As with previous sessions, the direction of this adventure was left up to the players. I had generated a few more random rumors that would have enticed them to explore new areas of the campaign map (which at this point is about halfway explored, more or less) but in the end they chose to follow up on some cyptic clues pointing to the Darkwater Keep, a ruined castle on a promontory overlooking a river a day or two east of their home base.
I'll quickly summarize the rest of the adventure: a PC died as the rest of the characters scouted the surface ruins of the Darkwater Keep. This was only the second PC death in the Autumn Frontiers campaign, and it was one of the most experienced players (he had only missed one of the last 12 sessions). But this particular player took it all in stride, and he embraced his death with gusto. Here's how it went down:
Jalez (the player's wizard, who is "seasoned" in Savage Worlds parlance and was actually quite powerful at this point) was keeping watch along a lonely cliff while the rest of the party hammered on a solid metal door. This door was one of two entrances the party had discovered leading into the dungeon proper; the first was well guarded by hobgoblins, so they opted to try this way in.
A half-hour's worth of incessant hammering on the door brought out a scouting party of troglodytes from the river 50 feet below the sheer cliff. Jalez was overpowered, and the troglodytes quickly started scrambling down the cliff face, carrying their arcane prize.
Upon seeing this, the rest of the party began desperately trying different tactics to slow the troglodytes and free their comrade. Prometheor the paladin spewed cones of flame from his perch on the cliff ledge. Kez the druid caused entangling roots to spring forth from rocky bluff, slowing the troglodytes' descent. Atabraxes the barbarian shapeshifter turned into a crow and plunged down to the water's edge, hoping to find Jalez struggling to the surface.
In the end, it was all for naught. Jalez, grievously wounded, was hauled below the dark river and torn to pieces by the hungry troglodytes.
Nico, Jalez's player, was a great sport during all of these tribulations, and it made me feel a lot better for killing a PC. By the end of the evening he was already talking about rolling up a ranger for next time.
In an email after this session, we were all hashing out the various events that led to Jalez's death. As GM, I can rest easy knowing that I did a very good job telescoping the danger surrounding the Darkwater Keep. Here's an excerpt from that email:
It ain't like you guys walked blindly into sudden danger; virtually everyone you spoke with warned you away from that place, and yet you still pressed on. Twas a true sandbox moment!
I also thought it was very interesting how some characters found their usefulness reduced by the particulars of the cliffside battle. Prometheor, for example, can go toe-to-toe with a marsh troll in single combat, but he couldn't scale the cliff face or swim in the river to save Jalez. It's a very important reminder that no character is an everyman, and that the Darkwater Keep will demand more out-of-the-box thinking if you guys want to delve deeper into its depths.
This is an example of something that Ben Robbins expands on in his West Marches writeups: the players must be given fair warning when approaching areas of the map that are really dangerous. They must understand that, so they have only themselves to blame when things go awry (sorry guys!).
That's not to say that the Darkwater Keep is an outrageous PC slaughterhouse; in truth, the troglodytes were fairly standard bad guys who unfortunately scored crazy good rolls on their dice. But adventuring there was just one option among many that were bandied about at the outset of this session. Doubtless the PCs will be interested in going back there soon to settle the score a little bit.