Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #3 - ACKS
I have a special place in my gaming heart for early editions of D&D. I'm not quite enough of a grognard to have played the original D&D when it came out - my gaming career began in the early 1980s. I played a lot of the Basic and Expert D&D incarnation as well as a ton of Advanced D&D. But they didn't quite make it this high in the list.
One of the things I loved about the Companion rules of D&D was the way it brought about domain play. Early in this list I had Pendragon as a game I really like but didn't get a lot of time playing. I really like the idea of PCs ruling domains. It's a reason I greatly enjoy George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. But there were a few frustrations I had with D&D. I liked the idea of demi-humans having their race as their class - it added a certain amount of character - but I also found it a bit limiting. When I played, I liked being a magic-user but I was frustrated by the limits of low-level magic-users. I liked the additional details in AD&D but missed the domain play rules. And sometimes those details got to be a bit too much. And yes, like everyone else, we swapped things between the games.
Along comes Adventurer Conqueror King - ACKS, which for me, emphasizes the things I love about those early versions of D&D and AD&D. It's definitely more of a D&D game than AD&D. It really emphasizes domain play. The designers put more thought into a fantasy economy than anyone I could imagine. They kept race as class... but made multiple classes for each race. This keeps the non-human races distinctive from humanity but still gives a lot of choice. The game (in its Players' Companion) also has rules for making your own classes - and wonder of wonders, all of the classes in the game follow those rules. Magic-users are fine-tuned to give them a pool of spells they can cast from daily, giving more versatility. It adds a proficiency system to add additional details to your character - a bit of a cross between skills and feats from later editions. Non-magical healing, dabbling in magic, blind fighting, navigation, etc. The new Heroic Fantasy Handbook even acknowledges some of the issues thieves have, being so poor at their core abilities, and fine-tunes that a bit.
Basically, ACKS takes all the things I like about old D&D, keeps them, and fine-tunes them - smoothing over the frustrations I've had. The line of products for ACKS isn't huge but they are all first rate. I especially appreciate the Lairs & Encounters book - an excellent resource for sandbox play. The new Heroic Fantasy Handbook and Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu show how the game can be adaptable to other genres. Heroic Fantasy is good for a lot of literary fantasy, from Lankhmar to Middle Earth. Barbarian Conquerors is excellent for Conan, Elric, Barsoom, and Buck Rogers.
I've not played ACKS in a while - I do find it requires a bit of prep time and my group is a bit on the small side - I also find older D&D-type games tend to work a bit better with larger groups. It is time I'd like to be able to spend. Hopefully when I complete my master's degree later this year some time will open up - as readers of my blog have seen, my free time over the past several months has dramatically decreased. In any case, ACKS is a game I find gets so many things "right" for the way I see D&D which is the reason I have it ranked so highly.