Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 6 - The Final Battle (and review)

Well, it's certainly been a while. And what a while!

I usually hate falling behind on schedules; this time being no exception, but I'd like to start out by excusing myself and pointing out two great news. How's that for starters?
First and foremost, we completed The Lost Mine of Phandelver, so consider this the final post in this short mini-series (well, I suppose that's kind of sad, but completing it felt really good) – Second; we've started out on the logical next part in the 5th edition wave: The Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which will be the inevitable follow up! So stay tuned; we're certainly up for more adventures!

Last time we left the heroes just as they'd conquered the sinister castle of Cragmaw. With dead owlbears, gricks and hobgoblins in their wake, the band of adventurers returned to Phandalin with their battered friend, and prepared for the final expedition. The party still consisted of Delvin the dwarven warrior, Fireforge the dwarven cleric of Oghma, Barian the elven wizard, Professor Grim the human rogue and Oxyzeron the dragonborn warlock. All of them were level 4.
(I feel I need to add some thoughts here; at this time it was quite evident that even with massive monster grinding they likely wouldn't hit fifth level till around the very end. In fact, they never passed that milestone. I'm not sure whether this is because they didn't roll up that many random encounters, or due to the fact they skipped the fight with the dragon? Either way, I have the feeling that even though the adventure proclaims it's for level 1-5, the players will spend very little time at high level, unless you continue directly from its end with your own material.)

Hi-Level Ho! To the mine!

The heroes said goodbye to their friend Gundren and assured him they would take the fight to the notorious villain known as The Spider, who'd been working against them all the time. By now, the Spider was likely deep inside the mine, doing battles with some of its unholy inhabitants. Besides ordinary preparation, the heroes were lucky enough to find a magnificent set of gauntlets in the former king's quarter, that turned out to be a shiny set of Gauntlets of Ogre Power. (Yes, originally these are found inside the mines, but I felt the adventure is a tad too caster-rewarding in its early stages, so hey! Making people happy!)

Wave Echo Cave was, as previously mentioned, once a glorious place in which humans, elves and dwarves lived in harmony with their riches and spell forges. Sadly, the attacks from the orcs and following battles left the place more like a tomb than a mine.

I see what you did there!
The journey to the mines wasn't long and they arrived in high daylight with the happy chirping of birds, staring inside the black world of the open rock. Not really knowing what to expect, the heroes set in and found an abandoned campsite right away. It seemed like it had been some time ago since anyone used it. (And this was the point in which I realized that Gundren did in fact have brothers who set out to the mine earlier – I actually noticed this when I read through the adventure, but whatever. It could just as well serve as an abandoned camp by the spider). Browsing through the stuff, the heroes found a pair of Boots of Striding and Springing.

They journeyed on, down into a small chasm from which a couple of narrow caverns went. Heading north, they soon after arrived at a minor maze of long abandoned corridors, in which old carvings and images had almost faded away. Small scraps of cloth and metal were strewn around, with the occasional bones and crumbled skeletons witnessing of the life and battle that once took place here.

Making their way further north, they soon found a large cave with an underground sea. Along the way, the heroes noticed from where the cave had likely received its name; a strange roaring sound, almost like an ocean, occasionally echoed through the corridors?

Slime none, waste none!

They were just about to make their way into the cave when a gooey sound burst out from the ceiling, and an ochre jelly splattered on top of the heroes. Its sizzling attacks tore away at them, and Delvin delivered a savage blow at it, only to see it cut out in two smaller pods. As the Professor did the same, suddenly there were a lot of ooze going around.
(These things are just as fun as you remember them; not much has changed about oozes as it is. Crappy AC, a good load of HP and they can strike moderately hard, especially if your players are stupid enough to make them split into more oozes! Still, this is by far one of the easier encounters in Wave Echo, unless your entire party has brought long swords and nothing else : ) )

Oozes. Still fun.
 Smashing the ooze to pieces went well and they searched the cave. In the dark pool they discovered more skeletons, one of them clutching a wand of magic missiles which would come in handy. A set of stairs went east and north, behind the door was the sound of gambling and some grumpy noises. Doing what heroes did best, they kicked in the door in a surprise attack and went for the four bug bears enjoying a nice time in the ad hoc barracs. Doing the encounter, they had reinforcements from the room to the north, two additional buggies, who were more or less restrained throughout the entire encounter by a well-placed web spell.
(There is a shapechanger as well in the room to the north, and frankly; this is one of those dungeons in which it makes sense for just about anyone intelligent, to send at least one runner to warn the boss that heroes are coming, so this is what happened here. Six bug bears are no joke indeed, and I think my players got really lucky with my sucky dice rolls for that night, seeing how two of them were pretty much sitting the entire encounter out in a web.)

Descending further into the caves, the heroes found a collapsed cavern further up the path, yet decided to head for an interesting set of double doors down the hall to the west. They were grand-looking and both Delvin and Fireforge recognised the carvings on them; a description of a holy site dedicated to Dumathoin, the dwarven god of mining. Deciding to investigate, they slowly opened the door...

I've been waiting for you. Waiting for you to come to me. Now come. Come, and let us finish this game...

They discovered a dimly lit room with several pillars and old remains that witnessed of the holy past. A grand statue of the dwarven deity stood against the far wall, underneath it a sinister figure wrapped in black, wielding an arachnid staff in his hand. His skin was ebony and eyes full of hate. He whispered in a loud voice as he measured his enemies, with two bug bears on each side. “So it seems like the intruders were indeed more capable than I thought,” he said. “But I'm afraid these caves are mine. Such a pity it will have to end this way...”
Your evil will not be tolerated much longer, Spider!” Fireforge retorted, “Remove yourself from these sacred grounds and you may have mercy!”
The drow laughed and his only reply was an incantation. The final battle had started!
(Artwork from the adventure)

(Now, being so horrible at staying at the chosen path, I have to confess something here. As written, the Spider is a very underwhelming foe. His staff can do some tricks, but it's not really as great as Glass Staff's. Also, the only thing he has going for him spell-wise is his suggestion and invisibility. So, if your party is going really strong and optimized, or maybe has one more player than the adventure is written for, consider the following. There is one foe in the mines that is one hell of a dangerous spell caster; namely the flame skull in the smelter cavern (area 12). His spell list is far more dangerous, featuring nasty level 3 spells. That, along with the two bug bears and the large spiders summoned during the fight makes for a truly epic and challenging fight that has more than enough potential to wipe out the party if they act with a proper plan. Bear in mind, however, that this makes up for a lot of possible burst damage. I went for this option.)

The Spider rolled first for initiative (the first real good roll I had that night) and hurled a ball of burning fire at the puny heroes. It scorched them heavily and nearly brought Oxyzeron to his knees. Then the bug bears moved in to strike, and the heroes managed to spot the hiding giant spiders behind the pillars. Moving in with determination, Delvin struck down one of the bug bears where it stood, and Barian returned the favor by expending his own scroll of fireball to toast two of the spiders and deal a savage blow to the drow who failed his reflex save (fuck you, dice...)

The professor rogue used his smooth moves to disengage inside the room and unleashed the full brunt of the wand of magic missiles on the drow, who countered it by casting shield. Fireforge summoned a spiritual weapon that hovered and struck the Spider, who was suddenly dangerously low on hit points. The spiders started tearing at Delvin, actually managing to poison the dwarf, and Oxyzeron made short work of another arachnid horror.

Realizing the power of the invasion, the Spider blurred himself and retreated. It didn't however, manage to save him two rounds later, when the professor and Delvin moved up to bash at him. Yet again, shield saved him, but when the dragonborn warlock unleashed his Witch Bolt, the force lightning crippled the drow and sent him to his swift, electrifying death.

And then everything went silent...

All that remains...

So, the heroes concluded the mines...really quickly. It's kind of amazing they skipped out so much of it and just went straight for the boss, but hey; it happens. They seemed just as puzzled about it as I did, and yet we decided to spend the rest of the session by them exploring some random rooms along the way out. They had an encounter with a wraith and the new beholder-kin; the spectator. A notoriously new take on the beholders as we know them, and I'm sure he would've been really awesome, if only I knew how to roll my dice properly.

Long story short, we wrapped up the adventure by the heroes returning to town to greet their old friend Gundren, who was thrilled to hear of their success. Not long after, they set out with Sildar to claim the lost riches. It turned out to be a huge profit for all of them, enough for the heroes to retire and live happily ever after; making Phandalin a prosperous town – stronger than it had ever been!

A general review...

So ends our playthrough of the Lost Mine of Phandelver and even though I've kind of tried to make this into a running review, I still think it's in order to sit down and make share some of my impressions of the adventure. As usual, I'll do the Good, the Bad and What you should prepare as a GM.

On the positive side, which is by far the heaviest side, I love this adventure. It's great for starters; seeing as the plot is relatively simple and it starts out with a rather high pace and keeps it there for quite some time. Also, it involves several opportunities for people to get to learn more about the Realms and the various factions in it. While neither the factions nor the background of the players don't seem to play that huge of a role, it's still great to feel part of the bigger world around you.

The encounters are many and plentiful; most of them have meaning and will certainly challenge your players a great deal. One can argue that some of them may be pushing it a bit, especially during the first two levels, but still; if you're up for the challenge, this is cleverly put together. Also, a lot of them offers different approaches. In fact, you're almost encouraged to think out of the box. My players took the direct way several times and were punished for it – had I more luck with my rolls, they would have been TPK'ed at least twice. I love how the variety comes into place; as long as you're transparent to your players about it.

The little amount of artwork is good and the maps nice. In general, none of the scenes and parts of the adventure seemed too long to me. The dungeons are mostly short, compared to what you may be used to if you come from the Paizo official campaigns, and the handful of side quests in chapter two and three are short enough to be handled quickly and still be memorable. This is another great way to introduce your players to the system, as most of them feature different usage of skills.

My favorite part has to be the arrival at Phandalin and dealing with the Red Brands. Finding out about the group, going around town and finally storming their hideout was not only fun, but also a break from the action that dominates most of the beginning.

On a bad note I didn't always understand decisions, such as why the final boss is so poorly designed. Also, it's a shame we're still dealing with the old wandering monster/random encounter table, now that there is so little reason to use it anymore. I touched upon this in a previous post, but it seemed kind of contrived.

The ruins of Thundertree was a bit of a low for me. Perhaps because my players were afraid of the dragon and avoided it, or that I really hate pointless encounters that pretty much say “But you need these XP's”. While most of the encounters in the adventure seem relevant and challenging, the walking flowers and zombies were more or less just speed bumps at this time, and the inclusion of the cult of the dragon seemed kind of off.

(Artwork from the adventure)
As a player, I'd likely whine about the challenge of some of the encounters. King Clarg, the Hobgoblins of Cragmaw, the Flame Skull and the Spectator and dragon are all quite lethal in their own rights, and often they're encountered in places where they can easily have backup if the players don't play it smart. You may need to try and get a good impression of the general level of your players and compare it to some of these, if you find party deaths and wipes annoying.

This is also worth noticing, if you're going to GM this adventure. There really aren't any ways to bring back dead characters in this adventure. I shoehorned in a couple of them, because I hate it when people start bringing in new characters all the time and it takes up time. But with things being so hard at times, you may want people to roll up, say two or three characters from the start and bring in.

I recommend you read through the story and then just go along with it. Experienced GM's should have very little difficulty running this module; perhaps even feeling a bit too coddled seeing as it's so politely written. As a newcomer (which is awesome!) simply lean back and follow the instructions. Decide how nice or cruel you want to be to your players in advance; there are plenty of opportunities for either. The adventure offers a lot of flexibility, so if you see anything you don't like you can usually change it or leave it out. The most important thing is they go from ambush-goblin caves-phandalin-manor dungeon-cragmaw castle-wave echo cave. Everything in between is up to you.

As for music, I mainly used the soundtrack from Divinity: Original Sin, but the one from Temple of Elemental Evil works great too. The Hommlet theme is great for Phandalin.

The verdict

Lost Mine of Phandelver is beyond doubt one of my favorite low-level-intro-adventures. It's smooth, interesting and offers clever opportunities a lot of the times. While the atmosphere may at times be lacking (which is why the first chapter of Carrion Crown is still my all time favorite) you get so much stuff for a rather limited price.

It's no secret that I absolutely LOVE D&D 5th edition so far, and if you're curious to get into it, rush out right now and buy this adventure with some friends. You won't regret it. Unless a bug bear one-shots you, but hey!

With this great result in mind, we're definitely looking forward to kick the dragon cultists' collective ass very soon!

Thanks for reading along.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 5 – "Storming the Castle"

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 5 – "Storming the Castle"

We return once more to the wonderland that is the Forgotten Realms and the fantastic journey that is the Lost Mine of Phandelver. When we left the heroes, they were heading for the ruined town of Thundertree along with their newest ally, the dragonborn Oxyzeron. Hoping to seek counsel from the wise old druid, Reidoth, the heroes were eager to get on with their quest and rescue Gundren from Castle Cragmaw. Once they found it, that is.

As usual, the party consisted of Delvin the dwarven fighter, Father Fireforge the dwarven cleric, Oxyzeron the dragonborn warlock, Barian the elven wizard and Professor Grim, the human rogue. The heroes were all 4th level by the time. As usual, GM-comments are in blue.


The heroes arrived in the old ruins of Thundertree after a long journey through the forest, luckily no interruptions from wandering monsters (as I mentioned in the previous post, I'm not a huge fan of those wandering monsters, so I may have forgot to roll from time to time...)
There was very little to see here, except for some crumbled old houses that witnessed of a town that once stood here. But by now, vines and the sign of times weighed heavily upon them. The heroes set off down the path to look closer, but were quickly ambushed by moans and the sounds of moving plants (don't ask me how...) as Ash-Zombies (yes, there were still people giggling the fourth time I spoke out this name) and animated plants crawled out to get them.

None of them were of much resistance to the heroes, and they soon after found Reidoth's house. The old druid bid them welcome and told them of recent trouble in the ruins; he'd not only witnessed the undead rising of late, but also cultists that were skulking around in the south-east and a green dragon that had settled down in the tower to the north. Asking the heroes to look into this, he promised he would reveal the location of the lost Wave Echo Cave to them. So they set out.

The heroes parleyed quickly with the green dragon, who was mildly amused by their presence. It promised them it would leave their pathetic hides alive, if they'd go and take care of the cultists in the south. So they headed down to the small building, kicked in the door, dragged out the cultists and slew them all. (This was surprisingly quick, they barely had time to realize they were cultists from the Cult of the Dragon. )

Reporting back to Reidoth, they learned of the location of the cave, even though the druid was somewhat saddened that they dared not take care of the dragon. But hey, they made him the glorious promise that they would return if he ever needed help with it. (Which would be, right about now...)

"Dear heroes! A dragon is in our town!!"
 And thus they headed out to rescue Gundren from Castle Cragmaw!

(They stay in Thundertree was really short and it's probably my least favorite part of the adventure. The encounters here a mainly very easy and well below the expected powers of the players. Mind you, I ran this with five people so that's likely the core of it. There are a few places to see in the ruins, but most of them are ruins and not that exciting unless you're into that sort of thing. The cult seems strangely shoehorned in; perhaps it's a prelude to the Hoard of the Dragon Queen? Either way, my heroes didn't get the jump on the dragon, which was kind of sad, because it seems like a huge challenge. As written, the heroes only have to shave half of its hit points before it flees, but before that they're looking down for some serious pain. We're looking at 6D6+12+2d10 points of damage if all of its +7 attacks hit in a round, and add a snap of breath attacks to that for 12D6? Ouch.)

Castle Crashing

The journey to Castle Cragmaw wasn't long, and the heroes knew very little of it. They knew that King Grol kept their friend as a prisoner, and that he had a fondness for strange beasts.
Coming up on the castle, it was around midday and even in its fallen state, it was a grand sight to behold in the midst of the forest, with all its spires and surrounding, empty moat. A small set of stairs led up to the main entrance, along with several arrow slits keeping watch along the edges.

Taking their time to inspect it, the heroes noticed that from time to time, a goblin would peer out from the slit and then return to his duty. The front entrance seemed like a bad idea, so they took the long route around to scout. Remaining in the safety of the undergrowth, they noticed a small staircase at the side of the castle, leading up to a small door. So they decided to take the opportunity, sent Delvin jumping over the moat with a rope, followed by the rest. The mighty Oxyzeron, however, tried to brachiate his way across, but the weight of the proud beast sent him falling.

Which pretty much describes the main battle shout whenever my heroes try anything involving climbing...

At that time they heard the sound of arguing goblins coming from one of the slits; it sounded as if quite a gathering of them were inside and they were busy cleaning up, cooking and arguing among themselves. Holding their breath, the heroes saw them drop some old dish washing water from the edge, splashing the dragonborn, who managed to hold a wrathful roar inside. Eventually, they made their way up to the door and prepared themselves.

They're coming outta goddamned walls!

They snug inside and entered an almost collapsed corridor with a couple of doors and fallen walls. They heard the sound of arguing goblins to the south and some grumpy voices behind the door to the north. Deciding they might as well get into trouble sooner or later, the heroes bashed in the door to the south and took the goblins by surprise. (They'd worked so hard for this so they kind of deserved it). The small green men screamed but didn't have a chance to take up arms, before the savage adventurers stormed in and started slaughtering left and right. They barely noticed that this seemed like the official dining hall, and a large goblin cook was about to give orders.

Adventurers always have a great time with goblins
 Two of the goblins ran away, screaming for help, and soon, yells of “Forward march!” ecchoed from the south and north. Hobgoblins were advancing from both sides, and the party had split their attention, with Delvin and the Professor keeping watch in one end of the room, while Oxyzeron, Fireforge and Barian were advancing to the south. As five hobgoblins advanced on them, the goblins rallied behind them and took up bows to fire volleys on the unfortunate adventurers. Delvin and the Professor managed to slay the two hobgoblins to the north without much hazzle. The remaining three to the south went on a rampage, however, and sliced through Oxyzeron, continued to main Father Fireforge and were barely halted as Delvin and the Professor moved inside the room. Delvin did his best to taunt them off, but seeing how the squishy rogue was a better target, the hob's went for him and inflicted a death save on him.
And sadly, on the following turn, he rolled a 1 to stabilize.

(The hobgoblins are likely some of the most lethal non-boss minions in the adventure. With an AC of 18 and their +2D8 damage bonus on a successful strike, these guys can make short work of most adventurers. I imagine that a party needs to be very stealthy during this approach, if they don't want to do the mass pull my players did. The adventure itself suggests infiltration as mercenaries, which was an option I was surprised my players didn't consider. Either way, they made their way pass and took the combaty solution. I was surprised there weren't anymore casualties.)

The heroes made a tactical retreat out of the castle to take a short rest in the forest. They dragged along the Professor and discussed what to do, seeing as the road back was long. So they decided to press the advantage and return to the castle.

(The adventure comes up with some good suggestions if the heroes retreat. I made sure that the patrol and the captain of the guard would return; a hobgoblin with his wolves and soldiers, and they found the carnage, released the owlbear and hit in the old storeroom so they could ambush the heroes. They removed the bodies of the fallen goblins and made a false trail of blood to a trapped door, waiting for the heroes to release it.)

And so they did...

The heroes immediately found the trail of blood and were puzzled by who could've moved the bodies (they also realized they'd forgot to loot them in the first place trololol). They noticed a trail of blood leading up to one of the main doors of the keep and decided to follow it. Which resulted in a collapsing ceiling the moment they pulled open the door...

 (I love this trap. It's so annoying.)

By then they heard the all too familiar sound of an approaching owlbear, and it was pissed. It charged the crushed heroes and whacked Father Fireforge unconscious. Perhaps the heroes' dice were furious, but they smashed the owlbear quickly.

Grumbling and mumbling, the heroes took the long way around from the smashed ceiling, still broken and battered, and returned to the main hallway. They noticed a small corridor, that someone had attempted to block with an old linen-sheet and naturally decided to enter. An old store room was on the other side, containing several crates and casks with vine, along with a wide crack to the exterior of the castle. This too was camouflaged by an old grey blanket, so the heroes decided to take their time and investigate. Unfortunately, none of their passive perceptions were good enough to notice the hiding hobgoblins and their wolves. Surprise round!

The heroes were down one man for this fight, but the use of Crowd Control was impressive. Opening with an Arms of Hadar (which I always name Arms of Hodor, just because) the beasts were fiercely battered by dark tentacles from below, and even though they'd gotten the drop on the heroes, they rolled really poorly on their attacks. With a fairy fire on top to tip the scales, the heroes began slaughtering and followed through with the warlock's fairy presence, two of the hobgoblins were sent running in terror. In the third round, the goblin cleric and his Grick entered the fight. At this time, however, things were very well under control, and the goblin soon fell to a Sleep spell and after some battering, the Grick was slain by a Witch Bolt. Final Fantasy victory fanfare.

 (This was another huge pull, one I didn't expect the heroes to survive, yet, they managed to surprise me. Most of these people are veteran players who know their way around D&D ever since the AD&D 2nd ed times, and making the most of crowd control is imperative. As mentioned; both Fairy Fire and Sleep are very powerful controller and debuffers early on and can really make or break the difference against those AC 18 mobs.)


Searching the corpses this time, the heroes found some spoils of war, and among them a scroll to bring back life to the poor Professor. The heroes had it with this motherfucking dungeon, so they went to the nearest biggest door and kept at it till they finally crashed into the throne room of King Grol. He was, needless to say, happy to see them and kept his growling dire wolf close as he spoke. He taunted the heroes for their lack of disrespect and butchering his forces. However, he was a kind king and he would grant them mercy, if only they would trade for the life of their comrade, Gundren. The king pointed to the unconscious dwarf in the corner, who seemed to have lost a lot of blood. There was a bit of haggling between the two parties, but in the end the stubborn adventurers insisted they would take Gundren and leave this place, perhaps being merciful and sparing the foul-smelling king. Grol met this with a roar and hurled himself at them, unleashing his direwolf to join in on the fight.
Steel clashed against steel, and in the midst, suddenly the injured Gundren jumped up and with amazing speed ran towards the nearest adventurer, stabbing him in the chest for immense damage. The dwarf giggled like a maniac and the heroes realized this wasn't Gundren. His face warped and changed, and the tide of battled shifted for quite some rounds, before Delvin split the wolf's head in two, and the fairy fired Grol met his doom to a spiritual weapon.

(Grol doesn't seem like such a hard fight, all in all. He's pretty much an ordinary bugbear. If you want to make him a tad bit more dangerous, however, I had an idea later. If the heroes make the hit-and-run too much in the castle, only to retreat back into the forest, allow the roaming patrol the adventure mentions to return back to the castle and let Grol and his captain go on a hunting trip. They aren't specialists at stealth, yet it's entirely possible that Grol, the wolves and perhaps some goblins can sneak up on the characters and get in a very nasty surprise round. Buggies strike very hard on their surprise, and Grol would really seem like the kind of guy who'd take pleasure in doing that!
Besides from that, Cragmaw is not an easy place to. It's on the borderlands where the heroes are not as squishy as right off the bat, yet there are some menacing creatures that can and will likely challenge them a whole lot. If you run this with only four people, I imagine it will be a somewhat hard time, seeing as my five players struggled a bit along the way.)

The heroes recuperated and searched the throne room. They found some treasure and a hidden door, that lead to an old prison in which the battered and tortured Gundren was kept. He was missing several fingers and toes, struck with disease and couldn't tell reality from fantasy. So they decided to get the hell out of there and head back towards Phandalin.

And they knew that now waited only one thing. The journey towards the Wave Echo Cave, and the final confrontation with The Spider...

To be continued in the final chapter: “The spider!”

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 4 – Dovahkiins and Owlbears

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 4 – Dovahkiins and Owlbears

Greetings and salutations; welcome to another round of heroic deeds and misfortune as we proceed to the fourth chapter of "Lost Mine of Phandelver" along with the introduction of the newest addition to the group. It's a sad fact, that all good things must come to an end, an recently we had to say goodbye to one of our veteran players, whose time had come to move on in Life (namely to Greenland, which leaves surprisingly little room for gaming). But it's a great fact that all things come to an end, just to leave room for what is new, which in this case turned out to be Jakob, our newest player and prospect, who entered the group on a trial and rolled up Oxyzeron; the dragonborn warlock of the Fey. So the adventure went on along with Delvin, the dwarven fighter, Professor Grim, the human rogue, Barian the elven wizard and Father Fireforge, the dwarven cleric.

The heroes were level 3. As always, GM-comments are in blue.

Tipping the scales...

When we left the heroes, they had mercilessly slaughtered the orcs, some miles east of the small mining town of Phandalin. Making sure no greenskin would survive, they set out to explore the cave and exterminate whatever stragglers. They were surprised to find a lone goblin, busy torturing and keeping a strange, scaly beast busy, hanging in a wicker cage from the ceiling. The professor and Barian immediately recognized this as a dragonborn; a mighty being born from a love-mixture between a human and a green dragon, who was now watching the small goblin with loathe. Quickly establishing their common hate for the green menace, the heroes broke the creature out from the cage and established a warm and fluffy bond by butchering the green, little critter.

The beast introduced itself as Oxyzeron, apprentice of Reidoth – the druid of Thundertree. The heroes had heard of this noble person in Phandalin (they actually remembered this by their own; I suppose miracles do happen) and Oxyzeron explained that he'd been sent out to slay the greenskins by his master, about a month ago. Sadly, he failed in this task and had been kept prisoner ever since, now owing his life to the heroes. They decided to join forces on this task, and the dragonborn swore to escort them on their remaining tasks, provided they would later return to Thundertree with news to his master.

(I know, I know, I could've come up with something more creative, but this seemed to work, and besides; we wanted to play this adventure and not deviate too much from the central plot. I know I already made a few modifications as it was, and this time I just wanted him to join the party as quickly as possible. I've watched a couple of streams and sessions of other GM's, who have waited more than an hour to introduce a new player into the group, even though he's right there at the table, just because they had a very specific plan for his or her entry. I believe that's about the absolute drudge.)


The heroes took a long rest throughout the afternoon and set out towards their next destination; the resting place of the spirit Agatha, hoping to flatter her and acquire her magical tome for the priestess Garaele in Phandalin.

As they were marching through the forest, along a wide river, they were watching the stars and listening to the gentle stream. The professor and Barian had been asking questions to their newest companions about his origin and the powers of the fey. They quickly deduced from his information that he possessed the powers of warlock, but before their inquiry continued, they heard the strange, high-pitched sound of “Ulululu” from somewhere nearby...

The professor recognized this sound. It was the sound of two owlbears going through rut.
The party quickly made formation to investigate, and it didn't take them long to notice that the beasts were trying to sneak up on them through the bushes. (Owlbears and stealth, I'm not sure why I even tried...) So it made for little surprise, as the beasts savagely tore through the briars and hurled themselves at the party.

As the battle broke out, the heroes went well on the initiative, and bloodied one of the owlbears. It hooted loudly and started bashing skulls around it, inflicting severe pain with a follow-up from its companion, sending Father Fireforge down for the count. The remaining dwarf, Delvin roared at the monstrosities and taunted their attention. Deflecting their blows with his shield, Barian faerie fired them and soon after a couple of sneak attacks and eldritch blasts, the beasts went down without a fuss. 

(I sort of think this was a logical continuation of the bad dice luck all my baddies had during this entire adventure. For some reason, the minions would roll really well, and often crits, but whenever something big came around, I was kind of lucky to roll a 12 or above on the dice. On another note; it's not possible to meet two owlbears in this setup, as per written in the adventure. Which brings me to another strange point in D&D 5th edition – why did it even include random encounters? It seems like something that was absolutely just shoehorned in for no apparent reason rather than XP-grinding. Back in the days it was a powerful tool of sorts to slowly tear at the group's resources, but seeing that so many features recharge in 5th – I kind of fail to see the point. The heroes regain all hit points, spells and even some magical charges for every day. If I could suggest anything, it would instead be a table with some minor, interesting encounters. Someone at a D&D site I read made a similar suggestion. For example; the party finds an abandoned child near the road. They encounter a merchant whose wagon is busted, who is in secret escorting illegal goods. A random piece of equipment is stolen during the night and the thief rests nearby or is discovered in the act. They meet a mad preacher of a dark / strange religion on the road, can he help them or will they challenge him? - These are just ideas from the top of my head, along with the horny owlbears. It could be kind of interesting to expand upon this notion.)

Wanting little to do with the till-now-enarmorous beasts, the heroes continued their trek and a couple of hours later found the old trail, leading further into the darker part of the forest.

That banshee is a real screamer...

The heroes encountered a small clearing in the forest, containing ruins that witnessed of a grand structure that once stood here. There, in the clearing, they noticed a ghostly spirit hovering above the ground, with long, white hair gently wavering in an ethereal breeze. Father Fireforge recognized this creature as a banshee.
(I love how 5th edition entirely breaks with one of the oldest conventions, and remakes the usually terrifying banshee into a lowly CR 4 monster. The reaction on people's faces, when they are confronted with such a creature at a low level is priceless and certainly something that will put some humility on the table. Notice, however, that Lost Mine doesn't include any stats for banshees, so unless you have the expanded notes from Wizards, the heroes aren't really supposed to fight her.)

Players ruling that undead-diplomacy-shit!
 The heroes bowed and introduced themselves to the spirit. Agatha greeted them and asked for their purpose with a sneer, so they quickly presented her the gift and made their case. They showed her great politeness and flattery, and with an advantage persuasion, the banshee saw their point of view and agreed to answer them one question. (I really hoped someone would reply 'What, any question?' just to let her say 'Yes' and disappear, but ah well... The heroes can actually ask for a lot of things and learn about various locations, if they don't give a damn about the old tome).

Asking for the tome, the banshee thought for some while, but then remembered and told them that a red wizard had taken it from her and journeyed south. With that in mind, the heroes immediately set out to deal with him. 
(This is likely where I deviated the most from the original adventure. As written, the heroes simply get an answer from Agatha, stating that the tome is long gone and the priestess will be all happy about that. But it seems like such a...stupid dead end. So I decided to let the wizard have it, to tie endings a bit more together).

Red wizard needs food

They arrived late at night at the old ruins, in which stood only a half tower that had long ago nearly collapsed to the ground. There, in the midst, was a small tent with a lantern apparently lit. Not knowing how to approach, Delvin drank a potion of invisibility and set out with a sneak, nearing the tent and saw a red wizard with a tattooed face, concentrating on his books. One of them was an old leathery tome, very similar to the one they were hunting. On his way back, Delvin couldn't help but notice an old, mummified hand sticking out from the ground – it certainly didn't bode well.

They decided to make short work of it, and all sneak up to the tent and knock him out through the linen. (One of my players came up with the interesting question; if a wizard is all covered up in a fallen tent, do you have line of sight to him?) Sadly, the stealth rolls weren't all that great at the time, and both Oxyzeron and Father Fireforge accidentally kicked loose some rubble that made a lot of noise. Before they knew, a commanding shout echoed through the night, and moans and grasping hands rose from the ground. The zombies were upon them.

(I LOVE ZOMBIES IN 5th! They are so much fun, especially to low level adventurers who don't have the required damage bursts or radiant artillery to deal with their resilience.)

12 zombies surrounded them and the heroes gathered up in defensive formation. At the same time, the red wizard emerged from his tent and screamed at them for interrupting his sanctum.
The heroes started slashing some rotten flesh, but the time to shine was from Father Fireforge, who boldly raised his holy symbol and invoked the power of Oghma; commanding the restless dead to flee. Nine out of 12 zombies turned tail and ran. (Again, turn undead is no feature to be trifled with!)

Clerics - Good as ever.
Being no further use to the wizard, he decided to lighten things up a bit and hurled a fireball at the group (Yes, another deviation, originally this mage is much weaker in the written adventure. I decided to test out the true potential of a level 5 spell caster, and what an effect!) - blowing up rotting flesh and adventurers alike, the wizard taunted them and laughed with manic glee, before Delvin made a direct charge at him, followed closely by the professor. The wizard sneered and unleashed a lightning bolt at Delvin, Fireforge and Oxyzeron, who'd foolishly lined themselves up for a perfect zap. The cleric and the dragonborn went down for the count, and just as the wizard was about to turn his attention to the remaining dwarf, a critical hit planted the fighter's axe right between his eyes. With a sigh, he dropped dead.

The heroes searched the wizard's tent and found the old tome along with a magical ring of protection +1. Inspecting the tome even closer, they realized that reading it would grant whoever did so a permanent stat-increase! (Again, this was my initiative. As said, the tome isn't even there in the original story. I may have overdone it a bit, however, with the power of the tome, but that's that. I'm not even sure tomes will exist in 5th, seeing how the stats all have a hard cap).

They decided to head back to Phandalin, and after some days they arrived back at the small town. People were once again greeting their heroes, and they made way for the shrine to bargain with sister Garaele; thinking that they had earned their just reward more than enough. Not knowing whether to read the tome or to hold up their end of the bargain, the heroes attempted to haggle with the harper priestess, who admitted the tome was indeed worth a lot. She couldn't, however, pay them much gold besides whatever she had in the coffins along with a necklace. She even offered them a membership of the Harpers, which the heroes refused. In the end, the priestess scowled them and said they could do whatever they wanted, but it would put them in a bad standing with the shrine. Giving in to such a threat, the heroes handed over the tome and went on their way towards the ruined city of Thundertree, hoping to find Reidoth and whatever information he could divulge.

To be continued in “Storming the castle!”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 3 – Orcs!

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 3 – Orcs!

Hey, everyone! We're back, albeit for a short update on the third session of the ever truly epic campaign of D&D 5th edition – The Lost Mines of Phandelver. When we left the heroes, they had shattered the iron grip of the Redbands and released the small town of Phandalin for its troublesome oppression. In a desperate search for their ally, Gundren Rockseeker, the heroes had managed to discern the location of Castle Crawmaw where the dwarf, if the saying was true, was held prisoner. Having just slain the leader of the Redbrands, the renegade wizard known as Glass Staff, the heroes were about to explore the remaining part of the hideout.

The heroes were still Delvin the dwarven warrior, Father Fireforge the dwarven cleric of Oghma, Barian the elven wizard, and Professor Grim, the academic human rogue. All of them were third level.
As usual, GM comments are in blue.

Leaving no stone unturned

Having slain Glass Staff and his thugs, the heroes decided to head out for the remaining corridor, which eventually led them to a basement landing in which rested a large cistern and some old barrels. The calm water lulling them into a safe feeling, they began investigating the room, for now ignoring the door and the stairs leading up. They were, anyway, quite certain that they had now found the main entrance to the compound, which would hopefully lead them back outside once they were done. Delvin took a swim in the cistern and found an old leather sack with a strongbox inside.
Isildur using 5th. ed. swim rules
 (This actually had me wonder about another of those little details D&D 5th seems to flush; swimming in armor apparently has little to no effect, meaning we're back at the game in which full plate swimmers are a perfectly viable thing. Ah well, it worked so well in a chain mail during The Two Tower...)

The party battered it up, not thinking about the amount of noise they made, so they were soon jumped by the door opening up and two Redbrands firing arrows at them from across the room. They then retreated back into cover and before the party had time to formulate a strategy, Professor Grim moved up and hurled a bunch of marbles across the entrance. (Why, we were never really sure)
Seeing how the Redbrands were perfectly fine with staying at a distance, making ranged attacks at the heroes, the good guys had to make their move across the ad hoc barricade of the ruffians and dangerous floor of marbles. This sadly meant that the poor Barian suffered the misfortune of bad balance and was hurled to the floor in best comic relief style.

The professor likely had some idea with those marbles...
 Eventually, Delvin and the nimble professor made their way across and killed the troublemakers, rejoicing and finally breaking open the lock box for some gold and a potion of invisibility.

Taking no prisoners but the prisoners
They discovered a hidden door in the cistern-room and journeyed north, behind of which they found two additional doors. Behind one of them they heard the low sound of dice being hurled and some rattling of chains. (I did take some liberties in this dungeon design, I made the crypt-part kind of like a side area because I still found it to be extremely weird and out of context that a random burial chamber with animated skeletons would be part of an aspiring hive of scum and villainry. So here, it was sort of an area the cloaks were afraid of and had more or less just sealed off). Things went as things went, and the heroes kicked down the door with some good stealth checks, blowing down the ruffians before they had much time to act.

They found the woodworker's wife and children chained up in there, and reassured them everything would be okay, that they just had to check one more room before escorting them out. (One time in my campaign world, NPC's will evolve to recognize adventurers saying this as 'Get the hell out of here!!') - the crying woman was ever thankful and told them that while she couldn't pay them anything worth value, she'd recommend checking out the old herbalist store if they would ever visit the ruined town of Thundertree. There they would find a lost emerald necklace, lost by her family when it fled ages ago. So the heroes thanked her and set out to explore the remaining door, which sadly meant almost falling into another trap.

The last door was old and barred up, so it took some energy gaining entrance. On the other side was a small burial chamber with sarcophagi that practically screamed of nothing to be disturbed. Of course the heroes brashly marched into the room and beheld three skeletons animate from their slumber and shamble towards them.

 (This room is quite trivial at best, since at this time the heroes will have plenty of power against the ordinary skellies. So I decided to throw in a wrench and add a little extra challenge. Usually, the wraith is reserved for Phandelver Mine itself, but I thought a little early confrontation couldn't harm, am I right? I ought to add that I have a very hard time sticking fiercely to an adventure as it's written – I need to make improvements and play around with the system, especially if it's new. The heroes had, with only minor exceptions, been doing really well in encounters up till now, and at this time, WotC hadn't released the official encounter building guide, so hey!)

This was also the first opportunity to test out the new Turn Undead-rules, regarding channeling. It worked quite well, sending all three skeletons running at the first attempt (this ability has become a powerhouse, as far as I see it, against the minor undead who often have very bad will saves, and since it pretty much hurls them out of the fight for as long as the party wishes, all the more glory to an ability that was more or less meh for a long time in Pathfinder)

As the third skeleton fell, an eerie laughter echoed A dark shade appeared before them and hungered for the magical life power they possessed. In blind rage it set upon them, going for the poor wizard Barian and scored a critical hit, pretty much one-shotting him. He luckily made his CON save, and it disappeared into the wall. (There are some serious grey areas regarding to incorporeal monsters, I believe, seeing how extremely mobile they've become by the new system. As such, there is no formal statement about what they can see if they stay inside a wall and occasionally glimpse out to attack. Compared to Pathfinder, they are also able to end their turn in solid material now, meaning they take some minor damage. This really made me wonder about the possibilities of, say, having an incorporeal monster pretty much remain in the floor and reach up to attack during its turns; would it have cover? Would it strike blindly with disadvantage? It borders the line of cheesing, but since players, afaik, can also achieve this effect, it may be something that ought to be discussed in groups.)

Fighting incorporeal monsters, pretty much in a nutshell...

The wife and kids started screaming when they saw the Wraith and ran away, yelling. The rest of the party mobilized and got out their one and only magical weapon to take the fight to the wraith. Delvin and the Professor delivered some nasty cuts, which were apparently enough that the apparition didn't manage to hit anything for two turns in a row. Poor Barian, however, failed his first death save and on the subsequent turn rolled a natural one. Meaning, you guessed it;

The party eventually downed the wraith through a lot of healing and good rolling, and with big grief returned to town with the dead wizard. The townspeople were cheering and happy, rejoicing and celebrating once news reached their ears. They even prepared for a great welcoming committee, flags and everything as the party marched into tow, but sadly Father Fireforge was in a very foul mood and told them all to shut up and move aside.
Which kind of put a damper on the otherwise great atmosphere...

Life (and death) of the party!

The heroes went to the Shrine of Luck, hoping Sister Garaele would be able to help them restoring their slain companion to life, meanwhile addressing Sildar Hallwinter, who weren't exactly pleased to hear they had slain Glass Staff instead of taking him into custody. Eventually he gave up and asked for all the former wizard's belongings, including his staff, which were to be returned to the alliance. It took some sweet talking by Delvin to convince the lord, but eventually he acquiesced and allowed them to keep the item till Gundren was found. (This isn't part of the adventure, but no harm in letting the heroes work a bit for their overpowered items, right?)

Sister Garaele offered to help the heroes for a meager sum of 500 gold, placing the dead elf in the small shrine and started chanting to the goddess to bless him with luck in this life once more. Which was kind of ironic, seeing how it was pure bad luck that killed him off in the first place...

(Now, I know a lot of you out there are screaming at me with errata, pointing out that Sister Garaele is nowhere near capable of such a feat as raising the dead. And you're right, not as it's written in the adventure. But allow me to sum it up like this; I play D&D once a week, and while this can be considered much by several standards, we only game for about five hours. And one thing I obviously don't want to spend time on, is narrating how the party returns all the way to Neverwinter to achieve what might as well be done on the spot. Another thing I really hate, is the party waiting for someone to roll up a new character, especially since he has so few options available and would likely make a wizard very similar to this one. I understand that this system makes Sister Garaele much more powerful than intended, but if this is something that bothers people, one could simply assume she has a scroll hidden somewhere. Or, to put it short, death is a punishment, a setback, not a game-stopper. Feel free to disagree.)

Barian returned to life, not so thankfully and made some rather sinister remarks to his party how he would never return the favor to them and thus wandered off. The heroes decided it was a night to celebrate at the Stonehill Inn, which resulted in a grand night of drinking between the dwarves, the professor seducing the tavern owner's daughter and Barian going to bed with a headache of resurrection sickness (which in D&D 5th has been reduced to a -4 penalty to all rolls, reduced by 1 for each long rest. Much more forgiving, indeed).

Drinking contests; now, I simply used the old reliable system for a DC 5 CON check, which progressively scaled for each drink, allowing the sturdy dwarves an advantage on their saves all along. As it should be. Not all that shit with dwarves going under before the elves, no way. 

And thus, the brave heroes went to bed.

Let's hunt some orc!

The heroes set out the next day; now aware of the location of Cragmaw Castle. However, being curious and severely attention-challenged (they're my players after all, who spent half a year in Skull and Shackles simply side questing) they thought it wise to grind and explore the local area a bit, before heading off to storm the castle. They contemplated on whether to go an confront the spirit, Agatha, for the book for Sister Garaele, or hunt down the orcs not far from Old Owl Well and Wyvern Tor. The heroes decided to settle to the latter.

The lair of the orcs was located within a small forest placed close to the rocky cliffs, some days' journey east of Phandalin. As the heroes approached it, they noticed a lone orc being on watch duty. It hadn't spotted them yet. So Barian hurled a sleep spell at it, unfortunately not rolling high enough to tranquilize it, meaning the orc rolled an 18 on it's perception check and yelled for an alarm.
Soon after, the hills were alive and swarming with orcs. And, a thundering, crashing sound as an obese ogre came crushing out of the cave with a loud roar of “ME SMASH!”

(This encounter is deadly at its full brunt. The ogre can hit like truck and orcs have become extremely mobile, thanks to their free move action towards the nearest target. Don't be surprised if this encounter truly tests your heroes!)

The brave adventurer in his natural environment
 The orcs advanced swiftly on the heroes, and the professor ran and hid amidst the trees, while Barian took cover, leaving the two dwarves to fend for themselves. It wasn't a bad plan, though, as soon after a Web spell between the trees caught three orcs and the ogre, leaving them struggling for two turns, while the professor jumped out from his hideout and stabbed two of the orcs to death. While both Delvin and Fireforge came dangerously close to the dreaded 0 hit points (Father Fireforge ending up at 1...) the heroes were victorious and collapsed with battle fatigue, inspecting the sinister orc cave before them...

And what they found in there will be revealed in the next chapter “Dovahkiins and Owlbears

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 2 – A New Sheriff in Town

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 2 – A New Sheriff in Town

The last times we left the heroes, they were departing from the slaugther that was the Cragmaw hideout. With the goblins and their chieftain Klarg slain, the party rescued their companion, Sildar Hallwinter, from the vile green clutches and set out for the small mining-town of Phandalin. Hoping to find any possible lead that could bring them closer to the infamous Cragmaw Castle and thus their adbucted friend, Gundren Rockseeker, the heroes took to the road. They knew the stakes were suddenly much higher, seeing how a shadowy figure known as "The Black Spider" had apparently pulled the goblin-strings all along, making sure they would strike against the unfortunate dwarf and bring back his map to the lost mines of Phandelver. Thus, it was a race against time, and the heroes didn't want to be late.

(At this time, the party still consisted of Delvin the dwarven fighter, Barian the elven wizard, Professor Grim the human rogue, and Father Fireforge the dwarven cleric. At this time the party had dinged level 2, as prescribed by the adventure. And as always, GM comments are in blue.)

After some much needed rest on the road, Sildar told the heroes that he and Gundren were jumped on their way to town. The goblins had sent Gundren off to Castle Cragmaw along with the map leading to the mythical lost mines of Phandelver, and how their only hope was to seek help in Phandalin.
When asked about his personal mission, Sildar explained that he was on a mission for the Lord's Alliance, seeking an old friend and mage who, a couple of months ago, set out for Phandalin in order to investigate some trouble there. Alas, his friend with the nickname "Glass Staff" hadn't been heard from in weeks, which was concerning from an otherwise prominent wizard. The heroes promised to keep an eye out for the missing diplomat in their journeys.

Phandalin – Kind of a one horse town, that probably died.

(Right off the bat, Phandalin can be quite an impression for new players, seeing how an otherwise one-directional adventure all of a sudden turns very open-wide and Skyrim'ish. The heroes pretty much arrive and are set loose upon several places to go, and more than a few offer quests in the nearby area. While more experienced players will likely just start writing a quest-log, mine certainly did, initiates to the road of adventure may benefit more from following Sildar's advice and just start out at the inn and make their way out. Phandalin is meant to be an experience in itself, so don't feel a need to rush, and instead concentrate on making the various locations memorable.)

Phandalin 101

After a couple of days, the heroes beheld a small settlement of buildings before them. While certainly not any random backwater town, they had the impression that this place was an echo of something much grander in the days past. Fields dotted the green landscape and lush forests encapsulated it like a sylvan forest wall with several small paths leading out into the nearby mountains. There was activity in the streets, as they arrived early in the day when townsfolk began their daily duties, most of them just glaring shortly, mumbling.

On their way into town, Sildar advised the heroes to formulate a strategy. Handing in the cargo at Barthen's Provisions would be a prudent start, also returning the goods to the Lionshield Coster for some gold to help things get started. Sildar would go to the local Stonehill Inn to acquire some rooms and wait for them there.

The heroes decided to head for the Lionshield Coster first. There they met an, initially, suspicious woman who kept a close hand on her sword till she realized the group came in peace and showed her the stolen crates with the logo of the Coster. She introduced herself as Linene Graywind and payed the heroes 50 gold for their trouble and they were allowed to resupply from her stocks. She also told them of the recent troubles with the Redbrands (notice, the official name is the Redbrands, but I went for the Redcloaks because...well, it sounds better. It's up to you, doesn't change a thing) that had started plaguing the town some months ago. They started as minor ruffians, young people out on a rampage, but suddenly things grew dire as they slaughtered the local woodworker and made off with his wife and two children. She was sad that the Townmaster didn't seem to give a rat's ass about the situation, but that was how the cookie crumbled these days. She didn't know of Cragmaw Castle, but suggested either talking to Mr. Edermath up at the orchard, who was a retired adventurer with solid knowledge of the area, or Misses Alderleaf who knew a druid in the area.

The adventurers thanked her and went to the Shrine of Luck, seeing how Professor Grim was a believer of Tymora.

The Shrine of Luck

On their way across the marketplace, the heroes noticed several young people wearing red cloaks, glaring at them with foul intentions. It was evident they weren't welcome.
In the shrine, they were greeted by Sister Garaele who was eager to meet fresh faces that weren't rushed out of town by the ruffians. She blessed them on their journey and told them she had indeed seen someone who matched Glass Staff's description some months ago, but she only knew he had stayed at the local Stonehill Inn. The shrine was most of all a small tent with some relics in it, so the sister couldn't offer much else besides good advice; she did, however, ask whether the heroes would be willing to run a small errand for her. A couple of days east of town was an abandoned clearing in which resided a ghostly apparition named Agatha. Apparently, Agatha knew about the location of a powerful magic tome that the priestess needed for the temple. She hadn't had much luck bartering with the spirit, so she handed the heroes a silver comb and asked them to present it to her, seeing she was a very vain spirit.
Being a true believer, the Professor agreed, and Barian, ever eager to seek out magic power, insisted they set out right away!

On the way out, the professor couldn't help but notice a small insignia attempted hidden on the priestess; one he recognized as the sign of the Harpers.
(For some reason I really like this location, it seems cozy and like a nice place)

Life on the halfing farm...
The heroes sought out Miss Alderleaf and her son, Carp. The halfling too was scared by the presence of the cloaks and yet managed to keep her field with only the occasional bribe-tax. She didn't know much about Glass Staff, but she did indeed recommend Reidoth the druid. “There's not an inch of these lands he doesn't know about!” she said and pointed them towards the old, ruined town of Thundertree to the north.
Before they left, they had a chance to talk to Carp, who had all the time seemed very strained when the heroes mentioned the redcloaks. He finally succumbed and told them that the other day, he'd been playing around at the old Tresendar Manor and saw some mean, big ugly bandit come out of a hidden tunnel and meet with some of the cloaks.

Hey, punks! This is our turf!
The remaining time in time was rather short spent, so we'll pass over that quickly. They went for a visit at the Stonehill Inn, in which they heard more dissatisfaction about the Townmaster and learned that Glass Staff had stayed there during his visit, yet his mysterious disappearance left much to curiosity. Heading to Barthen's Provisions, the heroes earned some more gold from the old shop keeper, before stepping back out into the streets.

There, four redcloaks were eagerly awaiting for them, one of them spitting into the ground while playing with his sword. “You've been here long enough, sissies...” he growled. “It's time for you to leave.”

You don't mess with the Redbrands
 Father Fireforge grumbled as the whole group drew arms and the fight broke out in the market place. The heroes smashed into the redcloaks and bashed out some of their teeth, while a well aimed Thunderwave sent several of them flying. It wasn't long till the ruffians lay dead and the cowering towns people crawled out from cover and started cheering madly.

(I admit I tried tuning up this battle, as I was kind of aware the heroes were getting into their stride by this point. Originally there are only three ruffians in this encounter, and what makes them kind of a big deal is that they have multistrike and hit for two attacks each. It doesn't take them long to down low armored targets, but to my delightfully surprise, the heroes did really well).

This triggered the righteous feeling of the heroes, who immediately went to the Townhall to confront the Town Master himself. He was immediately reduced to a quivering puddle of fear when he learned what the strangers were doing, terrified the cloaks would come for him next. The heroes managed to convince him that they were there to help and would bring back the head of the redcloak-leader soon, bolstering the cowardly man with some renewed hope. So much that he in fact told them that the local mining company had a bounty out on the leader's head, and he was looking for bold heroes to travel east and take care of an orc infestation in the mountains. The heroes vaguely accepted the offer, but all in due time. First, they had business to settle!

Red Bedding

Following Carp's directions, the heroes went to the old manor east of town and found the secret tunnel down. They also discovered the main entrance along the way, but decided to take the element of surprise. The secret descent led them deep into the cellar ruins, and they were prepared for things to go messy.

(There are a couple of things to know about this place, seeing how it constitutes the adventures' second dungeon. It's a tad bit bigger than the goblin warrens, yet features some nastier encounters along the way. I believe one of the finer lessons of this dungeon, is the importance of alertness. If the entire dungeon wakes up and starts flooding the heroes it almost inevitably will result in a bloodbath. On the other hand, the heroes are rewarded greatly for stealth and cunning and having done their homework. Being able to use the secret entrance is a huge advantage, and not going in guns blazing to every encounter can actually be a great idea. The adventure encourages you as a GM to reward players for acting as new recruits or even making friends with one of the monsters down here. So my point is, allow for creativity. As a bash-dungeon this is certainly not one of the worst, but why not try and make it a bit more interesting for yourself as well?

In my group, the players decided to go for utmost stealth, which turned out wonders. It may not be the most creative, but hey.)

Stealth. My players got it.

At first they landed in a big room with a huge chasm in it and and several passages leading away from it. Instead of running off like morons, they searched thoroughly and discovered a lot of debris down at the bottom of the pit. So they lowered Delvin the Warrior there with a rope and he began searching. It wasn't long, however, till a voice inside his head whispered “Interesting collection, is it not, little man?”

With a yell he sprang back and they all prepared, looking in amazement as a slim creature with a huge eye crawled out from behind the rocks. Its voice echoed in their minds even though they never saw the creature's mouth move. It told them not to be afraid and hear it out, presenting itself as the Nothic, a creature in service of the master of these halls. (I played out the Nothic as slightly childish and socially awkward. It was more playful and bored than downright sinister, seeing as after all it's in fact out to strike a deal with the heroes, if possible). They immediately began asking it questions, but the creature wanted to make a deal. For one hundred gold pieces, it would divulge every little bit of information about the halls. For an additional 20, it would tell them of a nearby secret. At this stage, that was a lot of gold, but the heroes found it useful to trust the creature and coughed up the dough.

The Nothic told the heroes that the leader of the cloaks was known as “Glass Staff” due to his favored weapon, which didn't really come as much of a surprise for them (they've seen so much of this shit before) and that he apparently took orders from someone known as The Spider (the SPIDER!!) - The ruffians were there to keep troublemakers out of town and had been granted the assistance of three bugbears. Yet, the cloaks by themselves had managed to do this just fine, so mostly the buggies sat in their own lair down the hall and passed time by beating up goblins. As for the master, his quarters were to the north-west, and could be accesed through a secret door in the wall to the north.

Seems like Pandaria did inspire 5th edition in some way?
So the heroes thanked the creatures and made their way into an old storage room and started searching. It wasn't long till they spotted the door and made their way through it, rolling up some very good stealth checks along the way. As they emerged on the other side, they saw a mage in silent contemplation, sitting at his desk with a staff of glass within reach. So the heroes ambushed him, and within one turn knocked him out cold and methodically started searching the rest of the dungeon.

(I'm curious as to how this battle would have turned out, had they faced the mage head on. He does pull his weight in a fight, with his nifty magical staff. While there is some uncertainty about its ruling, it potentially raises his armor class to 14, and on top of that comes his dexterity bonus. Throw in the possibility of using Shield with the staff, the mage is not to be trifled with, easily reaching an armor class of 19).

“I would have gotten away with it, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids and that mangy Wolf!”
They went south and soon heard turmoil from a nearby room, it sounded like loud, gruff voices laughing while slapping someone around in pain. Behind the door opposite of it, was the sound of some humans having fun, rolling dice.
The heroes kicked in the door and realized there were three bug bears behind it. Charging in on their surprise round, Barian, Delvin and Fireforge engaged the brutes, while the Professor barred the door behind them, hiding so he was ready for the cloaks.

The bugbears put up a decent fight, but with the solid damage in the surprise round and good initiative rolls, one of them fell quickly, whereas the others smashed the dwarven warrior solidly. Good use of second wind and healing words, however, kept him strong and soon they were pushing the beasts back in the small room. The ruffians had started kicking down the door in order to come to aid, but as soon as they started making their way in, the professor began stabbing them down from behind. It was a solid strategy that resulted in a solemn victory soon after, and wiping their blades clean, the heroes went back to interrogate Glass Staff.

“But I'm a man of wealth and taste?”
Glass Staff was woken up, quite roughly, and once again the heroes didn't waste any breath on unnecessary questions. The mage could only confirm what they already knew, adding to it that as a member of the Lord's Alliance, he'd been contacted by the Spider, a loathsome drow who had great ambitions for the lost mine of Phandelver. He'd promised the mage, that if only he'd keep adventurers away from Phandalin and manage the goblins, he'd make him wealthy and able to partake in the abundance of magic that flowed through the mine.

They beat him up a bit till he gave up and spilled the beans about Castle Cragmaw, revealing its location out in the forest to the north.

Glass Staff then remained polite and surrendered to the heroes, confident the Spider would break him out after he stood trial. With a smirk, he called on diplomatic immunity and asked to be handed over to the local authorities. At that point, Professor Grim stepped up and stabbed him through the neck.

And thus they took a well deserved rest, preparing to explore the rest of the dungeon and eventually hurl themselves at the myriad of side quests that awaited them.

Oh, and they also dinged Level 3!

To be continued in Chapter 3 - “ORCS!”