So we talked about the first section of the adventure: “Goblin Arrows”. Now we’ll be talking about the second section: “Phandalin”. So let’s try to break this down. The town has the following elements we need to examine:
- The name (Which I’ve already criticized)
- The history of the town
- The legend of the Lost Mine (what it is, who originally used it, how it got lost)
- Important NPCs (including side quests and faction membership)
- The town’s problem–Redbrand gang
This article will address the town’s history, and use as an example how I will alter the history to fit into my own homebrew setting. I’ll also talk about the legend/history of the Lost Mine itself, as it relates to the history of the town. We’ll cover the other town elements in the next few articles.
Original Phandalin History
So as I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of The Forgotten Realms and I’m not using it. However, in case you are playing in The Realms, I highly recommend the article on Phandalin from the excellent Starter Set Sandbox series of articles. This blogger loves the Realms (obviously, since the blog itself is “My Realms”), and has several of the Forgotten Realms supplements and boxed sets that have been published over the years. Even if you don’t want to use The Realms, this series of articles is chock full of great ideas for working in material from older modules, as well as some general creative brainstorming. It’s well worth bookmarking.
Here is the history of Phandalin and the Wave Echo Cave from The North boxed set:
Phandalin was an important farming center located northeast of Leilon, where the Triboar Cutoff East fades into a trail. The road was abandoned after years of orc attacks obliterated every caravan that passed down the road, conquering Phandalin in the process. When the orcs were driven out, the village was left largely in ruins, and it remains so today.
Under the leadership of a chieftain called Uruth, the orcs expanded steadily, building a realm called Uruth Ukrypt (Home of Uruth). Its name echoes today in Kryptgarden Forest. Too lazy to support themselves by farming, the orcs devastated the game in their realm and subsequently took to raiding human holdings for food. Some 400 years have passed since then, during which time concerted human attacks decimated the orc kingdom and nearly drove the creatures from the area entirely.
No one lives here now but monsters, though passing hunters and rangers often camp in one of the more secure buildings. It still has three usable deep wells, one of which is considered to be heavily tainted with an undetectable poison that kills the imbiber three days after ingestion. Orcs and half-orcs are supposedly immune to the toxin.
The orc attacks forced gnomes and dwarves to abandon a mountain delve near Phandalin where they mined mithral in a union they called the Phandelver’s Pact. This lost lode was called Wavecho Cave because the roll of waves beating on the shore could be heard in the natural cavern. Shortly before the mine was abandoned, a lode of platinum was discovered. The size is unknown, but a very old dwarf who worked the mine remembers that the vein “held great promise”.
Phandalin is the best preserved of the many ruined keeps and villages scattered along the Sword Coast, most of which are little more than heaped stones, graves, and cellars hidden by reed grasses and creeping vines. Many of these areas shelter predatory beasts or passing adventurers.
The original history mentions mithral and platinum, though the adventure adds the Spell Forge as a unique element within the mine. I don’t know about you, but mithral and platinum don’t seem that special to me, valuable as they are. The Spell Forge is a bit more interesting–we’ll get back to that.
Revising the History
So there’s a ruined village. The history says it was an important farming center–but there was an active mine very close by. Villages in the real-world Middle Ages always had farms. You didn’t get your crops from the market, unless it was something exotic. So saying Phandalin was “an important farming center” doesn’t make much sense. If there was an active mine nearby, it seems like Phandalin would be more of a mining town, or at least would cater to miners traveling back and forth from the mining camps to the nearby market town.
In the adventure booklet, the orc problem was mentioned (like in the history above). It’s a little more vague, but the story is that the orcs destroyed the village and also destroyed all entrances to the mine. Now, I’m not in favor of “all orcs and goblins are evil” generally. It seems overly simplistic to me. If you’re talking about an orc kingdom that is expanding its territory and looking for more resources, why would it destroy villages and farms? Particularly if orcs themselves aren’t interested in farming–it makes more sense to enslave the native population, doesn’t it? Slaves work the farms, orcs take all the food. Same with the mine–if it is valuable, why destroy it? Why not make the slaves mine the resources so the orcs can use them?
It’s easy enough to come up with more plausible reasons, however. Cave-ins happen in mines all the time, as do floods and inundations. In most D&D settings, dwarves tend to be more technologically advanced, particularly when it comes to mining and stonework, so perhaps this is less likely. But these are problems even in modern mines, and it was a serious issue in mines before the industrial revolution. Earthquakes, natural or magical, could also cause the mine to be cut off or destroy enough of the infrastructure to make it non-profitable. As to things that ruin villages, earthquakes, sinkholes, and other geological occurrences could also damage the village. War (whether with orcs or someone else) can also result in a village falling to ruin. Replace modern bombs with magic like fireball or dragon fire and you can easily see a smaller village being destroyed.
In my setting, there was an expansive human empire (think Roman empire) which once dominated the valley where I’m placing this adventure. A hundred years or so ago (I haven’t nailed this down yet), several humanoid groups banded together and rebelled against the Imperial government. They established their independence, and through a series of large battles and small skirmishes, pushed out the Imperials and their supporters. War is a great source for destruction and ruin, so in my setting there are a lot of ruined villages in the general area. Some have been rebuilt or resettled, and one of those is Blackheath (my name for Phandalin). The original mine might have been lost, but the rocky foothills south of the village have plenty of resources left to mine. So my village has become a trading conduit–supplies going to the mining camps, smelted ore coming through the village and up the road to the market town.
Legend/History of the Lost Mine
As to the Spell Forge and the original purpose of the mine, that’s a little fuzzy to me. If I’m not using the “orcs destroy everything” bit, then is the Spell Forge even broken? And what exactly were they mining in this mine? One idea that I really like from the Starter Set Sandbox series of articles is the concept of chardalyn stones. As explained in the Old Owl Well article in the series, “A chardalyn is a blue gem that could hold a single spell. They were introduced in 2E and I think they also appeared in 3.xE but there was no conversion in 4E. 5E could probably just use the 2E rule (they hold a single spell and can be crushed to use once).”
So my seed of an idea right now is that the mine may have had precious metals, but they also discovered a vein of chardalyn crystal. And while the Spell Forge is not broken, it is disabled. I’m thinking that perhaps much larger crystals act as some kind of power source for the Spell Forge? I’m still working that out but that’s the direction I’m going. I also have an idea for what the Spell Forge is going to be used for in this adventure–in other words, why the Big Bad is looking for it. But we’ll get to that in another article.
Okay so those are my solutions. Some general suggestions for other folks:
- What was the original purpose of the village? Almost all villages had farms, but depending on what you are basing your setting on, some villages may have had some other economic purpose as well: mining, lumber, some artisanal craft, etc.
- How did the village become ruined? War or natural disaster seem like the best candidates for me, but it will probably depend on your own setting’s history, or politics, or geology.
- What caused people to resettle or rebuild the village? Have the original settlers come back, have their descendants come back, or is it a whole new group of people? Commerce and resource gathering, plus good farmland, would make any location a prime spot for settlement. Chances are, if the war or disaster that destroyed it is long gone, people will want to move back in because it’s got stuff they want or need.
- How was the mine lost? Was it destroyed by the same thing that wrecked the village, or something different?
- What was special about the mine? If whatever was in that mine could be gotten somewhere else, they probably wouldn’t worry about locating it or re-opening it. If you are going to use the Spell Forge idea, you might want to consider the points I brought up: is it broken, or just disabled? What powers it? What was the original dynamic in the group that built it and/or used it, and how did those folks interact with the miners?
- If you want to take the idea of the Lost Mine in a totally different direction, check out the suggestions in the Dungeon of Signs review. It’s a pretty scathing review, but he does offer a few alternatives to the boring and generic elements in the adventure. For example, he suggests making Wave Echo Cave the lair of rock spirits who create magical gems. Kind of an interesting take.
I hope this gave you some ideas about the history of the town. We’ll talk more about the Lost Mine and the Spell Forge in a future article–this was just to touch on it, as a small part of the overall history of the town.
Next time: We talk about the NPCs!