Courtesy of a wracked ankle, I’ve found the time and energy to write what I feel is a fairly comprehensive review of the game back at theRPGsite:
Let me know what you think.
Gus, thanks for the kind words! I appreciate you taking the time to review the game. You gave it a very thorough read, and I’m glad you liked so much of it.
Regarding the proficiencies, I would like to believe we found a sweet spot between character customization and min-maxing. One of the goals was to make it obvious which proficiencies you should take for a particular type of character, rather than the somewhat counter-intuitive result in 3E (“Don’t take Toughness feat if you want your character to be tough! Don’t you know ANYTHING!?!”).
That said, you can actually remove proficiencies entirely from ACKS and the game still plays fine. The dirty secret of the Adventuring proficiency is that its a universal proficiency that covers all the things you could do in B/X D&D, and since it’s universal it’s hard coded into the rules. That means you can ignore all the character customization and everyone can still do the same things they could in B/X because we always assume they had Adventuring proficiency. It’s not like 2E where all of sudden your character can’t ride a horse because they added Riding proficiency and you didn’t take it.
But, man, I hope we are not too “4E” for the old school. I’m notorious within my circle of gamers for being anti-4E, so the irony would force mt commit seppuku.
Alex, I was interested in ACKS ever since I first heard about it, but the actual book far exceeded my already high expectations. Couple that with a considerable amount of unexpected free time, and voilà, review.
Regarding Proficiencies, I am a bit wary of Feats and similar mechanics, because (a) sometimes I feel they were the first step down the slippery-slope of “character optimization” as a mini-game, and later even as a design goal for the WotC development teams; (b) as a player, I felt that in many gaming tables, Feats end up enforcing the whole “everything not expressly allowed is forbidden” meme (that admittedly has plagued D&D since Thief abilities were introduced). “I want to break the orc’s spear with my greataxe.” “Do you have the Sunder Feat?” “Nope.” “Then you can’t.” (DM’s fault, I know, but it’s happened to me) and (c) because for some reason, throughout the 2000s, every single company not using d20 felt that their game was supposed to have Feat-like mechanics. Mongoose created Heroic Abilities for their version of Runequest, and even White Wolf had “Feat tree” Merits for the nWoD. Which I find mildly annoying, and in the nWoD’s case, not genre appropriate at all, but that’s a minor peeve.
Now with that out of the way, I agree that the Proficiency system is easily dismembered from the main game; and I’m even warming up to it, since I feel you seem to have dealt with (a) and (b) so well, and (c) is no longer an issue. I am actually enthusiastic towards the idea of old school play realized or enhanced by way of new school design sensibilities, and like I said in the review, I feel you’ve done a much better job of achieving this equilibrium than, say, Castles & Crusades (a game I dearly love, but which rests on what I feel to be a fatally flawed core mechanic).
And when I run TSR-era D&D, I’ve always had an “Adventuring proficiency” rule of sorts. I mean, seeing “Use Rope” as a Skill in D&D 3e was silly, even when I was excited about 3e. This was half my beef with AD&D 2e’s Non-Weapon Proficiencies and D&D RC’s General Skills (the other half was stepping on the toes of established classes, e.g. the Stealth General Skill gimped the Thief by allowing everyone to snaek around, mostly with better odds than the Thief too). And I’m glad you also steered clear of this. Like I said in the review, it’s evident that not only a lot of thought, but also a lot of playtesting went into ACKS.
As for being “too 4e”, don’t worry, that was the furthest thing from my mind as I read ACKS. I don’t begrudge anyone for liking 4e, it’s a RPG with an amusing, boardgamey tactical combat system built-in, but not my cup of tea and certainly not my favoriote iteration of D&D. But I apologize if the review somehow came across as saying ACKS is similar to 4e, because that’s an inaccurate impression I didn’t mean to convey.
Butcher, thanks again for these kind words!
Your wariness towards Feats is something I share, and you’re spot on with the problems “a” and “b”. With regard to “a”, our goal was to keep each proficiency light-weight and singular so that they didn’t stack very much, and to make sure that they were so intuitive as to make min-maxing irrelevant. For example, if you want to be better at fighting with a weapon and shield, you just take Fighting Style: Weapon and Shield. If you want to be a war mage, you take Battle Magic or Elementalism. There’s not a lot to min-max but there’s opportunity to differentiate.
With regard to “b”, I personally found that a more difficult challenge. As you say, it was endemic to D&D once they introduced Thief skills. The solution we took was to hard-code into the rules all the basic tasks that we thought adventurers should be able to do (ride a horse, tie a rope, search for traps, bash open a door) and then have proficiencies expand or modify those. The fact that not every human can do all the things an adventurer can do was solved with the Adventuring proficiency. We tackled the Thief Skill problem by having specific rules for hiding and sneaking without thief skills.
I’ve been following the threads on theRPGsite and it’s wonderful to see the positive feedback. Thanks for sparking that discussion!