On the Phandelvers

So, did you know the Dungeons and Dragons starter set came out?

What's this? A lost mine in Phandelver? Guess I'll spoil the crap out of this online.

*flip, flip*

There's a green dragon on the cover. Holy crap, there's the lair of the dragon on the cover right in the middle of the module. "The character's aren't likely to slay the dragon". An encounter they can't win!? What kind of D&D is this?

Oh, Look. A description of the DM's role that doesn't say he's a storyteller.

A list of DM Advice I can read without going blind in my right eye from rage! Keep the gaming moving? Let the players contribute? Be consistent and fair? Don't ask for ability checks unless there's a challenge?

It's nice to see that a DC 10 check is an easy check and doesn't scale to player level. The cap on the DC's really reminds me of some of the modular systems in old school gaming.

Somebody put the word Boxed Text in bold and it makes me sad. It's followed by instructions to read or paraphrase the boxed text. Sad. I consider that this possibly gets a pass because it's a module for new players who are 12 and then I realize that is exactly why it doesn't get a pass.

Oh, here's some text telling you that you won't find monster stats in the adventure. You'll need to flip back to the back. Super-helpful to the DM running the adventure! *sigh*.


Am I spoiled? I think I'm spoiled. 

"Five hundred years ago, dwarves and gnomes made an agreement known as the Phandelver's Pact, by which they would share a rich mine in a wondrous cavern known as Wave Echo Cave. Times were good, and the nearby human town of Phandalin prospered as well. But then disaster struck when orcs swept through the North and laid waste to all in their path." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever

"Once, long ago there was a Kingdom of unspeakable wealth that traded in dark wonders, secrets and death. And many of the strange things now on earth were theirs. . .Then, as their kingdom slowly died, they hid their treasure palace in a lake, and set there: sleepless and indestructible guards. Everyone knows where it is, on the Lock, upriver of Carrowmore. No-one who goes there has ever come back." - Deep Carbon Observatory
To be fair: This background in Mines is like four paragraphs long. That is eleventy-two less paragraphs than is traditional for the publisher of D&D.

That is 70 of the 89 words of the Deep Carbon Observatory background.

The Forgotten Realms

Neverwinter Concept Art
Holy crap, Phandalin is like 50 miles from Neverwinter! That town has like 25,000 people. Oh, heck. The players are coming from Neverwinter!

"The adventure begins as the player characters are escorting a wagon full of provision and supplies from Neverwinter to Phandalin." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever
The 50 building town of Phandalin
"Neverwinter was regarded by many, including the erudite travel writer Volo, as the most cosmopolitan and the most civilized city in all of Faerûn, quite a reputation, considering the breadth and variety of the continent." (Forgotten Realms wiki)

No provincial adventurers these! They are leaving New York to go on a grand adventure in Bald Knob, Arkansas, Population 200!

Goblin Arrows

"Any character can drive a wagon, and no particular skill is necessary." -Mines of Phandelver

I am super glad that the actual text doesn't contradict the rules. There's that proficiency in land vehicles and you don't need it for stuff like sitting in a seat and leading oxen. Saying this out loud in front of the module reiterates the early statement about not needing to roll for simple or basic things. Yay.

"As you come around a bend, you spot two dead horses sprawled about 50 feet ahead of you, blocking the path. . . any character who approaches the horses can identify them as belonging to Gundren Rockseeker and Sildar Hallwinter." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever
More giving information the players should have to the players without skill check hoop jumping! I'm six pages into this adventure and haven't blacked out from rage and confusion once!

Also, finding the dead horses of your boss who you're going to meet in the road is a good hook. No explanation. Just surprise bad news.

An adventures first combat

Should be simple, right? There's a nice walk-though for first time Dungeon Masters, explaining step by step how to run combat.

"Keep track of everyone's initiative count in the margins of this book or on a separate piece of paper." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever

Mark up the book is awesome advice! Heck, I'll go ahead and take the time to write in the goblins stats where I need them.

The Goblin Trail

The outcome of the battle isn't assumed. Perhaps the players lose, perhaps they capture and not kill the goblins. After the combat we get this nice bit of text -- the first text in the module that causes my eye to twitch.

"Any inspection of the area reveals that the creatures have been using this place to stage ambushes for some time. A trail hidden behind thickets on the north side of the road leads northwest. A character who succeeds on a DC 10 Wisdom (Survival) check recognizes that about a dozen goblins have come and gone along the trail, as well as signs of two human-sized bodies being hauled away from the ambush site." -- Lost Mine of Phandlever

That. . . really isn't so bad.  Players have to choose to investigate. If they do, they will find the trail. Most will have over a 50% chance to notice that bodies are dragged, and even if they don't, the hidden information is A) specific and B) not necessary to the players. Personally, I'd explicitly say that it's a goblin trail outside the skill check.

Yes the module is super wordy but again, I don't hold that against it. It's an introduction set for people who never played before. If Menzer Basic came out today, I think some of us would burn it in a fire.

Along the trail are some traps. There's a lot of talk about how much healing there is, but. . . If I fall down and take 1d6 damage, are we resting for an hour and losing my 1 healing hit die? Are we drinking a 50 gp healing potion from my 4d4/5d4 x 10 starting gold? I've only got 6-14 hit points. I probably already took a short rest after the combat.

Whoo-hoo! 75 Exploration XP for finding the goblins hideout! Or wait, is that story XP? Are you trying to control my behavior and steal my agency 5e? I'M WATCHING YOU.

Cragmaw Hideout

General features is super-useful and essential. Let's me know logistical details about the complex to adjudicate player actions. Holy smokes! There's a box describing what information you can get from captured goblins. Sweeet.

Hm, this map is a lair with 4 rooms. From the entrance I can go to 3 of the rooms. It is a multi-level map with a bridge over a river for part of it. part of it loops back over another part of it. Is the first cave of the new D&D a Jaquayed map? What strange universe am I living in? Apparently it's the universe where both DM keyed and player facing maps for hangout online games are for sale from the artist.

The cave contains some wolves, a few goblins, including one totally willing to betray his boss, a captured human NPC to rescue, an arrogant bugbear, a few traps and surprises that can make things very difficult for a party, interesting battlefields and a chest with treasure.

Also noting the longest boxed text in the cave is 5 sentences. Upon finishing this first small cave, the players will have enough experience to become second level and pick a focus for their characters.

The End of Part I

It's wordy, filled with overused tropes, and contains few surprises or anything too weird or strange. But you're not killing rats.

For someone that hasn't ever played before, it's a great funnel to the following sections of the adventure. The module assumes people who have never role-played before, and presents them with quite a few options and freedom to learn both the rules and how to take actions to obviate the rules and bend them to their advantage, as well as punishing them in a possibly lethal way for neglecting to do so.

We'll be looking at parts 2-4 in the coming days on the Hack & Slash Blog.

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  1. I have a ten-year-old niece to whom I'd like to introduce D&D. Would you recommend the starter pack for 5e as a solid way of doing that?

    1. So far? Absolutely. I think she would need an older person to run the game, but hand her one of the wizards pre-gens, and it should be good solid fun.

  2. Imagine how few stories we'd have if orcs were a peaceful species, never sweeping through, laying waste to everything in their path.

  3. This adventure has made fans of every person I've played it with.

    Intro adventures have a burden to show players "What D&D is like", and this one is really very good.

    Compare this adventure and it's presentation of D&D is about to, say, "Keep on the Shadowfell", and the differences are encouraging. Probably my favorite into adventure up there with B2.

    All in all, a great intro exercising Exploration, Negoiation, Combat, Traps, and a lethal environment.

    C, I'm interested in your thoughts on D&D's Faction play emphasis, when you get to that part It's a new "thing" and Wotc dedicated 1/4 of the base character sheet to it - and it shows up strongly in this adventure.

    1. 1) Think Fighter is the easier class to start with, people know if from the movies.
      2) Factions are a fun addition to roleplaying.


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