UPDATE: The Kickstarter is done; and reached all stretch goals.
Autarch has launched their Kickstarter for The Sinister Stone of Sakkara, an adventure and small sandbox for the Adventurer Conqueror King System. This adventure is the first step in bringing the Auran Empire setting to print.
Via successful hijink, I've managed to read a draft of the adventure.
In Alex Macris' own words, he indicates he's bringing to you here a small slice of a campaign world that was played - this dungeon takes the place of, and pays some homage to, the B2 Keep On The Borderlands module that started that campaign, as it did so many others, over the years.
I hate trying to express a review of an adventure in vague terms so as not to spoil it, so you'll have to excuse my opaqueness.
Matthew Skail, the author of the dungeon, has brought a strong mix of classic D&D and swords & sorcery to play. The first level is a callback to the Caves of Chaos - the same opportunities for faction play are there. In the second level, things get ... tentacular, and encounters begin to take a turn for the Howardian/Leiberian.
The pathing of the dungeon is excellent - it has been Jacquay'd, as the terminology goes - in fact, acute players will notice there's a very advantageous shortcut built into the structure. A quick or lucky party can get through or around several different areas safely, and a party mapper with a decent sense of space will realize there's plenty of places where the ensconced beastman camps can be (or should be able to, if secret doors exist, ahem) approached with surprise.
The room descriptions well balanced for functional play. Autarch takes a few sentences here and there to hand out details of the Auran world via description of features in the dungeon. This is an adventure for new Judges as well as players; as was the original B2 - there's just enough prompting in the text to allow the Judge to focus on important or interesting bits in the rooms.
As befits an ACKS product, the treasure is well rounded - foodstuffs, rolls of cloth, and other bulky sorts of treasure will test the party's ability with logistics.
The Keep & Village
The keep is lovingly detailed, and refrains from presenting yet another generic medieval re-enactment. The Auran Empire is, culturally, based on the Roman Empire of the Late Antiquity, and Turos Tem is built from a historical reference, with the appropriate additions required for a D&D adventure (someplace for the domain's mage to sleep and research).
It is presented as a fully realized ACKS domain - the resources available to the legate of this fort are detailed via a domain 'stat sheet'.
The important personages of the Keep are given stat blocks and some personality - from the Legate, his wife, down through the quartermaster to the subalterns who command the garrison units. There's enough given that a social (or socially devious, or just plain devious) party can get up to a lot, with or without the NPC's knowledge. The NPC personalties include some motivations of their own, which if the Judge wishes can help or hinder the PCs.
Social players will find that by interacting with the NPCs, there's plenty of clues to be found at Turos Tem for what's coming.
I'll freely admit the wife and I have been pushing through HBO's Rome on Amazon Prime, and the entirety of this section, and the possibilities available with the NPC descriptions are easily visualized.
Important buildings in the village, such as the inn or bath house, are also detailed, as well as NPCs there.
The regular comings and goings of the populace - when the guards gather for orders, when the bath houses are used, things like that - are defined with the areas, allowing the Judge to paint a vibrant and living background.
You'll see in this adventure module the results of applying the advice in Chapter 10 of the ACKS Core book. A small sandbox area, about 25x15 6 miles hexes, is included. It uses the very same "Small Region" map available on Autarch's website.
That's an area close to 12,000 sq miles, or the same square footage as the state of Maryland, if it were rectangular. That's a lot of space. Plenty of forest, some swamps, scattered hills, and a mountain range appear on the map, enough varied terrain for a host of different adventures to fill out the sandbox.
From Alex's historical campaign, a few hex locations are lightly described, and free resources to populate those hexes actually used in that campaign are given mention. 8 forts (including Turos Tem) and a larger settlement are placed - so there's plenty of opportunity for more urban or political adventures.
As a Whole
Sakkara succeeds in it's goals as an introductory module, and serves as a great example of what today's authors are doing with the concepts introduced some 40 years ago by the original team.
For new players, what most folks think of as cornerstones of "old school" play - faction dynamics, multi-path dungeons, resource management & logistics, are all introduced within the two levels of the titular dungeon.
Interacting with monstrous or human NPCs in a non-combat function is well rewarded, exploration delivers results, and the "solving" of the dungeon; with secret doors, traps, and treasure extraction all in play, is baked in.
New judges - a class of person sometimes overlooked in low-level modules - are well served. Digesting and running this module should leave the novice Judge with the capability and confidence to fill out the sandbox and let their players play. They'll find plenty of examples to enable themselves to produce content that enable the same sort of play listed earlier.
They should also come out with a better understanding of how the ACKS rules intersect to create fiction in a campaign world. The situation the local legate finds themselves in is something they may find themselves in, one day, in their own small domains. Will they be able to step away from the responsibilities of overall leadership, or would they contract out lower tier adventurers?
And, again, the whole thing serves as an example of what can be accomplished with Chapter 10 of ACKS. New and experienced Judges will find this example invaluable.
This is the core of the OSR - the framework of the original style informed by 40 years of play, well presented here.
As noted, this module serves as an introduction to the Auran Empire campaign setting as well, and is themed to give some light introduction to that world. That being said, it's all presented in such a way that it should be a pleasurable experience for the customizing Judge to insert their own mythologies.
The Roman details can be glossed over as well, but, think about this: it's been said plenty of times every D&D campaign needs Vikings. The Romans were a pretty big deal as well - and there's something to be said for the banal violence of empire - a lumbering, bureaucratic murder machine - being just as gameable as the quick strikes of Viking raids. Consider presenting them as-is.
If you're already further along into your game than the recommended levels, don't worry. There's enough room in the dungeon for more opponents, or the same number of slighly more dangerous types. The ... "specials" are easily upleveled. The structure of the plot allows for a good deal of leeway - there's good fundamental reasons why Turos Tem hasn't been overrun yet, even if the threat is of a larger sum in HD.
I plan to run this in the next couple months with a 5th level group, and I'll let you know how it goes.
Autarch Forumers should look forward to some lively discussions as the little details Autarch puts into all of it's products spark ideas - I'm seeing answers in here to several questions that have been posted - things like NPC savings, for example.
The PDF of the adventure through the Kickstarter is $5 - and given what's included here, that's a price that many smaller modules just can't beat.
For $20 they'll throw in the ACKS Core PDF and the Player's Companion, if you don't have them. You're getting a full game and starting adventure/sandbox for free.
That's damn near magnanimous for what you get out of it.
Consider: the Basic Set, the original, was at one time bundled with B2.
Here, in this Kickstarter, $20 gets you in PDF this new Basic Set, plus Expert, good bits of Companion and Master, plus a larger sandbox than B2 presented.
The modern reinvention of the much-loved Basic Set, then, right here today - a 'retroclone' built for players young and old, and the 'starting sandbox', a well-proven methodology for starting campaigns for new and experienced players alike.
That $20 for the books and adventure would have cost you $7.75 in 1981 - my crack team of research kender can't find the original price right now but I bet it was more than that for B + X.
The physical "Conqueror With Vassals" level at $75 is about $30 in 1981 dollars; and in those $30 you would have needed to buy Basic, Expert, and cuts of C & M. Autarch seems set on providing you the best value they can.
That's what I put in for - I've been needing to get a copy of the physical books (I own ACKS in PDF from like 3 different sources at this point, what's one more) and here I get an adventure for free, essentially.
Go get it!