When last we left our heroes, most of them had left us one way or another. Either the player disappeared (I presume for personal reasons – if he reads this, no hard feelings!) or the characters had succumbed to a bugbear ambush. But the Redbrands realized they’d reached a turning point.
In case I haven’t made it clear, this post contains:
Sacking of Phandalin
The elven rogue escaped from the hideout back to the town hall and reported to Sheriff Sildar Hallwinter what had happened under Tresendar Manor. Shortly thereafter, the remaining Redbrands assaulted the town of Phandalin, setting fire to several buildings and attacking the townspeople.
However, a few adventurers had arrived the night before on unrelated business. They quickly formed a posse and pressed a counterattack. On a few occasions, the thugs almost managed to gain the upper hand by swarming an individual adventurer, but the thugs quickly fell to the remainder. The townspeople doused the fires as Hallwinter personally held off the attackers long enough for his deputized backups to arrive.
However, when the mage Glasstaff arrived and revealed himself, it became clear that the town simply couldn’t hold both Sildar and his old acquaintance Iarno Albrek. The forces of law and chaos squared off, and once Sildar & the adventurers and cut down the mage’s escort, Glasstaff attempted to flee. But misty step and hold person weren’t enough against the posse and he perished just before he could reach the tree line around the village. Phandalin had withstood the sacking and broken the ruffians for good.
(Yes, it has occurred to me that you could port this adventure to any of several settings, including the mythic American West.)
The Spider’s Web
As the adventurers rested and tended to their wounds, Hallwinter and a few local residents investigated the now-empty hideout. After recovering quite a bit of ill-gotten treasure, they found a letter with an important clue to who in truth lay behind both the missing dwarves and the Redbrands: an unknown figure calling themselves “The Black Spider”.
Hallwinter called a town meeting with the adventurers and several community leaders. While the bandits on the edge of town no longer threatened them, raiders along the Triboar Trail continued to wreak havoc on commercial traffic. This Black Spider clearly had ties both to the Redbrands and the Cragmaw clan that had captured Gundren Rockseeker and Sildar days earlier. In fact, the note had made it clear they wanted the adventurers dead and any dwarven maps recovered.
So the town leadership (including the Sheriff, the titular Townmaster, and the guildmaster for the Phandalin Miners Exchange) requested that the adventurers investigate a number of possibilities, including trying to find raiders on the Trail, rumors of undead near the Old Owl Well that had frightened some miners in that area, and possible orcs operating out of Wyvern Tor.
Three of the adventurers accepted this offer and set out together. Despite interruptions from a hungry owlbear a lone ogre, they reached their destinations. A Red Wizard had set up camp at the well, commanding a horde of zombies in service to some unknown project of his. But while he had no inclination to leave the area, he also communicated that he didn’t seek to cause trouble to anyone who left him alone. After he briefly mentioned that he, too, had concerns about the orc bandits, the adventurers set out to the south. They could address the menace that Sheriff Hallwinter had described and potentially get a bargaining chip for the Red Wizard.
Once they’d located the orc camp, things went quickly. Several orcs, including their leader Brughor Axebiter, had set up inside a cave with a filthy ogre. They were no match for the coordinated onslaught of the thief, magic-user, and paladin, though, and caravans on the Triboar Trail that night could rest a little more safely.
I spent considerable time preparing these two sessions. The encounter balancing for the “Sacking of Phandalin” paid off, as the tension ran thick on both sides the whole time. While some of the characters fell unconscious, I never reached a point where I felt like the players had truly gotten in over their heads. That session alone got all three new characters to level 2.
When it came time for some of them to set out, I did fudge things once or twice. For example, at one point a monster had gotten down to 1 HP. I didn’t feel like it was right for his attack to bludgeon an adventurer to death with one blow, particularly since it had barely succeeded on the attack roll. So I pulled back on the damage there.Too much crunch annoys me but this cries out for some sort of house rule.
I also ignored the description of the wandering ogre in a random encounter as “too stupid” to retreat. It had almost reached death before it ever got its first chance to move, so it fled. (The rogue still brought it down in a chase, though.)
The characters that showed up for both sessions have all reached third level and now should find themselves in an improved position both mechanically and narratively to deal with the Red Wizard. For next time, I’ve made some fun tweaks to the Thundertree encounter, mostly moving that whole thing to the ruined village of Conyberry. This gives me a better way to get the players there since we’ll have multiple hooks, including the banshee oracle outside of town. I really want the characters to get the chance to confront the dragon on the cover of the Starter Set.
With the upcoming holidays and several of us undertaking business travel, I hope we can finish off that encounter and maybe Cragmaw Castle before the end of the year. Ideally we’d complete the entire adventure, but the final episode will probably take at least two sessions.