Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

A Look at Class Selection in ACKS

Okay, this is trickier than it maybe should be. Coming in from Moldvay Basic, it’s just burned into my brain that the correct way to play D&D is that ability scores should be completely irrelevant to class selection– at least when it comes to the four main human classes. I mean, if you have an intelligence of three, you should still be able to play a mage, right? Well you can under classic B/X. But not under ACKS! This is hard to accept for a purist like me, but I got over it.

What this means is that it’s possible to not qualify for any class under ACKS. I don’t think it’s specifically outlined in the rules anywhere, but this would be a pretty strong contender for the legendary “hopeless character.” Alternately, you could use the optional ACKS method of rolling up five characters, running one, using two others as backup characters, and handing the remaining two to the dungeon master for use as NPC’s in that case. In the chaos of the typical game session it is difficult to get people to do that properly and then remember to stick to this in later sessions. An alternate solution would be to simply have them run a normal human. After a mere 100 XP, they become first level fighter. (I would rule that their strength would become a nine at that point.) If that sounds too awful for them, then they can do the multiple characters thing and do it right.

Of course, it’s not very likely to happen, really. Still… is it really so bad to have a crap character? I mean good grief. Go mess with that thing in the dungeon that nobody else wanted to risk experimenting with already. But you won’t do that. You and me both know how it will go. You’ll roll 3d6 in order and immediately start complaining. You’ll try to get killed in the subsequent sortie… and everyone will know it… and there’ll be this distinct sense of metagaming that will spoil the immersion. It’ll be tacky. But then in spite of your recklessness, it will seem that someone else is fated to die. Three sorties later, that “hopeless” character will have accumulated enough history through actual play that you’ll forget how much you hated him in the first place. So why not just skip the petulant phase and go ahead and give it your best shot right from the start?! You know that’s the right way to play!

And of course, anyone that is perceived to have gotten a raw deal is liable to gain all manner of perks fom the rest of the party, so don’t sweat it. I mean the last time this happened, everyone gave the guy enough gold that he could bank a level from the start. Of course, this character came into the game with a chunk of banked experience already– which is why the player was not too interested into arbitrarily throwing him away in the first place. So if you want to have more freedom to optimize your character, don’t bank XP, right? Ah, but you’d never do that– hah ha!! (Seriously Alexander Macris is just plain evil. And this is of course why I trust his design decisions even when individual rules rub me the wrong way. Down the road, everything just seems to fall in place.)

But I digress.

Let’s get some sample characters here in order to have a clear frame of reference. We’ll do one set of five just like a player using the optional character generation rule would do. (Attribute blocks here are STR-INT-WIS-DEX-CON-CHA.)

  1. 10-12-11-9-10-12 (No restrictions on class selections! 5% prime requisite bonus possible as Mage.)
  2. 7-12-13-12-13-17 (Barred from Fighter, Assassin, Dwarven Valtguard, and Elven Spellsword. However… if the attributes are robbed sufficiently, this guy could play a not-too-common Bard with a +10% experience bonus.)
  3. 10-10-7-10-10-12 (Barred from Cleric, Bard, Bladedancer, and Dwarven Craftpriest classes. This guy’s not going to get a prime requisite bonus regardless of what class he goes with!)
  4. 9-16-12-10-14-6 (Barred from Bard. Automatic +10% XP bonus as mage. Robbing that CON to raise another attribute would be hard to do for me anyway. The guy would have to give up his prime requisite bonus to play an Elven Spellsword or Elven Nightblade.)
  5. 9-10-13-10-16-8 (Barred from Bard. That CON qualifies him for Dwarf classes, but no prime requisite bonuses. The lazy way out here is to simply be an extremely tough cleric with +2 hit points per hit die and +5% earned XP… which is actually kind of awesome.)

So… just eyeballing these… looks like this deck of characters consists of a Mage with +5%, a Bard with +10%, a Fighter, an Elven Spellsword, and a Cleric with +5%. If the dungeon master is stingy with the demi-human classes (like I am), then that Spellsword would become a Mage with +10%. The other Mage might consider running a Thief if the group seemed to need it, though two Sleep spells is hard to argue with.

The main thing with ACKS is… make sure you qualify with the class before you start mucking around with the attributes! This is maybe not too obvious apart from a close reading of the rules. Also… it’s not immediately apparent, but you have to have a minimum  of 9 in all this prime requisite attributes as well.

As you can see, it’s actually not that easy to roll less than nine more than once in set of six attribute rolls. This means you’re liable to be barred from only a handful of classes at most. Most sets are going to have one particularly obvious class choice– usually just that one class that you get the +10% bonus in, if any. These are going to be much less common with the classes that have more than one prime requisites, so when those turn up it seems like they are really extra special somehow.

Just watching how people play, people tend to go with the class that gives the best XP bonus regardless of what all else is going on at the table. Sometimes the party really needs a replacement thief in particular, say. In that case, it’s interesting to watch people to see if they can make themselves pass up that relatively unimportant bonus, or else take one for the team and play a class that they are not quite optimized for. It isn’t always obvious what the best choice is, but having the choice being fairly well wide open means you always have the option to play just about anything you’re in the mood for.

Hopeless characters excluded, of course.

And I’ve got to say… if I’d rolled up this set of five characters for a game, I’d totally run that Bard. And I hate Bard classes! That’s the power of 3d6 in order and prime requisite bonuses right there. I don’t know why people play the game the way that they do– but they sure do! One side effect of this is that party composition is always getting changed up. I think this keeps the game fresh because the players have to continually change up their delving tactics as a result of this.


3 responses to “A Look at Class Selection in ACKS

  1. Cambias July 8, 2015 at 8:49 am

    It strikes me that a “completely hopeless” person — not as strong, tough, quick, or smart as his comrades — who nevertheless refuses to give up and who fights both the monsters and his own weaknesses, is pretty much the definition of a hero.

    • jeffro July 8, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Sometimes it’s the expert player that gets the hopeless character and a newer player than ends up with the hero. What ends up happening then is that the novice ends up leading out a little more and being more assertive in general.

      Player character mortality is the balancing factor. It keeps these things in rotation among the players. If there is little to no chance of death, then you will surely be playing the same character for 30+ hours… in which case, getting stuck with the “hopeless” one is much worse of a deal.

  2. Pingback: Why ACKS Is One of the Best RPGs on the Market | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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