I just downloaded the pdf and spent the evening devouring Adventurer Conqueror King from Autarch. The following is an overview and review based on a reading of the rules. I'm sure I've missed things but I feel the following should prove interesting to those wanting to learn more about the game.
The "Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) is a set of rules for role-playing in a world of swords, sorcery, and strongholds"
The Game Judge (Judge for short) prepares the campaign and serves as final arbitrator of how the rule are played in that campaign.
For some odd reason ACKS has us rolling dice and throwing dice as distinct actions at the tabletop. The bog difference begin when one throws the dice they are attempting to beat a target value and that isn't the case when one is rolling the dice.
You've seen it all before, well mostly sort of. What's interesting is the standard classes of Fighter, Cleric, Mage and Thief are the core human classes. Demi-humans are meant to be rare in ACKS campaigns and as such there are unique classes fro the demihuman races to set them apart from the humans; we get dwarves vanguard, dwarves craftpriest, elven spellsword and elven nightblade for those wishing to play demihuman characters. Humans may also play "campaign classes" of assassin, bard, blade dancer and explorer. There's enough variation to satisfy diversity at the table top and room to grow within the classes without any one choice looking like it will dominate play.
Hit dice and hitpoints are modest, fighter get 1d8 per level until 9th and but 2 per level afterward. Each of the human classes has a max level of 14. The dwarves classes top out at 13th and 10th level and the leaven classes at 10th and 11th. These level limits are a little important as the game is built around some demographics that define what levels of NPCs will likely occupy territories. A sleepy little burg is unlikely to have a 12th level Mage hanging out at the local pub and even an empire of millions is only likely to have many high level characters.
Whats different in classes: fighters get a damage bonus based on level and inspire others on the field of battle, mages start crafting some magic items at 5th level and work rituals from 11th level as do clerics, thieves abilities will be familiar to any oldschool player but are resolved with a d20 roll based on level instead of other mechanics.
What's interesting and supported later in the rules is as they gain levels each class is able to develop a stronghold of sorts Fighters may build castles, mages establish sanctums, clerics build fortified churches, thieves establish a hideout, dwarves build dwarves vaults and elves may establish an elven fastness. More on these later.
Alignments within ACKS run the spectrum of Lawful-neutral-chaotic. Lawfuls are not do-gooders who turn down reward and foolishly grant mercy to the unworthy. Lawfuls believe civilization is worth fighting for along with all it's virtues and vices. Chaotic beings seek the destruction of civilization. entrails do what it takes to get by. Lot's of room in this civilization based view of alignments to have authentic swords and sorcery adventurers.
The only real innovation is in establishing market classes for communities which limits availability of goods in the campaign and mentioning the possibility of commissioning gear if not ordinarily available in a market. Prices for weapons and gear are generally inexpensive except fora few luxury goods. A longbow is less expensive then a sword and peasants may be abel to feed themselves and buy a few drinks at the pub. There's a handy chart that establishes the monthly living costs for different standards of living from the wretched getting by on 1 GP a month to an emperor living in opulence at 80,000 or more GP a month.
Encumbrance is calculated in ACKS by the 10lb stone. 1,000 coins are in such a stone and 6 items weigh a stone as a rough guide. Reasonable and quick.
Hirelings, specialists,mercenaries and henchman get a fair anoint of support. Wages and maintenance for a wood array is given. Interestingly enough you can hire yourself some ruffians when business in town demands your adventurers attention. Hirelings become more important to a character as they establish domains.
All characters get a range of proficiencies selected from a class list and a general list. Every PC starts with the adventuring proficiency, a class based proficiency and a general proficiency align with a couple bonus proficiencies for those with higher intelligence scores. The proficiencies cover a wide range of skills and tactics that relate to ACKs campaigns. I have no idea why this is in a separate chapter from character creation but it is.
Some characters will eventually earn a goodly number of proficiencies but the game doesn't seem to depend on every character establishing a laundry list of identical skills.
The spells defined in ACKS aren't going to provide many surpasses and the lists will be very familiar to Old School gamers. Normal mage spells top out at 6th level and cleric spells top off at 5th level.
The first major diversion in spells and ACKS is that a spell caster need not memorize or prepare spells before casting. A spell caster is able to cast any spell in their repertoire to a limit of how many spells per level they are allowed.
Spell casters have their own spell casting signatures that others can learn and use to track the working of other spell casters.
This section cover the adventuring rules for dungeons, wilderness, and sea; along with combat. All the basics for dungeon delving are covered (resting, doors, traps). Wilderness adventure covers long distance hex-crawling travel as does sea travel. Sneaking past monsters explicitly uses the surprise rules as it's base (which makes plenty of sense).
Initiative is 1d6 high roll goes first. Some actions require they be announced before the initiative dice are rolled. Every NPC and PC with the same initiative score acts simultaneously.
A combatant in ACKS makes an attack throw to score a hit in combat. Each class has an Attack throw Value based on level which is expressed as the score or higher required to hit a target. The procedure is simple and familiar a d20 is rolled modifiers for ability scores are applied and Armor classes is added attack throw value to determine the score needed to hit.
Armor class in ACKS runs from a score of 0 for unarmed combatants and goes upward. It would be better expressed as a penalty applied to the attack throw as opposed to the modifier to the target score it is currently described as.
Helpless targets are always hit, a 1 always misses, a 20 always hits.If a character or monster kills or incapacitates an opponent with an attack they may keep on hitting adjacent allies of the foe.
Weapon damage is pretty constant in ACKS small light weapons do 1d4 damage, slightly larger weapons do 1d6, bulkier weapons do 1d6 in one hand or 1d8 in two hands and the bulkiest weapons do 1d10.
When a creature is wounded so it's HP score drops to 0 or less a roll is made on the Mortal Wounds Table. ACKS character don't simply bounce from HP to no HP. Attempting to come back from death (or near death) requires a roll on the Tampering With Mortality Table. No yo-yo fights with characters being bashed to a pulp and then bouncing up to fight unhindered a round later after a healing spell is cast.
Dead is dead, no one earns EXP coming back from an adventure as a corpse even if brought back from the dead. Unless one has a loyal henchman to take over all characters in a ACKS campaign start at 1st level unless they have banked some exp by spending funds to build an EXP reserve for their next character which will start at the level allowed according to the total amount of banked exp. Two good ideas here, one gets money out of PC hands to encourage future adventure and the other makes henchman a desirable game mechanic for those that dread the "exp tax" of henchmen.
A whole lot of what really differentiates the Adventurer Conqueror King System from other OSR title is in this section. I'll admit I was feeling a while lot of " so, why'd I buy this same game I already own" reading the earlier chapters and thankfully this chapter really delivers on new and forgotten fantasy gaming.
Starting at 5th level spellcasters may begin to research spells of their own, scribe scrolls, and brew potions, at 9th more powerful magic items may be crafted and at 11th level spell casters may cast ritual spells, craft magical beings and more. Magical research is spelled out clearly and constantly. All magical items require special components such as body parts from monsters with a total xp value equal to the gp cost of research. While it makes sense to give judges room for campaign development a standard list of special components isn't included.
Ritual spells are powerful magics possible to spell casters of 11th level or higher. Handily these rituals duplicate the effects of other old-school games higher level spells. A ritual takes a while to learn (they are never gained with level advancement) and a fair bit of expense. Rituals are rated in spell levels of power to calculate these cost of research and spell casting time. A ritual costs a hefty 500 gp per spell level and takes a week to complete and isn't certain to be cast successfully. A short list of rituals including spells such as Resurrection and Permanency is present and any compatible game with higher spells levels offers a host of higher level spells. The limitations put on rituals puts a decided dampener on high level spell-casters dominating play.
High level spellcasters are given rules to can crank out constructs, create crossbreeds of monsters, dig into necromancy and draw on divine power . High level magical workings aren't simply a linear progression of lower level spell casting.
Strongholds and domains-
A lot of useful rules are provided on establishing, building and maintaining domains. Costs of contraction are covered. Incomes and expenses of civilization are given.
The duties of nobility are spelled out as are the expenses. A PC may find the need to swear fealty to an overlord to thwart encroachments of neighboring lords along with favors and obligations following from that arrangement.
Hideouts and Hijinks-
Assassins, elven nightblades, and thieves can build hideouts and gather a syndicate of fellow criminals to do their bidding in a host of unsavory endeavors. This is a great treatment for criminal activities and thieves guilds that will have the would-be criminal boss reaping the profits and dealing with the results of smuggling, spying, theft and more.
Mage sanctums get a little attention, it seems they attract students. More interestingly a reason for dungeons and their construction is given: Mages need monster parts to craft magical items and the best way to get those is dungeons they themselves construct and oversee; in the world of an ACKS campaign "A wizard did it" is a completely reasonable explanation for a lot of mayhem.
Mercantile ventures are given a fair amount of treatment for those wishing to engage in commerce. Clear rules are given for the values of goods and cost of transport.
All lords, masters, arch-villains gain experience points and wealth from their endeavors and the shenanigans of their minions.
This section is a bit of a let down compared to the previous one. Monsters get comprehensive treatment but are really the same-old-thing as many the old-school RPGs. The most interesting detail is many monsters are indeed the results of the working of ancient spellcasters and are not in reality natural beings. The host of popular old-school humanoid heavies are unnatural beastmen that no one need feel any moral qualms about dispatching.
Not exciting but essential treatment for distributing treasure and it's properties is given. I do rather like the section for scavenging treasure that makes looting monsters for their gear a less than desirable option and create turmoil for those that must rely on found gear.
This section is the judges guide and offers solid guidance in constructing campaigns. Populations,Sinkholes of evil, transformations, poisons, slavery and death from aging are all covered in this section.
Developing realms to set campaigns in is given fair treatment and reveals the game-economics number crunching that go into holding ACKS together. Determining trade routes, assigning NPCS, monster lairs and adventure creation are all covered.
In conclusion the Adventurer Conqueror King System covers a lot of familiar RPG territory and delivers a solid game that does indeed provide for campaigns where lowly adventurers can build up domains. Not everything is amazing but the game delivers on it's promise of being a game about swords, sorcery and strongholds.I'd have bought this book alone for the campaigning chapter and I suspect a great many folk will as the developers have done their job. There are areas I'd have liked to have seen more detail and some areas i feel were overlooked but that leaves room for myself and others to expand on the fine work and solid foundation provided in Adventurer Conqueror King.