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!”

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