Low level dungeons are rough on retainers and henchmen. Characters die frequently, but the henchmen usually have it the worst. After seeing the group set Twig-Belly on fire last week, one of the other retainers, Visin the Frey cleric, decided to go elsewhere for employment. The group went back to Trade Town and the Njord Hall looking for more hired help.
Shamus wasn't the only hiring agent hawking an open position; there were groups looking for guards to keep dig sites secure or clear out nearby hexes, and patrons wishing escorts to seek entrances to the tower, or the sunken vaults, two landmarks visible from the city overlook. I think it's important that the party realizes there are other patrons, and other adventuring groups, also trying to exploit the ruins. They have competition, and if they're not sure what to do for an evening, they can also just take a job offer.
Menlir, the hairy-faced bard at the Njord Hall, told Shamus that someone was actually looking for him specifically, a man named Eilef of Trelleborg, with a job offer. Eilef's crew was on Herthjof Haraldson's ship, a longship out of Trelleborg that was far down the strand. Shamus went off to see why someone was seeking him out.
Eilef had learned 'through sources' that the group had a wizard able to put many men "to sleep" at one time. His crew wished to hire them to take care of 'the killers in the mist', a group of vicious berserkers that haunted a fog-shrouded tunnel north of the Well of Woe. Eilef offered 500sp. The group countered with 600sp, and a shadowy figure in a nearby tent nodded assent - it was a deal. The party had agreed to their first mission for hire.
The party picked up a few more retainers, Fafnir and Herap, a pair of fighting men, and Halam, a priest, and they set off. Tonight's party consisted of:
Mustafa of Arabia, a scimitar wielding desert warrior
Uther of Alfheim, an elf
Shamus, a Gaelic wizard
Falki, a Northman thief
Ireena, a fighter
Arthur the Fair, Bjorn Fjordrunner, Fafnir, Herap - fighting men
Halam - cleric
Here's the thing about the undercity; you descend into the Well of Woe, where there's a cluster of rooms and passages right off the well entrance, but there's also a large tunnel that heads north under the city, twenty feet across with a high rounded ceiling. Following Eilef's directions to the mists took the party north into this long echoing passage.
The tunnel was very long - in fact, it would take them nearly 4 hours to reach the misty tunnels, a literal highway underground. There were other folks using the tunnels to get around, too, and there were large side passages. At one point, the way was blocked by a 10' chasm, with a rope to swing across before continuing. There was a tense showdown at the chasm as another group, carrying torches, appeared out of the darkness ahead, demanding to use the rope swing first. The two sides eyed each other warily as the group of veterans swung to the party's side and then continued south.
Near a junction further on was another group of explorers, a nobleman (a hersir) and a few of his guards, drinking water and taking a breather. Bandaged wounds, blood, and grime indicated they had recently seen a tough fight. "We tried our luck against the mist", said Klaengson, the leader of the men. "I lost two men before we retreated, and then they dragged the bodies of our dead off into the mist, cackling. We could hear them go back to sharpening their axes, long slow strokes across the whetstones. It's unnerving." The party left them behind, peaceably, also bypassing a second highway tunnel out of the junction, and another cluster of doors. The first dungeon level is constructed as a series of geographically remote mini-dungeons attached by these larger arterial tunnels.
Within another two hours of heading north, the group entered the mist, and began planning the attack. They had spoken to enough eyewitnesses to piece together that a large group of battle-crazed men, "berserkers", seemed to live in a junction in the dark, sharpening their axes and waiting for intruders with murderous intent. They would be drawn to the party's torchlight like moths.
The party tossed torches ahead, and Shamus cast his sleep when he heard the reactions of the berserkers. The spell was poorly placed and only put a few of them asleep, so the fighters formed a wide front, four across, and planned to receive the charge. The berserkers came out of the dark, axe-wielding mad-men with corded necks and bulging eyes, An axe was buried in Ireena's chest, killing her, but otherwise the party was successful in slaying the remaining five or so berserkers after a brief but furious scrum. The group looted some axes and coppers, made a decent map of the junction, identified the entrance to another mini-dungeon there, and decided to head back for their reward. Nine berserker heads were piled into sacks, and Arthur and Uther carried the body of Ireena back for burial.
Apparently the group forgot the admonition that the dead sometimes return to life in the dungeons, for within a few minutes of setting out, a zombie version of Ireena twisted and writhed in Uther's arms, biting him and clawing into his legs. They dropped her in a hurry and went to work, killing her for the second time. This time they burned the body in place.
Another party of Northmen was met along the south route, the two groups able to see the others' torches in the black tunnel. A volley of arrows came out of the darkness, as the second group announced their intent to kill the party and take their stuff. NPC murder hobos FTW! A few characters lobbed their own arrows, while Mustafa and Bjorn sprinted the distance to engage in melee. After four of the bandits were cut down by superior sword play, the final two surrendered and were trussed with ropes. It was then the group saw that Uther had taken an arrow to the head during the missile volleys, and a second party member was dead.
An accord was reached with the two bandit prisoners, and they were allowed to walk in the front rank and carry spears. "I'd rather die in combat against a monster with a spear in my hand than tied up like a hog to the slaughter. I give you my word we won't turn these pig-stickers against you."
Never trust an NPC. The party let the bandits swing across the chasm rope first, and they promptly ran off into the darkness. They were good for their word, though; they didn't actually attack the group.
This session was an object lesson in why you don't dicker around in the dungeon giving the DM too many free wandering monster checks. Rather than just swing across the chasm quickly, the group made these rope harnesses, so if someone fell off the swing, they wouldn't drop down the chasm to their death. Makes sense, but all that tying and untying of harnesses takes time. Enough time such that when half the group was on the south side of the chasm, the north group heard the low moan of hungry dead shuffling out of the darkness towards them.
Mustafa, Shamus, Falki, and Herap were still on the north side of the chasm. A quartet of moaning shamblers shuffled out of the dark. Shamus made a distinct "Eep, eep, eep" sound as he knocked everyone out of the way and flung himself on the rope, leaving the other three to face the zombies on their own. Better to be a living chicken then a dead hero.
This was a dramatic battle! The adult players convinced Mustafa to try pushing the zombies into the chasm; they were lurching off-balance, and he has a natural 18 dexterity, so I had to quickly come up with a way for him to attempt to toss the zombies - essentially lowering his defenses to grab and toss, making a hit roll, the zombies could make a saving throw to avoid being pitched, and a failed save sent the zombie teetering over the edge. He ended up tossing three zombies that way over the course of the fight, with Mustafa's player (one of the 10 year olds) becoming more and more animated with excitement.
Meanwhile, Bjorn and Fafnir quickly swung over to the north side to assist the fighting and improving the odds. Zombies do a brutal d8 damage, and both Herap and Falki were crushed by the undead before Mustafa got over there to push the zombies over the edge. The death toll on the evening was up to four dead party members (Ireena, Uther, Herap, and Falki) - and three of them were player characters.
On their way out of the dungeon, the group paid the sergeant, Blue Nose, some hush money to keep it quiet that the party had silenced the killers in the mist and found a new mini-dungeon. They didn't want word getting out that the north tunnels were open before they had a chance to collect their money, rest, and return for a first crack at an unspoiled dungeon.
We'll start early next time to give a few of the players time to roll up new characters.