I've been following the Hack and Slash blog for about seven years now, and been running an occasional ACKS campaign for nearly as long. So this module was something of a no-brainer, an attempt to see how a well-regarded RPG theorist would approach the actual creation of a higher-level module designed specifically for a specific enhanced-retro rules system.
Overall the module is a quality produce which pushes ACKS a bit farther in the 'weird fantasy' direction than it's been before. This is a fairly obvious tribute to the classic Zeb Cook module "Dwellers of the Forbidden City", in the same way that the earlier ACKS module AX1 was a tribute to "Keep on the Borderlands". (If Autarch is reading these reviews, maybe this is the right time to put in a request for a tribute module for a hexcrawl like X1...) As might be inferred from the inspiration, this is a product that should appeal to anyone who loves classic-era TSR modules.
I'd guess that this could be used for something like 4-8 sessions of play, depending on length and how thorough your players are. I'd rank the difficulty as "hard", at least relative to the skill and experience of my own group -- but veterans of the old school might relish a little more challenge, and find this material to be par for the course. I think I'm less likely to play it as written, and more likely to use as a template for designing my own similar mid-level adventures.
There are a few minor editing issues that will probably be corrected in the next update (if they haven't been already). There are still numerous references to "p. XX" in the Core rules, which need to be filled in. (A search of the pdf turned up 5 instances). There are also a few references to an alien wizard called "the Collector" who rules "the Ik" which seems to be never described in the rules. There's a reference to finding more information in the monsters section on "page 47", but neither the Ik nor the Collector appear there in the initial release. I'm not going to make any deductions for these kind of editing issues, on the assumption that they will naturally be cleaned up over time.
I'd also appreciate it if new monsters could be introduced in the same way as in other ACKS products, with a small box that indicates their types. (Are genetically modified white apes "animals" or "humanoids"? Pretty important for knowing what spells to use against them!)
Here are a few other issues (spoiler warning) that one should appreciate before purchasing and running this module:
Courtney Campbell loves traps and tricks, especially deadly ones that go well beyond the usual "hit point tax" variety. One of the very first rooms encountered is a structurally unstable chamber that amounts to "rocks fall, you die". In fact, it's designed to only collapse once pretty much the entire party is inside. If your players aren't accustomed to playing close attention to descriptive text clues, it can easily result in a TPK during the very first session. With my own group, I think this kind of dungeon is better suited for a short-term higher-level experience, not as part of a longer campaign starting from first level that has already seen the investment of dozens of play hours. Warn your players to have back-up characters prepared, just in case!
There are a few R-rated elements of the adventure, or at any rate, elements that can move in that direction. For example, there's one place where guardians can be bypassed by (in effect) having a big messy group-sex orgy just before encountering them, due to their distinctive religious taboos. There are other ways around the encounter, but it's worth thinking through those options in advance and trying to figure out which of your players will be gung-ho for bukkake -- and which of them will be downright horrified by the ones who will be gung-ho!
The adventure introduces an ever-present outdoor menace of wyverns, in order to make life miserable for the players. This is actually a great idea as a tension-builder and to force players to conserve resources for the trip home, but it should also give you an idea of the level of difficulty represented by a module intended for "4 to 6" adventurers of "6th to 8th" level. You're going to have very frequent random encounters with monsters that you can't evade and that can kill you instantly with poison, just in the course of carting treasure back to town. I'd probably lists this as "for 4 to 6 adventurers and a bunch of their meatshield henchmen", just for clarity.
- I'm definitely in favor of this kind of adventure overall, but it's a little more "gonzo" than some of the previous releases from Autarch, and should be appreciated as a sort of surreal nightmare of Lovecraftian weirdness that stands in contrast to the more mundane orcs and goblins that the default ACKS setting implies. It's going to feel like a departure from vanilla-flavored ACKS. It also has an obvious transition zone where the normal outdoor encounters end and the body-horror encounters begin, so you don't have to worry so much about the madness leaking out to infest the rest of your campaign world. (Unless you really WANT it to....)