Lost Mine of Phandelver is an excellent starting adventure and mini-campaign that showed up in the D&D Starter Set for 5th edition, and even after several big adventure path releases it remains one of the best things that Wizards of the Coast has ever published. But it’s just shy of perfect, and this article aims to shore up its weaknesses so that it can be enjoyed without a lot of extra hassle for the DM.
Note that a significant amount of this article is not my work. I pull liberally from some forum posts (one in particular) that have since disappeared off the internet, thanks to Wizards of the Coast retiring their forums in order to let places like EN World, RPGnet, and Reddit handle that sort of thing. If you recognize your work here, or know whose work this was — as I’ve lost any references to who the poster might have been that shared this wonderful advice — please let me know in the comments section.
The stuff that is mine, I hope is pretty cool. The rest of it is awesome, and I know that because I used it! Either way, let’s improve Lost Mine of Phandelver!
Development & Expansion
Establishing Gundren Rockseeker and Sildar Hallwinter early on is essential to getting players to care about the fate of these NPCs. Not only does that mean that Gundren needs some roleplaying notes, but it pays to have an introductory scene that’s a little more powerful than the Adventure Hook section (p. 4). To keep it simple, simply explain how the PCs have arrived in Neverwinter and have arrived in a private dining hall of one of the famous taverns there (The Moonstone Mask works because it has a VIP lounge). This doubles as a typical D&D “you all meet in the tavern” introduction. There Gundren and Sildar explain the mission, and this gives the players a chance to interact with them, perhaps asking questions about the other Rockseeker brothers or whatever.
Some terse roleplay notes:
- Gundren has a Scottish-sounding accent, overuses words like “ye” and “thou,” and often resorts to ridiculous aphorisms or exclamations like “that’s easier than a halfling sniffin’ out a pie” or “by the tusk of Obould, the self-proclaimed King of the Orcs!”
- Sildar Hallwinter is a smarmy but affable fellow; speak with your worst Sean Connery impression.
Do feel free to change those 😉 Make sure to read up on Sildar Hallwinter (see Roleplaying Sildar on p. 11), and note that Gundren’s brothers are named Tharden (the middle child) and Nundro (the youngest of the brothers).
In order to make this scene vaguely interesting, as opposed to an info-dump, consider running it AFTER the Goblin Ambush scene (p. 6-7) of Chapter 1. By setting it up as a flashback, you can start the game with the Goblin Ambush encounter and no need for expository information beyond the fact that “you’re following a caravan, it looks like you found it — destroyed — and some goblins attack. Roll initiative!”
As it reads, goblin ambush is a pretty boring encounter; it certainly will be for experienced D&D players, and anyone that wants a little replayability out of this module. So, here’s some advice on changing it up a bit.
If you want your goblins to really stand out, go for the creep factor! Describe the scene of the caravan being a pincushion for arrows, and how the horses aren’t just dead, they’ve been eviscerated and are being used for provisions for the goblins. Maybe there are a few goblin carcasses out there, too. Alternatively, have two of the goblins just sitting their carving up and chowing on the horses’ carcasses as the players roll up, like they barely care that adventurers show up to interrupt their meal. Only if the party starts a fight do they return the attack, with their two buddies hidden in the woods just off the road, pelting the party with arrows should a fight break out.
Tactics & Reinforcements
Another option is to make the goblins as tricksy as you can. Maybe have one or two of them out in the open (feasting on the horses, as above), and have the others hanging back in he trees, so there’s more of a distraction element: the goblins in hiding may even wait a round to let their buddy get attacked (and likely killed) before jumping in…from cover, and with arrows, of course. No need to get in close!
If the party is making mincemeat of the goblins at any point, have a second wave of 2 more goblins show up on round 3 or 4. Or if the party took some hits and opts for a short rest, have it interrupted by 1 or 2 goblins. That’ll teach ’em for resting! Whatever you do, don’t make this your first TPK, because that’s just boring. You’re looking to make it fun and challenging, not deadly. Hell, if a single party member drops, maybe have the goblins flee anyway: they don’t want to die, so maybe they think downing one of the party members will keep the rest occupied so they can flee back to their lair.
This section seems a bit stupid as written: it’s just two traps that the party blindly wanders into (unless they spot them, which is very likely in the case of the snare and a bit iffy in the case of the hidden pit). You could make the traps way more interesting by placing them outside of Cragmaw Hideout (although you should consider doing so only if the party is hardy enough to deal with the added challenge!). Here’s what I did:
- Place the snare trap in the stream just before the Goblin Blind area of Cragmaw Hideout (p. 8). If someone activates it (by wading across the water) and they are subsequently trapped, have it so that it dangles a Medium sized or larger creature head-down in the water. The character now has to deal with the suffocation rules unless they make a second Dexterity saving throw (I set it at DC 13) to have held their breath before going underwater. This adds a fun time element to the trap as the party is getting pelted with arrows from the goblins in the Goblin Blind, and adds the suffocation rules so players (and DMs) get a taste for that.
- The pit trap can similarly be added in the southern portion of the Goblin Blind, or perhaps in the area of the map where the #1 actually appears to denote the Cave Mouth (p. 8). Either use is an added foil for folks either approaching the goblins from behind or approaching the cave without knowing there’s a trap right there.
Condition Cards are a useful tool, especially for new DMs and players. As an FYI, the Ash Zombies in Thundertree (p. 31) deal out a special slew of problems for anyone that inhales their ashen spore when they are first attacked. Consider creating a card or simply handing out an index card that notes the effects, like so:
You have disadvantage on attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks.
Venomfang & the Cultists
It’s a little weird that Favric and his cultists (p. 35) are just kind of sitting around when the party arrives at Thundertree, having not made contact with Venomfang (p. 32-33) yet. Meanwhile, you have Venomfang, a young green dragon…with no personality whatsoever. It behooves a DM to take some time and consider what Venomfang’s deal is beyond “make a lair” and what is even possible for Favric to offer Venomfang that might make him consider an alliance…or simply decide to have Venomfang annoyed by any human contact and likely kill them all. Remember that — if you are using the pregenerated characters that come with the module — there’s several ties to Venomfang in addition to the side quests that may lead the party here. It really pays to flesh Venomfang out.
The simplest recommendation is taking the random tables from the Dungeon Master’s Guide for fleshing out Villainous NPCs (or just NPCs in general) and making a few random rolls to determine personality quirks and motivations for Venomfang. This increases the replayability of the adventure, as well: every time a party faces Venomfang, he may be completely different in terms of goals and personality traits.
That post I mentioned had this great idea:
Actually, it would be cool if teh PCs came up to the dragon’s lair right as the Dragon Cultists were trying to make an alliance with it. They could have overheard some NPC dialogue which would lead to some interesting roleplaying situations later on.
That’s great advice because the DM can have a quick exchange of what Venomfang asks from Favric and his cultists, and the party could either ally with Favric, or betray him by getting to it first, or simply use it as a negotiating tool in getting Venomfang to leave the area. Whatever the “it” is, of course. The simple answer would be some sort of treasure for Venomfang’s hoard (a great way to force the players on other side quests, or to complete the main story and then head back to Thundertree to hand over some goods to Venomfang)
The Orc Camp at Wyvern Tor
Advice from that post I mentioned, written verbatim (from a print-out I had):
The tex says the PCs can attempt one check per hour to see if hey find the camp…but says nothing about what happens in the meantime. So basically the players are just supposed to keep rolling every hour until they find it? Feels like a hastily written part of the adventure.
Here are some ideas for encounters at Wyvern Tor:
The PCs find signs of the orcs. A stray bloody arrow. Old campsites. Hacked trees. This means they’re getting closer to the main camp.
The PCs come across a butchered animal. It was clearly killed for sport and not food. Builds tension about how savage these orcs are.
The PCs encounter a single orc carrying two large buckets of water. The orc (named Krokk) looks pretty wounded and has a bad limp. He only has 5 hit points left. Krokk lost some sort of tribal contest and is now being hazed, bullied, and picked on. The ogre Gog is especially tough on him. Gog sent Krokk to fetch him some water from a nearby stream. Krokk is muttering curses in Orcish as teh PCs encounter him. Unless the PCs were specifically being stealthy and their checks beat his passive Wisdom (Perception) score, then neither side is surprised. Krokk’s weapon is on his belt but he doesn’t immediately go for it because he REALLY doesn’t want to spill any water. The ogre will surely beat him up good for that. This opens up a possible alliance between Krokk and the party! If the party promises to kill the ogre and the current leader Brughor, and help support Krokk for the new band leader, then Krokk promises to move the tribe to a next location. Diplomacy instead of brute force.
There’s been a LOT of additional stuff added for this adventure since its release. Here’s a starting point:
- Review: Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set – 5th Edition – here at neuronphaser, we have an in-depth review of the Starter Set — and thus, of course, Lost Mine — plus a huge list of links at the bottom of the page including resources and errata!
- [5th] Tips/Advice/Warnings on running Lost Mine of Phandelver – forum post at RPGnet
- The Lost Mines of Phandelver is no joke! – forum post over at REDDIT
- Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set: Running Phandelver by Sly Flourish
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