Gearing up to try ACKS again, have misc. questions

So, my previous ACKS campaign died (largely due to uncontrollable circumstances; with the coming of the school year, the group scattered to the four corners of the globe, and our foray into running an online game failed miserably)despite enjoying considerable popularity during its run, and so now as summer comes around again I’m ready to go back to GMing.

So I thought I’d seek the community’s wisdom on a few topics that eluded me last time.

First off, I was hoping to get a better sense of the distribution of cities and rulers. How many Class I’s should a nation have? Is there an easy rule of thumb, like that there should be X cities of this size for every Y number of hexes in the kingdom, and that for every Q cities of that size, there should be N cities of a smaller size, and so on down the chain?

My first attempt at worldbuilding the scale ended up being a bit off, so when I’d drawn the hexes we ultimately had an empire the size of a kingdom, and a handful of kingdoms that were much, much too small, and I’d like to avoid that this time.

Second topic: Random encounters. I came across two issues with these:

First, our group defaulted to rolling for every hex travelled through that didn’t contain a city. (There’s an option for Civilized lands, which I took as tacit reassurance that you were indeed meant to roll even in Civilized Lands. Thus, an encounter on a 6+ means that 1/6th of all Civilized hexes contain a random encounter, and 1/8th of those encounters will be Dragons. That’s 1/48. That means that if the group travels four hexes a day (quite possible with roads) they’ll probably see at least one huge monster over the course of a two-week journey. For a low level party trying to play it safe, this seems really brutal. My group only made it to level 3-4 (2 for the wizard) and they had already hit a gorgon, a basilisk lair, and a green dragon. (Of course, they successfully ran away from the first two, and talked the dragon into a riddle game for their lives (The wizard’s familiar spoke Draconic)so these ultimately did add to the story, but there was a vibe of “WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING” amongst the party. Particularly after wandering into a nest of snakes.

Second, I wasn’t sure exactly what a random encounter constituted. Say I roll the dice and this determines that there’s a bear 400 yards away. I’m assuming it’s 400 yards ahead of the party, because if it’s behind them they can safely walk away. Does the bear make a throw to notice them? Do they make a throw to notice it? What happens if one of the party members is scouting ahead; is the bear 400 yards from him or from the party? Should a reaction roll be made to determine whether the bear is hungry or not, or is that only made if the PCs attempt to perform bear diplomacy?

Third Topic: Mortal Wounds, Death:

Sometimes the Mortal Wounds table gave results that made no sense. The party’s very first death was the wizard’s level 0 butler. He was bitten by a venomous snake, and since he only had 1 hp that kicked him into the negatives (and since he only had one hp, that kicked into the largest possible penalty.) One low Mortal Wound later, and all that was left of him was a red stain and bits of bone. The players laughed it off (except the wizard’s player, who was heartbroken) as the snake having exploded him, but it did seem vexing. I’m assuming most of you would’ve used common sense to overrule the chart, but I thought I’d mention it.

I also had a player die and be resurrected with the “Came Back Wrong” result, so he had a bear arm, which gives a -4 to reaction rolls. He wanted to know why he couldn’t just wear long sleeves, and furthermore, why having a bear arm was all that detrimental to his social skills. Surely “The Bear Lord” was an imposing title that people would respect, rather than be likely to attack?

Another player wanted to know why, if Raise Dead is so cheap, lords ever die of anything but old age. High level clerics not raising people left and right could be explained religiously, but there’s no philosophical reason why a high-level wizard might not fund himself with a “Life Ensurance” business, where he keeps bits of clients and casts resurrection on them if the client ever dies. Repeated deaths would accumulate resurrection errors, but most people die quite infrequently; you wouldn’t have to worry if you only got assassinated once or twice throughout your life.

Finally, is there an ETA for Domains at War? It’d be awful nice to be able to design the game world with that sort of thing in mind. I realize that the beauty of ACKS and D@W is that the rules should conform to reality well enough that a fort that would be imposing logically will also be imposing by the rules, but still. I haven’t been able to find any information on how its been progressing. (Also, is there any way I can preorder it?)

PS: ACKS is a lot of fun, and this thread isn’t meant to be complaining so much as wanting to smooth out a handful of wrinkles in a game that everyone was enjoying, and which I feel brought out better roleplaying that any RPG my group has played yet.

I haven’t got any advice on worldbuilding really, except what’s on the tables on pages 229-33. As for wilderness encounters, though, “When the characters in the wilderness, the Judge should make an encounter throw once per day if they are stationary or in settled terrain. Otherwise, the Judge should make an encounter throw each time the adventurers enter a new 6-mile hex” means that regardless of distance traveller in settled / civilized land, they should only be taking one roll per day, which means most two-week journeys will only come up with 2 encounters, or about a quarter of a dragon on average. Looking at the domain rules on page 125, “civilized” is defined as within 50 miles of a large town or city, so it’s a much larger area than “the hex containing the city”.

My understanding was the wilderness encounters followed the same procedure for dungeon encounters (distance, surprise, reaction, interaction), just with much longer encounter distances. I like to make an initial reaction roll for initial disposition, then another if the PCs attempt diploacy.

Sure, bear arms are great for intimidating, but less good for say hiring henchmen or wooing princesses. I think in the past I’ve treated negative modifiers from injuries as positive provided the so injured character has Intimidation and is attempting to intimidate the target. As for concealment, the arm’s structure might be weird even under cloth, as will the hand. Nobody trusts a man who hides his hands.

The trick is making an assassination stick, via either cremation or beheading. One could also either hide or mutilate the body sufficiently to generate extra penalties on the Tampering with Mortality table as to make successful return unlikely. Resurrectors might also have perverse incentives; if you’re a high-powered wizard and the local lord dies and leaves the realm to his child heir, you could restore the status quo via Reincarnate if you know it… or you could use the vacuum to become the power behind the throne yourself. Death up the chain is an opportunity to advance one’s station within the realm. Likewise, if the target has powerful enemies, a generally trustworthy Insurator might be coopted via magic, bribery, or other leverage, and persuaded to break his agreement with the deceased party, particularly if there’s not outside enforcer of that agreement. The dead bargain from a position of weakness. Finally, even if resurrection is common among the nobility, succession law might pass titles on to one’s heirs on one’s first death, or otherwise bar the resurrected from holding titles (as is done in some fiction; I think Girl Genius?), in which case resurrected lords are liable to run out of cash for subsequent returns from the grave.

As of February 8th, a backer update to DaW read as follows: “The layout of D@W: Campaigns is final. The layout of D@W: Battles is almost final, pending three minor edits… Finishing the remaining edits to the layout for D@W: Battles is straightforward, and both books should be ready to go to the printer very soon.” So… any day now, I’d expect.

It hardly needs saying, by IANAA. Nevertheless, here’s my thoughts.

Re: Worldbuilding: I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that the guidelines are just guidelines. There are plenty of historical examples that don’t fit them, so do what you want! That being said, for my own world, on the continent level map there are only two Class I markets. The largest town in the current campaign is a Class IV. That’s somewhat intentional, since the principality they’re in is suppose to be a bit of a backwater.

Second topic: Random encounters.
I use the reaction roll mechanism extensively here. For example, a few sessions ago, my group came across a skittering maw. Since the encounter distance was pretty far, I used the reaction roll to indicate to me the extent to which the maw was interested in the party at all (high = very curious, low = doesn’t care). In general, the more deadly or boring an encounter would be for the party, the more likely I’m going to try and make it possible for the party to avoid it.

As far as overly deadly encounters in civilized lands, I haven’t run into the problems you’ve had. But making up your own encounter table is a time-tested solution. I had one (that I’ve never used) that doubled the rate of encounters in civilized lands, but made them more likely to be civilized encounters.

Third Topic: Mortal Wounds, Death:

I feel like the more important result from the mortal wounds table is the practical effect. That being said, poison can do funny things!

I’ve been concerned with the once per day rate for “settled” terrain, which I feel is a deviation from the original idea that random encounters are a unique feature of the wilderness – as a very deadly place that needs to be slowly claimed to carve out space for a future domain. My impression is that in B/X and OD&D, the encounter procedure was “once or twice per day in wilderness lands, and no encounters in civilized lands at all”. I’d always let players travel between cities along roads in a civilized land with no fear of random encounters (unless some kind of invasion event was occurring). I also feel like making a roll for each new hex (instead of once per day) is something that seriously penalizes rapidly mounted (or flying!) adventurers in a way that feels unwarranted by forcing them to deal with lots of encounters in a single day (or else rest to regain spells at the cost of losing all their movement advantages). Zipping quickly through a hex shouldn’t give the same chance of encounter as lingering there all day.

I could see allowing a smaller chance of a random encounter in borderland areas to emphasize their possible dangers. The rules for populating player dungeons, for example, say that monsters arrive once per day in the wilderness, but once per week in borderlands. That would suggest about a 1-in-36 chance of an encounter (1-in-6, over the 6 non-resting days), which could be easily simulated by rolling 2d6 once per day and having an encounter only on a 2, if you wanted to move on a daily scale instead of a weekly scale.

That rule also suggests a once-per-month encounter in civilized lands, which would amount to a 1-in-6 chance every 30 days. That maps pretty well onto a 3-in-3d6 (1 in 216, vs 1-in-180) outcome. At that point the dice are almost a formality, but they might add a little tension and emphasize the possible dangers of very long land trips.

Oh! I completely missed those last three words. That does rather solve the issue, thank you. That changes it from seeing something scary every two weeks to seeing something scary every month and a half of travel, which I feel like is an acceptable rate. There’s gotta be SOME weird stuff wandering around.

This has been answered by alex elsewhere, but the random encounter section is missing one very important part that is actually detailed, of all places, in the section about wizards building their own dungeons to attract monsters. On page 141 of the core rulebook, under “Population A dungeon”, it details that a random encounter should only be rolled once per day in settled wilderness hexes, once per week in borderlands hexes, and once per month in civilized hexes. Meanwhile, page 125 of the core rulebook defines Civilized, Borderlands, and Wilderness. Any hex within 50 miles (8 6-mile hexes) of a city or large town is civilized. Any hex within 25 miles (4 6-mile hexes) of a civilized area is borderlands. Anything settled but not meeting either of those two criteria is considered wilderness.

So that should help you make some rolls substantially less frequently. In addition, as I found while doing random encounters across the ocean, it’s useful, if encounters are happening to often, to start with a completely unmodified reaction roll and then only assume that rolls in the 2- or 3-5 range involve the monster being interested in the party. This, of course, cuts down on opportunities for friendly interaction, so it’s best only to do it in situations where the party is clearly trying to move quickly through an area.

As to Restore Life and Limb…check the modifiers. A mangled body provides very large penalties to resurrection. And a body needs it’s head.

Also there are time limits.

You cannot cast RLaL on just a part of the body…that requires the 7th level ritual of resurrection which is anything but cheap (Hiring an 11th level cleric to perform that spell costs 64750gp…and might fail blowing all that money).

So really it isn’t as world breaking as it seems. Cutting off the head or hiding the body or feeding it to some ogres…your succession problems are a thing of the past!

Yeah, I think speak with dead (Divine 3) is a more broadly world-altering spell: murder victims can testify on the circumstances of their death, which probably means killers will take great pains to conceal their identities, or to damage or dispose of the bodies: removing the jawbone and tongue should suffice, or you can just get rid of the whole head.

Oh, also: 1 in 8,000 people are 7th level. Totalling levels 7-14, there’s 1 person of 7th level of higher for every 5,000 people. A plurality of those are probably going to be fighters (and similar classes, like barbarians and explorers), maybe even a majority. Generously, we might suppose 1 cleric of 7th level or higher for every 20,000 people. I think the Spell Availability by Market table is a bit generous.

Damn! I knew there was something I was missing in my explanation, but couldn’t find it for the life of me.

The spell availability table has always given me a bit of trouble with the demographics, too. On the flip side, as far as class distribution of high-levelled characters goes, would one expect to see more high-level characters of classes with lower XP costs to level, relative to the base frequency of those classes as established in the Rival Adventurers section? In which case clerics and thieves of a given level would be more common than the straight demographics might indicate.

Many (if not most) courts might also not accept speak with dead as testimony/evidence, because it’s relatively easy to fake it.

There’s not a whole lot of difference between a successfully cast speak with dead spell and a successfully cast phantasmal force + magic mouth, from the point of view of a nonspellcaster.

Thinking out loud:

So, on the subject of worldbuilding, I’ve just now discovered the chart that has exactly what I wanted. Every realm includes 4-6 of the next smallest type (A Duchy has 4-6 Counties, a County has 4-6 Marches, etc)!

So every lord has 4-6 vassals who serve him, (Unless they’re at the bottom), 1-5 peers who’re vassals of the same lord, and one master to whom they owe vassalage.

Now then, roughly 1/3rd of the starting map should be wilderness and 1/3rd should be settled, which means that 2/3rds of it will be at least semi-populated. Thus, that’s about 800 hexes of civilization; a large principality (or two small ones.)

Thus, in theory, the important NPCs of the starting region are:

  1. The Prince of the region as a whole.
  2. His vassals; the six dukes/duchesses.
  3. Their vassals; the 36 counts
  4. Their vassals, the 180 Marquis
  5. Their vassals, the 577 Barons.

It seems to me, then, that the smartest way to go about this would be to just maintain a Rule of Six. Think of names and personalities (or at least one fact so they’re not totally generic) for six dukes, six counts, six marquis, six barons. Then I can just assign personalities to the realms as needed. (Even if there’s 36 counties in the starting region, it’s unlikely the PCs will meet 36 counts.) Maybe more barons, since any given civilized square has a 70% chance of being a Baron’s personal domain. That way when the party stops for a night at a village I can tell them “You’re in the land of Baron Rochabarth “The Oculant,” who has a glass eye after a jousting accident.”

Probably I should also think of at least additional two princes, so that the local prince can have neighbors.

Hmm. I’m pretty sure most organizations end up being pyramids; I wonder if I can adapt a corporate orgchart for use keeping track of nobles?

Also, just to make sure I’m totally clear on this: Settlements are generated in more or less the same fashion as Lords; you start at the top and then check the chart to see what the appropriate-sized settlement is, then repeat the process for each vassal realm (IE: Duke Pffarrgh owns a Duchy with forty thousand families. That means his Duchy will include a Large Town. His Duchy also, of course, contains four counties. Each county has ~8000 families, so Duke Pffarrgh’s realm will contain four villages too.)

How does one keep track of, let alone generate, that many domain modifiers for each settlement? I seem to recall seeing an automatic roller for generating them initially, but then you’re supposed to modify each “Vassal” community based on the larger ones, which seems like it’d have to be done manually. Forty some times for a principality; I shudder to imagine maintaining the economics of a Kingdom.

Once done though, I suppose one could easily identify cities with high/low domain modifiers for something, and then connect them via labelled trade routes. “Ah yes,” the old man says “This here’s the Sword Road. Lots of caravans carrying arms from the dwarf-smiths down in Pffarrghberg up to the capital of Pffarghopolis.”


That reminds me; how do demi-humans fit into all this?

The trade routes tend to sort themselves out in such a way that, other than the two or three largest cities in a principality or kingdom, they all have bascially the same trade modifiers. Helps a bit with the complexity you’re envisioning.

I have such a trade-modifier-generator tool! It actually does do dependency resolution, where it calculates the modifiers for larger cities first, then applies the resulting modifiers to the smaller cities as it generates them. It’s in this repo:

Yeah, basically you ignore all Class VIs to start with, and really only need to worry about the largest markets. It’s just not worth it to go over the Vs, maybe even the IVs.

I just use spreadsheets, personally: paste a column of RANDBETWEEN(1;3)-RANDBETWEEN(1;3) to get the base numbers, then adjust it appropriately (by table or by what I want/need)…

If you do need the modifiers for a small market, you can just eyeball them, write down the ones you used, and generate the rest after the session.

Thanks so much for re-posting this. This is definitely THE worst-written, most obscure rule in all of ACKS.

You’ve got it!

As far as demand modifiers for domains, it’s unrealistic to do so without using some sort of automated system. If you have one (such as the one linked below, great! If not, at least you have guidelines to eyeball it.

Here are the super-exact population breakdowns for ACKS from my behind-the-scenes workbook.

In a population of around 29,394,766 people (~ 6 million families), there will be around ~ 12,000,000 adults (2 adults with 3 dependents).

Level Number Number of Clerics
0th 9,157,194 732,576*
1st 1,655,000 331,000
2nd 601,818 120,364
3rd 218,843 43,769
4th 79,579 15,916
5th 28,938 7,234
6th 10,523 2,631
7th 3,827 957
8th 1,391 348
9th 506 126
10th 184 46
11th 67 17
12th 24 6
13th 9 2
14th 3 1

*0th level Clerics would be lay priests, deacons, local pastors, and so on.

So in a population of 30,000,000, there will be 1,500 7th level or higher Clerics.

Assume an average life expectancy of 60 years, and you will have an annual death rate of 500,000 per year. There will be 333 deaths per cleric, or roughly 1 death per day per cleric. It is therefore feasible that all non-age-related death could be prevented by clerical magic in ACKS.

I agonized over this fact for a LONG time. One solution would have been to switch the cleric spell progression such that 5th level spells become available at 9th level. That reduces the number of clerics able to cast Restore Life and Limb down to 200, meaning that there are 6.8 deaths per cleric per day, so only the top 15% would have “clerical life insurance”.

However, I ultimately didn’t go that route. I still internally weigh whether distance, injury penalties, and aging are sufficient. By which I mean…

Distance: A kingdom of 30,000,000, assuming a population density similar to that of ancient Rome, occupies 600,000 square miles. That means there is 1 cleric of 7th level or higher per 400 square miles, or 20 miles. So that means it’s going to be at least 1 day of travel, and likely 2 (with all factors included), to get the cleric.

Aging and Injury: Middle-aged adults will have an average -1 CON penalty, old -2, and ancient -3. Assuming 50% of life is 1-35 and the remainder is at the older ages, you’re at an average -1 penalty. Most 0 level characters will have 3hp. Aging penalties and low hp penalties will lead to bad penalties on the Mortal Wounds table, and likely put them in the -1 half of the table. They are likely to end up with penalties on Tampering with Mortality of -2 to -5.

So most people will go into Tampering With Morality table with rolls of -4 to -9. They will get +4 from the spellcaster’s level, putting them at 0 to -5. The odds of coming back hideously deformed, mad, or cursed are quite high. But if you’ve got a good Wisdom, have a Cleric handy, and didn’t get too mauled, then, yes, you’re likely to come back relatively safe.

I sometimes think it would be useful to have some dials for these factors, like a “Survivability Dial” and “Restorability Dial”. The Survivability dial (-5 to +5) applies to all rolls on the Mortal Wounds chart while the Restorability dial applies to rolls on the Tampering With Mortality chart.

Then you could have:
Fantasy Vietnam: -5 Survivability, -5 Restorability
Swords & Sorcery: +5 Survivability, -5 Restorability
Classic Fantasy: +0 Survivability, -0 Restorability
Story of ACKS 4E FATE Edition: +5 Survivability, +5 Restorability