After the last session was unfortunately canceled at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances, everybody was ready and raring to play last night. Indeed, we had eight players plus myself, which violated my rule about having six players as my limit, but we had a guest (a visitor from across the Oceanus Atlanticus, a friend of one of our regulars who was in town for a one shot) and a newcomer (who had been a pillar of our hex and counter wargames day, and is likely to be a regular going forward).
Present were Ardo, the human cleric of Pelor; Mongo, the half-orc fighter; Theric, the human paladin of Pholtus; Vellis, the gnome bard; Jhocamo, the dwarf fighter; Mallun, the human thief; Abo Thistlestrike, the human magic-user; and Ehrandar Dawngreeter, the elf mountebank. (Whew!) They immediately made for the Castle of the Mad Archmage, and, having decided that the first level was too infested with traps, kept going down the central staircase to the second level. Two more characters had gained a level after the last session, so the group was feeling pretty confident.
This was a session with lots of combat and exploration; the party definitely added to their maps of the place. A lot of corridors were mapped out, a magic mouth in an alcove warned them about pit traps (to no avail, as it turned out later), and they came upon a chamber whose walls were encrusted with fungus and which was home to a half-dozen giant crickets. The crickets did a number on some of the party members who entered the room, startled by the dwarf's bullseye lantern, but when a pair of 6' long centipedes came in, attracted by the noise of the crickets' chirping, the party decided to beat a retreat and left a line of flaming oil to cover their escape.
The dwarf decided to attempt cleaving a door in, rather than a more conventional entrance, and found himself in the midst of a half-dozen orcs. He charged in, weapon swinging, and although he managed to fell quite a few of the creatures, they finally brought him low. The half-orc, meanwhile, hurled the gnome into the room, trying to get her past the orcs in order to open a second front. The tactic worked (after a fashion) and eventually the orcs were all slain, but not before reinforcements started coming in through another door in the chamber. These reinforcements were well-disciplined and presented a formation of halberds which would have been difficult to overcome indeed. The half-orc parlayed with the orcs, made an offering of weregeld, and the party was able to withdraw. The dwarf was recovered before he finally expired, and the party retreated to the surface to allow him to recuperate.
Now fully healed and ready for more action, the party once again descended to the second level and explored a different portion of the level. This time, however, the paladin carelessly fell through a pit trap and was caught in a slide down to some lower chamber, where he faced a number of skeletons. Alone, he put down a number of the creatures, but was in dire straights before his comrades made it down the chute to help him. Unfortunately, in the process another member of the party managed to get in the way of the last skeleton's sword, and was laid low. Wounds were bound, but the party needed to return to the surface for yet another week of recuperation.
Time was running short in real life, but the party made one last foray into the level before the night was through. This time, they encountered a giant tick in a half-sized room that attacked the thief, but the creature itself was dispatched. The gnome was the only one brave enough to enter the 4'-ceilinged room, found a bag of coins, and although she reported more corridors were to be found beyond, the rest of the party didn't want to travel through the narrow confines of the chamber. They backtracked, and ended up disturbing both a couple of ginormous beetles and, in the midst of trying to find an escape route, several skeletons. Once again, flaming oil allowed a fighting retreat, and the party emerged to the sunlit realms once more.
Because of the size of the group and the fact that we had missed the previous session, I was loathe to have anything "interesting" happen to the party in-between forays into the dungeon. If there had only been five players, I might well have advanced the frog-cult story (which will happen, make no mistake). Still, it did seem almost like cheating, with the required weeks' rest going by in a flash, rather than being the real penalty for almost dying that it should be. I think in the future, such intervals won't speed by in the same way. The first foray into the dungeons will be the only one, with the week in the city fully played out, thus making the hazard of going below 0 hit points something more than an inconvenience.