Well, we began the first expedition to the Bleak Academy today, with our normal roster supplemented by Jason and Andrew. We started late because I was on a hike that ran waaay overtime (we ended up on the 2-mile 2500-foot climb rather than the easy trail we had intended), though this did give Andrew and Jason time to build characters. We began around 8ish and ran until Drew decided to leave around 10:15; I was surprised that we ended that early, but I guess it is Sunday and there is work tomorrow morning. During that time, the PCs managed to get a marching order together, get to the Academy, burn down the front gate, search the gatehouses, briefly survey most of the grounds, explore the main hallway of the dormitory building, fight the vulture-men inhabiting the refectory, driving them off after slaying their leader, recovering their treasure, and poking around a bit in some of the looted dorm rooms. Unfortunately, Tim's character grabbed a gem which teleported her deep into the second level of the dungeon. The rest of the party was rather resourceful about this, though - while Tormond explored an alchemical lab and fought zombies with fire, Tom's wizard used Locate Object on Tormond's shield, and they were able to make contact with noise through the ceiling. Whether the commotion will generate a random encounter remains to be seen... but we ended on a cliffhanger, with the rest of the party resolved to pass through the gem to rescue Tormond. I'm fairly surprised by the level of heroism here; rather than cutting her loose and leaving her for dead, they're actually going in after her. I guess it's because of her record with those morlocks; if they didn't go after her, she'd make it out alive somehow and there'd be hell to pay. She's done it before, she'll do it again.
So we're scheduled to game again Tuesday night. This pleases me, because it is shifting towards that wonderful rolling flexible game which I'm aiming to try. There were a few issues we ran into, though. The party engaged a huge mass of skeletons in the garden at the beginning, and I ended up running things just based on one pool of HP for the entire mob if you will. I suspect this is how old-school refs have been doing encounters against large numbers of monsters since before I was born, but part of me does like rolling HP for individual monsters. This also blurs the cleaving mechanic slightly, but I think it worked out OK.
As problematic as numbers on the enemy side were numbers on the player side. Drew brought... 4 henchmen, I think, while Tim and Tom had 2 and 1 respectively. This, coupled with 5 players, brought us up to 12 friendlies in the dungeon itself, plus a force of mercenaries and a guide loitering outside. It was fortunate that Drew's two L0 normal men were both downed by the skeletons in the first fight; this sped up the combat against the vulturemen considerably. The wide disparity in retinue size also meant that Drew was taking a lot of time in combat, at least at th beginning. This is dissatisfying, and I'm considering imposing a limit of 2 henchmen/dogs per PC in the dungeon. Ideally the shares system would accomplish this for me but... I guess it hasn't yet? This rule also encouraged people to leave extra henchmen outside the dungeon entrance with the mercenaries; then if a hench goes down, you can get back up to your allotted two by returning to the gates and getting another, rather than returning back to town to completely alter the loadout by hiring new ones.
On the plus side, Jason had never gamed before and seemed to completely get it. He ended up with a spellsword; arguably one of the more complex classes, since he had both spells and melee capability. But, in general, he had little trouble keeping up with the vets (and while they may have suckered him into being the one to poke the skeletons with the ten-foot pole, at least he did make it out alive and more-or-less unharmed). Andrew likewise picked up things quickly, though he has a bit more experience with Baldur's Gate and a little 4e (though again, my trollish veterans got him to open the trapped chest "because he had the best saves"... Really hoping they cover the cost of that Remove Curse for him). Conclusions - ACKS with a group that knows what they're doing is pretty easy to pick up. This pleases me.