Thanks for the actual play report. Here are some thoughts / responses to your questions.
Our party consisted of a spellsword, a fighter, a craftpriest and a thief, with two 0th level henchmen.
APM: Good, balanced party. Long-term the lack of a faster-leveling mage and cleric will hurt a bit, but for low level this is a very strong force.
Everyone who could equip a spear/polearm did so and combat actually became somewhat trivial. Door would open, surprise roll would cost maybe cost the party a couple turns between them, (combat reflexes was popular to cancel out the polearm penalty) and possibly the goblins/orcs. Then if possible the party would start making charges, and using the back row rule to concentrate fire and could usually cut the encounter down by 2-3 opponents with cleaves from the spellsword and fighter, and usually forcing a morale roll. The goblins/orc meanwhile had to make do with 1d6 from their spears/swords and no bonuses to initiative.
Is this right or is this weird DM survivor’s guilt (in that they survived)?
APM: That’s absolutely right! Your players immediately grasped the right tactics to use, and were well-deserving of their victories.
How do you rule monster equipment - do you give them plate and polearms the match the players? How about phalanx fighting - are the players just playing smart or am I missing something?
APM: The players are playing smart. As far as monster equipment, the monsters should use the default equipment listed in their entry. Many beastmen carry spears, but generally only hobgoblins are disciplined enough to fight using double-ranked spear phalanxes. (Of course you can do as you prefer, as it’s your campaign; I’m answering merely from the point of view of the ‘default’ ACKS rules.)
Attack throws were problematic as well, in the end I just ended up giving them the monster’s AC and writing down theirs, but this seems wrong. How do you guys handle it?
APM: When a PC attacks, I have him simultaneously roll his attack throw and damage, then announce what AC he hit and what damage he scored. I then inform him whether he hit, and the monster’s reaction. Remember, the AC hit can be swiftly determined as [roll - attack throw target value].
EXAMPLE: Assume the monster has AC 5. “I hit AC 4 for six points,” the player says. “A miss! A fierce blow that clangs off the monster’s shield,” you respond. Next round, “I hit AC 5 for two points,” the PC says. “You find a chink in the orc’s armor and stab inward. It begins to bleed.”
APM: When a monster attacks, I generally inquire as to the PC’s current AC, then roll. Alternatively, you can handle this in the reverse of the method above. “The orc swings his scimitar at you, hitting AC 3 for 5 points.” “He misses, I’ve got AC 7!” If so inclined, you can let the player narrate this (“I duck under his sword swing!”) or you can narrate it (“You duck under his sword swing!”).
Markets were another issue, the players seemed to outgrow their class IV market as soon as their first wagon of treasure came in, being unable to sell half of their loot (I used buying availability for selling availability). Is that how it works?
APM: That’s exactly correct, and by design. It’s meant to do two things.
- Discourage them from collecting junk. One of the nuisances of old-school play is that if it sometimes incentivizes the PCs to pick up everything, no matter how low value it might be, on the assumption that ever broken scimitar and half-battered bed can somehow be sold. The market availability rules are an in-world way of discouraging this behavior. The heroes will focus on bringing back things they can sell.
- Motivate them to take periodic trips to larger towns. This is often a nice segue into the mercantile venture rules. (“Since we’re heading to Westport, why don’t we buy some furs? I hear they sell at a premium there…”) It’s also an opportunity to find more henchmen, encounter NPCs, see the world, etc.
APM: If this proves troublesome in play, you can simply make the starting town a higher class. Just wave your hand and say, “because of its proximity to trade routes, this small town is actually a Class III market”. History is filled with such things. Remember that the ACKS rules are always providing averages and defaults, and aren’t meant to be a straightjacket.
Finally the mapping proficiency - we use a dry erase mat with miniatures, which I usually just draw myself. In that case what does it do? Is it only for games where the players exclusively map?
APM: Yes, it was designed for games where the PCs handle mapping. Given your style of play, you could (a) ask one PC to take Mapping; (b) assume that Mapping is included within the Adventuring proficiency; or (c) assume that a henchmen or hireling has Mapping.
Other than that progress felt pretty fast compared to labyrinth lords/pathfinder. A couple lair troves over two adventures and everyone was level 2-3.
APM: Something that jumps out in your post is that you and your player seemed somewhat surprised that ACKS rewarded good tactics, that no one died, and that low-level play wasn’t a painful grind. I’m really glad that all of those things are true. Death will come - by sheer probability, it will - but ACKS really is intended to give a fun low-level play experience that rewards parties that use tactics. There have been a lot of subtle tweaks to the game that make a low-level ACKS party a lot more survivable and fun than a comparable low-level ACKS party.