So the first group of NPCs in Blackheath/Phandalin I want to talk about are potential allies for the PCs, and the townspeople who have jobs (quests) for the PCs. These groups overlap to a degree. We went over one of the potential allies in Pt. 3 (Sildar, or whatever you choose to rename him). The adventure-as-written has Sildar captured by the goblins, with the PCs rescuing him and returning with him to the village. If, like me, you decide to skip the goblin hideout scenario, you can have the PCs encounter Sildar in the roadhouse or around town.
The side quests available in the village generally fall into three categories:
- Quests that provide information on other story locations (Redbrands, Goblins)
- Quests relating to factions
- Miscellaneous (this is really just the two provisioners, one of which gives a quest to retrieve missing supplies–which are in the goblin hideout from the first scenario. The other provisioner is related to the “caravan guard” hook.)
However, I have to admit that all the side quests seem “miscellaneous” to me. Some of them provide useful information for getting the PCs to another story-related location, and some of them can provide information for that purpose (but probably won’t unless you redesign the quest). But most of them have no connection to the over-arching story, or any of its pieces really, and in fact have no story of their own either. To give the designer a little credit, it’s possible that these were left intentionally vague in order to give the DM some room to customize them and tie them together in whatever way made the most sense for their group and campaign. But I think it would have worked better in this adventure if the side quests either connected to the main story, or had a story of their own (even if it was only in seed form) that might connect to the wider world or a larger campaign arc.
So let’s start with the side quests that are related to the other story locations. Here’s a list of those NPCs, with a description of their quest:
- Qelline Alderleaf (halfling, farmer) – Carp’s Story: Son knows a secret entrance to the Redbrand hideout; Reidoth the Druid: Qelline knows a druid who could help the PCs find the goblin base. The druid is in the Ruins of Thundertree village.
- Sildar Hallwinter (human, retired adventurer) – Finding Cragmaw Castle: Sildar wants to get to the goblin base to rescue Gundren, so the Rockseekers can reopen the mine, and he also just wants to drive off the goblins generally; Finding Iarno: Sildar wants to find out what happened to his supposed contact from the Lord’s Alliance, who seems to have disappeared. Note: technically Sildar is also a faction quest giver, because if the PCs complete either or both of his quests, Sildar tries to recruit one or more of them into the Lord’s Alliance.
So only two of the townspeople, out of seven possible quest givers, have quests directly relating to primary story locations. And one of those is a guy who is technically from out of town, and not a resident at all.
Here is a list of the faction-related quest givers, and a description of their quest:
- Daran Edermath (half-elf, retired adventurer, owns orchard) – Old Owl Trouble: Someone is digging around ancient elven ruins known as Old Owl Well, and prospectors have reported being chased and attacked by undead. If the PCs complete the quest, Daran will try to recruit them to the Order of the Gauntlet. Note: the adventure booklet does not mention a reward for this quest (perhaps because it involves a possible fight which would result in treasure). If the PCs find non-combat methods to solve the problem, it would be a good idea to have Daran give them treasure as a reward instead.
- Halia Thornton (human, Mining Guild master) – Halia’s Job Offer: Halia wants the Redbrands’ leader taken out, and any correspondence the PCs find in the leader’s quarters. Unknown to the PCs, Halia actually wants to take over the Redbrand group herself. If the PCs complete her quest, Halia will pay them 100 gp and try to recruit them into the Zhentarim.
- Sister Garaele (elf, acolyte of Tymora) – The Banshee’s Bargain: Garaele’s superiors asked her to persuade a banshee named Agatha to answer a question about a spellbook (where is the spellbook belonging to a wizard named Bowgentle?), but she was unable to persuade Agatha to materialize. She asks the PCs to take a gift to the banshee’s lair, and persuade Agatha to answer this question. If the PCs complete this quest, she will give them 3 potions of healing, and will try to recruit them into The Harpers.
So we have several factions represented here: The Lord’s Alliance, the Order of the Gauntlet, the Zhentarim, and the Harpers. Of course, all of these are Forgotten Realms factions. I think having factions in a setting sets up some interesting possibilities for adventure hooks, political intrigues, character conflicts, etc. So I’m in favor of having them. For my own setting, I knew I wanted to have some factions and had sketched out some basic ideas but hadn’t solidified anything. So I just changed the factions of the NPCs from the Realms faction to a faction in my setting which had similar goals and themes. You could do the same, or you could just leave factions out if your setting isn’t developed enough yet or you don’t want to work with factions in your scenarios.
What intrigues me about these quests is how underdeveloped they are. Given the level of challenge for the final dungeon, the assumption seems to be that the PCs will either A) confront and get rid of the Redbrands, or B) take on one or more side quests in which they will gain XP and treasure, or C) both of those things. But a couple of these side quests have only the barest outline, and the only area to have a map is the Ruins of Thundertree. Cragmaw Castle is in the same section as the side quest areas, and yet it seems like the goblin base should be part of the main story, given that Gundren has the map to the Lost Mine. I’ll talk more about these quests and locations in a later essay.
Another thing that is rather underdeveloped is the relationship between various townspeople in the village. There are a few comments in the booklet: Halia is feared and respected, even by the Redbrands; the Town Master is a coward and is totally intimidated by the Redbrands. But aside from those two tidbits, there really isn’t much given as far as how the various merchants or villagers interact. Who is related to whom? Who is friendly with whom? Are there rivalries between the two provisioners? A woodcarver is mentioned a couple of times, as someone who stood up to the Redbrands and got killed for it—oh, and then his family disappeared! But because the woodcarver is a red-shirt who dies offscreen, the PCs aren’t really given any reason to care about him or what might have happened to his family.
My plan is to fix that quite a bit. I plan to determine who is friends with whom, what rivalries or outright hatreds there might be, and so on. It helps that the hook I am using to get the PCs to this village is about bearing the news of a death to the deceased’s family. I’ve already decided that “Lionshield Coster” is now “Lionshield Costco”—a franchisee of “Fantasy Costco” from The Adventure Zone (“Fantasy Costco, where all your dreams come true. Got a deal for you!”). I did that for my youngest kid, who plays in my world and who requested it. As an aside—the term coster is a medieval term for a merchant who sells produce. You know, fruits and vegetables. Who the heck decided to use it for a weapon and armor merchant?! I mean, I got that from a Google search, so it isn’t exactly arcane knowledge.
So how can you adapt the NPCs and their side quests? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do I want to use factions in my setting, or in this adventure particularly? It is entirely possible to just toss out the factions and have the quest givers keep their motives to themselves. Or, if you do want factions but aren’t playing in the Realms, you can make up your own factions and assign the quest givers to them however you wish.
- What relationships are present in the village? Who is related to whom, who likes whom, who hates whom? It’s possible the PCs will move on and never think of this village again once everything is over. It’s also possible they will want to settle here, or make this a base of operations to explore the area. Knowing how everyone relates to everyone else helps set up future scenario ideas.
- Which of these NPCs might be able to help the PCs, in this set of scenarios or in the future? Which might become ongoing patrons, sources of information, or employers (think “quest hub”)?
- How can you interconnect the side quests with the main story elements? Or, how can you connect the side quests to the larger world of your setting? How can you plant seeds and hooks for future scenarios and adventures? Any of those three approaches, or a combination, will fill out the side quests and make them more meaningful to the PCs.
I hope you’ve found some helpful tips and interesting insights from this article. Next: we look at the Big Bad Evil Guys and other adversaries!