ACKS vs Pure Vancian Spellcasting

EDIT: After several comments, both here and elsewhere online, pointed out that I have some incorrect information in the original post, I have edited it to be correct.

In fantasy roleplaying games, “Vancian” spellcasting is the default. This is well and good, because the written works of Jack Vance are fan-damn-tastic. Their influence on fantasy roleplaying are still felt today (You can find him in Appendix E of the 5E Player’s Handbook, which nothing more than the a lesser son of greater sires, *cough* Appendix N *cough*).

In particular, his ideas around magic are what have stuck in the game. A person can only keep so many spells in their head at once. Better users of magic can keep better spells, as well as more spells. Once used, they are removed from the person’s mind, until they can be restudied. A quick look at B/X, or even 3E, will shows you that Vance’s ideas about magic have stood the test of time in roleplaying games.

So whenever a roleplaying game comes along and does something different, my brain has to look it over two or three times to make sure I understand it. In ACKS, the mage character takes a small step away from the traditional Vancian magic system (as seen in B/X). At first I thought that was a bad idea, but I have come around to it.*

Adventurer Conqueror King
Look at that mage! Some dingus is about to get a face full of pink fire ‘cuz they made fun of his elf shoes.

In ACKS, the mage may cast a number of spells equal to what his or her level allows, per the class chart. This number is also the number of spells he or she has in their repertoire, but the mage can receive bonus spells with a high Intelligence! The mage is not forced to decide to memorize one copy of spell X and two copies of spell Y or anything of that nature. They may cast on the fly, as long as the spell is in their repertoire.

For example, if per the class chart, a mage can cast / have the following number of spells in their repertoire, it would look this:

3 1st Level spells
2 2nd Level spells
1 3rd Level spells

That means this character has three different first level spells in their repertoire and they may cast three first level spells a day. They may cast one spell three times, each spell once, two of one spell and one of another, or any other combination.


..if the mage has 13 Intelligence (+1 bonus)

4 1st Level spells in repertoire
3 2nd Level spells in repertoire
2 3rd Level spells in repertoire

…if the mage has 16 Intelligence (+2 bonus)

5 1st Level spells in repertoire
4 2nd Level spells in repertoire
3 3rd Level spells in repertoire

…or if the mage has 18 Intelligence (+3 bonus)

6 1st Level spells in repertoire
5 2nd Level spells in repertoire
4 3rd Level spells in repertoire

This means that a mage has a reason outside the XP bonus to have a high intelligence. In B/X, it is better for magic users to have a high Dexterity (for better Armor Class) and high Constitution (for more hit points) than a high Intelligence. However, in ACKS, a high Intelligence mage has more versatility in the number of spells available to cast.

Due to not needed to decide in advance which spells will be cast in a particular adventuring day, the ACKS mage can have spells in their repertoire beyond the usual sleep, charm person, etc. They can branch out a little bit and have some spells available to use other than the “normal” ones expected of a mage. He or she has the option of having some situational spells ready to use if the party finds themselves in a pickle, instead of three copies of sleep memorized.

The ACKS mage can add a new spell to their repertoire, but they must either increase their level (and get more spells per the class chart) or exchange spells. Here is how that exchanging works:

Let’s say that the mage has, per the class chart and Intelligence bonus, 2 1st level spells in their repertoire. Let’s call these spells A and B. The mage finds a new spell called X. The mage wants to use X, but with only 2 spots in the repertoire, the mage cannot just simply add X. Therefore, after spending a lot of in-game time and gold , the mage removes A from the repertoire and replaces it with X.

The mage’s repertoire now contains B and X. A is not 100% forgotten, just not part of the current repertoire. If, at a later date, the mage decides to swap A back into the repertoire, they may do so, by expending time and gold, just as before.

Thematically, the repertoire concept lends itself well to the trope of the wizard sitting in their tower for long periods of study.

Why is the wizard doing that?

To make changes to their repertoire!

After the long study, the wizard can exit the tower and cast the right spell for the situation at hand. Which, once again, is nice thematic touch.

In conclusion, the ACKS mage has more versatility than the B/X mage and a noticeable, but not overwhelming, increase in power due to this versatility. B/X is a fine system, but more and more, I think ACKS might be just a bit better.

* I am aware that elves exist in both games and have the same rules for spells, so everything I wrote here can apply to both.

So why not mention them?

Well…my thoughts about elves can be seen here (NSFW):


Bring Back Reaction Rolls & Morale Rolls!

I was talking to my wife the other day about B/X and gushing about what a great system it is. She mentioned something that I had not realized.

“If every encounter is a fight, you need some special reason to be in the dungeon.”

When she said that, a light bulb went off in my brain. Newer editions of D&D lack reaction rolls and morale rolls. Therefore, instead of organic storytelling through dice rolls, the path for the storyteller GM is clear. The GM forces the fights to further the story that he or she is telling, or force a conversation to happen.

Confession time: I have done this. I have been a storyteller GM. I repent of this heinous sin. If I must perform a penance, please let me know what I must do.


Back to the topic at hand…

With reaction rolls and morale rolls, the band of orcs that the GM expects the party to slaughter might be willing to chat to the party. Or, the orcs might run away from battle before they all die, which could set up an unexpected recurring foe with the orc chieftain. It is all unexpected and it makes the world feel more real.

Not to make a real-world political point, but different groups do not always work together in perfect harmony. A dungeon with goblins, orcs, kobolds, hobgoblins, human bandits, necromancers, gnolls, etc probably has a lot of in-fighting among those groups. The reaction rolls can make one or more of those groups short-term allies for the party. In one of the B/X games I am currently playing, we have several gnolls following us around, because we pay them well!

In old-school games, the dungeon is not just some place full of things to fight, but a place with things to fight, talk to, negotiate with, betray, etc. I am beginning to understand why mega-dungeons can work and entire campaigns can take place within the depths of the earth.

Miscellaneous Musings & Mechanics

I am still coalescing all of the various ideas for the remade ‘Demons in Space’. These posts are my first draft musings and rough ideas. No guarantees that they will make it into the final product as described here.

I am seriously considering taking Bradford C. Walker’s advice in this post and and create an SRD for ‘Demons in Space’, while releasing a .pdf, a .mobi, and possibly a physical copy via Lulu. The SRD and .pdf would be free. I don’t know if I could release a free .mobi, but if I can I will. Any physical copies would be sold more or less at cost. Because rules might update from time to time, I don’t want any physical copy owners to feel like I cheated them if I update the rules.

A while back, I was able to play in a session of 1st Edition Gamma World with Jeffro. The mechanics of Gamma World have inspired some of the updates to ‘Demons in Space’, most notably the hit point mechanic. (roll a number of dice equal to Constitution score)


What works about the hit points is that from a theme perspective, ‘Demons in Space’ is about being alone in a hostile environment. Your characters are investigating a colony that hasn’t sent a radio message in a week or their ship has been invaded by demons. There is no cavalry coming (unless they can get the radio working again, which would be an end goal of the adventure in and of itself).

Therefore, having a decent number of hit points is useful for exploring a hostile environment. There generally is no town to flee to and sleep in the inn. At best, the players will find a room and fortify it to sleep in it. However, even with Gamma-World-number-of-hit-points, they are still very killable. Because armor is going to be damage reduction, rather than reducing chance to be hit, probably every combat the characters are going to take some damage, much like the old DOOM video games that inspired this game. In those games, you would pick up the armor, but your health would still take health damage when you were hit. You would just take less health damage when hit. If your health was low enough, you could easily die, even with plenty of armor!

So how do characters heal? The first way is to have a Combat Medic (Cleric in a fantasy game) in the party. Their Medical Experiments will include healing. Also, I will have the Loot Token (LT) system that can be used to find health packs. As the characters overcome challenges and kill demons, in addition to XP, they will gain LT.

Combat Medic
Female Combat Medic. Yes, I stole this picture from Endless Space 2. Love me some Sisters of Mercy.

There are no stores in ‘Demons in Space’, after all, if your colony ship is overrun with demons, are you going to keep your shopping kiosk set up? Of course not! So how do characters find better equipment / items?


One way would be for the GM to carefully place every single weapon, armor, and bullet. That is exhausting! Even to write an adventure, that would take up a lot of time.

So, instead I created the LT system. Players spend their LT to ‘find’ weapons, armor, ammunition, and miscellaneous items for the characters. The idea is that LT represents the character’s ability to scrounge around and find useful items. The trick is to balance LT with what you get from spending them. In a test game I ran (under the ‘old’ rules), the players told me that it was better to use LT to find health packs than to rely on the very limited Medical Experiments of a Combat Medic.

Overall, balancing LT costs is going to be the hardest part of creating this game. But, the hope is that once they are properly balanced, module creators and GMs can focus on being creative with making an enjoyable game, not calculating how many Pistol rounds are in locker 7A through 10F. This isn’t to say that the occasional special weapon or item can’t be manually placed by the module creator or GM, just that the majority of items will be LT generated.

The goal is to speed up gameplay. I would imagine that an example of play with LT would be something like this:

GM: Okay, the final Imp falls to the ground, cleaved in twain by Marty’s Chainsaw. What do you do now?

MARTY THE MARINE: I spend X LT and find a compatible battery for my Chainsaw in the ladies locker room.

TERRY THE TECHNICIAN: I spend Y LT for 7 Laser Rifle rounds and 1 Health Pack in the security guard’s locker. I use the Health Pack on myself and heal (rolls dice) 5 HP.

GM: Okay, great. To the north, the door is still shut tight, the panel flashing red…


I may not use the traditional six D&D stats for characters.

I know, I know.

I am evil, I am ruining tabletop gaming forever, I am the cancer infecting the hobby, etc etc.

Here is my idea. Only four core stats:


The Willpower stat would be a combination of Intelligence & Wisdom. Being that this game is combat heavy (and to reinforce the ideas of isolation), I removed Charisma, so that there will be no parties of 10 hirelings + party members marching through the ship. At most, each character can have 1 follower, which would replace the party member if they die.


I intend to keep the same basic monsters from the previous version of the game, but create a new stat block. Monsters will still have HD based on a d6 roll. Just like players, they have Damage Reduction (DR) from all attacks. They have a Combat Roll, if they roll under that on a d20, they hit. Here is a sample of what I am trying to do:


Hit Dice 1
DR 2
Combat 10 : 2d6 melee (claw) or 1d8 ranged (fireball)
Save 9 : Advantage vs. fire-based attacks
Special Climb any surface
Movement 40 ft / round
Alignment Chaos
XP 30
LT 5

Hideous man-sized monstrosities with six limbs, imps scurry about, climbing any surface and attacking from unexpected angles. They have a fireball that they can throw, with a range of 40 ft or sometimes they like to get close and tear characters apart with their claws.

Am I a heretic now?

Action Resolution in the Revised ‘Demons in Space’

MFW I try to design an RPG

The more I think about revising ‘Demons in Space’, the more liberties I want to take with the base game that pretty much all OSR games are built on. My latest idea is to try to unify the three major dice-rolling mechanics. I call them Combat, Skills, and Saves.

My idea is to have all three be a “roll a d20 under your stat to succeed” mechanic. Because an average character will probably have 9-12 in all stats, they will succeed about 50-ish percent of the time. Therefore, to keep the game interesting, failure is (generally) no longer just a failure, but a complication arises. For example, failing to kick down a door brings a wandering monster and failing to hack the computer causes the computer to delete the critical data needed. This would require careful GM adjudication, but I would like to think that the handsome / smart / clever / beautiful / etc readers of this blog are a cut above average.

Of course, stats are rolled 3d6 down the line, so 3 is the minimum, with 18 the maximum.

Here is what I do with all three mechanics:


  • A ‘1’ always succeeds and a ’20’ always fails
  • Should I introduce a Critical Success / Critical Failure mechanic?


  • Roll under your DEX (for ranged combat) or STR (for melee). If you if succeed, roll damage.
  • Armor is not AC anymore, but Damage Reduction (DR). For example, if an armor has a DR of 3, the damage of any hit is reduced by 3 (minimum 0…no getting healed by ‘negative’ damage from weak attacks). So, if a character is wearing the example armor, with a DR of 3, and is shot by a pistol for 5 damage, the character only takes 2 damage.
  • Failures do not become complications, because combat itself is a complication


  • Roll under the relevant stat to succeed at a skill (GM decides)
  • Skills are defined as non-combat tasks: kicking down a door, hacking a computer, climbing a wall, holding breath for a long time, etc
  • This is where the complications matter most


  • Roll under the relevant stat to succeed at saving against a nasty effect (GM decides)
  • For example, resisting a mind control spell and not catching a disease when bitten by a space rat
  • The complication is whatever the effect that the character resisting does to the character


I am working on creating a monster template with suggested Combat and Save values based on their Hit Dice (I am NOT giving each monster full stats like 3E!).

Also, speaking of RPGs, check out Bradford C. Walker’s blog series, “What Tabletop RPG Needs To Be Now”. A link to Part 1 is here.

I cannot promise that ‘Demons in Space’ will follow all these rules, but RPG designers should read these posts. There is a lot of useful information for tabletop games in the modern age. I intend to try to incorporate some of his advice into the revised ‘Demons in Space’.

Module Writing Resources

As you may know, I am running a game at this year’s North Texas RPG Con (site). The system I will be using is the Adventurer Conqueror King System, often abbreviated as ACKS. The fine folks over at Autarch were kinf enough to send me six copies of the core ACKS rulebook to give to players.

If you are going to be at the North Texas RPG Con, you are welcome to sit at my table! The game name is “The Tomb of the Mad Jarl” and it is as 9:00 am on Friday morning.

I am a mad man
I am not going to pretend like I am a great cover designer.

Speaking of the Tomb, I intend to release the module (for free) after the con is over. Right now, the module is a mixture of half-typed pages in Open Office and half-scribbled notes on paper. While I do not have the money or resources to put out a professional, slick product, it’s the content that matters, right?

My question is the following: What are some good resources for module writing / formatting? Are there any modules that absolutely nailed it that I should learn from?

I’ve looked around the tenfootpole website, and I think I have some ideas, but I want to get more opinions and ideas to make this module easy to use for GMs.

Cirsova # 7 Has Arrived!

In between two appointments I had today, I stopped by the office of my apartment complex and guess what arrived?

Yes, I suck at taking pictures. It’s a genetic problem. My grandmother (God rest her soul) used to cut off everyone’s heads in photographs.

I finally got some time tonight to sit down and start reading it. I don’t know how you read short story collections, but I start with the first one and read it like a book, front to back. I just finished the first story, by the incredibly talented Dominika Lein and WOW. Not to spoil anything, but her alien casino >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> the alien casino in The Last Jedi.

A full review will be done once I am finished with the rest of the stories. But so far, I am quite pleased. I know I sound like a broken record, but if you want the best in new science fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, weird, and/or speculative fiction, pick up Cirsova!

Cirsova magazine deserved the award it received in 2016! (2017 awards are not out…yet)

Brainstorming the Remade ‘Demons in Space’

In my previous post, I mentioned that I am remaking ‘Demons in Space’. From a lore perspective, nothing as really changed. It’s fighting demonic entities on space stations, preventing horrific monsters from destroying colonies on far off planets, and desperate struggles aboard doomed space-faring vessels.

Also, the Occultechs are still stuck in their armor and only the GM really knows if there is a person inside or if the government forcibly removed the spirit of someone who had power and stuck it in the armor.

From a mechanics perspective, much is changing. My goal is fast and furious gameplay. The only slowdowns should be when the players are trying to make a decision about what to do, not how to do it.

If players (or the GM) are trying to look up an obscure rule on page 324 of the Player’s Handbook VII, I have failed as a game designer. So the goal is to keep things simple. For example, at the 2017 North Texas RPG Con, I played a game of Swords & Wizardry Light and being able to pick up and play a game with a little 4 page document was a blast. While Swords & Wizardry Light takes a page from Moldvay and only includes rules for 1st through 3rd level (the slightly longer Swords & Wizardry Continual Light has rules for up to 7th level), I want to have up to 10th level in my game.

So here are some ideas I am toying with:

  • 3d6 down the line for stats. This is non-negotiable.
  • Each class rolls a number of dice equal to their CON for hp (d4 for Technicians & Occultechs, d6 for Combat Medics, & d8 for Marines).
  • Every even-numbered level, the player rolls a d8 and the following permanent benefit is bestowed onto the character:

1) +1 STR
2) +1 DEX
3) +1 CON (this means a new hit die is rolled!)
4) +1 INT
5) +1 WIS
6) +1 CHA
7) Roll twice again
8) Player’s choice for options 1 to 6

  • All skills and Saving Throws are collapsed into one system. Roll a d20 under the relevant stat. So to kick down a door, roll under the charater’s STR. Because, as pointed out in my previous post, the average character will have a 50-ish% chance to succeed on anything, I am proposing that faliure is BAD. To take the door example, if the roll fails, not only is the door not kicked down, the noise attracts a monster. For another example,
    a venomous snake bites a character. The player rolls a d20 and hopes to roll under the character’s CON.
  • Each class will get Advantage (roll 2 d20s and use better result) on some stat rolls and maybe Disadvantage (roll 2 d20s and use worse result) on others. For example, the Marine would get Advantage on STR and CON, but maybe Disadvantage on WIS. Because of the way I am re-working the skill system, the Technician might get Advantage in all stat rolls, but low hp and a limited weapon selection might make up for it. I will also need to figure out monster saving throws, because I do NOT want to stat out every single monster like nü-D&D does.
  • I am still trying to figure out a good combat system. It will be heavily firearm-based, as before. Because I am decoupling from Swords & Wizardry, I am free to choose ascending AC, descending AC, or even a completely different system. Part of me is considering using armor as pure damage reduction, but I am afraid the math would slow things down too much.
  • Initiative is per side, not individual.
Ascending AC? Descending AC? Damage Reduction? I am free to choose!

What have you found in tabletop games that speeds up play at the table?