Should I be turning my historical hack into a supplement?

Alright, here's my Foreword, how does it sound?



This supplement came about in the most unexpected way, at least for me as its author. My D&D journey began in 1992 with TSR’s Red Box, which I’d received as a 12th birthday present. I took it to school, recruited some friends, and we learned how to play together. From there we rapidly moved on to Rules Cyclopedia and almost as quickly to AD&D 2nd edition, which became a weekly mainstay for almost three years. Then in 1995 we quit D&D for greener pastures of other systems and I wasn’t to see it again for a long time. Two incarnations of D&D 3rd edition came and went, but I saw nothing there that appealed to me. The “old school renaissance” movement began, and once again there wasn’t anything for me there; I didn’t want to play the D&D of my youth, my tastes had changed.

Then in 2010 my current group gave D&D 4th edition a go, the charm of D&D was rekindled for me. Modern design that catered to where my tastes were, and the tactical skirmish minigame at its centre was brilliantly done. However, while I didn’t find the complaints about the non-combat parts of the game being lacking to ring true, combat still tended to dominate our sessions just because of the sheer amount of time it took. We’d struggle to get more than one combat in a normal session and two was a such a squeeze that it crowded out everything else. I also tended to find that unlike in virtually every other system we played, characterisation stopped in combat, and we switched into wargaming mode where we moved our pieces around the battlemat looking for the optimal tactics, rather than playing our characters. A significant part of this was the handling time, regularly engaging in anything beyond the tactical level would have slowed things down still further. I still enjoy 4th edition for short stints of 6-10 sessions every now and then, but it isn’t something we could do week-in, week-out for years on end.

I was left with a renewed interest in D&D systems, but nothing that really seemed to fit my goal of having a system that could do the swift combats of the old days, while retaining contemporary sensibilities on a range of other issues. In early 2013 I heard about Autarch’s evolution of the 1983 Moldvay/Cook Expert Set, Adventurer, Conqueror, King (ACKS). I did some research on the Expert Set, and discovered how deep the overland exploration section of the game was. It wasn’t something I’d remembered about my own experiences, and I found it intriguing. See the default dungeon-crawling style of play that people often assume is what D&D is about was never really my thing; we didn’t play pre-written modules either, which tended also tended to default to this mode of play. What we loved was overland adventures, engaging with the people and politics of the game world and all the complications that brought.

I also really appreciated how simple characters were; less moving parts and customisation meant much faster resolution and general handling in and out of combat. But what it also facilitated was the use of allied NPCs. 4th edition tended towards a focus on just the Player Characters (PCs) as the entirety of the party, because adding anyone else would decelerate the proceedings to an unacceptable level. In the older editions, however, simpler characters meant taking on henchmen wasn’t a great additional overhead, and added both a buffer against danger and variety to the party. They could also act as backup characters in the event something significant happened which prevented the original PCs from continuing. Turning the PCs from solo operators into leaders of their own retinues was something that really interested me. Instead of the focus being on building and customising your player character, it could be on building and customising your personal retinue.

ACKS promise was to enmesh the PCs in all that as they reached the domain-management endgame at higher levels. What made me take notice it was the way it tidied up the Expert Set and tweaked the rules towards simplicity and consistency. What I loved most, though, was the Proficiencies. While presented as an optional rule, for me they were anything but, they provided a neat way to differentiate characters without adding the sort of complexity created by Feats or having to account for skill points.

So to the final distinction of MLT: applying D&D to historical gaming. It’s a little ironic that despite the wargaming roots of D&D, steeped in many historical battle scenarios, most people wouldn’t think to use it for roleplaying games inspired directly by history. I know there’s an overriding sentiment that history is boring, which I think is a real shame because there is a lot of richness and depth that can be had by drawing on history. In particular there are many opportunities in the gaps between the surviving sources to take license with events and insert characters and stories of our own. There were a range of historical supplements for AD&D 2nd edition in TSR’s heyday, but I don’t know how well those sold; I suspect they were niche products. I love history, antiquity in particular, and I had my inspiration in the form of Christian Cameron’s two historical fiction series’ based around the Greco-Persian Wars (5th century BC) and the Hellenistic era following the death of Alexander the Great (3rd century BC). While each featured a main character or two, they were supported by an extended retinue of other people which plugged them into the world in which they lived. Additional mentions go to Simon Scarrow’s Roman Eagles series (1st century AD) and The History Channel’s Vikings TV show.

I could see those influences intrinsic to the Expert Set and thus ACKS, which could be teased out with some changes. Many of the elements were already there; you had compatible equipment, mounts and ships used historical reference points, mercenaries were based on types of units from antiquity and the medieval era; making a conversion pretty simple. I began with a discussion on Autarch’s own forum about how I might adapt ACKS for a historical game. This progressed into a lengthy exchange with Alexander Macris, the creator of ACKS, who it turned out was also a lover of antiquity and was a great help in refining and honing my ideas into practical results.

For the game I was to run, I had a workable system covering all the elements I required, which I called Mercenary, Liberator, Tyrant (MLT). There was the future prospect of using the upcoming mass combat system, Domains@War when it appeared for the battles that would come. Eight sessions of play ensued, which worked well and vindicated my belief that D&D could indeed be used for historical gaming. This was interrupted by the birth of my second child, but we have plans to return to the game at a later date. Further discussions elsewhere brought me to the realisation that perhaps I could turn my collection of house rules into a supplement for ACKS, so other people could also experience the fun. Which brings us here.

Much like ACKS is not really an OSR game, nor is Mercenary, Liberator, Tyrant trying to recreate something that existed back in the day. If ACKS is a 2nd generation OSR game (something evolved from the older editions of D&D with its own spin on things, rather than a faithful clone), this is 3rd generation, being a further evolution of that. I make no apologies for departing from the philosophies and play assumptions that are common to the OSR movement, conformity to those notions was never a goal in creating MLT. I’ve made changes to many parts of the system, coming from a differing set of assumptions about how the game is to be played. Obviously if you don’t agree with any of those changes, you are free to discard them and take the approach used in ACKS, or any other D&D-derived game. What I’ve done is pretty transparent, and converting to other editions should be pretty straightforward.

Looking forward to it.

This feels about right to me. I hope the rest of the rules have an editor who makes you write more concisely, though. :slight_smile:

I think my rules-ifying is more concise than my general blathering. For example, my re-write of the Defensive Movement section:


Once two opposing combatants are within 5' of each other, they are engaged in melee. Engaged combatants may not move except to perform defensive movement. These types of defensive movement may be used by both characters and monsters.

A fighting withdrawal allows a combatant to move backwards at 1/2 combat movement. However, there must be a clear path for this movement. If an opponent follows the withdrawing combatant, the withdrawing combatant may attack the opponent on the opponent’s initiative, when he enters reach.

A full retreat occurs when a combatant moves backwards at a faster rate than 1/2 of combat movement. The combatant making the movement forfeits his attack this round, and all his opponent attacks with a +2 bonus until the next time his initiative number comes up. Furthermore, an opponent engaged with you who has not yet acted may act on the retreating combatant’s initiative number and therefore simultaneously with the retreating movement. In addition, if the retreating combatant is carrying a shield, it does not apply to their Armor Class during the retreat. Thieves may backstab retreating opponents.


And of the Skirmishing Proficiency:


When performing a fighting withdrawal, you may move backwards up to 3/4 combat move, rather than 1/2. When performing a full retreat, you retain your shield bonus and do not trigger a simultaneous reaction from anyone engaged with you.

I’ve made an executive decision on junctures; I’m going to write this from the primary perspective of Greco-Persian Wars and Hellenistic era, but will include some notes in a later section on how to adapt to Roman and Viking junctures. Otherwise I’m going to be doing a lot of alternative economic/equipment stuff.

Some more bits.

Chapter 1: About This Game

How to use this supplement

This supplement is intended to be used in conjunction with the main ACKS rulebook, rather than act as a standalone product in its own right. Reference is made to ACKS throughout and the chapters correspond to those, highlighting the alterations and replacements. Where this text is silent, assume what is contained in the ACKS corebook applies.

What this supplement is for

MLT is intended as a supplement to ACKS that will enable you to play historical adventures where larger than life heroes and their followers are embroiled in the conflicts of the age. In a major departure from the baseline D&D assumptions, there is no magic which is a mainstay of the fantasy genre. This removal is intentional, while historical people certainly believed in magic, and there were practitioners who were believed to have powers that could not be explained, fireball-slinging wizards are not what this game is about. Most “magicians” as they appear in history are tricksters and charlatans or worse. The only exception is around prophecy and divination, which many peoples in the past placed great value in. It is up to individual groups as to how prominent and indeed accurate prophecy will be at their table, but it is included for anyone who wishes to use it.

This change alters some of the dynamics of the game; there are no easily available sources of healing making wounds more dangerous and the consequences of combat lasting – death is final. Similarly, there are no reliable sources of ranged or area effect damage in the way that spells like fireball or lightning bolt provide. This makes physical conflicts potentially harder and co-ordination of the participants even more important. Morale comes to the fore, most people will not fanatically fight to the death, but will flee when defeat seems certain. This is even more critical on the larger scale; as well as the personal scale represented by the standard ACKS combat rules, by plugging in the Domains@War mass combat system you’ll be able to play out larger skirmishes involving hundreds all the way up to battles involving thousands. It is expected that the PCs may progress from being leaders of a small band of loyal followers all the way up to commanders and generals leading armies or governors managing cities and provinces. None of those things are possible without being able to enlist the aid of other people.

Furthermore, there are no sentient non-human species; the elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs, goblins and others that are another fantasy staple. Rather than a mythic game featuring creatures from legends, this is instead about history as we understand it. Thus all the opposition the PCs might face will be other people, societies and civilisations, there are no “monsters” or fantastical beings. Players are encouraged to do some reading into the peoples in the historical juncture the game is taking place in, so as best to appreciate the various origins that would work and the prevailing social mores. This does mean there may be some potentially uncomfortable topics that require discussion before the game begins as to establish where everyone sits with them. These include slavery and prejudice based on gender, ethnicity and religion.

Lastly, there is no tracking of experience points (XP). Characters level up at whatever intervals or milestones the GM and group agree is appropriate, and the accumulation of wealth has no direct impact on character level. This removes the link between wealth and XP and means rulers are not automatically a high level because they amass revenues from their vassals. Wealth is its own reward, allowing characters to raise armies, build settlements and ships, and otherwise change the world around them. It is the only resource that needs to be tracked. If you wish to restore XP tracking, all the revised classes contained here use the same XP progression, that of the Fighter.

Historical Junctures

The main focus of this supplement is on antiquity, a period more than two millnia before the present, about which only the barest fragments of archaeological evidence survive. There are many facets of ancient cultures which can be both strange and even repellent to the modern observer, things which were shared in almost equal measures by all. It should also be remembered that what survives from antiquity is fragmentary at best and based heavily in conjecture about sources referred to by ancient writers which no longer exist. A caveat to any reading of primary sources which we do have access to is that the ancients were often writing with an eye to entertaining the reader or flattering the patron who supported their works. It is therefore problematic to regard them as unvarnished truth, given truth was not an objective recognised by them. There is also a strong tendency for the victors of conflicts to write self-justifying and complimentary retellings of events leveraging the full benefit of hindsight, Roman historians in particular are often guilty of this. However, in the absence of any other contradictory sources, we only have the options of either taking what remains (with a pinch of salt) or having nothing whatsoever.

It is this ambiguity created both by gaps in the historical record and the potentially dubious veracity of the sources which survive which creates the possibilities in historical gaming. There is great license possible in the gaps between the broad swathes suggested by the accepted accounts of what happened and when. Rather than obsessing about critical events and known dates and somehow trying to weave a path between them (a perennial issue in later times with a wealth of very specific detail), we have some suggestive waypoints and colourful personalities that add flavour, but won’t get in the way of player agency.

There are two primary historical junctures that are the assumed “setting” of this supplement, taking place in the roughly the same geographical area (that of the Mediterranean and the nations bordering it) but at different periods of history. The dynamics and conflicts of both originate with the colonisation activities of the Greeks and Phoenicians from the 9th to 5th centuries BC, seeding pockets of non-native peoples all over the Mediterranean world. These provided contrasting and sometimes competing viewpoints to the local powers in the regions, sowing the seeds of some of the longest recorded conflicts in history. The unifying property in both junctures is the presence of the Greek peoples and their culture, but this should not be read as in some way assuming they are the heroes of the setting and thus whomever they are opposed to are the villains of the piece.

The Greco-Persian Wars
(to follow)

The Hellenistic Era
(to follow)


Chapter 2: Characters

Creating the Party

Before you create the characters, it is necessary to define the nature of the party to which they belong. This is tied to the premise for the game, and will influence the types of characters which are appropriate, their level of starting experience and the composition with regards to the mix of Player Characters and Non Player Characters. The characters might all be members of a mercenary company or similar military unit, members of a noble house or mercantile guild, the officers and crew of a ship, a street gang or criminal enterprise or one of countless other possible concepts. While there are a potentially infinite number of possibilities, three premise types are presented as suggestions.

Just starting out

This is the lowest-level option which is pretty close to the usual starting point for D&D games. The PCs are either a new outfit just starting out, or the junior members of a larger organisation. They are 1st level, making them fragile in combat and have relatively little starting funds. Obviously this restricts the range of experience of henchmen they have in their employ, who must be 0th level Normal Men. This is the best option for a group who are relatively new to roleplaying or wish to experience building their power base from scratch.

An established organisation

This is the middle option and is the recommended starting point for MLT. The PCs might be an established organisation or the middle-tier members of a larger one. The PCs start at 3rd level, they are more durable in combat and amongst some of the more competent people around. They have more money for equipment and retainers. They can have henchmen ranging from Normal Men up to 2nd level, giving more options in how each player chooses to build their PCs retinue.

Leading the charge

This is the highest-level option which puts the PCs in charge of organisations and significantly more capable than most people they might encounter. The PCs start at 5th level, they are tough and inspiring to be around. They have a great deal of funds to disburse and can have extremely competent henchmen (going anywhere up to 4th level), likely filling out their retinues to the maximum number.

Creating Henchmen

Rather than add still more to the GM’s workload, it is intended that the player should create their PCs henchmen. This not only gives them more of a stake in their retinue and some control over it, but also assists them in getting familiar with what their henchmen can do. In a combat situation it is expected that the player will make the decisions and roll the dice for their henchmen, even if they choose not to roleplay them outside of combat. Henchmen can act as backup character options should something happen to the PC, either temporarily while they are elsewhere or recovering, or permanently, being uplifted to PC-level if they are removed from the game.

Creating Characters
NB: This replaces the text on p16 of ACKS under the same heading.

Refer to your agreed premise for the starting level of your PC, then repeat this process for any henchmen.

  1. You’ll need a fresh character sheet for your main character and a henchmen sheet to record the details of your retinue.
  2. For your PC roll the following and record your results: 1d6+12, 2d6+6 rolled twice, 3d6 rolled four times. You will have generated seven numbers ranging from 3 to 18. In both instances, discard the lowest result and reorder them from highest to lowest. This is an array and each player generates one. Bring all the arrays generated together so everyone in the group can see them. Choose your preferred array (more than one person may choose the same one).
  3. For henchmen roll the following: 2d6+6 rolled twice and 3d6 rolled five times. Discard the lowest result. Do this once for each henchman.
  4. Assign the numbers to your ability scores as desired. Finally you may move up to 2 points from any ability score to any another. Write down your ability score bonus or penalty.
  5. Choose a class which suits your character abilities from the Character Classes section.
  6. Note your level and calculate your hit points (hps), taking the base value for your class and level and applying your Constitution bonus or penalty.
  7. Record your character’s attack throws and saving throws on your sheet. Note down your bonus or penalty to each from your ability scores. Melee attack throws are modified by Strength and ranged attack throws by Dexterity. Fortutide saves are modified by Constitution. Reflex saves are modified by Dexterity. Will saves are modified by Wisdom.
  8. Choose your character’s starting Proficiencies from the Proficiencies chapter. Apply any modifiers to your ability scores, hit points, attack throws or saving throws from Proficiencies. Record any new special abilities granted by Proficiencies.
  9. Generate your character’s starting wealth, referring to the table for the amount appropriate to your level. Use this to purchase equipment and any mounts or pack animals for your character and hire henchmen and hirelings. Once you have chosen armour and weapons, note your Armour Class (AC), applying your Dexterity modifier. Also note your weapon damage, determined by your weapon, applying your Strength bonus or penalty. Calculate your character’s encumbrance based on how much weight they are carrying, modified by the lower of their Strength or Constitution bonus or penalty.
  10. Give your character a name, determine your starting languages, choose your age and roll your Prime attribute to determine when aging modifiers start to apply.

Good start, and good stuff so far. You need an editor.

Brilliant! Thrilled that you are working on this.

Hit me up if you want to talk distribution.

I’ll do that, thanks. Once I’m a bit further down the track.

I’m minded to cap MLT to 9 levels. It’s enough to get into the domain-management endgame, but not enough to introduce still further disparity between the most experienced people in the world and the least. I feel it’s important in a historical game to retain a sense that even the world’s finest warrior can be brought down without the support of allies.

A 9th level fighter with 18 CON has 67 hit points, which is a lot, but they’re not invulnerable. They can make 9 cleaves, which means it would take a lot of 0th level mooks to take them down, but it’s not insurmountable. They have a lot of Proficiencies (I give out one every level), but not so many that they’d be masters of many topics and crafts all at once (they’d top out at 6 Class and 6 General, plus any INT modifier).

The question is, by removing some of the later level-based benefits for some classes, am I significantly altering the balance between them? I’ve already augmented to equalise XP for the Thief and Bard (uprated HD and weapon/shield picks for both) and given the Fighter an extra Class Proficiency at 1st level and given the Assassin Skirmishing for free at 1st.

Perhaps I need an HR topic just focusing on the classes in my game, and someone with the Companion could run the custom-build rules over them to check they’re roughly equal?

I’d be happy to apply the Companion rules in the next couple of days.

Excellent, thanks for that. I’ll put them up later for review.

Firstly, all classes are capped at 9th level, so any later abilities they get are gone. Proficiency progression is de-scoped from costing of classes; everyone gets identical progression regardless of class. They're all supposed to be equal-ish in XP.

I'll do the standard ACKS classes that have been modded.

Assassin: Mostly written, but with the addition of the Skirmishing and Skulking (this is just a replacement of the way they get hide in shadows/move silently) Proficiencies for free at 1st level.

Bard: Lose Arcane Dabbling. May wear medium armour and use shields. Gain Performance (Rhetoric) and one other Performance of their choice for free at 1st level.

Explorer: No change.

Fighter: Gain an additional Class Proficiency for free at 1st level.


Now on to the custom ones


Prime Requisite: CHA.
Requirements: None.
Hit Dice: 1d6.
Maximum Level: 9.

Diplomats are minor aristocrats who have chosen the path of diplomacy and intrigue to make their way in the world.

At first level, diplomats hit an unarmored foe (AC 0) with an attack throw of 10+. They advance in attack throws and saving throws by two points every three levels of experience (i.e., as fast as fighters), but use the saving throws of thieves. They may fight with all weapons, and may fight with a weapon in each hand, weapon and shield, or two-handed. They may wear mail or lighter armor, and use shields.

When hiring people (employees, mercenaries, henchmen, contracting a sage, and so on), diplomats treat the market class of the city as one better (Class I markets remain Class I).

Diplomats start with an additional Language, Performance (Rhetoric) and one of Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Seduction.

At third level, diplomats gain the ability to Alertness and Skulking proficiencies; and a second choice from Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Seduction.


At fifth level, the diplomat gains the third choice from Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Seduction. In addition, any henchmen and mercenaries hired by the diplomat gain a +1 bonus to their morale score if the character is there to witness and talk about their deeds.

At seventh level, the diplomat gains command of voice: The diplomat gains a +2 bonus to reaction rolls when speaking. If this bonus results in a total of 12 or more, the subjects act as if charmed while they remain in the diplomat's presence. Creatures with a WIS greater than the diplomat's CHA are immune to this power (the diplomat will know they are immune).

Diplomats at seventh level are immune to non-spell charm effects, including those of other diplomats.

At ninth level, diplomats can build a castle in the same fashion as a fighter. Also at ninth level, the diplomat gains the ability to perceive intentions: The diplomat always knows the exact reaction result (Hostile, Unfriendly, etc.) of creatures, even if the creatures attempt to lie or conceal their reactions. Creatures with a CHA greater than the diplomat's WIS are immune to this power (and the diplomat will know they are immune).

Class Proficiencies: Acrobatics, Art, Bargaining, Bribery, Combat Trickery (disarm), Fighting Style, Gambling, Healing, Knowledge, Language, Lip Reading, Performance, Precise Shooting, Profession (advocate, merchant), Riding, Running, Seafaring, Skirmishing, Swashbuckling, Theology, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus.




Prime Requisite: INT.
Requirements: None.
Hit Dice: 1d6.
Maximum Level: 9.

Experts are scholars, philosophers, artisans and craftsmen, skilled people who make a living from their mastery of a trade or their knowledge. They also include criminals, grifters and those who make a living by relieving other people of their money.

Experts advance in attack throws and saving throws as a thief, by two points every four levels of experience. At first level, experts hit an unarmored foe (AC 0) with an attack throw of 10+. They may fight with any missile weapons and any one-handed melee weapons, and may wield a weapon in each hand if desired. They cannot wear armor heavier than leather, but may use shields. All experts are literate and well-versed in a particular area of knowledge or crafting. They may choose any one of Art, Craft, Engineering, Healing, Knowledge, Performance or Profession to represent this area of expertise, which begins at two ranks. Alternatively, they may choose any two of Climbing, Disable Device and Pick Pockets. Experts begin with one additional Class Proficiency.

More scholarly types may choose to trade their Hit Dice down to 1d4 and their attack throws to that of a mage for an additional Class and General Proficiency. They may trade off their use of shields for a General Proficiency.

When hiring specialists, experts treat the market class of the city as one better (Class I markets remain Class I).

Experts facility with their chosen area of expertise gives them a bonus to all Proficiency checks relating to that topic of +1 at first level. This increases by an additional +1 at 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th level. Furthermore, as their knowledge base grows, they gain a +1 bonus to more distantly associated topics at 5th level, increasing to +2 at 10th level.

Because of their study of ancient texts and contact with other specialists, experts possess loremastery. This knowledge allows them to decipher occult runes, remember ancient history, identify historic artifacts, and similar tasks. At 1st level, an expert must make a proficiency throw of 18+ on 1d20 to succeed in these tasks. The proficiency throw required reduces by 1 per level.

Upon attaining 4th level, the expert gains the ability to read languages, including ciphers, treasure maps, and dead languages. A proficiency throw of 5+ on 1d20 is required. If the roll does not succeed, the expert may not try to read that particular piece of writing until he reaches a higher level of experience.

When an expert reaches 5th level, his aura of unflappable competence inspires his hirelings to strive for glory. Any henchmen and mercenaries hired by the expert gain a +1 bonus to their morale score if they are able to witness the fruits of the expert's skill. This bonus stacks with any modifiers from the expert's Charisma or proficiencies.

Upon reaching 9th level, an expert can build an academy or workshop (functionally the same as a hall) and become a ruler. When they do, up to 1d4+1x10 0th level mercenaries and 1d6 experts of 1st-3rd level will come to apply for jobs and training. If hired, they must be paid the standard rate for mercenaries.

Class Proficiencies: Alchemy, Animal Husbandry, Animal Training, Art, Beast Friendship, Bribery, Climbing, Craft, Diplomacy, Disable Device, Engineering, Healing, Knowledge, Land Surveying, Language, Manual of Arms, Military Strategy, Naturalism, Navigation, Performance, Pick Pockets, Profession, Prophecy, Siege Engineering, Signalling, Soothsaying, Wakefulness.


Prime Requisite: STR and CHA.
Requirements: None.
Hit Dice: 1d6.
Maximum Level: 9.

Warlords are minor aristocrats who have chosen the path of a warrior to make their way in the world.

At first level, warlords hit an unarmored foe (AC 0) with an attack throw of 10+. They advance in attack throws and saving throws by two points every three levels of experience (i.e., as fast as fighters), and use the saving throws of fighters. They may fight with all melee and missile weapons, and may fight with a weapon in each hand, weapon and shield, or two-handed weapon. They can wear any kind of armor, and use shields.

Warlords start with the Command proficiency, plus one of Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Seduction.

When hiring people (employees, mercenaries, henchmen, contracting a sage, and so on), warlords treat the market class of the city as one better (Class I markets remain Class I).

At third level, warlords automatically gain a second choice from Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Seduction.

At fifth level, battlefield prowess inspires followers. Any henchmen and mercenaries hired by the warlord gain a +1 bonus to their morale score whenever the warlord personally leads them. This bonus stacks with any modifiers from the Charisma or proficiencies.

At seventh level, warlords become immune to all natural and magical fear effects.

At ninth level, warlords can build a castle in the same fashion as a fighter. In addition, the aristocrat gains the Leadership proficiency automatically.

Class Proficiencies: Alertness, Animal Training, Blind Fighting, Combat Reflexes, Combat Trickery (disarm, force back, knock down, overrun, sunder), Command, Diplomacy, Endurance, Fighting Style, Healing, Intimidation, Land Surveying, Leadership, Manual of Arms, Military Strategy, Performance (Rhetoric), Precise Shooting, Riding, Running, Seafaring, Siege Engineering, Skirmishing, Survival, Wakefulness, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus.

I'm going to bin the Thief and fold them into Expert. See here.


Also folding together Hide in Shadows and Move Silently into one Sneak, Open Locks and Find/Remove Traps into Disable Device (a Proficiency) and Pick Pockets becomes a Proficiency.

Here’s a first cut at analysis. Sorry it took so long; I got sick Thursday. I’m assuming +/- 1 proficiency or custom power is worth about +/- 100xp per level. (Thievery gives about 70xp/proficiency, but that’s part of the zero-sum game of assigning class values; extra powers beyond class value limits ought to be more useful.)

Assassin: sounds like they’re 300xp weaker than stock Fighters.

Bard: trade Arcane Dabbling for one Performance, and they already essentially got one Performance free at first level. They have the better of Cleric and Thief fighting capability, and one extra fighting style; that’s probably equivalent to 2 custom powers. Loses scroll use at 10th level, - ½ custom power. Still about 450xp weaker than stock Fighters?

Explorer: equivalent to stock Fighters.

Fighter: extra proficiency means it’s worth perhaps +100xp.

Diplomat: HD value 1, Fighting Value 2, Thievery Value 1; base XP cost 1700. They technically should use fighter saves. Trade off unrestricted armor for 1 custom power (+150xp@), 3 thief skills for custom powers: actual set is 6.5 powers: Mercantile Network limited only to hiring (½ power), 3 starting skills, skill at 3rd, skill at 5th, Mystic Aura at 7th, immune to non-spell charms at 7th (½ power), perceive intentions at 9th (should be 7th). Worth 2050xp@, just a hair stronger than stock fighters, but one might tweak it higher for the generally-better Thief saves.

Expert: HD value 1, Fighting Value 1b, Thievery Value 2; base XP cost 1400. Trade off 5 thief skills for custom powers, effectively gets 6: three skills at first level. Very limited form of Mercantile Network (½ power), proficiency bonus, Loremastery, read languages (½ power because of delay to 4th level). This is maybe 400xp@ weaker than a stock Fighter.

Scholarly Expert: HD value 0, Fighting Value 0, Thievery Value 4; base XP cost 1100. Trade off 15 thief skills and one fighting style for custom powers: effectively gets 9. This is an interesting way to model a scholar but doesn’t begin to compare in survivability or utility with an adventuring class, with nominal cost for first level of 500xp. Obviously my linear approximation breaks down here.

Warlord: HD value 1, Fighting Value 2, Thievery Value 1; base XP cost 1700. Trade off 3 thief skills for custom powers; get about 4.5: 2 starting skills, limited form of Mercantile Network (½ power), skill at 3rd level, immune to fear at 7th level, Leadership at 9th level. I’d call this 1850xp, 150xp weaker than a stock Fighter.

No worries about the time, you’re doing me a favour after all!

Let’s baseline against the new 2100xp for the Fighter. Diplomat is going to remain mostly the same, but I’ll move the perceive intentions to 7th.

Assassin should be unchanged on the default one, barring the addition of Skirmishing. Switching out the thief skills for an augmented Skulking proficiency is no change - I’d just re-codified the Thief skills as proficiencies. They still get hide in shadow and move silently, they’re just one Sneak skill now.

If I give the Assassin the choice of Climbing or Pick Pockets (ie either of those Thief skills) for free at 1st level, would that make up the deficit? Perhaps if they get the other at 4th as well, if not enough?

If I give Explorer their choice of Survival or Riding at 1st level, will that bring them up to 2100xp?

Bard and Expert need more work. I’ll have a think about beefing them up.

Warlord; if I gave them the Fighter damage bonuses back, would that bring them up to 2100xp?

Or alternatively (because I think it’s more interesting), what about some custom abilities:
Rally (gained at 3rd level) - you can cause broken allies who haven’t yet fled the field to re-roll their morale check. +1 to this roll at 6th level, +2 at 9th. Can only rally any individual unit once per battle.

Inspirational presence - if you take the time to give a rousing speech before fighting begins, any allied troops within 50’ of you gain +1 to hit, damage and morale as long as they can either hear you or see you fighting. If you are taken out of the fight, this bonus is lost.

This is going to be lengthy, but I think it's important to pick out what defines the setting. I've got 13 of these subheadings, here's the first three (which are interrelated):


What distinguishes antiquity from faux-medieval fantasy default?

It is worth pointing out some important distinctions between historical antiquity and the usual assumptions made in fantasy games which are based upon a taking license with medieval history. An appreciation of these should help avoid a mismatch of expectations in the way setting elements are presented and played. Some of these distinctions are specific to Greek culture (which spread and impacted other cultures), others more general to the period. Greek-specific items will not apply to other civilisations such as the Persians or Egyptians, or to less settled "barbarian" peoples.

For a Greek, all rights flowed from citizenship status, whether you were legally or customarily recognised as a member of a community and its political assembly. This determined your privileges; how you were treated in law, whether you could vote in assemblies or have any other form of political representation, what offices you were allowed to hold and social groups you could join, even whether you were allowed to bear arms and armour. It also determined your responsibilities, to stand in the line of battle to defend your community, to pay taxes, to perform civic duties such as serving on juries.

Citizenship was specific to a place; particularly in the Greco-Persian Wars juncture, it was not transferrable to any other location or community, where you would be a foreigner. One of the legal innovations of the Hellenistic era was that citizenship of one polis could convey rights in another (often one with colonial ties). However, in this period, many of the privileges enjoyed by citizens were eroded in favour of a king (who was often a Macedonian).

At its simplest level there were three classifications of person within a polis - citizen, slave and foreigner. The rights described above were enjoyed only by citizens. However, full citizenship was exclusively adult (meaning over the age of 30) and male, though often also carried minimum property qualifications. Athens was unique in extending the franchise to all adult males, regardless of wealth, with the poorest discharging their military service as rowers in the navy. This meant women and children did not have political rights beyond being represented. While a woman's status mattered as far as her treatment in the law and the status of her children, she could not vote or take part in the political life of the community. Foreigners had legal rights, but no political rights. Slaves had only those privileges granted to them by their owners and no political rights.

It is important to note that this was a belonging to a city-state or polis, not as subjects of a sovereign. Self-governing autonomy (even if in reality dominated by an aristocratic elite) was a distinctive characteristic of the polis. Every citizen was at the same time ruler and ruled, equal to one another in law. It was a vital source of freedom, contrasting to the arbitrary rule of a king or tyrant, with their whims and favourites.

Traditionally, anyone not born to the citizens of a polis was a metic or foreigner. They enjoyed none of the privileges of a citizen in the public sphere, meaning they could not vote or represent themselves before an assembly, council or court. They could not be elected to magistracies or priesthoods, or hold any other civic positions. They could not serve on juries and were treated more harshly before the law, and while they had a right to representation before the law, could not bring cases in their own name.

This also extended to the right to bear arms, which was not extended to foreigners. Any non-citizen moving around the polis armed and armoured could expect a response from the free males who owned a panoply. In many colonies this went back to the earliest laws of their founding, where they could expect the native peoples to be hostile to them by default (especially since they often abducted native women). Armed foreigners also harked back to the era of tyrants, many of whom retained their power and enforced their rule by employing foreign mercenaries. Because they could not bear arms, they were not expected to fight in war, but they were still subject to taxation.

They otherwise enjoyed full personal and property rights. These included being able to buy and sell property (including slaves) without arbitrary interference or confiscation. They could run businesses and sign contracts, and expect the terms of the contract to be honoured. By employing a citizen to act as their advocate in the courts, they could bring cases against others in the polis, and could expect even a case against a citizen to be heard. They could not be assaulted or killed without consequence.

A foreigner or freed slave might be able attain citizenship status by a vote in the assembly, but this was not a trivial task to arrange and rare due to how jealously guarded citizenship was.

Foreigners were viewed as less politically suspect by the elites and rulers of ancient civilisations - after all they had no stake in public life and little to gain by involving themselves in the factional politics of the day. Classical Athenians employed Scythian public slaves to help maintain order, and the Persians and Egyptians made widespread use of Greek mercenaries to contain the ambitions of it's aristocracy.

Demographic decline in the colonies and cities of the Hellenistic era forced some communities to abolish the foreigner classification and enfranchise non-native residents or even make citizenship available to purchase.

Chattel slavery, the practise of treating human beings as personal property without rights, was practised by every society in antiquity, though it varied in its extent. It was not thought of as some great evil that needed to be eradicated, but as part of the natural order of things. That said, the existence of Greek slaves and especially the practise of enslaving a whole city, was a source of discomfort for Greeks. Some generals refused to enslave conquered cities and in the Hellenistic era some cities passed accords not to enslave each other's citizens in the event one defeated the other. By contrast, freeing an enslaved city carried great prestige.

The owner of a slave could buy, sell or lease them as they pleased, and there were very few curbs on what they could do with them. Even the deliberate killing of a slave was treated in law as destruction of property, rather than murder as would be the case if the victim were free.

All economic activities were open to slaves, because it was citizenship status which determined your importance. The primary avenues of employment were domestic service, acting as their master's second or proxy in business, agricultural labourers and skilled craft trades. Slaves were also used in large numbers in mining and serve as oarsmen on galleys.

There were four main sources of slaves; war, piracy, banditry and trade. In war, the victor had absolute rights over the vanquished, and might choose to sell captives into slavery. This could be enacted on the scale of an entire population if a settlement was taken by siege.

In both piracy and banditry, taking captives was a lucrative business, especially if the captured had a ransom value. However, if a captive was not important enough to be able to raise a ransom (or it was not paid), they could instead be sold as slaves to traffickers. In some areas piracy was virtually a "national speciality", including those such as the Arcananians, Cretans, Aetolians, Illyrians, Phoenicians and Etruscans, and in the Hellenistic era the Cilicians and other Anatolian mountain-peoples.

The slave trade existed between kingdoms and nations, with local professionals selling their own people to Greek and other slave traders. The principal centres were at Ephesus, Byzantium, Tanais and later the island of Delos, which in the Hellenistic era grew to be the largest.

There were two other ways of becoming a slave. Houseborn slaves (ie those born to parents who were themselves slaves) were not unknown, though in the classical era the idea of "breeding" slaves was discouraged. Childbirth exposed a female slave to danger (pregnancy was a major cause of death for women) and there was no guarantee the child would survive to adulthood (infant mortality was often 50% or higher). It was often cheaper to buy a slave than raise one from infancy, and it was felt disruptive to loyalties in household to allow slaves to raise their own children. Houseborn slaves often received privileged treatment, such as being entrusted to take children to school, particularly if they were the offspring of the master, though their status was usually determined by that of their mother.

The other was a special case, debt slavery, whereby a citizen unable to pay their debts could be enslaved by their creditor. It was by no means a universal practise, and the Athenians outlawed it in the constitution of Solon, which forbade the selling of free Athenians.

Slavery was not a permanent status, it was possible to buy freedom, usually for at least a slave's market value. Slaves were allowed to own property and have money, and could save to purchase their freedom, or take a loan from their master. This transaction was handled as though it were a sale - either to a deity through a temple (which took a cut) or to the city where a magistrate managed the proceeds. However, a master might only grant temporary freedom, or require continued obligations such as presenting themselves for work (particularly likely where the slave had a skilled trade). Even those freed without obligation and legally protected from being re-enslaved carried a stigma in certain social settings.

Freedom from bondage was another important facet of freedom, particularly given that capture in war could lead to slavery. It is noteworthy that in pre-Roman antiquity, there is no evidence of any wide-scale slave revolts, perhaps in part due to the much lower densities of slave-holdings and smaller volumes of trade compared to that in the Roman period. However, slaves did run away and individual acts of revolt were not unheard of.

Land-bonded slavery, like Spartan helots (equivalent to medieval serfdom), was a much rarer form of the practise.

Other titles are:

Population density
Law and Order
Travel and Trade
Cultural Convergence
Pillars of Greek Identity
Literacy and Literature


That is a truly impressive write-up, so far! Reading through it also immediately sparked multiple ideas about characters, events, and stories that could transpire just because of the social norms (especially with players who try to have their PCs act the way they would in more typical RPG settings).

Really appreciate the feedback, that reassures me that it’s functioning as intended. I think it’s a necessary section to both ground people in the world as it was (as far as we understand), but also to prevent it just being a gloss on the usual pattern of fantasy RPGing.

Yes, some of the conceits of the party and such still work, but the context is completely different, and you can’t just murderhobo your way across the world without consequences.

I think it is absolutely necessary and absolutely useful, because - as someone who’s not familiar with actual details of Antiquity (my knowledge is pretty much limited to playing Rome: Total War, the expansions, and Total War: Rome II) - I think I’d be entirely out to sea trying to run or play the setting myself, but I learned a lot from that primer (so far).

There’s a risk of running long, but I don’t think it’s too terrible a risk; BRP Rome and Cthulhu Invictus both spend most of their pagecount just explaining Roman culture and life and the city, because it’s not like anything most of us are familiar with, and because it’s so important to the games. (Of course, BRP Rome does it fine, but Cthulhu Invictus does it badly, because the latter is generic and the former is not yet fails to actually tie the material to the supposed Mythos backdrop.)

And my most recent experience being Starz’ Spartacus, which perhaps in relation shows what might actually happen if you try and murderhobo your way around. :slight_smile: