New DM, Looking for Advice

I'm prepping to DM for my first time, and I want to run ACKs. I would like to hear your best advice for DMing this wonderful game (or should I say "Judging"?) Anyway, here are some things I want to hear more about.

-Recommended starter adventures, hooks, campaigns, and settings.

-Recommended tools and tricks that make the game easier to play and run.

-Good houserules. (Currently, I intend to give them max health at first level, ban sub-henches, have henches demand a half-share of loot in anticipation of mistreatment, and convert attack throws and AC to D&D-style "d20+modifiers vs target number")

-How to adequately communicate to players that death and disfigurement are not the end, so that when the players inevitably mourn the loss of their starter PCs, they can pick themselves up and move on to playing a hench or heir instead of ending the campaign in their grief.


If it helps, my players are 4 good friends of mine. In RPGs, they tend to make horrible decisions. They are accustomed to 5th edition dnd, yet often came close to death despite the relative leniency that system offers. So I expect their PCs to die frequently in ACKs, hence the fourth point I mentioned.


I understand that there are things I might not be thinking about, so I encourage you to share any nuggets of wisdom that you have accumulated over the years. Thanks a lot!

Welcome!  My general advice is jump right in, the water's fine.  But, specifics...

For a starting adventure, Sinister Stone of Sakkara looks really good on a read-through.  It's got a nice amount of depth to get you started.  However I haven't actually had a chance to run it myself.  I have run Dyson's Delve and Tomb of the Iron God in ACKS, converting on the fly, so really you're not limited to ACKS-branded products.

I'm also fond of Tower of the Stargazer as an opening adventure.  It's potentially deadly, but that's arguably a good thing in an opening adventure, just to get people used to the idea of playing smart before they're too attached to any one character.  It's fairly high on traps and puzzles, some combat but not too much, and some real treasure in there to level up with, if the players can find it.

If you have the time and the interest, there's also something to be said for finding a good dungeon map and rolling up it's contents the old fashioned way, but this is purely optional.  If you're considering a large sized or even a mega-dungeon it's often faster to find one off the shelf.

My usual starting hook is "there's a dungeon, and you've heard there's untouched gold in it."  Simple, but it gets the job done until the PCs can level and the players get their feet under them and start setting their own goals.

For tools, check out the Judges Screen under Downloads that Beragon did.  Also, I ended up going through my core book and writing in the attack throw number for each monster, so I could run a monster directly out of the entry without looking anywhere else.

For lethality, I would just tell them up front and out of character, "hey, the game can be deadly.  I roll wandering monster checks for time spent in the dungeon and when traveling overland, and that's part of play.  You may lose characters, but developing henchmen or spending gold on reserve xp is a way to mitigate that."  Then roll dice out in the open so there's never any question of fairness, and let things sort themselves out.

(As an aside, coming from B/X and Labyrinth Lord, ACKS' fighter cleave and damage bonus and the mortal wounds table instead of instant death at 0 hp has made my home game much less deadly than I expected, but this may not be the case for 5e players.)

For recomended adventures:

-the keep in the borderlands: a clasic, gives you a starting base for the players and has enemies that you can talk, reason, ally and betray... but also just kill if you want.

- Sinister Stone of Sakkara: beacuase is the starting adventure created fot this game.

- Dyson´s dodecahedron ( has many maps for free and some adventures (some free others not)... I personaly love the maps as they are complex and originals without loosing a clasic dungeon feel. you can the fill the maps using the rules in acks for filling dungeons and come up with cool stories to personalize the dungeons. 

- one page dungeons: will save your soul by giving you a LOT of small dungeons to populate your world. also it has some cool big dungeons. My favorite was "seven spindles and a mcguffin" (it takes some work to stock with monsters as you need to create your own random encounters tables, but the map is great and the 7 rotating hallways are a lot of fun)

- one good way to start the adventure and give the feel of open world is having more than one dungeon ready and give them to chose based on rumors of diferent places to go. (generaly i give 3 options: one big dungeon and two smaller ones)

for tools:

-This will save lots of times rolling random encounters, stoking dungeons, and rolling for treasure:

-this is wath i use to make maps:

-this is the spreadsheet that i use to keep track of xp and treasure, you juts have to create a column for each player and hench, put how much of a share they have, and how much is their xp bonus in the form of and equation.

its not perfect, and you may like to create your own... but seriusly dont do it by hand, this is more work up front, but loots of less work later. 

- this is the spreadsheet that i use to keep all domain related info, it includes a space for individual domains (likes the pc´s), a quick view for unmanaged domains (that includes an equation to calculate pop, bigest city, and number of leveled character given X size of a kingdom) and a tool for calculating trade modifiers based on trade routs.

again, not perfect and some in spanish.

-for house rules:

its good that you give maximum HP for first level.

make a selection of what clases you want in your game (they are all good, but maybe not all fit your setting).

consider giving the thief the posibility to trade pickpocket for another class proficiency. (this will result in the thief being unable to use the steal hickjicking later, but it may be really usefull at the beggining) or just give one more proficiency to the thief, they could really use them.

Improving atributes in game: Each time your character gains a level, choose an ability and roll 3d6. If the result is greater than that ability's score, it increases by 1 point. it gives you a moment of fun and tension aditionaly to rolling the hit dice, and helps more the pour soul with low atributes than the monster with all 14´s.

this is a chart to determine the value of the land based on the characteritics of the land instead of a purely random dice roll:

and you may also want to implement this rule to balance the gold gaining power of thief late game:

Usefull links:

this is a really usefull link to the prices of magic items: 

If you're coming from 5E, I strongly recommend taking some inspiration from Keep it light, and roll everything in the open. Once your players are hooked on B/X-style play, then you can start worrying about all the things that make ACKS the top game in the OSR genre for many of its fans.

Note that Wizardawn, referenced in the linked thread, is still available, though you now have to access it through the AND Magazine site.

As it happens, I am also running ACKS for some 4E/5E converts. Current house rules and advice:

  • Tell them that ACKS is like Game of Thrones, compared to 5E being like Lord of the Rings. It's much more brutal and beloved protagonists can die, but the story goes on. You can end up maimed. You can be brought back from the dead and be fine or come back and be horribly grotesque.
  • House rule: Maximum hit points at 1st level, re-roll 1 or 2s at 2nd level, re-roll 1s at 3rd level.
  • House rule: Wisdom modifier applies to all saving throws.
  • Run Sinister Stone of Sakkara. It's a great starter adventure and designed to introduce the players to ACKS.

As far as general advice about being a gamemaster, I would direct you to my column series on this, which you can find here:


One rule I like to increase average HP without taking away the fun of rolling is the HP rule from Hackmaster 5E, modified slightly for other games.

When you roll a hit die, record the result, and when you gain a level, you can roll the previous one again. If the result of the previous roll is still below average, it becomes average.

So Joe Fighter is first level and his hit die is maxed at 8. He hits 2nd level and doesn’t bother rerolling his 1st die because it was already max. He rolls his die for 2nd level and it’s a 3; he now has 11 hit points. Later, he reaches 3rd level. He rerolls his die from 2nd level, coming up 6, and also rolls his die for 3rd level, rolling a 5; his HP are now (8 + 6 + 5) = 19. (Upon hitting 4th level when rerolling his 3rd level die he rolls a 1 and gets no new HP from that die. If he had rolled a 1 both times, it would have been set to 4, gaining him 3 HP.)

If you want, you can include a bonus of some kind (such as +1 HP) if you roll max the first time.

You could also take away the ‘minimum average’ result, which will tend to get your HP results closer to average than the ‘min average’ version does.

@All these wonderful resources and generators: Wow, I didn't even know these tools existed. These look like they're going to make my DMing life a lot easier. Definitely going to bookmark or save most of these.

@Misadventures in B/X dungeons: I got partway through this. I'm having some great laughs and even I even showed it to some of my friends. I get a huge kick out of these joke names.

@Sakkara: I just went and got a copy. It looks great, I'm definitely going to run it this coming weekend. I like that it's supposed to resemble Keep on the Borderlands; I've always wanted to do that one, ever since my brother tried to convert the famous module to ACKs years ago.

@Random dungeons: With all these resources, randomized dungeons should be a snap. I plan to roll some up before the session, and maybe sprinkle them into the sakkara hex-map somewhere to give the players a little more content to explore (although just exploring the module's main dungeon looks like it should take them a while).

@Hit points: Definitely going to go with Alex's hp rules on this one. We're all used to taking average hp in 5th edition, so this looks like a good way to ease them back into rolling for it.

@Wisdom added to all saves: All of them, including blast saves? Mechanically, this does look like a good way to simplify saves while making wisdom not a complete dump-stat. I like it. One of my players was thinking about playing a dwarven craftpriest for survivability, and I think she will appreciate passing her poison and death saves on a 4+.

@ACKs is deadly and like GoT: I have been telling them this. By coincidence, I was actually telling two of my players about ACKs while they were re-watching an early GoT episode, and they seemed excited.

@Alex writing for Escapist: I've always had a great deal of respect for your thoughts on game design and other tabletop stuff. That's one of the big reasons I come to your site. I'm subscribed and looking forward to reading through all of your articles. If you happen to create any other content I'm not aware of (such as another column or youtube channel or something), do feel free to plug that so I can find and peruse it.


You are all being so helpful, it brings joy to my heart. The name Autarch fits this site well: Because you guys rule!

One caveat, as someone who's rolled up a fair number of random dungeons for my now-defunct-play-by-post: use the random as an initial pass, and then massage the results into something slightly more coherent. put all the orcs next to each other, put the results of treasure in an empty room behind secret doors, etc.

Also, for generators that also give you a map... I've made a fair number of them and they can be a little too random.  By contrast: there are a near infinite amount of Dyson Logos maps, which are just fine to populate randomly.

For the hitpoints houserules: I'm surprised nobody else mentioned this since it's one I see a lot: many people like to let players reroll all their hit dice beyond level 1 when they level up to see if they get a new, higher total.  For example, if you're a fighter going from 2nd to 3rd and you rolled a 1 on level 2 (9HP total before con), at level 3 you roll 2d8, maybe you get a 4 and a 5 (18hp total before con).  Then when you level up to 4, you roll 3d8 and maybe you get 3, 3, 4 so you only go up 1hp, etc.  It's not one I've personally used but I've seen a lot of people on these forums swear by it.

I do love game of thrones, but I think it's worth pointing out that the game plays more like the minor characters in game of thrones.  At best, you're like Brienne of Tarth or The Hound.  The inter-house scheming of nobles is going to be out of reach of most 1st level players.  That being said: the frequency of character death, and the need for the story to go on even if someone "important" dies is similar.

(Now I want to start pestering Alex to start making rules supplements or design suggestions to help make ACKs more GoT-like)

SlipperiestChicken - Thank you for the kind words!

As far as Wisdom modifying saving throws, my current thinking is that Wisdom represents the extent to which the Gods favor you. This explains why it's a prime requisite for clerics, and also explains why it helps high saving throws.  


SlipperiestChicken - Thank you for the kind words!

As far as Wisdom modifying saving throws, my current thinking is that Wisdom represents the extent to which the Gods favor you. This explains why it's a prime requisite for clerics, and also explains why it helps high saving throws.  


I've been using this house rule too and I justify it by relating Wisdom to the senses and common sense in addition to willpower. Those will help the character avoid stupid mistakes, be more alert for traps and tricks and resist other things than magic too.

Ah. I wish that HR for wisdom affecting all saves was instead OR. Wisdom has been the primary dump for anyone not a divine class in our game, which has definitely helped lead to much higher disbalance of other stats. 

Am I allowed to make official rules changes to the existing rules? Hahah. I guess I am. Ok, poof, it's official.