The Lost Mine of Phandelver Adventure Overview.
First, I have a confession to make. We are not currently in Week 5 of the Phandelver Campaign. We are actually in Week 18 and if you happen to follow my Instagram account, then you also know that we just had our epic finale battle against the main villain, Nezzar, aka The Black Spider.
I have been trying to play catch up ever since I started writing about our adventures. Fortunately for the blog, but unfortunately for the players we play D&D only every other week which has allowed me to close the gap a little.
Week 5 (and it was really week 6) was a weird week. We barely played any D&D this week. Instead, my players and I talked about where the campaign as a whole was heading. I thought this was great. This meant that all the players were engaged with the adventure and wanted to help tell the story. Let your players help tell your story.
The biggest mistake that many DMs make is that they don’t really let the players help guide the story. The DM has a certain story he wants to tell and, by God, he’s gonna tell it. Now the dungeon of the day is the dungeon, but the dungeon is not the story. The story is the connective tissue between the dungeons, and it is the goals, dreams, successes, and failures of the players.
It is not the job of the DM to defeat the players, but to challenge the players and to present both stories, the player’s and the DM’s, in a plausible and exciting way. The players may fail and die, but by god, make it dramatic and real.
Sometimes the story will come out organically, especially with experienced players. But with novice players and with children, you’ll have to be very direct about it. So here is the direction we decided to take our campaign. Plus, since I don’t have to worry about spoiling anything for my players, I can finally lay out all my plans I did to hopefully improve the adventure. Let’s start with that.
First, as I’ve said, The Lost Mine of Phandelver is a great novice adventure. Well written, well balanced, and certainly worth the price. Its only real flaws are the villain and his plan, and motivating the players to involve themselves in this story.
The villain, Nezzar, has no plan. He has taken over a mine, and killed and kidnapped some dwarves. He is ineffectively looking for magical treasure. Except for one letter where he mentions the players, he has zero interaction with anybody. He has a legion of goblins, a gaggle of doppelgangers disguised as Drow, and a town full of thugs at his disposal and he does nothing with them. Nothing.
The players are expected to investigate and care about this because it’s the right thing to do. In the end, the players save the dwarves, free the mine and presumably get 10% of the mine’s profits, but it feels anti-climactic, small, and boring.
I could not think of any good way to get the villain out of his lair and in the player’s faces. But I made a lot of extra encounters with his minions and I made every one of them personal against the players. This way the players will either hate the villain so much that they want to kill him, or at least make all these extra attacks stop.
By and large, I ran the dungeons as they were written in the book. But I added extra scenes in between the chapters to flesh out the villain and his minions and their motivations. And lots of handouts.
Chapter 1 – I ran it straight out of the book. Before the ambush, I had a brief campfire encounter, where each player described who they were and then they just read the background section of the pre-generated character sheets.
Andrew, my oldest, is Regizar Imperium, human fighter extraordinaire, skilled in sword and axe, and a penniless noble driven to restore his family name and honor. James, my youngest, is Riandon Moonwhisper, the Elven master of the mystic arts and devout follower of Oghma, the God of Knowledge.
Next is Jim, the other dad. He is playing Clarissa the Creepy Cleric, a female Dwarf who is the inspiration for the phrase “Beat with the ugly stick”. Oh, and she’s related to all these kidnapped dwarves. Last is Jim’s son, Jack, who is playing Callan Cillian, the nimble Halfling rogue, who originally hailed from Phandalin until he was betrayed by his own gang, the Redbrands. Jim’s other kid, Ollie, played for a few sessions, but then dropped out never to be seen again, except as an NPC. I had developed a whole story line, for this character to explore his dragonborn nature, but to no avail.
During this chapter, I made two handouts for their player folders. The first was summary of the actions and abilities used when adventuring and in combat. Here is the link to that Rules FOUR PAGE. The second was a brief description of the Forgotten Realms, where I told them about the geography, religions, faction, currency, the calendar, and a short history of the Forgotten Realms, where this adventure take place. FAERUN 1479
And to further help your campaign, I’ve linked to my D&D Campaign Resources page, where I’ve placed all the stuff I use to run each campaign. DM and Player maps, handouts, and word files. Hopefully, you will find this useful.
Chapter 2 – I ran this chapter straight from the book as well, but I wish that I had not. My new, novice, and children players did not know what to do when given the open sandbox of a whole town to explore. Your players may be different. If they’re not, then have the party, arrive in town, drop off the wagon and head to the inn. In the morning, describe the town, and see if anything interests them. Do not worry about meeting any of the townsfolk that have quest lines later in the chapter
As soon as the players are bored or lost, use the Redbrand encounter. Hopefully, the players will want to clear out this bandit hideout. I ran the hideout dungeon as it is in the book, but as always, I left room open for improvisation and changing conditions. The players receive the only official handout here, which I copied onto distressed construction paper, which is a great way to make old notes.
After the Redbrands are eliminated, I have the town celebrate its new heroes. I had Mirna, the kidnapped mother who was found in the hideout, be the sister of Toblen, the innkeeper. Toblen was so happy that his sister was alive, he offers the party free room, food, and beer whenever they are in town. I had the barmaid, Elsa, be very friendly to the players. Not sexual (they’re just kids) but enough that the kids would remember her name. This is a setup for stuff in chapter 3.
Now that the players are heroes in the town, I had every NPC with a plot hook, come to them in the inn, and try to hire them for their plans. This was much smoother and the players could now choose which direction they wanted to go.
Chapter 3 – During this chapter, I want to keep having the villain’s minion attack the party with increasing difficultly, until the party just wants to kill the villain to make them stop. I had a lot of contingencies depending upon the party’s actions. I also set the day of the adventure to be about 10 days before Greengrass. Greengrass is the Spring Festival of the Forgotten Realms, and would make a great backdrop for the finale of Chapter 3. Ten game days should be enough time to wrap up this chapter.
But to start, the party wants to head to Waterdeep after this adventure. So, I create an NPC to help them get there. Garrick Agundar, is the youngest son of the noble house Agundar from Waterdeep. Wherever the party goes first, they will find him held captive by the enemies there. The Orcs at Wyvern Tor want to eat him, the Necromancer at Old Owl Well is taking him home as a slave, the Cult of the Dragon wants to sacrifice him.
Garrick thanks them profusely and promises them that his father will pay them 1000 gold for his safe return, after he indulges himself with the pleasures of Phandalin first. He will have other uses later in the campaign.
The party headed to Thundertree first. I will discuss all the details of this crazy town next week. Suffice to say that they help the druid and he agrees to find Cragmaw Castle for them. He says he will arrive in Phandalin for Greengrass with an answer.
The party arrives back to town and is ambushed by doppelgangers disguised as villagers. You can probably guess which ones. On their bodies they discover another letter written by Nezzar, telling them to kill the players and recover any maps.
Of course, the party doesn’t have any maps. But Sildar does. He managed to hide it from the goblins (don’t ask how) and now presents it to the party. This map provides a clue about how to bypass the deadly encounters in Chapter 5, should the players use it properly.
The party may or may not continue adventuring while waiting for the druid. Either way, when Greengrass occurs, all hell breaks loose. Once the party is in Phandalin and the Festival is under way, the druid is there with the answers they seek.
Before he can speak, there is a scream and goblins have invaded the town, intent to burn it to the ground.
I created an entire battle mat of the town, with choke points, siege engines and victory conditions. I used all the various goblinoids from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, especially the Goblin Boss, he is great. After the party was victorious and once again hailed as the Saviors of Phandalin, they discovered a new note, this time not from The Black Spider, but from a 4-fingered monster who can’t spell. Now, the players felt like true heroes.
Chapter 4 – Again, I ran the Castle pretty much from the book, except, that I added a huge goblin war camp out front. Thankfully, it was mostly empty, due to the botched invasion of Phandalin, so the party could easily sneak around it to the castle. The only other significant change was the overheard conversation between the Goblin King and the Doppelganger/Drow discussing the Black Spider’s instructions regarding the players etc. The Goblin King was much more powerful than the book states and he only had four fingers (discovered post-mortem)
Chapter 5 – I kept the dungeon as it was written with a few changes. First, I felt that the dungeon needed a good puzzle or riddle to solve. Outside the Forge of Spells room, I placed a magical lock that required 7 “keys” to open it. These keys were scattered all over the dungeon.
The puzzle was a block puzzle and the pieces needed to be assembled into a square to fit the lock. I borrowed the puzzle from one I found in a bookstore. I recreated the puzzle, painted it silver and painted a symbol of the Netherese Empire on it. The Netherese are important to my planned end game, many months from now, and I wanted to foreshadow this. I also placed the Spectator monster inside the Forge of Spells room.
The other main change was that I made the villain, Nezzar, 7th level, with access to 3rd level spells. And I added some bugbear minions to the room. This made the final battle really challenging and memorable.
Nezzar’s treasure was made up of unique Waterdeep coins, Toals and Harbor Moons. These coins are only valuable in Waterdeep. The party does not recognize them, but Garrick Agundar can.
There were other minor tweaks and added elements during game play that I’ll discuss during the individual weekly diaries. These were the major ones and really only affected the story of the module, and not the layout of each dungeon, which remained largely unchanged.
So back to the actual week’s adventure. We talked a lot about what each player wanted to do with their character. Andrew’s fighter, Regizar, wants to regain his noble title. He also wants his character so suffer some sort of curse, so I’ll have to figure out a good story for that. James’ wizard, Riandon, wants to find a Conjuration mage to study under. There is no wizard at all in Phandalin in the book, so again, more work for me. Jack’s thief, Callan, wants to join a Thieves Guild and he doesn’t want to restart one here since his character has relatives here. Jim’s cleric, Clarissa, has zero plans. Jim has solely played the character as a support player and had not thought about his own goals. He hasn’t even picked the name of the god she worships (bad, roleplayer, bad). I suggest that wherever we end up that he tries to establish a temple dedicated to whatever god he chooses. Jim likes this idea.
After the Lost Mine of Phandelver, I had planned to continue with the first official 5th Edition Adventure, The Horde of the Dragon Queen. For that reason, I had originally set the year of the campaign as 1492 in line with the established canon. But my players didn’t not want to do a long, involved adventure. They just want to be told where the dungeon is so they can go kill monsters.
To that end, I purchased Tales of the Yawning Portal. This book details 7 fun house dungeons that reflect adventures from every decade of the game, including some classic Old School modules like The Tomb of Horrors. My biggest concern with these adventures is the high mortality rate. I’ll cross that bridge when I have to.
The Yawning Portal is in Waterdeep, but I can place it anywhere I want in my world. I ask the players if they want to stay here in Phandalin after they kill Nezzar, move to Waterdeep, or go somewhere else. Everyone picks Waterdeep. This will fit in nicely with the player’s individual plans.
So, I create Garrick and the Waterdeep gold horde to guide them to the City of Splendors, eventually. I also set the year of the campaign to 1479. This is the canon year of the Lost Mine of Phandelver and is also the transition year from 4th Edition to 5th Edition.
I plan to have others adventures and story lines to merge all the dungeons in Yawning Portal and somehow involve the party in the events of the Second Sundering. And maybe the Time of Troubles too, stay tuned.
Finally, it’s back to the adventure. When last we left our heroes, they had just cleared the Redbrand Hideout. They had captured the Redbrand Leader, Glassstaff. They questioned him to no avail. Nobody knows where anything is.
The town treats them as heroes. The innkeeper, Toblen, gives them free rein for rescuing his sister. Elsa the barmaid has grown very fond of the group.
I quickly run through all the Chapter 3 quest lines by having all the NPCs seek out the party and ask them for help.
The group decides to go to Thundertree. The party is given the Hero Discount at the local stables for horses and off they go. Two uneventful game days later the party arrives at Thundertree. They secure the horses in an abandoned house and leave the goblin, Droop, on guard duty. That’s probably a mistake.
Next week, I’m pretty certain that the entire party is going to die. Let’s just say that 2nd level characters and dragons don’t go well together.
As always, the dungeon is not the story, and Game On!