The party knows now that a merchant carrying the last cursed coins they need has left on a ship. Poking around the harbor, they found prices for passage to be be very steep (and they spent most of their wealth acquiring the other cursed coins). So, they decided to make another foray into the catacombs near the mouth of the Maw.
After the past few sessions of trudging back and forth with only a few rats to dispatch, the blood started pumping again when they encountered a Man of Wounds. They were befuddled and kept trying to hit it with weapons. It wasn't doing too much damage, but you must remember 3 of the party members are cursed to be unable to heal. Toral finally asked for a miracle, and the AllFather held the creature. G wrapped a rope around its neck and, time running out dragged to the edge of the Maw and pitched it in.
Whew. Then they encountered a Woman of wounds much farther in with less chance of a miracle. More experimentation was tried: no, burning oil didn't seem to affect it; yes, arrows stuck in it with no effect. While warriors engaged it all sides, shields breaking left and right, Alamon managed, after several attempts, to spike its feet to the ground. The party backed off and left it there. But no sooner than they had caught their breath than several dog-sized black ants attacked. One of Torals sturdy woman warrior hirelings was laid low before they bested the insects.
After looting many of the catacombs' loculi they returned to the stairs and were leaving the Maw when a strange, black hummingbird creature approached. G eventually skewered it with an arrow, but not before Z's beloved, beareded hireling Pita, fell to her doom.
All in all the party lost to hirelings and gained only a few odds and ends of armor to sell. They found no where near the asking price for passage and may go back and try to negotiate with the ship captains.
Yes, Hireling death is important. After Z watched his die he said something to the effect of: "Man, if my character dies I would just stop, I like him too much." Which sounds to me like he had experienced a littl vicarious death dread.
Thanks to Roger the GS; the Man of Wounds worked brilliantly: the party was puzzled, frightened, and ultimately pushed to not one, but two creative solutions. It was exciting for me to watch.
I made a few jokes about Shopping & Dragons-- apparently an abstracted, chaotic city that involves a gambling game to find stuff works.
Exploration needs some fast-paced tension to go with the slower moving, contemplation and decision making. It also needs fear, or exploration is just time consuming. Combat with creatures supplies both nicely. Combat with strange creatures does it even better. I imagine the early dungeoneers must have had similar experiences when encounter the first rust monster or ooze. When players no what it is, time to invent something new for them to encounter.
As far as logistics, for less experienced DMs, here is how I handle combat: Group initiative every round, I go in order around the table asking for player actions (if you have a bunch of combats you can go in the opposite order so the same person isn't always first), I count to five on my hand for the player to tell me what they are doing. Keeps things fast, tense and abstract. I'll ask players to describe the result of their attacks at times, but I find I'm better at describing crits because I've been paying attention to the whole combat and have a feel for what is most dramatic. An example, Z rolled a one while fighting the ants and saw his bastard sword fly into the nearby Woman of Wounds.