Adventurer Conqueror King System or ACKS as it's becoming known is one of those pleasant surprises you always hope for when you download a PDF, (in particular a new ruleset) from RPGNow. The key to this system is present in it's title. The design is such that you begin your characters life as a budding Adventurer, seeking fame, fortune and the like. As you gain those, you graduate on to what might be called a conqueror as you begin to tame and settle borderlands or even conquer existing domains. This leads to a growth phase where much of the game revolves (or rather, CAN revolve) around building a mighty kingdom.
But what does all this mean? Well, to put it simply, Alex Macris and crew have done a wonderful job of adapting Labyrinth Lord to a game where dungeon craws slowly get replaced with something of a SimCity/Civilization ruleset. And, to my pleasant surprise, it seems to work really well.
The game has support for 14 levels and honestly I'd say that's all you need. It has about a dozen classes, include the 4 core classes and some interesting non-core. Most align nicely with what you'd expect but a couple are interesting takes on iconic fantasy archetypes. For example, the Blade Dancer, a female human cleric type class has a lot of interesting potential. Yes, I did say that correctly. Race, (in this case, human) and even gender can be tied to class. This means a bit of class bloat potential (elven cleric/dwarven cleric/human cleric/being 3 classes etc) but it also means that they can have a singularly simple and elegant proficiency system that allows each class to customize their character. The foundation of this is having 2 proficiency pools. You get a class pool of proficiencies (skills and feats) and a general pool. There is a lot of overlap between the two. So lets say you want to play a fighter who also likes to perform. Rather than being forced to play a Bard, you can take the Perform proficiency because it exists in both the Bard class proficiency pool as well as the General Proficiency pool. You get to choose several proficiencies, some from each pool at various points in your career. This allows you to double down on your class by taking class proficiencies, even from the General pool or to be a jack of all trades by taking as many non-class proficiencies as your heart desires.
Summary: If you want to start slowly with a serious world building ruleset where total domination is the ultimate goal, this is the place to do it. You'll get 5-8 levels of more or less comfortable Labyrinth Lord style gameplay (including VERY simply conversion of LL modules and content) and then move into the medieval equivalent of Civilization the RPG at your own pace, or not at all if the LL spin off seem appropriate. The really nice part is that the end game varies greatly based on class. If you are a fighter type, you'll want to start a domain and take over towns and cities and tax the goods traded within your borders. If you're a cleric type, you'll want to start a church and build a massive congregation which will grant you increasing power from your deity. If you're an Explorer (think: Ranger) you'll want to build a Wilderness Outpost and tame the borderlands to increase the size of a Kingdom. Elves build Fastnesses, Dwarves - Vaults, Thieves and Assassins - Hideouts and Guilds. The potential here is immense. I can only imagine the bedlam that might ensue as a Cleric starts trying to build a church in the same town where an Assassin is attempting to build his hideout. The opportunity for epic gamesmanship unlike we're used to in typical fantasy RPGs is staggering.
They're currently developing an Advanced Compendium (as of 5/4/12). It looks to include quite a few new classes and a couple of new races along with over 100 new templates, which is the ACKS way of delivering rapid character design and customization. Want your Fighter to be like Lancelot? There's probably a template for that. It will auto-assign the proficiencies so that you get the feel without having to read every single one and compare them. BUT if you're a munchkin who just loves doing that, the system supports you nicely as well.
My hat is off to Alex, Greg and Tavis.
Also of note: After ordering the PDF, I decided to grab a hardcopy as well. There is a discount on the hardcopy with a coupon code found in the PDF, making the PDF essentially FREE! That's a great deal right there. Lastly, the forums, while not overly abundant with traffic, are quite friendly and the principals frequent them almost daily so if you are one who likes to engage directly with the designers, this system is perfect for you.
[5 of 5 Stars!]