[4 Kythorn 1372]
The adventurers take up position, open the door, and the battle begins! In a corridor behind the door, three trollhounds, their handler, and a half-orc wearing a gold amulet are ready for battle. Fargrim takes several wounds from the hounds, but the defenders are quickly incinerated by a combination of Cain's and Mellia's fire spells. Ralkin quickly advances down the corridor and finds the room where Katanya's brother has been imprisoned to cut rough pieces of quartz into gems. Ralkin has no difficulty unlocking the shocked gnome's manacles, and he bursts out in the corridor shouting for his sister. The kenku fills his pockets with several small pieces of quartz and takes what looks to be a spellbook.
Meanwhile, the orcs' planned flanking attack takes place, but too late to do any good. Several orc warriors accompanied by a massive orc with a greataxe, his armored hound, and a strange small winged humanoid that Cain identifies as a dust mephit attack the guardroom from the south. The attackers think they have easy prey insofar as it is guarded only by Sha'dar and his hound, but the two adroitly dodge attacks and, benefitting from a spell cast by Mellia to boost their speed, Sha'dar fires four arrows in less than six seconds and kills three of the orcs. The mephit summons a small storm of irritating dust particles, but it has little effect, and Mellia hurls several spheres of concussive energy at the creature. The mephit and one of the orc warriors manage to escape back to the south, but the massive orc decides to try to escape down the east corridor, unaware that Fargrim, Cain, and Ralkin are waiting for him. Suffering from several wounds, the orc then tries to duck into a nearby storeroom and through a secret door that lay inside, but Fargrim slams his greataxe into the fleeing orc's back and kills him. Fargrim removes a blue silk cape the orc had been wearing and eventually gives it to Ralkin.
Katanya and Flindle are joyously reunited, and Ralkin returns to Katanya the spellbook he found in the room where her brother was held captive. The two gnomes try to persuade the group to escort them to Silverymoon, and Katanya even tries tears to persuade Fargrim, but the dwarf remains adamant that he is not leaving until he finds Bearos. The two gnomes decide they'll camp at the keep until the party is ready to depart, but as they're leaving, a newcomer arrives: a short gnome wearing a dirty white robe and carrying a walking stick. Quite an odor emanates from the newcomer, but Ellywick, Katanya, and Flindle seem pleased to have encountered another of their kind. He introduces himself as Aloysius Pumpernickel, and says he's come to Startop Mountain to look for some legendary ancient gnomish vaults--Katanya and Ralkin put in that they had heard of the same legends.
Mellia tells Aloysius that the area is crawling with orcs, and that he would be welcome to join them. His stench, appearance, and mannerisms are somewhat off-putting, and Fargrim is not impressed at being addressed as "cutie." At one point, a furry, ugly one-eye cat pops its head out of Aloysius' robe, and it quickly becomes apparent that part of the terrible smell stems from it. Cain magically conjures a spray of water to drench Aloysisus and the cat, and the cat runs under a table and stares hatefully at Cain before eventually returning to the safety of Aloysius' robes.
The group decides to continue exploring. Aloysius picks up some gem-cutting tools and books on gem-cutting and fungus, and stuffs his pack with what looks like dozens of days worth of dried fruit and meat from the orc storeroom. Through the "secret" door, the group explores a long tunnel. Ralkin carefully searches ahead and on a few occasions thinks he may have found traps, but it turns out he is just being over-cautious. The corridor ends in what must have long ago been a torture chamber, but it appears it hasn't been used in quite some time. Aloysius urinates near Sha'dar's hound, and the wood elf glares at him. Ralkin realizes the route they've taken has led them back to the slave pens where they originally found Katanya, and the group prepares to head down another long, unexplored corridor to the south.
Director's Commentary (October 22, 2014)
Another good session of hack n' slash dungeon crawling. This sort of thing is what I planned the whole campaign to focus on, but there's actually very little of it. After the previous session, it was interesting to think strategically about what forces the orcs had left and how they would arrange themselves to repulse a new round of attacks. The PCs did a great job and cut down their foes, including the orc leader, without much difficulty. Of course, they should have had a pretty easy time of it since they were several levels higher than this part of Castle Whiterock was designed for.
Katayna and Flindle are two NPCs that were part of the adventure as written. I think I did okay with them, but ultimately they were a bit forgettable.
The session is perhaps most important for the introduction of a new player, bringing the total to six. As I write this (circa Session # 98), we've now had the same group of players for over 65 sessions which is quite a feat and something to be proud of. The new player was/is an excellent role-player, and his character, Aloysius, was truly one-of-a-kind. Hilarious and unforgettable, and still one of my favorites the player has run. Alas, Aloysius was not long for this world, as you'll see a few sessions from now.
Up to this point, I had never run a campaign (in any system) with more than four regular players at the table. Going up to five, and then several weeks later, up to six, provided some real challenges I probably hadn't counted on. My thought process at the time, and based on my previous experience, was that more players is always better because players inevitably miss sessions, drop out, etc., and having extras means the campaign can continue on. But this group of players is and was like nothing else I've seen before, insofar as they are never late and literally never miss a session unless overriding circumstances exist (work or a trip away). I capped the limit at six because that's how many people could comfortably fit into my living room, and I'm glad I didn't try to fit in more! With six PCs, each player gets less time every session, encounters are harder to scale, my workload in between sessions (approving feats from splatbooks, etc.) goes up substantially, and the likelihood of the party splitting off into multiple factions increases (this last one has been a big headache). It definitely was like taking on an advanced degree in DMing, and I don't know if I would do it again. But on the other hand, I really like all six players, so there's a real tradeoff.