Friday, July 22, 2011

Where the Borderlands Meet the Conqueror King

For those looking to see an expansion of domain-level play options, this may be great summer. Both Hill Cantons: Borderlands (née The Domain Game) and the Adventurer Conqueror King System  will highly likely see the light of print day—and hopefully will set off the kind of homebrewing and kitbashing around that arena we all love in the DIY corner of our hobby.

Earlier this week, I mentioned briefly that I was in talks with the ACKS design team. Although I believe that most people interested in this kind of campaign play would cherry-pick pieces of either systems and spindle, fold, mutilate them into their home games, there was still some concerns on my part that we would overly-duplicate efforts.

After all both games had a bottom-up, granular design, a layered approach to the power arc of player characters, and posited themselves as trying to make good on the “Arnesonian” promise of the very early days of this great game.

Having read the recent draft of ACKS, I can say that while we started in similar places that each project has some interesting—and divergent—answers to the same questions. In fact, I feel that in a number of areas they complement each other with different strengths and thus expand the cherry-picking options greatly.

Skipping to the punchline here, ACKS provides an open-gaming license of its own by which a product can be labeled as a “compatible product”. Borderlands will become such a beast.

What does this mean in practical terms?

It doesn't mean that Borderlands will dramatically move much in it's main goals and execution. You will still see a modular collection of sub-systems to maximize the plug-and-play aspect of the sourcebook. The three layers of domain-level play I have been talking about: the mid-level campaign play, the early name-level play of wilderness clearing; and the high-level play of kingdom-ruling will still all be there.

It will mean, though, some adaption to play to the strengths of both publications. In particular it means you will see a heavier emphasis in HCB on the first and second layers of play—and the accompanying more free-form “narrativist” play style alternative. Expect to see meatier social advancement charts/play suggestions, more options for characters 4th-11th level, an expansion of the epic campaign season concept, more fledgling settlement-subsistence work, and more.

Because the unified economic system inside ACKS is a really inspired piece of work you will also see a little less emphasis on the third layer and a general referring back to ACKS for certain pieces. Likely there will be more little changes here and there when we pass around the completed Borderlands manuscript in a couple weeks.

Lastly, before I sign out I wanted to make it clear that I haven't budged from my personal, non-commercial goals for this project. Though there is obviously a lot of talk about “licensing compatibility” and a “product identity” for HCB, I remain committed to this being a not-for-profit venture.

I intend on having the money move through the Pulp Fantasy Society, a non-profit organization. Additionally, I will strive to keep prices down on the consumer end while making sure that “profits” cover current and future production costs.

It's all about love of the (domain) game here at the Hill Cantons. Now back to work on some fun non-related posts (like a mechant-adventurer player class inspired by a recent Hari Ragat blog post.)


  1. Very cool news. I'm enjoying the way both ACKS and HC Borderlands are developing, and it's great to see them converge in this way.

  2. Excellent - this just gets better and better :)

  3. I am raving about this development at Dragonsfoot and EN World. SO excited!

    I came up with the grandiose "fulfilling the promise of the original fantasy RPG" for ACKS, but I think it's this collaboration that could really achieve that, and certainly it fulfills the promise of the OSR.
    - Tavis

  4. We the consumer can only benefit from you guys putting your heads together. Great stuff.

  5. I'll play the Devil and suggest that this is not a happy development for many traditional gamers. ACK, will, I'm sure, greatly benefit, and I'm also sure that it will be possible to put in some effort "spindle fold and mutilate" for a traditional D&D campaign... But, I can already do that with the FFC,DMG, RC, and any of a dozen indie products like Reign or some such. Of course, that means more work and seat of the pants rulings... What I had hoped Borderlands would provide was a well thought out plug and play supplement with various options for use with classic and original D&D and their close children, and put an end to the dangling participle of the power game. What you seem to be saying now is that Borderlands will not fill that role. It will complement ACK, and that will be great if the DM is playing ACK or at least owns it, but Borderlands will be a lot less usefull without ACK. Thus the OSR/D&D player will still lack that one good single volume resource to apply to those socially ambitious chracters in their campaigns, and thier only option will remain what it already is; to go out and buy some other game system and steal from it.

  6. @DH
    It's a valid concern and not something I haven't thought about.

    When I said, "It doesn't mean that Borderlands will dramatically move much in it's main goals and execution" I meant that. It will still first and foremost be tailored to classical D&D editions.

    In general my approach to keep it something that can fit in without a lot of rule giggling will still be there.

    Most of my own baseline calculations (numbers reverse engineered and re-applied from FFC and the Judges Guild Ready Ref sheets) will be very similar for the sub-systems found there.

    Where it needs to have conversion to the mechanics to ACKS that will be marked separately.

    Will it be the alpha and omega single-volume resource for classic-style domain-play? No, but I never thought it would be the end of the story. It needs other minds, other styles, and most of all it needs to stand up to the test of play at the table (not just mine but at others) It needs some openendness.

    At least in this first book though it does mean that certain of the large-scale domain rules guidelines will be cut back in emphasis and length. And that does mean a referring back to the strong points of ACKS.

    If there is sufficient demand to continue filling things out in the same way that I intend for the first two parts then we'll continue working on those things.

    At the least, reserve judgement till you see it in print. (I will even forward you an advance copy of the draft to see if it meets what I am laying out).

    If it falls flat, it falls flat. But my gut says it won't.

  7. I am very much looking forward to this.

  8. @blu
    Thanks, you should, you get a free copy as a partial winner of the name contest. Ha.

  9. Thanks Chris, that's a reassuring answer. I think if you can manage the flexibilty you mentioned I'll be a happy camper. ;)

  10. @DH
    I appreciate the honest skepticism. We need that kind of feedback to keep us grounded.

    This morning I was thinking that best way to describe Borderlands is as a classic D&D variant sourcebook with ACKS fitted compatibility.

  11. I think that compatibility declarations are a funny beast. Gamers are, in this as in many other things, contradictory: we mash things up all the time, but then we worry about whether stuff as similar as 4E and Essentials and the Red Box starter set are compatible. In the latter case, a more overt declaration of compatibility might have helped clarify the situation to players (and maybe even to the designers).

    I see two main reasons not to declare compatibility:
    1) Legal and licensing restrictions. The vast majority of retroclone and d20 material is designed for compatibility with some version of "the world's most popular fantasy role-playing game", but not being able to say that creates some confusion about the designers' intent.
    2) True differences of intent. Runequest grew out of the Perrin Conventions for OD&D, so its material is theoretically as compatible as, say, Basic vs. 2E AD&D. In some sense this doesn't matter to me - I am hunting for Griffin Mountain and Hellpits of Nightfang to use in my OD&D campaign which increasingly mashes in ACKS as well - but I appreciate the utility of being told that Dark Tower is for D&D, and Duck Tower is for Runequest, because this tells me something about what Jaquays has in mind that I can take into account when I kitbash.

    ACKS and Borderlands can't talk directly about the reasons they are compatible - more so than most because they take the same set of early texts and campaigns as launching points - because of #1. But I think the point of the compatibility declaration relates to #2: as designers we're saying "our intent is for you to think of these as belonging together, or at least being part of the same conversation".

    Note that, under the terms of the OGL, there's nothing to stop anyone from reprinting all the rules sections of ACKS that they find useful in their own work. (The only PI is basically proper names and other narrative elements that come from the implied setting of the Auran Empire, which is easy to separate from the open content).
    - Tavis