I’m currently running two groups through Lost Mine of Phandelver, the adventure included in the D&D Starter Set. The first group are people from my FLGS who play D&D Encounters with me every Saturday evening. I’m running it as an Adventurers League adventure, so characters are keeping track of their XP and treasure on the log sheets, using point-buy for creating their characters, and working within slightly stricter restrictions than the other group, who are just playing it as veterans of my Friday night home games.
Well, most are veterans. This time around we have Glen joining us, who has played a lot of board games and D&D Encounters with me over the past year. He’s joining Greg, Martin, Rich, Adam and Paul as we play through the adventure to fill in the gap between my 4E campaign finishing and my next 5E campaign starting up (once the Player’s Handbook has actually been released). Greg and Adam have played D&D with me for the better part of 13 years, Martin for about 10 years, Rich for the past 7 years, and Paul is another “newcomer” – he’s played in the Friday sessions for a little over a year, although he’s played D&D Encounters with me for three years or thereabouts! And despite Glen and Paul being relative newcomers to my table, they’ve played a lot of D&D in their lives. This is a table of experienced players!
Unfortunately, both Adam and Rich weren’t able to join us for the first session due to transport woes. They’ll join us this Friday and I’m looking forward to the characters they come up with.
We began the session with character creation. The character that really drew my attention was Greg’s cleric. Greg created a wood elf cleric with the criminal background, and placed his highest (rolled) ability score into Dexterity, although his Wisdom wasn’t far behind. The group didn’t (yet) have a thief, as that is what Rich will be playing, but the criminal background gives Greg most of the thief skills the party will need. In addition, Greg’s character was wielding a long bow. I raved about this a bit on EN World, but it’s worth reiterating how awesome I found this. Both 4E and AD&D “out of the box” don’t allow clerics to wield bows with any real effectiveness (very late in the piece, a few options were given for 4E), but 5E was, with just the basic rules, allowing a really distinctive and fun character.
I insisted players roll their backgrounds and personality traits randomly – I’ll allow selection once we get to the long-term campaign – so there will be some unusual combinations of traits when we get to the role-playing. This first session was just exploring and fighting, though, so we didn’t really see the characters’ personalities come out. However, the next session involves a lot of role-playing, which Greg and Adam will probably sabotage in their special – but amusing – way.
One of the rules I’m struggling with in 5E at present – and I’m not alone – is stealth. Exactly how does it work and what does it do? There are two aspects to this:
- What are the requirements for becoming (and staying) hidden?
- When you are stealthy enough to surprise the monsters, what happens? Do you get advantage on your first attacks?
The playtest and interim rules are much clearer on this matter. Here’s the appropriate text from the Interim rules from Dead in Thay:
There are two ways you can hide. If a creature can’t possibly see you, you need only to avoid making noise to avoid detection. If a creature might see you, you need to keep behind cover or stay in heavily obscured areas to remain hidden.
A lightly obscured area typically contains dim light, patchy fog, or moderate foliage. Some monsters and characters have special abilities that enable them to try to hide even in areas that are only lightly obscured.
And the rules from Basic D&D:
You can’t hide from a creature that can see you.
Given some of the rules in Basic D&D, it seems likely that you can only hide if you are heavily obscured, but some races and classes have the ability to hide when lightly obscured. There’s an oddity with the Halfling who can hide when “obscured” when behind larger creatures, although generally we’d refer to this as a form of cover. We really need more clarification on how the rules should work; I guess we’ll see if the Player’s Handbook has more information in a few days.
There’s a lot of stealth and general sneakiness going on in the early part of this adventure. The group is initially ambushed by goblins (my group were able to negate the ambush and turn the tables on the goblins) and then they sneaked into the goblins’ cave. So, they get surprise but are they hidden? My rulings flip-flopped around quite a bit; I’m still trying to find a happy medium.
Unlike my other group, this one hadn’t taken so much damage from the goblin ambush that they couldn’t chase after them. After negotiating the traps left by the goblins, they dealt with the goblins near the cave’s entrance pretty effectively, and then headed into the caves. The wolves could not be pacified, and so were killed, and then the group noticed the chimney and the garbage beneath it. “Let’s go up!” they said. And, unlike my other group, they also said, “We climb silently!”
Given that some of the group were wearing heavy armour, I expected this to go poorly. It didn’t. Everyone aced their rolls, allowing them to completely surprise the bugbear leader and his minions. Which meant that in a few short rounds, they were all dead and the party was mostly unscathed. Then they group repeated this process for the remainder of the goblins in the lair. This made it quite a different experience than that experienced by my Saturday group and by other groups around the world. If you surprise the goblins, then they are a lot less scary. Combats might last to the second round, but it was rare for the goblins to get even one attack!
In the final chamber the group were able to rescue Sildar, the companion of Gundren who had been kidnapped along with him. Sildar was appreciative of the party’s help and offered them a reward to escort him to Phandalin (where they were going anyway – free money!). He also filled them in on what was going on: Gundren and his brothers had found a map to the lost mine of Wave Echo Cave, which once had held a powerful magical forge. Gundren – and the map – had been taken away to Cragmaw Castle by the goblins. Where was Cragmaw Castle? No idea, but there might be someone in town who knew. Sildar really wanted to meet up with a wizard acquaintance of his own in the village, who was also a member of the Lords Alliance, but had dropped out of contact a few weeks ago.
It wasn’t really that late, but at this point the group had finished Episode 1 and – with a heavy role-playing section in front of them with some plot-important information to convey – I felt it was best if we stopped for the night. This Friday we’ll take up the adventure again and we’ll see how the group does in Phandalin.
It’s a very interesting experience running the adventure for two groups; both are going to take very different pathsthrough this adventure, I feel. As it happens, Rich will be playing in both groups, so I’ll try to discover how playing the adventure again changes his appreciation of it.