The Essentials Kit is a great D&D product. But just how “essential” is the adventure that came with it?
October had been a crazy month for me. I’m swamped at work, I’m up for a promotion, I’m competing for another blog writing gig, plus I’m the crazy Halloween guy in my neighborhood, and I have a ton of stuff to build. So, now is the perfect time to start a second D&D campaign, right?
When I bought the Essentials Kit to review it, I knew that I should play through the included adventure. But I didn’t have it in me to run another campaign. My son, Andrew, said that he wanted to DM. Perfect. We would just do a simple, 2 players, 1 DM, game on slow weekend mornings.
James was all excited. He has been dying to play a Bullywug ever since he saw the thing in the Monster Manual. I made a half-dwarf Ranger with daddy issues who has been ostracized from his clan because he can’t grow a beard. We were all set to go. Until…
Andrew betrayed us to run off and play in a different campaign with some real friends, including girls. WTF, I was never this popular when I played D&D in school. I guess it’s just me and James, my new favorite son.
In the end, the group sort of consists of James, his friend Logan, sorta maybe Andrew, and me as DM again. I always prefer to run your standard fantasy humanoid-centric campaign. But since this one is kind of a goof, I let them play anything they wanted.
James’ character is a Bullywug Druid. He is a giant, talking frog who really like plants and animals. He can jump really high and use his tongue to slap people and grab things. Oh, and he is from another dimension, the Feywild. How exactly he came to be here, in the Forgotten Realms, we have not figured out.
Andrew is a Kenku Rogue. His specialty is pickpocket work, and it probably doesn’t help that he is a kleptomaniac. A Kenku is a giant crow humanoid. They can’t speak as such but are perfect mimics, who can repeat any hear sound or phrase to indicate what they are thinking.
Logan is a Dragonborn Paladin with a dark past, as if there was any other kind. He is a completely new player who is learning everything from scratch. Not knowing anything, he wanted to be a cleric because he wants to help people and feel useful. I thought this was one of the sweetest things I’d heard. However, I feel that clerics make the worse first character. Clerics are just so magoo. I convince him to be a Paladin so he could be useful, helpful, and bad-ass. He picked a Dragonborn because they look awesome. Duh.
Next, I broke my own rules and created a player as well. I hate DMs as players because it is simply not fair for the other players. But I also don’t expect to have full rosters from week to week and the party needs to have some kind of “companion” backup. To augment smaller player groups, the Essentials Kit provides several sidekicks, which is a good mechanic with an awful name. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of them.
To go along with the monster PC thing we got going on here, I made a Tortle Monk. He is a 250-year-old turtle with tragic history who has taken a vow of silence. Because I am insane, I wrote a Tortle Backstory for him, even though I’ll never use it.
Now for the adventure itself, I intend to run it exactly as written. When I ran The Lost Mine of Phandelver, which you can read here, I altered it significantly to better suit my campaign and to make it feel more epic and with a truly despised villain. This time, I want to see how the strict running of just the written module stands up to play testing. Plus, I don’t have the time to be monkeying around with a whole bunch of changes.
Of course, the first thing I do is to throw out that plan and add two encounters right off the bat. It took about an hour to help Logan, make his first character, and we still didn’t complete it. Andrew did not even start his character yet (James made his weeks ago). But I could tell that Logan was getting bored, so I just jumped right in with a combat encounter. For now, I told Andrew to just use +4 to hit and +2 for damage and we’ll wing it from there.
Sadly, Dragon of Icespire Peak starts without a good beginning. There is no hook. The party just arrives at the little village of Phandalin (again). And nothing happens; there’s no one to meet, no reason to go anywhere, nothing to do.
So, bear in mind that nothing from this point is in the module. First, I wanted to start the adventure with a bang (or at least a sword clang). Second, it’s always good to put the big villain right up into the player’s faces nice and early.
The year is still 1479 DR. You can read my Intrp to the Forgotten Realms that I hand my players here, FAERUN 1479. It is 6 months since the events of the Lost Mine of Phandelver. Winter is fast approaching and the chill has come down off mountain early.
Our party has heard the exploits of heroes in the area. They head to Phandalin to hopefully meet up and join that band of adventurers, not knowing that those heroes have already moved on. They will just have to become heroes on their own.
They stopped for the night at a little roadside inn. The evening is uneventful until around midnight. A blood curling scream wakes them. Heading downstairs, a gang of Gnolls has broken down the front door, attacking the innkeeper and his wife.
A few quick rounds later, the grotesque hyena mongrels lie dead, Logan had his first battle, and our new heroes have begun their journey toward infamy. In the morning, with a basket of complimentary muffins, our party starts the long day’s walk to Phandalin.
Before the player got to town, I asked them if they wanted me to use to overview map or my battle map for the town of Phandalin. My sons, who know me too well, were both vehemently opposed to using the battle map. I told them it didn’t matter and that they were screwed either way. My boys just groaned.
Just as the afternoon sun begins to set beyond the foothills of the Sword Mountains, the group passes the first farmhouse leading into Phandalin. In what will probably become a recurring theme, as the party heads toward the center of town, they hear a blood curling scream, followed by a heart stopping roar.
Before the party can react, an enormous White Dragon rises up from behind a building to their left. In its claws it holds a hapless horse. Logan was indifferent in the first encounter when I put out the Gnoll minis, but he lost his mind when I pulled out the dragon mini. I pretty sure he screamed. He seemed very excited to see his first dragon.
The scaly monstrosity is flying low out of town; straight toward our group of terrified new adventurers. Seeing fresh targets, the dragon spews forth a blast of frigid breath that literally freezes the air before it. “Everyone, roll a Dexterity save.”
The heroes are barely able to dive out of the way as the dragon turns the dusty road into a tundra of rock and snow. Unconcerned, the dragon flies away to the southeast, heading toward the mountains.
As they pick themselves up off the ground a woman runs out from the stables, crying out, “Can anyone help? My son is dying!” The heroes follow the woman to the paddock where a young man, still in his teens, lies bleeding to death. The mother is still wailing, “Can’t anyone heal him? Where is our cleric?”
Logan takes the hint and says, “I can heal your boy. Stand back please.” Quietly, James tells me, “I’m pretty sure my druid has healing.” I tell him he does but to let Logan have this one.
Logan uses his special Paladin ability, Lay On Hands, to magically cure the stable boy through the power of pure faith. The boy is saved. Insert Superman music here. There are new heroes in town.
Well, if you can’t end on a cliffhanger, then end on a high note.
Next week, the heroes meet the mayor of Phandalin, or at least they meet his message board. And I promise to stay strictly by the book for the rest of the adventure. Promises, promises.
As always, never let the rules or the stats get it the way, and Game On!