ACKS: The Dark Project (my new setting)

One of my favourite computer games ever was, and still is, Thief: The Dark Project. This game was highly immersive and evocative with advanced AI for its time and what was then a relatively new approach to first-person gaming: stealth instead of blasting your way around to the objective. But the best thing about Thief: The Dark Project, I’d say, was not its game mechanics per se but its setting.

The game was set in a huge city, medieval in most aspects, but with certain steampunk elements (such as complex pumps, turbines, elevators and even electric lights). Inside this setting, mundane for the most part on its surface, were several strong fantasy elements as well - undead, elementals, mages, giant lizards (Burricks), giant spiders, spellcasting clerics, shapechanging wood nymphs - and a mighty Chaotic god as the antagonist!

I think that the world of Thief: The Dark Project can be a mighty source of inspiration for tabletop fantasy RPG games. Namely, I intend to base the setting of my next Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) on the world of Thief!

There will be modifications, of course, as I want to optimize the setting for fantasy adventures and fit it to the ACKS rules, as well as inject some new ideas into it. But the main ideas of Thief will fit well with the ACKS rules, I think, especially since you even have rules for running a thieves’ guild in ACKS!

For more on this, see my blog:

Look out for more posts in the future!

I played Thief 3 and quite liked the setting elements that made it in. Will have to keep my eye on this project.

I’ll be watching this one. The Thief series is among my favorite games, too. Definitely a good source for inspiration. I’ve always admired that the antagonists in the first, second, and third games are chaotic, lawful, and neutral, respectively.

So, will we get a “How to speak Beastman?” post.

Thanks for your interest!

Thief actually has “alignment languages” as in old-school D&D - actually alignment dialects - you have the Pagan dialect (Chaotic), the Keeper glyphs (Neutral) and the Hammerite English (Lawful)…

If you’ve played Thief 3 and liked it, try getting Thief 1 and 2. They’re pretty cheap on STEAM and are GREAT games!

By the way I found a resource for inspiration for my campaign map:

Their “city region” map (click on the center of the small map to your right) is, on a rough estimate, about the size of an ACKS Campaign Map. How did I calculate this? The City is almost directly to the north from Cyric, and the site says that Cyric is 12 days of foot travel from the City. A day of foot travel by a lightly encumbered person on a road in ACKS is about 24 miles (actually 27 miles, but let’s say that it’s about 24 miles for the sake of simplicity, factoring in more rest periods and taking care to avoid highwaymen). So, Cyric is 12 24-mile hexes to the south of The City. That’s about one quarter to one third of the entire map length from north to south, so the map is about 36-48 hexes long.Quite similar to an ACKS Campaign Map!

So how would the camapign look like? Here are ten basic concepts:

  1. After Karath Din - the old civilization - fell to an onslaught of Nature, Chaos reigned and men lived as animals in bestial savagery, worshiping the Trickster. But then, 1,600 years ago, the Master Builder fashioned the First Hammer out of stone and wood, and led Humanity in rebellion against the Trickster and the Forces of Chaos. Once free of the barbarian past, the victorious Men built a new Empire out of the ashes of the old, building The City, one of the principal cities of the Empire, on the ruins of Karath Din. Eventually, 700 years ago, the Empire fell due to infighting between its Princes, and city-states arose from its ashes. This is the world of the present - fragmented and, thus, somewhat weak in face of Chaos.

  2. The Order of the Hammer (AKA the Hammerites) sternly guards against the forces of Chaos led by the Trickster. Though staunch and sometimes fanatic in their struggle against Chaos, the Order of the Hammer is now quite ossified and concerned with tradition and with stern punishment of criminals and heretics more than with actual struggle against the Trickster. However, the Hammerites hold a significant military might and also benefits from its technological mastery. Lawful Clerics and Paladins are all Hammerites (probably using slightly different classes than in the core rulebook, more similar to Dwarven Craftpriests).

  3. Civilization, as a whole, is crumbling under the onslaught of Chaos. Fragmented into wrring city-states, the civilized lands are besiged by wilderness and chaos on all sides. Chaos also seeps through the cracks of civilization and festers in its rotten heart.There are many Chaotic gods, but chief amongst them is the Trickster, also known as the Woodsy Lord. Chaos stands for the savagery of untamed nature, for bestial inhumanity. Where Law is not present in force, Chaos invades, be that vines undermining unattended buildings or the dead rising in vile mockery of the Builder’s humanity. Pagans work to bring about the reign of the Woodsy Lord and his Beastesses and Nymphs, and the end of civilizaed life. Chaotic priests will probably use a different class than Cleric (maybe the Shaman from the ACKs Player’s Companion?).

  4. The Keepers are True Neutral and belive that either extreme, be that of Law or of Chaos, is a threat to humanity. As long as Balance is kept, humanity flourishes. If the scales are tipped, then the Keepers intervene to restore Balance. Keepers probably use the Thief and Assassin classes, but some might use something more along the lines of a Nightblade.

  5. There are two main groups of magic-users in and around the City. The first is the Brotherhood of the Hand, a mostly-Neutral mage guild; the Brotherhood follows an Elementalist tradition, and most of its mages take the Elementalist proficiency; while mighty, they usually keep to themselves. The second is Necromancy - quasi-Chaotic meddling in life and death, usually to call forth undead and unnaturaly prolong the Necromancer’s life. While illegal, and punishable by death if caught by the Hammers, they thrive inside the cracks of civilization. They usually take the Black Lore of Karath Din (AKA Black Lore of Zahar) as their first proficiency. Ironically, both traditions originate from the lost civilization of Karath Din.

  6. The Fey frolick in the wilds. There are two kinds of Fey - the Seelie Court (who are Neutral) and the Unseelie Court (who are Chaotic). Both have a habit of kidnapping human babies from their cribs and replacing them with Fey babies. These Changelings - Fey raised by human parents - are represented by the various Elf classes in ACKS and the Players’ Companion. Their social status is quite low in the City, and some of the more fanatical Hammerites hate them (and they get -2 to Reaction and Loyalty rolls from Lawful humans if their Elven origion is known), but they have mighty magicks at their disposal.

  7. While some elements of the City might seem modern, on the most basic level this is a profoundly feudal society. Lords - from the lowliest noble to the mightiest Earl (the term I use instead of “Baron” for the City’s ruler to avoid confusion with other noble ranks) - have the right to bear arms in public and raise their own men-at-arms and even armies if they so desire. The Order of teh Hammer is also heavily armed. And so are the various criminals in the City, usually posing as men-at-arms of various “nobles” of the type of Ramirez.

  8. The City’s underworld is ruled by the Wardens - mighty crime-lords, usually holding a formal noble title of one kind or another, who fight each other for their share of loot. Independent thieves might encounter trouble from the Guilds and Wardens who, naturally enough, do not like competition by independents.

  9. Some areas of technology are far more advanced than in ‘vanilla’ ACKS, though most follow the ACKS norms. Steam-powered generators power elevators, pumps and forges, as well as electric lights. These technological comforts, however, are relatively expensive, so even the average noble - or, indeed, the current-day Hammer cathedral - uses torches instead of electric lights on many occasions. Electric alarm systems are also common, though often primitive and relatively easy to tamper with.

  10. Beasts of all kinds, eincluding beast-men, roam the wilds and even invade the less-well-guarded parts of civilization. The most common are Giant Spiders, Cray-Men and Burricks. In wilder areas, where Chaos holds sway, civilization is besiged by Spider-Beasts, Bug-Beasts, Snake-Beasts, Rat-Men (who are NOT lycanthropes in this world but rather Beastment who replace Orcs), Goblyns, Bugbears, Ogres, Ape-Men and Tree-Beasts. Undead abound in all Sinkholes of Chaos, even inside civilization, and include Zombies, Greater Zombies (who are more similar to the Zombies in Thief: Dark Project), Haunts (powerful undead swordsmen and archers), Fire-Shadows, Apparitions and Ghouls.

What do you all think of this?

More here:

I think that you have some very lucky players.



Works proceeds on the map:

Wow, awesome! Just started playing Thief again for first time since it came out in the 90’s. One of my favorite games ever. This looks very cool, looking forward to see what you do with it.


I’ve just re-read the Custom Classes chapter of the Player’s Companion, as well as the ACKS Rulebook section about the Cleric, and came to the conclusion that the typical Hammerite would be a “vanilla” cleric, with the only modification being his weapon selection - Maces/Hammers/Flails/Morningstars and Bows/Crossbows/Arbalests instead of the Maces/Hammers/Flails/Morningstars and Bolas/Nets/Slings/Saps/Staffs of the “vanilla” cleric.

A massive two-handed maul used by some of the Hammers would simply use the Morningstar stats.

I’ll craft a custom Hammerite Engineer class later on, though, as this setting has no Dwarves; this will use some of the rules of the Dwarven Machinist. But this should be rare in my setting as it is based far more on Thief: The Dark Project and Thief: Deadly Shadows than on Thief: The Metal Age.

Sounds like a really impressive and fun game setting! Please keep on posting as you get it developed.

Many thanks!

I’ve made a preliminary campaign map in Hexographer. You can see it in my blog:

Let’s do some basic math for my ACKS: The Dark Project.

The City is the largest urban settlement in the campaign area. In terms of realm size, The City and its rival city-states are Principalities, with 18-65 or so 24-mile hexes each. The City is ruled by a Prince (a title which fits the ACKS domain system better than a lowly Baron, IMHO) and so are its rivals.

The City has a realm of 47 24-mile hexes, a sizeable Principality; its main rival, Blackbrook, has 44 hexes; Cyric has 35 hexes; and Bohn has 27 hexes. Everything else on the map is no man’s land, either badlands between the city-states’ realms or wilderness into which the forces of Chaos creep.

The Thief world is a relatively advanced one, technologically speaking, but also a world well past its age of Imperial glory. So I’d use the default average population density, especially since not all hexes in a realm are proper farmland - most realms have many hexes of mountains and woods, which, while providing rich resources (such as timber, metal and coal) in many cases, have a much smaller population than typical farmland. So, on average, it’s 50 people per square mile, 300 families per 6-mile hex and 5,000 families per 24-mile hex.

Also note that most of these people do not live in the countryside but rather in the city-states themselves.

So the base population sizes would be:

The City - 250,000 families, 1,250,000 people total (I bumped this to 250,000 because this is the most developed realm in the setting)

Blackbrook - 220,000 families, 1,100,000 people total

Cyric - 175,000 families, 875,000 people total

Bohn - 135,000 families, 675,000 people total

However, urban demographics greatly vary from the ACKS norm, as this is a world of city-states, and advanced ones at that. So The City and Blackbrook realms go 2 rows downward on the Urban Population table AND 2 rows downward on the Largest Settlement table. The other two cities go 1 row downward on the Urban Population table and 1 row downward on the Largest Settlement table

So how does the urban population look like (in families)?

The City - 250,000 families total, 125,000 urban families total, 62,500 of whom living in the largest settlement (The City) which is a Metropolis and a Class I market.

Blackbrook - 220,000 families total, 50,000 urban families total, 30,000 of them live in the largest settlement (Blackbrook) which is a Metropolis and a Class I market.

Cyric - 175,000 families total, 35,000 urban families total, 12,000 of them live in the largest city (Cyric) which is a Large City and a Class II market.

Bohn - 135,000 families total, 27,000 urban families total, 10,000 of them live in the largest city (Bohn) which is a Large City and a Class II market.

Yes, The City is HUGE.

Now, on to realm subdivision into Duchies:

The City is a Principality. The Prince himself rules only The City directly - it is wealthier than any Duchy under his command and enough of a hassle to manage all by itself. All his lands outside The City are divided between the five Dukes.

Blackbrook also has five Duchies.

Cyric has four Duchies.

And Bohn has three duchies.

Generally speaking, each Duchy is dominated by a City of about 3,000-4,000 families, a Class III market.

So here’s an updated work-in-progress Campaign Map:

You should add different border colors for each city.


I am not sure I can do this in free Hexographer.

I’m 99.9% sure that you can. Go to the ‘Custom Lines’ tab, select whether you want freehand or vertex based lines and click on the little palette icon to select the colour. Et voila!

I’ll try, thanks!