This was a fascinating session on several levels. The players decided to explore a rumor about missing trade caravans that they hadn't looked into yet, and then got sidetracked by a random encounter. The entire session revolved around finding a lair and rooting it out in order to find treasure. This reveals two things: the players have figured out that treasure is the surest way to gain experience and that I had better have a few lairs up my sleeves, because this party is going to be interested in finding them.
The creatures that the party encountered were "cleaning crew" monsters — predators that were capable of killing a fresh meal, but who primarily feed on a trash. Thus, their lair was much more likely to be associated with creatures who produced trash. The players were in the vicinity of the Giant Insect Jungle, as it has come to be called, and the only real trash producers would be a tribe of chaotic humans that graft giant insect parts to their bodies. Thus the lair the party found was a series of caves occupied by this tribe.
Then something interesting happened. The party talked. They've figured out that combat is deadly and that not every situation needs to be beaten over the head with a spiked club. The party sought a safe place to camp and some healing for one of the party members who seemed to be getting ill from his wounds from the trash eaters. The negotiation did not go well; however, through a series of bold moves by the party and several bad morale checks, the party bullied its way through the underground lair. With minimal combat, they managed to walk off with much of the tribe's treasure.
Amid this wonderful bluff by the party, two things of note happened. A young teenaged boy named Grak was rescued from having his first graft replace a hand. Through a combination of kind acts of healing and bravado, the boy was convinced to help the party. He first showed them the tribe's altar where various body parts to be replaced with giant insect grafts were sacrificed in a pool of acid to an image of a Cthuloid monstrosity. In an act of unexpected religious fervor, the party sought to purify the area.
As an aside, I make clerics roll for their bonus spells. They keep receiving that spell as their bonus until it is used. This forces clerics to be creative and it also allows them the opportunity to use some of their utility spells that would otherwise be ignored in favor of Cure Light Wounds. As a result, the new cleric of the party, Deacon Swibish from Redwraith, had Purify Food and Water which he cast upon the pool. Then Tykris the Fighter threw his holy symbol into the pool. The result was rather dramatic. Instead of watching the symbol dissolve in acid, a great crack formed in the pool and through the carving, draining all the contents of the pool and leaving the holy symbol untouched. This awed Grak, who wanted to become a follower of the party's God. They happily took Grak back to Headwater and gave him into the care of Fr. Valinor, the local priest. They are also interested in finding a way in which to help heal or replace the hand Grak lost in preparation for the graft he was to get before he was rescued.
Due to life, a couple of players in the campaign have become itinerant members of the party. They come occasionally when life allows. This session saw life allow both of them to play. At the end of the evening, knowing that they wouldn't be back for a number of sessions, they each wanted to find something for their characters to do until the next time they were able to play. Akmed the Dwarf ended up traveling north to a dwarven colony to learn how to work with bronze. Tykris ended up wanting to spend time with Fr. Valinor at the church, learning in what capacities he could help. The expectation from both players is that this time of training, as it were, will result in some kind of skill or game-play reward. I am inclined to give it to them, because they are invested enough in their characters to think of it, and because it will give them an incentive to come back to the campaign when they are able.
4 hours ago