACKS.  I should post a conversion guide between the traditions sometime.
Spells of course a completely cross compatible.

The Book Itself
The layout is top notch and this is a good looking book.  It will be attractive as all heck in dead tree format, but the PDF is no lesser product.  The index is hyperlinked to pages and it is fully bookmarked.
The art is great and I especially enjoyed the "character" art of Chapter 2.  The art changes by Chapter 5 to some commercially available art, which is not a bad thing, but the style is different for the later half of the book.

Who Should Buy this Book?
For the first audience, players and game masters of ACKS, this is a no-brainer, you should get this.  There is enough here to make this purchase worthwhile even if you only use parts of it.
If you are a fan of B/X clones and top your games off at level 14 then this is also a good buy.  Also the class creation and spell creation engines are worth the price if you like to experiment with your games.
If you play other retro-clones or other versions of the Grand Old Game, then there are still some things here you will find useful.
At 10 bucks for the PDF this is a pretty good deal.


Florian said...

I am not a fan of the warlock but I really like the Witch and Priestess class.
Nothing beats these two when it comes to healing the party in the early game. The Antiquarian Witch has the advantage of more healing related perks,the chance to get a familiar and no need for an int bonus to get the healing proficiency three times at level one while the Priestess has a better endgame with a free cloister (fortified church) instead of a coven (mage tower), turn undead and a better spell portfolio without the need to take apostasy as a proficiency to get the really good stuff.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Yeah I like them quite a bit myself. I might have to stat a few up to see how they stack up against each other.

jedavis said...

I kind of agree that upon further examination, I'm not sure about the priestess in terms of power compared to the cleric. Because priestesses level more slowly, you end up about a level behind, so even though you get more spells of the levels you have access to, the cleric gets higher-level spells sooner, has better HD, and can wear armor. Looking at playing a cleric or priestess for a friend's ACKS game, I think I'm going to go with cleric.