This is it, the final session of my ‘starter set’ campaign. It was an epic session, covering the big final dungeon as described in the book, with (my own) Shyamalan-style twist at the end.
If anyone hasn’t figured out by now: MASSIVE STARTER SET SPOILERS BELOW!
I won’t give a full blow-by-blow of the dungeon, if you want that, just buy the starter set and read chapter 5.
Safe to say, the guys managed to totally sidestep a good chunk of the encounters, and solved every problem with murder, even though I’d set up a whole chain of puzzles/roleplay opportunities.
Highlights of the session
- The party managed to safely navigate a confusing mass of passages by following the wizard’s patented ‘always turn left’ method. They even avoided being swallowed by a gelatinous cube.
- The party was greatly relieved that the barbarian finally had a bath, as he dived into a pool looking for treasure.
- A group of bugbears were dealt with easily due to careful planning and a roguish trap.
- It turns out the cantrip ‘dancing lights’ can be used to create a zombie conga line, massively reducing the challenge of a horde of them.
- A flaming skull used fireball on the party. It was super effective.
- If a monster on sentry duty asks the party for a password, the answer is always to kill it. Or, to wait outside until the barbarian has killed it.
- The barbarian had some terrible wisdom saving throws against the monster, and almost killed his halfling friend while confused. Almost!
- The party were totally willing to make a deal with an evil wraith in return for some free stuff. Don’t worry, he’ll be back.
- The rogue decided to rush into a room full of ghouls, and was quickly making death saves. Should you keep attacking players that are down? I decided no, but I kinda regret it…
- The wizard got WAY too much use out of an old wand of magic missile. Never again.
This was my fault. I can’t be bothered to track charges for magic items, so I created (stole) a house rule: each time you use the item, roll 2d3 – if you roll two 1’s you just used the last charge (you can change the size of the dice to increase or decrease the odds).
- A group of bugbears were sifting through a load of rocks, discussing how they were tired of looking for ‘it’. The party killed them and moved on.
- The party found the ‘forge of spells’ and quickly made every weapon and piece of armour they had magical.
- The big final fight with the ‘Black Spider’ was a total anticlimax. Mostly because the stupid DM placed him within charging distance of the door. He barely lasted a full round!
- The big final fight with the ‘Black Spider’ wasn’t the big final fight…
Problems with the Starter Set
Now don’t get me wrong, I think the 5e starter set is brilliant, and does exactly what it sets out to do, but I think it leaves some gaping plot holes, or at least underused ideas.
The ‘Black Spider’ is a drow who wants the power of the forge of spells, and captures and tortures the dwarf (Gundren) who discovered it to get the location. He does this by recruiting a load of goblins and bugbears to do his dirty work. Ok, fine so far, standard bad guy plot.
BUT! He is also supported by a bunch of dopplegangers – shapechangers who can take on the form of another creature, and so make amazing spies and assassins. What does he do with these incredible creatures? Gets them to pretend to be drow, one of the most hated and feared races in the forgotten realms. Smart.
If you have dopplegangers, why no just get them to pretend to be a friend of Gundren’s, and get the information that way? Why not pretend to be the townmaster, and gets these adventurers to run around for you?
I see dead trees …who are allergic to water!
So I added my own twist to the plot: what if the Black Spider didn’t know they were dopplegangers? What if he, and the party, were just being used this whole time, and the real Big Bad was someone else? Someone hidden…
After the ‘final fight’, Gundren and his friend Sildar (who have been assisting the party since they were ‘rescued’) turn up in the dungeon. They’re ever so grateful that the party have cleared out the mine, and killed that irritating spider fellow. Now they can have it all for themselves! Mwa ha haa!
This was made all the sweeter by including one of the players, the dwarven cleric, in my schemes (thanks John!). After all, if you can’t trust the guy you’ve been sat next to this whole time, who can you trust?
Now the final final fight was between 4 remaining party members, and three dopplegangers – one a basic fighter, one was a 5th level sorcerer, and one (previously the party’s trusted friend) had now transformed in a blue dragon wyrmling!
Unfortunately, the good guys still won (just!) and everyone reached level 5. All was well, everyone was happy and rich, and peace had been brought to Phandelin. Hmph.
So that’s me done as DM for a little while. I think I get chance to be a good guy myself now, not sure how I feel about that…