Back when I started my main campaign in March of 2018, I needed to knock some of the rust off. It’d been a while since I’d DM’ed a full game and I hadn’t yet been fully introduced to Fifth Edition yet (obviously, I’ve learned it since). So I thought, “Why not start with the Starter Set?”
The Fifth Edition Starter Set introduces us to the Lost Mines of Phandelver. Basically, it’s a mine that the people of the Sword Coast have been searching for some time (in fact, it’s mentioned as far back as Second Edition, believe it or not).
I thought the adventure was cool as hell. But I had to make a few changes to the plot, mostly because, well, I’m one of those DMs. Plus, things came up that necessitated the changes.
Now, if you haven’t read or played through the Lost of Mines of Phandelver, obviously there are spoilers ahead. But here are 10 changes that I made to the adventure:
1 – One of the Ambush Goblins Got a Name (and a Backstory)
The very first encounter in the Lost Mines of Phandelver occurs when a gang of goblins ambushes the PC’s while they’re on the road headed to Phandalin. The PCs valiantly fought them off and even let one survive. When asked what his name was, I pulled out of my ass “Jeth” and a star was born. Jeth was held captive by the PC’s when they went into the Cragmaw Hideout but managed to escape thanks to a javelin that washed up after the big flood.
But that’s not all. Jeth later appeared as one of the scullery hands in Cragmaw Castle and managed to escape again.
Nine months later, the PCs are dealing with Jeth again as he has now teamed up with a group of adventurer-hunters led by a fearsome half-orc/half-dragon named Umgru the Slayer.
That damn Jeth.
2 – The Redbrands Attacked Phandalin
After the PCs headed to the Redbrand Hideout, they didn’t stay long enough to clear out the joint–mostly because they couldn’t find the secret entrance. After freeing the prisoners from the cells, they returned to Phandalin to crash for the night. I couldn’t imagine a local gang being “cool” with a bunch of heroes storming their joint and then just leaving like, “Yo, we gotta take a nap, see you tomorrow.”
So the trio of bugbears along with a handful of Redbrand goons (including the infamous “Fucko”… more on him in a minute) laid a trap for the PCs right outside of the inn in Phandalin. It was a tough fight, but the PCs bested the goblinoids and chased off the remaining thugs.
3 – Fucko the Redbrand
Speaking of named NPCs, one of the Redbrands kept turning up like a bad penny. First, he managed to escape the Seige on Phandalin. Then, the PCs nearly got him again in the Hideout itself, but he managed to hide under the bridge in the nothic cave. By this point, this slippery rogue had earned the name “Fucko” from the party’s dwarf cleric, Ulthgar.
Later, after the PCs had completed Phandelver, they ran into Fucko again; this time doing stand up comedy in Neverwinter. Turns out that Fucko comfortably adopted his unfortunate nickname. He also told jokes about the group he dubbed “The Bloody Bunch” (which is how they eventually got their moniker). This time, they let Fucko go.
Last the group heard, he was performing a big, invitation-only party in Silverymoon.
4 – Glasstaff Escapes
This one probably isn’t too terribly different for a lot of folks who’ve run Phandelver, but Glasstaff, the BBEG of the Redbrand Hideout, managed to get away thanks to a quickly spoken misty step. The group did manage to steal his staff, of course (and are still using it to this day).
Glassstaff’s whereabouts are mostly unknown, but it’s rumored he has connections in Longsaddle and is still working for the Nezznars (more on that in a moment).
5 – The Plague of Gnolls
One of the biggest divergences I had from the source material was an invasion of gnolls that occurred right after the PCs cleared out Cragmaw Castle. Led by a plague-bearing gnoll fang of Yeenoghu, the gnolls were spreading pestilence and eating everything in their path, including a nearby goblin village with close ties to the Cragmaws. Although the PCs had just killed pretty much every goblinoid in the place, the hobgoblin commander Targor Bloodsword made a truce with the PCs to help he and his people survive the gnoll raid.
Later, the gnolls turned south toward Phandalin, where the PCs–aided by another group of adventurers known as the Starlight Order–fought them off. However, the gnolls kept pressing southward, sacking a few more towns and settlements along the High Road.
The gnolls were finally stopped in Waterdeep, nearly a month later.
6 – Tella the Doppelgänger
Another small change that I made to the story that ended up turning into a huge story point was making the doppelganger in Cragmaw Castle a lot more intelligent than the story suggested. Instead of taking the form of a drow, the doppelganger disguised itself as an elven maiden captured by King Grol.
This “maiden”, named Tella, befriended Gundren–romantically, I might add–only to later kill him in the woods to keep his knowledge of the Lost Mine a secret. Tella then escaped south to the Mine to warn Nezznar of the incoming PCs (who managed to sneak a peek at Gundren’s map before he was killed).
Tella reappears in the Lost Mines working for Nezznar (still in her elf maiden form, but more “now I’m wearing leather ’cause I’m a secret badass” than before) and managed to survive again.
She’s continued to pop up as a reoccurring character, sometimes good, sometimes bad, always mysterious. Half of the PCs trust her while the other half doesn’t quite know what to make of her.
I have to admit that she’s probably my favorite NPC.
7 – Rocko the Flame Skull
Of all the awesome moments that have happened during my current campaign, I have to say that the Flame Skull encounter in the Phandelver Mine was definitely my favorite. For whatever reason, I decided to give the Flame Skull a Beetlejuice’esque voice with a sense of humor. The moment the PCs step into the Flame Skull’s chamber, he quips, “Knock knock.” Who’s there? “Fireball!” Fireball who? “Fireball you!” Kabloooey!
The PCs managed to defeat Rocko in one of the coolest ways I’ve ever seen. The Barbarian, armed with the boots of striding and springing grabbed Rocko out of the air and literally slam-dunked him. On the ground, the Barbarian held up Rocko like a t-ball and let the Paladin smite him. It was, of course… epic. But you know, D&D nerd epic.
Thanks to Rocko’s rejuvenation powers, he came back to life an hour later. And once the Lost Mine was free of its curse, Rocko was allowed to leave and pursue his life’s dream: owning a bar in Longsaddle.
8 – The Prismatic Branch
The big MacGuffin in the Lost Mine of Phandelver is The Forge of Spells. However, I thought it might make it cool to stretch out the idea a little more than just a “magic thing that made more magic things.” The Forge itself was powered by a glass-branch that radiated weirdo magic. In fact, it was so potent, it was able to strip away the powers of one of the wizards that touched it (she had to leave the game in real life, sadly).
The Prismatic Branch has since become the center of the story. And it turns out it’s just one of many powerful artifacts capable of destroying the universe.
But hey… that’s a story for another time.
9 – Nezznar is the Half-Brother of One of the PCs
The first big Nezznar-centric twist involved him appearing to look like a drow-clone of one of the PCs. Turned out that he was the half-brother of the PC on the PC’s dad’s side. This created quite the moral dilemma for the PC (and the rest of the group) since they didn’t wish to fight Nezznar right away.
Furthermore, Nezznar orchestrated the entire ordeal from start to finish, using the PCs as pawns in a bigger game: destroying all magic in the world.
Of course, Nezznar was still not completely what he seemed to be…
10 – Nezznar is One of Many Nezznar Doppelgängers
There actually is no Nezznar. At least, not anymore. As the PCs began to travel around, they realized that there were Nezznars in multiple cities around the Realms. In each one, Nezznar used his charisma and deception to turn the peasantry and blue-collar citizens against the wealth magic-users of the world, all the while using adventurers to collect more of the artifacts for him.
Eventually, it’s revealed that the original Nezznar died hundreds of years ago. And thanks to the memory-transplanting powers of the oblex ooze, doppelgängers have kept Nezznar’s memory (and burning hatred of magic) alive ever since.
So how do you stop a villain that both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time?
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