Real-World Experience is the Rebar in Flexible Concrete

The coverage in the Raleigh N&O mentioned in a previous post attracted the attention of Daniel from Wake Forest, who sent a message through Kickstarter:

I know a lot of gamers around here who don't know of this system (and Raleigh is so close to Durham too!), I'd love to try and set something up to get people excited. If you want to know why I'm excited, it's because my last, best character, had his castle destroyed 3 times (goblins, earthquake, goblins again) because the DM didn't have the tools to allow me to be a Lord.

My only question is about flexibility. I’m a, the rule is whatever the rule needs to be to comply with the story I’m telling kind of guy, so if a cleric wanted to run a thieves’ guild because he followed a God of Anti-Property Rights, I’d be all for it. I get the feeling that your system allows for it, although a thief would run a better thieves’ guild, which makes a lot of sense.

I think Daniel raises an important issue, so I got his permission to repost his question here, and also my answer:

As the Judge of a sandbox campaign I agree that system flexibility is essential, but I find this works best when:

a) the system has lots of concrete guidelines so that it’s clear whether I am coloring outside the lines, and what shape the overall picture would be if I followed those lines

b) the rules components are modular, so that changes in this sub-system won’t have undesired consequences over there

We’ve designed ACKS with these principles in mind; I think a) would give your DM the comfort zone needed to run castle management (in part by giving you the player-facing tools to handle lots of the details), and b) would handle your god of thieves example.

For example I might say that the cleric counts as a thief of three levels lower for the purpose of working within the thieves’ guild subsystem. Then I might bring in the proficiencies subsystem to say that each time the cleric takes an “anti-property rights community organizer” proficiency, he counts as a thief of one level higher. Then I might integrate the congregations subsystem and rule that the gold piece value of the divine power generated by this clerics’ worshippers can be applied to building the thieves’ guild hideout, in addition to doing the usual things that divine power is good for like enchanting magic items or performing ritual spells.

Over at The Mule Abides, I posted recently about how the original D&D, which is the ruleset I used when starting my White Sandbox campaign, is a " a framework of very concrete bits with big lacuna everywhere else, including just about everywhere modern games assume rules are needed". I noted there that being part of Adventurer Conqueror King is an extension of my process of filling in those gaps with rulings that have accumulated during three years of play.

However, I don’t think that our having provided answers for some of the things the earliest RPGs left undefined has reduced ACKS’s flexibility. Part of the reason why is that we’ve filled things in according to common sense; “did things happen like this historically?” is an important question for us because it helps make sure we’re following real-world principles. When we have concrete sub-systems, they’re relatively small patches where mechanics are provided for one part of characters’ interaction with the world that we think will benefit from some definition.

The fact that both these patches and the less-rulebound areas have a thread of common sense running through them keeps the system flexible. We avoid the temptation to reach for a unified mechanic to underlie every interaction because, like a big parking lot of poured concrete, that tries to cover so much area that cracks are bound to appear after the first winter. The ACKS design is more like a suit of chainmail: it’s made up of separate rings, but they’re linked by basic, familiar concepts like gold pieces and experience points. I was surprised how intuitive it was to come up with solutions for a cleric’s thieves’ guild, but I shouldn’t have been: once the framework is in place, anyone with a modicum of common sense and/or play experience with D&D can see how the links join up, and follow the connections as needed.

Can a high-level character hire other high-level characters through the realm rules? For example, can my umpteenth-level fighter hire a high level rogue “spymaster” who brings his own thieves’ guild to the table? If so, who would fund the guild, the fighter or the rogue? (All this assuming an NPC rogue)

Conversely, do the rules support high-level PC’s banding resources together, so that the fighter has his knights, the rogue has his spies, and the wizard has his apprentices, all under one collective realm “umbrella”?

Yes, at least in v.27 of the rules, there are prices for hiring henchmen of higher levels. The assumption is that this hiring price includes just the NPC’s services, not the services of everyone who owes allegiance to him or her. I would rule that if you wanted to hire a spymaster, you would pay them the listed fee, and then you would pay for the hijinks of the guild that you ordered - but this is open for interpretation by individual Judges and negotiation between specific PCs and NPCs.

The base assumption of the domain rules is that each PC manages their aspect separately. However, the system doesn’t tell you anything about how the party shares their gold, and the fact that all the domain subsystems share the same economic basis (i.e. they earn you gold) means that the party’s pool of treasure and the way it’s allocated to help expand the thieves’ hideout this month and the wizard’s research next month can serve as the realm umbrella.

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