In attendance this session were. . .a lot of players. My house could not comfortably contain them all it was so many. 9 of the 10 potential players showed, since I was DMing that was 8 PC's, an Elven Fighter who used a trident, a Human Fighter (pregen, so no flavor!), a Half Elven Warlord bastard daughter of a noble, A Human Wizard with a mysterious nature, and 4 strikers. Ouch. Genasi Infernal Warlock with a seriously messed up past, a washed up drunk Human Rogue, an Elven Ranger chased into the city by the violent storms, and a Minotaur Ranger who protected the Warlord with his 2 swords. And a scared DM.
The session opened with the morning after the storms dawning and the Lord Mayor of Fallcrest sending deputies to all parts of the city to recruit a working force to help with the cleanup and recovery. In their isolated position Fallcrest remained largely self sufficient and the stability of the city depended on it's farms and it's people. The PC's were largely enticed to the meeting in the market green with promises of a fair day's wage for their work. The Warlord was there because she felt like she could help, and the Warlock was looking for something out of the ordinary. While loitering in the green the Warlord was approached by a constable known to most of the PC's, Constable Morlinar. He explained to her that he was asked by the Sheriff to check on an outlying farm days ago but was prevented from doing so by the arrival of the storm. He now had other duties to attend to, and was looking for some of the volunteers willing to forgo their wage and seek the missing family.
The Warlord approached the PC's and convinced them all (except the Warlock, who was hiding and followed this new development with interest) to accompany her to the Graygrinder farm to check on the family. As they were leaving the constable gave to them a brace of healing elixirs, just in case.
The first test came just off the main road. The Graygrinder farm was some distance northwest of Fallcrest in the hills. The party followed the road north and turned east onto a rough path known to the Elven Fighter, as he had been there before. As they made their way toward the farm they were ambushed by a large party of goblins. Goblins were known to make their homes in the woods to the south of Fallcrest, so they were not unknown to the party. Goblins were found to die easily. During this fight the Warlock made himself known and during the rest of the journey the rest of the party tried to get to know him. This proved difficult, and the Human Fighter distrusted him right away.
The day was nearing half done when the party entered a clearing, and saw the Graygrinder home up ahead. The Rogue snuck ahead and was surprised by a group of drakes charging from the cabin. Thinking fast he leaped up and clambered onto the roof. Battle was joined. Soon the party discovered the drakes were guarding a large group of kobolds squatting in the cabin. Kobolds attacked from range while the party was torn up by drakes. The Wizard wove a spell to put the drakes into a slumber and caught the Rogue in the blast, and he tumbled from the roof. The drakes were worn down and the Warlock saw his opportunity to squeeze into the cabin. His spell nearly tore the roof off, as with a deafening boom the kobolds inside were liquidated. Two remained standing, and though their leader put up a fight he was no challenge and the party was able to finish him off.
A close search revealed a hidden box at the foot of the only bed in the house. Inside the box was a curious diary, written by the patriarch of the Graygrinder family. Those members of the party so inclined pored over it's contents, uncovering uncomfortable secrets and eventually deducing that the farm's proximity to the Scarred Caverns likely led to it's demise.
The Scarred Caverns are a series of caves in the foothills north of Fallcrest. They get their name from curious rock formations, remarkably scar like in nature, that are the primary feature of the Caverns. Local legend links them to disappearances and other less likely occurrences, and several party members know of their reputation. According to the diary, soon after the family acquired the farm and moved in, the 2 children began a dangerous obsession with the caverns. As the sole parent, Bowric Graygrinder did not have the time or attention to spare looking after them, and frequently had to go looking for them near the cave's entrance. The diary, in the father's hand, grows increasingly bizarre as time goes on, and the party struggled to glean useful information from it. They deduce that most likely the father had to go into the caves to find his children weeks ago and none of them ever came back.
With some amount of daylight remaining the party travels to where they think the children could have disappeared. It does not take much to find an entrance to the cave system, and they make the decision to start their exploration immediately. The caverns are odd in appearance, almost perfectly round and near 15 feet across, there is room for them to walk comfortably. At scattered intervals they see smaller openings in the cave walls, openings closer to eight feet across. After an hour of silent travel they divert into one of these side openings to see where it may lead. The side cavern curves steadily to the right, and sure enough they see in the distance what looks like the large main cave. Several creatures skitter by as they approach.
The Warlock (who doesn't know that so far the party has traveled undetected) curses the one he can see and the battle begins. The party is in a very tight situation, all eight of them single file in a long tunnel with some of the squishier members in the front. The Kruthiks (reptilian burrowing creatures) pounce and bottle up the entrance as best they can. What follows is a series of shifting, delaying, and generally confusion while the party attempts to put it's best face forward. As they move into the large tunnel the biggest Kruthik starts launching poison darts at the party. It is a hard fight, but the two fighters get a line formed and beat back the enemy, emerging victorious.
We stopped there for the day. It is difficult to get much more in with so many players, but combats are very fierce. I had to beef up everything I had prepared. In fact, though I had prepared the fights for 5 PC's, and put notes on what to *drop* in case not that many players, I had not prepared for there being more. As a result, the two big fights were structured better for smaller groups, and I didn't think about altering them until days afterwards. How hard would it have been to make everything five feet bigger?
The initial meeting was the most nervewracking part for me. While I had encouraged having a back story with some of the other players in pre gaming emails and board posts, nobody had taken the offer up, and everyone came in as strangers. I had several hooks that could lead that party in different ways, and a few hooks that led to this particular 'adventure'. I did not necissarily mean for everyone to bite and go together, but luckily they did.
I stuck a social skill challenge in here, attempting to get some aid for the mission they were just sent on. It went through several iterations but settled on trying to convince the generally amiable Constable Morlinar to part with several hundred gold worth of healing potions. I think it was too soon, and I think it was not run as well as it should have.
The goblin ambush was supposed to be more of a challenge, but in beefing it up on the fly I added a bunch more minions and a few more of the fighter types. Minions just drop like flies to this group. With a ranged ranger and a two weapon ranger able to kill four a round, a wizard with thunderwave, and a warlock multiclassed with thunderwave, I would have been better to keep the minions as is. The least challenging fight of the day.
Originally the next fight was two guard drakes, a kobold wyrmpriest, and a handful of minions. The two drakes hold the party off while the rest pepper them from inside the cabin. I added two guard drakes and a few more minions. The two drakes were just perfect, this fight was almost a month ago so I don't remember specifics but I know that at least one person went down, and I suspect more than one. Adding more minions was silly, they were inside the cabin and only two or three could shoot out at a time. Kobolds are shifty, but mine pretty much stood there the entire fight till they were thunderwaved into oblivion.
The diary was another skill challenge, one where with each success I gave out a little more information. After about halfway I think the party could have found their way to the next part of the adventure, but for finishing they got XP and a magic item. This one worked better, but making it a mental challenge naturally excluded a big chunk of the PC's.
The kruthik encounter was another fun one that should have been more fun. Originally having a handful of PC's bottlenecked in a cave would force them to use different tactics to fight into a more open spot. With eight, though, there were some players that were so far back they didn't do *anything* for the first couple of rounds. Bad choices on my part. The front half of the party did well though, and nobody was permanently damaged...