A good run for NPC's I've noticed is about 5 meetings - after 5 meetings something happens and they become an expected part of the group - rising past the normal dispensible hired gun and into a more steady and expected part of the party.
I don't play with kid gloves upon reaching 3rd level - you do something stupid - you will die. Go against a pile of baddies that outstrips your skill set, you will die. Get too many swords stuck in you, you will die. The same thing goes for NPC's but it's that magical 5th meeting that elevates the NPC into a semi-permanent party member.
So when I checked when my assassin was going to surprise backstab the party it was when I had the choice of two NPC's to choose from. And one meeting 2, we lost our 1st NPC to an 8th level assassin.
I can assure you, the damage soak of NPC's vs. PC's continues on until the end of the next session. ;)
Write up follows:
We floated down the hole at a steady pace and even when we attempted to “drop” something past us, it fell at the same steady 1’/second rate. The chimney was about 5’ wide so while we were dropping the group shifted their positions around with Bron pulling his way past Gwyn and Ve pulling his way behind Bor.
The light below grew brighter and brighter and Bron emerged first into a chamber that had been converted into some sort of sleeping room for half a dozen men who were standing ready and near a small fire with a cauldron of stew burbling on it. And two of them had crossbows that they fired. The monk dodged one and knocked the other aside as his feet touched the ground. He rolled forward and charged ahead as Gwyn emerged next, pulling his heavy crossbow free.
Two of the guards had swords out while a 5th man was standing back and wending his hands together arcanically. Norris emerged next and sword drawn ran to help Gwyn who barreled into one of the guards. Bron was jumping wildly about, dodging the attacks by only the barest of margins. Grid dropped next followed by Bor, both of the guards had swords drawn and one of them hurled a spear into the melee.
The enemy mage was trying to back away from the twisting and athletic monastic who was getting closer, slapping him with a blast of white sparking fire that seemed to do nothing to Bron. Hagni came next and had his sword out, turning the tide against the enemy arrayed against us. Then Beren and finally Soren emerged and it was a blast of the cleric’s magic missile wand followed by a sure shot of Soren’s bow at the enemy mage trying to escape that had 2 of the guards down, the mage incapacitated with Bron beating him on the back, and the last two frantically trying to hold their own. A hurled cauldron, sparks kicked from the fire, and one angry dwarf stomping later and the battle was done with the exception of the final enemy guard running for the levitating chimney.
He would have made it too but a scimitar sliced open his leg near his femoral artery and Soren plowed him with an arrow (impressing the hell out of the group by firing 2 arrows at once just a few moments earlier) so when he struck the levitating column he was unconscious and his listless body rose on its own, up, up, up – 98’.
Where he did not step off onto the ground above and fell uncontrollably 98’ back down to the earth with a slapping bouncing blood spraying explosion of raw red meat.
We trussed up the mage and some healing (light) was dispensed while we questioned our new friend on what was going on. Told us there were maybe two other mages here and the leader’s name was Myris and he had Arnog. Didn’t know where. Then it was pommel to the back of the head and that ended the conversation from the mage. While all this was going on we did glance down the corridor out of the room and we noted that there were faint candle glow and noises from down there.
We weren’t quiet and whoever else was here knew where we were.
We talked about going back up the chimney and progressing back to the main shaft and dropping down a level to avoid what was ahead but the party opted against it. We would go onward. Bron took point and the group fanned out behind the monk who checked ahead.
And the ground beneath his feet shuddered strangely which made Bron leap wildly up and ahead, barely clearing the crumbling earth and leaping over the 25’ spike bottomed pit! Huzzah! How would we all get past? We could jump it but it was a hard jump. That was when we decided to rope down one side and then rope up the other making it easy enough for the party to get across. But while discussing all this more enemy were gathering and the party readied themselves. Ve and Grid took the dropped crossbows from the other dead guards while Hagni and Grid readied spears to throw. Gwyn had his own crossbow ready and Soren was set with his bow. Bron ran forward to confront the next guards coming forward when he stepped onto a SECOND pit in the corridor! (I believe the bard in the group looked at the sky and whispered, “You BASTARD!”)
But it was with incredible luck that he made ANOTHER save and vaulted over the next pit as well, surprising the first guard with a punch to the face and then it was a twist with his pole arm and the assailant went past him and into the spiked pit our bard had just avoided! It was a rapid fight with the now crowding hall as guards came forward and spells were hurled (another enemy mage) but our own side was filling the air with missile fire and two more guards went down dead. While the victim of a push spell and just before Bron was overrun our master performed a Skyward leap and hurled himself almost 30’ straight backwards from a standing start, rolling into his own group of friends and brandishing the middle finger to the accumulated enemy over there.
A barrage of spear, bolts, and arrows chased the others away until they fled leaving their two dead behind and the still moaning figure at the bottom of the 2nd pit, bleeding himself out and whispering for aid. We used the ropes again to ferry the party down one pit and up to the other side and down again. Meanwhile Bron was talking to the dying guard at the bottom of the pit who was asking for help and some potions. What potions? Girk has them, please get me one. Where? Please help me. Please.
And then Norris finished the guard off with a quick motion and looked at Bron with a quizzical, “What?” The monk said nothing and the group reconvened on the other side. We massed together and went ahead, looking for what we knew was at least 1 wizard and at least 4 more guards.
The corridor split in two here and the fork on the left seemed to split again. We figured to take care of the single one on the right and we went in, finding another chamber similar to what we had seen before, sleeping area for some half dozen men. The fire had been extinguished in here and some of the area of the floor had been disturbed and a box opened, the party going forward to check it out and seeing it was empty.
And then Grid who was talking to Bor (the two guards in the back of the party) saw a flash of darkness a split instant before Bor gasped and fell forward, his skin coloring black and foam flecking his bloody lips. He couldn’t even tell what it was that struck Bor in the back with a poisoned blade and slayed him instantly. We shifted around and readied ourselves for combat, vowing to end this and bring Bor’s body back to the surface as soon as we were done.
Creeping forward we saw the corridor split with some sort of trail of blood going to the left. It was growing fainter and less dense, indicating that whoever had made it either staunched the wound or was healing at a rapid pace (we assumed whoever it was had drunk one of the potions that might have been in the box). We went in and tried to stay as focused as possible, the chamber a sloping oblong affair with two guards and the mage in here. We attacked and were slammed from the side by the assassin hiding along the left wall.
Poison and darts flew wildly about and the group assaulted the assassin with all their strength while the three guards stormed the mage and beat him down with more of Beren’s magic missiles leading the way. It was a fast and furious fight but it ended with the party even lower in spells and suffering from some multitude of wounds. The mage was captured and called himself Girk. He was willing to talk for a bit but even though he was threatened with torture (and even administered some!) all he did was laugh about it and ask for more. Freaking weird!
Amidst the howls and cajoles and cries in the cave we learned that there was Myris the strongest who had put out the hit on the party almost 2 weeks ago and was setting this up. He had Arnog with him below on the 5th level and there were two other guards and a large red bearded mage called the silent one (description matched that of the priest that helped put Aaron Skelt to rest). We could get there through a portal on the 3rd level. In the last room here was the strongest of the mages (other than Myris) called Fazon and the torture loving pain enjoying giggling magus Girk said that Fazon was a weird one!
So we had Fazon and between 3 and 6 guards ahead of us and then up to the 3rd level to get to some sort of portal to take us to the 5th level to go against Myris, a red haired mute mage, 2 more guards all to save Arnog. It was 6:30 PM on Firemonth the 8th and we had just refilled the two lanterns (thanks Gwyn!) with the knowledge that we were going to go and slam Fazon as fast as possible before the other mage could be more ready for us.