Adventurer Conqueror King & Non Vancian Magic
Vancian Magic is seen by many to be one of the hallmarks of D&D style gaming. It is of course only one way of many to do RPG magic, and in point of fact many later editions of D&D chose to explore some of these options. For me Vancian Magic is a rich and deep tradition of fantasy play, that is often seen only for its weaknesses and not for its strengths. But that is for the subject of another post. For today we are going to take a look at how Adventurer Conqueror King does its magic.
First of all ACKS has a great explanation of why it chose to do magic differently from the traditional Vancian perspective which you can read about here. Which I think is important because it ties its rationale to some opinions of some old schoolers themselves. I'm not saying I agree. I prefer Vancian magic. That being said, I really like the philosophical underpinnings of ACKS magic. The reason in fact that I like Vancian magic is because of the implications that such magic makes for the various campaign worlds in which it exists. All you have to do is read Jack Vance to understand a little of what I'm talking about.
It always amazes me how some people play a game by the rules, but not see that the rules have huge implications for the tone, background and reality of the setting in which the game is played. This is exactly what ACKS sets up for its players in its approach to non-Vancian magic. It actually does it fairly well in a number of other places as well, but the case with magic stands out as amazing in my opinion.
Magic in ACKS works much like it does in Classic D&D--not AD&D. There are no casting times or the like. However it is unexceptional from the traditional game in that anything I don't mention can be assumed to work much like it does in the original game. Where it diverges is in what they call Spell Repertoires.
Spell casters in ACKS have a number of spells in what are called their Repertoires. In the case of wizards the Repertoire may have as many spells as the mage can cast in a day. He may however have more spells in his spell book. In the case of Clerics their Repertoire consists of all spells their Deity allows them access to at their given level. This not only makes sense it has awesome implications for the ACK's gaming universe.
Spell Signatures are the last touch that add flavor to ACK by implying spellcasters learn magic slightly differently or uniquely. Each spell might have a special flair, quality or effect that is unique to the caster that work the magic. Such a touch not implies that magic use if very much akin to an art, it also implies magic use must be channeled or directed individually; and that individual will have an effect on the spell's outcome and nature. The hook possibilities are endless.
So not only does ACK create a system that is bound in power--spell selection may be tightly limited but use is expanded--it also offers increased playability in terms of magic users who can cast more spells with greater role playing effect. Long ago in Role Playing Mastery, Gary Gygax said that before one starts changing a system, in this case Classic D&D, be sure you are aware of the spirit of the system and how that changes the game as a whole. It seems to me that the ACK designers did just that. Is ACK a clone of Classic D&D. Perhaps not, but it is certainly a faithful variant to the spirit of what made old school gaming great.