Although I’ve owned the books for a couple of years now, I’ve only finally begun running my first full-scale ACKS campaign in the past month. In running a primarily wilderness-based game thus far, a couple of my players and I have developed some concerns that the Riding proficiency as written is deeply problematic.
First, some context: in many years of playing/running D&D 3.x, one of the features of that ruleset I came to despise is the skill or feat “tax”. This is a skill or feat in which you don’t really want to invest your limited character build resources, but for which the rules of the game force your hand (whether in plain text or by implication). A perfect example of the implied version of this tax are the Listen and Spot skills. By mid to high level, no character has any chance to notice anything with a level-appropriate level of stealth or concealment unless they’ve heavily invested in those two skills. If Listen and Spot are cross-class, that represents a heavy investment of the character’s skill points just to remain relevant in any situation in which awareness is of any importance at all. On the feat end, any warrior oriented feat tree that isn’t Power Attack has similar problems; multiple feats must be purchased over the life of the character just to keep up with what a decently strong guy with Power Attack and a greatsword can achieve with only that one feat.
One of the great things about ACKS is that it’s managed to avoid this problem to a large degree, all the while substantially expanding the character building options from the game’s B/X roots.
I think the secret of ACKS’ success in this regard is the fact that no proficiencies (well, Adventuring, but everyone gets that) are required for a character to do anything that his B/X counterpart could do already. In each case, a character with no proficiencies at all can perform every action that an equivalent B/X character can perform by the rules as written. Proficiencies are icing on the cake, either allowing actions that have no clear rules to govern them in B/X, or else substantially improving a character’s chance of success on those actions for which B/X does have rules.
Except for Riding.
The Riding proficiency stands alone in that it takes something away from every B/X character coming into the system, then makes them spend one of their very limited proficiency slots in order to get it back. In our gaming group, only one of our three martial characters (and none of the non-martial ones) was willing to pay that tax, because the others each had another general proficiency that was more intrinsic to their character concept at 1st level. It should probably also be noted that the character who did take Riding is the only martial character who rolled a high enough Intelligence to gain an extra general proficiency at first level, so it didn’t cost him as much to spend it on Riding. Without a high Intelligence, every other character is stuck: one general proficiency is all they’re going to get until 5th level, which is an eternity.
The rules have punished them for that (reasonable) choice in every outdoor combat encounter we’ve had since. The entire group travels mounted, but only one character can so much as swing a sword from the back of a horse. Everybody else has to spend a turn dismounting before they can do anything other than retreat, which has the effect of granting the enemy an effective surprise round in every encounter.
To add insult to injury, a 0-level character can be trained as cavalry without needing any additional proficiencies. After all, an adult 0-level character is assumed to already have all their proficiencies in place when their military training begins, and 50% of them will be ready to fight as light cavalry (having gained a phantom Riding proficiency) after 3 months of drilling. No other proficiency or its equivalent can be passed along in this way, which highlights the fact that the Riding proficiency as it currently stands is dysfunctional.
What happens when a 0-level mercenary with cavalry training gains enough experience to reach 1st level?
Is he forced to take Riding as a proficiency (losing something he already had) or does he forget his cavalry training?
Alternately, is the game assumption that only those 0-level conscripts who already possess the Riding proficiency are suitable for cavalry training? If that’s the case, then why does it take so much longer to train them than it does equivalent infantry, and what are we to conclude from the apparent prevalence of expert horsemanship among the peasantry when it’s such a precious commodity in professional adventurers.
Am I alone in this, or has someone else had similar problems with the way this proficiency is put together? What solutions have other folks adopted to bridge this gap, both mechanically and from the standpoint of our assumptions about the larger game world? I’ve got some house rules of my own that I’m looking to institute, but I’d like to benefit from the collective wisdom of the community and Autarchs before I make any final rulings on such a pivotal issue.