Sunday, February 11, 2018

ACKS House Rules

So far, we've been using the following house rules for the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS):

  • Thieves and thief-like characters (e.g. Dwarven Delver) add their Dexterity modifier to Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Open Lock, Pick Pockets, and Disarm Traps rolls.
  • War dogs take Henchman "slots" and are limited by them.
  • War dogs get Mortally Wounded and may be stabilized by a character with Animal Husbandry. This, of course, entails a roll on the Mortal Wounds table for the poor hound.
  • Dwarves have "darkvision", which seems appropriately natural given their subterranean habitat. This is not necessarily perfect infra-red vision but (probably) rather the ability to see with very little light. It seemed to us that dwarves, who often spend their entire lives underground, should have a way to see in darkness, or at least in very dim light.
  • Turned undead who flee far into the dungeon (i.e. out of the fight) grant XP as they are "vanquished". However, you can gain experience from a given group of undead only once per "foray into the dungeon", which is approximately a week. This is to prevent abuse of Turn Undead to gain infinite experience from turned undead.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

ACKS: Sorcerer class build

I have been working on a sorcerer class for a while. Here I will present the full sorcerer class build, using the "Sorcerous Value" as part of the class build points.

Sorcerers. The dread of normal men, who huddle behind their walls in fear of the feared men and women who wield unearthly power. Scourge of the stalwart warrior and barbaric brave, who cower from the sorcerer's eldritch might. Horror of eternity, steeped in the occult in life, terrifying in eternal undeath when they transcend the grave.

Sorcerers are the latter half of "Sword and Sorcery", the first half being the courageous sword-wielding barbarian who dares face such magical power. An archetype of a spellcaster, in many cases a monstrous villain, but sometimes a valuable ally.

Sorcerers are studious spellcasters, like mages - they have a limited spell repertoire and must study and record tomes to cast spells. However, they can also rebuke (turn) and control undead like clerics, and their spell list combines healing, summoning, and necromantic magic, essentially bridging the gap between the divine and the arcane. Sorcerers are far better summoners than either a cleric or a mage - calling forth powerful creatures at low levels. They have, however, two weaknesses. The first is that they lack effective blast skills and are unable to use divination or illusion spells. The second is that their magic is shaded. As given in Axioms #1, in the article "The Shades of Magic", this means that many sorcerous spells constitute black magic and are thus dangerous to the caster's soul. As these spells tend to be very powerful, the temptation is great. Power corrupts.

In a typical ACKS campaign, sorcerers can exist alongside traditional divine and arcane magic. They represent older, riskier magical traditions lacking the various wards and safety measures of arcane and divine magic. In a more "hardcore" sword & sorcery campaign, they might replace arcane and divine spellcasters altogether.

The sorcerer is human. Thus, sorcerers have 4 build points using the ACKS Player's Companion. The class build is as follows:

Sorcerer 2 - 800xp
Fighting 1b - 500xp - as thief
Hit Dice 1 - 500xp - d6

Total 1,800xp to rise to level 2 - not bad at all. Somewhere between a Cleric and a Fighter.

Sorcerers fight like thieves, may wear leather armor and fight either with a two-handed weapon or with two weapons, but they have a limited selection of weapons - swords/daggers and bows/crossbows. Where advanced technology exists, they may also use various guns and technological swords and daggers.  This means a trade-off - reducing weapon selection from Broad to Narrow for 2 powers at level 1!

Spellcasting resembles the mage and so does saving throw progression. Sorcerers have all magical research capabilities of mages. You can find the sorcerer's spell list here.

I trade the 2 powers at level 1 for 1 power at the 3rd, 5th, and 7th levels. Special power progression is as follows:

Level 3: Contact Dark Powers

Level 5: Summon Infernal Powers (invisible stalker once a month!)

Level 7: After the Flesh (grows in power after undeath!)

Now, the next step is to codify all of this into a proper, coherent class...

Monday, January 15, 2018

Trauma Surgery for Classic Traveller

In Classic Traveller, you die when all your three physical characteristics fall to zero. The following alternative rules, however, allow the mortally wounded character a second chance in life - typically at a terrible price. A good surgeon, following timely first aid and triage, can sometimes save a critically injured traveller from certain death.

Under these rules, a character whose all three physical characteristics fall to zero is not necessarily dead, but only possibly so. There is still some hope - given prompt medical attention.

The key is to bring the mortally wounded character to a hospital within the "Golden Hour" of trauma medicine – that is, within one hour from injury. Even with advanced first aid, critically injured characters whose three physical characteristics were reduced to zero will not survive without trauma care within an hour of injury.

Ordinary medbays common on most starships will not suffice – a dedicated hospital, whether shipboard or planetside, is the only facility capable of such medical operations. If no hospital is reachable within one hour, the only way to preserve the wounded is to place them into a low berth. Note that the survival Medic check upon thawing the frozen character also applies here. Also note that characters killed by vehicle-scale or starship-scale weapons cannot be resuscitated.

Once on the operating table, the surgeon treating the critically injured character throws 2D + their Medic skill, modified by the DMs below, and consults the following table.

Note that a TL15 Autodoc, costing MCr1, can perform trauma surgery. It has an effective skill of Medic-3.

Trauma Surgery Table
5-Patient is dead
6-7Significant internal damage 
8-10Radical measures required
11+Normal recovery

Trauma Surgery DMs:
  • DM-2 if no first aid provided within 10 minutes of the injury.
  • DM-2 at TL7-; DM+2 at TL12+.
  • DM-2 if injured by an explosion.
  • DM-2 if patient has END 5-, DM+2 if patient has END 10+.
Trauma Surgery Results:

Patient is dead: character dies on the operating table. No further resuscitation attempts possible.

Significant internal damage: multiple organs severely damaged. Permanently subtract 1D from each physical characteristic. If any of them reaches zero or less, the character dies.

Radical measures required: Throw 1D:
1-3: internal organ removed. Permanently reduce one physical characteristic by 1D. Character dies if it reaches zero or less.
2-3: leg amputated. Movement halved (given a crutch) and the character may either act or move during a given round. TL8+ cybernetic replacement costs Cr25000 and restores full functioning.
4-5: arm amputated. The character obviously cannot use this arm for any purpose. TL8+ cybernetic replacement costs Cr20000 and restores full functioning.
6: eye removed. DM-2 to all actions requiring one eye, including all attack throws. TL8+ cybernetic eye costs Cr7500 and restores full vision.

Normal recovery: heal as normal for a seriously wounded character.

Looks brutal? Always remember that without these merciful rules, your character would be automatically dead.

Tentative ACKS Sorcerer spell list

In my previous post, I presented the sorcerer - a spellcaster inspired by sword & sorcery literature, who is beyond the dichotomy between arcane and divine magic. Here I will list the sorcerer's initial spell list.

As noted, these are the sorcerer's spell type categories:

Blast - as cleric
Death - as mage
Detection - unavailable
Enchantment - as mage
Healing - as cleric
Illusion - unavailable
Movement - as cleric
Protection - standard as cleric and mage
Summoning - 75% of mage! The sorcerer's big forte.
Transmogrification - as mage
Wall - as cleric


* denotes a reversible spell
Italics denote a spell from the ACKS Player's Companion

Level 1:
Charm Person (Black Magic)
Choking Grip (Grey Magic)
Cure Light Wounds* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Detect Magic (I include this despite being a Detection spell, for flavor reasons)
Protection from Chaos* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Remove Fear* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Resist Cold (White Magic)
Shield (White Magic)
Sleep (Grey Magic)
Summon Berserkers (Black Magic)
Unseen Servant (Black Magic)

Level 2:
Alter Self (White Magic)
Create Water (Grey Magic)
Deathless Minion (Black Magic)
Delay Poison (White Magic)
Hold Person (Grey Magic)
Resist Fire (White Magic)
Snake Charm (White Magic)
Summon Animals (White Magic)
Summon Winged Steed (Black Magic)
Summon Hero (Black Magic)
Wizard Lock (White Magic)

Level 3:
Call Lightning (Grey Magic)
Conjure Oozes (Black Magic)
Create Food (White Magic)
Cure Blindness (White Magic)
Cure Disease* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Dispel Magic (White Magic)
Feign Death (Black Magic)
Infravision (White Magic)
Insect Plague (Grey Magic)
Levitate (Grey Magic)
Protection from Chaos, Sustained* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Protection from Normal Missiles (White Magic)
Remove Curse* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Summon Weather (White Magic)
Water Breathing (White Magic)
Web (White Magic)

Level 4:
Call Dragon (Black Magic)
Charm Monster (Black Magic)
Command Plants (Grey Magic)
Confusion (Grey Magic)
Conjure Elemental (Black Magic)
Control Undead (Black Magic)
Cure Serious Wounds (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Growth of Plants* (Grey Magic)
Magic Jar (Grey Magic? Is this Summoning?)
Massmorph (Grey Magic)
Neutralize Poison* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Polymorph Other (Grey Magic)
Polymorph Self (White Magic)
Sticks to Snakes (Grey Magic)

Level 5:
Adaptation (White Magic)
Animate Dead (Black Magic)
Control Weather (White Magic; I read this as a Summoning spell)
Curse of Swine (Black Magic)
Dimension Door (White Magic)
Dispel Chaos (White Magic)
Feeblemind (Grey Magic)
Flame Strike (Grey Magic)
Hold Monster (Grey Magic)
Invisible Stalker (Black Magic)
Summon Djinni (Black Magic)
Sword of Fire (White Magic)
Transmute Rock to Mud* (Grey Magic)

Level 6:
Anti-Magic Shell (White Magic)
Death Spell (Black Magic)
Disintegrate (Black Magic)
Flesh to Stone* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Haste* (White Magic, the reverse is Grey Magic)
Passwall (White Magic)
Reincarnate (Grey Magic?)
Torpor (Black Magic)
Trollblood (White Magic)
Wall of Fire (Grey Magic)
Wall of Ice (Grey Magic)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Initial notes about an ACKS Sorcerer

Art by Hannah Saunders (c) 2017 Stellagama Publishing
First post of 2018! Happy new year!

Sorcerers. The dread of normal men, who huddle behind their walls in fear of the feared men and women who wield unearthly power. Scourge of the stalwart warrior and barbaric brave, who cower from the sorcerer's eldritch might. Horror of eternity, steeped in the occult in life, terrifying in eternal undeath when they transcend the grave.

Sorcerers are the latter half of "Sword and Sorcery", the first half being the courageous sword-wielding barbarian who dares face such magical power. An archetype of a spellcaster, in many cases a monstrous villain, but sometimes a valuable ally.

The mage given in ACKS Core emulates a sorcerer to a certain degree, but its roots still stay in the old Dungeons & Dragons magic-user. Sorcerers in fiction often have powers similar both to these of mages and those of clerics; they transcend the dichotomy between arcane and divine. Indeed, they study tomes of ancient lore, but often have dealings with all sorts of deities.

This is why I am writing up a sorcerer. It can serve both in a traditional Sword & Sorcery ACKS game, as well as in my Blighted Future post-apocalyptic setting - where "exotic" quantum breached reality and allowed the occult forces of Chaos to pour through.

Right now this class uses rules from Aurach's Axioms Issue 1 - a highly recommended product for ACKS. The final version of the sorcerer will, itself, include all necessary rules (thanks G-d for the Open Game License and the creativity it inspires).

Sorcerers summon. They do not control the domain of psychics, namely detection and illusion spells, but they are particularly potent in calling allies from beyond this world, far beyond the ACKS Core mage. They are not very flashy casters - and far from mastering blast spells - but have a strong grip on matters of life and death.

Using the Axiom rules, I have built Sorcery as a magic type. They are somewhat more potent than clerics, but significantly weaker than mages. This, however, allows them a far lower XP cost, as well as having full sorcerous power at 2 class build points (as per the ACKS Player's Companion). A sorcerer can, thus, wield weapons or have varied non-spell powers as common in sword & sorcery tales. Alternatively, the all-out sorcerer, at sorcerer class level 4 and at the hefty cost of 3,200 XP to reach level 2, is a powerful caster - enjoying a large number of spells per day.

Here are my notes for building the sorcerer's spell list. This refers to levels, not actual spells; for example, "casts blast as a cleric" does not mean that it is limited to divine blast spells as given in ACKS Core, but rather that its spell power level in regard to blast spells follows the cleric. The spell categories are as per the ACKS Player's Companion.

Blast - as cleric
Death - as mage
Detection - unavailable
Enchantment - as mage
Healing - as cleric
Illusion - unavailable
Movement - as cleric
Protection - standard as cleric and mage
Summoning - 75% of mage! The sorcerer's big forte.
Transmogrification - as mage
Wall - as cleric

A "full" sorcerer class category is at 2 build points and 800 XP. For example, a sorcerer with reasonable fighting abilities - Fighting value 1 and Hit Point value 1 (both at 500 XP) will require a mere 1,800 XP to reach level 2 - faster leveling than a fighter. My intention for the base "sorcerer" class is to do just that, though I'd be tempted to use the Thievery 2 class value instead - that version of the sorcerer will be weak in combat, but will level fast and will enjoy a wide variety of non-spell powers.

Sorcerers are studious - they gain their spells from study like mages and receive bonus spells for high Intelligence.

Like mages, sorcerers can perform magical research:

Research spells at level 5
Scribe scrolls at level 5
Brew potions at level 5
Create permanent magic items at level 9
Cast ritual spells at level 11
Create crossbreeds at level 11
Grant unlife at level 11

Sorcerers advance in saving throws slowly - by 2 points every 6 levels.

They may use magic items intended both for clerics and for mages.

A sorcerer's prime requisites are both INT and WIS.

Sorcerers cost an additional sum of 150,000 XP per level after the 8th level.

Sorcerers use the Shades of Magic code of behavior. At sorcerer class value 2, this grants them the ability to rebuke and command undead as a cleric of their level, as appropriate to a dread necromancer! The price, however, is that some spells are designated as Black Magic - especially summoning creatures from thin air and animated the dead; these have a corrupting influence on the sorcerer (sorcerers are good in summoning, but certain summoning spells are black magic - and usually powerful - so the temptation is huge). There are Grey Magic spells, such as transmogrification spells cast at unwilling targets, which may be corrupting if used against Lawful or Neutral sapient creatures, and non-corrupting otherwise. Finally, there are White Magic spells, such as healing spells, which are safe.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Come the ACKS-Pocalypse (Blighted Future): Technology in the Blighted Future

Two weeks ago I wrote here about my new setting idea for ACKS: a far-future post-apocalyptic setting which I now call Blighted Future. This takes place an indeterminate number of centuries into the future, after an apocalyptic war involving nuclear, chemical, biological, nanotechnological, and "exotic" quantum (read: reality-bending) weapons. The world regressed to a medieval society, where the majority of resurgent humanity toil in the fields in meager subsistence farming, ruled by feudal lords. The wilds are vast and dangerous, and ancient technology awaits in long-forgotten bunkers. In other words, this is "usual" ACKS set in an apocalyptic future.

The subject of this post is that of technology. Before the war, humanity was very advanced - capable of producing highly durable goods, energy weapons, wonder drugs, semi-sentient (or sentient in some cases) robots, and reality-warping "exotic" quantum weapons.

All of this went up in radioactive smoke when the bombs fell.

Current blighted future technology ranges from stone age to early Renaissance. The average, and most common, technological level resembles the Dark Ages. Dark ages with shields made from old traffic signs and plate armor made from pre-war boilers, that is. Crop rotation and stirrups, but nothing mechanized beyond the windmill and arbalest level. Bloomeries for smelting scrap metal, but rarely blast furnaces.

In terms of arms and armor, some city-states can manufacture firearms out of scrap, but these never exceed the flintlock level. Even then, unreliable trade means that the various materials necessary to manufacture good gun powder and firearms are expensive and in short supply. Most people use swords, bows, and spears - which are far easier to make from low-grade scrap or local materials. Scrap also allows primitive armor, but high-grade plate mail is rare as it requires better steel and craftmanship, which are uncommon.

Scholars, particularly sorcerers, sometimes learn how to manufacture wondrous technology resembling pre-war achievements. However, these are expensive and complicated beyond imagining. This has two reasons.

The first is that modern technology requires a vast manufacturing infrastructure. A village in early 21st century Afghanistan can manufacture AK-47s. However, this requires parts and materials produced by industrialized countries. Low-grade scrap is common in the blighted future. However, materials and tools good enough to assemble pre-war technology - even a good revolver, not to mention a laser rifle - are exceedingly rare and no living person or organization can produce them. The only exception are sorcerers in their abodes - and even they require high-grade pre-war parts for any complex technological project.

The second is a cargo-cult attitude to science and technology. Science is a way of thinking, and so is engineering. A modern-day scientist or engineer approaches problems in a skeptical and rational manner. Based on scientific knowledge, he knows how to deduce solutions from evidence. Not so in the blighted future. Centuries of primitive subsistence eroded this crowning achievement of modern thought. Instead, people approach problems from a mystical point of view and cannot separate superstition from fact. This includes sorcerers. Thus, they approach problems not from their underlying principles, but from their appearance.

For example, Blattus, a 9th level sorcerer, wants to build an assault rifle. He spends many sacks of gold on excellent scrap parts brought by adventurers from old ruins. He then researches the many texts written by previous post-war sorcerers on this subject - as pre-war blueprints are both impossibly rare and baffling to the sorcerer. Such tomes arose from experimentation. This experience includes a vast amount of superstition. For example, a previous sorcerer built an assault rifle, but during its construction he prayed to a dread idol. The gun worked, so he wrote down that this prayer helped. Add many layers of such flawed "deduction", and the entire production process becomes arcane.

In short, the lack of a technological base and magical thinking (which sometimes works! notice the "exotic" quantum weapons and their effects...) makes advanced technology indistinguishable from magic.

Thus, making technological items follows the magic item creation rules in ACKS.

The other way to acquire advanced technology, of course, is to delve into ancient ruins and bunkers...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Streamlined ship combat rules for Classic Traveller

One problem I always had with the Classic Traveller Book 2 (and Cepheus Engine) space combat system is the number of rolls per combat turn. Think about it - even the small Patrol Cruiser has 3 turrets with 3 lasers each. This means no less than 9 attack throws per round! Now imagine a small battle between a Mercenary Cruiser with a full complement of turrets and two Patrol Cruisers...

My players generally love rolling dice but this means far too many of them, not to mention a huge amount of attack throws by NPCs.

Classic Traveller Book 5: High Guard solves much of this, but serves for large-scale naval battles between multi-kton battleships better than for small-ship scuffles as envisioned by Classic Traveller Book 2.

Therefore, I propose the following streamlined rules. Their main purpose is to make combat a little bit more abstract and thus facilitate games in which the PCs are bridge crew of a medium to large (in small-ship universe, that is) starship. I recommend using the core CT Book 2 rules when refereeing battles between a few lightly armed small ships, such as a Free Trader ambushed by one or two pirate ships.

Turrets and Batteries

Each turret makes one attack, regardless of the number of weapons it carries. All weapons in one turret, with the exception of the lone turret of a 100-ton ship, should be of the same type. Two weapons attack in one roll with DM+2; three, with DM+4. damage is as usual for a single weapon. This reduces the rolls by a factor of 3 right out of the box. (this is inspired by a house rule posted by tbeard199 on CotI).

Ships with 4 or more turrets may have batteries of 4 turrets each. Any remainder of turrets attack individually. Each battery has one weapon type and all turrets should be identical. Attack is with DMs as above for multiple weapons per turret. Make a single attack per battery using the battery commander's Gunnery skill. However, damage "explodes" - for every 2 points (rounded up) the throw exceeds 8, the battery makes an additional hit. For example, Effect 1 makes two hits, and Effect 5 makes 4 hits (this is inspired by the Striker automatic fire rules). A single battery can generate up to 4 hits.

For example, a 1000-ton Light Cruiser has 10 triple laser turrets. It makes 4 attack throws per round: one for each battery, and one for each non-battery turrets. This is instead the 30 throws it would have made under the baseline rules.

Weapons do damage as usual - for example, three hits from a pulse laser battery will mean 8 rolls on the damage table.

Fighter Mass Combat

Fighters operate in flights of up to 3 fighters. Two fighters make one attack throw together at DM+2; three, at DM+4.

Use the flight leader's Piloting skill as a -DM to hit the flight. Furthermore, fighters at 3G to 5G acceleration are at a further DM-1 to hit and at 6G, DM-2. Apply software DMs as usual. Any hit on a flight "mission-kills" one fighter.

After the battle, resolve the actual damage for mission-killed fighters - in many cases, the pilot survives, and/or the fighter is salvageable. Throw 2D, DM +the flight leader's Pilot skill. On a roll of 6-, the fighter is destroyed; 7-9; cockpit hit - throw 6+ to safely eject and avoid death; 10-11, fighter heavily damaged but salvageable; 12+, fighter knocked out but easily repairable.

Four flights are a squadron which attacks like a battery.

For streamlined combat, missiles move either in salvos of 3 missiles each, or in barrages of 12 missiles. Anti-missile fire targets the entire salvo or barrage. For each two points a single laser turret's anti-missile attach throw exceeds 8, remove one missile, up to a number equal to the turret's lasers (e.g. 3 for a triple turret). Batteries destroy one missile per single point the throw exceeds 8.

Any remaining missile hitting the target causes 1D hits as usual.