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Lost Mine of Phandelver review - Part 2: Phandalin

Two twig blights attack!
Two twig blights attack!
Michael Tresca

Lost Mine of Phandelver Part 2: Phandalin


This is the third 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 reenact a scene from the Hobbit that culminates in a battle of two armies.

Elec was directed by his aunt, Qelline Alderleaf, to find the druid Reioth for advice on the best territory to start a farm. My six-year-old boy is a big fan of Minecraft, and that game went a long way in helping establish gaming tropes like magic weapons and armor, fighting monsters, and building stuff. In fact, the one thing that D&D lacks is the crafting-style intricacies that Minecraft offers, which is why Elec wanted to start a farm like his aunt.

They returned to Thundertree, a place Lektra knew well because it was part of background to restore it to its former glory, where they encountered twig blights and a zombie variant known as ash zombies, that poof choking dust when you hit them.

Eventually they found Reidoth, who set them on the task to drive off a dragon named Venomfang roosting in a tower. Now, Venomfang is no wyrmling -- he's a young green dragon. How in the world a four-person party of 3rd level adventurers could take this thing on is beyond me. Here's a stat comparison to give you a sense of how a comparable 3.5 edition dragon stacks up:

  • 5th Edition Young Green Dragon (large): AC 18, HP 136, HD 16, Attacks: +7 bite inflicts 2d10+4 piercing damage plus 2d6 poison damage; +7 two claws inflict 2d6+4 slashing damage, Poison Breath Weapon (recharges 5-6 on 1d6 each round) 30-foot cone, DC 16 Con save for half of 12d6 poison damage (average 42).
  • 3.5 Edition Juvenile Green Dragon (large): AC 22, HP 133, HD 14, Attacks: +11 bite inflicts 2d6+5 damage; +9 two claws inflict 1d8+5 damage, Poison Breath Weapon (recharges after 1d4 rounds) 40-foot cone, DC 20 save for half of 8d6 acid damage (average 28).

The 3.5 equivalent is Challenge Rating 8, which would be considered overpowering for the recommended party level of four 3rd level characters. Venomfang's breath weapon inflicts 42 points of damage on average in a 30-foot long cone. That's enough to easily encompass the tower he's lairing in. The only saving grace is Venomfang leaves if reduced to half his hit points -- still no mean feat if the party can survive his breath weapon.

Taking a page from the Hobbit, I encouraged Elec to create a distraction. He sent his wolf off into the forest, barking loudly, and when Venomfang flew off to investigate Elec and Lektra snuck in and grabbed as many coins as they could. And yes, Elec grabbed a goblet. He then proudly returned it to Reidoth, who reacted with horror and proclaimed that the dragon would track him to the ends of the earth to find that single goblet. He pointed the stalwart adventurers down a tunnel and encouraged them to flee for their lives before turning into a mouse and fleeing himself.

It turned out that tunnel led to the abandoned Tresendar Manor, occupied by the Redbrands, the organization that Elec once belonged to until they tried to rub him out. The first creature they encountered is a nothic, which has gotten an upgrade from its original incarnation in the 3.0 edition of the Miniatures Handbook.

  • 5th Edition Nothic: AC 15, HP 45 HD 6, Attacks: +4 two claws inflict 1d6+3 slashing damage; Rotting Gaze 30-feet, DC 12 Con save or take 3d6 necrotic damage (average 10).
  • 3.0 Edition Nothic: AC 15, HP 42, HD 5, Attacks: +7 two claws inflict 1d4+4 damage; Flesh Rotting Gaze 30-feet, DC 16 save or take 1d6 damage (average 4).

This new version is slightly harder, with one HD more than the 3.0 version (6d8) and a rotting gaze that requires a DC 12 Constitution check or take 3d6 necrotic damage. That's three times the damage of the original nothic, with higher claw damage (1d6 vs. 1d4). If you bump up the nothic's 3.0 CR from 3 to 4 as a result of these changes, this is a very difficult encounter for a four-player party of 2nd level characters (the recommended level for Tresendar Manor).

Fortunately, there's room for the creature to parley. That's a big difference in this edition of D&D, where there are frequently alternatives to talk things out. Elec promised to get the creature "food" (more corpses) in exchange for information about his brother, whom he believed was kidnapped by Iarno "Glasstaff" Albrek -- the same Redbrand leader who tried to have Elec assassinated. Promising to return, they set off further in the dungeon beneath the manor.

After ambushing four drunken ruffians in the middle of a game of chance, they moved on to face Glasstaff himself, who fled for his life. Elec and Lektra pursued Glasstaff through a secret door back into the cavern where the nothic lurked. Glasstaff demanded the nothic protect him, shouting for the guards as he ran. Three bugbears and a goblin joined from the opposite side of the cavern to protect their leader. Things looked grim...

But then six cultists wearing black cloaks cut to resemble dragon wings and black leather masks in the shape of stylized dragon horns appeared at the tunnel entrance. The leader of the dragon cultists, Favric, demanded the return of Venomfang's treasure. Glasstaff laughed in his face.

He stopped laughing when Venomfang reared up behind Favric and declared that the new manor would be his lair.

All hell broke loose. The nothic unleashed its flesh-rotting gaze on Favric, melting him into a puddle of goo. The cultists engaged the bugbear guards. Elec and Lektra fired bows at Glasstaff. Venomfang took a deep breath...

And easily swept the tunnel with his poison breath. One neat thing about 5th Edition is that it lists average damage, so in fast battles where DMs don't want to roll dice, it's easiest to just take the average. The average of 42 points of damage eliminated everything in the cavern including the cultists (whom Venomfang thought were a bunch of incompetent idiots) except our heroes (who were at the far end, out of range) and the nothic (with just three hit points left). Realizing with its weird insight ability that Venomfang was a bit of a coward, it told Elec and Lektra to throw everything they had at the dragon.

It turned its flesh rotting gaze on Venomfang even as Elec moved into position with one of the wolves to sneak attack the dragon. Lektra scored a critical with her greatsword, and thanks to the wolves' assistance (who get advantage when attacking within 5-feet of an ally), they barely managed to inflict half of Venomfang's hit points, or 68 points of damage.

Venomfang fled back down the tunnel, swearing revenge. The nothic, delighted by the huge number of "food" available and frightened that the PCs might slay it out of spite, agreed to parley.

The nothic's weird insight proved quite useful in unearthing secrets it could use against the Redbrands. It explained that the Black Spider hired Iarno to keep the Pahndalin population under control, that he was searching for Wave Echo Cave for the Forge of Spells (a tool to create powerful magic items), and that the three bugbears were sent by King Grol at Cragmaw Castle. The nothic didn't know how to get to Wave Echo Cave, but did know how to get to Cragmaw Castle and shared a mental map of the route. It reinforced that the Black Spider had Elec's brother hostage in Wave Echo Cave and King Grol would know how to get there.

The adventurers returned back to the Alderleaf farm to rest up, buy new supplies and armor, and prepare for the Cragmaw Castle assault.

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