Monday, August 25, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 4 – Dovahkiins and Owlbears

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 4 – Dovahkiins and Owlbears

Greetings and salutations; welcome to another round of heroic deeds and misfortune as we proceed to the fourth chapter of "Lost Mine of Phandelver" along with the introduction of the newest addition to the group. It's a sad fact, that all good things must come to an end, an recently we had to say goodbye to one of our veteran players, whose time had come to move on in Life (namely to Greenland, which leaves surprisingly little room for gaming). But it's a great fact that all things come to an end, just to leave room for what is new, which in this case turned out to be Jakob, our newest player and prospect, who entered the group on a trial and rolled up Oxyzeron; the dragonborn warlock of the Fey. So the adventure went on along with Delvin, the dwarven fighter, Professor Grim, the human rogue, Barian the elven wizard and Father Fireforge, the dwarven cleric.

The heroes were level 3. As always, GM-comments are in blue.

Tipping the scales...

When we left the heroes, they had mercilessly slaughtered the orcs, some miles east of the small mining town of Phandalin. Making sure no greenskin would survive, they set out to explore the cave and exterminate whatever stragglers. They were surprised to find a lone goblin, busy torturing and keeping a strange, scaly beast busy, hanging in a wicker cage from the ceiling. The professor and Barian immediately recognized this as a dragonborn; a mighty being born from a love-mixture between a human and a green dragon, who was now watching the small goblin with loathe. Quickly establishing their common hate for the green menace, the heroes broke the creature out from the cage and established a warm and fluffy bond by butchering the green, little critter.

The beast introduced itself as Oxyzeron, apprentice of Reidoth – the druid of Thundertree. The heroes had heard of this noble person in Phandalin (they actually remembered this by their own; I suppose miracles do happen) and Oxyzeron explained that he'd been sent out to slay the greenskins by his master, about a month ago. Sadly, he failed in this task and had been kept prisoner ever since, now owing his life to the heroes. They decided to join forces on this task, and the dragonborn swore to escort them on their remaining tasks, provided they would later return to Thundertree with news to his master.

(I know, I know, I could've come up with something more creative, but this seemed to work, and besides; we wanted to play this adventure and not deviate too much from the central plot. I know I already made a few modifications as it was, and this time I just wanted him to join the party as quickly as possible. I've watched a couple of streams and sessions of other GM's, who have waited more than an hour to introduce a new player into the group, even though he's right there at the table, just because they had a very specific plan for his or her entry. I believe that's about the absolute drudge.)


The heroes took a long rest throughout the afternoon and set out towards their next destination; the resting place of the spirit Agatha, hoping to flatter her and acquire her magical tome for the priestess Garaele in Phandalin.

As they were marching through the forest, along a wide river, they were watching the stars and listening to the gentle stream. The professor and Barian had been asking questions to their newest companions about his origin and the powers of the fey. They quickly deduced from his information that he possessed the powers of warlock, but before their inquiry continued, they heard the strange, high-pitched sound of “Ulululu” from somewhere nearby...

The professor recognized this sound. It was the sound of two owlbears going through rut.
The party quickly made formation to investigate, and it didn't take them long to notice that the beasts were trying to sneak up on them through the bushes. (Owlbears and stealth, I'm not sure why I even tried...) So it made for little surprise, as the beasts savagely tore through the briars and hurled themselves at the party.

As the battle broke out, the heroes went well on the initiative, and bloodied one of the owlbears. It hooted loudly and started bashing skulls around it, inflicting severe pain with a follow-up from its companion, sending Father Fireforge down for the count. The remaining dwarf, Delvin roared at the monstrosities and taunted their attention. Deflecting their blows with his shield, Barian faerie fired them and soon after a couple of sneak attacks and eldritch blasts, the beasts went down without a fuss. 

(I sort of think this was a logical continuation of the bad dice luck all my baddies had during this entire adventure. For some reason, the minions would roll really well, and often crits, but whenever something big came around, I was kind of lucky to roll a 12 or above on the dice. On another note; it's not possible to meet two owlbears in this setup, as per written in the adventure. Which brings me to another strange point in D&D 5th edition – why did it even include random encounters? It seems like something that was absolutely just shoehorned in for no apparent reason rather than XP-grinding. Back in the days it was a powerful tool of sorts to slowly tear at the group's resources, but seeing that so many features recharge in 5th – I kind of fail to see the point. The heroes regain all hit points, spells and even some magical charges for every day. If I could suggest anything, it would instead be a table with some minor, interesting encounters. Someone at a D&D site I read made a similar suggestion. For example; the party finds an abandoned child near the road. They encounter a merchant whose wagon is busted, who is in secret escorting illegal goods. A random piece of equipment is stolen during the night and the thief rests nearby or is discovered in the act. They meet a mad preacher of a dark / strange religion on the road, can he help them or will they challenge him? - These are just ideas from the top of my head, along with the horny owlbears. It could be kind of interesting to expand upon this notion.)

Wanting little to do with the till-now-enarmorous beasts, the heroes continued their trek and a couple of hours later found the old trail, leading further into the darker part of the forest.

That banshee is a real screamer...

The heroes encountered a small clearing in the forest, containing ruins that witnessed of a grand structure that once stood here. There, in the clearing, they noticed a ghostly spirit hovering above the ground, with long, white hair gently wavering in an ethereal breeze. Father Fireforge recognized this creature as a banshee.
(I love how 5th edition entirely breaks with one of the oldest conventions, and remakes the usually terrifying banshee into a lowly CR 4 monster. The reaction on people's faces, when they are confronted with such a creature at a low level is priceless and certainly something that will put some humility on the table. Notice, however, that Lost Mine doesn't include any stats for banshees, so unless you have the expanded notes from Wizards, the heroes aren't really supposed to fight her.)

Players ruling that undead-diplomacy-shit!
 The heroes bowed and introduced themselves to the spirit. Agatha greeted them and asked for their purpose with a sneer, so they quickly presented her the gift and made their case. They showed her great politeness and flattery, and with an advantage persuasion, the banshee saw their point of view and agreed to answer them one question. (I really hoped someone would reply 'What, any question?' just to let her say 'Yes' and disappear, but ah well... The heroes can actually ask for a lot of things and learn about various locations, if they don't give a damn about the old tome).

Asking for the tome, the banshee thought for some while, but then remembered and told them that a red wizard had taken it from her and journeyed south. With that in mind, the heroes immediately set out to deal with him. 
(This is likely where I deviated the most from the original adventure. As written, the heroes simply get an answer from Agatha, stating that the tome is long gone and the priestess will be all happy about that. But it seems like such a...stupid dead end. So I decided to let the wizard have it, to tie endings a bit more together).

Red wizard needs food

They arrived late at night at the old ruins, in which stood only a half tower that had long ago nearly collapsed to the ground. There, in the midst, was a small tent with a lantern apparently lit. Not knowing how to approach, Delvin drank a potion of invisibility and set out with a sneak, nearing the tent and saw a red wizard with a tattooed face, concentrating on his books. One of them was an old leathery tome, very similar to the one they were hunting. On his way back, Delvin couldn't help but notice an old, mummified hand sticking out from the ground – it certainly didn't bode well.

They decided to make short work of it, and all sneak up to the tent and knock him out through the linen. (One of my players came up with the interesting question; if a wizard is all covered up in a fallen tent, do you have line of sight to him?) Sadly, the stealth rolls weren't all that great at the time, and both Oxyzeron and Father Fireforge accidentally kicked loose some rubble that made a lot of noise. Before they knew, a commanding shout echoed through the night, and moans and grasping hands rose from the ground. The zombies were upon them.

(I LOVE ZOMBIES IN 5th! They are so much fun, especially to low level adventurers who don't have the required damage bursts or radiant artillery to deal with their resilience.)

12 zombies surrounded them and the heroes gathered up in defensive formation. At the same time, the red wizard emerged from his tent and screamed at them for interrupting his sanctum.
The heroes started slashing some rotten flesh, but the time to shine was from Father Fireforge, who boldly raised his holy symbol and invoked the power of Oghma; commanding the restless dead to flee. Nine out of 12 zombies turned tail and ran. (Again, turn undead is no feature to be trifled with!)

Clerics - Good as ever.
Being no further use to the wizard, he decided to lighten things up a bit and hurled a fireball at the group (Yes, another deviation, originally this mage is much weaker in the written adventure. I decided to test out the true potential of a level 5 spell caster, and what an effect!) - blowing up rotting flesh and adventurers alike, the wizard taunted them and laughed with manic glee, before Delvin made a direct charge at him, followed closely by the professor. The wizard sneered and unleashed a lightning bolt at Delvin, Fireforge and Oxyzeron, who'd foolishly lined themselves up for a perfect zap. The cleric and the dragonborn went down for the count, and just as the wizard was about to turn his attention to the remaining dwarf, a critical hit planted the fighter's axe right between his eyes. With a sigh, he dropped dead.

The heroes searched the wizard's tent and found the old tome along with a magical ring of protection +1. Inspecting the tome even closer, they realized that reading it would grant whoever did so a permanent stat-increase! (Again, this was my initiative. As said, the tome isn't even there in the original story. I may have overdone it a bit, however, with the power of the tome, but that's that. I'm not even sure tomes will exist in 5th, seeing how the stats all have a hard cap).

They decided to head back to Phandalin, and after some days they arrived back at the small town. People were once again greeting their heroes, and they made way for the shrine to bargain with sister Garaele; thinking that they had earned their just reward more than enough. Not knowing whether to read the tome or to hold up their end of the bargain, the heroes attempted to haggle with the harper priestess, who admitted the tome was indeed worth a lot. She couldn't, however, pay them much gold besides whatever she had in the coffins along with a necklace. She even offered them a membership of the Harpers, which the heroes refused. In the end, the priestess scowled them and said they could do whatever they wanted, but it would put them in a bad standing with the shrine. Giving in to such a threat, the heroes handed over the tome and went on their way towards the ruined city of Thundertree, hoping to find Reidoth and whatever information he could divulge.

To be continued in “Storming the castle!”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 3 – Orcs!

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 3 – Orcs!

Hey, everyone! We're back, albeit for a short update on the third session of the ever truly epic campaign of D&D 5th edition – The Lost Mines of Phandelver. When we left the heroes, they had shattered the iron grip of the Redbands and released the small town of Phandalin for its troublesome oppression. In a desperate search for their ally, Gundren Rockseeker, the heroes had managed to discern the location of Castle Crawmaw where the dwarf, if the saying was true, was held prisoner. Having just slain the leader of the Redbrands, the renegade wizard known as Glass Staff, the heroes were about to explore the remaining part of the hideout.

The heroes were still Delvin the dwarven warrior, Father Fireforge the dwarven cleric of Oghma, Barian the elven wizard, and Professor Grim, the academic human rogue. All of them were third level.
As usual, GM comments are in blue.

Leaving no stone unturned

Having slain Glass Staff and his thugs, the heroes decided to head out for the remaining corridor, which eventually led them to a basement landing in which rested a large cistern and some old barrels. The calm water lulling them into a safe feeling, they began investigating the room, for now ignoring the door and the stairs leading up. They were, anyway, quite certain that they had now found the main entrance to the compound, which would hopefully lead them back outside once they were done. Delvin took a swim in the cistern and found an old leather sack with a strongbox inside.
Isildur using 5th. ed. swim rules
 (This actually had me wonder about another of those little details D&D 5th seems to flush; swimming in armor apparently has little to no effect, meaning we're back at the game in which full plate swimmers are a perfectly viable thing. Ah well, it worked so well in a chain mail during The Two Tower...)

The party battered it up, not thinking about the amount of noise they made, so they were soon jumped by the door opening up and two Redbrands firing arrows at them from across the room. They then retreated back into cover and before the party had time to formulate a strategy, Professor Grim moved up and hurled a bunch of marbles across the entrance. (Why, we were never really sure)
Seeing how the Redbrands were perfectly fine with staying at a distance, making ranged attacks at the heroes, the good guys had to make their move across the ad hoc barricade of the ruffians and dangerous floor of marbles. This sadly meant that the poor Barian suffered the misfortune of bad balance and was hurled to the floor in best comic relief style.

The professor likely had some idea with those marbles...
 Eventually, Delvin and the nimble professor made their way across and killed the troublemakers, rejoicing and finally breaking open the lock box for some gold and a potion of invisibility.

Taking no prisoners but the prisoners
They discovered a hidden door in the cistern-room and journeyed north, behind of which they found two additional doors. Behind one of them they heard the low sound of dice being hurled and some rattling of chains. (I did take some liberties in this dungeon design, I made the crypt-part kind of like a side area because I still found it to be extremely weird and out of context that a random burial chamber with animated skeletons would be part of an aspiring hive of scum and villainry. So here, it was sort of an area the cloaks were afraid of and had more or less just sealed off). Things went as things went, and the heroes kicked down the door with some good stealth checks, blowing down the ruffians before they had much time to act.

They found the woodworker's wife and children chained up in there, and reassured them everything would be okay, that they just had to check one more room before escorting them out. (One time in my campaign world, NPC's will evolve to recognize adventurers saying this as 'Get the hell out of here!!') - the crying woman was ever thankful and told them that while she couldn't pay them anything worth value, she'd recommend checking out the old herbalist store if they would ever visit the ruined town of Thundertree. There they would find a lost emerald necklace, lost by her family when it fled ages ago. So the heroes thanked her and set out to explore the remaining door, which sadly meant almost falling into another trap.

The last door was old and barred up, so it took some energy gaining entrance. On the other side was a small burial chamber with sarcophagi that practically screamed of nothing to be disturbed. Of course the heroes brashly marched into the room and beheld three skeletons animate from their slumber and shamble towards them.

 (This room is quite trivial at best, since at this time the heroes will have plenty of power against the ordinary skellies. So I decided to throw in a wrench and add a little extra challenge. Usually, the wraith is reserved for Phandelver Mine itself, but I thought a little early confrontation couldn't harm, am I right? I ought to add that I have a very hard time sticking fiercely to an adventure as it's written – I need to make improvements and play around with the system, especially if it's new. The heroes had, with only minor exceptions, been doing really well in encounters up till now, and at this time, WotC hadn't released the official encounter building guide, so hey!)

This was also the first opportunity to test out the new Turn Undead-rules, regarding channeling. It worked quite well, sending all three skeletons running at the first attempt (this ability has become a powerhouse, as far as I see it, against the minor undead who often have very bad will saves, and since it pretty much hurls them out of the fight for as long as the party wishes, all the more glory to an ability that was more or less meh for a long time in Pathfinder)

As the third skeleton fell, an eerie laughter echoed A dark shade appeared before them and hungered for the magical life power they possessed. In blind rage it set upon them, going for the poor wizard Barian and scored a critical hit, pretty much one-shotting him. He luckily made his CON save, and it disappeared into the wall. (There are some serious grey areas regarding to incorporeal monsters, I believe, seeing how extremely mobile they've become by the new system. As such, there is no formal statement about what they can see if they stay inside a wall and occasionally glimpse out to attack. Compared to Pathfinder, they are also able to end their turn in solid material now, meaning they take some minor damage. This really made me wonder about the possibilities of, say, having an incorporeal monster pretty much remain in the floor and reach up to attack during its turns; would it have cover? Would it strike blindly with disadvantage? It borders the line of cheesing, but since players, afaik, can also achieve this effect, it may be something that ought to be discussed in groups.)

Fighting incorporeal monsters, pretty much in a nutshell...

The wife and kids started screaming when they saw the Wraith and ran away, yelling. The rest of the party mobilized and got out their one and only magical weapon to take the fight to the wraith. Delvin and the Professor delivered some nasty cuts, which were apparently enough that the apparition didn't manage to hit anything for two turns in a row. Poor Barian, however, failed his first death save and on the subsequent turn rolled a natural one. Meaning, you guessed it;

The party eventually downed the wraith through a lot of healing and good rolling, and with big grief returned to town with the dead wizard. The townspeople were cheering and happy, rejoicing and celebrating once news reached their ears. They even prepared for a great welcoming committee, flags and everything as the party marched into tow, but sadly Father Fireforge was in a very foul mood and told them all to shut up and move aside.
Which kind of put a damper on the otherwise great atmosphere...

Life (and death) of the party!

The heroes went to the Shrine of Luck, hoping Sister Garaele would be able to help them restoring their slain companion to life, meanwhile addressing Sildar Hallwinter, who weren't exactly pleased to hear they had slain Glass Staff instead of taking him into custody. Eventually he gave up and asked for all the former wizard's belongings, including his staff, which were to be returned to the alliance. It took some sweet talking by Delvin to convince the lord, but eventually he acquiesced and allowed them to keep the item till Gundren was found. (This isn't part of the adventure, but no harm in letting the heroes work a bit for their overpowered items, right?)

Sister Garaele offered to help the heroes for a meager sum of 500 gold, placing the dead elf in the small shrine and started chanting to the goddess to bless him with luck in this life once more. Which was kind of ironic, seeing how it was pure bad luck that killed him off in the first place...

(Now, I know a lot of you out there are screaming at me with errata, pointing out that Sister Garaele is nowhere near capable of such a feat as raising the dead. And you're right, not as it's written in the adventure. But allow me to sum it up like this; I play D&D once a week, and while this can be considered much by several standards, we only game for about five hours. And one thing I obviously don't want to spend time on, is narrating how the party returns all the way to Neverwinter to achieve what might as well be done on the spot. Another thing I really hate, is the party waiting for someone to roll up a new character, especially since he has so few options available and would likely make a wizard very similar to this one. I understand that this system makes Sister Garaele much more powerful than intended, but if this is something that bothers people, one could simply assume she has a scroll hidden somewhere. Or, to put it short, death is a punishment, a setback, not a game-stopper. Feel free to disagree.)

Barian returned to life, not so thankfully and made some rather sinister remarks to his party how he would never return the favor to them and thus wandered off. The heroes decided it was a night to celebrate at the Stonehill Inn, which resulted in a grand night of drinking between the dwarves, the professor seducing the tavern owner's daughter and Barian going to bed with a headache of resurrection sickness (which in D&D 5th has been reduced to a -4 penalty to all rolls, reduced by 1 for each long rest. Much more forgiving, indeed).

Drinking contests; now, I simply used the old reliable system for a DC 5 CON check, which progressively scaled for each drink, allowing the sturdy dwarves an advantage on their saves all along. As it should be. Not all that shit with dwarves going under before the elves, no way. 

And thus, the brave heroes went to bed.

Let's hunt some orc!

The heroes set out the next day; now aware of the location of Cragmaw Castle. However, being curious and severely attention-challenged (they're my players after all, who spent half a year in Skull and Shackles simply side questing) they thought it wise to grind and explore the local area a bit, before heading off to storm the castle. They contemplated on whether to go an confront the spirit, Agatha, for the book for Sister Garaele, or hunt down the orcs not far from Old Owl Well and Wyvern Tor. The heroes decided to settle to the latter.

The lair of the orcs was located within a small forest placed close to the rocky cliffs, some days' journey east of Phandalin. As the heroes approached it, they noticed a lone orc being on watch duty. It hadn't spotted them yet. So Barian hurled a sleep spell at it, unfortunately not rolling high enough to tranquilize it, meaning the orc rolled an 18 on it's perception check and yelled for an alarm.
Soon after, the hills were alive and swarming with orcs. And, a thundering, crashing sound as an obese ogre came crushing out of the cave with a loud roar of “ME SMASH!”

(This encounter is deadly at its full brunt. The ogre can hit like truck and orcs have become extremely mobile, thanks to their free move action towards the nearest target. Don't be surprised if this encounter truly tests your heroes!)

The brave adventurer in his natural environment
 The orcs advanced swiftly on the heroes, and the professor ran and hid amidst the trees, while Barian took cover, leaving the two dwarves to fend for themselves. It wasn't a bad plan, though, as soon after a Web spell between the trees caught three orcs and the ogre, leaving them struggling for two turns, while the professor jumped out from his hideout and stabbed two of the orcs to death. While both Delvin and Fireforge came dangerously close to the dreaded 0 hit points (Father Fireforge ending up at 1...) the heroes were victorious and collapsed with battle fatigue, inspecting the sinister orc cave before them...

And what they found in there will be revealed in the next chapter “Dovahkiins and Owlbears

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 2 – A New Sheriff in Town

Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 2 – A New Sheriff in Town

The last times we left the heroes, they were departing from the slaugther that was the Cragmaw hideout. With the goblins and their chieftain Klarg slain, the party rescued their companion, Sildar Hallwinter, from the vile green clutches and set out for the small mining-town of Phandalin. Hoping to find any possible lead that could bring them closer to the infamous Cragmaw Castle and thus their adbucted friend, Gundren Rockseeker, the heroes took to the road. They knew the stakes were suddenly much higher, seeing how a shadowy figure known as "The Black Spider" had apparently pulled the goblin-strings all along, making sure they would strike against the unfortunate dwarf and bring back his map to the lost mines of Phandelver. Thus, it was a race against time, and the heroes didn't want to be late.

(At this time, the party still consisted of Delvin the dwarven fighter, Barian the elven wizard, Professor Grim the human rogue, and Father Fireforge the dwarven cleric. At this time the party had dinged level 2, as prescribed by the adventure. And as always, GM comments are in blue.)

After some much needed rest on the road, Sildar told the heroes that he and Gundren were jumped on their way to town. The goblins had sent Gundren off to Castle Cragmaw along with the map leading to the mythical lost mines of Phandelver, and how their only hope was to seek help in Phandalin.
When asked about his personal mission, Sildar explained that he was on a mission for the Lord's Alliance, seeking an old friend and mage who, a couple of months ago, set out for Phandalin in order to investigate some trouble there. Alas, his friend with the nickname "Glass Staff" hadn't been heard from in weeks, which was concerning from an otherwise prominent wizard. The heroes promised to keep an eye out for the missing diplomat in their journeys.

Phandalin – Kind of a one horse town, that probably died.

(Right off the bat, Phandalin can be quite an impression for new players, seeing how an otherwise one-directional adventure all of a sudden turns very open-wide and Skyrim'ish. The heroes pretty much arrive and are set loose upon several places to go, and more than a few offer quests in the nearby area. While more experienced players will likely just start writing a quest-log, mine certainly did, initiates to the road of adventure may benefit more from following Sildar's advice and just start out at the inn and make their way out. Phandalin is meant to be an experience in itself, so don't feel a need to rush, and instead concentrate on making the various locations memorable.)

Phandalin 101

After a couple of days, the heroes beheld a small settlement of buildings before them. While certainly not any random backwater town, they had the impression that this place was an echo of something much grander in the days past. Fields dotted the green landscape and lush forests encapsulated it like a sylvan forest wall with several small paths leading out into the nearby mountains. There was activity in the streets, as they arrived early in the day when townsfolk began their daily duties, most of them just glaring shortly, mumbling.

On their way into town, Sildar advised the heroes to formulate a strategy. Handing in the cargo at Barthen's Provisions would be a prudent start, also returning the goods to the Lionshield Coster for some gold to help things get started. Sildar would go to the local Stonehill Inn to acquire some rooms and wait for them there.

The heroes decided to head for the Lionshield Coster first. There they met an, initially, suspicious woman who kept a close hand on her sword till she realized the group came in peace and showed her the stolen crates with the logo of the Coster. She introduced herself as Linene Graywind and payed the heroes 50 gold for their trouble and they were allowed to resupply from her stocks. She also told them of the recent troubles with the Redbrands (notice, the official name is the Redbrands, but I went for the Redcloaks because...well, it sounds better. It's up to you, doesn't change a thing) that had started plaguing the town some months ago. They started as minor ruffians, young people out on a rampage, but suddenly things grew dire as they slaughtered the local woodworker and made off with his wife and two children. She was sad that the Townmaster didn't seem to give a rat's ass about the situation, but that was how the cookie crumbled these days. She didn't know of Cragmaw Castle, but suggested either talking to Mr. Edermath up at the orchard, who was a retired adventurer with solid knowledge of the area, or Misses Alderleaf who knew a druid in the area.

The adventurers thanked her and went to the Shrine of Luck, seeing how Professor Grim was a believer of Tymora.

The Shrine of Luck

On their way across the marketplace, the heroes noticed several young people wearing red cloaks, glaring at them with foul intentions. It was evident they weren't welcome.
In the shrine, they were greeted by Sister Garaele who was eager to meet fresh faces that weren't rushed out of town by the ruffians. She blessed them on their journey and told them she had indeed seen someone who matched Glass Staff's description some months ago, but she only knew he had stayed at the local Stonehill Inn. The shrine was most of all a small tent with some relics in it, so the sister couldn't offer much else besides good advice; she did, however, ask whether the heroes would be willing to run a small errand for her. A couple of days east of town was an abandoned clearing in which resided a ghostly apparition named Agatha. Apparently, Agatha knew about the location of a powerful magic tome that the priestess needed for the temple. She hadn't had much luck bartering with the spirit, so she handed the heroes a silver comb and asked them to present it to her, seeing she was a very vain spirit.
Being a true believer, the Professor agreed, and Barian, ever eager to seek out magic power, insisted they set out right away!

On the way out, the professor couldn't help but notice a small insignia attempted hidden on the priestess; one he recognized as the sign of the Harpers.
(For some reason I really like this location, it seems cozy and like a nice place)

Life on the halfing farm...
The heroes sought out Miss Alderleaf and her son, Carp. The halfling too was scared by the presence of the cloaks and yet managed to keep her field with only the occasional bribe-tax. She didn't know much about Glass Staff, but she did indeed recommend Reidoth the druid. “There's not an inch of these lands he doesn't know about!” she said and pointed them towards the old, ruined town of Thundertree to the north.
Before they left, they had a chance to talk to Carp, who had all the time seemed very strained when the heroes mentioned the redcloaks. He finally succumbed and told them that the other day, he'd been playing around at the old Tresendar Manor and saw some mean, big ugly bandit come out of a hidden tunnel and meet with some of the cloaks.

Hey, punks! This is our turf!
The remaining time in time was rather short spent, so we'll pass over that quickly. They went for a visit at the Stonehill Inn, in which they heard more dissatisfaction about the Townmaster and learned that Glass Staff had stayed there during his visit, yet his mysterious disappearance left much to curiosity. Heading to Barthen's Provisions, the heroes earned some more gold from the old shop keeper, before stepping back out into the streets.

There, four redcloaks were eagerly awaiting for them, one of them spitting into the ground while playing with his sword. “You've been here long enough, sissies...” he growled. “It's time for you to leave.”

You don't mess with the Redbrands
 Father Fireforge grumbled as the whole group drew arms and the fight broke out in the market place. The heroes smashed into the redcloaks and bashed out some of their teeth, while a well aimed Thunderwave sent several of them flying. It wasn't long till the ruffians lay dead and the cowering towns people crawled out from cover and started cheering madly.

(I admit I tried tuning up this battle, as I was kind of aware the heroes were getting into their stride by this point. Originally there are only three ruffians in this encounter, and what makes them kind of a big deal is that they have multistrike and hit for two attacks each. It doesn't take them long to down low armored targets, but to my delightfully surprise, the heroes did really well).

This triggered the righteous feeling of the heroes, who immediately went to the Townhall to confront the Town Master himself. He was immediately reduced to a quivering puddle of fear when he learned what the strangers were doing, terrified the cloaks would come for him next. The heroes managed to convince him that they were there to help and would bring back the head of the redcloak-leader soon, bolstering the cowardly man with some renewed hope. So much that he in fact told them that the local mining company had a bounty out on the leader's head, and he was looking for bold heroes to travel east and take care of an orc infestation in the mountains. The heroes vaguely accepted the offer, but all in due time. First, they had business to settle!

Red Bedding

Following Carp's directions, the heroes went to the old manor east of town and found the secret tunnel down. They also discovered the main entrance along the way, but decided to take the element of surprise. The secret descent led them deep into the cellar ruins, and they were prepared for things to go messy.

(There are a couple of things to know about this place, seeing how it constitutes the adventures' second dungeon. It's a tad bit bigger than the goblin warrens, yet features some nastier encounters along the way. I believe one of the finer lessons of this dungeon, is the importance of alertness. If the entire dungeon wakes up and starts flooding the heroes it almost inevitably will result in a bloodbath. On the other hand, the heroes are rewarded greatly for stealth and cunning and having done their homework. Being able to use the secret entrance is a huge advantage, and not going in guns blazing to every encounter can actually be a great idea. The adventure encourages you as a GM to reward players for acting as new recruits or even making friends with one of the monsters down here. So my point is, allow for creativity. As a bash-dungeon this is certainly not one of the worst, but why not try and make it a bit more interesting for yourself as well?

In my group, the players decided to go for utmost stealth, which turned out wonders. It may not be the most creative, but hey.)

Stealth. My players got it.

At first they landed in a big room with a huge chasm in it and and several passages leading away from it. Instead of running off like morons, they searched thoroughly and discovered a lot of debris down at the bottom of the pit. So they lowered Delvin the Warrior there with a rope and he began searching. It wasn't long, however, till a voice inside his head whispered “Interesting collection, is it not, little man?”

With a yell he sprang back and they all prepared, looking in amazement as a slim creature with a huge eye crawled out from behind the rocks. Its voice echoed in their minds even though they never saw the creature's mouth move. It told them not to be afraid and hear it out, presenting itself as the Nothic, a creature in service of the master of these halls. (I played out the Nothic as slightly childish and socially awkward. It was more playful and bored than downright sinister, seeing as after all it's in fact out to strike a deal with the heroes, if possible). They immediately began asking it questions, but the creature wanted to make a deal. For one hundred gold pieces, it would divulge every little bit of information about the halls. For an additional 20, it would tell them of a nearby secret. At this stage, that was a lot of gold, but the heroes found it useful to trust the creature and coughed up the dough.

The Nothic told the heroes that the leader of the cloaks was known as “Glass Staff” due to his favored weapon, which didn't really come as much of a surprise for them (they've seen so much of this shit before) and that he apparently took orders from someone known as The Spider (the SPIDER!!) - The ruffians were there to keep troublemakers out of town and had been granted the assistance of three bugbears. Yet, the cloaks by themselves had managed to do this just fine, so mostly the buggies sat in their own lair down the hall and passed time by beating up goblins. As for the master, his quarters were to the north-west, and could be accesed through a secret door in the wall to the north.

Seems like Pandaria did inspire 5th edition in some way?
So the heroes thanked the creatures and made their way into an old storage room and started searching. It wasn't long till they spotted the door and made their way through it, rolling up some very good stealth checks along the way. As they emerged on the other side, they saw a mage in silent contemplation, sitting at his desk with a staff of glass within reach. So the heroes ambushed him, and within one turn knocked him out cold and methodically started searching the rest of the dungeon.

(I'm curious as to how this battle would have turned out, had they faced the mage head on. He does pull his weight in a fight, with his nifty magical staff. While there is some uncertainty about its ruling, it potentially raises his armor class to 14, and on top of that comes his dexterity bonus. Throw in the possibility of using Shield with the staff, the mage is not to be trifled with, easily reaching an armor class of 19).

“I would have gotten away with it, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids and that mangy Wolf!”
They went south and soon heard turmoil from a nearby room, it sounded like loud, gruff voices laughing while slapping someone around in pain. Behind the door opposite of it, was the sound of some humans having fun, rolling dice.
The heroes kicked in the door and realized there were three bug bears behind it. Charging in on their surprise round, Barian, Delvin and Fireforge engaged the brutes, while the Professor barred the door behind them, hiding so he was ready for the cloaks.

The bugbears put up a decent fight, but with the solid damage in the surprise round and good initiative rolls, one of them fell quickly, whereas the others smashed the dwarven warrior solidly. Good use of second wind and healing words, however, kept him strong and soon they were pushing the beasts back in the small room. The ruffians had started kicking down the door in order to come to aid, but as soon as they started making their way in, the professor began stabbing them down from behind. It was a solid strategy that resulted in a solemn victory soon after, and wiping their blades clean, the heroes went back to interrogate Glass Staff.

“But I'm a man of wealth and taste?”
Glass Staff was woken up, quite roughly, and once again the heroes didn't waste any breath on unnecessary questions. The mage could only confirm what they already knew, adding to it that as a member of the Lord's Alliance, he'd been contacted by the Spider, a loathsome drow who had great ambitions for the lost mine of Phandelver. He'd promised the mage, that if only he'd keep adventurers away from Phandalin and manage the goblins, he'd make him wealthy and able to partake in the abundance of magic that flowed through the mine.

They beat him up a bit till he gave up and spilled the beans about Castle Cragmaw, revealing its location out in the forest to the north.

Glass Staff then remained polite and surrendered to the heroes, confident the Spider would break him out after he stood trial. With a smirk, he called on diplomatic immunity and asked to be handed over to the local authorities. At that point, Professor Grim stepped up and stabbed him through the neck.

And thus they took a well deserved rest, preparing to explore the rest of the dungeon and eventually hurl themselves at the myriad of side quests that awaited them.

Oh, and they also dinged Level 3!

To be continued in Chapter 3 - “ORCS!”