I was finally able to return to The Demon Verge earlier this week, albeit with only four players:
Aelaran the Resilient (male cleric), played by Bret
Cadie Stone-Spar (female dwarf), played by Jaime
Garen-Gen (male halfling), played by Dan
Magda the Witch (female magic-user), played by Chris H.
plus their retainer, Ralan the elf
The Company of the Closed Fist, having received a sack of treasure from a coterie of dryads in return for promising to rid the dungeons beneath Ebler's Tower of a corrupting influence referred to as "The Poisoner", found a secret door leading into a large chamber that had apparently been used for storage at some point in the recent past. Its alcoves were filled with crates and barrels of assorted goods -- including fine wines and spirits, still in drinkable condition -- and, surprisingly, a party of four dwarves, who gave their names as Maruk, Oum, Nardin, and Jegram.
A lengthy and confusing conversation ensued, in which the Company and the dwarves attempted to come to an agreement regarding joint exploration of the dungeon. The dwarves were affable enough, though oddly particular about marching order, and derogatory towards the Company's sole surviving retainer, the elf Ralan. Their leader, Maruk, seemed nonchalant about signing a contract that was dictated by the Company's cleric, Aelaran, but produced a document in a cryptic, angular script that was unreadable by any party members, including the dwarf, Cadie. The dwarf named Jegram exhibited bizarre behavior, repeatedly insisting that he travel in "THE REAR! YES, THE REAR!" of the party. To cap off the Company's suspicions, when questioned about the origins of his band, Maruk told them they hailed from Oru, a near-mythical dwarven kingdom that was known by Cadie to have collapsed centuries prior. The Company briefly considered attacking the dwarves, but decided to move on with them.
Their guard raised, the party headed into a medium-sized chamber with a sizable hole in its floor, and the word "DRAGON" etched into one of the walls in the language of Nisshar. Cadie reckoned that the floor was unstable. A crate was retrieved from the previous room and hurled into it, where it stuck halfway into the floor, dislodging several bricks. Splashing was heard from below. Magda the Witch elected to carefully enter the room, close to the wall, to examine a nearby wall sconce. Unfortunately, the instant she stepped out of the passageway, the entire floor collapsed, apparently sufficiently weakened by the earlier-hurled crate to lose all cohesion. The magic-user plunged into the darkness, nearly brained by falling rubble, and was swept away by a rapid, freezing current.
Aelaran shouted for lantern and rope, which were quickly supplied by the dwarf Maruk. As soon as Aelaran set to work at the edge of the newly formed chasm, he was bludgeoned with near-lethal force: Maruk was trying to kill him, hammering at the cleric bare-handed and with terrifying strength. A frightful melee ensued, with the unimaginably powerful blows thrown by the dwarves nearly claiming the lives of Aelaran and Cadie, and crippling Garen-Gen. Aelaran managed to flip Maruk into the river below, and the dwarf Oum suffered a similar fate due to his own clumsiness. The Company's captive, Galtin Vauk, attempted to flee, but was slain by the mad dwarf Jegram, who snapped the young mystic's neck with his bare hands. Aelaran healed Garen-Gen and tried to throw the halfling at Jegram, but missed, sending his companion sailing into the chasm to be swept downriver. After a tense struggle, Cadie's hammer delivered the killing blows to the remaining two dwarves, who, upon death, revealed themselves to be leathery, long-limbed humanoids with horribly misshapen heads: doppelgangers, legendary beings thought to live only for deceit and murder.
With two of their number now disappeared, the remaining members of the Company lashed together a number of barrels and crates from the other room into a makeshift raft, and launched it (and themselves) into the watery darkness, in pursuit of their companions... their destination unknown.
This was a short and intense session, where the players truly surprised me and ended up doing something I had never anticipated. I love that. The only thing that frustrated me was the absence of two players, both of whom run thief characters, and who might have been able to avoid collapsing the floor. Not that I'm mad that the players couldn't make it -- I'm more annoyed that I had to fudge what their characters were doing, and if they'd been there (or if I didn't allow the players to end sessions inside a dungeon), things would have been different. This was also the second time we used Adventurer Conqueror King's Mortal Wounds table to determine what happened to a character that was below 0 hit points: Garen-Gen's legs are now useless, which I found a bit depressing, but his player doesn't seem fazed by it.
Oh well. It was fun, anyway.