If there is one other book besides the Adventurer, Conqueror, King rpg rule book that I love its the Lairs & Encounters book. I've used it more times then another book in the ACK's product line. The book is a two hundred & twenty nine page adventure tool kit for the Adventurer, Conqueror, King line. This is the same world setting that's fleshed out in the Auran Empire Primer. But comes to far more life in the AX1: The Sinister Stone of Sakkara .
"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.
In the centuries since the fall of Zahar, the Stone has lain dormant and forgotten. Now it has awakened, and warbands of beastmen have begun to gather sacrifices to power the Stone’s birthing pools again. Local farms and hamlets have been sacked and pillaged, and entire families have gone missing. The local legate has too few men to even patrol the border; he has none at all to hunt down the source of the evil. Adventurers are needed…"
The world of the Auran Empire is a pseudo-Roman empire with over arching aspects of a fantasy Europe caught within the dream of empire & conquest. This is s world that is badly in need of heroes and that's where your PC's come in. Again & again we see the themes of domain take a back see into the myths of the empire. The fortress is a homage to Gary Gygax's B2 Keep on the Borderlands but in keep in an Ancient Egyptian/Mesopotamian culture that the Auran empire has conquerored. But there are far older ancient races & themes at work here. All of the parts & products I've mentioned mesh completely with the ACK's Lairs & Encounters book.
Where ACK's is designed expressly for the purpose of providing interesting domain-level play, putting the "game" back into the endgame; Lairs & Encounters takes the domain level game applies that concept into the background of the monster. This means that the concept of the monster becomes two things one it becomes the competition, the horror, the mythological concept and antithesis to the PC's within their domains. The second thing it does is makes the animal or being that is being used within a game as much of a resource as any of the other natural game elements to be exploited by the DM. It means that those within your domains are going to be far more eager to seek the protection of those more powerful than themselves. This gives a whole other aspect to monsters as protection, rulers, etc. within those hexes that parties seem to continue to crawl through.
Another thing about Lairs & Encounters that's the 'encounter' part there is the gravity of history in many of the encounters that are created within this book. Many plug into the 'official' ACK's setting but they can easily be applied to your own campaigns for example:"
The ground here is torn up by the remains of nine ancient Zaharan scythed chariots, broken and partially covered by webs, dust, and sand. Here and there the jagged blades stick up from the scattered chariot wheels. Each character passing through or searching the area has a 1 in 6 chance of stepping on one of these partly-buried blades and suffering 1d3 points of damage. 18 skeletons (AC 2, Move 120’, HD 1*, hp 4 each, #AT 1 weapon, Dmg 1d6, Save F1, ML N/A, AL C), with rusted mail and jagged, broken scimitars, litter the ancient battlefield in clusters near the chariots. They will rise to attack if blood is shed. " This is something to keep in mind when designing your own encounters and this book has the tools, guidelines, and more to help you out with that. Something else to keep in mind is that Lairs & Encounters plugs into Domains at War, ACKS' expansion focusing on mass combat and how it relates to all other aspects of the game, from monsters in domain management to mercenary wages to mercantile supply and demand all centered around the aspects of the monster. By popular demand, they have distilled just the mass combat system itself to an ~8 page kernel which they are planning to add as an expansion but Lairs & Encounters slides right into the backside of this material. That means that all of those battle grounds, war fields, places of violence, ancient war sights and more have the real potential to turn into adventure locations unto themselves. This is something to keep in mind when running games after a party has passed through hex '5671' and they're entirely done with looting the bodies and the bandits, mercenaries are dead. Their foes can rise again to cause problems for the locals and you might have to back to clean up your messes. There are several reasons to really get into Adventurer Conqueror King System: Lairs & Encounters:
When you want a really well thought out lair for an adventure or hex crawl that not only blends into the setting but enhances the adventure material adding in another layer of adventure Sometimes competition is good & monsters can add an entirely unforeseen complication for those domain owners. Monsters domains can also be a readily made domain for PC's to take over(Lairs & Encounters can make that process very wily and interesting as well). Fast set up and lots of prefab encounters that can be dragged and dropped into your own adventure environments to serve as bridge gaps when you've got fifteen minutes before your players arrive and nothing written. Expanded war game ties for domains of war that make those war games an actual part of the adventure with monstrous tie ins. This book can be used to enhance, expand, and blow life into the factions and background of existing or classic modules to give new twists on modules or adventures that parties have already played through. Take Keep of The Borderland and suddenly it becomes more then a simple introduction adventure, it becomes an introduction to factional warfare with monsters surrounding a tiny island of humanity in the wilderness on the border of war! Drag & drop in some of the encounters and the entire tone of the adventure changes!
And this is exactly where the Lairs & Encounters puts the ACK's game in a another place. I think that ACK's as a whole works on a lot of levels & even given my checkered history with the game is still one of my favorite retro clones or is it neoclone?!