[Crimson Sun] Campaign Begins

Finally had my first ACKS session in my Crimson Sun setting (Dark Sun meets Planet Algol meets a million other things in a hot gonzo mess), which is about 20% done and being developed as things go along.

I’d converted B4 The Lost City, because I love the module and it fit into Athas nicely.

Since civilization was going to be a long way away, I started everyone off with some henchmen: their choice of two normal men or a 1st-level. The party consists of a mage with a mage henchman, an aristocrat (Thomas Weigel’s class) with two normal men as armsmen, and a dwarven craft priest with a dwarven vaultguard bodyguard. Despite the availability of 11 custom Athasian classes and 8 Player’s Companion classes, only one player ventured outside the core book.

The party start out lost and scattered from a caravan by a sandstorm, and stumble upon some ruins. They make their way inside. First thing, the dwarven vaultguard triggers a trap and falls into a room with three fire beetles; he bashes one dead and gets munched up while the rest of the party figure out what to do (eventually using a rope to lower themselves in by holding on to it and triggering the trap, until one finds the ladders).

The fight was a catastrophe: the aristocrat and both dwarves are knocked out, and the mage with Healing 3 fails a bunch of proficiency throws. At the end of it, the craft priest is put out of his newly-paraplegic misery, the aristocrat dies from not being healed to 1 hp within 1 turn (with a destroyed eye), and the vaultguard… well, “the bloody mess that was once your body is dimly recognizable.”

The players loved the Mortal Wound table.

The diminished party continue to explore, meeting up with the Brotherhood and joining them. They take things very slow (at the end of the session, they were on their 7th day in the pyramid, and had explored most of the first two real levels; probably 20 rooms), resting with the Brotherhood frequently - usually they managed no more than 12 turns of exploring before retreating to rest.

A Brotherhood member is recruited as a henchman by the mage to round out the diminished party.

A few mortal wounds are survived, but eventually, the Brotherhood member and one of the 0-level armsmen are wounded so badly they each need a week of bedrest; they’re left with the Brotherhood.

Sleep proves invaluable. The party defeats the warrior-maidens and the magi, in two separate encounters, each with one sleep spell (each time, the leader is left standing). They also use it to take out a giant gecko (leaving one to fight) and an ambush of 10 morlocks (turning what I thought was a sure TPK into an easy victory).

Eventually, yellow mold kills the remaining 0-level armsman - you can tell the players’ experience is far removed from old-school D&D when they go around poking in a room with yellowish mold visible on the surfaces!

The party completely fails to find several prisoners (replacement PCs and henchmen) taken by the Magi and Warrior-Maidens, because of their cautious tactics (“once sleep is cast, we go rest!” – justified by a serious lack of front-line fighters), but the prisoners effect their own escapes, manage to join up and find the Brotherhood sanctuary. The session ends as the new party is united.


The game was simple for D&D veterans, despite the differences. The player who’d started on BECM was particularly enthralled, but everyone loved it. The simplicity went over well. Only one player had real problems with the low ability scores (I used 5 rows of 6x3d6, allowed assigning them, and 2:1 transfer into the prime requisite).

I think 3d6 in order is a superior generation method; I cautiously didn’t use it, but that resulted in players creating replacement PCs that were of the same classes as the first ones. I think letting the dice determine which classes are a good fit is a good way to force stubborn players to try different classes.

B4 suffers from the unconventinal set-up; 1st-level PCs with no access to a town are in a bad position, unable to return and reap the benefits of their adventuring (i.e. get their XP) and replace lost members. The game went well, but I expect it will go much better when the PCs are based in Tyr and are exploring the twin dungeons of Kalak’s Ziggurat and Under-Tyr, and making wilderness forays.

Henchmen are absolutely necessary, especially with only 3 PCs. They should probably have had more; two 0-level henchmen would have been better than the dwarven vaultguard, but the mage henchman brought sleep to the table and was single-handedly more efficient than the entire party.

Despite being excited about henchmen, the aristocrat’s player balked when he was told they expect 15% of HIS share of treasure. We’re going with a half-share for each henchman from the total treasure instead. (Justified by the PCs being the “officers” of the “company,” similar to how pirate ship charters gave officers an extra share or part-share.) I think having to share treasure and XP with henchmen will make them carefully balance out the party size. They’ll probably keep a pool of “reserve” henchmen (up to their limit) and only take part of them along on most adventures.

The second session started off with a big handicap: the mages’ player wasn’t participating today!

The other two players bring in their new PCs: a Dwarven Machinist, and another Aristocrat. I started thinking 3d6 in order may be necessary to keep some stubborn players from recreating essentially the same PC over and over, but after making the Aristocrat that player is now actually hoping he’ll die so he can bring in an Elven Enchanter with a host of Elven henchmen.

I also decided to implement Alex’s solution to “civilization” in the pyramid: the Brotherhood’s quarters count as it, now. I divided all the loot and XP from the last session between the survivors (the mage, his mage henchman, his henchman recruited from the Brotherhood, and the surviving henchman of the first Aristocrat). That will put the PC mage to 2nd level.

This second session was less deadly but a little less productive; no PC leveled up by the end of the session, although the Aristocrat is close. The two 0-level henchmen he had both got to Fighter 1, though.

The PCs finished exploring the third tier, including finding the secret room with the snake-basket and treasure. Caution, slow exploring (they actually went four and six hours at a stretch before returning to rest!), and two dwarves searching for traps kept them fairly safe, and they started using doorway tactics to bottleneck enemies (nothing particularly intelligent so far).

I’d completely forgotten about cleaving last session, and this go around it proved powerful! Running into a random encounter with 6 Magi, the PCs’ front rank blew through them in one surprise round and two full rounds, with not a spell being cast on them.

Beetles, however, proved as lethal as ever. After one henchman got blasted by a magically protected door (getting a bad eye but surviving), the party got one of the now-restored henchmen from the Brotherhood sanctuary, and following a map they were sure led to treasure, they came upon a room containing tiger beetles! Despite using doorway tactics, two henchmen were taken down, one of them (the survivor from before) dead and the other with a bum knee.

The session ended after the wounded party found the priest’s robe and the Aristocrat was possessed. Despite the spirit’s determination to fulfill its quest to slay the evil cleric, it decided to let its allies rest and recover before attempting the attack.

We’re all looking forward to getting the PCs to Tyr by now, honestly, and I’m hoping that will happen at the end of then next session. The module is great, but I really think the PCs need a better home base, more freedom to prepare, and the ability to recruit more henchmen. I don’t expect or plan for them to “solve” the dungeon is one go, anyway; I’m certain they’ll return here later, perhaps to find a much changed situation, with the leadership of the Mages and the Warrior Maidens eradicated…

A new session with a full party. Now they really got on a roll. Led by the possessed character, they defeated a cleric of Zargon (frankly, that guy makes things a bit too easy) and discovered multiple large treasures (~20,000 XP worth), without losing anyone! Two characters were choked to 0 hit points (exactly - lucky!) by rock pythons, but for like the first time ever, they got no permanent injuries or horrible mangling or slow, lingering death on the Mortal Wounds table.

In the course of ~3 days in the ziggurat, the party went from levels 1 & 2 to levels 3 & 4, and I can see they’re turning the lethality corner. There was a touch-and-go encounter with ghouls: in the end, only two makes were standing when the last ghoul failed a morale check and buggered off.

This underlined how critically important it is to use the morale rules! Dropping them was one of the worst decisions in D&D 3E. A battle can be turned from slaughter to victory by a morale check.

The party is close to leaving the ziggurat, one way or another; the Brotherhood are more afraid of their power than grateful by now, and are combing the city for old maps of the region to help the party orient themselves for a trip home. They’re all eager to get out: the Aristocrat wants to get started on building a retinue, and the mage is antsy for new spells.

Great writeups!

So, the party gained two levels over the course of three sessions? That seems a bit fast, at least for my taste.

Very exciting! I’m jealous of your chance to run this.

Henchman shares confused me initially as well. The explanation that I got was that henchmen get a percentage of a share, basically counting as (for example) 0.15 persons, which sounds like what you’ve figured out already.

It’s scary to note that a battle can also be turned from a victory into a slaughter by morale rules, if your henchmen bail (and they tend to go all at once).

It’s all about the modules; the old AD&D 1E and BECM modules seem to have a lot of treasure available: I counted up the treasure in The Village of Hommlet (just the dungeon; the village has more if PCs start thieving), and it came out to about 30,000 gp worth, compared to some 5,000 xp of monsters. The moathouse and dungeon can probably be cleared in 2-3 sessions by a group of efficient players.

It’s felt like a decent pace to us, though: we play rarely enough that a session with no measurable character progress would feel odd, and until the PCs get involved in the larger world (and they will), levels are the most concrete progress.

I do think that the PC-possessing Lawful cleric made things a bit too easy, especially since the largest individual treasure so far was from the Chaotic cleric’s lair… but on the other hand, we lost more PCs and henchmen in the first session than in any other session of any game so far.

Thanks for the comments! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the write-ups. Hopefully there’ll be more come January. As the stories created in play beoome more involved (and we get more used to how the game plays, compared to others), I’ll probably try to make the write-ups a little more prosaic, too.

Finally, another session!

The party finished exploring (to their satisfaction) Tier 4 of the ziggurat; they still plan to explore the rest of the fifth level, although I’m planning on offering them the option to leave at the start of the next session (help from the Brotherhood).

The party, with its 3rd and 4th level mages, continued to ruin enemies with sleep, and even took down five shadows without casualties (only two characters were hit).

Many hours of exploration (and around an hour of real time) were spent examining the walls of the fourth tier, but finally the PCs recalled a clue and found the entrance into the secret tomb. Here they incurred 1½ casualties: a wight killed a 1st-level henchman and drained the Dwarven Vaultguard from 3rd to 2nd level.

Level drain hurts! The player was not particularly happy, but dealt with it, because old-school is hardcore. Losing over 4000 XP, though… ouch.

Using unidentified wands isn’t a great idea, but the accidentally-paralyzed henchman wasn’t killed.

The party is still very bold and relentless, fighting dangerous undead opponents without retreat (except for the mages, who can’t do much to undead) - but so far, they’ve won every time.

The mages’ player is definitely suffering from lack of access to a master and not finding mage scrolls; at 4th and 3rd level, the mages still have only their starting spells. (Maybe they should’ve allied with the Magi, instead…)

I’m personally looking forward to getting the PCs out of the dungeon and to the city of Tyr, by now - they need a larger world to adventure in. And the dungeon is getting tapped out for them: the party did score almost 4000 XP per PC this go around, but the mage needs another 5000+ to the next level… the remaining treasure on the detailed tier don’t add up to half of that once split among the party.

Oh, I forgot the highlight:

The players spent 15 minutes discussing boiling white apes in a sarcophagus to render their fat for torches.

Finally, another session! Not much to report - it wasn’t a very long one, and much of it was spent on “maintenance”-type stuff.

The party got an old map of the region around the city from the Brotherhood, and the Mage henchman with Mapping and Navigation identified their approximate location and guided them towards civilization. There were a few encounters on the way - a hunting party of sub-men, a nest of stirges the party camped under - but after several days of travel (and not getting lost and running out of food & water, thanks to the Amazing Wilderness Mage) the party was safely within city walls.

Tallying up and dividing the loot took a while, and then it was time to plan how to spend it; the Dwarven Machinist ended up concluding he couldn’t afford both a workshop and a new automaton (he’s got a Personal Automaton, though), but the Mages spent their shares of the loot on scrolls, scrolls, scrolls (in addition to learning several new spells from their masters). Both of their repertoires are now full enough that they didn’t even share any spells (I figure, between henchman and employer, one-for-one spell exchange is kosher; same level for same level). The Mage’s player, having been somewhat frustrated by being stuck with his starting spells at 4th level (because they allied with the fighters and massacred the mages, and never found the single arcane scroll on the first five levels…) prepared against a repeat of that by buying a scroll of fireball to carry with him. The Aristocrat’s player was planning and debating the merits of various pack animals and types of wagons for future expeditions - I’m really pleased, because I’ve been hoping they’d mount proper expeditions rather than just striking out into the wilderness with nothing more than their henchmen and a few pack beetles…

Now that they’re in the big city, the ball is in the players’ court. There’s adventures to be had in the (as yet ill-defined) Under-city, which includes everything from buried streets, old basements, sewers, and catacombs to ancient bunkers, vaults, and water treatment facilities… there’s the local Sorcerer-King and his tyrannical bureaucracy to oppose or serve, merchant houses, and more… and they could always strike out into the wild in pursuit of rumors and legends, or return to the Lost City to delve deeper into its mysteries.

Hopefully, we’ll find time for another game in the next week or two, but if we don’t, it’ll be a long while again. Why can’t we still be in high school and play 3-4 times a week, huh? (Note to self, recruit high school kids if I ever need something playtested.)