Had a rough session yesterday. After resolving mercenary hiring for the winter of year 2, the players in attendance set out to clear the hex southeast of Opportunity during the fall of year 2, without much mercenary support. First they went after a barrow of wights; I attempted to make this as challenging as possible, since they seemed overconfident. To this end, I provided a lair structure which seemed likely to leave their rear exposed to attack, and this it did. Turning again proved very useful, but since the number of HD turned doesn't scale up at all with level, it's not the game-ender it is at low levels by the time you're up against massed wights (aside - is Righteous Turning the only proficiency that scales with an ability score? If so, why?). As a result, much aging was had, and there was sadness. I'm starting to wonder if aging instead of level drain is a good policy; it certainly promotes the sort of fear that undead should evoke, but, as some have mentioned before, the fact that it is near impossible to recover from is troubling to my players. They have, however, done some research and those aged by the wights are considering questing for some potions of longevity to restore their lost youths. This outcome pleases me - I'm a big fan of having PCs seek out powerful magic items, rather than just wandering through dungeons until they find the one they want, or buying one off the shelf. The possibility of attempting to buy such potions off of the pirate king in Freeport was mentioned, but there will likely be complications to this approach. The treasure here was decent; about 1500 gp, a potion of clairvoyance, and a warhammer +1 which one of the dwarves took an immediate liking to. They also found a Zaharan holy book, which provided them with five questions on Zaharan religion and associated culture after extensive study. I was glad to finally be able to use this mechanism to get information into the hands of my players.
After defeating the wights, they headed to a temple built of woven trees, and there met with a small band of elven clerics worshiping their nature gods. Reaction rolls were neutral, and constructive dialogue was had. Next were a band of berserkers. The players considered bringing up siege weaponry, but decided against it since they could not find a good place to set it up outside of sight of the small, unwalled encampment. Instead they sauntered in and challenged the leader to a duel, which the party fighter won handily with a mean shot below the belt. The leader of the berserkers, Gunther the Maimed, swore fealty at swordpoint after recovering, as did his men. Berserkers are always a bit tricky for me to play. On the one hand, in my setting they're basically neutral-aligned vikings. They're out for plunder, which is easy for adventurers to sympathize with. On the other hand, they're also usually out for rapine, which pushes them towards chaotic territory, and they do make good chaos cultists. So I get into a bit of cognitive dissonance on the basis of alignment when trying to run them; these ones came out decided on the "neutral, if unpleasant" side of that line. Not a whole lot of treasure from this one, but henchmen kind of count.
The next lair on the agenda was a small village of weasel-men. The players mustered the cataphract cavalry and the berserkers and set upon the village during the waning hours of day, when the nocturnal weaselfolk were mostly asleep. Unfortunately, one of those awake was a powerful witch-doctor who knew fireball, and I rolled 34 on 6d6 for damage (that's two fives and six sixes), and several members of the party went down before the witch-doctor bought it via spiritual weapon. Leaving the scattered weaselfolk to the mercenaries, the players assessed their wounds - one level six cleric missing a leg, one level four or so dwarven fighter missing a hand, and one level two dwarven fury at around -20 HP. The fury rolled twice for mortal wounds, per his class, each with -8 on the d20, and managed a 19 / 6 combination which worked out to nothing more than a few missing teeth and some serious need for magic healing. The other pair was low enough that his spine would have been broken instantly; the conclusion was that he was struck in the face with the fireball bead, which threw him back into a tree, and that "If I hadn't been drunk, I might've been injured." Treasure here was mostly in trade goods that the weaselfolk had raided from the surrounding countryside, with the notable highlights of a magic greatsword wielded by the chieftain and the witch-doctor's spellbook.
Finally, they were considering a nest of stirges, and went "We really, really don't want to tangle with those... Let's take a cow or four, douse them in military oil, drive them at the stirge nest, and have fire archers ignite them once the stirges are attached." And it sounded like a good (and suitably old-school) plan to me, and so the stirges were summarily dispatched. Likewise, a lake of crocodiles was neutralized by a company of mercenary archers with little injury. The stirges actually provided the greatest share of the night's treasure, with a silver-and-amber torc worth 8000 gp and an as-yet-unidentified, but clearly magical, copper ring which is warm to the touch.
Remaining on the to-do list for the opening of tonight's session: a cave full of troglodytes, once allies of the weaselmen, a lake containing a few 15' catfish, and a deep lake, perhaps once a quarry, beneath whose waters lurks something terribly dangerous. The party didn't get to the catfish for lack of time, and put off the other two until they had proper arcane fire support, as both of our wizard PCs were out. We'll see if their return proves sufficient...