Friday, May 24, 2013

Into the Vaults: Dragon #39

The Adventurer Conqueror King system is for me the first fantasy role-playing game to answer the question “Why wouldn’t I just use the game I began using in 1978?” At the same time, the Adventurer Conqueror King system is closer to the game I began with than more recent editions of the game, giving me a good reason to re-visit some of the gaming artifacts of my youth. In my Into the Vaults series of posts, I share my thoughts on these artifacts.

Dragon #38 was the first issue of Dragon magazine I purchased, but Dragon #39 will always be first in my heart. When the popular question of “What was your favorite issue of Dragon?” comes up, my answer is, of course, Dragon #39, published July 1980.

If you’ve played any fantasy role-playing game, you likely will have been affected by the contents of Dragon #39, starting with “The Anti-Paladin. Tim Mesford and George Laking have collaborated on the definitive version of everybody’s favorite bad guy—because, we suppose, no one author could think up all those nasty things.”  (p. 2) By chance, I had the opportunity to create the art order for the ACKS Player’s Companion Anti-Paladin. The art order I created was my homage to the granddaddy of them all in Dragon #39.

In another oft-referred to article, “Good Hits and Bad Misses” (p. 34), Carl Parlagreco presented tables for descriptive critical hits and fumbles.

In the category of the more things change, the more they stay the same, Dragon #39 includes articles on morality in fantasy (p. 10), women in gaming (p. 16) and defining D&D (p. 36). There is more in Dragon #39, but the one additional article that makes Dragon #39 first in my heart may be the single most influential article on role-playing games I’ve ever read, Lenard Lakofka’s Leomund’s Tiny Hut installment entitled "Starting from scratch" (p. 20).

As the title suggests, this article provides advice on starting a new campaign. Much of this advice may seem old hat to some now, but 30+ years ago, I was blown away by the possibilities. First, the article provided my all-time favorite method for rolling abilities:

“Roll 4d6 seven times. Record the sum of the three highest six-sided dice. If that sum is six or less, reroll at once. The sums must be recorded in order. The player is allowed two chances to alter the numbers as recorded. She may switch the positions of two of the numbers and she may discard one number – not necessarily the lowest one.”

I very much like “organic” characters, and I especially do not like frequently occurring characters with an 18 in their prime requisite. I plan to return to Lakofka’s method above in future ACKS games (not to be included with the raising of a prime requisite ability or abilities by sacrificing points in other abilities). Other pearls of wisdom from this fabulous article:

“For every three first-level characters, a beginning party may have one second-level character. For every pair of second-level party members there may be one third-level character. If a third-level character is allowed, she should be a Fighter, a Cleric or a Thief.”

“Player characters should always have the maximum possible hit points at first level.”

“The beginning party can start with a few magic items, but they should be few in number and relatively weak in power: perhaps one item for every three levels at a maximum but at least one item for every seven levels.”

To me, the advice on beginning characters at other than first level hinted at a notion of class rarity. Applying this notion to ACKS, a Judge might require any custom class to begin at 0 XP, any Player’s Companion class at 2,000 XP and any core rulebook class at 4,000 XP.

Radical stuff, eh? At least for the time. Not exactly “Fantasy F***ing Vietnam”. I encourage you to track down a copy of the article and read it for yourself. Certainly, some of it may be dated, but I will be surprised if the article doesn’t spark some new idea for your next game!


  1. Although my favorite issue of Dragon is one later, Lakofka's method has stuck with me through the years.

    I've thought of using it with ACKS but instead of discarding the 7th roll keeping it as starting gold. I've considered using it with just 3d6.

  2. Using 3d6 of the discarded roll for starting gold or a template is a fantastic idea! Thanks!