This is the second of a five-part review of the D&D Starter Set, in which my four-year-old girl and six-year-old boy play the game without any prep. In this installment, they face goblins, make lifelong friends with wolves, and surprise a villain by climbing up a chimney.
After a short description about joining their dwarf patron, Gundren Rockseeker, to escort a wagon to the town of Phandalin for the measly sum of 10 gp each, the adventure began in earnest. I of course misread the adventure text, assuming that Gundren was with them and driving the wagon, so I let the two adventurers (Elec, run by my six-year-old boy, and Lektra, run by my four-year-old girl) ride horses instead. I broke out my horse miniatures and put the two figures on them, which was a huge hit (see slide show). It wasn't long before they were ambushed by two goblins, and to my son's credit he immediately knew they were goblins just by the goblin sounds I was making.
Here's when things got sticky. The goblins succeeded on their stealth check vs. the players' passive perception (a holdover from 4th Edition), which meant they got a free attack round due to surprise -- two stabby goblins, and two archer goblins. They hit both players, wounding them for 3 hp each. Then they also won initiative, and pounded the characters again. I had a near total party kill on my hands.
It's worth noting that although the adventure mentions it's for four to five characters, it doesn't say what to do if you have less. I consider this a glaring flaw -- the odds a new game master has that many players is low, and he's likely to just test it out with fewer players just to get the hang of things.
In any case, both characters rallied. Using their bows from horseback, they managed to take out the goblins within two rounds without taking more damage. Lektra used her Second Wind ability to heal up, and then they both took a short rest. Recharged, they forged ahead.
Elec interrogated a goblin (they don't generally believe in killing things, and to D&D 5th Edition's credit you can declare at the final blow that you just want to knock the monster unconscious) and discovered the path to the goblin's lair.
I skipped the traps that came next. Traps, in my opinion, are not particularly interesting unless they are complex or are combined with an encounter. Falling into a pit or being caught by a snare alone is just boring, and since the characters can rest up afterward, aren't really so much a threat as an annoyance.
As they were approaching the lair, Elec and Lektra decided to sneak up on the goblins instead. They made their Dexterity (Acrobatics) roll and, hiding in the trees, opened fire. They won the surprise round, killing the two goblin guards. Then they made their way into the Cragmaw Hideout, inside a cave.
The next encounter is a kennel. The description says there are two wolves chained inside a pen, but the text describes three. The characters can antagonize them or calm them down with a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check. Both Elec and Lektra were excited when they offered the wolves food, knocking the DC down to 10 and rolled on the nose. Elec then declared that he was going to ride a wolf, which caused much consternation for the human-sized Lektra who couldn't do the same. These wolves became my DM NPC for the rest of the adventure to round out the party to four. There are unfortunately no animal companion rules that I could find, although there is a sidebar in the Starter set that basically says "treat them like full PCs and divide XP appropriately" so that's what I did.
After attempting to make their way further down the dammed off stream in the cavern, Elec was spotted by a goblin who promptly gave the signal to open the floodgates. Elec nearly drowned.
They retreated back to the dog cave, only to discover a chimney. Lektra clambered up, dropped a rope for Elec, and then the two of them created a harness to pull their wolves up the chimney as well.
To their surprise, they were in the lair of Klarg, bugbear leader, his wolf Ripper, and two goblins. Elec snuck behind a stalactite and fired a bow at Klarg, nearly dropping him with a sneak attack in the surprise round. He then won initiative and rolled a critical hit, dropping Klarg before he could even respond. Disoriented, the two goblins knocked out Lektra's wolf before they were taken down. Ripper didn't stand a chance against the thief/fighter combo.
The heroes were delighted to discover the stolen supplies, which Elec is determined to put to good use. After applying a healing potion to Lektra's wolf, they gathered up the supplies, determined to start their own farm with the tools available. It was also about this time that Elec decided he was looking for his younger brother -- and like any good DM, I used this family tie against him to keep him adventuring. Elec's brother was held hostage by the Black Spider, the main villain of the adventure, which kept Elec motivated to continue on.
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