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.

3 comments:

  1. This DnD blog you have here is fantastic. Running my own Lost Mine Campaign with the family and I got quite a few ideas from reading what you did. As a new DM, this has been really helpful! Great job, keep up the good work!!

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