Monday, August 17, 2015

ACKS Midnight

Matt's back in town and wants to play some ACKS, and I've been reading War of the Flea and want to run something Midnight-like. The conclusion is obvious.

As noted previously, there are two (well, three) problems with Midnight as a setting.
  1. No clear (or even plausible) victory condition.  How do you kill a god, anyway?
  2. Monolithic, zealous evil.
  3. Barter economy is a real pain in the ass.
We can solve 1 and 2 in one shot by changing some setting assumptions.

ACKS' default setting assumption is a crumbling lawful empire, besieged by beastmen without and cthonic cults within.  If we turn that on its head, we get a wavering chaotic empire, harassed by elves at the borders and heretics within.  My target model is basically Wars of the (evil, supernaturally-enhanced) Diadochi.  A Chaotic Alexander the Great, tutored by Wormtongue instead of Aristotle and tainted by the Shadow, thundered forth from the North and conquered the realms of light, then died and willed his empire "To the strongest!"  So the empire is split between a handful of Night Kings who, while nominally united in service of the Shadow, often war among themselves as well.

Yes, the Night Kings are scary (near max-level with permanent blessings of an evil god), and they have lots of orcs.  But not even the Shadow's favorites are safe from death, as Nega-Alexander showed.  And the empire is only a few decades old, at most - the economic and legal impacts are less severe than in standard Midnight (solving the Barter Problem, and potentially making things like travel easier).

One level beneath the conflicts between the Night Kings, you have more competing factions - different doctrines within the Order of Shadow, orc clans, the traitor princes, and potentially a to-be-named set of schools of sorcery and accompanying dark archmages.  These factions compete and ally with each other for control of territory and resources, while within them individuals compete for status and power.  As a doctine, "To the strongest!" does not lend itself to stability.  Some ambitious individuals, and some of the more liberal factions, might be persuaded to cooperate with rebel scum in order to achieve their ends (for a while anyway).

So those are the high-level changes I'm planning to make in order to make Midnight slightly more reasonable.  Zooming in a bit, geographically, I think I'd run in a region like the Dornlands / Highhorns / Icewood.  Lots of forests to hide rebel freeholds in, mountains with dwarven ruins (including possibly a Moria-analogue megadungeon passage beneath the mountains), a ruined Maginot Line-equivalent near the north end of the region, towns along the rivers, and the largest city on the coast in the south, where the a major river meets the inland sea.

I am confronted with a difficulty - open table vs closed.  A game involving political factions, world engines, and building rebel camps (in light of Midnight's situation, I'd like to try something like this approach to domains, instead of ACKS' families-by-the-numbers) is necessarily pretty stateful.  On the other hand, the wilderness exploration component has promise for a Western Marches-type approach.  Might be something that changes over time - notably, the Hill Cantons started as a Western Marches-type game, and gradually evolved into something very different.  I guess at the start it's probably safe to assume a relatively open table and WM-like playstyle, with world engines running in the background ("Well last session the PCs knocked over an outpost of the Blood Howlers orc clan, which will delay the Howlers' attempt to wrest control of Durbinford from the antipaladins of the Order of the Gauntlet.  The Overlord's approval of the Howlers also drops.") and overt player-facing political considerations at a minimum for the time being.

Hmm...  what else.  Houserules TODO list.
  • This is the correct time and place for Divine Elves, who rely on their fey nature for inherent magic.  Nobody liked clerics anyway.
    • Divine elf ranger (fighting 2, hd 1, thief 1, divine elf 1-2)
    • Divine elf sage / druid (arcane 4?, divine elf 2-3 theurgy class)
    • Dwarves, also being fey, can keep craftpriests I guess.  Their spell list might need upgrades for maximum dwarfness.
  • Dworg Berserker (I don't plan to generate a full race for dworg, but something like fighting 3 / HD 3 and a few minor abilities like language and inhumanity are what this is going to end up with)
    • Might be something players 'unlock' based on actions in-world, which is a great excuse to not worry about this for now.
  • Hobbits? Eh, they're a prey species, and not native to this part of the world anyway.
  • Zaharans need a new name, but ruinguard is a totally reasonable class for this setting (from a Haradrim / Easterling group equivalent) and fills the fighter/wizard role that the elves vacated.
    • Might be unlockable.
    • Possibly also need a nightblade equivalent
    • Sorcerer-Priest of Shadow would be nifty for NPCs
  • I have not yet developed a thief and skills replacement with which I am happy.
  • Domain rules redux
    • Consequently, hijinks redux, blocking on thief rebuild
  • Economy rules modifications
    • Capturing weapons, armor, and trade goods should be a good thing; possibly a bonus to XP-for-treasure from these things.
  • Merge saving throws
    • One complaint I've heard from new-edition players is that there are too many save categories and they don't make sense.  I want to try Swords and Wizardry's approach, of one saving throw progression and your class gives you a bonus to certain (descriptive) types of saves.
  • Some ideas from a Heroic Companion draft I read a while back 
    • Critical hits
    • Less-deadly poison
    • Honor?
All that, plus building a sandbox full of dynamic factions ought to be a piece of cake, right?...


  1. "ACKS' default setting assumption is a crumbling lawful empire, besieged by beastmen without and cthonic cults within. If we turn that on its head, we get a wavering chaotic empire, harassed by elves at the borders and heretics within."

    That's extremely inspirational. There's a whole mess of interesting things that can fall out of ACKS' setup as a result of that.

    Presumably domain morale is pretty dismal in general, at least out at the edges where the grip of the iron fist is weak.

    The domains which are Rebellious, Defiant, or Turbulent (pg132) - the ones that define loss of income - what if that income lost is instead funneled into a stronghold type? That'd be an interesting income source to fuel a "hideout" sort of domain that's dedicated to rebellion. Also, the follower source is built into the "1 in X families becomes a bandit" blurb.

    The money could stretch itself out quite a bit if we're working under the assumptions rebels are willing to work for supply only or reduced wages, at that - some level between 'fanatic' and 'regular mercenary'. Capturing supplies/weapons/etc. could apply towards supply costs; I'm sure D@W has a blurb about this somewhere...

    The hex-exploration portion could support a second 'civilized' hex type, in that it's 'civilized' by the chaotic empire, and therefore perhaps generates encounters more like borderlands or wilderness, in either frequency or type, perhaps with associated reduction in assumed population density.

    Probably more; that's off the cuff.

    I averaged saving throws together for each progression and did the single save, I don't feel I've really missed anything. I did not add the S&W-style class bonus, though.

    1. Interesting possibilities, which I hadn't considered! It'd also be interesting to consider the impact of beastman garrisons in human lands - do they raise morale because they scare the people into submission, or do they lower morale because they're hated?

      I think I'm going to try to get more granular for PC domains (such as they are) and less-granular for evil domains this run.

      Ah, cool. Maybe I'll pass on the S&W bonus, then.