Session 05 – Dealing with the Redbrand
WARNING. THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WIZARDS OF THE COAST’S “LOST MINE OF PHANDELVER”, INCLUDED IN THE DUNGEONS & DRAGONS 5th EDITION STARTER SET
“THAT’S HIM!” shouted the young boy, grabbing the guard by his tunic and pointing frantically at Tsetung. “THAT’S THE ONE THAT BROKE INTO THE CHAPEL!”. And, just like that, Session 05 began. With an accusation that will keep coming back to haunt our heroes.
As the guards crowded around I realised I’d not prepared this dialogue as much as I should have. I’d not really considered that this conversation would set the scene for the rest of the evening. I hastily improvised by creating a new character, Ferendal, who leads the small group of town guards. This also gave me an opportunity to introduce Harbin Wester, the Townmaster who, until then, the party had not deigned to visit.
Harbin quickly took on a sneering tone, demanding to know why the group had broken into the Chapel. He was also in no doubt that the Accidental Heroes were responsible for the six dead Redbrand left on the road outside the Sleeping Giant.
Tsetung accepted the blame and offered to pay for the repairs. This mollified Wester somewhat and Lucius followed up by admitting that they had killed the Redbrands at the Inn but only in self-defence.
I think I need to add a new rule here. Rule 7 – Don’t be afraid to punish your players. There has to be a risk if they’re to get invested in the story and they won’t feel any accomplishment if they aren’t tested. Others have said this to me* but you have to keep this in the back of your mind always. I realise, in hindsight, that I should have carried this plotline further but I was keen to move the story on – last week’s session was a bit slow and I wanted to make up for that. As Wester accused the party of killing six innocents he was hastily met with Trilena’s “Now just you wait one minute, Harbin Wester. We all saw what those Redbrand did to Thel Drendar! They ain’t no innocents.”
The group still aren’t following things like this up as quickly as I’d like. They had the opportunity to ask what happened to Thel but ignored it. I then had to have Harbin Wester drive the point home. It’s just not fluid yet.
It still feels like the group are suffering from “Video Game Syndrome” speaking to specific NPCs about a single questline rather than treating each NPC as a living, breathing character. As I write this I realise it is getting better but it needs to evolve a little more. I have mentioned this to my group but any tips here would be welcome.
Right. Here’s one for any of you Dungeon Masters preparing to run Lost Mine of Phandelver. I’ve spotted a bit of an issue here where the Starter Set could be clearer.
Each of the pre-generated starter characters comes with a “Personal Goal” to help drive the plot along. However, they’re not fleshed out well. As an example, the goal for the Wizard states that the Goblins have defiled an Ancient Shrine in Cragmaw Castle. It advises him to seek out Sister Garaele for assistance. There is no suggestion in the notes how Garaele can help, and she doesn’t know where the castle is. When Lucius told her of his mystic vision, I was lost. It was pretty clear from the player’s response that he was disappointed by the response. I can come back to this – I need to – but I’m not sure how and I’m open to suggestions.
Either way, if you’re running Lost Mine of Phandelver, take a look at the Personal Goals and be prepared for them.
Garaele remained wary of the party, as yet unconvinced that they hadn’t taken the chapel’s offering bowl, but she gave them the quest to speak with Agatha the Banshee. I guess, whilst they’re away, she can investigate the mystery of the defiled altar.
After a brief conversation with Halia at the Miner’s Exchange, the party headed into the Redbrand Lair. This means that they did not speak to Qelline Alderleaf or her son Carp. They didn’t find the secret way into the caverns and, as a result, entered the Redbrand Lair through the cellar. (Area 1 on the map) It’s definitely a longer and more time-consuming path but after a few roleplay heavy sessions, I’m OK with this.
After the group failed to convince the Redbrand hiding in Area 2 that they were there to assist, combat ensued. Again, the final Redbrand tried to surrender but Tsetung, who was not in the mood for taking any prisoners, cleaved him in two.
Eventually, the group made their way past the pit trap in the hallway (3). Corlan, the groups Rogue, did spot the trap and Tsetung jumped it successfully but things went downhill from there. Tsetung and Durin held a rope across the pit but, due to bad dice, most of the party still managed to fall in. I really should have given Corlan advantage on the roll as he shimmied across the ledge. He rolled terribly but I should have rewarded their strategy with the rope. Be on the lookout for things like this. You don’t need to follow the book when your players find novel (and clever) ways of solving puzzles.
An interesting encounter
The group then entered the Tresendar Crypt where they encountered three skeletons. The three members of the party who entered first wore Redbrand cloaks and the skeletons did not attack. I decided to have them engage in conversation. Once again, our fighter decided to take no chances and set to with his axe. I think I might need to take some action here.
Corlan, who has a personal grievance with the Redbrand, refused to wear a cloak and the skeletons screamed “Intruder!” at him as soon as he entered the room. They then proceeded to push past the rest of the party to get at him. I found it interesting is that none of the group understood why the skeletons singled Corlan out. He did announce after the session, “It’s because I wasn’t wearing the cloak.” though so he’s clearly paying attention.
In the last action of the night, the Redbrands in the jail area, alerted by the fight, charged into the room and attacked Lucius. The crit should have killed him outright but this isn’t a rabbit hole I want to go down right now. I followed Rule 6 and fudged the roll. Lucius is down, but the group will have a chance to save him.
I seem to be in a cycle now. Odd-numbered sessions have been really good and I’ve finished each session feeling satisfied. Even-numbered sessions have been a bit messy though. This one was a good one.
- Tsetung refuses any attempt to take prisoners for interrogation, instead deciding to let his axe do the talking. Do I let this continue?
- I need to give Lucius some pay-off for his “mystic vision”. I also need to remember that, somewhere in this lair, is the Redbrand that threatened him. That combat should not begin without some form of dialogue.
*some on this very blog.
Glad you guys had a better session!
Personal Goals: Can you have Garaele come back to this player with the information? “Hey Lucious, I did some checking about the defiled alter and this is what I found.” Just have something prepared, in case this becomes the focus of an entire night of play. I don’t have this module so I don’t know if there’s anything already written for this in one of the side quests.
I could be wrong, but I believe, they are trying to teach you, in the module, that players histories are a great source of inspiration for adventures. When you branch off and have your players make their own characters, their BIO’s can be a great source for story ideas.
The Pit Trap. What you said about not having to follow the rules is right on! Don’t be afraid to NOT use the dice. When my players come up with great ideas, I often let them succeed without rolling dice…or sometimes I just roll dice behind my screen but have already decided to reward the idea with instant success–I’m just keeping up the evil DM guise by rolling the dice! 😛
Tsetung. I just pulled his character sheet off the internet. It says he’s Lawful Neutral and the first line in the description of that alignment, on the character sheet, reads: ” It’s essential to establish law and order, even if it takes an iron fist to do it.” Is it possible he’s taking this to heart? Has anyone in the group said anything like, “Would have been nice to interrogate him?”
Lucius. I think you’re in the right place there and your player will likely find that rewarding to have that focus on him. You can also, in the meantime, award an inspiration for good role-playing…
Some of the personal goals work, other’s don’t. If you look at the rogue personal goal it talks of getting revenge on the Rebrand and to speak to Halia Thornton in Phandalin who can assist. When you get to Halia, her text points you at Tresendar Manor and she offers a reward for killing Glasstaff. It just follows.
It just isn’t the same for Garaele. Her quest leads to Agatha the Banshee in Conyberry where the party are supposed to retrieve information regarding “Bowgentle’s Spellbook”.
I think Agatha will tell Lucius to speak to Garaele about another book which Garaele is sure to have in her collection. This will describe the means to consecrate the altar. I plan to turn this into an encounter where Lucius must read a sacred text whilst sprinkling water from the shrine of luck over the altar. The script has 5 lines so will take 5 actions.
Needless to say, the goblins that have defiled this altar in the name of Maglubiyet will not be happy with this and will do everything to stop him from completing the manuscript.
I put a post on Reddit about Tsetung’s refusal to take prisoners. The overwhelming response was “Let him. Lost information is lost information” so I may just need to become comfortable with this. I’ll keep an eye on it for now.
Whew! I was a couple sessions behind and am all caught up now. I hope there is more to come!
I’ve noticed that modules aren’t forthcoming with detailed information about any given thing. I’m used to doing my homebrew campaign where I define all the details as I need them. A character is thinking or pursuing some bit of information or backstory hook? I write up relevant info and pre-define all the info and NPCs I need, building on it as we go. But in a module, this tends to be left bare, given only motivations and generics. So Lucious meeting with Garaele about his backstory understandably caught you flat-footed. In these scenarios, it’s a matter of making up something interesting based on what little you do know. As you said, if you read into the Personal Goals ahead of time you can prepare for this and won’t be forced to improvise. But, in the cases where things catch you off guard, you just need to take control over the world and fill in the missing details as best you can. The module is the foundation, build upon it! Even if it only buys you time. Sometimes I do the “Come back tomorrow morning” trick when the party wants something from someone that I do not have prepared and can’t fudge easily. Worst-case scenario be honest: “Hey, I need to look into this more. Can we revisit it next session?”
Tsetung’s refusal to take prisoners is only a problem if it undermines what others at the table want to do. If the rest of the party is trying hard to get information and leave Redbrands alive, but Tsetung is stubbornly cleaving skulls, then it warrants a quick chat with the player. Ideally, it can be handled in character with other characters asking “Hey, can we question the next one before you split his skull?” and Tsetung agrees. But, if no one is bothered by it then it is fine. You can always have the Redbrand be more vocal as they approach defeat: “Please, no! I can tell you where the key is! Whatever you want, I’ll give it to you.” Have them hide behind a more kindly looking character, avoiding that axe as best they can while promising secrets.
I’m digging the mouseover information. Nice addition!