The ninth session of my Dwimmermount campaign was, once again, given over mostly to exploration. As I've mentioned before, the party has been keeping rather detailed maps of the levels into which they've ventured. This has proven a boon for them, since these maps have given them a better sense of where secret doors might lie, for example, as well as how features on each level interrelate. I'm positively tickled by this, since it means that the players are paying attention to the environment I've created rather than just treating it as scenery in a succession of fight scenes.
What the players have noticed is that the level they're currently on seems rather small compared to Level 1. The first level contained many staircases and other forms of descent that seem not to connect to the portion of Level 2 they've explored so far. Indeed, Level 2 appears to have only one direct connection to the level above it. Unless they've missed some secret doors or other means of lateral movement, they've concluded that "Level 2" is in fact a small sub-level rather than something as extensive as Level 1. Without revealing whether they're correct or not -- my players read this blog -- I will say that this line of thinking pleases me, if only because it means they're thinking of the dungeon as something more than a succession of neatly stacked levels, one on top of the other.
The players also concluded that the only way down from "Level 2" is via the passages leading to the pool of black oil. Brother Candor did some investigation into this and determined that the oil is pooled in a large cavern with several connecting passages, some of which also contain oil and some of which contain dry rock. He could see no inhabitants in the oil cavern but he spent minimal time exploring it. He did collect even more of the oil for analysis. In large quantities, the party noticed that the oil isn't just black but has a sheen to it not unlike quicksilver. When the characters returned to Adamas (which I'll describe in a moment), they wanted to hire an alchemist to help them identify it. Unfortunately, alchemists are very expensive (250 gp/week) and the characters are cash-poor at the moment.
Their explorations of "Level 2" involved a fight with some more beast-men and a giant spider. There were also some fatalities. A poison gas trap claimed the lives of Erik, Ethil, and Hrothgar. It also nearly killed Brother Candor and Iriadessa, both of whom made their saves by the thinnest of margins. The loss of not one but three of their front-line fighting men was a serious blow to the party. They decided they couldn't continue without first replacing their hirelings (since both Pike and Vladimir were absent this session), so they knew they'd have to ride back to Adamas to do so. They did dispose of all three northern warriors outside of Muntburg, on an alcohol-soaked funeral bier set aflame.
These deaths hit home a bit more than had previous ones, partly because Erik and Ethil were jovial, goofy NPCs who talked like Arnie and had quirky personalities. As it turns out, a pair of women's boots Erik found -- and wore -- were magical boots of levitation. These were removed from his body and replaced with a different pair of women's boots before his body was consigned to the flames. "At least he died with his boots on" was a source of several jokes this session. Brother Candor wears the boots now, but claims his plate mail greaves hide their appearance to anyone who doesn't spend a lot of time looking at his feet.
The characters spent time in Adamas hiring new mercenaries. Brother Candor now employs Wulfhere and Dordagdonar employs Brandis. Both are mighty fighting men and cost a fair bit more to hire than did their deceased comrades. Dordagdonar also "upgraded" Henga the Shield-Maiden to the status of henchman. She is now the longest serving NPC in the party, having been used continuously in every session since she first appeared (unlike Brakk, who was absent in two sessions). While in Adamas, the party spellcasters also learned new spells and Brother Candor formally joined the Church of Tyche's hierarchy. He's now expected to give over 10% of his loot to the high priest in the City-State in exchange for access to the temple libraries and reduced rates on spells, such as raise dead and the like. I'm not sure he's convinced it was a good deal in the end, but it's still too early to tell.
Once again, a good session and one that helped further develop the characters and better establish their place in the world.