One of the intriguing aspects of this campaign is the lack of interest in the tent pole megadungeon by my players. I've been wondering about this for much of this campaign — is it me, the players, the concept of the megadungeon, etc. When James over at Grognardia made the observation that too many monsters are not practical for encouraging exploration (a large part of the appeal for megadungeons) I decided to adhere closely to the 2/3 empty room model suggested by the LBBs and his experience. Having created an incentive to return to the megadungeon, I was looking forward to seeing if fewer monsters might encourage more forays into the megadungeon.
Interestingly, as a Referee, I felt that even this 2/3 empty room model coupled with Holmes' wandering monster pattern produced too many monsters. I felt as if the monsters were getting in the way of the exploration. It has made me reconsider my encounter tables. I plan on including more "events" in place of some monsters.
The players returned to the Lower Catacombs at the Abandoned Monastery and discovered a stairway that they had not found the last time they explored the area. This discovery highlights my players' creativity. Having found the utility of Speak with Animals while taking care of Pups the Dire Wolf, Dn. Goram has insisted on keeping it in his repertoire of spells. He used it to try and avoid a combat with some giant lizards, who now seem to be the main occupants of the caverns from which the catacombs were carved. He found out that there were "lizard killers" that lived "below" and that the entrance was guarded by a "sticky manylegger."
Having intuited that the location of what the party assumed to be a giant spider was in a passageway already passed over by the party (it was a partial cave-in where the party would have to forego weapons and packs in order to crawl over the top of the rubble), Dn. Goram volunteered to lead the way towards one of his greatest fears — spiders. He wrapped himself in oil-soaked rags, cast Resist Fire upon himself and then set himself on fire. When he came into contact with the inevitable web, he set about creating a deadly inferno. (I realize that real spider web does not burn, but allow this tactic because it is an accepted given in most of the games I've ever played). Despite the brilliance of the plan, Dn. Goram lost the initiative, got stung and had to save v. poison or die. Being a Cleric, his save was much better than most and he (barely) made the roll.
Once they cleared the area of webbing, they descended down some spiral stairs to find themselves in pit of Ochre Jelly. With a judicious use of Sanctuary, they minimized the damage prior to burning off the creature. The party hadn't got very far before they happened upon a wandering band of werewolves. They managed to kill two, capture one and drive the rest off. The interrogation revealed that there may be at least two antagonistic factions within the dungeon. Recognizing that an enemy of an enemy can be a friend (and the reality that there were twenty gnolls coming for them down that hallway) the party agreed to leave this particular level and redirect their exploration towards what the werewolf called the Fungal Forest.
After extracting themselves from the newly discovered level, they proceeded to go back down an underground river that they had previously explored when trying to retrieve Hamlen's beloved spiked club. They found their crude handholds reinforced and improved. When they came to the water fall, they found their rope used as the foundation for a rope ladder. Clearly someone had retraced their steps.
The cavern beyond was several thousand feet long and several hundred feet wide dominated by various kinds of fungal growth. On the left side of the cavern lay some kind of fortress. The last time the party ventured this way, they found the remains of a battle from the distant past. They also found the fortress largely unoccupied. After finding out that there is some kind of fey presence within the cavern, the session ended with the party's discovery that the battle remains had been cleared and the fortress was now occupied by orcs and possibly much worse.
6 hours ago