For several months, I had been using published adventures. But I knew that I was going to bring the party back to the little village where the campaign began for another adventure, and this should be original. I had some general ideas about the nature of the adventure, but I hadn't written anything down yet.
In the last session, I had ended the session with the players' receiving the note asking for them to come back to Shepford. That gave me two weeks in which to prepare the adventure for them.
Well, for the first few days, the next session was quite some time away. Then for a week, I was helping prepare for our St. Patrick's Day party. Over the weekend, we were finalizing prep for the party, having the party, and then spending time with Lori's sister and her new boyfriend.
So then I had two weeknights (with Lori doing other things, so they were free) and three workdays in which to prepare this adventure. But I didn't get anything productive accomplished on Monday evening. And then a crisis came up at work, so I couldn't steal any time during the day to work on it. I got a bit done on Tuesday, but I was still at the stage of having a bunch of good ideas, not a fleshed-out adventure.
I felt sick to my stomach about the whole thing. I felt sure that this was going to be the session that exposed me as a hollow sham as a GM, in which everything crumbled to pieces.
But it worked out much better than that. I managed to sketch out a map of the underground tunnels, finishing that map just as the pizza guy rang the bell with the pizza. I managed to pick a handful of encounters, and organize them so that the bit I hadn't prepared was out of the range the PCs were likely to get to in this session.
And the session went pretty well. The PCs came, found out about the slimy creatures coming out of the depths, and went in to start busting slimy-creature heads.
I used a bunch of wing-it rolls to guide me, and some of them turned out really well. For example, I rolled a wing-it roll to determine the weather, saying 'high good, low bad', and I rolled a 1. So they ended up going down into the dungeons in a driving rainstorm, with dampness everywhere and the pungent smell of wet filth--it added another bit of flavor to the session.
It turns out that the PCs can really rip through the slime creatures--at least, when they're confident that they can retreat whenever they need to. That's fine--they do have the option of retreating at the moment. I'm not quite sure how much of their spell power they're giving up in each of these combats, though.
The PCs did a lot of investigation before and during the action. They were doing somewhat more investigation than I expected, but this is actually a good thing--I do want them to find out the secrets of the campaign eventually, after all. I need to remember to reward this more, and suppress the temptation to not give out information until I'm ready to. If the PCs investigate successfully and learn easier routes to success, more power to them; that's what investigation is supposed to achieve.
I'm also somewhat taken by surprise by the degree to which the PCs have grown in ability. According to the standard challenge ratings, the PCs should now be able to take on relatively powerful undead like wraiths, and similar potent creatures. By the same token, I'm probably being too cautious about treasure--if anything, they should probably be getting more treasure and magic. And people that I've been consulting online have been suggesting that the healing phylactery that Larissa wanted to make is probably pretty reasonable.
Another good thing about this session: there weren't many rules arguments. This partly means that I have an increasing command of the rules, and I know where to look up rules to quickly resolve things.
So, yay for handling it successfully, but more preparation would be nice. For the next session, I must finish up the part of the dungeon that I had left unfinished for tonight.
I'd also like to extend the dungeon a bit. So far, all of the adventures the PCs have encountered have been pretty small. A bigger adventure might be a nice change of pace.