On the Phandelvers, Part II: The Town of Phandalin

The first review is here.

Liveblog! First section, PRETTY GOOD.

Now we get to town which is where I predict things will go haywire. OR WILL THEY?

The towns are a reclaimed ruin?! (+1)

Noting at this point that the players being from the extremely cosmopolitanism Neverwinter means they have a very good excuse for knowing a lot of random D&D tropes.

"When the characters explore Phandalin, you don't need to keep track of how much time is spent at each location. Instead, imagine that you're directing an old-style western movie. . . To begin, ask the players where they want to go and what they want to do in town. . . When the players pick a spot, refer to the description."

Checkpoint reached, activate theme park!

Seriously, I'm being derisive, but it's good advice.

Oh, hay, look, an almost useful NPC summary! No personality cues, but it has names and who they are and what quest they give. I mean WotC has heard of a relationship map, right?

You are not expected to fight the NPC's because you have no reason to fight them. But I'm totally stoked that it says that if you do, where to find their expected stats. (NPC's are for killing!!)

Town Descriptions

Am I wrong or is the location organization scheme random? It sure isn't alphabetical and it's not numbered. 

Talkin' bout the inn

It's good that they have some NPC's hanging out at the inn with information, but this is a real missed opportunity. Here is how a miner is described.

"Lanar, a miner." 

I'm glad that we are all for basic tropes and keeping things simple. Maybe I'm spoiled from playing in our wonderful online community for so long. But would it have been that hard to write:

"Lanar, a miner with a handlebar mustache, physical fitness buff"

The option for players to explore if they are those kinds of players, or for the DM to direct them to the inn which acts as a hub to the various quest lines is fantastic. Good design.

Talkin' bout the town

Damn it Forgotten Realms. "The Order of the Gauntlet" Really? And while we are on the subject: Phandalin? Pact of Phandelver? I would be soooo much more excited about this adventure if it took place in the dunfalcon. (Greyhawk, don't you know). I'm going to rename everything with the bestest village name generator table on the internet. The characters are now in Crapleigh, and they hear about the Pact of Crapdelver.

Isn't it better already?

Each location offers a quest or two, which is pretty bog-standard. Several locations also offer the opportunity for different members of the group to join different factions! How nice! Different character temperaments can join different factions.

Is that a Quantum Orge in my scenario or are you just excited to attack me?

Is the Redband Encounter a Quantum Ogre?

Well, the "capstone" of the second section is the clearing out of the Redband bandits. So the hook of "They seek out the party and pick a fight in the street" is to encourage characters to confront the Redband before they venture into the more dangerous wilderness. 

As written, however, I would have to say it is not a Quantum Ogre. It specifically says they seek the players out. The module explictly provides support for avoiding the encounter below. There is certainly the possibility for the players to take action that might prevent them from being found.

Logistically, very few groups playing 5e will want to avoid the encounter. Every location in town makes the Redbrands seem suspicious. But if they did want to avoid the encounter, then there is support in the module for that. One townsperson just wants the leader killed so they can take over. The rules support free knockouts and capture allows the players to interrogate the bandits.
"If [the player's] aren't clear that investigating the Redbrand hideout should be their next move, have one of the NPC's they've already met in town make the suggestion directly and point them towards Tresendar Manor. If the players want to follow other leads in the area, it's ok to move on to part 3 of the adventure and let the ruffians wait. The next time the characters return to Phandalin, make it clear that the Redbrands are causing even more trouble, and that the need to be dealt with."
I'm particularly chuffed by the decision to include the underlined Quantum Ogre advice in the article above.
What's in it for me. . .

If your players cannot make a decision because they lack information, give it to them!

The Redbrand Hideout

Another dungeon with multiple entrances and multiple paths? What is this I'm reading?

Ok. Perception skills suck. They are a shortcut to avoid play. But they are going to be a feature of these games, and in 5e, it's at least somewhat more difficult to raise your search skill due to the bounded accuracy. Let's look at how they handle it.

"A waterproof satchel hangs from a submerged rope attached along the south wall of the cistern, about 2 feet below the surface of the water. It's not visible from above the water, but can be found by a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check or automatically by a character probing the cistern with a pole or jumping in."
How does the Wisdom (Perception) check work?
". . .you need to describe where you are looking for the DM to determine your chance of success. For example, a key is hidden beneath a set of folded clothes in the top drawer of a bureau. If you tell the DM that you pace around the room, looking at the walls and furnature for clues, you have no chance of finding the key, regardless of your Wisdom (Perception) check result. You would have to specify that you were opening the drawers or searching the bureau in order to have any chance of success." -- Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules, page 61
So basically, "I search the room" gives a fairly low chance to discover the satchel (around 50% for characters with an 18 Wisdom) whereas looking in the pool obviates the need for a roll and supersedes character skill. Note also, that it requires an active check to discover. Passive perception won't find it.

Hidden treasure, discoverable by player skill. There's no cost check to using the Wisdom (Perception) skill -- no wandering monsters -- but their could be very trivially. And even if they do use the skill, they have to indicate what they are doing so the DM can "determine your chance of success"!

My biggest complaint is that the DM shouldn't be determining the chance of success. He should be determining the difficulty of finding the object.

I am officially giving the module a pass for the grass-growing, paint-drying, dull as rocks magic items. Some of them are at least named with history, even if they are +1 sword, does +1 to hit and damage.

Oh! My eyeball just twitched! Hoop jumping!

"Clever characters might even persuade the bugbears to help deal with "traitors" or "impostors" elsewhere in the dungeon. If you don't think the players are doing a great job roleplaying the deception, you can have the character who is doing most of the talking make a DC 15 Charisma (Deception) check to convince the bugbears to do what the party wants."

Sigh. Can they please not teach DM's to force players to jump through subjective hoops?

Yay! I got to complain about something. *grumble* *grumble* *stupid module being pretty well written in spite of it being published by the big evil corporation*

Droop is no Meepo. He's a goblin you meet, being abused by big, nasty, bugbears.

Wtf is a Nothic?

What the F&^% is a Nothic. Oh look a picture.

I'm here to party!
Nope, still not helping. Reading the description. Once crazy wizards, unlock player secrets, hunger for flesh, not trustworthy.

So basically a weird monster that does rotting damage with its gaze. That's actually kind of boring. Again, I'm spoiled. It should have weird alien motivations that convince the party to work with it in spite of it being completely and wholly evil. 

It's sure as heck no Meepo.


The bad spider is a drow. I'm bored already. Maybe I will be surprised when I reach that section.

Things I would have to do to run the town adventure

  • Rewrite the NPC reference
  • Keep a whiteboard for the players to use as a quest journal, a' la video games. 
  • Draw pictures of each NPC
  • Rewrite the locations and the quests/factions/NPC's at each location so I don't have to flip through the book. 
This isn't really the module's fault. It has to be the way it is for new players. If they opened it up and it looked like an accounting ledger (which is what my references tend to resemble) they would put it down and never play it. It's nice and welcoming and easy to read and fairly densely packed with information and adventure hooks. 

Gah, it could be better but it's pretty good.

We did tell them how and they mostly listened. Sigh. I'm sure the Player's Handbook will ruin everything and fighters will get worse and wizards better.


  1. Entertaining and informative! Thank you for taking the time to review this :)

  2. I'm glad that you complained about the Nothic gaze ability. It made me think that when I run this encounter, if he uses the 'necro-gaze', I'm going to describe the effect as a green-tinted flashlight being shined in a dark, smoky room. On a side note, I've taken to describing spell visuals in more of a Star Wars-esque way. I just find them more exciting that way. I'm a new DM. And thanks so much for your blog, it's great and very helpful to me.


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