by Mike Shea on 8 September 2014
The Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set includes an adventure that exemplifies the pace and attitude of the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons.
As the introductory adventure to D&D 5e, Lost Mines of Phandelver may become the most-played adventure of D&D 5e. In this article we discuss some tips and tricks for getting the most you can out of this adventure.
The backgrounds included with the pre-generated characters in Phandelver clearly hook PCs into the adventure. Even if your players bring custom-built characters from the 5e Player's Handbook, recommend that they choose backgrounds from the Starter Set pre-generated characters to better tie them to the story. Send these pregen character backgrounds early so your players can incorporate them before they even begin thinking about the background and motivation of their characters.
When your players have chosen backgrounds, read over and write down the ones they have chosen. These backgrounds can help you choose which hooks to highlight in the rest of the adventure. The town of Phandalin is packed with quests, many of which are tied to these PC backgrounds. Instead of piling quests on them that may or may not be relevant, expose the ones with the greatest meaning to the PCs.
Lost Mines of Phandelver begins with a goblin ambush against a caravan of goods protected by the PCs. Its a straight forward fight, though even a handful of goblins can give a party of level 1 PCs some trouble.
This battle is a great chance to try your hand at narrative combat instead of using maps and minis. It will get both you and your players used to battles that don't use a grid or miniatures. It's good practice and will help you with many of the other battles in this adventure.
You'll also want to stick to the static damage output of goblins at level 1 to ensure you avoid any major damage spikes that drop characters in a single hit. Dropping on the first shot is a lousy way to experience a new edition of D&D.
If you want to complicate the battle, add an NPC driver of the cart the party can protect. Use your handy random name generator and whip up a character archetype from your most recent favorite movie or TV show. Have the goblins harass this poor soul to give the PCs something else to protect than their own hides.
Level 1 is brutal in D&D 5e. You may want to get your PCs to level 2 as soon as you can, even as early as the middle of the Cragmaw Hideout. There's also nothing stopping you from starting them at level 2 and giving them slightly harder fights. You don't have to speed up all leveling, however. They might hit level 3 at roughly the same time as they would anyway. Those extra hit points and hit dice of healing will help them significantly when facing off against the foes in this adventure.
Lost Mines of Phandelver is really a series of small sandbox adventures stacked together. This is a fantastic opportunity to practice the art of the lazy dungeon master. Part 1, the Cragmaw Hideout, is a great dungeon sandbox with multiple paths and multiple ways to defeat its enemies. Instead of pushing the players down one particular path, relish in their discussions about which way to go.
You'll likely want to avoid any elaborate battle maps for this dungeon and instead use a blank flip mat to draw out locations as the players choose a direction.
You will also want to consider how the goblins react to the approach taken by the PCs. It's a great time to think through the eyes of the goblins as the PCs invade their secret headquarters.
Part 2 and part 3 of the adventure expand the sandbox considerably. There are tons of things to do both inside and outside Phandalin. Feel free to let the group decide whether to stay inside the town and deal with the Redbrands or to leave the city and deal with some of the interesting locations found in part 3. The PCs should be free to leave and return to Phandalin as they choose, though the plots of the Redbrands may escalate if not taken care of.
Part 4 returns us to a sandbox dungeon delve. Again, give your players the freedom to choose whatever path they want to explore the dungeon. Wave Echo Cave is big so don't feel like the PCs have to explore every nook and cranny. If they happen to go straight to the boss, let them do so.
There are two dopplegangers in this adventure, Vhalak and Vyerith. Both of them work for the Black Spider and are written in at specific locations in the adventure. Both of these, however, make for fantastic reoccurring villains you might bring on early in the adventure. Give PCs the feeling of being watched. Let them see shifting shadowy figures lurking in the background. Maybe one of them actually attacks the PCs if the timing is right. These should be smart villains who won't engage if they don't have an escape plan, so don't let them simply walk in and get killed. If the PCs do manage to kill one of them early, they might see them again as the second doppleganger changes its shape to match the first one.
These two dopplegangers are your chance to add in a whole new variable to the villains in the adventure. Make use of them.
There is one single villain in Phandelver that stands a significant chance of wiping out the PCs%mdash;the green dragon Venomfang. When you introduce Venomfang, make it clear that the PCs face a significant foe. Give them plenty of chances to realize that a simple stand-up fight might not be the right way to go. There are also many opportunities available to aim Venomfang at other enemies than the PCs through subtle manipulation of Venomfang and the cult who courts him.
Even beyond running Phandelver as written, the adventure itself is a great tool to bring D&D to your convention game. The book's monster index can fill out many level 1 to 5 adventures and even the maps of the dungeons can be mixed and matched to come up with new locations. Don't think of Phandelver as a single run-once-and-forget adventure. The whole Starter Set can be used and re-used for all sorts of low level D&D games.
Some of you might be asking whether the Starter Set is worth it for just a single adventure. At $20, it contains a lot of entertainment for you and your group and includes a lot of potential replayability. In the opinion of the Sly Flourish empire, it's a great deal and a fantastic adventure. It also makes for a great set of materials to add a miniature version of D&D 5e to your GM walk-away kit.
Phandelver is a great adventure full of opportunities for you to relax, play loose, and let the story evolve from the choices of the players and the actions of the PCs. Take your time, understand the material, go with the flow, and get ready to spend a bunch of hours having fun with your friends.
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