Perils of the North: Bears, mangled German, and everything I remember about Vikings

Shaman 1, Rom (Galen)
Witch 1, Freya (Dave) R.I.P.
Fighter 1, Tamos (Dave)
Barbarian 1, ? (Nathan)
Mage 1, Jay, (Breanna)
Assassin 1, Tate, (Jackie)
Cleric 1, Selma, (Haley)
????,???? (Colton)
Dwarven Fury 1, Urist, (Katherine)

So. I've got a party of players that are all relatively new to RPGs in general, and completely new to ACKS. The first session we mostly did character creation and they did a simple caravan run where they went from point A to point B and fought some snow beetles along the way. Naturally, the witch managed to take a hit, roll terribly for mortal wounds, and lose her eyes. Luckily, I'd planned to introduce a friendly high level cleric NPC, so he Restored Life and Limb for free. (My long term game plan with this guy is that he worships a non-imperial god, so he'll eventually be captured and burned at the stake.) The party is very suspicious of him, but as a renegade apostate, he's reluctant to say much. The witch resolves to find out as much as she can.

Second session opens with them in the town. I start with some lighthearted fun and establishing sense of place; they go to a tavern and compete in an event called Bearoke wherein participants (mostly panzerbjorn, armored anthropomorphic polar bears) try to out-yell each other while also throwing themselves against each other with their hands tied behind their back. It's like a vaguely musical sumo. The party participates and gets wrecked by bears, but earns the crowd's approval for their bravery, and the party picks up a 0th level hench who is eager to become an adventurer.

The hench also informs them of the first dungeon, Snow Beetle Cave. There's a bounty on snow beetles in these parts, as they're an invasive species, so it's good money. They buy the hench chainmail and set off. (A little background: Snow Beetle Cave is, unbeknownst to anyone, not just a cave where the beetles hang out for some reason. The wizard who runs the country is explicitly seeding the far north with them in an attempt to soften resistance before he moves the borderlands up. At this time, however, another faction within the empire has realized the beetles are semi-magical creatures and worth harvesting, so there's a minor war going on in the dungeon. Plus the beetles are running amok, so it's a 3 way melee.)

Thus begins the most ill-fated dungeon adventure I've ever run. It starts when the party successfully recognizes my crushing-ceiling trap, but are then unsure what exactly the trap is, so they send their mule down the hallway to get pulped. Waste of a good mule. Then, once they find the pressure plate, rather than simply avoid stepping on it in the future, they put a boulder on it so that the ceiling constantly falls, slowly returns to full height, and then falls again. Then they simple duck under it while it's still climbing and scurry to the other side. The dungeon is now constantly booming as this slab of rock falls over and over again.

A random encounter with a couple soldiers begins.  The peasant-hench takes a hit. The witch's player comments "I bet he's going to be super freaked out when I heal him!" and I respond "Actually, Aaron's seen all this before. He starts telling you about one time when he was a kid and-" the witch's player interrupts me "Oh no, I'm not getting attached to this kid by hearing his backstory. He's probably going to get pulped by the next falling ceiling" thus neatly preventing me from telling him that Aaron is familiar with the mysterious cleric that he recently swore to investigate.

They find a locked door, but don't have a thief and decide smashing it down will take too long and be too risky, so they bypass the first treasure room. I also included a magical drilling engine in the dungeon, which I anticipated them doing one of three things with:

1. Simply remove the (ten at start, get used up as they fiddle with it) crystals powering it and sell them for 100 gp each. 1000 free gold if they take the safe path.

2. Figure out how to use the drill, gleefully splatter one or two rooms worth of enemies before it runs out of juice.

3.Use the drill on the cave-in near the entrance to unlock a whole new area (Specifically, a literal goldmine. I thought it'd be neat if they cleared the dungeon and then turned it into a legitimate business operation.)

Instead, they took a long, hard look at it, debated, and chose not to interact with it.

Next they encountered the body of one of the wizards who had been running the establishment being devoured by beetles. Since the beetles are relatively grouped, they open with a volley of military oil, neatly destroying the free spellbook and scrolls I had planted on the corpse.

Finally, they proc their second random encounter of the night and a group of raider-berserkers show up. They roll low for reaction, but recognize the party as not-soldiers, so they offer to let the party live if they turn over the beetles they already killed. The party begins talking amongst themselves about what to do. I warn the party the berserkers are not patient people. The party continues their huddle. I start counting down. I reach zero. Combat begins, and since the party failed to commit to fighting, I let the 'zerkers get an init boost. In the ensuing melee, the witch is killed. Aaron the henchpeasant is promoted to PC. (I even raise him to 1st level for free!)

The party leaves the dungeon with about 400gp worth of bloodstained chainmail, swords, and beetle parts. Of course, they can only sell one sword per week and one chainmail per month in the class 5 town they're in, so they collect 100xp each immediately and the actual 100gp each will gradually trickle in. All the players are laughing at their lack of fortune and having a great time, but the party resolves to never return to that cursed place.

I have no idea what I'm going to do about next week, but I'm excited for it.

Sounds like a great start for a game! I love how players have an innate knack for prying questions into useless decorative details, then outright avoid learning anything important. I got far more of a reaction revealing that the henchman my group picked up was actually a woman disguised as a man, than the fact that hundreds of orcs had been seen marching south. That, and if something looks like vaguely good news, my group immediately suspects a trap, and wants nothing to do with it. Which makes actual traps much harder to spring, let me tell you!

Session 3:

Tamos, Tate, Rom, and Selma gather in the Prancing Nugget to discuss the possibility of entering snowbeetle cave a second time. Since Kat and Breanna couldn't make it to this session, and Freya's dead, technically Selma is the only PC at the table that's seen the inside of the cave. They're reluctant to go back in, but figure if this time they avoid any funny business with humanoids, they should be able to get in and get out carrying a pile of beetle skulls without loss of life. 

The barkeeper also approaches them and lets them know that he's interested in expanding into running a small stable, so if they know anyone selling horses, he'll buy them at double market value for the next month. He figures as travellers they might know. The PCs make a mental note to keep an eye out for horses. The PCs trek back to the cave, and along the way roll [RANDOM ENCOUNTER: INQUISITOR/ASSASSIN LOOKING FOR STEFAN.] The assassin claims to be a mere traveller that was cursed and heard there was a healer in these parts. The party briefly questions his status as a simple traveller with a heavily armed retinue, but has to admit that these are dangerous parts and bringing four swordsmen with you probably isn't that strange. They tell him everything they know and move on cheerfully.

I decided that the Raid of Snowbeetle Cave is ongoing. The 2nd level mage Kars has managed to secure the barricade near the entrance, and gathered most of the bodies, and has been growing additional beetles. The raiders must then either attack the re-fortified barricade, starve, or fight their way through the beetle tunnels. I restock most of the rooms where the party fought soldiers with raiders and call it good. I had intended for the mage Gars to be laying wounded in one of the deeper caves, but the party never found him. I decide to keep the encounter exactly as it is, and just pretend that he was wounded much later. Sort of like how Batman is always 30ish, so his birthday moves forward a year every year, Gars will always have been stabbed about a day ago.

When the party gets inside the cave, they head down the alternate path into snowbeetle territory. The beetles don't have a lot of animal cunning, but they do know that sometimes leaving meat out attracts animals, which are also made of meat.  The Imperials are aware of this and like to help them out, so there's a naked dead man in the center of a room with a good layer of snow. One of the PCs walks up to investigate and gets ambushed, but some phenomonal rolls by the party wipe the beetles before they get more than a couple licks in.

In the next room, there's a corpse on a ledge on the other side of a steep slope. The slope is much more slippery than it looks, and leads to the Empress Snowbeetle, who is huge and lays eggs by the hundred and is fed by her brood. The PCs briefly consider that the last corpse was a trap, but are curious. I inform them that, as they take a moment to contemplate which path to take, the scary downward slope also has the occasional deep rumble, while the southern path has voices. Selma says she knows what the rumbling is, and that it's something bad. She thinks it is the eldritch construction engine they found earlier, but doesn't want to say 'magic bulldozer' so she doesn't explain herself, just emphasizes the badness of rumblings in general.

The PCs are curious, and tired of being stabbed, so they approach the slope and two fail saves and slip. One of them is saved by a comrade but Selma slides away.  As she was not the torch-carrier, she is now in the dark, she can hear approaching skittering and the deep rumbling of the Empress. She says a quick prayer to her patron, the raven-god of secrets, and readies her battle-scythe. The remaining PCs tie a rope to Tate and send her down after, and the two of them reverse-rappel up while kicking at the beetles, who luckily are not much better at traversing the slick, icey slope. It's the first great victory for rope! I am sure there will be many more.

Tate and Selma decide that they have enough bite-marks for today and the party retreats to heal. The party debates whether to go back, and with what objectives. After much discussion, Rom, the shaman, communes with his wolf goddess, asking if the beetles pose a long term ecological threat, if they can loot the bulldozer safely, and if the Imperials will notice in the short term. NO YES NO. They resolve to go steal the eldritch construction engine's power supply.

They rest for two days and head back in. On the way down, they pass the ceiling-trap, which is now disabled, as Kars used it to mash up all the corpses and seeded the resulting gore-pile with beetle eggs. They tiptoe over the maggots and head into the barricade room. Kars, as a good Imperial, tells them a bunch of lies, claiming that he's out here to study the beetles for medicinal properties and was attacked by barbarians who now inhabit the deeper caves. He offers to pay the PCs to kill them. The PCs go into a huddle and correctly assume that if they go past him once, he'll just kill them on the way out after they've done his dirty work.

Instead of crossing the barricade, they book it, and take the cavern path a second time, this time continuing past the slope room until they link up with the bulldozer room. They also find the locked door, and this time, the new PCs do not make any attempt to unlock it and choose to move on. They briefly consider attempting BULLDOZER SCIENCE but instead grab the gems and get out the way they came, scoring a cool thousand gold. Or at least, it WILL be a thousand gold, once they find a buyer.