At last! The finale of The Lost Mine of Phandelver. And our heroes actually talk their way out of their first fight.
When last we left our heroes, they have been exploring the Wave Echo Cave. They’ve killed the main bad guy, Nezzar, and have been searching the dungeon, looking for pieces to open a magical lock. While searching, they stumbled into the lair of a Wraith who has mistaken the players as Orc invaders. They know his name is Mormesk because he keeps referring to himself in the third person. “I, the great Mormesk, will destroy you!”
Our brave heroes tried to run away, but the Wraith just chased them through the walls. Reluctantly, they are forced to face this unholy aberration.
Now, the module states that this Wraith is willing to make a deal with the players, but it doesn’t give any help to new DMs about how to facilitate this. Of course, having a scary, undead demon say, “Whoa, hold on guys. I don’t want to fight, I just want to talk”, doesn’t feel very natural. Plus, I had already used this tactic earlier with Nezzar, when it did fit his character.
My Wraith believes that he is still fighting off the Orc invasion that occurred 500 years ago. Like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, this Wraith doesn’t know he’s dead. He keeps calling the players “Orcs” and “unholy spawn” and claims that he won’t let them to desecrate this place. I had hoped that this reversal of expectations would induce at least one player to question this Wraith or at least deny his claims. If just one player had said, “We’re not Orcs,” that would have allowed the conversation to continue.
Alas, no one took the bait, and the players just hacked the ghost to bits. The fight was a good challenge with a couple of interesting moments. First, the Thief took a number of rounds to sneak around a stalagmite and backstab the Wraith only to discover that he needs a magic weapon to hit it. It was funny, but really disappointing for the player and another example that the Thief never gets a good magic item in this module.
Second, James activated his special magic item. Last week, his character, Riandon, dove into a pool of water looking for one of the puzzle pieces. There he also found a Figurine of Wondrous Power, a flying leopard. And James did not tell the party about it. Before today’s the session, I gave him all the details about his new toy, its stats, and its command word, “Chuy”, which is Swahili for leopard. I also gave him a new mini, a custom yellow panther with Aasimir wings.
In the middle of the fight, James says, “I take out my figurine and say the word, Chuy.” A beautiful leopard with golden wings springs forth from his hand. The other players were stunned; they didn’t suspect anything and everyone agreed that it was very cool. The leopard is okay in battle; it gets three attacks and can knock an enemy down. Also, I count his attacks as magical, so James orders Chuy, as he is now called, to attack the Wraith. The leopard pounces on the ghost and… sails right through it, but at least it did a little damage.
Lastly, the players were terrified when the Wraith made a hit on Regizar, the fighter, and the damage came off his max hit points. Andrew asked, “What happens if this gets to zero?” My reply was, “I’m pretty sure you don’t want to find out.” But the players never got to find out, as they made pretty short work of the monster.
Searching Mormesk’s room they find some minor treasure and two new handouts. The module describes that all the books on the shelves have crumbled to dust except one which conveniently has a map on the cover. Of all my handouts, I spent the most time on this “map” and I am the least happy with the results.
I describe the book as being made of silver plates with dwarven runes, interwoven designs and pictographs on the cover. I did not want the map to just have a simple X marks the spot on it. Each plate depicts a Standing Stone marker which will lead you to the next one and so on. The trick is to find the starting point.
I want this map to be the start of the Forge of Fury adventure from Tales of the Yawning Portal. There is a village marked Blasingdell (where that adventure takes place) on my “map”, but the players have no way of identifying where that is yet.
I made two copies of the map. The one with the original dwarven runes I designed so that it fit around the cover of an actual book. The other is written in Common for the players to actually use. I used the novel The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett because it sounds like a book a dwarf would write and it is my second favorite book after Les Miserables.
I gave them an actual book prop because I hid a second handout inside the first and I wanted the players to find it on their own. The second handout was a journal entry, written by Mormesk. Desperate to have this letter survive, Mormesk hid it in the only book that he knew wouldn’t decay to dust.
James was the one who found the letter. At first, he thought that I had accidentally left something in the book. Silly boy, there are no accidents in my campaign. The letter is filled with lore and explains who was running this mine and what they were trying to do. Of course, this letter creates more questions than it answers, but that is nothing new with my handouts.
Moving on, the players finally use all the map handouts that I gave them throughout the campaign and work out where they need to go to find the missing puzzle piece. They realize that they skipped some rooms near the mine entrance and here they find the last puzzle piece. And here is where the thief gets his first cool magic item. But I had to make sure that just the thief got it.
Here is one of the ways I get a specific item to a specific player without being too obvious about it. Fortunately, this dungeon is littered with the bodies of hundreds of corpses any of which could have a small item in or near it. So sometimes when the players search a room, I have them all roll a perception check.
The player with the highest roll finds the item. I pull him out of the room and describe what he finds. If it is not the player I want, then he finds a small trinket, a gem, or a personal effect. That player can decide to be stealthy or not with regards to the rest of the party. Obviously, he has to make a stealth check if he decides to hide things from the group. If the same person happens to roll highest twice in a row, it goes to the next highest, to keep it fair, and no one has complained about it so far.
Eventually, the one I want finds the item, and no one feels cheated. I use this tactic very rarely and only when it serves the maximum enjoyment of the players.
In this case, the Halfling Thief, Callan, who relies heavily on luck, has found a Lucky Coin, “Tymora’s Fortune”. He can flip this coin before any action. Heads, he adds 1d4 points to his roll; Tails, he subtracts 1d4.
He can continue to press his luck, but once he flips bad luck, all his good luck turns bad. Plus, there is another catch, and hopefully he doesn’t read about it here. Every use increases his chance to become addicted; forcing him to flip his “lucky” coin before every action whether he wants to or not. We’ll see how long his luck holds out.
With all the puzzle pieces in their possession, they head back to the room with the magic lock. My players were pretty proud of themselves, having found all the pieces and solving it themselves. Granted, they are easily impressed young teenagers, but I won’t let you spoil the moment. It was real, man. It was real!
The doors open like a hermetically sealed chamber and fresh air hit the party’s faces. Inside, they see the Forge of Spells which is barely described in the module. The players have fought for months to get to this point, so describe something memorable for them.
“Dozens of bodies, skeletons, and corpses litter the ground in this room as well. This is surprising considering that the room has been sealed for hundreds of years. Thus far, amongst all the bodies, some have been orc, bugbear, or ogre. But there are none of those here. Most are human or humanoid, but a few are unrecognizable, possibly demonic or worse.”
“Standing in stark contrast to the carnage around the room, the center of the room contains a gleaming steel forge. It looks like it was just shined yesterday and not rotting in a room for five centuries. Above the forge floats a pale blue crystal about the size of a man’s head. The jagged crystal has no means of support, held aloft by some magical energy. Looking up from the gem, a small hole in the ceiling goes straight through the rock hundreds of feet, beyond which you can see the night sky.”
“A steel table against one wall holds various items, a couple of weapons, and a silver breastplate. Dominating the far wall is an enormous hourglass, over eight feet high. Blood red sand sits in the glass, and the sand is half-filled in both chambers, but no sand is flowing from the top to the bottom. It is frozen in place.”
“Of course, you don’t have time for any of these investigations because a grotesque beast is floating near the magical forge. It has no body, just an enormous, lumpy, wart-covered head. A single huge bulbous eye and a gaping mouth filled with razor-like teeth encompass the entire “head”. Several stalks protrude from this head, each ending in another eyeball.”
James plays his wizard like he’s Newt Scamander from the Harry Potter movies. As such, I allow him to read the Monster Manual, but he cannot refer to in game. Without missing a beat, James asks how many eyestalks the monster has. I tell him, four. “Well, at least it’s not a Beholder,” James sighs in relief.
No, it’s not a Beholder. It’s a Spectator; a not-as-deadly, but still dangerous monster. I spent a long time painting this mini, and I was thrilled to finally bust him out in combat. But don’t worry; my kids will manage to ruin my fun soon enough.
The module hints that smart players might be able to talk their way out of this encounter as well, if they can convince the Spectator that he has completed his mission and is relieved of duty. How any player is supposed to spontaneously come up with this idea is beyond me. And technically, the Monster Manual states that a Spectator’s term of service will only last 101 years, not 528 like this one has.
Since I know that if I don’t say anything, the players will just attack this thing, I have the Spectator speak first. “So, more petty thugs come to steal from my Master. You too will die painfully.”
This time, Jim, playing the voice of reason Cleric, tries to defend the group. “No sir, we are not thieves. (Jack snickers.) We are explorers. This mine has been abandoned for…”
“That is immaterial,” the Spectator cuts him off. “My charge is the same. You do not serve the Master.”
Then the moment I’ve been waiting almost a year for occurs. Andrew role-plays something that doesn’t involve combat.
Andrew’s fighter, Regizar Imperium, speaks, “Who is your Master?”
The Spectator turns all its eyes to Regizar. In a moment of unrestrained surprise, it speak, “Master Imperium, is it you? You look so young! How can this be? It’s been over 500 years!”
Regizar replies, “How did you get here?”
“You summoned, I came. I live to serve the great Master, until I’m released.”
“Who can release you?”
“Why, of course, you, sir.”
“Then, I release you.”
“Very good, sir. Thank you. It has been an honor, sir.” And with that, the Spectator vanished in the wink of an eye.
I was thrilled that this conversation occurred. It has a huge bearing on my endgame plot, which will be revealed many months down the line. I did not coach Andrew in any way, and I did not know if he would ever do anything more than “hit it with my sword”, but he really stepped up a just the right moment and made it work. I only wish that I had been able to have a few rounds of combat, maybe paralyze or frighten a few heroes, and then have the beast “recognize” Regizar Imperium.
With their foe vanquished, the players search and loot the room. Straight from the book, they find a magical mace, Lightbringer, which does extra damage to undead, and a magical breastplate, Dragonguard, which offers extra protection from breath weapons. These go to the cleric and the fighter, respectively. Still nothing for the thief, so I added ShadowStrike, a magical dagger that can either knock out or poison a target on a sneak attack. Jack is very happy.
One of the player’s investigates the forge and looks up into the hole in the ceiling. I have him roll a dexterity check. He passes. “As you look up, you see the sky turn blood red. Instinctively, you pull away from the forge just as a red beam of light floods through the small tunnel and strikes the floating crystal. The crystal absorbs the light, and focuses it onto the Forge of Spells. The entire room is filled with an eerie purple glow. A few moments later, the beam dissipates and the room returns to its natural state.”
The player’s learn later that this is the Goreclipse mentioned in Mormesk’s letter. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon that occurs once every 132 years. How this affects the Forge of Spells is unknown. And yes, if you work backwards from our current year of 1479 DR, the Goreclipse did occur in 951 DR as well, when this mine was invaded and sacked by Orcs. (My players have not worked this out yet). When the players eventually leave these mines, the Murder Moon, as it is also called, was still in effect and I play this YouTube clip to enhance the moment.
But there is still one last thing to investigate in the Forge of Spells. The Frozen Hourglass. The hourglass is huge, over 4’ in diameter and 8’ high. There appears to be no way to turn the hourglass over either. And the sand is definitely not moving, frozen in time, half in the upper chamber and half in the lower. But there is nothing blocking the neck.
On one of the hourglass’ spindles, a pair of goggles is draped. They are an odd construction of leather and metal and glass. They do not appear like anything that the characters have ever seen. One of the lenses is glazed in black and several multi-hued lightning bolts adorn the framework. In fact, the color of the bolts exactly matches the colors on the magical lock leading into this room, but the players have not picked up on that yet either.
All of the players take turns trying on the glasses. For the Dwarf, the Elf, and the Halfling, nothing happens. But when the human fighter puts them on, he can now see in the dark with infravision to 60’. So, now I don’t have to worry about torches. I also tell Andrew that his reflexes feel quicker. He has gained +1 to his Initiative rolls. These goggles have other benefitial (and a few detrimental) effects that will be revealed over time.
This is a custom Legendary Item that I call the Goggles of Glory to the players, but it has a formal name as well, The Zeitbrille. This is also mentioned in Mormesk’s letter and my German readers will have a little more insight into its abilities. Before leaving, the party reseals the room and takes the pieces of the magical lock with them. I thought this was a great idea, and I’ll have to work that into the plot line somehow.
So, having cleared out the final dungeon, the party returns to town, the surviving Rockseeker brothers are reunited, and there is much celebrating and carousing. Each player has a private meeting with various NPCs that invite them to join one faction or another that feature heavily in the 5th Edition Forgotten Realm setting. But I will discuss those later.
And with that, we finally wrap up The Lost Mine of Phandelver. It has been one hell of an adventure. It has taken us 20 sessions over the course of a full year to complete it. (We play every other week). I wish that we could play more regularly and for longer sessions, but that is the trade off when playing D&D with your kids and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Next week, having done all they can for the village of Phandalin, our heroes a going to venture forth to the big city, Waterdeep, to seek further fame and fortune. But the road to the City of Splendors is fraught with dangers and recent events have occurred in the Spellplagued swamp, the Mere of Dead Men, which might prove to be more deadly than our heroes can handle.
But if they survive the Mere of Dead Men, we will continue our adventures with Waterdeep: Dragon Heist & Tales of the Yawning Portal, plus a few surprises along the way. Stay tuned.
As always, all of life (and roleplaying) is a journey, so Game On!
Nothing will stifle evolution more than fame and fortune. – Patty Smith
I post all of my handouts as well as all of my maps, both player and DM versions, to my Lost Mine of Phandelver Resource Page for you to use, copy, or steal if they can help your own campaign.