TLDR (I describe in detail the last two expeditions to CotMA -- Spoilers ahead!!)
Three weeks ago, we had our regular game night, but a few players couldn't make it. As a way of thinning out the party and removing the characters/players that weren't there, I decided that the Mad Archmage was going to make an appearance.
The party was hanging out, refilling their waterskins, in the water basin room on level 4. They had arrived via teleport from level 6 just a little bit earlier.
The Mad Archmage arrived, clad entirely in purple, and demanded "presents" from the party.
Wisely, the group started digging through their packs and made quite a number of kind donations to the Mad Archmage.
Shortly thereafter, he returned the gifts, saying "Thank you for your generosity," and then half the party vanished with no explanation.
He awarded a single "Get out of Death Free" card to the party members who remained, then he walked away and vanished.
The group diced for the card and Oryx ended up with it. Appropriate, considering how often he puts his neck on the line...
The adventurers then began their explorations...
They scouted the area around the water basin room and discovered two corridors of interest. One was much, much warmer than the surrounding corridors and had a faint heat glow. The other was dimly lit with red illumination.
The adventurers opted to enter the redly-lit corridor. Henri scouted ahead of the larger group.
At the end of the corridor, he found a group of six warriors sparring in a large pillared chamber illuminated with red light. The group was made up of four orcs, two humans and two gnomes.
Henri decided that he would take advantage of their distraction and would pick one of them off with arrows. He settled upon a large orc and he took aim and fired.
The confusion of combat and the dim light proved their worth and with several successful shots, the orc was felled.
The rest of the party seized the initiative and charged into the room. Several foes were defeated before the gnomes could raise the alarm...
Soon thereafter, a minotaur, an ogre, and an impressively armored human fighter joined the fray...
The adventurers took advantage of their superior numbers and magic (Beata charmed an orc, Yuri, who proved a valuable asset...) Soon all of the Red faction were defeated -- including the four humans who slept in a nearby bunkhouse.
Yuri, the charmed orc, was a valuable source of information as he explained the layout of the area to the party. He didn't have detailed information, but he knew enough from random patrols to help the adventurers better grasp the area.
At one point he got very excited and offered to show off "the mascot." He led the party to the warm corridor and around the corner to where a beautiful fire-nymph was imprisoned.
She seemed sad and genuinely distressed by her fate. She brightened up (!) when she saw the adventurers, obviously hoping that they might release her, but communication was nearly impossible.
The party discovered that she spoke extremely broken draconic, but it wasn't enough to really comprehend how to release her -- if in fact she knew how!
The fire-nymph seemed to suggest that command words could be used to release her from the circles of runes imprisoning her.
At one point, Grunbar touched the whirling flames encircling her with an iron spike. The spike glowed white-hot almost instantly and Grunbar was forced to drop it and nurse his scorched fingers.
Scratching, marring or otherwise destroying the runes proved similarly impossible and dispel magic was determined to be impractical.
While the adventurers were attempting to free the nymph, the sounds of many hobnailed boots approached from nearby. The adventurers hid in the room with the nymph and set up an ambush.
A group of six Red faction warriors approached and were soon defeated by the party. One warrior tried to run, but was knocked flat with a blow from Grunbar's thrown training keg. Oryx later used the power of persuasion (and threats of instant immolation within the fire-nymph's flames) to convince Boltoff (human warrior) to switch sides. Recognizing the dwarf's toughness and resolve, Boltoff swore to join the group and was immediately put in charge of the remaining Red faction warriors -- himself and Yuri.
The party gathered itself and then asked Boltoff and Yuri to show them around.
The warrior and the orc explained that their area was north of the arena, somewhat isolated from the other factions. The explained that the factions have a general non-agression pact when they meet in the corridors. They try to save and disputes for the arena. He further suggested that everyone in the party should put on Red faction colors. The group complied.
They headed south. They entered a chamber with a racially ambiguous warrior statue. The walls were painted in murals of sporting events and other feats of strength.
"The greys [laughter] are over there," Boltoff explained. He explained that they are trying to make a name for themselves, but they are outnumbered and out gunned. "Mostly it's just embarrassing..."
Pointing in the other direction, Boltoff and Yuri both warned, "Don't go that way. I've seen people go in and never come out..."
The party continued further south and eventually they entered Red faction's antechamber near the arena. The party stepped out onto a crowded ledge to find organized chaos.
Around the outside of the arena, all the other factions had their chambers. Members of Green, White and Blue factions could be seen. Purple faction was noticeably absent. Gnomes with strange hats bustled about taking bets and offering odds on the battle at hand...
...in the arena stood two hill giants fighting four manticores. One manticore had been crushed under a thrown boulder. The hill giants were thoroughly peppered with iron spikes and one had been partially blinded as a result.
Both hill giants wore red armbands and sashes...
(to be continued!)