Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Five Ancient Kingdoms: What You Get

The orders are starting to come in (thanks for the business!) which is, of course, great…when you put a bunch of money into a book and throw up a PayPal button on your blog, there’s always that nagging worry that no one is going to buy the thing and all the effort you put into it was for naught. At least, I always have that moment of anxiety. Now that that has passed, the next anxiety is: “Will anyone enjoy it? Will people find it useful? Or will it just provide fodder for jeers and catcalls?”

Actually, I’m not all that worried about the last one; the easy response to jeers and catcalls is: “Let’s see what you can do.” Which is, by the way, the reason all the designers I regularly badmouth on this blog should be completely un-phased by my ranting. I can’t touch Frank Mentzer’s BECMI because BECMI is one of those iconic pillars of D&D: a solid edition in its own right, comprising hundreds of thoughtful, well-written, beautifully illustrated and laid-out pages. Doesn’t mean I can’t take umbrage with his design choices…that’s MY prerogative. But Mentzer shouldn’t feel threatened by little ol’ me when he’s helped bring thousands and thousands of people into the hobby over the years with his version of the game.

Yes, even the 4th edition books took a huge amount of effort, imagination, and creativity to put together and it’s okay to respect that work…even as we condemn the overall effect and impact on the hobby and industry.

But, hey, there are people who have no idea if they’ll find 5AK useful OR jeer-worthy because they won’t buy it…because they don’t know what the hell they’re getting for their money. Not everyone buys stuff sight unseen…especially when it’s not even got a review attached to it!

So maybe I need to be a bit more informative.

Five Ancient Kingdoms is a complete fantasy adventure game. It provides everything you need (less paper, pencil, and players I suppose) to create and play fantasy adventures. The price you pay ordering from my blog buys you the following:
  • Three volumes describing the game and rules.
  • A small introductory adventure scenario.
  • Four custom, six-sided dice.

 The three volumes are in small (A5) format, soft-cover and saddle-stitched. They were designed this way for both portability and playability (ease of use at the game table, in other words). The interiors are black and white and are illustrated. Each has a table of contents (no index). There are no pages used for advertising.

Volume 1 (Men and Mettle): describes the dice conventions of the game, including “pushing” and “rule zero.” It provides rules for creating player characters and setting them up (equipment, calculating movement, HPs, etc.). It provides rules for combat encounters in man-to-man (small scale) combat, saving throws, damage and healing. It includes XP tables. It includes rules for dealing with NPCs (languages, reaction, retainers). It provides an overview of the setting (its customs, religion, law).

Volume 2 (Magic and Monsters): describes the magic system and provides rules for the same as well as spell lists and descriptions. It provides monster descriptions, organized by category: beasts (natural and un-), men, jinn, giants, demons, abominations (demon spawn), angels, and undead.

Volume 3 (Dragon Master Secrets): provides all the information the Dragon Master (DM) needs to run the game. It includes an overview of the history and geography of the setting, rules for crafting adventures, and mechanics specific to the various arenas of exploration (Underworld, Wilderness, or Palace) used for an adventure. It provides rules for both romance and warfare. It provides information for creating treasure hoards and magic items. It provides additional rules and tips for managing different classes of player character. It explains how to award experience points for various activities. It provides suggested rule adjustments for DMs that want to take the game in different directions (i.e. play in different settings), including ones more “high fantasy” (like Tolkien) or more “sword & sorcery” (like Howard).

The introductory adventure is called Sorcerer Island. It takes place on an island.

The default setting of the game is specific and based on the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic nation of the 8th and 9th century (i.e. the Golden Age of Islam). Proper nouns (including place names, nation names, and the names of the various religions of the time) have been changed to fictional names to emphasize that this is a game and work of fiction, based on the legends and mythology of the region as much as on its history. It is not “mythic Araby” – if you’re interested in that, I’d suggest playing Ars Magica (which has some great reference books for the Levant). To put it bluntly, it was easier for me to take a ready-made, real world setting and steal it for my game. No fantasy history can be as rich as the real world! And yet, it’s NOT the real world…in this game’s setting, for example, the Franks never converted to Catholicism and there is no Holy Roman Empire.

But that’s just setting…you’re welcome to change that if you like.

Hmmm, let’s see…maybe a few more quick notes:
  • All systems are D6 based (hence the need for D6 dice).
  • Combat is based on the CHAINMAIL model; “hit dice” is the most important stat for combat purposes, but is used differently from standard D&D models. On the other hand, it converts pretty much the same (meaning you can ‘port D&D monsters into 5AK relatively easy, using their HD).
  • “Divine” magic is broadly similar to standard D&D, save that divine favors are granted per adventure (i.e. per game session), not “per day.”
  • Magician spells are based on the CHAINMAIL model: magicians know the spells – or not – and make casting rolls adjusted for level.
  • Rule zero (which I’ve mentioned before) makes every die roll a crapshoot…but usually (with a 2D6 roll), less of a crapshoot than D20 with its “natural one.”
  • There are four basic classes and eight additional subclasses. Characters receive some customization (compared to their fellows) based on random Advantages. Ability scores offer adjustments, though not nearly as much as most D&D editions: level is the driving force of effectiveness.
  • Volumes 1 and 2 are 48 pages long; Volume 3 has 52 pages. Since the books are small and the page count includes illustrations, tables, cover leafs, and table of contents, the actual amount of reading required is pretty small. The adventure is 10 pages in length including maps.

All right, that’s enough info to go on. I’ll try to take a few interior photos for posting later today or tomorrow. Feel free to spread the word.
: )


  1. Ordered my copy the other day and looking forward to what you have put together. So, is this your de-facto standard when you run games these days? And if so, any plans to produce updates and additional material as the game continues to evolve through play?

  2. I'd be happy to buy it, but not until I can get it in PDF or EPUB.

  3. @ Harv:

    It's all I've been running for awhile, but that's due to play-testing. However, yes, I intend this to be my "usual" system when running D&Dish style games.

    I'd actually like to see supplements for it from other hobbyists...though I AM considering a setting-less "Basic" version (in the Holmes style).
    ; )

    @ Kerry:

    PDF is coming...but you'll miss out on the cool dice!

  4. @ Kerry:

    Check the link in the post re "Rule Zero." People who order the print copy get four of these bad boys (two of each color).
    : )

  5. JB are you going to make it possible to order the dice separately?

    I'm waiting for the PDF myself (at least initially) because of the postage costs of shipping to the UK.

    Plus I've started to get rather attached to my wire bound printed PDF's where I don't have to worry about splitting a books spine or pay full replacement cost when a book gets too tattered and stained.



  6. @ Tom:

    It's the dice that jack up the shipping costs (throwing the game from letter/media into the parcel category). The weight of the thing is negligible (under a pound), but the parcel rate is the killer.

    That being said, the PDF should be available this month, and the special dice aren't absolutely can use normal D6s and treat the 1s as "zeroes." It's just not as cool.
    ; )

    1. Ah, I thought the problem was that once boxed you couldn't throw the whole lot in a jiffy bag and expect it to arrive anything other than squashed. Not a problem if you're just shipping dice.

  7. I gots mines!: