Delving Phandelver Sessions #4-6 – Midwinter Doldrums Edition

This is the time of year when I would rather hide under the blankets and wait for spring rather than attempt anything productive. Week after week I’ve told myself “I’ll write something tomorrow,” and the longer I’ve went without writing anything the easier it has become. I’ve still been playing, and the session notes have been piling up unpublished. So this will be a sort of “highlight reel” of session notes rather than a blow-by-blow account of what occurred. I’ll try to stay focused on what I liked or didn’t like about the session, our group, and the adventure itself during these games.

Session #4 – Red Brands and a Glass Staff

Out of the three sessions we’ve played since my last update, this was by far the most productive in terms of adventure progress. We continue our assault on the manor house that the red brands had appropriated, taking on a nothic and some bugbears before facing off with ole Glass Staff himself. We encountered him alone in his chambers, so the final battle was a bit anti-climactic; there’s only so much a lone wizard can do against a party of adventurers when he starts the encounter about 15 feet away from them. So Glass Staff ended up drinking an invisibility potion and trying to escape almost immediately. This is where the new rules for the sleep spell really came in handy since we’d already wounded him pretty good. My wizard was able to cast the spell in the general area where we knew the villain was and then listen for a thud as he went down for a snooze.

After this session I had a discussion with our neophyte dungeon master about static and dynamic dungeons, and gave him a few pointers on changing up encounters to reflect changes within the dungeon. For instance: that last battle probably would have been a much more satisfying experience for Glass Staff – and a much more deadly one for the group – if perhaps we would have encountered him with those bugbears we had taken on earlier. Finding the right balance in these sort of situations can be tricky. In fact, I’ll talk in another post about how I  probably should have ran an encounter differently in my Temple of Elemental Evil game.

Session #5 – An Interrogation and a Gross Character Development Oversight

This adventure opened with the party returning to town victorious over the Red Brands, and carting Glass Staff himself in for questioning. We learned very little from Glass Staff before handing him over to the Lord’s Alliance. We decided though that we needed to travel to Wyvern Tor and deal with the orcs and goblins in that were ambushing travellers to Phandelver coming to town via the Southern route, whilst convincing the town master to send some militia from Phandelver to make sure the goblin menace along the Northern route had been sufficiently dealt with (our party had dealt those goblins quite a blow during our first couple of sessions, but we had also left a handful of goblins still in the caves). We devised a scheme to pose as merchants, with Dirk the archer and Annastriana the wizard hiding under a tarp in the back of a donkey cart. We fought an ogre while camping and had a strange encounter with a Red Wizard of Thay at the old Owl Well. I’m not quite sure what happened there, but the wizard had a lot of zombies and didn’t seem to want to fight us, so we rode on by.

The big thing that happened during this session was that our halfling thief decided to tell us that the NPC whose farm we had stayed at during our bout with the Red Brands was his aunt. He didn’t bring this up while we were at her farm though. It was afterwards, when Dirk, folk hero that he is, decided to take some money to the widow who had put our party up. Nillocke, the thief, said at that point that he should probably do something like that too, on account of her being his aunt. Aside from myself all of the players are very new, so the game kind of stopped here for a moment so we could have a bit of a discussion about roleplaying. Why hadn’t this player said anything when we first showed up at the farm?By the same token, why hadn’t the aunt mentioned this relationship? This revealed the first big gaff of our new DM – he hadn’t bothered to read the backgrounds of the pre-generated characters! This hadn’t mattered much before we had started interacting with the NPCs in town, but now it was a big deal. Not only did the other players need to do a better job of acting on the information on their character sheets, but the DM needed to be able to act on this information as well. I really hope everyone does a better job with this in the future. Part of the point of playing an introductory adventure and using the pre-generated characters is to take advantage of those stepping stones that encourage roleplaying.

Session #6 – A New Player Joins the Group!

The biggest thing that happened in session #6 was that our group got a new player, bringing the number to four plus a dungeon master. This still leaves our group a player shy when it comes to the number of pre-generated characters, but four is better than three no matter what. Especially since this new player has lots of gaming experience. he took over the role of Marcus the noble and immediately breathed new life into the character and the group. I’m quite pleased with this new addition so far and really hope he sticks around. After filling the new player in on our adventures so far, we found ourselves revisiting the events at the owl well. Should we go back and fight this wizard and his ash zombies? The encounter happened pretty fast and we were a little beat up from our recent ogre encounter so when the wizard seemed like he might be able to kick our asses but was content to let us pass we thought it best not to pick a fight. Marcus almost had us convinced to turn back and fight the Red Wizard, but we ultimately decided that we owed it to our employer to rescue him from the goblins as soon as possible, and thought that maybe either an extra hand (our rescued employer) or some more experience might help us to defeat this wizard and his zombies. I think we made the right choice. Something tells me that this wizard and his zombies would have kicked our asses. Here’s to hoping that choice doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass later. After deciding not to return to the owl well, we pressed on towards Wyvern Tor where we defeated some ambushing goblins before wrapping up the session. This gave everyone enough experience to reach level 3, and beat us up just enough that we thought it best to retreat from the pass, make camp, rest up, and level up.


And there we are, all caught up! I’m thrilled that we have another experienced player at the table, and I think he will really help me bring the other two players out of their shells a little more. I’m hoping that over the next couple of sessions we’ll be able to connect a few more dots and get a better idea of the big picture surrounding Phandelver. I also hope that we can spend more time playing and getting more accomplished in our coming sessions. It can be frustrating to get almost nothing plot-forwarding accomplished during a session when our play schedule is so limited. I’d love to get started on “Hoard of the Dragon Queen” before I cash in my 401K.


3 thoughts on “Delving Phandelver Sessions #4-6 – Midwinter Doldrums Edition

  1. I’m finding that my players are generally having excellent overall luck while playing. They tend to roll decent initiatives, and are hitting often and hard. The monsters have been rolling crummy initiatives, and hitting less often than I would expect.

    My own dynamic response to a nasty confrontation with the Redbrands in town was that the fight at the manor ended up being an attempt at an ambush on the part of the Redbrands, with Glass Staff feeding a captive to the Nothic for its aid. That fight could have gone either way, but they still managed to win it – managing to capture a couple of Redbrands and Glass Staff.

    Overall, I’m still happy with the Starter Set, though I’m not thrilled with how treasure is handled, and I’m starting to feel like it is dragging a bit. We’re happy with 5E overall, but it seems pretty optimized for people new to gaming and oddly “low magic” for a D&D game.


    1. With the exception of myself and a recent addition to the gaming group, my players are completely new to roleplaying games. I can tell you empirically that 5th edition is easier for new players to get a handle on, having also played some 3rd and 1st edition with these players prior to the release of 5th edition. I think their limited experience before 5th edition certainly helped them grasp the mechanics, but everyone seemed to be immediately more comfortable with this rule set. I find myself enjoying it quite a bit as well though, so I don’t know if I would say that 5th edition is “optimized for people new to gaming” or just that it is “optimized.” I do know that there is a bit of a learning curve that goes along with this new power curve, so both as a player and as a dungeon master I find myself surprised by how challenging (or unchallenging) certain encounters have been based on what I think should happen. Good and bad rolls may be playing into things as well, but I can also see that I can’t rely as heavily on intuition as I use to when determining encounter balance until I become more familiar with 5th edition.

      1. I’m also enjoying 5E very much (even if bring my campaign world up to speed seems like a herculean task at times) – and yes, everyone was very comfortable with it very quickly (and everyone has gamed before). You might have a point about “optimized” but it still seems to be oddly slanted to low levels power and effectiveness rather than high level power – and that is what I think of a “new to gaming” (hook ’em with highly effective characters and quick advancement – especially as compared with other editions). I’m also honing that intuition as well, along with some close reading of the Monster Manual. Mentally I’m dumping any reliance on “CR” as a method to develop balance, I’m really unimpressed with it’s correlation to actual combat effectiveness. I’m moving more towards a simple reliance on HD/HP as being my guide (rather like 1E).

        I’m not worried about the “ineffectiveness” of the monsters so far, I have no problem boosting power (or numbers, or both) of bad guys – and my games traditionally revolve around fighting “other people” rather than “things with fur and scales”. My big issue will be figuring out how to handle XP in a way that makes sense/seems fair – especially when I still think the CR calculation (for determining XP if nothing else) is whacko. But it is still early days of 5E, and there is lots to figure out and tweak. 🙂


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