A cleric, a fighter, a magic user, and their six porters and guards found themselves on the precipice of the Maw looking to make their fortune.
To the west, fifty feet down in the hole, a small monastery was built on a rock outcropping. To the east a set of stairs could be seen slowly spiralling down the pit. To the south a river poured into the Maw, its waterfall disappearing into the dark.
After some deliberation the party decided to investigate a hut to the west. Greeted by a scarred mastiff, they soon began conversing with a the blind inhabitant of the hut. While friendly he seemed, off. They found he delivered rounds of cheese to the monastery of St. Eudo on a regular basis and that this saint's claim to fame was that he had turned water to wine and generally enjoyed all God's creation.
After an inordinate amount of discussion and planning, the party finally lowered themselves in the basket the blind hermit used to lower his cheeses. Four went at once destroying the weathered old basket, but luckily they'd all tethered themselves to the central rope.
After finally getting everyone into the monastery proper they began a room to room search which revealed grisly remains. They encountered something small and childlike whispering in the dark along with a small secret passage running behind the row of monastic cubicles.
After finding evidence of some large animal, they actually sought it out! And luck was with them as they slew the scabrous black bear in two blows. Ulric the fighter's devastating swing doing the trick.
A ring of rats encircling a small human-like creature performing a disgusting act were handled with a sleep spell by Ehud the mage.
Investigation of the monastery's kitchen is where things started going wrong. An obese white figure was held in a chair and swarming with little creatures stuffing it with cherries. A flurry of combat ensued after which five hirelings lay lifeless on the floor. Hamo the pride of his mother Gena had fallen with needles to the eyes and nose.
The party had a bit of indecision over what was safest, to hole up and rest, or quickly get back to safety. While deciding, howling and snuffling was heard outside the door. Ehud drove the beast off by throwing pepper under the door.
The party decided to venture forth and met with a mangy wolf, first the mighty Ulric was disembowled, then Ehud the doughty mage was felled with a ripped throat and after stooping to grab some treasure from his fallen comrades, the cleric Alamon fled with his life. The slight Alamon was so driven by fear he managed to shimmy up the fifty feet of rope with difficulty.
The fate of Gena the poor mother of Hamo is unknown. She was last seen weeping and running into the darkness the sick wolf chasing close behind.
I really don't want to have a hook for every one-off adventure "Go get this MacGuffin for me and I will pay you handsomely." But, what I realize is, without it goals can be pretty nebulous for players. I'd talked to one player about how old school players need to play like a SWAT team: get in, achieve your goal, get out. But he said this time it was hard to be a SWAT team without a goal. Maybe players should agree on what exactly will send them back out of the dungeon before going into it. Will they be satisfied with a little treasure? Will they leave if there is even one death?
I feel good about the creepy otherworld atmosphere I was trying to evoke, but I have to be very, very careful about what I say. I told players they needed to rest after combat and they took it to mean they had to camp out and sleep. I was appalled that they would think I was dictating when they should camp or not-- taking away their choices. But when I said "You're going to sleep? I meant you had to catch your breath. You don't have to sleep," they took it to mean "What, you're sleeping? you don't need to do that. That's silly" Which was probably the most pivotal choice of the night.
Still trying to digest this one. If it weren't for the only wandering monster roll that came up positive for the whole evening (the wolf), the party probably would have survived. If they had decided to sleep so that Ehud had two more spells, the party probably would have survived. If they had been more decisive in their combat in the kitchen-- everyone either fleeing or attacking in concert, the party probably would have survived.
So, it was fun, but still the nagging high death factor. But, I just don't think this is a flaw of the rules. I was so tempted to fudge on some of the more fateful rolls, but I know what lies down that path, and its name is boredom.