Several of the frequent players were unable to make this session but undismayed, the five who were there were determined to go adventuring. The party was made up of:
Cnut the 1st Level Fighter
Gene the 1st Level Fighter
Gibbet the 2nd Level Thief
Gwynthor the 1st Level Cleric
Shazam the 1st Level Elf
The party started by examining the rumours they'd been hearing round town. These are, more or less, that a priest is assembling a party of adventurers to take down Ulfang the Black, a Kobold lord; that the Merchants Guild is seeking information about a missing caravan; that a Halfling is seeking money to fund a dragon-hunting expedition, but his last backers lost their money; that many strange beasts and also undead can be found in the caves (which, of course, the party knows anyway), and that the Goblins have been driven out of the caves by Orcs. They're the ones that most relate to the caves, a couple of others are about events in and around town.
My plan was that the priest would serve as the leader of a rival party and if the PCs didn't go and take down Ulfang themselves the priest and his 'alternative party' would do so; but instead the PCs decided to send Gwynthor, their own Cleric, to check out this priest and see about joining forces. Fine by me, either way, the PCs go to the caves.
So Gwynthor wandered from the party's inn to the square where the priest could be found. Behind my screen I hurriedly generated a priest. I have a method for randomly determining where on the PCs' continent someone comes from. I rolled the north-east, a sort of viking-y area. Co-incidentally that's where Gwynthor is from. I rolled for a god from that area and came up with a Lawful god of fighting and honour called Yrt. Co-incidentally that is who Gwynthor worships.
So, it turns out that the would-be rival party leader is a co-religionist of Gwynthor... so Gwynthor talked to him, persuaded him that the PCs had a map to the location of some Kobolds (the 'Kobs' marked in the top right) and that might be where Ulfang was, and they all set off together. Now there's an NPC who talks like Sean Bean (because Gwynthor talks a bit like Sean Bean and I wanted to do a voice that 1-stressed the point that Gwynthor and Ademus are from a similar cultural background and 2-I can do and 3-I'd remember next session... I'm always annoyed at myself when one of the PCs points out that the NPC who has a Hungarian accent this session was South African last time. So, Ningal is Penelope Keith, Seggulf the Dwarf is Rainer Wolfcastle and Ademus the wary priest is Sean Bean. I'm now running out of voices. I'm also wondering when Ademus will die - surely, before the end... he's Sean Bean after all).
Heading in that direction, the PCs both heard a noise behind them and encountered some Gnolls in front of them. Dispatching the Gnolls relatively rapidly, they searched the bodies and found some gems, which they were obviously fairly pleased about. The noise from behind was continuing however, and the PCs decided to leave the bodies and make a hasty exit rather than seeing what was advancing from behind them.
In the next largish cave-area, they found some Kobolds, which was pretty much what Ademus was here for (though Ulfang the Black wasn't here). There were quite a few of them (13, from memory), which maybe made them over-bold. Obviously, even 13 Kobolds are going to find a fight a bit tricky when the PCs have mostly plate mail and all have missile weapons (Cnut lent Ademus a sling, with which the latter was highly ineffectual). The majority of the Kobolds were killed pretty quickly but a few (two or three) managed to flee. And thanks to his Charm spell, Shazam manged to get himself a Kobold helper, yet again...
Searching the area, the most prominent and important thing was a large stone sarcophagus with geometric patterns carved on the sides and lid. The PCs were somewhat nervous about this, fearing that some undead might be a resident, or it might be trapped in some way. However, neither of these things proved to be true, the sarcophagus was merely old large and heavy. Eventually they did get the lid off, and, all preparing to die, they discovered that it contained only an ornate iron key. What it might unlock they don't know yet.
Moving on, the PCs came to the area of the 'vile crawlers' in the approximate centre of the map. These were Giant Centipedes; the party managed to dispense with them fairly easily from memory, if anyone was bitten they must have made their throw because no-one suffered the results of Giant Centipede poison (lots of vomiting).
Having made it this far the PCs decided that they really ought to be high-tailing it back to town so they made their excuses and left. I wished afterwards that I'd decided Ademus should stay the night and continue the expedition to the Kobold caverns rather than returning back to the city with them, but I didn't, Ademus followed them out and 'tomorrow' will no doubt be keen to continue his crusade.
Making it back to town OK, we commenced loot-division. I had already told my PCs that I am slightly altering the XP awards from now on, partly as a result of discussions that I've been having with JensD, who told me about XP awards in the Rules Cyclopedia, where there is an assumption that 10% of the 'next level' (average party next level?) would be given in XP whatever the state of monsters defeated and treasure found, meaning that in 10 sessions or less you were pretty much guaranteed to go up a level. Progress seems to have been very slow for the majority of PCs thus far. After 14 sessions only one PC was at 2nd Level, and that's too slow in my book. I have always given some XP for exploration and role-playing, good ideas and so on. I had told everyone that I would be increasing the percentage for these actions. As a result, with the XP from monsters, the cash from the gems and the other loot, and the exploration bonus, both Cnut and Gwynthor (two of the longest-serving PCs) also made it to 2nd level at the end of this session! Given the speed of advancement so far, that's pretty major news.
So, onward and downward... will the PCs head back to find Ulfang with Ademus? Will anyone else level up in the next few sessions? We shall have to wait and see...