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I've Much to Be Thankful For!
We're in the Last 72 Hours of the Kickstarter and We've Already Won.
Edit: In an act of infinite wisdom I sent this a day early. Forgive me, I’m overwhelmed. It’ll be 48 hours starting tomorrow.
We're down to the last 72 hours of the Kickstarter campaign. It ends at noon on Wednesday! There is usually a substantial bump in the last two days; whether it will be enough to kick us over the $350,000 milestone is anyone's guess. No matter what, we've already had a big success, and the Autarch family has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Today I wanted to share a preview of some of the spells in ACKS II. One of the hardest parts about transitioning off the OGL, re-writing the spells, was at the same time an opportunity. We'll start by looking at some of the 1st level spells available to mages in ACKS II. Our goal here was to have sufficiently powerful and fun spells that charm person (now called beguile humanoid) and sleep (now called slumber) was no longer the obvious choice in all circumstances.
Arcane 1, Divine 1
Duration: 1 hour per caster level
This spell raises the bones or body of a dead canine target as an undead skeleton or zombie under the caster’s mental control. An animated canine skeleton can be created only from a mostly intact skeleton; a canine zombie can be created only from a mostly intact canine corpse. For purposes of this spell, canines include coyotes, dogs, foxes, jackals, and wolves, but not wargs, hell hounds or other monstrosities. Canine skeletons will have Hit Dice equal to the number the canine had in life. Canine zombies will have one more Hit Die than the monster had in life, but one-half the speed.
The caster can give verbal orders to his faithful companion when he first animates it and thereafter anytime it is in line of sight on his initiative. Complex or extensive orders require the caster to expend action in lieu of moving, but simple orders (“protect me!”) do not require an action. Orders can be given in any language the caster speaks. The faithful companion will mindlessly obey whatever orders it is given to the best of its (limited) ability. It cannot accomplish tasks that require abstract thought or higher reasoning. If it complete all of its orders, or for whatever reason is physically unable to obey its orders, the faithful companion will simply remain stationary until it receives new orders. The faithful companion acts on its own initiative each round.
A faithful companion remains animated until destroyed or dispelled, or until one hour per caster level elapses. If the faithful companion remains intact when the spell ends (e.g. it wasn’t destroyed), the canine’s remains can be re-animated with full hp by another casting of this spell. (Not even death can break the bond between a necromancer and a beloved dog!) However, if the faithful companion was destroyed, it crumbles to dust.
Designer's Note: Everyone loves war dogs. No one likes it when they die! ACKS II saves the day with Faithful Companion, letting you bring your beloved puppy back from the dead as a flesh-eating zombie. Joking aside, one of the major areas of improvement in ACKS II is that the spell list has been greatly expanded to provides a large number of spells of each type at each level. Mages who want to specialize in e.g. necromancy or summoning can easily do.
Fan of Flames
Type: blast, elemental (fire)
This spell hurls bolts of searing flame in a fan 40’ long and 20’ wide stretching from the caster’s hands. Each creatures of the caster’s choice within the fan must make a Blast saving throw. If the save fails, the creature suffers 1d8 extraordinary fire damage. If the save succeeds, the creature suffers half that damage.
The fan of flame can also damage structures in its area of effect. It deals 1d8/3 extraordinary fire structural damage to wood structures and 18/10 extraordinary fire damage to stone structures. (It might deal less if the structure is not entirely in its area of effect.) It causes combustibles (such as military oil or petards) to ignite.
Designer's Note: Fan of Flames replaces the OGL spell Burning Hands. There are two major difference between the spells. First, Burning Hands did 1d4 damage per level, while Fan of Flames deals a flat 1d8 damage. Second, Burning Hands affected all targets in the area of effect, while Fan of Flames offers the caster his choice of targets in the area of effect. Though less powerful at high levels, Fan of Flames is now much, much more useful for a low-level mage in the second or third rank of combat. From a safe vantage point behind his fighters, he can now unleash a Fan of Flames that strikes his chosen foes. Glorious!
Type: blast, elemental (any)
This spell enables the caster to fire bolts of arcane energy. On the round this spell is cast, and on each round thereafter that the caster maintains concentration, the caster can fire one mage missile at a target. The caster does not have to make an attack throw to hit the target, and the target receives no saving throw. The mage missile deals 1d4 extraordinary arcane damage when it strikes.
Designer's Note: Like the original BX Magic Missile, the ACKS Mage Missile is a long range spell that infallibly hits its target for a small amount of damage. However, the BX Magic Missile was of limited utility at 1st level but became a fully-automatic magic assault rifle at higher levels. The ACKS Mage Missile takes an entirely different approach: It's a concentration spell. In ACKS II, adventurers can maintain concentration while moving at exploration speed or 1/2 combat speed. Thus, Mage Missile permits the 1st level mage to ready the spell before combat and then maintain it throughout an entire combat -- provided he doesn't get hit or fail a save! It has proven one of the most popular new spells in playtesting. Players can now choose whether they want their mage to have a tactical nuke (Slumber) or a constant stream of bullets (Mage Missile). You'll see Mage Missile deployed to great battle-winning effect in Episodes 15, 16, and 17 of the Grey Brotherhood Actual Play series.
Now let's look at some higher-level spells.
Repair Disfigurement and Disability*
Range: touch (120’)
This spell can heal a character of a single permanent wound, such as a lost limb, disfiguring scar, or shattered spine (see the Mortal Wounds rules in Chapter 6 for details on permanent wounds). Despite this spell’s beneficial results, tampering with the body and soul is never without risk. Each time a character benefits from repair disfigurement and disability, he must roll on the Tampering with Mortality table in Chapter 6 and apply these results.
The reverse of this spell, cause disfigurement and disability, can cause a permanent wound in a living creature. The target receives a Death saving throw. If the save fails, the target must immediately roll on the Mortal Wounds table and suffer the result listed under Permanent Wounds Suffered. When rolling on the Mortal Wound table, the only modifier that applies is the target’s CON modifier. The target does not suffer from the results listed in the Condition & Recovery column. If the save succeeds, the spell has no effect. Lawful casters can only use cause disfigurement and disability with great justification, such as legally-mandated judicial punishment.
Designer's Note: ACKS has long been known for its mortal wounds tables, which can leave characters scarred, maimed, or (seemingly more often than is statistically plausible) castrated when reduced to 0hp. In ACKS I, the solution to such trauma was the 5th level spell restore life and limb, which was available to 7th level clerics using the traditional BX spell progression. However, restore life and limb could also bring the dead back to life; and having a 7th level cleric able to raise the dead meant that the death rate in society would be close to 0% (I calculated it). Partly for this reason, ACKS II changed the divine spellcasters over to a mage-like spell progression that grants 5th level spells at 9th caster level instead of 7th. That reduces the availability of restore life and limb by about tenfold. Since adventurers still get maimed a lot in ACKS II, that created a need for a weaker spell, one that could repair a lame leg but not restore a dead man to life. A virtuous side effect of this approach is that Judges who want to remove any form of resurrection from their setting can do so, while leaving repair disfigurement and disability in play. This allows for game worlds where "dead is dead," but divine magic can still restore sight or repair a lame limb etc.
Type: detection, esoteric
Duration: 3 rounds
This spell allows the caster to ask a herald of his deity to answer three yes-or-no questions. The herald might be an angel, demigod, divine hero, or saint of the deity, but is almost never the deity himself (Judge’s discretion). The caster can ask the herald one question per round, and receives the answer immediately thereafter in the form of direct and intuitive knowledge. The herald is wise and well-informed in all matters relating to his deity’s sphere of influence, but is not omniscient. The herald cannot predict the future and his ability to answer questions about current or past events can be confounded by the will of rival gods or heralds. These details are left to the Judge’s discretion. The lengthy prayers required to cast this spell take 1 turn to complete, and can be performed but once per week. Once a year, upon the patron deity’s holiest day, the caster can ask twice the normal number of questions over the course of 6 rounds.
Designer's Note: The important change between BX Commune and ACKS II Communion is that the spell no longer directly connects casters to their gods. Instead it connects them to heralds of their gods. The herald, being less than a god, can more frequently be ignorant or incorrect. One of the problems with the original BX spell Commune was that it was impossible for there to be any secrets in the game world. "Is Exarch Drakomir secretly a servant of chaos" "Did the Tarkaun of Aura die fighting the Skysos?" "did the Tarkaun name a successor"? Now certain information about high-level characters or world-shaking events can be shielded or obscured.
Type: blast, elemental (fire)
This spell conjures a massive conflagration 10’ high and 60’ in diameter. When he casts the spell, the caster designates a target point for the conflagration. Both the caster and the target point must be outdoors. After designating the target point, the caster makes an attack throw against AC 0. If the throw succeeds, the conflagration is centered upon the target point. If the throw fails with an unmodified roll of 1, the conflagration is centered upon the caster. On any other result, the center of the conflagration scatters by 1d3 x 60’ from the target point. The Judge rolls 1d12 to determine the direction of scatter, applied as a clock direction from the target point. Each creature within the conflagration — wherever it ends up — suffers 2d6+2 extraordinary fire damage with no saving throw.
The conflagration can also damage structures in its area of effect. It deals up to 2d6+2 x 10 extraordinary fire structural damage to wooden structures and 2d6+2 x 2 extraordinary fire structural damage to stone structures. (It might deal less if the structure is not entirely in its area of effect.) The conflagration causes combustibles (such as military oil or petards) to ignite. Because of its huge area of effect, creatures sheltering behind an arrow loop or battlement do not gain the usual protection from a conflagration. Creatures sheltering inside an enclosed structure are not damaged unless the interposing structure is destroyed, however.
Designer's Note: This spell is of limited use in ordinary adventures. It can only be cast outdoors, and its huge area of effect would make it hard to deploy indoors even if it could be; moreover, the damage dealt doesn't match that of a fireball cast by an 11th level caster. So what is its utility? It was actually created for battlefield use. Since a company of 120 ordinary troops (4 hp each) in formation occupies a 60' x 40' area, conflagration's 60' diameter of effect allows it to instantly destroy the entire company without any possibility of a saving throw! Of course, since it's 6th level, the spell is only available to 11th level casters, which are very rare. Being able to destroy 120 troops is quite powerful, but 11th level casters will face armies in the thousands.
Disfigure Body and Soul
The spell can disfigure the body and soul of a living target. The target must make a Death saving throw. If the save fails, the target must immediately roll on the Mortal Wound stable and the Tampering with Mortality tables and suffer the results listed under Permanent Wounds Suffered and Side Effects Suffered. If the save succeeds, the target must immediately roll on the Mortal Wounds table, but does not have to roll on the Tampering with Mortality table.
When rolling on the Mortal Wound table due to disfigure body and soul, the only modifiers that apply are those from CON and HD. When rolling on the Tampering with Mortality table due to disfigure body and soul, the only modifier that applies is the target’s WIL modifier. The target does not suffer from the results listed in the Condition & Recovery column of either table. Any permanent wounds suffered are instantly cauterized, healed, scarred over, etc.
Disfigure body and soul was created by the dread sorcerer-kings of old Zahar to permanently maim the spirit and flesh of those who offended them. What makes this spell truly horrible is that its effects can only be undone by a creature of higher caster level than the caster who disfigured the body and soul. If this spell is cast by a 14th level mage with Black Lore of Zahar proficiency, it is virtually impossible to undo, even with wish or miracle.
Designer's Note: There are fates worse than death. This is one of them. A delightful spell for wicked casters of high level, the mere threat of casting it can make kings bend the knee.
This is, of course, just a snapshot of the hundreds and hundreds of spells you'll find in ACKS II, many of them never-before-seen in any RPG product.
The ACKS II Promo Tour
The ACKS online promotional tour is complete. All of the gracious hosts and streamers who invited me on to their streams have my gratitude.
Completed: Interviewed by ZSum716
Completed: Stream with Nerdcognito
Completed: Stream with Howard_RyanGreg
Completed: Stream with DunderMoose
Completed: Stream with thetshirtedone
Completed: Stream with legionofmyth
Completed: Stream with MrMaxBoivin_RPG
Completed: Stream with MildraTheMonk
Completed: Stream with WeeWheaton
Completed: Stream with UandURPGReview
Completed: Stream with Tenkar's Tavern
Completed: Stream with @Neckbeardia
Completed: Stream with Geek Gab
Completed: Discord Chat with Randomworlds
Completed: Stream with Iconic Production
Completed: Stream with legionofmyth
What Happened to the Videos?
I had every intention of maintaining Arbiter of Worlds and The Grey Brotherhood during the Kickstarter period, but alas, events intervened. We have recorded a 15th and 16th episode of The Grey Brotherhood and will release those as soon as possible. New episodes of Arbiter of Worlds will resume in December.
Actual Play of ACKS
With the help of the Autarch Discordians, I compiled some links to some other ACKS campaigns:
And here’s our flourishing Substack community:
If you have a blog or third-party product that supports ACKS or Ascendant, please let me know and I’ll be happy to include you in my next round-up.
Support the Community
Once you’ve pledged for the Kickstarter, head on over to these community links:
I'll close out by saying thank you once again for your support. If you've liked what you've seen on ACKS II so far, please tell everyone that we're in the last 2 days of the campaign so we can enjoy that last-minute burst of enthusiasm!
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