The Wilderlands of Absalom -- an ACKS/Oregon Trail mashup

I’m starting to run a pbp game over on with the intent of doing a hexcrawl/domain building game. I’ve got six – potentially seven players – and everyone’s using the Adventurer method of character creation with 20,000 XP. Surprisingly, people are investing in henchmen and mercenaries instead of taking chances on magical item. I think only one player wagered the 10K, and a couple of others wagered 1K and/or 3K.

The premise is simple: for a century, the forces of Chaos have besieged the Realms of Man but have finally begun to subside, and the Six Principalities have begun to expand once again. The Princes have put out a call for explorers and adventurers to venture beyond the current borders of their land, to tame and clear and eventually build domains (preferably as vassals to the Princes) of their own to serve as a buffer against the savage tribesmen and chaotic humanoids that still roam the lands, although in much smaller numbers.

I’m instituting the following into the game:

*They’ve got a factor, Mr. Hand, who works for the party as a whole, and start play with a magical basin they can use once per week to contact him. Mr. Hand also comes with a warehouse capable of storing 10K stones worth of goods, of which 1K can be stored in a safe. The warehouse and offices are guarded by watchmen and serve as a base of operations for the adventurers.

*We’re using cost of living, prepaid at the start of the campaign but due at the beginning of each month. In addition to food and lodging, we assume this amount pays for taxes, dues, minor bribes, money-changing fees, tolls, etc. Essentially, I don’t want my players to have to track coppers and silvers.

I’ve been working on a features table for hexcrawling. I assume that every 6-mile hex has a number of “features” similar to the number of lairs chart posted by Alex in another thread. By exploring a hex (which takes time based on terrain, not movement) they can discover the features (and lairs) within a hex. I’ve also assumed that exploring a hex (as opposed to simply moving through) automatically uncovers all the lairs and features found within.

*well, maybe not all

*I’ve handed out a number of hooks, that I’ll post later, and let the players know that their ultimate goal will be to clear land and start their own domains. This can be done either in vassalage to the Scarlet Prince or on their own, further into the wilderness. If they accept vassalage I’ll pass them some bennies in the form of additional settlers and military/labor aid.

*I’m giving out max hp at first level and rerolling the remaining hit dice at each level. A 5th level explored would look like this: 6 + 4d6, and upon reaching 6th would be 6+5d6. If the new total is less than or equal to the old total the character use their old total +1. This tends to have characters end up with higher than average hp totals.

Sounds awesome! Keep us posted.

The party consists of the following:
*Karag Two-blades, Assassin 5 and his two henchmen:
**Hira of the Seven (Antiquarian Witch 3)
**P’zev the Hairless (Mage 2)

*Qutai Horse Shaman 5 and his henchman:
**Jochi (Explorer 4)

*Rabanus the Raffish (Mage 5) and his henchman:
*Pantera (Explorer 3), a former panther transmorgrified into a human.

*Kallijk (Nobirian Wonderworker 4) and his henchman:
**Nathet (Nobirian Wonderworker 2)

*Sir Harn (Fighter 5) and his henchman:
**Brother Hanston (Cleric 3)

Play starts with the following post:

With winter over and the bitter cold receding to the north the town of Junction comes alive once more. No longer choked with bobbing chunks of ice and slush, work continues to repair the great stone bridge spanning the Bel and promising to open up the west once more to the civilizing forces of Man. The streets of Junction are filled with explorers and tradesfolk, mercenaries and merchants, all drawn to the frontier town at the call of the Scarlet Prince and the promise of untold wealth.

Over dinner the previous night the party’s factor, a lean, smallpox-marked man named Mr. Hand had spread out the wrinkled, faded map on the table and succinctly recounts what they know.

“Here,” he says, pointing to the road leading to the town of Rocky Mount, “a pride of manticores is said to lurk, devouring all who attempt to pass. Their lair is said to be in these mountains here, overlooking the forest below. I have spoken to a merchant who claimed they are denning halfway up an almost sheer cliff, with a difficult approach.”

“A man has made contact with me, wild-eyed and bushy-bearded, claiming to know the location of a lost gold mine that he is willing to sell for the sum of five hundred gold alcedes. Ordinarily I would discount such tales as the raving of a lunatic or the sugary words of a con man, but I have sources who confirm that there was at one point an attempt to mine a lucrative vein somewhere about here.” He points to a section of the map labeled “75.55”.

“Explorers tell tales of Pesh, a fabled city far to the west. However, in order to get there one would have to either pass through Rocky Peak or take a longer and more circuitous route south, and then west.”

“There are also tales that the land west of Junction and south of Rocky Peak are exceptionally fertile. They tell me the Prince has his eye on expanding this way, at some point, as his domain is somewhat lacking in rich soil.”

“The Prince is offering a reward of five thousand gold alcedes for the removal of the river trolls currently disrupting shipping traffic on the River Sarn, some one hundred miles south of here. Alive or dead, he wishes to see them removed.” Hand points to a section of the map labeled “71.51”. “They are believed to be laired here.”

“The Rufous Baron, ruler of Junction, has offered a reward of 500 gold alcedes for anyone able to clear the land opposite the bridge of all threats, so that he may garrison a squad of troops there.”

Mr. Hand takes a sip of wine and warns the adventurers that they surely will not be the only brave souls called to the frontier. “There is one other party that I am aware of currently in Junction, and more will certainly follow with the warmer weather. I have told you what I know, and leave the final decision to those more experienced in such matters.”

Oh, and there’s a slightly reskinned Ruinguard with Priestess henchmen.

So, it looks like the adventurers are going to bite at the troll plot hook. They made an effort to buy the map to the gold mine but tried to pay a lot less than the offering price, so the seller declined, saying that there were bound to be “more trusting parties, with deeper pockets,” that would be interested. They actually got a good reaction roll when dealing with him, but the way I see it is at this level the adventurers need to stop nickel and diming their way through stuff. Fourth and fifth level adventurers, to my mind, should treat 500 gold for a treasure map as a casual expense, not try and barter down the price every time an opportunity arrives: “Five hundred gold? Sure, let me root around in my saddlebag for a minute. I think I’ve got some loose change in there.”

They might not actually be that rich (in fact, the players are pretty broke, having spent their starting gold on henchmen, twenty veteran horse archers making double pay for venturing into the wilderness and equipping for an extended overland journey) but they certainly need to start acting rich.

Which brings me to two more house rules that I’ve implemented, both dealing with money:
*Characters can have coin purses containing up to 50 gp. This does not count towards encumbrance.
*Jewelry and other displays of ostentation do not count towards encumbrance when worn openly. High level characters should, in my view, roll into town all blinged out and shit, with gold armbands, platimum circlets and jeweled rings on every finger.

This sounds like a lot of fun. I’ll look that up on the purple and catch up.

I sincerely hope someone dies of dysentery…

Thirdmonth, Firstday

The adventurers do end up buying the map to the gold mine and are told the story of the recent expedition by the survivor, who served as a crossbowman in the caravan guard. Turns out the gold mine – which is said to have enough ore to last a century – is now inhabited by giant ants!

It takes them several hours to do this, and so leave Junction around midday. On the plus side it means they are still within the Scarlet Principality when night falls, and are able to sleep in a fallow field with little fear of attack.

Thirdmonth, Secondday

The adventurers wake and continue south, crossing the river Sarn just before midday. They begin to follow the river, but before too long they enter a swamp hex and movement slows dramatically. It is getting late, the air is thick with insects and a foul, miasmal odor, and two owlbears threaten at a distance! The mercenary mounted archers fire a volley while the adventurers dither; one owlbear is slain outrigh while the other is reduced to single digit hp and flees.

The companions decide that they do not want to spend the night in the swamp, which is good, as I had also rolled for a feature, which coincidentally was “Hazard, disease: those sleeping in the swamp have a 10% chance per night of contracting a disease”. They did not know this when the decision was made to leave.

Camp is established and watches are set.

Thirdmonth, Thirdday

The adventurers wake and climb the tallest tree they can find and scan the horizon (one of them rolled “Eyes of the Eagle” as a treasure, but they are limited to seeing about 12 miles because of the horizon). It looks as though the swamp ends after a dozen miles (two hexes) if they wish to follow the river; south of them the forest they are in opens up into grasslands.

Sir Harn decides to take a dozen mercenaries with him and scout ahead, to see if there is a way through the swamp. Between the late start because he climbed a tree and the slowed movement rate from going through a swamp they arrive on the other side – finding it only two hexes deep – but having burnt through two thirds of their movement. So he begins to set camp for the night.

Meanwhile, back at the main camp, Karag the Two-Bladed decides to explore the forest – staying within earshot of the camp – and stumbles across a group of elves. In my campaign, elves are capricious faeries, just as likely to curse someone as give them succor. Luckily, the reaction roll was good, there’s someone in the party who speaks elven, and the party ends up learning about the small bugbear village that they recently fought with and largely decimated (i.e. just one warband – a grand total of nine bugbears), with treasure for the taking.

My take-away

*Explorers are fucking awesome for wilderness adventures. Sir Harn neglected to bring one with him, but luckily did not get lost in the swamp. I’m probably going to roll again on their way back, with an decreased chance of getting lost, since they’ve already been this way and can pretty much just follow the river.

*If the party gets split I’m going to let absent PCs control henchmen/mercenaries so they’ve got something to do.

*The players haven’t quite clicked yet, as a team, and are still working on coming up with a game plan. They’re thinking pretty big, at the moment, but should realize pretty soon they’re going to have to spend a fair amount of time dungeon delving/clearing lairs in order to maintain their expenses.

*The wiki with PCs, notes and maps can be found here:

I love this house rule! “*Jewelry and other displays of ostentation do not count towards encumbrance when worn openly. High level characters should, in my view, roll into town all blinged out and shit, with gold armbands, platimum circlets and jeweled rings on every finger.”

Yes, Explorers are awesome in the wilderness. In general, I find Explorers to be one of the most-interesting and well-balanced classes in ACKS.

I agree about that houserule! I think I’m going to…{yoink!}…steal it.

Well, I myself stole it from someone . . .

The Circle of Life, when it comes to the OSR.

Thirdmonth, Fourthday

It begins to rain in the morning, heavily enough that vision is reduced and modifiers are applied to missile attacks, which proves to be important because the remains of the bugbear village the elves had mentioned the day before choose this time to attack the main camp, in revenge, no doubt, for their own massacre. There’s some tense moments, but the only one badly hurt is a mercenary who is almost killed by a spear +2 thrown by the bugbear chieftain, but timely first aid ensures that he pulls through. In the end the bugbears are defeated with little injury to the party (I rolled poorly for the bugbears surprise roll; it would have gone much differently if they’d gotten the drop on the PCs) and they find a suit of chain +1, the aforementioned spear +2 and a wooden cylinder which proves to be the witch doctor’s spell book (they also lucked out here; she was only 1st level).

One of the bugbears, named Grud, is Charmed by Rabanus the Raffish, and he leads the party back to his village (that the PCs promptly dub “Grudtown”) where they find more treasure (mostly trade goods the bugbears had stolen from across the river, but some nice jewelry).

Meanwhile, once the rain abates Sir Harn leads his contingent of mercenaries back through the swamp, feeling as if they are being watched by unseen eyes. They are, in fact, being spied on by a pair of troglodytes from the troglodyte village, but the creatures do not act as they are badly outnumbered.

Sir Harn eventually rejoins the group, but has used all his movement going through the swamp again, so the party rests for a second night in the same spot. They ask Grud about stuff nearby and he mentions, among other things, a stone building in which lurks a horrible monster that has killed several of his brethren.

Naturally, the PCs decide to investigate . . .

I'm going to make more of an effort to update this thread, so I can keep a better handle on everything that is going on in game.

Thirdmonth, Fifthday

Grud the bugbear leads the party through the hex to the building, which proves to be a strange, pentagonal shaped structure that has walls laid with strange, pentagonal stones, forming a tesellating pattern that is slightly disturbing to the mortal eye.   A tree has fallen into one wall, knocking a large hole (there is a door, but the adventurers don't even try it) in one wall and revealing a single large room, dominated by a statue of a five-armed lady against one wall and a large sinkhole in the floor.

The adventurers set up their archers outside the building and set about making a huge din and racket, which eventually calls forth the resident of the temple, an enormous carcass scavenger!  Which is immediately killed by the mercenary archers, the downside to the quick death being that its bulk is blocking access to the tunnels below the temple.

While the party is busy hooking their draft horses up to the giant creature some of the adventurers notice -- or think that they notice -- that the statues arms shift positions when no one is observing them.  Some further poking and prodding of the statue fails to reveal anything interesting, and by this time the corpse is out of the way.  It is also noted that the mottled skin of the carcass scavenger has a passing resemblance to the pentagonal tiling pattern observed in the walls and floor of the temple.

The thought does not seem to catch the party's imagination, however, as they descend into the deeps to find the monster's lair contains a modest number of coins scattered about its lair.  More interestingly is that they find a corridor leading off into the distance, that gets narrower and narrower until it is only a few inches wide.  Peering down it the party notes that it does seem to widen again some distance down.  

After leaving the temple one of the henchmen uses his ability to Commune to ask three questions: "Is the structure dedicated to a god of evil or chaos", "Would we regret choosing this structure as a place to hide our treasures and stay overnight" and "Would our group find it worthwhile to explore the too-narrow corridor." The answers he gets back are "No", "Unclear" and "Possibly".

The adventurers return to their old campsite, which has been used for three nights now and is acquiring a semi-permanent air to it, only a few dozen miles outside the borders of civilization.