The next step in the Witchfire trilogy was a "bridging" adventure that just plain sucked - worse than even the first book. So I just launched ahead with the second part of the trilogy, which involved pursuing Alexia upriver to a temple of Cyriss, the Maiden of Gears.
This session was notably better than previous ones, for a few reasons:
* The adventure is supposed to start off with information gathering. The PCs are told by their benefactors that Alexia is probably headed to the Temple of Cyriss about 75 miles northeast of Corvis. However the exact location of the temple is unknown. The PCs are supposed to ask around the city until they find an old begger who is a former adventurer who went to the temple thirteen years earlier. I didn't bother with this crap - I just told them where the temple was.
Let's be honest - in most RPGs information gathering is boring. It's certainly not the exciting part of D&D. I could have had the players roleplay going from one lead to another, following a trail of breadcrumbs until I felt they'd done enough and then I let them know where the temple is. The thing is - there is no adventure if they don't find the temple. As the GM I have to eventually tell them where the temple is. So why screw around and waste time? I just gave them the info they needed and was done with it.
* During the several encounters the PCs were no longer facing undead with really high ACs. The PCs faced four combat encounters this session, and in no encounter did enemy AC go above 14. This meant that combat for the PCs was no longer a whiff fest.
* The Gun Mage player rolled up a new character. Gun Mages in the Iron Kingdoms are simply broken. They don't have the combat abilities of fighters or even rogues. Their spellcasting abilities aren't even close to those of sorcerers and wizards. And while guns in the IK do OK damage (his did 2d4) they have to be reloaded after every shot, and bullets are EXPENSIVE. His new character is a Trollkin Fell Caller - basically a light fighter with lots of bardlike abilities and it's working out much better. He's enjoying no longer being a total liability in combat. Plus the outgoing nature of the fell caller suits him a lot.
That being said, I did run into one notable problem. The CR system is totally broken at level 3. According to the DMG the XP rewards for levels 1-3 are uniform; e.g. a CR1 monster gives the same XP to level 1 characters as it does to level 3 characters. The encounters in this module were much larger than those in the previous sessions I've run - the river boat was attacked by no fewer than sixteen goblins at one point.
The characters polished off those goblins in about two or three rounds of combat. It was a joke. However they still got full XP for the CR1/2 monsters; which added up to quite a bit. Likewise another encounter with seven lizardmen. I did screw this encounter up by forgetting the lizardmen were armed with maces (which gets around the DR of the PCs armored greatcoats); only one character took serious damage but with the beating he took he should have been in negative hit points by the time the fight was done with. Oh well, he was still really messed up and the party had to burn one of its valuable curative elixirs on him.
In any event - the PCs got a huge amount of XP off these encounters. Enough for some of them to hit level four (they only hit level 3 the previous session). Hopefully the XP gain rate will slow down now.
Overall the session was in my mind more of a success; we all had more fun. I still don't think much of D&D though.