Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 1 - Kneel before Klarg!

Lost Mine of Phandelver chapter 1 – Kneel before Klarg!

Those who have followed my previous blogs about D&D 5th edition (yes, we're through with that 'Next' thing) know that I have a fond relationship of this system, perhaps as a contra reaction to almost twelve years of the D20 3.x-Pathfinder era. Having played my handful of iterations of the system all throughout the summer last year, I was thrilled that we could finally get started on the released basic set – The Lost Mines of Phandelver.

Bear in mind, this is about the adventure itself. My general opinion about the 5th edition rules is reserved for a later entry, in which I've had the chance to complete an entire adventure with them, and likely when I've made my way through the Players' Handbook, which is soon due to hit the shelves. Till then, enjoy this adventure log in which my players hurl themselves at the first published adventure from the 5th edition era – The Lost Mines of Phandelver. If you're going to run this as a GM, I hope you can benefit some from the way I handled things. One of the cardinal traits about D&D 5th is how open it is and the free reins we're given over the story, so it goes without saying that a lot of creative GM's will likely have their respective lost mines turn out quite differently. And this, my ladies and gentlemen (and all the bastards), is how we ran through our first session.
As always, my personal GM comments appear in Blue.

Some preparation...
We didn't go with the officially made characters since we played the beta extensively and people knew much about the rules already. So Silverglass went for the dwarven fighter, Delvin with a criminal background, whereas SorenAH got in contact with his inner stabby feelings by rolling up the infernal rogue professor sage Grim Dundragon. Thuborg went for the arrogant folk hero elven mage Barian and Tobias was stuck with the academic sage dwarven cleric, Alberich Firegorge.

(The adventure doesn't incorporate backgrounds that much; that is so say, not at all. So it's mainly used for the game mechanical benefits, and whatver roleplay the heroes decide to do between themselves.

As for stats, I went with pure point buy and I will likely swear faithfully by this in every adventure from thereon. It's the most fair to everyone and makes sure you won't be having 'that guy' in the party who comes up with two 17's and an 18

As for the music and soundtrack, I mainly used the soundtracks from Baldur's Gate and Divinity: Original Sin)

Some backstory...
The heroes were explained how they one night had been dragged to the Sunken Flagon Inn in Neverwinter (yes, this takes place in Forgotten Realms, THANK YOU, WIZARDS!) by their common friend, the dwarf Gundren Rockseeker. Rockseeker told them an old story about a mine known as the Wave Echo Mine that several years ago housed the Phandelver Pact between dwarves, gnomes and human mages. An alliance that secured the respective races the riches of the mines and the construction of a Spell Forge from which they could harvest and prosper for ages to come, while the nearby town of Phandalin prospered. Sadly, (you guessed it) the ever foiling element of nasty orkzez disagreed and launched an attack upon the mine, resulting in a dire battle in which much of the mine as well as the location was lost. Several treasure seekers had taken their chance in the times to come, trying to find the remnants, alas without luck.

Things, however, were about to change according to Gundren. He was in the possession of a map that revealed a way to the lost mines, and he wanted to get an expedition starting. Henceforth, he wished to hire the heroes to take the cart of supplies to Phandalin and check in with the local shopkeeper Barthen's Provisions.
Gundren himself would travel in advance with his companion, Sildar Hallwinter and meet up with the characters once they reached Phandalin.

And from there, the crazy story was spinning.

(I deviated slightly in this regard, because the heroes knew Gundren so well that he led them in on the story from the beginning. Alternatively, they're just hired to escort some stuff to the small town. It doesn't really have an impact on the story either way, and I thought it was a good hook that got them interested from the start.)

And so they went south... (and a little bit east)
The heroes set out with the cart loaded with supplies and made their way south along the high road, having only a mere description to go by. None of them had been to Phandalin before, so they made some speculation along the way, wondering what to expect. On the road they met an old traveling merchant who warned them that the roads east of here weren't as safe as they used to be. Rumors of green-skinned devils and beasts were told, and from what he'd heard, some local ruffians were stirring up quite the trouble in Phandalin (the plot thickens, yes!)

Thanking the traveler, the heroes went on into the lush vegetation that surrounded the road. Things had been rather quiet, till Professor Grim and Father Alberic suddenly noticed that the road up ahead was blocked by two dead horses, both turned into pincushions for several black arrows. Next to this carnage lay several rummaged through backpacks and scattered supplies.

The two of them moved up to investigate for a bit while Barian and Delvin remained in the cart; speculating for a bit, the professor snappily concluded that this had to be the work of green skins. He also concluded that these were indeed the long dead horses of their two friends, Gundren and Sildar.

With this, they suddenly heard a foul screech pierce the otherwise calm breeze of the forest, and four goblins jumped out from the bushes, wielding bows and scimitars. Being a surprise round, one of the goblins scored a critical hit on the professor, nearly downing him in one fell hit. Cursing, it scuttled back into the dense growth and hid as a bonus action. The other one fired a shot at the Father but missed, whereas the remaining two charged the wagon and started hacking away at Mage Barian and Fighter Delvin. One gave the dwarf a nasty cut and then the real battle was on.

Professor Grim immediately started slicing some goblin throat up in the front, while the Father invoked the power of the gods to heal the poor rogue's wounds. Barian took flight down the path, but was shot in the back by the hiding goblin, that managed to roll enough damage to down the wizard in one hit. Delvin was dealt another hit and started seeing the world spin, only through his inner reserves did the dwarf manage to pull through and cut off the head of both goblins in one fell swoop.

(Let this be the first warning of several; Lost Mines of Phandelver is certainly no joke when it comes to encounters, and I even ran this rather mercifully to kick my players off from a great start. Not only do the goblins hit rather decently for...well, goblins. They also inflict a dangerous amount of damage, especially once they start ganging up. The worst gimmick, however, consists of their bonus action in which they can freely disengage or hide; meaning they have the potential for some dangerous hit and runs. Also they're able to pop out of the bushes, take a wild shot, and then run back behind a big tree and hide in the dense foliage, all in the same turn. Meaning the heroes also have to locate them before striking. You can turn this encounter really lethal right off the bat, if that is your fancy. Me, I decided the heroes had a rough enough time as it was...)

The first fight didn't go well for Barian at all...
On the trapped road to (more) adventure!
After a short rest, the party brought Barian back to his feet and contemplated on the dire news. Apparently, someone knew Gundren was coming and had put the poor dwarf in an ambush, stealing the highly prized map. The heroes decided they couldn't continue to Phandalin without knowledge of the dwarf's fate, so they set out along the narrow goblin trail. Barian's keen elven-senses quickly picked up several goblin footprints along with signs of two bodies being hauled along. Later on, they also discovered huge footprints that were likely from a bugbear (the plot thickens even more!).

The heroes were just about to spring a snare-trap on the ground, which Barian proudly acclaimed to his superior elven senses. The grumpy dwarven warrior, Delvin, scoffed at this and stubbornly marched on, only to trigger a pit trap. With a scream, he barely managed to hold on to the ledge instead of falling into his doom. Those goblins were truly playing hardball.
(I can't help but feel these traps are mostly there to kind of annoy the heroes. They sure are fun!)

Delvin had a hard time with the Goblin Traps

After about five miles, the heroes reached a cave opening that the tracks seemed to enter. A stream of water ran from the opening and out into the forest, leaving them behind with an eerie silence, impending a confrontation soon to come. The heroes continued with caution and climbed one of the tall rocks in order to get a better view, which allowed them to spot a tiny encampment of goblins keeping watch. None of them managed to spot the heroes. (This may be a good time to mention something about this party composition and the 5th edition rules in general – My players decided to go for a much more stealthy approach this time around, meaning most of them could muster stealth checks above 14 most of the time. Meaning that often they would beat the passive perception of the monsters and thus got the drop several times. Surprise rounds in 5th editions are much more advantageous than they used to be, seeing as the heroes get a full round worth of actions in advance. In the words of SorenAH; adventure-SWAT Teams have indeed become reality now!)

The heroes decided for a surprise opening and Barian cast a Sleep spell on the goblins. (Talk about one spell that certainly didn't need an upgrade and yet had one...) Then they slit their throats (there are no rules for coup de graces in 5th edition, but I allowed it for the fluency and elegance) and put the corpses so it seemed like they were still on watch. The heroes then decided to hide in the shrubbery and wait for the replacement patrol to arrive from the cave (I should've seen this tactic coming from a mile away; I know my players love this shit) – once that happened, they cast another Sleep spell on them and hauled them off into the forest for interrogation. 

When it comes to interrogations, my players aren't shitting around...

The goblins were tied up and slapped, threatened and intimidated for information (my players have been through Wrath of the Righteous for half a year, they really had some evil-doing that needed an outlet) – They revealed that Gundren and Sildar were both hauled off to the cave by the order of Klarg the Bugbear, who was ordered by the King of Cragmaw Castle, who was ordered to do so by...the Spider (he is in fact called the Black Spider, but I aimed for a “...the SHADOW!” moment here). Gundren was already sent off to Cragmaw Castle along with the map, but Sildar was currently in the eating pit with the cook. So the heroes bashed the goblins out cold and entered the cave.

Dungeon tripping 101
The first thing the heroes noticed was the howling coming from the room on the right; it was a kennel of sorts in which three very hungry, tied up wolves were hurling themselves at them. Delvin took pity on the poor beasts and decided to feet them one of the dead goblins... (yeah...) The canines quickly tore it apart and seemed much calmer as a result. As they then inspected the tunnel they saw an overcrossing bridge further up ahead, with a small cave leading west from their position. The sound of laughing goblins and a fire was eminent, so the heroes engaged in stealth and their darkvision supremacy and moved towards the sound. It turned out to be a big cave, in which two goblins and one big goblin chef were gathered around a fire, a bashed up human, elderly male on the ground next to them. From what Barian and Professor Grim understood, they were cheering the soon to be supper. (There are originally four goblins in this encounter, but the heroes had slain two of them who went out to patrol, of course)

The heroes charged into the cave and slashed open the guts of one goblin and the casters hurled fire at the cook, who screamed and dropped Sildar to the rocky ground where he fell unconscious. This encounter was, however, no problem at all for the well equipped party who suddenly started having much more dice luck. They even decided to sneak further up the hall only to find the bridge and one bored goblin guard, who was quickly taken out by a sneak attack and a firebolt.

The heroes woke up Sildar, who confirmed the goblin's story; Gundren was indeed gone and dragged off to the king of Cragmaw Castle. He strongly suggested that they moved on to Phandalin to try and find someone who could know the way there, but the heroes decided to push on and take the fight to the leader of the caves – Klarg the bugbear.

After crossing the bridge, they charged into the next room and brought battle to the three goblins in there. Sadly, one of them managed to disengage from the encounter and stormed off into the next room, screaming “BOSS! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK! HELP ME!”
So there was little else for it; the heroes followed troop and were shocked to find one of the biggest, meanest bug bears ever seen before. King Klarg rested on his mighty throne in front of the fire and stroke his wolf while laughing to himself. “These puny bags of flesh will be no problem!” he bellowed and stood up, “they will submit to KLARG! Otherwise Klarg will build a new throne ouf of their BONES!...Maybe just a small throne, those dwarves are really short! Now, kneel before Klarg!!”
Father Fireforge clenched his hammer and spat into the ground. “Your evil reign ends here, beast!” the dwarf sneered. And then the initiatives started.

 Klarg's wolf charged into the group, hoping to get some good trips in, sadly it didn't manage a single scratch. Neither did the goblins with their sad rolls and the wolf was butchered by a smash to its face soon after. Delvin charged into the bugbear but his strikes barely penetrated the thich hide of the beast. Barian spoke out his arcane incantations and fairy fire spread on the enemies, allowing the Professor to advance and sink his rapier and dagger deep into the stomach of the king. Klarg raised his savage morningstar and struck the dwarven fighter, but despite his fierce strength, he only dented the armor of the sturdy dwarf (curse those damn 5'es on the rolls!)

And then shit went crazy... Father Fireforge toasted one of the goblins in righteous fire and the Professor sliced the bugbear once more before Delvin rolled a 17 and a 20 on his to hit rolls... With a precise swing, the dwarf cut both kneecaps of the bugbear, grinning as he fell to the floor in pain, and then planted his axe right between its eyes. With a short sigh, Klarg was no more...

(Klarg is beyond doubt one of the toughest; if not THE toughest, encounter in this adventure. He hits for a smashing 2D8+2 damage on a level 1 adventurer. He also musters a +4 to hit and a fully specced out fighter with a maxed con will be sitting tightly at 15 hit points at this stage, meaning that on an average hit he will leave him with 4 hit points left. He doesn't have to roll much higher than that to down him, and he pretty much just needs to hit everyone else. Let him crit and you're definitely kissing your character goodbye.

Oh, and did I mention that he comes with two goblin adds and a wolf?

My group annihilated Klarg before he even had the chance to hit anyone, and in a way I'm glad for this. He is a merciless encounter that sadistic GM's can certainly look forward to. If you want to give your heroes some reprieve, you could let Klarg be such an egomaniac that he sends in his minions and dog first to do the work. He is a huge mouthful for most parties, especially with his 27 hit points. Of course, you take the risk that a lucky wizard rolls high enough on his Sleep spell after this, so be warned!)

The heroes looted the cave of Klarg and found some stuffed away loot, along with boxes belonging to the Lionshield company, a trading company with a seat in Phandalin, and after conversing with Sildar (who was severely surprised to see the rotting bugbear) they decided to bring the supplies along and leave the place for Phandalin. Hopefully they would there find someone who could point them in the right direction for Castle Cragmaw!

Along the way, the heroes set the wolves free, except for one of them that decided to follow Delvin (who managed a good Animal Handling check) along for the journey. So at least that was a new best friend for the road! (This is one of the freedoms I love in this system; while the wolf certainly won't level up like a companion or anything like it, it tags along with the party for now, dropping clues and roleplay opportunities. With good Animal Handling checks, it can even join some battles and would defend its master)

And so the heroes progressed on their journey towards Phandalin. What they would find there remained a mystery to see, but they knew that this journey would likely be much harder than they had expected. They also had the joy of dinging to level 2 and there was much rejoice.

To be continued soon, in the next chapter “A New Sheriff in Town”