Help me with my vision for classes, magic--heroic fantasy

Hello, new to ACKS (not to roleplaying). I’ve got a vision for how I would like things to work in my game world–help me think it through please!

I see Law and Chaos as akin to Holy and Unholy. Merely being a good or bad person doesn’t make you Lawful or Chaotic. Law and Chaos are real, cosmic forces. Only people like paladins and priests, on one hand, and black magicians and undead, on the other, are Lawful or Chaotic. (Bad, selfish people do have fewer scruples about using Unholy power, however.) Unlike the description in the core rules, they do not have to do with being for or against civilization. A person could be very pro-civilization and yet not be Holy; a civilization could be tainted with Unholiness. However, Law is associated with the primary human religion, so that Paladins, etc. are Lawful (probably steal the Friar from FH&W too).

Being pro or contra human civilization does not have cosmic significance, but is important in the game world. Elves and dwarves are not Chaotic, but they are indifferent to the expansion of human civilization and support or oppose it depending on how it suits their interests. Elves and dwarves have less to do with Holiness and Unholiness in general; they make more use of nature, runic, and grey magic than white, and are more likely to just avoid a sinkhole of chaos than go on a crusade against it.

Parts of Heroic Fantasy work for this vision. But ceremonial magic seems to add much complexity for little in-play benefit. Ceremonial casters will perform ceremonies every morning, roll for success, and create trinkets which then act like spell-casting; extra work and book-keeping to get to the same place. Basically a more complicated version of memorizing spells. Sorry but this is how I see it playing out. It is cool and well-designed, but too complex for a simple game. Spellsinging is also too complex for me.

I want to incorporate corruption but I think the corruption rules, particularly corruption for using grey magic selfishly, are too harsh. Again, the universe doesn’t care if you act bad, it only cares if you use Unholy power.

So I want to use eldritch magic for the heroic feel, but use spellcasters instead of ceremonial casting. I see magic broken up into: White, Grey, Black, Nature, and Runic. I very much like the idea that magic is not given by the gods, so that one could steal the magical secrets (spells) of a temple and use them, or so that a bishop trained in White magic could secretly learn and use Black spells without losing his ability to cast White spells. However, if there’s no distinction between divine and arcane magic that could through off game balance: cleric types, who can cast spells in armor, get stronger. Can anyone heal if s/he learns the spell? etc.

I am thinking that White, Grey, Nature, and Runic are different enough that a character must choose one to start with (or be assigned it via class choice). To learn spells from a different school is difficult somehow–needs a proficiency or something? Not sure. But Black magic spells are available to anyone. That way Black magic always represents a temptation. White wizard, but lacking a good blast spell? Here’s this nice Black spell, only costs a little corruption, you’ll be fine!

For classes, I see humans with the biggest variety, including wizards and classic Holy cleric and paladin types as well as Mystics. Elves get wizards, druid types, rangers, and fighter-magic user and magic user/thief types. Dwarves may only get Runic casters, i.e. something like a Craftpriest casting from a separate list of Runic spells. Halflings may not get a mage at all, and I don’t like gnomes or variant humans like Nobirans or Zaharans (althought the Zaharan history and magical tradition is fine).

Can this mishmash work? Suggestions, resources, problems?


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Welcome, @Tom !

From my viewpoint as a relatively experienced Judge:

  • Ceremonial: It actually ends up playing interestingly. Casters need to spend quite a bit of time making trinkets and such, so it doesn’t end up with them just doing it in the morning. It very, very much encourages a different sort of play on the part of the caster though. The whole ceremonial process needs to be gone through with players step by step.
  • Corruption: I think what you could do (if you wanted to keep the classes but not the current corruption mechanic) is change all Grey spells to White but assign different traditions to them (along the lines of how it’s done for Ceremonial). So you could have Slumber as a Sylvan spell or as a Chthonic spell. I think that would make it worth the extra proficiencies. Otherwise removing Grey magic from Shaded (so only White and Black) would make Shading worth two proficiencies.
  • Shaded Magic Types: There are variants of shaded magic types in
    Aryxymaraki’s Almanac of Unusual Magic
    (Aryxymaraki's Almanac of Unusual Magic - Autarch | The alchemist and the engineer both use “Shaded Magic” with different qualifiers on what counts as Black, Grey and White magic.

So basically you have two options if you want to maintain the class list:

  • Option A - Reject Grey, Embrace Traditions: Remove Grey magic (turning all Grey spells to White) and make spells assigned to Traditions (randomly rolled). Players then have to either spend time and money changing the spells or buy new Traditions using their proficiencies.
  • Option B - Treat Each Class as a Separate Magic Type (ala Almanac): Use the Almanac as a guide to rebuild the Shaded system to suit what you want.

I hope that helps.

Hi Tom! The only “issue” I see - and it’s only an issue if you want it to be – is as follows.

If you are familiar with the Players Companion, you’ll have seen the custom spell building system in those rules. You’ll have noted the “source modifier” for various spell types, like Blast x1 for Arcane but x2.5 for Divine, and so on.

In ACKS, all of the spellcasting types are built using a system that balances the source modifiers for various spell types. That in turn feeds into the class category values that are used to build the character classes. So for instance, Arcane Magic is more powerful than Divine Magic, so it costs Class Category 4 and 2,500 XP to get full casting of Arcane. Conversely you can get full progression and casting of Divine Magic at Category 2 and 500 XP.

So because Divine is less powerful than Arcane, a Divine caster like a Cleric can also wear armor and fight while leveling up faster.

Now, Eldritch is built to cost the same as Arcane. So, if – all other things being equal – you just took Clerics and gave them Eldritch spells, they’d be much more powerful. They’d be like Cleric +. Meanwhile, because Eldritch is shaded, if you just give Mages Eldritch, they’ll be like Mages -.

The difference in power between Eldritch spellcasting and Eldritch ceremonial magic is equivalent to the difference in power between Arcane spellcasting and Divine spellcasting, which is why I recommend that when using Eldritch, you give Divine casters only Eldritch ceremonial magic.

Whether this will be a big deal to you really depends on your campaign. You could just not worry about it. You could increase the power of the former Arcane casters with extra class powers to keep them on par with the uber-Clerics (but then non-casters are weaker). You could convert Divine 4 classes into Eldritch 4 classes (Witch, Priestess) and get rid of the Divine 2 classes (Cleric, Shaman). Etc.

Thanks for your answers! Lots to think about.

Coming back to this project. My vision has changed a bit. I’ve read more of the ACKS materials and I think I could get close to what I want using the core rules but I would still like to make a few house modifications.

I now plan on a world more like the Hyborian Age/Conan, without elves, dwarves, etc. So I don’t need magic for elves and dwarves, i.e. sylvan/runic. I would depart from Conan a bit by retaining holy clerics and paladins. I want the eldritch magic feel but without the complexity of ceremonial magic or spellsinging. And I don’t care for evil clerics–I see evil/chaotic priests more like cult leaders or warlocks than inverted armored crusaders.

I’m comfortable coming up with spell lists (using the Eldritch spells) for the categories I need: arcane magic, black magic, holy magic, and other priestly/shamanic magic. (I will trim the divine lists down so that they don’t overpower the wizards). Most classes I can use as is. But I could use suggestions for converting arcane casters to Eldritch magic, without ceremonial magic. HF advises replacing mage with loremaster and warlock with occultist. Occultist seems to get some strong abilities (control undead, contact dark powers), and loremasters don’t have something to match. Is the idea that occultists have to deal with corruption, and that balances it? Corruption is cool but seems like a death sentence and I will want to use a milder version of it if at all. Perhaps occultists can be balanced by having the black-magic spell list just be smaller.

Anyway thanks for putting up with my theorycrafting. I realize that there’s a detailed system for designing classes and costing it all out, but I’m looking for something quicker and dirtier–I don’t need perfect balance. Just thoughts on getting that eldritch feel for my holy clerics, shamen, priests of strange gods, wizards, and dark occultists without throwing things all out of whack.

Never mind. I think the solution is to drop the eldritch magic entirely, drop HF, and run game with the rules from the basic and player’s companion books. There may be a small loss in eldritch flavor but the gains in ease of play should be great. I can get plenty of dark-magic flavor by coming up with a divine-magic spell list for Chthonic clerics and priests, and maybe dropping a few black-magic spells from the eldritch list in as special lore found during play.

Neat game, looking forward to running it and learning more of its ins and outs as I go.