Folks: Attaching a Wargame to your RPG? Alex Macris is doing just that.
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  1. #1

    Folks: Attaching a Wargame to your RPG? Alex Macris is doing just that.

    Wargamers and Roleplayers, Apples and Oranges

    When Alex Macris, designer of Adventurer Conqueror King, released his game he was finished, but he wasn't satisfied.. He'd done what he and his fellow designers at Autarch had set out to do - realize a version of the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game that capitalized on the unfulfilled potential for a truly epic storyline, the kind where an individual with not much more than wits becomes a king, archwizard, or maser thief. Alex chooses his words carefully, he said "I call it epic because if you look all the way back into antiquity you see this progression, Theseus becomes a king, Beowulf becomes a king, Arthur becomes a king, or if you look to real world figures such as Genghis Khan - Robin Hood becomes ends his adventures an Earl. Conan, of course, rises from barbarian to king. There is something to that fantasy experience that is, I think, more satisfying for a player than the endless treadmill where at first level you fight first level monsters and at fourteenth level you fight fourteenth level monsters. The power has increased but the temporal scope has not."

    Adventurer Conqueror King had succeeded at that goal, it was a game where you could move from gutter rat to master of a thieves' guild, or from mercenary sellsword to king of empires. Alex, however, wasn't satisfied.

    "I actually come from a miniatures gaming background, when I was in college I was an officer of the west point wargames club. In law school I wrote two wargames ... I was also a competitive player of ancient miniatures, specifically De Bellis Antiquitatis," he explained. Alex wanted the players to actually be able to fight out the conquest of kingdoms, instead of simply using ACKS' built-in economic rules coupled with approximations of mass combat. "I think if you're a gamer and you watch Lord of the Rings and you see the battle of Helm's Deep or if you read about Alexander's campaigns, it's very hard to avoid the desire to want to experience those battles in your games."

    That wouldn't be as easy as one might think, though, because ACKS is balanced on a razor's edge. Autarch had designed ACKS to work like a real world. They wanted a fantasy game with a functioning and robust political and economic system, one that made sense given the realities of the rules. "If you're interested in having a living, breathing world for your players to experience and to conquer," Alex said, "the world has to make sense, and if the world has to make sense it has to make sense from the ground up - so that was how we built it.

    "Our very first article about Adventurer Conqueror King System was about the economics of the manorial system and the demographics of peasants, and I got an email from a friend saying 'Way to start the marketing campaign with a bang.'"

    Jokes aside, it's this level of dedication that makes the game successful. Alex puts a lot of thought into the reasons things work the way they do, and his approach to rules for wars wasn't going to be any different. In the coming months, Autarch will kickstart their new book: Domains at War. It will contain full rules for running fantasy war campaigns, as well as two separate systems for running battles. With it, Alex's vision of gamers acting out their very own Conan tale will be complete.

    The Natural Genesis of Domains at War

    Adventurer Conqueror King originally saw its genesis in a weekly campaign that Alex ran for the staff of The Escapist, taking Red and Blue Box D&D characters from first to fourteenth level, fourteenth being the maximum level for that era of D&D. Alex told me a little about it: "In the course of this campaign our players ultimately ended up conquering a kingdom for themselves, and as this process played itself out I had to create more and more rules to address these situations. At the end of it all we were hardly playing Dungeons & Dragons anymore - we were playing something new." Alex's new rules for his game became the framework off of which ACKS was built - and Domains at War was part of that.

    "I wrote the original Domains at War rules while I was writing the campaign," he said. The same playtest that forged ACKS, Alex's home campaign, actually made the Domains at War rules too. The question could be asked, then: Why wasn't Domains at War a part of ACKS from the beginning? The game is certainly playable without them, and fun, but the rules for armies and campaigns make the game feel more complete.

    Alex's true challenge wasn't in writing the rules, though. He realized they had another problem: "The trick was taking what we had written and turning it into an experience that could be enjoyed by a roleplaying gamer as compared to a hardcore miniatures gamer. That challenge took me roughly an extra year."

    Whether or not they're completely successful remains to be seen, but I did have the chance to sit down and play some Domains at War during Escapist Expo in Durham, North Carolina this past September. The system was strong, and as a Barbarian Warchief I lead my huscarls to victory alongside a few others - noble paladins and elven sorceresses, with their accompanying troops. The rules we used were effectively communicated over just a few minutes at the table, and lent themselves pretty well to a con game. The people at the table who were unfamiliar with the system, but familiar with other d20 or OGL games, were able to pick up the details without much confusion. Most interesting was that we had a relatively high number of players, six, and it felt as though each player got equal spotlight time and had just as much impact on the course of our battle. Either way, that lich and his army of beastmen never saw us coming.

    What kind of wargame is it, anyways?

    Domains at War will be divided into two major books, campaigns and battles. The campaigns half of the book will contain information about raising armies, maintaining armies, campaigning and marching your army, scouting, spying, sabotage, and finally the costs of war - from supply to what your troops should get paid. There's also a section on the vagaries of war, including tables of random happenstance that arise during wars. Alex called it a "360 degree look at warfare from the operational and strategic level."

    Finally, the campaigns section will offer something very interesting - the more lightweight of the book's two battle systems. "The narrative system in Domains at War campaigns can be easily translated to any other RPG" Alex said. The narrative system, which is intended to be appropriate for both general battles and sieges, functions by assigning battle ratings to units and using varied opposed rolls for each army to determine casualties and victory. It's simple and elegant at heart, as I saw during my play at Escapist Expo.

    Alex also hopes that players of any fantasy RPG will find the kind of information in campaigns useful. "As an example of the kind of thing you could extract, let's say you've got an army of ten thousand and it needs to cross a desert. You need to know how much it's going to cost to provision that army crossing the desert and how long those supply lines are going to stretch. Now, some people want to handwave that, but I find it's always easier to hand wave or innovate if you at least have a line that's measured against the real world."

    The battles book contains the wargame battle system, using a hex based system where armies maneuver and engage with each other. It's intended to be a fight, in detail, of the battles in a war, where the narrative system is more abstract. "What I think we've achieved that's really amazing with Domains at War battles is that your player characters will serve as the commanders of the battle, and their attributes like charisma and their level as a fighter will all feed right into the miniatures game. Every spell that's in Adventurer Conqueror King System can be used in the miniatures game and has its appropriate effect." The team at Autarch focused on integrating the system to existing rules - but scaled up to accommodate mass morale, terrain, and the vagaries of command. "It will be a miniatures game that is instantly recognizable as a d20 based fantasy game, but which is nevertheless also recognizable as a game of mass combat in an ancient battlefield." Domains at War, then, is poised to become the killer app for ACKS players.

    It will be interesting to see what use the rules of Domains at War have to non-ACKS players, but the prospects seem good. Alex cautioned players against mucking about too heavily with the rules of whatever game they're playing, because changes have ripple effects that go unseen. However, he seems very comfortable with the idea of bolting on a new system or two to an existing game. "You could certainly take Domains at War and use it with Pathfinder, use it with [D&D] 4E. In fact, I actually used my entire Domains at War system with a [D&D] 3.5 campaign I was running simultaneously with my ACKS campaign - so I know it can be done."

    Domains at War will launch as a Kickstarter in the coming months, likely Q1 2013.
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    Last edited by JonathanBolding; Monday, 5th November, 2012 at 02:17 AM.

  2. #2
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    Well I bought the first book due to this article and its been an extremely interesting read!

    Are there any other books beside the first one?

    Warder

  3. #3
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    Forgot to say, ACKS dominion system is exactly what I want to have in DnDNext! And the XP rules are exactly what I would like to use in my games, killing monsters is not the ends, it's the means.

    Warder

  4. #4
    Sounds awesome.

    My thinking has been: all of these additional means of play are there from the start. Just as running a household at earlier levels can progress into something like running an empire at epic levels, having a henchmen, then perhaps a follower, and maybe a dozen hirelings to boss around for a short time is every bit as much mass combat / leadership as maneuvering 10,000 soldiers around a battlefield while under heavy fire.

  5. #5
    Blackwarder - yes, the Player's Companion is finished and just waiting on the last stage of indexing the PDF. You can pre-order it here, and get download instructions for the draft right away. It's got guidelines for creating new character classes and spells, with lots of examples of each, plus templates for generating new characters quickly with themed packages of equipment and proficiencies.

    howandwhy - we agree about this, not surprisingly! All these modes of play are also there from the start in the sense of being implied or mentioned in the original RPG, but my experience has been that by making them more explicit and clearly supported by the system, players feel encouraged to take different paths. And like you say this can happen at any level of play - the idea that being King will involve having many followers might inspire a starting character to hire henchmen, or to seek out a more powerful character to become the follower of. Either way it tends to tie characters more tightly into the wider world.
    Last edited by Tav_Behemoth; Sunday, 4th November, 2012 at 02:49 AM.

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    This is one of the most interesting off-brand products out there, kudos to the writers.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Hautamaki View Post
    This is one of the most interesting off-brand products out there, kudos to the writers.
    It's one of the reasons why I thought this was really story-worthy. Where other companies in the D&D/Fantasy RPG Genres are tacking more and more bells and whistles (or, conversely, stripping more and more away) onto characters, the folks at Autarch are focusing on fleshing out world mechanics and giving framework to cool game world events. It's not something I've seen done as successfully or as in depth as this until now.

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