The Saviors close in on the Black Spider and find some magic chunks of humming metal.
Finally, we begin Chapter 5 of the Lost Mine of Phandelver. The epic finale. Does it live up to the hype? Is Nezzar, the Black Spider, a worthy final villain? Will this adventure ever end? Let’s find out.
When last we left our heroes, they had cleared out Cragmaw Castle, a ruined fortress that had been taken over by goblins. And they killed the Hobgoblin Warlord, “King Grol”, who had ordered the execution of the town of Phandalin, at the behest of the perpetually annoying Black Spider. More importantly, they rescued their patron, Gundren Rockseeker, and discovered his map, which shows the location of the Wave Echo Cave.
Gundren has promised them a 10% share in the profits if they go clear out the mine and rescue his brothers. Being good money-grubbing mercenaries, I mean heroes, they accept. I decide to have the previously rescued noble/bard, Garrick Agundar, go with the party. In character, he thinks this is all a grand adventure and just wants to see what the heroes do next. He does not help in combat and basically just holds the torch and sings lousy limericks.
After an uneventful frolic through the mountains, the party finds a small cave entrance. Inside the cave, the party sees a crevasse that drops down to the depths of the mine. They also find the body of Tharden Rockseeker. Clarissa, dwarven cleric and Rockseeker kin, cries out, “By Grabthar’s Hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!” He didn’t really, but it would have been awesome if he did.
Meanwhile, Callan took it upon himself to loot the corpse and came up with some magical Boots of Striding and Springing. Nothing spectacular, but he was just happy to get something.
This is one thing the adventure really lacks; cool magic items. I know that 5th edition D&D wants to limit magic items, but that is a huge part of the fun. So far, I’ve followed the book in handing out magic (not counting one-use items that I knew would be consumed quickly). But since this is supposed to be a mine filled with magical treasure (which is the sole reason for the villain to be here), I’ve bumped up the number of items in the dungeon and tried to balance it out so that everyone will have at least two cool things.
Now they just have to get down into the mine proper. A twenty-minute discussion ensued about whether the rope leading down into the mine was safe. I had flashbacks of Day 1 when the party was too scared to walk into a cave. “I check the rope.” “You don’t find anything suspicious.” “I don’t trust it. We pull up the rope.” “Done.” “We tie a rock to the rope and let back down.” “Great, nothing happens.” “Something’s not right. I kick a rock into the hole.” “It lands on the floor with a loud noise, and nothing else happens.” “I don’t know…” “Just climb down the damn rope!” Of course, two players failed their Athletics Check to climb the rope and fell 10 feet to the floor for 1d6 damage. “I knew something was wrong with that rope.”
Once in the mine, I opted not to use our table monitor map. I wanted the players to experience to the old school tradition of mapping out the dungeon as you explore it. I thought it would be fun. It was a disaster. No one wanted to do it. Everyone complained about it. They are all spoiled by the beautifully rendered TV maps.
The task fell to Jack, age 12, and it drove him nuts as he attempted to draw a perfect map and got upset whenever he was off by 10 feet. I tried to get him to relax and explain that these mistakes were part of the game and to have fun with it. I failed. I even drew the starting room so he could get his bearings. Jack just got more wound up.
The other reason I didn’t want to use the Tabletop Monitor is because I was using my phone for something else and I don’t think my phone can multi-task. As soon as the players entered the mine proper I began playing the YouTube clip “Ocean Waves Crashing”. I set the volume at 50% and refused to explain what I was for, other than to say that this is what you hear in the mine at all times. As the players would advance closer to the Northeast corner of the mine, I would increase the volume. If they moved away, I lowered it. This really improved the immersion, as the player were basically playing “Hotter, Colder” with the dungeon itself.
They are currently in a maze of passageways. I describe the floor as completely clean, no dirt, debris, or even dust. This is the feeding ground of an ochre jelly, which has dissolved everything in this area, though the players don’t know that yet. I roll for a random encounter with the beast, but they don’t find it.
The group begins exploring by taking random turns at various intersections. They end up in front of room 6. James’ current familiar is a scorpion. They attempt to send it under the door, as they often do, to check out the room. I describe the door as being such perfect dwarven architecture that the door and the floor are seamless and the scorpion cannot fit. James thinks I’m being a jerk, but they enter the room anyway.
The room is nearly pitch black. In the gloom, they can see the floor is covered in bones; full skeletons of various sizes, human, dwarf, gnome, orc, and some unidentified.
Clearly a massive battle has taken place here. In fact, every square inch of space within the mine (except for the area cleared by the jelly) is covered in skeletal bones, scraps of rotted clothing and bits of rusted armor and weapons. Easily over 1000 people died during the Orc invasion of this mine over 500 years ago. Will this have bearing on the campaign in the future? Probably. Will the players have completely forgotten all about it? Definitely.
But they don’t have time to focus on that now, for there are three ghouls lumbering toward them looking for a snack. They haven’t had a fresh meal for 500 years.
This was a fun fight. This was the first time that a player had been paralyzed. At various points, Regizar, Clarissa and Callan were all paralyzed. It was great to watch the players panic as they struggled to roll a save against the condition and get back into the fight.
After the battle they searched the room. Amongst the remains of a human wizard, they found a strange piece of metal. It was silver in color but it wasn’t any metal that they could recognize. It was solid and unbreakable but it was exceptionally light. It also had strange glyphs running through it; blue, red and green on one side, gold, bronze and purple on the other.
I love these types of handouts, something tangible for the players to hold and puzzle over. Obviously, they have no idea what it means and they’ll just have to wait until some new information comes to light. But for now I’ll leave them confused. I’ll talk more about this puzzle as the players gather more pieces.
Despite being pretty dinged up from the ghouls, the group decides to press on. They head south and end up circling back to the cave with the crevasse in it. During this, they disturb a hive of Stirges. Once again, a nuisance monster turns nearly lethal.
Jim misjudges his character’s toughness by refusing to remove any Stirges that have latched onto her. Suddenly Clarrisa is taking 5, then 10, then 15 points of damage each round and she falls unconscious and the other players need to save her. Again. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this Cleric of Life magic has a death wish, which would be a very interesting character development.
The group drags Clarissa back to the room with the dead ghouls. They barricade themselves inside and take a short nap to recoup. During the rest, I pull James outside and describe that while on guard duty he hears a watery squishing sound outside the door in the hallway. As the sounds get closer and closer, the metal piece they found earlier begins to hum and vibrate. I ask him if he does anything. He emphatically says, “No.” The squishing continues past the door and continues down the hall. As it does, the humming subsides and then stops. James breathes a sigh of relief.
Feeling rested or at least alive, the group heads north. They discover a large open area (room 9). Cautiously they send in the scorpion to scope it out. I tell them that there are at least 5 ghouls (there are actually 7, scorpions can’t count) roaming around this area. They are only standing about 15 feet down the hall and begin loudly debating whether to go through the room or go around. This discussion took so long that I decided that some of the ghouls came out to investigate them.
The player freak out when this happens but they quickly recover and they fight smarter this time. They keep their distance and hit them with range weapons. Riandon uses Thunderwave to blow them all back into the room. This alerts the other ghouls, but there is enough distance that the party is able to keep them at bay. During this fight, no one is paralyzed.
When the ghouls are all dead again, they search the room. The floor it littered with skeletons on top of skeletons. Over 200 people died in this room alone so many years ago.
As they travel further into the room, the metal piece begins to hum and vibrate again. They come across the corpse of another wizard. Sifting through the body, they discover another metallic piece similar to before. The metal stops humming when brought together, but none of the runes seem to line up with the first. Jack is enraptured with this enigma. He quickly guesses that there are more out there. He wants to find them all right away and solve this thing. Patience, young padawan.
Excited to find more pieces, they journey north and then west and come to a door barred from the other side. Confident that there is another piece behind the door (there isn’t); Regizar runs full steam into the door. The door smashes open, forever useless, and Regizar comes to a stop in the middle of the room, surrounded by 5 Bugbears. The biggest one jumps out of his chair yelling, “Don’t just sit there you fools. Kill this idiot!”
Incredibly, Andrew, for the first time ever, decides to make a tactical retreat. I say tactical, but in reality, he ran for his life out of the room. He managed to avoid three opportunity attacks as he ran out the door. But then he stopped and turned in the hallway to face them two at a time.
Fortunately, the rest of the party took his lead and ran as well. Unfortunately, they kept running. Clarissa went back to help one round later and then Riandon returned in two. Callan ran so far that it took him four rounds to get back to the fight, and he even debated not going back at all.
Throughout the whole fight the Bugbear “boss” kept yelling taunts and threats to the players. “I’m gonna eat your heart, boy.” “Save the little one for last, I wanna watch him suffer.” Until there was just three Bugbears left, and then two, and then one. At which point, the boss pulled a Count Rugen and ran away.
Riandon casts Misty Step to a point in front of the fleeing boss and succeeds in tripping him. Andrew charges in, tackles the brute and proceeds to pummel him with his fists. Yea, we get to use the grappling and unarmed combat rules.
The Bugbear is beaten senseless, and when he comes to the players grill him for info. I planned to make the Bugbear another tough guy, but on the spot, I make the Bugbear a sniveling coward. He tells them everything they ask for. The Black Spider is in the northwest corner room. He’s a Drow elf looking for rumored legendary magic here in the mine. He can’t get past the room of the flying death or the deadly mushrooms which have killed many of his friends. Nundro (the third Rockseeker brother) is still alive and with the Spider.
They leave their prisoner tied up and head straight to Nezzar’s sanctum. Regizar flings open the double doors as if he owned the place. At least they have weapons drawn. The group is taken aback when a calm, cold voice calls out to them “Ah, Sir Imperium and friends, I presume. I’ve been expecting you. Come in, we have much to discuss.”
The party is at one end of a long, large, and well-lit chamber. The ceiling here is 25 feet high. Pillars line both sides of the room leading to a huge statue of a Dwarven god. The dust and debris have been cleared from the area but the ceilings and corners are covered in thick spider webs. Several giant spiders hover in the upper corners. To the right of the statue are several sleeping pallets and a fire pit is set in front of the statue. Three hobgoblins are nonchalantly lounging near this, but they rise and stand ready as the party enters.
But the main focus is to the left of the statue. A desk is littered with papers and maps; and two more silver pieces are visible in the clutter. Behind the desk is a regal dark elf, resplendent in purple robes lined with silver to match his long flowing hair. The Drow continues, “I’d offer you a chair Sir Imperium but these menial duergar seem incapable of making anything not of stone.”
“How do you know who we are?”
“Oh, I know all about you, Regizar; and your comrades, Riandon, Callan, and Clarissa. It behooves me to know of those who oppose me.” I justified this bit of metegaming on the assumption that Nezzar’s Doppleganger spies obtained this info. But it did succeed in throwing the players off-guard.
“Where is the dwarf?”
“Oh, he’s around somewhere. He’s alive but I cannot promise that he is not unharmed.”
“If you’ve hurt him…”
“Save your posturing and platitudes for the underlings. This is a negotiation of mutual benefaction.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Clearly you are capable. First you defeated that foppish Glassstaff and his goons. Then you undermined the subterfuge of Valdrezak and his shifters. Third, you rallied a few dozen peasants against a superior force and survived. I can only assume that you have eliminated King Grol and my lieutenant as well.
Clearly you are loyal. These Rockseeker duergar are irrelevant to you. They mean nothing, being only destined for servitude, and yet still you persist. Admirable loyalty, although misplaced as it is. These are the two things I demand from all in my employ, capability and unwavering loyalty. Stop working for coppers for pathetic surface dwellers and serve Lolth for untold glory, power, and riches. What say you?”
James, in real life, cries out, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about!”
“He’s offering you a job, James.”
Now this offer was legit. The book says that Nezzar will attempt to kill them regardless, but if the party was willing to turn evil and swear fealty to Lolth, I would have let it play out. Garrick the noble/bard NPC who is with the party would vehemently object and the party would have to kill him, but it could have happened. However I strongly suspected that the party would choose the righteous path.
By the way, I played Nezzar like the megalomaniacal, over-confident 1960’s Blofeld from the James Bond movies. Always one step ahead of the heroes, but too egotistical to realize his plans are failing. His monologue was not scripted but I knew what he wanted to say and how he behaves and I just rolled with it. This conversation was longer and with more player/DM dialog but you get the gist. This is probably the toughest skill to develop as a DM and I still fail to pull it off some days, but it worked today.
I could see the players trying to work out in their heads about how they could react to this weirdly cordial villain and his clearly evil, but enticing offer. Was he credible? Was this legit? Is this a trick? To set up a dilemma like this and then just wait for the players reactions, is one of the most satisfying parts of being a DM.
To further complicate the scenario, I had each player roll a perception check. Jack playing the thief was the only one who passed. Out of the room, I told him that he noticed that one of the spiders was sneaking out of the room and down a connecting hallway.
Sadly, this one extra piece of info nearly broke Jack. He was struck with analysis paralysis and was totally indecisive. He tried to work out in his head the perfect optimal reaction, but there is none. I keep forgetting that Jack, age 12, thinks he needs to figure out the single correct response in order to win.
Meanwhile, within the room, the other players were already working out their response to the villain’s offer. Finally, Jack’s Callan says to the villain, “Call back your spider, or we’re done here.”
“The spider does not serve me (untrue). I cannot control the spider any more than you can control your lack of height.”
Andrew has been clearly waiting impatiently says, “Can I go, now?” Sure, go ahead.
“I walk up to the Black Spider all friendly like and then I stab him with my sword.”
End of Session.
Next week, we resolve the failed contract negotiations between the Saviors and the Spider.
As always, it’s not metagaming if the DM does it, and Game On!