Mortality & Mortal Wounds in ACKS

Since Autarch's Adventurer Conqueror King System focuses so clearly on the "end game" of what happens to the player characters at "name level" and beyond, I think it was very wise of the designers to include a system within the rules that makes combat slightly less fatal but just as meaningful as if it had been a normal fatality system. ACKS accomplishes this concept by introducing a table of Mortal Wounds which could, in fact, be fatal, should the PC in question have enough cards stacked against him and/or roll poorly enough. This post isn't designed to explain the intricacies of the Mortal Wounds system, but rather to provide some guidelines for using it, some of which come straight from the ACKS core book and some of which are houserules in play in my Iron Coast campaign (I'll try to signify which is which; HR means "houserule" while RAW means "rules as written"), as well as brief explanations for those guidelines.

  • At Zero Hp, You're Out of the Fight for the Rest of the Encounter (HR)
    • Even if you receive healing that, in other games and with simple math, would take you above zero hit points, you're out of the encounter unless you're healed again.
    • Thus, if Lippu gets his by a verman and reduced to -3 hp, and Artur casts a cure light wounds on him that heals 5 points of damage, Lippu can't just get back in and start fighting again; he's out of the fight and can't help his compatriots. Once Lippu's player has rolled on the Mortal Wounds chart, Artur may slap another cure light wounds to heal Lippu up further, and even bring him around to help fight, but only a second application is sufficient to bring him back to consciousness.
  • Bleed-Out Does Not Occur (RAW)
    • Unlike other systems, characters at or below zero hit points do not lose hit points every round to "bleeding out." A character that drops to zero hit points and receives absolutely no healing or aid may still walk away from the fight; he will roll on the Mortal Wounds table 24 hours after dropping to 0 hp (or below) with a -10 penalty for time elapsed (along with other penalties). 
    • Note to players: make sure your opponents are dead before leaving the battlefield. This is the sort of rules loophole that Judges love to exploit.
  • Roll For Mortal Wounds When Aid Occurs, Not After (RAW)
    • It has been very tempting for me to put off the Mortal Wounds roll until after combat, but it is an essential piece of figuring out just what's wrong with the PC and what further actions his allies may need to take. Once any player character assists any other PC that has dropped, Mortal Wounds are rolled, even if the group plans on providing further assistance. 
  • Healing Spells Provide a Bonus to Mortal Wounds Rolls, Not Actual Healing (RAW Clarification)
    • Under normal circumstances, a cure light wounds spell would provide a PC with 1d6+1 hit points he'd previously lost. When rolling on the Mortal Wounds table, the spell provides no hit points but rather a +1 bonus on the roll ("+1 per level of healing magic used in treatment"); in this regard, the Healing proficiency is much more useful than even a CLW (+2). 
    • If Artur casts cure light wounds on Lippu after Lippu went down to -3 hp, rather than healing back 5 hp, that CLW instead provides Lippu with a +1 bonus to his Mortal Wounds roll, +2 from Artur's Healing proficiency, +2 for happening within one round of the damage that dropped him and -2 from the fact that he's between 1/4 and 1/2 of his total hp below zero for a total of +3 to his Mortal Wounds roll. Roll well, Lippu!
  • Liquid Courage & Mortal Wounds (HR)
    • Since the Iron Coast game uses a Liquid Courage rule (once per session, your PC may take a swig of liquor, the resulting jolt of liquid courage restoring 1d6 hp), it was only a matter of time before someone tried to use that to stabilize a downed compatriot. Just like magical healing, any attempt to invoke Liquid Courage automatically stabilizes the PC in question but does not provide him with any additional hit points. Instead, he gains a +1 bonus to his Mortal Wounds roll. The use of the Liquid Courage rule counts as belonging to the player whose character benefits from the bonus (thus, Artur couldn't use up his use of Liquid Courage to give Lippu a bonus). 
    • This is a new rule for the Iron Coast game and was written to bring the Liquid Courage rules more into line with the rest of the Mortal Wounds rules. 
  • Best Practices
    • Use of healing magic to stabilize a PC is a tradeoff. On one hand, you could be providing the healed PC with a large bonus to his Mortal Wounds roll if the magic is high enough; on the other hand, he will gain no hit points back from the magic, so it could be better to find another way to offset any penalties to the Mortal Wounds roll. Think before you cast. (This could also be a great reason to carry around healing potions, which could either stabilize with a bonus or provide healing.)
    • Down doesn't mean dead. Injured doesn't mean worthless. Unless all of the shit seriously hits every single fan, you might be able to come back from just about anything so be prepared to retreat if too many people are in too bad of shape. You may be able to prevent a TPK even if everyone is missing eyes, knees, fingers, whatever. 
Some of these rules and clarifications (and even this entire post) exist because handling Mortal Wounds is one of the trickiest parts of ACKS. In the Iron Coast, I'll freely admit that we've made some mistakes, but I think it's all stuff we can walk away from with a better understanding of how the rules are supposed to work (and, I'm sure, work really well when they're implemented correctly). All of the rules mentioned here are considered in effect as of this writing, so Iron Coast players had better read up. Thanks go out to +Matt Woodard (Artur) and +Andy Block (Lippu) for the use of their characters for this post.