The Cragmaw Goblin Cave; Or the Goblin Furniture Factory
When last we left our heroes, they were about to enter the Cragmaw Goblin Hideout. These goblins have kidnapped the patron of our plucky band of adventurers and such an affront to decency and civility cannot go unchecked…
Wait, no. What? You don’t care about the guy. You just want to get paid? Uhm. Okay.
Our heartless gang of mercenaries is hunting the mongrel goblins who have stolen their cash cow. Such a slight demands vengeance. They have tracked the vermin to a small cave with a slow-moving stream coming from its mouth. They dispatched the sentries outside and have left two goblin prisoners, tied up to the wagon. The same wagon they are being paid to deliver.
So now the brave, dauntless party stands at the entrance of an ominous cave ready to combat the dangers within.
“Uhm, how should we go in?”
“How do you want to go in?”
“Should we walk in run in, tip toe in, cling to the wall, straight up the stream, avoid the water, loud, sneaky, whisper quiet?”
“They’re all good. Pick one.”
“I don’t know…”
The unsure, tentative party stands outside the first-level, trainee dungeon, debating how to walk to a cave.
“What do we see?”
“It’s dark inside. You don’t see anything.”
“Unh, what do we hear?”
“Nothing. The slight gurgle of the stream.”
“What do we smell?
“It smells like a stinky goblin cave.”
“How’s the air?”
“Oh my God! You will not die, if you enter the cave.”
“Oh. Okay. We go in.”
This is an important lesson for playing with new players. They don’t know anything. They don’t even know how much they don’t know.
They don’t know that three of the characters have Darkvision and can see in the dark. They don’t know that when I say they see nothing, it is because there is nothing there, not that they are unable to see. They don’t know that if there was something that I needed them to know prior to entering the cave, I would have told them. They don’t know that the one question they should have asked was, “I’m checking for traps. Do I find any?” Fortunately, there are no traps. Yet.
These new players are not just learning what their wizard, fighters, and thieves can do, they are learning what they as players can do. Usually, more experienced player will help newer ones. But if everyone is a new player then the DM and the players will need to work together to learn all the options they can have; good, bad, and dangerous.
First, we discuss light. All the non-human characters can see in the dark to some degree. I will tell them when conditions are too dark to see. The sole human character, Andrew, cannot see in the dark and suffers penalties until a light source is used. However, an obvious light source will betray any ability to surprise most enemies.
For now, Andrew agrees to be led around until they enter a lit area. He is not happy being a follower. They opt to slowly and stealthily sneak into the cave.
The first choice they come to is a fork in the cavern. The cave with the stream continues north, but a side passage leads east. They ask if they can hear anything. I say they hear multiple growling and chomping sounds. They want nothing to do with this path and continue north.
The first obstacle they come across is a goblin on a wooden bridge that crosses the cavern 20’ off the ground and is virtually inaccessible from their location. Since Andrew’s character can’t see in the dark, I could have had Andrew leave the room for a minute, told the others what they see, and then have them describe it back to him, but I didn’t want him to feel excluded right then.
We had another long debate about how to take out this guard as quickly as possible before he can run and warn others. When playing with new players, you can help them come up with ideas. As the players get better at the game, leave their planning up to them, but for now it’s alright to help them.
There are a number of ways to tackle this, I’m sure there are more, but these are what we came up with. One of the players can try to take the goblin out with a range weapon. The thief can attempt to climb the wall unseen, creep up on the goblin and stab it in the back. One of the spellcasters can use a spell like charm person or guiding bolt on the goblin.
The debate about how to remove this goblin took 30 minutes, and that’s okay. New players and even experienced players occasionally need time to work out what they should do. In time the players will get better at just making a plan and going with it.
But really, the players are afraid that I will punish the characters if they don’t do the optimal thing. Eventually, they will realize that I’m not that kind of DM. I was never a fan of the Save or Die aspect of Old School D&D. Although if they fail to take this guy out there will be consequences. Very wet consequences.
They dismiss all of the previous choices because they require an attack roll or an ability check and, so far, they have been very unlucky with the dice. James, who is reading his spell descriptions, asks if Magic Missile hits automatically. Yes, I explain, it does, and although some wizards are protected from this spell, this goblin does not appear to be a powerful sorcerer.
Three magical darts later, the dead goblin falls over the side of the bridge, into the stream and floats slowly past the players. This give the players a wicked idea. Henceforth, every goblin they kill is dragged to the stream to float out of the cave. I can only imagine what the two goblins tied to the wagon outside must be thinking as, one by one, their fellow goblins come floating out of the cave, hacked to bits.
Their success here allows them to avoid the Flood Trap further up the cave. They quickly dispatch the three goblins in this area and move onto the Boss Battle.
The goblins in this cave are run by an insane Bugbear named Klarg, and I ran him as the book suggests and he was a lot of fun for 5 rounds before getting himself killed. Shouting insults and threats in the third person, Klarg was an epic bad guy for our newbie heroes.
Andrew immediately yelled, “This one is mine!” This will become a recurring theme with Andrew. Whenever we come across a group of monsters, Andrew will claim the leader or the biggest one to fight “Mano e mano”. I can’t tell if this is his character acting this way to convince the others that he’s a good leader in an attempt to prove his nobility, or just Andrew wanting to be a bad-ass. My money is on bad-ass.
After a great battle, Klarg and his minions were dead. Searching the room, I described the crates and barrels that belonged to another supply company, the treasure chest of loot, and the chair that Klarg was sitting in.
James asks me to describe the chair. Making it up, I say the chair is a hodge-podge of other chairs all cobbled together, with two skulls for hand rests. James immediately forfeits his share of the treasure for the chair. Clearly, this one has different motivations.
I only wish that Klarg had somehow survived to become such a nefarious recurring villain that the players would scream his name in effigy.
Still searching for the dwarf, what’s his name, that hired them, they continue on to the last room. There they find a group of goblins poking and prodding the dwarf’s bodyguard, Sildar, to the point of exhaustion and near death.
James comes up with the idea to use the Dancing Lights spell to distract them. I think this is a great idea from a 10-year-old, so I allow it, roll some saving throws, and 3 goblins fall for the ruse.
With half of the bad guys distracted, they kill all the goblins and manage to not kill Sildar. Sildar, grievously injured, some how manages to get through a tedious info dump and offers the party more gold to take him to Phandalin before collapsing from exhaustion. The group correctly guesses that the book really wants them to go to Phandalin.
As they exit the cave, they find a dozen goblin corpses jumbled together on some rocks in the stream. The two traumatized goblins that the party left with the wagon have just chewed through ropes and are currently stealing their wagon! Using their last spells and arrows the party kills them before they get away. No more hostages!
So here are my thoughts on Part 1 of Lost Mine of Phandelver. I ran it pretty much verbatim out of the book, and it was pretty good. I had not run an adventure in a while and this had a good amount of handholding to make it easier for a beginner DM. Granted, none of the encounters were particularly memorable, although playing Klarg was fun and I do love stupid goblins. The Sildar speech at the end is boring and immediately forgotten, but, I suppose, necessary to move the story along.
The biggest issue that keeps coming up throughout the adventure is that the final villain, The Black Spider, is all talk and no action. All the NPCs talk about how “The Spider” is pulling the strings, but he never does anything, except sit in the last room of the last dungeon waiting for some party to come and kill him. Hopefully, I can fix this in the upcoming sessions.
Specifically, about this dungeon, I wish that there was more opportunity for the individual players to shine. Andrew, the fighter, and James, the wizard, made special moments for themselves, but Jim, the Cleric, and Jack, the Thief, did not. In hindsight, I wish that I had placed a simple lock trap in Klarg’s treasure chest for the Thief to handle. For the Cleric, I should have made Sildar’s health more questionable requiring Death Saves and Medicine checks or something.
The last issue was the fact that we were using the pre-generated characters that came with the 5e Starter Set. As I mentioned before, these are good basic characters and had good back story hooks to help them role-play. But my players had no real connection to them. They didn’t feel as if these characters belonged to them.
So, before this session I bought the three core books, the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual. Do not do what I did, and buy them retail at a store for $50 each. Buy them at Amazon for only $30 each. And for now, you only need the Player’s Handbook.
With the Player’s Handbook in hand, I had the players all roll up their characters. They all wanted to stay as the original race and class, which made things much easier. But now they rolled their abilities, they picked the skills they want. They now understand how Dexterity affects their Initiative and Armor Class; how Wisdom affect Perception. They are much happier with these new characters, and happy players are good players.
So, if you are running a group of new players, play your first session with the provided characters so that they can get right into playing and learning the game. But for the second session either buy the Player’s Handbook or use a free copy of the basic rules available from D&D Beyond. Then have the players make their own characters, hopefully keeping the choices simple. You don’t really want to learn the game as a Bullywug Barbarian or a Tiefling Bard. Or maybe you do, in which case, good luck to you.
Next time, the heroes invade, I mean, investigate the unspectacular town of Phandalin and have a horrible session.
As always, for all your slightly-abused furniture needs come on down to Klarg’s, and Game On!
“Bree-Yark!” – Goblin for ‘We surrender’; often mistook to mean ‘kill them all’