"All right you slugs!" shouted Garthak the ogre slavemaster as he and the slave guards with him kicked our heroes in the ribs, shoving them from their straw pallets onto the hard-packed floor of the barracks. "Up! Up! Today you slugs are going to be the pre-show entertainment! You can entertain the fine citizens of our great city while they fill their seats for the other events in the arena today! Here's the deal: You find the teleportal in the maze and teleport to the top of the hill outside the maze. First one who makes it gets the day off from arena duty. Get it? Now get going and see weapons masters just in case there's anything in there. Hahaha!" The heroes grabbed a few weapons, a tortoise shell blade for Zylyss, a chatchka (three-bladed boomerang) for the seeker and a nice carrikal (double-blade axe) for the goliath who, being an arena slave brat, was given some scale armor.
The slaves were marched to the entry points of the maze. Above them in the hills ringing the arena, the crowds were beginning to arrive, the buzz of chattering citizens rising as they were led out to the maze. The maze was constructed by other slaves, with 20 foot high walls, perfect for blocking the view of those inside but visible to the crowds on the hillsides. "Today," boomed the ogre, "the rats get the cheese! And one more thing: You're the cheese! Hahahaha!" And in he shoved them with a kick.
There was a pause for a bit where things were quiet, the crowd noise growing louder as the stands were filling. As they proceeded through the twists and turns of the maze, the heroes saw some exits. Except they were blocked by their slave-master guards standing with arms folded, whips and clubs dangling at the ready. The party kept moving. Keergnok, ahead of a couple of the others turned a corner only to come face to face with another really large, filthy and stinking rat! He dashed off, taking some nips at his heels. The party had come to the far end of the maze, and through the blocked exits could see portions of the mound they were supposed to head to. They thought for a brief moment that they could simply move past the guards and get to it but thought better of it.
It was at that point, from two passages, that Sarunin and Keergnok saw doors at the end of the passageway. The center? The teleportal? Zylyss looked as if he could dash to the door and get in the room. In a sudden flurry of viciousness, Keergnok, seeing he could have a chance to get there first, called up his arcane powers and sent a flashing orb of energy down the passageway to hit Zylyss! The energy crackled with light and slammed into the elf, tossing him down like a rag doll and leaving him dying in a heap! A roar of mixed cheering and booing erupted from the crowd gathering in the arena. But it was Sarunin Tay that got there first, to one of the other doors. Dar'ag Tan ran up behind him just as two giant rats came snapping at their heels. Fillin, bleeding from his share of bites, was able to get to Zylyss quickly and apply some skill to heal him a bit and bring him back to consciousness. Zylyss stumbled to his feet and went with the seeker toward the central chamber.
Meanwhile Sarunin came into the room and there stood a hissing kobold with a staff and a necklace of rat skulls around his neck. With a crack of his whip, he lashed the psion and dragged him further into the room. Keergnok was closing on the room too, the dire rat nipping at his heels. It was then that a thunderous gong began to sound. "Wrap it up, boys!" shouted the guards at the maze exits. With a flash, the kobold vanished, appearing on the top of the mound. With a couple more rats chasing them into the teleportal chamber, the slaves jumped onto the teleportal and appeared on the mound, the crowd alternately cheering and booing. Just as the last of the slaves appeared on the mound, a voice boomed around the arena: "All hail our Grand Vizier, Abalach-Re!" With a slam of his staff on the ground, the kobold suddenly vanished in a flash of light with a serpentine cackle drifting on the wind. The slave guards quickly surrounded the mound and then led the slaves back to the barracks where they turned in their weapons and rested before being sent off to other duties during the main events of the arena. The party had survived, but no one noticed the burning hatred in Zylyss' eyes as he pondered the dwarf walking ahead of him...
The arena is large enough to accommodate various events during the day. The slaves worked hard to construct the maze (and it took the DM awhile to draw it). I wasn't sure best how to approach the characters' progress through the maze. I ended up covering the entire maze with paper so that they couldn't see it all at once. As they moved through, we pulled back the papers bit by bit. Since it was clear the players could obviously see more than the characters, I settled on simple Dungeoneering checks (DC 10) in order for the characters to move as they wished upon reaching an intersection. If they failed, they stopped moving. If it didn't completely give the feeling of moving through a maze, it slowed them down a bit to somewhat simulate their wandering and trying to figure out which direction to go. It worked pretty well with the provision that they could follow the character ahead of them without rolling.
Risdon sending an energy orb against Baxter's thief was not something I anticipated, especially since he was the one who initially suggested working together. I thought it was a low blow and out of character. So I sent the dire rat after him. When he objected, based on the rat being against a wall, the fact that there was suddenly a hole there that the rat came through really annoyed him! Turn about is fair play, I guess! The truth is, since they're all slaves, they don't really have a stake in helping each other past just surviving the fight they're in. Since the campaign is not set in stone, it will be interesting to see which direction it takes. I won't say I wasn't surprised or even slightly annoyed. However, Jacob's seeker took the position that life is worth saving (while Jacob took the position that nobody should die on their first adventure!) But it means there's something between the dwarf and the elf now and that's going to be interesting.
I recently broke down and subscribed to the D&D Insider. It's just easier to make the characters that way and keep track of them. (I run the Character Builder and Adventure Tools on Win XP running on Virtualbox on Ubuntu Linux. I mean, if you're going to geek out, do it properly!) Rather than fiddle with notecards and having to keep track of everyone's initiative and AC, etc. I found an absolutely GREAT program that does it. It's called DnD4e Combat Manager and it's a great tool. It imports both DDI CB character sheets and you can paste in monster stats from the Adventure Tools program. The program keeps track of all the order of combat as well as effects and marks, damage, power use and all kinds of other things. It's the first time I've used my laptop at the D&D table and it worked very well. It wasn't any slower than using pencil and cards and it may have been a bit faster even. I'll definitely be using it again.
Finally, the kids had a lot of fun. They're learning their powers and that slows things down initially but nobody minded. We play in a library teen room setting so there are the natural distractions of friends and phones, etc. However, the group was pretty focused and the encounter moved along at a good pace. We're all looking forward to next week's adventure!