First, I got all bummed out about running D&D. Then I got excited again, after a session that was completely devoid of combat and dungeoneering. This week I had a session that was nothing but running around in dungeons and killing stuff, and it was a blast.
The cast was slightly different this time:
Aelaran the Resilient (male cleric), played by Bret
Cadie Stone-Spar (female dwarf), played by Jaime
Fingers (male thief), played by Anthony F.
Garen-Gen (male halfling), played by Dan
Magda the Witch (female magic-user), played by Chris H.
The Purloiner (male thief), played by Chris V.
plus their retainers: Kharain, Worford, Ralan the elf, and Mordal the dwarf
We were joined by a new player, Anthony F., who introduced his character: a thief dubbed Fingers. My brother, Chris V., elected to set aside his usual character, the fighter Ondola the Blunt, for a while and try his hand at a thief as well. His was a masked man known only as "The Purloiner". I decided to handwave the thieves' introduction to the Company of the Closed Fist. In the past, I've tried to introduce new characters organically, but that generally takes a good deal of time and I was eager to get into the action. I didn't bother explaining why there were suddenly two new members of the Company, at least, not yet.
I'm not going to go into a room-by-room description of the party's exploration of the dungeon beneath the ruins of Ebler's Tower, because I don't feel like it. There was a good deal of fun exploration and interesting (if failed) attempts to navigate some tricky spots. Combat was not in short supply. Surprise rolls were not in the PCs' favor, and run-ins with various giant vermin (including giant killer bees, giant shrews, and giant ticks) were extremely costly -- the retainers Mordal, Kharain, and Worford all met grisly ends in the dungeon. Roleplaying the retainers is among my favorite parts of DMing, and it saddened me to see them go, but I also relished describing the terrifying ways in which they died. I probably got a little too "into" describing a giant shrew bursting out of a slimy chamber, bloodily ripping out Mordal's throat with gnawing yellow fangs, and sending the dwarf's body tumbling down a stairway into a morass of giant killer bee honey and rotten provisions. (It should go without saying that there's no nice way to describe somebody being killed by a giant tick.)
The Company of the Closed Fist's dismal track record of keeping retainers alive is certainly going to catch up with them. There was plenty of humor, though, including a brief encounter with a swarm of mischievous sprites, and a particularly odd stratagem where the Purloiner greased himself with butter and attempted to make a running lubricated dive, Slip N' Slide style, through a half-collapsed room. The session ended with the party preparing to spike themselves into a galley kitchen that featured a basin filled with a foul-looking yellow gunk.
I paid a lot more attention to wandering monsters in this dungeon, and as a result, the party really ended up fighting for their lives. (The giant tick attack, in particular, was a nail-biter where Garen-Gen and Cadie came very close to being slain.) I'm not using a dungeon I wrote myself this time, because I was feeling uninspired. The one I chose has some fairly tough monsters in it, but I figured I've been a little too nice to the players so far. If they decide that it's best to run away and live to fight another day, well, that's a valuable lesson for them to learn.