"Over a millennium ago, when the borderlands were in the dark grip of the Zaharan Empire, the empire’s sorcerer-priests erected a profane temple to house the terrible artifact known as the Stone of Sakkara. Using the Stone, the sorcerer-priests could birth monsters and abominations with frightening ease and magically command the loyalty of chaotic creatures. The Stone brought its evil masters great power throughout the fell empire. "
Clocking in at eighty pages AX1 The Sinister Stone of Sakkara is an introductory adventure for the Adventurer,Conqueror, King system hearkening back to classic TSR era B/X adventures such as Keep of The Borderlands. By that I mean that it takes all of the existing ACK's products within the Autarch lines and puts them into play as a homage to adventures of a bygone era. The idea of the lone Auran/Roman style keep on an Ancient Egyptian/Mesopotamian border that they have conquered is used as the backdrop for a very well thought out adventure. Here the action is centered on the factions of the dungeon & the PC's must deal with the fall out of the evil that slumbers here. There is a bit of everything in this adventure as its meant to do exactly what the Adventurer, Conqueror, King rule book lays out. That is to explore, deal with, get hired, hex crawl, fight, battle, & play while getting an entire feel for the ACK's system with both the players and the dungeon master cutting their teeth on the The Sinister Stone of Sakkara .
Everything has a pseudo Lovecraftinan sword & sorcery vibe mixed in with the Auran empire setting. Monsters & encounters have that late night Saturday matinee mixed with a Mountain Dew war game feel. There are actual motivations, as well as reasons why the PC's are here in this part of Türos Tem the place is presented as the stronghold of a realm controlled by a high-level NPC, with its maps, buildings, population, revenues, costs, and morale score all detailed and provided. This makes modifying and adding it into your own home game campaigns a snap. Many of your standard ACK's humanoids are present but there are far more sinister things lurking as lots of slimes, molds, jellies, fungus, & worse crawl through the AX1.
If the players are stupid & make poor decisions their going to have their PC's killed in no time flat, this is a great module but parts of it can be very unforgiving as the writing and design is very tight. Its well done and easily modified but you're going to have to think on your feet. Yes your PC's might end up with their own domain but they might end up a victim of the very evils that they're investigating or being killed by one of the multiple factions of this realm. Action is fast, reactive, and the plot moves along. There is a sense and story to the history of the region that echoes bits of Robert Howard, Michael Moorcock, with a blend of Caesar and Rome thrown into the blender of this module.
NPC's function as movers, shakers, possible patrons, or flat out enenmies of the PC's & the ambitions that they bring to the region & your table. This is a place of sand,blood, evil, & flat out mayhem. Expect no quarter if crossing the wrong person or their hidden agendas. The powers that use this region do so with intent and guile. This is because the whole adventure of AX1: The Sinister Stone of Sakkara is a guide as well as adventure intended to take the PC's through the whole of the ACK's system in miniature.
Once again we've got that classic collapsing empires of earth’s Late Antiquity (250 – 750 AD) as the mirror of the age of Auran that AX1 is set. A turbulent era in which ancient glories were drowned in a torrent of violence & murder. So this is a perfect place for the PC's to make their mark as they come to explore the dungeons & environs of The Sinister Stone of Sakkara. I was somewhat shocked by how underpowered the NPC's are in this adventure, well not really. This adventure's NPC's reminded me of Dark Albion's 'anyone can be killed' in the Rose War attitude. Because there's also an almost boom town/end of empires set of circumstance that surrounds the setting of the Sinister Stone of Sakkara. This is so that the PC's can not only make their mark but possibly take over the local domain if their very lucky.
Illustration of gnoll diplomacy, requested by Jeff Binder
Certain things about this adventure stand out such as the fact that it integrates & plays around with Adventurer,Conqueror, King's Domains of War. The aspects of military & trade details is fitted in seamlessly within the adventure but its a weird fit in some respects unless of course you're used to war games being a part of your old school systems. The aspect of the war game as a part of the dungeon crawl hearkens back to the old school roots of OD&D when empire building was part and parcel of the gaming experience. Many independent companies kept this style of table top adventure going even as AD&D took another twist. AX1: The Sinister Stone of Sakkara builds upon & to some degree advances this concept on paper. How? By making the players take their PC's center stage or dying in the attempt. Even the description has this conceit built right in, "AX1 includes a two-level dungeon filled with chthonic horror along with a friendly stronghold from which your adventurers can explore the region."
Illustration of a raven spying on Lady Valerian and Hometri Socolo, requested by Florian Hübner
AX1: The Sinister Stone of Sakkara isn't Dwimmermount & for that I'm thankful. Even though I'm an experienced dungeon master there are several systems that Adventurer, Conqueror,King brings to the table that I need a bit of hand holding with. There is also the fact that introducing new players to this system is an added stress but reading through AX1: The Sinister Stone of Sakkara the experience doesn't seem so bad. I really like the Character Motivations table, which adds an interesting twist to the 'reason a PC is this way' and the motive for adventure.
The motives for the adventure in part are the war bands of beast men looting, sacking, pillaging throughout the countryside to gather sacrifices to power the Stone’s birthing pools again. Local farms and hamlets have been laid low and destroyed.
This sets up everything for the PC's to get into the deep end of this adventure & perhaps become entangled in the adventure's plot and weird horror that echoes through out. All in all I did enjoy looking through & reading AX1: The Sinister Stone of Sakkara. I think its a four out of five for the style, utility of use at the table, an economical use of writing and some fine gaming designing in the old school traditions.
All in all I think that X1: The Sinister Stone of Sakkara does a fantastic job of presenting not only a great quality introductory adventure for Adventurer,Conqueror, King. But a great set up for a possible domain and base for the PC's all the while bringing the high quality Autarach standards we've come to expect.
YOU CAN GRAB AX1: The Sinister Stone of Sakkara here!