I have no idea why ... but somehow, this week, my players took it into their heads to track down the Spawn of Arach-naca ... that malign, scheming spirit from the black void between the stars which haunts the depths of Dwimmermount in the form of a vast, bloated spider.
Arach-naca featured prominently in last school year's campaign, with Vale the Grey slowly (okay ... maybe not so slowly) being seduced into serving the unseen whisperer in exchange for knowledge of lost or forbidden spells.
This summer, in my two-week games camp, Arach-naca began seeding the tunnels of the Paths of Mavors with its hungry offspring (giant crab spiders). It was then that explorers first encountered the loathsome creature face-to-face. Those it didn't slay it subjugated or sent dashing headlong from the mountain in panic.
However, the Five Delvers (a powerful NPC party) drove the spider demon off level one and down into the depths of level four, where it slumbered and schemed until awoken again by this year's players when they descended the Great Shaft to poke around in the deeps among the bull-men of Commander Bik.
Crawling back up from the fourth deep, Arach-naca installed itself once more in the kobold caverns of level one, slowly expanding its brood.
With most of the party having recently reached level two (and having acquired enough cash to finally afford platemail) perhaps they were feeling ready to take on terrors that they had previously shied away from.
So two fighters, an unusually mobile tree, a blue dragon hatchling, a cat, two elves, one retainer, and two magic-users set off to track Arach-naca down and defeat the horror once and for all.
They battled through a score of the twisted kobolds that served the monstrous spider-thing, losing one magic-user along the way, before the drums of the diminutive madmen finally called it from its lair on creaking, many-jointed legs.
"Don't lick that stuff coming off its belly or it will enslave you!"
"Wait ... what? Why would you want ... ?"
"That's what happened last summer. It caught a bunch of us and they put us in these webs and then they made us put our faces in its belly and it enslaved us."
"Dude, we're going to put Kermit up front [in his new platemail] and he's going to take them all on and won't get a scratch and then he'll make it lick his belly!"
As Jager the Elf, Kermit the Brute, and the cat charged the up the tunnel to meet Arach-naca head-on, Ferdick the Goon brought forth and brandished the strange, clicky device that he had recovered from a desk in level zero.
"I stare it in the eyes and shout, 'I defy you with the power of the clicky thing!' "
DM: "Okay, make a saving throw. It bids you to attack Salren the Elf."
"Please don't! I only have three hit points left!"
"Does an 18 hit? ... Wait, I have plus two for Strength ... with my greatsword."
Oblivious to the telepathically-induced carnage breaking out behind them, Jager and Kermit pressed the attack, dealing 20 points of damage across several rounds.
At this point Dilliam the mage decided to experiment with a brand new spell that he had found in an enchanted book on level two.
"I cast Blur on it."
DM: "On ... the spider?"
"Yeah. So it'll be all blurry and won't be able to hit us as well."
DM: "You want to make the spider all blurry and hard to hit?"
"Yeah, so it'll get like all blurry."
DM: "Um ... okay."
Suddenly Arach-naca became much, much harder to hit. Rather than be a total jerk about Dilliiam fumbling the application of a new and unfamiliar spell, I offered him the option to take a round to end it once he realized what was going on. In a panic, he declined, opting to grab a crossbow instead.
DM: "It tells you psychically to that if you shoot Jager it will let you live."
"Okay. Don't worry, I'll help carry you out afterwards."
"No! It's just going to kill you!"
"Um ... I'm going to shoot."
As Jager crumpled, Kermit dealt the spider another fierce blow, sending the creature into ponderous retreat. Rather than press their advantage, however, the nerve of the party members failed and they sped from the mountain with all the haste they could muster, leaving their dead behind.
Whew! I had nine players at the table this session, even after redirecting some kids to chess and Settlers of Catan to keep things manageable. Even then I had Dilliam's player work as party caller to streamline the input, used a minute timer to limit time between turns, and had to be a bit of a tyrant about players missing their turn if they weren't ready or paying attention.
I know the players of the party's casualties were pretty eager to get back in ... Jager's player even rolled up a wizard before we left for the afternoon.
What are your favorite tricks for keeping bigger groups engaged?