I’ve decided to use a slightly different structure for these articles moving forward. I won’t be going back and rewriting previous articles to fit this format, but for this and future articles I’ll be dividing the content into four parts: Analysis, Problems, My Solution, and Find Your Solution. In this article, we’ll start looking at the Big Bad Evil Guys in Lost Mine of Phandelver. The Redbrands are a gang that is terrorizing and shaking down the residents of Phandalin. They are led by a mysterious figure called Glasstaff.
First of all, spoilers–Glasstaff is actually Iarno Albrek, Sildar’s missing contact from the Lord’s Alliance. Let’s start here, shall we? Why would a member of the Lord’s Alliance be sent here? I think it’s implied that the Lord’s Alliance is interested in promoting economic and political stability in settlements throughout the area, and if that’s the case it seems Albrek was sent to gain intelligence on this situation. But he’s gone dark–disappeared and dropped out of contact with the organization. In fact, he changed his name entirely and is now leading a gang of criminals!
The Redbrands as a group are extremely generic. They are written as thugs, cruel caricatures who just want to extort money from the villagers, but are willing to kill anyone who resists their extortion. Their motives are vague and not well explained. They seem to have been plopped in this adventure solely as experience fodder for the PCs to gain levels.
If the Lord’s Alliance trusts Albrek to scout the area and acquire intelligence on economy and politics, why on earth would he suddenly decide to start up a gang and create a protection racket to shake down the villagers for as much money as possible? Why would he suddenly drop out of contact, and conceal his identity by assuming a pseudonym?
As for the Redbrands themselves, they are not given any plausible motive for their criminal actions. I mean, bullies exist everywhere–that’s not hard to imagine. But to organize into an actual criminal organization, with a leadership hierarchy, there has to be some larger goal at the heart of it. Why organize a gang here? Is it part of some larger organization? Is there a puppetmaster pulling the strings somehow? None of their actions make any sense on a large-scale level, and the adventure booklet gives you nothing to fill in those gaps.
The only reasons I can think of for why Albrek dropped off the radar are: A) Albrek was a malcontent from way back, just looking for a chance to break away, or B) Albrek is undercover. I’m leaning toward the latter possibility. I’m thinking that Albrek saw this nascent gang of toughs coalescing, and figured that something larger and more sinister was going on. So he decided to infiltrate, and quickly took over leadership (after an unfortunate accident removed the former leader, of course). Another possibility here is for the Redbrands to have originated as an unofficial militia who protect the town, given that there have been frequent raids and attacks by kobolds, goblins and orcs. Perhaps they started with good intentions, but have recently become less protective and more exploitative. You could still have Albrek infiltrate and take over in order to investigate, but this background humanizes the Redbrands a bit more, instead of making them nameless and cruel caricatures like the adventure as written.
With Albrek undercover, and investigating what is behind the Redbrands’ recent shift toward the criminal, it changes the dynamic of the final encounter in the Redbrands’ Hideout. Instead of fighting Albrek, once the party realizes who he is they can decide to talk, negotiate, give Sildar and the Lord’s Alliance a message, or even work with Albrek to take down the Black Spider. Possibilities abound with this shift in motivation. I also like the idea that the Redbrands started out as a militia of local boys who just want to keep people safe. The Black Spider probably installed a new leader who was easier to control, and who led them into more criminal activity. Albrek gradually rose in the ranks and arranged an “accident” for that minion of Black Spider. Eventually Albrek meets the Black Spider, and successfully convinces him that the demise of the previous leader was caused by that individual’s weakness of mind, or that the previous leader was plotting against Black Spider. Yes, that will do nicely.
Find Your Solution
Here are some suggestions for finding your own solution to these problems.
- Who is Iarno Albrek? Why did he join the Lord’s Alliance, and why would he want to leave or betray it? Does he know Sildar well, or are they barely acquainted? Would Iarno be the kind to break away from the Lord’s Alliance at the first chance, in order to seek power on his own? Or would he be loyal to the Lord’s Alliance, be suspicious of the Redbrands’ motives, and try to infiltrate? Try to develop the NPC more fully, and that should give you reasons for why he’s concealing his identity, why he took over the Redbrands, and what his relationship to the Black Spider really is.
- Who are the Redbrands? What was the reason for creating this gang or organization to begin with? What is their mission or purpose? How and when did they begin more sinister and criminal behavior? Who was their leader before Iarno? How did they get involved with Black Spider, and what is it that Black Spider wants them to accomplish? If the Redbrands began as a more benevolent group, are there still some members who are discontent with the criminal direction they’ve taken–and would be willing to assist the PCs in taking down the gang? Figuring out the background for this group, their history and goals, will add a lot of depth to this aspect of the story, and can also provide ample seeds for future scenarios and adventures.
That’s it guys, I hope this was helpful. Next, we’ll take a look at the Big Bad Evil Guy for the whole shebang–Black Spider!