We played a little D&D last night - not much, it was a short night, we started playing at about 8 and ended at about 11, and leveled from 2 to 3 in between - but I felt it went much better than the last few sessions. Play consisted of a skill challenge, some incidental moving around, a fight on a ship, and the sale of said ship.
At the end of last session a bunch of changeling had jumped the PCs on a tall bridge in the middle of the city. The changelings were slaughtered. To start out this session, we had a skill challenge: the guards are here, what now? First we bluffed them, then failed to intimidate them, then talked them down. IMO it was the second-best challenge thus far. We are better at playing them, but I still feel failures should actually do something, even if the challenge isn't failed overall.
Then we had some moving around where we wrapped up a major and personal quest, leveled to 3, and shipped out on a boat to our next quest destination.
Pirate attack! This was a near-ideal fight. There were two boats separated by a few squares of water, with a dozen or so minion hobgoblins and some beefier folks on the pirate ship. The PCs all began on the other ship except for Fen-Gol, our orc ranger played by Jesus Christ the Living God, who we fired over to the pirates on a ballista. In my opinion there were exactly two things wrong with this fight (as run by the DM), and they're both pretty minor. First, the only thing Kaoru the rogue got for winning initiative over the hobgoblins was -18 HP and the chance if she rolled well enough to have the choice of using her action point to make an attack. Luckily that was exactly one turn out of the entire fight, so hardly any impact. Second, we were all over a ship in the middle of the water, we knocked two enemies into the water, and none of them tried to knock us into the water at all.
Loot! Now we gave the slaves some coin to row the ship to our destination, we set them free, and then we sold the ship for lots of gold. In reality it was about the amount necessary to buy the magic items the DM was planning to have the party find but missed before we hit level 3. Also he didn't want the players to know that, for some reason. IMO it would be more fun, not less, if he said "Oh god you're level 3 already and I missed some magic items how can we get you moneyz? Capture a pirate ship? Awesome, sure."
What I liked: the skill challenge, the fight. What I didn't like: the downtime, especially setting up the fight. Perhaps this is a good use for a random prepared puzzle? There is an implicit time limit (until the DM finishes setting up), and the reward is that we shoot the orc over with the ballista (the puzzle is colored as "figuring out how to use the old magic ballista).