An Adventure Idea

This is an adventure idea that I was toying with for some time. Note that it fits the default ACKS setting or similar settings and not my ACKS: The Dark Project or Barbarian Conqueror King settings. It is particularly fitting for a setting where Dwarves are a dying race.

The idea is this: a small human (or mostly human) town is situated in a relatively steep valley. It is ruled by a human noble who has a small keep at the top end of the valley. The town makes its living from providing some services to the surrounding mountain villages (mostly raising sheep and goats), as well as some iron (or gold?) mining in an old mine not far from the keep and some trade. Naturally, the town also has a small Thieves’ Guild.

Unbeknownst to most town people, the town has been built on the ruins of an old Dwarven Vault, which once lorded over a large domain, much larger than the current human ruler’s small domain. The ruins of the top level of that vault serve as the foundation of the human town; the lower levels connect to the old mine still used by the town, as well as the town’s sewers. Most humans do not know the origin of their town.

The reason the old vault was abandoned was that an Aboleth invaded its lowest depth, a flooded gold mine, and preyed upon the Dwarves. Some time after the fall of the old vault, the Aboleth entered torpor, and apart from some creepy legends and some ruined surface and near-surface construction, all was forgotten about the vault.

Recently, the Thieves Guild, who use the sewers for the purposes, has opened up the old vault. Thieves have sneaked down its depth, and unintentionally awakened the Aboleth. Now this great beast has taken over the Thieves Guild, and plots to take over the town.

the "dungeon should be:
Level 0 - town, keep and working mine
Level 1 - sewers and cellars, infested with thieves and rats
Level 2 - upper Dwarven vault (living quarters), infested with thieves and Skum
Level 3 - middle Dwarven vault (market, manufactory, chapel and catacombs), infested with Skum and Undead
Level 4 - lowers Dwarven vault (palace and mines), infested with Skum and worse
Level 5 - Old Flooded Gold Mine, where the Aboleth lurks!

Adventure hook could probably be the PCs hired to investigate the recent sharp increase of crime in the town.

How well would this work in ACKS? I’m especially interested in how this will interact with the domain system - for example, what will happen if the PCs defeat the Aboleth and clear out the Vault? Would this be a Sinkhole of Evil?

What a spectacular concept! I love it. I have a similar module I’ve written which involves a city covered by a volcanic eruption and then built over, but it’s only one layer deep…and doesn’t have any aboleth!

If you develop this, let me know. ACKS is short on megadungeons.

I’ve been thinking about something similar to put beneath the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, though probably in a ‘pointcrawl’ style rather than a traditional megadungeon. I also quite like the volcanic ash idea, and would love to see either of these come to fruition.

Thanks for the positive feedback! :slight_smile:

Now what I’m trying to figure out is how to fit it into the ACKS demographics and political system. I want a town that could fit into 4 A4 pages of dungeon-type map; ACKS p.231 gives the Small Town a population of 450 families; would that, plus a keep, fit on such a map?

This kind of town would probably be, for the very least, the County Seat town if I understand the rules correctly.

Also, what would happen if the PCs defeat the Aboleth and clear out all five levels of dungeon (essentially a stronghold if repaired) beneath the town? Would the Count annex it to his keep? What will be his interaction with the level 5-7 or so PCs who have defeated this beast?

I might want cut my teeth, in terms of adventure design, on a three-level Dwarven Vault in the Wilderness (which later a Dwarf PC could claim as his own) before delving into this level of details.

Assuming quarter-inch squares on paper with 8" x 10" of usable are, at 10’ x square, that’s a 640’ x 800’ settlement, or 512000 square feet. The Medieval Demographics Made Easy density of 38850 people per square mile works out to 1 ACKS family of 5 per 3600-ish square feet. So you can fit around 142 families comfortably on your map, making it a Village (Class VI). Again according to MDME, densely populated areas can have up to twice as many people, so you could bump this up to a Large Village (282 Families, Class V), if you like. I assume the MDME densities include space for infrastructure like streets, stockyards, keeps, and city walls.

Looking at or Table IV.1 of and assuming 2.5 adults/family I’d say:

12-16 families/acre in a small town = 1/3000sf
40 families/acre in a city = 1/1000sf
60 families/acre in a metropolis = 1/650sf

So if the OP is trying for urban density, going up to 500 families is reasonable.

So 500 or so families it is!

Also, urban density means that the town will be quite tight and labyrinthine. Perfect for level 0 of the dungeon!

I’m looking for two things for this:

  1. Some inspiration for how a cramped Medieval town of 500 families should look like (how many families per building? how many stories per building? and so on).

  2. Some ideas about how such a dungeon will interact with campaign play - what would the town’s Count do with the newly-cleared Dwarven Hold right under his town? How would he reward the players who will slay the Aboleth?

A count might reasonably have a net worth if 128,000 to 350,000gp and an income of 5,650 to 8,000gp per month. That should help you gauge his ability to offer a bounty or reward.

The count might…

  1. Declare that all treasure within the dungeon below is his property, or his right to tax, or that he gets “first choice” of magic items, or always gets “an adventurer’s share” of loot.
  2. Hire rival groups of adventurers (or declare a large bounty) in order to avoid having one group become so successful as to be a threat.
  3. Declare the entire area off limits and seal it up with guards. It might then only be opened to “chartered adventuring companies”, where said charter costs lots of gold.
  4. Hire mercenaries on his own dime to patrol the upper levels of the dungeon as they are cleared, to slowly expand his footprint and inspect treasure being brought out.
  5. Attempt to make the successful adventurers into his vassals, then send them off somewhere near his realm with instructions to carve out a barony or march to rule in his name.

In my aforementioned dungeon in the heart of a town, the adventurers (PCs) kept the dungeon below a secret for almost the entirety of their investigations. It was only when a teleportation trap accidentally sent a chimera to the surface that the local legate realized what was below the city…

I might want to make the town and the dungeon a bit smaller - say, only 1 A4 page per level - BUT make it deeper (maybe even seven levels) and add some small (half or quarter A4) sublevels such as the haunted Dwarven catacombs. Would the town still be big enough to be viable? Or would it be a Large Village with an urban settlement pattern?

The reason for the above is to make things more manageable for me to work on in a reasonable amount of time.

Is there a reason you are mapping the settlement on level 0 at dungeon scale? Could you map it at, sat 50’ or 100’ per square instead of 10’ per square? Personally, when I map a settlement I do it much more abstractly than a dungeon, using a 1920’s travel guide map style I picked up from some otherwise forgotten Call of Cthulhu product from ages past. Basically, I plot major streets and draw outlines for a few landmark buildings, and everything else is an orange mass indicating “buildings and alleys here.”

The idea is to completely combine the settlement and the dungeon; some of the buildings would have connections to the dungeon from their cellars. After all, level 1 of the dungeon will be cellars and town sewers.

I have settled on two A4 pages, connected by their narrow side (to form a long and narrow sheet of paper). One would be the Upper Town (including the Count’s Keep, church and other important buildings, among other things), the other will be the Lower Town (including the still-active mines and some slums, among other things).

This is an excellent idea. I would enjoy playing it. If I had to be critical I would say only that it is a little reminiscent of Tolkien’s Mines of Moria.
It also reminds me of Michael Moorecock’s novel “Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen” where an empire is so old that each new palace has been built on top of the old palace so many times that the people (etc.) living in upper and lower layers are unaware of each other. The book is mostly “erotica” (read it with a close friend) but contains details of the relationship between the different strata.
One complaint I have of the ACKs system is this: where does the food come from? A few hundred sq. ft. per person is enough for living space but using traditional agriculture you can only support one human being with three acres of tillable land.
The only exceptions are people who live off the sea (exploiting a much larger area without inhabiting it) and modern hydroponics.
Miners and so on can import foodstuffs in a “goldrush” type situation but in real history it is never a stable, long lasting system.

I’d take a look at a map of San Gimignano in Italy, it’s a small Tuscan Hill town that really is a cramped medieval town. It has basically one main street, and the nobility would build towers to live in since there was little space to spread out:


KDB, in the early designs for ACKS we had an explicit system that limited the sizes of settlements based on the availability of rural domains around them, but after playtesting and backer feedback, I abandoned it.

There were too many special cases ("they import food using griffons!" "they're a maritime nation" "they control the overland routes to these major food sources") and too few game benefits.

I've ultimately left it up to the Judges to use their common sense and not place a 100,000-person underground city in the middle of a desert wasteland with no food or water sources. Or, if they do, to explain why they did. 


Sounds very interesting, give me a shout if you are looking for players I’m more than willing to play.


If I’ll go ahead with this adventure, I’ll drop you a PM for the playtest! :slight_smile: