As you may be aware, I’ve started running through the new D&D 5th Edition starter set adventure: The Lost Mine of Phandelver. The first session was back on 6th August and the second is pencilled in for this evening, so I thought a quick synopsis of events was in order. These are the following brave heroes embarking upon this epic adventure:
- Marc is Sergeant Thorval ‘Sarge’ Hammerfast, dwarf, career soldier and steadfast cleric of Marthammor Duin.
- Neil is Joe, valiant warrior, bowman and would-be folk hero to his fellow humans of the north.
- James is Talrik Firebeard, dwarf and curious acolyte of Oghma as well as a full-time pyromaniac wizard.
- Jack is Birel Buckman, an elven warrior raised by the faithful of Waukeen.
The PCs are made up of a mixture of the pre-gens that came with the set, as well as original creations made using the Basic Rules. Jack couldn’t make it for the first session, so we were down to three player characters. I made no attempt to adjust the difficulty of any combats accordingly…
PART ONE: Goblin Arrows
During their residence in the city of Nerverwinter, the party came into contact with noted dwarven miner, merchant and entrepreneur Gundren Rockseeker. Together with his brothers Tharden and Nunro, Gundren had his podgy dwarven fingers in numerous schemes that he was convinced would make him exceedingly wealthy. Recently the party had come to suspect all of his efforts had finally born fruit. It was not that Gundren actually told any of them of his plans, but he was behaving in an increasingly exciting and erratic manner. He was dropping heavy hints about future glory, and tapping the side of his nose in a portentous manner.
Then, a few days ago, Gundren announced that he was riding to the obscure frontier town of Phandalin with an ageing knight called Sildar Hallwinter. Sildar is part of an organisation called the Lords Alliance – a group dedicated to keeping the northlands peaceful and safe for its inhabitants. His presence should have told the party that danger lay ahead. Gundren asked the party to follow him to Phandalin with a wagon laden with the supplies he would need. He told them to deliver the wagon to Barthen’s Provisions in Phandalin, where they would be rewarded with 10gp each for their trouble. Gundren was never anything short of generous.
And so it was the session began with the party of four slowly ambling through the wild lands with an oxen-pulled wagon, laden with the assorted paraphenalia that would be required for an extensive mining operation. Birel, who had eaten too much dwarven cheese from the wagon the first day out from the city, was lying in the back with severe stomach cramps. Eventually the group turned to the west, off the main road toward Waterdeep, and headed out along the little-used Triboar Trail that leads to Phandalin and the wilderlands beyond. It was half a day into this journey that all their troubles began.
The group spotted two shapes that could be horses lying in the road up ahead. While Joe held the wagon at a safe distance, Joe sneaked up the path to take a look. The shapes were indeed horses, and they were both peppered with arrows. Black arrows. Black goblin arrows. These were the horses belonging to Gundren and Sildar! Something terrible had obviously befallen them, at which point all hell broke loose.
A couple of vicious and toothful goblins leapt out at the pair of dwarves while a further two loosed arrows toward the wagon. Joe was forced to seek cover from the surprisingly accurate volley, but fortunately Sarge’s fighting arm was up to the task of dispatching the goblins close to him. Talrik enjoyed setting various bushes on fire.
Soon the enemies were dispatched, Sarge detonating the last fleeing goblin with his holy powers. Regrouping at the dead horses, the party now investigated the area more thoroughly. The saddlebags, along with anything of any value had been looted – with the exception of an empty ivory map tube. However, tracks were easy to find in the damp ground. Numerous goblins had been here and two objects (probably Gundren and Sildar) had been dragged away.
Choosing to believe that the dwarf and the knight were still alive, the group left Birel to mind the wagon and followed the tracks. They quickly plunged off the road and into a rough but well-worn trail that snaked away across the wilderness.After several hours, the trail came to run along the side of a fast moving stream. The party followed this route ascending into the foothills until they discovered that the scream was running from the mouth of a dark and ominous cave. On the far side of the stream (that was only about 10 feet wide), the path continued into the cave.
With uncharacteristic caution, Talrik sneaked across the stream and stumbled quickly into a goblin outpost. The two goblins there were quickly put to sleep by the wizard’s powerful magic, and then brutally done-in while they were snoozing. With the guards neutralised, the undetected party entered the cave complex.
The path continued to run up-hill along the right hand side of the stream and it twisted away into darkness. Sounds of snarls and yipping from an antechamber to the right did not move the party’s curiosity sufficiently enough to investigate. As they moved around the corner, the light from the entrance was cut off and Joe became effectively blind. However, he elected to allow himself to be guided by his dwarven companions rather than light a torch and give away his position to the hordes of goblins that were undoubtedly waiting in the shadows.
A little further on Sarge investigated a scrambleway on the opposite side of the stream that led up to a ledge and the to a higher level. However, the stonework looked unsafe to his trained dwarven eyes and he did not recommend traversing it.
The party continued, still undetected, beneath a rope bridge manned by an inattentive goblin sentry. Now the passage swept further to the right, and they could hear the sound of cascading water. Soon they entered a large chamber. The dwarves could see that the stream they had been following entered through a dark tunnel high up on the far side of the chamber. Two artificial pools had been created to catch the water. They were dammed with stones and it looked to the dwarves these stones could easily be knocked away to cause a torrent of water to fill the entrance cave, and presumably flush away any intruders. For that to work, the goblins must keep this room manned at all times.
Carefully climbing up into the chamber they saw the truth of this theory. Three goblin sentries with bows and swords. There were three exits from this chamber: the one through which the entered, an exit behind them that they assumed would ascend and lead back to the rope bridge, and another large exit on the far side of the chamber up rough hewn steps.Battle was soon joined, with Joe throwing down a magical pebble of light so he could see his enemies. Although the heroes were victorious, it was a difficult challenge for them, and they opted to rest in the chamber before moving on.
For one hour they tended to their wounds, and Talrik did his best to speed-read from his spellbook. All the while they could hear the sound of movement in the tunnel complex, and it seemed clear to them that they had been noticed. Toward the end of the hour, the sound of a large force of goblins heading toward them both up the river passage and along the rope bridge was evident. Not wishing to fight upwards of a dozen of the little bleeders, the trio quickly moved up toward the larger passage where they quickly ran into a massive bugbear and an equally massive wolf.
The bugbear announced that he was Klarg – King of all the Cragmaws – and proceeded to discuss his importance, strength and impending violent victory of over the party as he attacked them. The mange-ridden monstrosity was evidently a nutcase, but he was skill nutcase and with a goblin horde approaching from behind things were looking bleak. The wolf went for Joe who was bravely savaged by the beast. Talrik quietly singed the Bugbear king while Sarge (whose ability to cast spells was but a distant memory at this point in the afternoon) proceeded to go to town on him dwarf-style.
Miraculously, they managed to kill Klarg and the wolf just as the goblin horde emerged behind them. Slicing off Klarg’s head Sarge waved it around in an attempt to intimidate the rabble. They all seemed suitably awed except one beefy goblin who identified himself as Yeemik. He declared himself the new king and proceeded to trash-talk the party into surrendering.
Sensing that Yeemik may have the foul charisma required to rally the horde the party quickly fell upon him. Taking all the goblins (but particularly Yeemik) by surprise they quickly killed the would-be king. Utterly terrified, the remaining goblins – of which there were about a dozen – fled the cave complex by the most direct route and scrambled down to the stream to follow the path to safety.
Smiling broadly Sarge ambled over and knocked out the first of the dams. The sound of the raging waters and the death-gurgles of a dozen foul goblins would help him sleep soundly on those cold nights away from the stone.
With their enemies destroyed, the party turned their attention to finding their missing employer. Heading up the steps from which the bugbear king descended, the found a large chamber lit by the glowing embers of a fire pit. There were heaps of sacks boxes across the back of the room emblazoned with the image of a blue lion. Searching through them the party discovered a collection of dry goods, tools and linens. Hidden among the boxes was King Klarg’s secret treasure, stuffed into a battered and broken treasure chest onto which the bugbear had inexpertly carved “K L A R G”. Inside the chest was a heap of coins (600 copper pieces and 110 silver pieces when counted), two vials of a greenish liquid that were likely magical potions and a small jade statuette of a frog with tiny golden orbs for eyes.
With nothing else to find, the group double-backed and headed down a previously unexplored passage. Crossing the rickety rope bridge they entered the largest (and probably last) of the chambers in the complex. This was evidently the living area for the majority of the tribe and the smell of uncured meat, rancid flesh and various goblin secretions lay heavy in the air. There were no goblins here, but there was movement.
Up on a ledge toward the rear of a chamber was a securely bound man. The man had wild white hair, kind eyes and a Kris Kringle beard – in short, he was everyone’s favourite grandfather. The party recognised him as Sildar Hallwinter, and the ageing knight was extraordinary grateful for his timely rescue. He was also extremely impressed that the party had managed to eradicate every single goblin the complex.
Sildar explained that he and Gundren had been ambushed en route to Phandalin. Following the ambush he woke up bound in this cave, and initially he did not know of Gundren’s fate. However, one of the goblins was particularly loose-lipped and he managed to overhear that Klarg had taken the dwarf under orders from his superior – a creature that the goblins in the cave refer to as “The Spider“. Gundren had apparently been delivered to this Spider at “Cragmaw Castle”. However, Sildar hasn’t a clue where this Castle is, and doubts that Cragmaw is its real name. He guesses that someone in Phandalin might know of the location of any abandoned forts in the vicinity.
There are many more questions the party can ask Sildar, but he is tired and wounded and needs to rest. The last thing they ask him is the provenance of the blue lion sigils on the cases in Klark’s chamber. Sildar notes that these denote the property of the Lionshield Coster – a merchant company who have an outpost in Phandalin. Sildar speculates that the Cragmaw goblins must have been terrorising the Triboar Trail for some time to amass so much plunder. He suspects that if they party return the goods to the to the Coster in Phandalin they might get a reward. Of course, they’ll need their wagon for that.
TO BE CONTINUED
I’m not going to get into a deep analysis of how well the session played from the GM’s perspective. It’s not the first session of D&D Next/5th Edition that I’ve run, and if I’m honest the Basic Rules aren’t different enough from the last playtest documents to give me any trouble. It certainly felt as though I was running D&D, and it was a lot of fun. More options for player characters would definitely be welcome – not that the PCs felt particularly bland, but I don’t think Basic D&D has enough different options to properly personalise a PC for the longhaul.
The only thing that struck me as a GM is quite how powerful goblins can be. They have an ability called Nimble Escape which reads: “The goblin can take the Disengage or hide action as a bonus action on each of its turns.” This is pretty much the same ability that PC rogues have. What it means is that goblins can move into mêlée combat from 30 feet away, take their attacks and then retreat 30 feet without provoking an attack of opportunity. I like how this rule represents goblins that continually dash in, attack and retreat… luring PCs away from one another. But in practice against a 1st level party (particularly a party of three), it seemed as though it could be a bit overwhelming. I therefore used the ability sparingly.