So to start off this remix and redesign, I’d like to share some of my inspirations with you. The first and foremost inspiration was Justin Alexander’s article “Jaquaying the Dungeon“. It is one of many, many articles on The Alexandrian that I will be referencing during this remix. Small side note: Alexander frequently refers to “Paul Jaquays” in this article series, but this person is now Jennell Jaquays.
In this article series, Alexander makes reference to the design approach used by Jaquays in several classic modules. Alexander then decides to use those principles to “remix” the 4th edition module H1 Keep on the Shadowfell. I highly recommend reading the articles on the remix of Keep on the Shadowfell, and looking through Alexander’s remix PDF. It’s really what sparked my idea for redesigning Lost Mine of Phandelver.
So let’s begin at the beginning. The adventure is separated into four distinct sections: “Goblin Arrows,” an ambush encounter leading to a goblin hideout cave; “Phandalin”, where the town is introduced and the town’s problem with a gang takeover is presented; “The Spider’s Web,” which presents possible side quest locations and the goblin base; and lastly “Wave Echo Cave,” which is the major dungeon and the place where the confrontation with the final “boss” will occur.
Problems with this begin immediately. First of all, all 5th edition material is set in The Forgotten Realms, a long-standing campaign setting which has been published in every major edition of the game since 1st edition AD&D. It’s also been the setting for a huge number of D&D novels, and several D&D computer/video games. If you want to use The Realms, then no problem. If you don’t want to use The Realms, then your very first problem is: “Where do I put this?” A corollary to this problem is: “What godawful names, how can I change these to something more suitable?” (I mean, come on–Phandalin? What the heck kind of name is that?)
Your second problem is, “Why are the PCs coming to this town?” The hooks offered in the adventure booklet are generic at best, and in my opinion pretty boring. Depending on what setting you are going to put this in, and the particulars of the group you are running, you can come up with hooks that are more specific to either the location or the PCs themselves.
Your third problem is: “What if the PCs don’t decide to follow the goblins?” This first section seems pretty dependent on the PCs fighting through the ambush, and then tracking the goblins back to their hideout (or following their tracks if none of the goblins escaped). But there are so many other options here. The encounter as written makes a lot of assumptions: that the PCs are hired to guard a merchant caravan, that this caravan is ambushed by goblins, that their employer is kidnapped, and that the PCs will follow the goblins because their employer was kidnapped and they want to get paid.
However, if you don’t use the generic and boring hook offered in the booklet, those assumptions don’t necessarily apply. You can still use the ambush encounter, because that can be plopped on the road to town no matter what the setting or what the reason for traveling to Phandalin. Figuring out how to entice the PCs to get to the hideout, though, might take a little work. The kidnapped guy is a pretty big part of the overall happenings in the adventure, so you’d also have to come up with a reason why he was nabbed, why he couldn’t escape, and why the PCs care enough to try and rescue him. Or maybe they don’t care about him at all but want to track down the goblins for some other reason.
Now, I didn’t start my group with the goblin ambush and hideout. My group had already been through an unrelated 5-room dungeon I set up for them (if you’re interested, it’s the Kobold Hall dungeon from the 4th edition DMG). I am using my own homebrew setting, too. So I planted some clues leading in various directions in the 5-room dungeon. One of those was a dead adventurer, who was trying to rescue his beloved (also dead, sadly). Both of them lived in Blackheath (my replacement for Phandalin). The guy who hired the PCs to do the job in the little dungeon was related to the girl who died, and he told them “hey my niece’s family lives in Blackheath”. So the PCs decided to take the sad news of her death, along with some personal effects they found, to her family. Coincidentally (or not), the young dead adventurer was related to Gundren Rockseeker, the central figure in the Lost Mine adventure–he’s the guy who gets kidnapped by goblins. The dead adventurer was Gundren’s son. So the PCs have a plausible reason to travel to Blackheath, and a plausible reason to seek out the girl’s family, and a plausible reason to seek out Gundren Rockseeker.
Now of course, someone else’s solution to these problems with the initial section could turn out very different. In general, I don’t have a problem with the goblin hideout itself. It’s an interesting location, it has some unique environmental elements which the PCs can use against the goblins or the goblins can use against the PCs, there is a goblin who is looking to overturn the current administration of the group (opening options for negotiation, gaining the dissenter’s help, or turning the dissenter in to gain favor with the bugbear boss), the combat seems challenging without being beyond the reach of a 1st level party (and can be easily modified in obvious ways if you have a smaller or larger party). It’s a fairly good setup for a level 1 scenario. My main problem is with the sequence of Boring Hook > Obvious Ambush > Railroad to Hideout that seems to be presented in the booklet.
I guess it might seem less like a railroad if you use the hook provided…but any plot or plan inevitably fails upon contact with a group of players. They will always do something you didn’t anticipate. If you use the material as written, and the players don’t follow the goblins…well, it’s a bit messy. This is kind of the theme for the whole thing.
So I presented my solution. A more general solution would be:
- Come up with a placement for the village and other locations that is meaningful to you and/or the players. If you want to use The Realms, you can use everything as-is. If not, look at the geographical characteristics to place things: village should be near a hilly area, preferably foothills to a mountain range. There should be caves and/or abandoned mines near the village. The side quest locations are mostly also suited to a hilly area.
- Come up with hooks/motivations that are meaningful to the players. What are the backgrounds of the PCs? Where do they come from in the area? Do they already know someone in the village, or a relative of someone in the village? Have they heard rumors or gossip about what’s happening in the village? Give the PCs a reason to go to Blackheath that makes sense, for them and the world you are playing in.
- If the PCs don’t follow the goblins, so what? Keep the hideout info handy, in case you want to work it in somewhere else in the adventure. You might need to tweak the next few encounters to make up for the party not getting the XP from the goblin hideout. Aside from that, it really is completely skippable. So don’t sweat it.
Next time: Phandalin and its history!