Using ACKS for a historical game?

Hi Alex / Kiero.

I’m very new to ACKS as well, love the system and am planning on running Microscope type “zoom in, zoom out” against the backdrop of conquering Brittania and political machinations in Rome.

Anyways, just wanted to say that I’m really enjoying this discussion.

Alex, have you worked up any Roman historical figures?


Alright, so reading over the treasure conversion again; couldn’t I halve the values, call them silver drachmae rather than silver pieces, and just assume the weights are adjusted so there’s still 100 coins to the pound of weight?

Yes, you should just be able to conver to SP, reduce the prices by 1/2, and have close-to-historical prices. So, for example, a heavy infantry makes(12gp x 10sp/gp x 1 drachma/2sp) 60 drachma per month. A warhorse costing 250gp (2,500sp) becomes 1,250 drachma. 

Going the other way, Bucephalus, at 13 talents, costs 7,800 drachma. That would then be 15,600sp or 1,560gp in normal ACKS.


I haven't, no! I was thinking that I'd start with Scipio Africanus so I could pit him against Hannibal. Of course, there's so many awesome Roman generals to pick from!

Yes, dude, yes.

Another random one. Ships and naval combat are an extremely important part of this era. How easily do the polyremes (trireme, quadrireme, quinquireme, etc) map to the generic ships listed?

Does naval combat account for stuff like rower condition (how well motivated, fit, well-fed and fatigued)?

ACKS offers 3 types of galleys:

Small Galley - 60 rowers. This is a bireme or penteconter.

Large Galley - 180 rowers. This is a trireme.

War Galley - 300 rowers. This is a quinquereme.

You could probably extrapolate from the structural hit points and speeds of these three to cover any other galley types you'd want to include.

There are no specific rules for rower condition. By default, ACKS assumes you can engage in 50 minutes of physical activity and then need to rest for 10 minutes. You could easily modify these rules, I think, to get the effect you want. 

One thing about rower condition that I find interesting is that, in re-enactment tests, modern athletes cannot sustain the routine rowing speeds described in the ancient sources (or wear hoplite armor long enough to fight a battle). You'll have to decide if you want to base your fatigue rules on what the ancient sources say, or what the modern re-enactments suggest. I personally think th ancient sources are right (why would they lie about the day-to-day?) and that modern athletes are just epigenetically weaker.  The book Manthropology has some great information on this. 

Excellent. A hemiola is also a Small Galley (since it’s also 60 oars).

As you say, from those you can extrapolate others; the trihemiola is neatly between Small and Large, having around 120 rowers. A four is probably about the same sort of size (apparently they were around 60 tons to a fives 100 tons). So there’s a Medium Galley category that could be slotted between the two.

On the modern rowers conundrum, one interesting tidbit I saw was that there may be an issue with the size of the reconstructed vessels - namely that modern people are bigger than their ancient counterparts, making using ships designed for shorter people more tiring. I agree, though, that it doesn’t make sense for ancient sources to lie about something so ordinary.

Or I could, you know, play what I know I actually enjoy, based on over two decades of RPGing experience.

I used to be right where Kiero is now, then I fell into the “system matters” story-game crowd, which led me back, by way of its cohesive system, to ACKs. I personally don’t like “old-school” games. Their piecemeal nature and lack of focus are painful. I like ACKs specifically because it’s better than that. :slight_smile:

Of course, if I was going to do a high-drama, hand-wavy, game of thrones sort of thing, I’d use Reign or Burning Wheel or something. Right tool for the job and all that.

That’s not to say that Kiero shouldn’t do what Kiero wants, or is even really in an analogous situation. It’s just that I see myself there, and feel compelled to offer what I feel is my insight to the situation.

(I also feel weird dissuading a sale on the Autarch forums. Everybody should buy ACKs, just because it’s awesome.)

I've just realised, a four is between Large and War, not between Large and Small. So there is a Medium Galley category needed, but also a fifth one (possibly by splitting War Galley).
I'm looking at the excellent Judges Screen, which has some nice summaries of stuff (I remember making one of these back when I was GMing AD&D2e), and noting something that stands out to me.
Encumbrance - I think I've seen a houserule applying Strength to it. Add (or subtract) your Str mod to each category?
Saves - would it skew the maths badly if I allowed Dex mod to apply to Reflex (Petrification/Paralysis), Con mod to apply to Fortitude (Death/Poison), and Wis mod to Will (Staffs/Wands)?
Overland travel - and remounts. Do the overland travel rates account, at all, for having remounts? Because if you've got spare horses for everyone, you can travel a lot faster than you would if you were trying to preserve one mount.

One of the neat things about older games was the possibility for unplanned encounters while out and about in the world. While the existing tables are already helpfully divided into wilderness and dungeon (thus I can happily ignore the latter), if the Expert set is anything to go by, there’s still some fantastical in the tables that do still apply. They being Animals and Men, which have giant and fantastical creatures in the former, and things like magic users and clerics in the latter.

I wonder if it’s worth genericising the animal tables, for example to say “herd, large” or “predators, small pack”; then I could adapt on the spot to whatever is appropriate for the terrain. Or is that too much messing about?

I could also do with a Natural Events table, which might describe things like floods, landslides, earthquakes, eruptions and so on. In the case of the extreme ones, I’m imagining coming upon the scene of one that has already happened is more likely than one occurring while the PCs are in the area. Maybe those tables might be split into aftermath and active or something?

Anyone given this any thought?

You can't have a game involving Hellenistic cultures without consideration of ships, they were vital for trade and warfare. I'm looking at the Expert set which I'm presuming ACKS hews fairly close to in terms of stats and such.

There's some obvious, easy mapping of types (discussed with Alex on the Autarch forum):

  • Small Galley - bireme, hemiola, pentekonter
  • Large Galley - trireme
  • War Galley - quadrireme/tetrere, quinquireme/pentere

To which I need to add a new category of Medium Galley, covering trihemiolas. These were smaller, fast vessels, favoured by Rhodes in particular as pirate-hunters. Length 90'-120', Beam 10'-15', Draft 2'-3'. Standard crew is 120 rowers, 15 sailors, 10-20 marines, 1 captain. Capacity 30,000cn plus crew. May have a ram (1/3 extra cost). Movement rate: Miles/day: 18/72, Feet/round: 90/135. Hull points 90-105.

Some alterations to the stats there (at least as far as what I can see in the Expert booklet):

  • All ships: artillery are not installed as standard. Ballistae (actually torsion engines) might be installed on warships, in place of light catapults.
  • Small Galley: Crew: 5-10 marines.
  • Large Galley (trireme): Crew: 10-30 marines - smaller complement was more usual for a trireme. Always has a ram.
  • War Galley (quadrireme): Use the lower end of size/hull points estimates. Movement rate: Miles/day: 15/72, Feet/round: 75/120 - fours were notably fast and maneuverable for their size. Crew: 230 rowers, 20 sailors, 50-75 marines. Capacity: 70,000cn (whatever the conversion is to stones in ACKS).
  • War Galley (quinquireme): Use upper end of size/hull points estimates. Crew: 20-30 sailors, 70-120 marines - fives could carry bigger marine complements than fours.

Essentially we're splitting the War Galley into two classes. There were, of course, even bigger ships (the Ptolemies and Antigonids liked their "sixes" and "sevens"), but they'll be dealt with individually, as special cases because I don't think there was any kind of consistency when it came to those monsters.

What I'd also like to discuss is more customisation of vessels; if my PCs get hold of a ship or two, I'm expecting they might want to spend their loot to make their trick ride even spiffier. I remember AD&D2e's setting Spelljammer had stuff about modifying ships, which might have been based on some stuff from the AD&D2e PHB/DMG.

Broadly there's two dimensions upon which to apply customisation: crew and ship. Changes to crew are a tricky balance, more people means more weight (people and provisions), which means slower travel. But it might also mean more fighting capacity (if you add marines), fresher crews (if you can rotate rowers and sailors). It would be nice to be able to consider the condition of rowers too; their fitness, skill, fatigue and morale. There should be a difference between one ship with a crew of well-motivated and experienced free men at the oars, an another with some beaten-down slaves chained to their benches. Similarly a well-oiled crew used to working under their trierarch should be snappier than one comprised of new hires under a novice captain.

As far as ship goes, again more weight generally means slower travel. There's a wealth of things you can do here. Decking is one; having it means it's easy to get around on top and the uppermost deck of rowers are protected from missiles and the elements (though they're also much hotter). Not having it means you save on some weight and the rowers get better ventilation. Towers for artillery or platforms (or baskets in the rigging) for archers. Thickening or thinning the hull. Topping out the rigging, or stripping it away. For certain variations you could remove the masts entirely or change the internal arrangements for transport.

Has anyone given any thought to expanding on ships?

If you’ve ever gotten a look at the 1e Oriental Adventures book, it has excellent tables for randomly generating events like wars, earthquakes, assassinations, deaths from old age, and such. You roll out large events for the year, then roll out monthly events from sub tables.

I've posted my mostly-complete hack in the House Rules forum, but for some reason it isn't displayed on the forum view.

The reason ACKS encumbrance is strength independent (save for dealing with maximum load) is because fighter-types were running around as quickly as thief types in play-testing, and it was determined that this was far too silly. I’m not saying you can’t change it, but Alex has often surprised me with intricate explanations when there is a question about why the rules are what they are.

I've gone with the lower of Str and Con is the bonus, which should reduce that. In any case, not even the strongest, fittest character can wear the full panoply and run around in my game (because shields). So it's more peripheral than anything else.

I would go with the ancients also. The Olympias group were volunteers who were relatively healthy, moderately trained, but inexperienced. They were able to reach 90% of the burst speed, but only 43% of the sustained speed. I can believe that the ancients had developed a system that allowed them to be more efficient at normal speeds - possibly just greater endurance so that more rowers were working at one time rather than Olympias’ 50/50 shifts, possibly something that was missed in underwater hull shape or oar blade design, possibly something else.

Also, experimental archaeology is a wonderful thing for those of us engaged in fantasy RPGs.

Also, Strategy & Tactics #281 (July-August 2013) has an article on the Battle of Actium with what looks to be good information on the various galley types, from biremes to “tens”, including crew, artillery, and cargo capacity (along with less detailed information on sail-only cargo galleys). I had been considering writing up a post on it, but figured I’d mention it first, since I’m not to the point of writing up/converting stats yet.