Being an old-timer means that I find lots of the OSR world interesting. In most cases it’s not enough to make me ditch the new shiny(4E), but sometimes I wonder if that’s not simply because I have a group that consists of gamers with slightly more modern sensibilities. To that end, I’ve always looked at retro-clones with the angle that I’d like to see not just a clone, but an actual modernization of the systems of the past. They had so much going for them that has been lost with the march of time, with the evolution of the modern gamer. Their themes are no less relevant, no less graspable than they were 30 years ago. Demonstrated by my repeated and successful attempts to introduce modern young people to classic RPGs. These RPGs don’t need to be wildly altered. They just need a fresh coat of paint and a cohesiveness that was lacking from a system that was essentially designed piecemeal by non-designers. They need more references outside of 1970s fantasy fiction combined with a liberal helping of myth. They need to approach the critiques of those systems without unmaking their brilliance.
Well, suffice it to say, that is no simple task. The luminaries of Gygax, Arneson, Holmes, Kask, Mentzer, Moldvay, Ward etc weren’t strictly game designers. They weren’t designing a product for some existing demographic. They were endeavoring to create a new one. They were the Neil Armstrongs and Buzz Aldrins of the new RPG frontier. This puts them in stark contrast to almost all who came after. But this is not a love letter to the greats. This is a probing of the modern. This is a look into the ways of doing things that exist today to serve a need that was created more than 3 decades ago.
So, what do we get? Well, generally, we get a simple rehash. We get the ability to play games as we remember them and the games get, perhaps, one last bit of support from what was before an ever-shrinking community. But is that all they have left to offer; a generalized version of their former glory? Certainly not. In most cases, some small tweaks are made to clean up the systems or to offer greater uniformity. As in the case of systems like Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry or even OSRIC, we get a smoother, more oiled experience, while retaining almost all the old school charm.
In a couple of other cases though, we truly get something new. If you’ve ever been to this blog before, you’ll be familiar with Castles & Crusades. It is one of the very systems I’m describing. It takes much of what made 1E so compelling and marries it to some of the more modern d20 mechanics. The result, IMO, is a truly grand ruleset, both elegant and simple, while offering a huge amount of flexibility for both players and dungeon masters to play the game they want to. One thing it didn’t do was muck too terribly with the existing classes and class structure. To its credit, the original classes read, build, and play very much like they did in yesteryear, supported by more modern resolutions mechanics. This means that while it exists as its own fully supported system, it also plays nicely with early materials, needing only a few simple conversions to make them workable.
Adventurer Conqueror King System takes it one step further down the rabbit hole. They rethink the way classes themselves work (from a build standpoint) while staying true to how they should play. They create a robust proficiency system that offers a level of flexibility in character creation rarely seen outside of classless systems. Add to that a much more mature end-game ruleset and you’ve got a thoroughly new beast that maintains consistency (and a large degree of compatibility) with the systems it descends from.
Adventurer Conqueror King is a nascent system and one that relies almost exclusively on crowd sourcing endeavors such as Kickstarter. One can still visit the page that seems to have started it all here. According to the groups homepage, ” The system’s cutting edge is the way every table, chart, and assumption in the game encodes Gygaxian naturalism, Arnesonian barony-building, and the designers’ own experience of hundreds of sessions playing and running old-school games. With Adventurer Conqueror King, you get both the verisimilitude and consistency of thorough world-building with the power of improvisation and discovery through play.”
I recently picked up the PDF at RPGNOW for a scant $10. For a nearly 300 page tome that contains an entire system including over a dozen classes, spells, monsters and deep rules for building your kingdom, I’d call that one helluva bargain. I immediately went to the forums and started reading the comments from the designers and readers. Equally impressed by their willingness to engage with their fans while maintaining a strong coherent vision, I put in my order for the hardback which just recently began shipping. Based on my experiences so far, I can’t wait to dig further into the system. It would seem they just recently finished another Kickstarter for a game expansion with more classes, races and various and other sundries. If you’re looking for a new and modern system that takes very seriously the concepts that made this hobby great, I think you owe it to yourself to check out Adventurer Conqueror King System.
You heard it here first.