First Time Dungeon Master – The Journey Continues

With one dungeon complete, it is time for a rest, a trip to town, and the start of a new leg of the adventure.

Introduction

With two sessions in the bag, my time as a Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons was coming together. The nervousness was decreasing as I began to get more comfortable in the role. Still, there was quite a bit of chaos behind the DM screen. My game prep was taking the majority of my free time between sessions. Part of that was due to massive projects designed to make Dungeon Mastering easier on me. Another part was taking the time to learn tools I would use. The goal was to reduce that prep time and allow the sessions to run smoother. A test for that would be the next leg of the journey. The characters would soon be arriving in a town with much role-playing and investigation ahead of them.

NOTE: SPOILERS ahead for the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure! You have been warned.

Heading to Town

Rest and Regroup

Before the next session, I had some work to complete. I revamped my excel spreadsheets and tables, creating encounter sheets (with initiative order, key player and enemy stats, conditions, etc.), better character and monster tags, homemade weapon and magic cards, and other such short cuts for running a session. I also wanted to improve my maps.

Ready to Roll

The maps I had were sheets of grids that I printed out from Campaign Cartographer 3 from Profantasy. I couldn’t find good battle maps that I liked in that program and struggled to make my own, so I printed out the grid paper and drew them based on the maps in the adventure booklet. It worked but was a bit much. I looked at other mapping tools out there and finally settled on a program called Dungeon Fog. I recreated the map of the next dungeon in adventure (at least, the next likely dungeon), and printed it out to scale for miniatures. I then cut out each “room” and glued them to a poster board. Finally, I cut out the poster boards to each room, and I had nice, tiled maps that I could lay down for visualization. I was proud of this endeavor.

When we began the next session, the group rested, following the endeavor in the cave. They learned from the NPC Sildar a few more details, such as a castle where their patron, Gundren was taken to, though not the whereabouts of that castle. They gathered the supplies, including the supplies recovered from the cave, and set out the following day. By midafternoon, they were riding into the town of Phandalin.

The Town of Phandalin

When the adventurers roll their wagon into Phandalin, they are greeted with curious stares by the local people. Ruins of the city that once surround the region could be seen while a few newer buildings formed the core structure of the revived town. They settle the provisions for Gundren, see Sildar off to the inn, and turn the lost provisions over to the proprietor of the Lion Shield Coster. One mistake I made was I described the proprietor of the Miner’s Exchange, Halia Thornton, as a dwarven female, though the adventure describes her as a human. I went with it though, and the players seemed to enjoy it.

As they made their way from location to location, they learned of a few potential quests. Those quests included a trip to see a banshee and make a trade with her, orcs causing trouble on the Triboar Trail to the west, a missing wizard from Sildar’s guild, and most immediately, a group of bandits that have taken over the town.

While meeting with one villager, a local priestess who tends the shrine in the town square, they are accosted by four men wearing dirty red cloaks. They are members of the bandit group known as the Redbrands. They battle the group in the town square and determine that they must deal with the bandits. Several townsfolk request aide in dealing with the bandits. Sildar points out to Xavier that he is a noble without a home and the town is without a noble furthering the incentive.

Into the Hideout

            They seek out a halfling boy who they learned found a cave nearby. The boy directs them to the cave entrance where he saw some Redbrands exiting. They follow the directions and locate the cave entrance. Following the tunnel, they come to a large cavern with a crevasse running through. As they pass through, they feel odd intrusions on their mind, but it is not strong. They quickly make their way to the first side tunnel. That tunnel leads to two doors. Behind the first one, they hear the sounds of gruff goblin voices and laughter, along with the sniveling sound of a smaller goblin. They enter the room to find several bugbears tormenting a goblin. The goblin faints right away at the sight of them.

            The players had a brief exchange with the bugbears trying to convince them that they were new recruits of the Redbrands and had not received their cloaks yet. The leader of bugbears, Mosk, was buying it, but one of the other bugbears became suspicious. In the end, initiatives were rolled and recorded, and we had to end our session there (quite the cliffhanger).

Scouring the Hideout

The Fainting Goblin

Unfortunately, life got in the way due to kids’ birthday parties (including my oldest daughter’s) and late summer colds (including me). Finally, we were able to reconvene, and it was go-time.

I prepared the encounter ahead of time and we were able to jump right into the action following the “previously on” recap. The party made quick work of the bugbears, taking out two of them and with ease and the only remaining one fled in terror (especially after watching his buddy cleaved in half by Xavier’s axe). They woke up the goblin, Droop, who was grateful to the party and vowed to serve them for saving him from his tormentors. After Gary the Goblin’s sacrifice, they took to him, and he provided information about the hideout. Namely that a wizard led the rebrands and a monster inhabited the cavern.

Partial map of Redbrand Hideout with miniatures
Running into bugbears in Redbrand Hideout.

Drunken Brawl

They proceeded to the next room where they found several Redbrands around a table in the common room playing at dice and drunk as could be. The party filed in like they belonged, and Xavier attempted to get into the dice game. One of the drunken Redbrands kept mocking Xavier and soon a fight broke out. DM’s note, I gave the players advantage in this fight and the Redbrands disadvantage due to their inebriated state. Despite that, the encounter did last a little longer than expected due to dice roles They finally did leave the drunken fools splayed around the room.

The Chase

The group proceeded out the next door which opened to a corridor that led back to the main cavern and had a door across from the one they exited. They chose to enter this door to find a room, only occupied by a single rat, filled with tubes and vials. The noise of somebody scuffling around could be heard from an adjacent room. Xavier and Araqwyn went through to investigate while Suzah and Zam stayed behind to search the first room. The warrior and cleric found a living quarters, now empty and saw a section of wall cracked open to a hidden chamber.

They ran through in time to see a shadow at the upper end of the secret corridor disappearing through a door. Araqwyn called to the others, and they followed the figure. When they reached the exit, the entered a storeroom that opened to the main cavern. Araqwyn caught sight of the figure running through the cavern. By this time, Suzah and Zam, followed by Droop, backtracked out of the room into the earlier tunnel that led to the cavern. When they reached it, Suzah spotted the figure and launched a crossbow bolt at him, striking him in the leg.

Redbrand Hideout

As the party started closing in from both sides of the crevasse, the man was calling for help. Xavier felt an intrusion into his mind bringing up his fears and Suzah rounded a stone column to find a monster standing before her, a Nothic (Note, for a miniature, we used the Beholder to represent the Nothic). For those that don’t know, the Nothic is a creature with a single eye and it insane. It communicates telepathically. Due to tiredness from working the night before, I mis-roleplayed the creature and forgot to include its insane cackling.

In any case, the party continued to subdue the man that attempted to escape. Finally, finding that the Nothic wasn’t going to outright help him, he surrendered. When they questioned the man, Glasstaff, about the missing Wizard from the Lord’s Alliance, Iarno, he told them that the wizard was dead. After some prying, he revealed that he was, in fact, Iarno. This revelation shocked the party. They promised the Nothic some food, pointing him to the remnants of the Redbrands in the common room.

Conclusion

            This is where we ended the session. It is also the last session that we played. From here on out, I will post the results of each session as we play. We have not set our next date, but it is tentatively next Sunday (this Sunday was taken up by my youngest daughter’s first birthday). In any case, I have been having fun with our sessions as we play through. If anybody has any comments for feedback they would like to share, please feel free to do so below. I would love to hear from you all. Future session recaps will try to include more insights into my experience as a DM. Until we meet again, raise those swords and roll those dice.

Links

ProFantasy Software – Map Making for Games

Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3) RPG and fantasy map making software (profantasy.com)

DUNGEONFOG | Free RPG Battle map editor for D&D / Dungeonfog

My 1st time Running a Dungeons and Dragons Game.

After days of preparations, the first step of a journey begins for four adventurers. May the dice fall in their favor (please… it’s been rough so far).

Introduction

 I’ve talked about my history with Dungeons and Dragons. If you missed it, check it out. It might provide better understanding of where I am coming from as we dive into this campaign. Following, I get into planning out the adventure and starting the game with my players. It took a couple of sessions to get through the first dungeon. With so many “newbs” (including me as Dungeon Master), it takes us a while to get the engine going. But what it comes down to is the enjoyment of the game that matters.

As the adventure is a published adventure from Wizards of the Coast, there will be spoilers later in this post, so be warned.

The Dungeon Master

Planning the Game

The first thing I did was locate my starter set for D&D 5e. The included materials included the adventure I was going to run (Lost Mine of Phandelver) and the pre-made characters. I then took to YouTube and began looking up videos about running the game and especially those dedicated to the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure. I loaded up my Watch Later playlist with videos from The DM Lair, The Dungeon Coach, Dungeon Dudes, Kristen’s Epic Adventures, Ginny Di, Bob World Builder, and a slew of other videos and content. I sought out guidance on Twitter, Facebook Groups, and searches on Reddit. Of particular help, they often directed me to Game Night Blog for a lot of resources.

Playing D&D
It’s Game TIme!

I began creating excel files to organize and track my game, anything that I could think of to help me with organizing and streamlining my first game. Workbooks of charts, lists, tables, homemade cards and character tabs, all filled in my excel file. I downloaded many resources from the Gaming Night Blog, including a Forgotten Realms Sword Coast overview and rules summary to provide to my players. Each player had a folder containing handouts.

I had each player sign up on D&D Beyond and create their characters there. Only one player selected one of the pre-made characters that I inputted. That was Jeff who chose a Human Fighter (Noble) named Xavier. Though he did reduce the conceitedness of the character as described in the background. His wife, Angie, created a Half-Elf Cleric named Araqwyn (acolyte of the goddess Lliira). Perhaps my first mistake as a DM was that I did not express any limitations in regard to classes or races. When it came time for my fiancée (who is mostly unfamiliar with D&D) to create a character, she chose to go with a Fire Genasi. I was hesitant to agree, wanting to stick to the standard races and classes, but she was insistent at that point. So, I agreed and made her character a rogue with a “soldier” background. I helped her in writing the backstory of the character. We also had some issues when it came to her name, but we settled on Suzah.

Finally, we needed at least one more player to round out the party. Some may say that my next move was my second mistake (and biggest so far) as a DM. Lacking additional players, I created a DMPC. A Human Wizard named Zam. I heard all the arguments against doing this and that it would be better to adjust the encounters or add hirelings or other NPC add-ons. However, I decided to give it a go and to reduce the chance that he would take over the party, I gave him a bit of a shy, awkward personality so that he would be the last choice to be a leader.

Half-elf female cleric, Araqwyn Tunebringer
Araqwyn Tunebringer – Halfelf Cleric (played by Angie)

So, in recap, we had Xavier (Human Fighter, NG), Araqwyn (Half-elf Cleric, CG), Suzah (Fire Genasi Rogue, N), and Zam (Human Wizard, NG). With the party assembled, it was time to get started.

Our First Session

WARNING: After this point, I will go into the adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, included in the Starter Set. While I may make some changes over the course of the campaign to fit our game, there will be SPOILERS ahead. Proceed with caution.

The Lost Mine of Phandelver book starts off with the characters on a wagon heading to the town of Phandalin, having already met with their patron, Gundren. I decided to start with each character being brought into a back room at an inn in Neverwinter where they awaited their host. Sildar stood in the corner as each character was brought in and seated at a table. This was a chance for the characters to introduce each other and left an heir of mystery as to what was going on. Eventually, Gundren entered and said that he wanted them to escort his wagon of supplies (currently being loaded) to the town of Phandalin.

Gundren and Sildar left the group to get an advanced start to the town and the party rested for the day after checking on the progress of the supplies being loaded. At this point, they pick up where the adventure begins in the book. After a couple days of journeying, the group comes across the scene of two dead horses along the road. They discovered goblins waiting in ambush and fought with them. Soon, three of the goblins were dead and one had surrendered, but the wizard Zam was badly hurt.

Xavier Griffin – Human Fighter (played by Jeff)

The party rested and interrogated the goblin while Zam was healed by their cleric. The goblin (affectionately called Gary Goblin) told them that he would lead them to their hideout. The party rogue, Suzah, rolled a 1 while searching for traps at a place indicated by the goblin and was caught in a snare. With more harm to her pride than anything, the group cut her down and they continued along their way past a pit trap and eventually to the entrance to a cave.

Across a small stream that trickled out from the cave entrance, two goblins lounged in a thicket. They were taken out quickly through tactical moves of the party. Suzah snuck across the stream and climbed some nearby trees where she spotted the goblins. She signaled to the rest who maneuvered into place to launch their attack. Suzah took her shot and eliminated one of the goblins immediately. The other tried to run for the cave but was swiftly taken down.

Suzah – Fire Genasi Rogue (played by Lexy)

Inside the cave, the sounds of wolves could be heard from a side chamber. They skipped past that chamber, having learned that the wolves were chained inside, and moved further into the cave. Gary Goblin warned the party of a lookout on a bridge up ahead. As the group reached a side tunnel, a rush of water came roaring toward them. Suzan and Zam made it into the tunnel unharmed. However, Araqwyn, Xavier, and Gary Goblin were swept back to the mouth of the cave, the goblin was left unconscious. So Araqwyn and Xavier left the goblin in the thicket to rest while they returned to the cave.

Araqwyn and Xavier returned to the cave and caught up with the others. They ventured further until they heard goblin voices coming from a room. Groans of a non-goblin could also be heard coming from the chamber.

Before they could continue, we realized what time it was and had to call the adventure there for the day. I knew that during the course of the session, I blundered a few times. It didn’t really matter. My players expressed delight over playing the game. They laughed at the missteps of their characters, like Suzah getting caught in the snare and when her player (my fiancée, Lexy) later suggested throwing the goblin into the chamber with the wolves.

Overall, they had a fun time and so did I. I winged a lot of my decisions (and I think they turned out for the better if I had taken the time to look up the rules and played them out properly). I was starting to understand what it was like to be a Dungeon Master. The maps I had of the cave were hand drawn and I only had one miniature (one I had used for a sorcerer a while back). To help, I substituted in some Lego figures that they players used, instead. The players really enjoyed the visual aspect of the maps and figures.

Zam Longbrook – Human Wizard (played by Sal)

Throughout the next week we would talk about the session. Before we meat the next week, they had ordered dice, miniatures for their characters (and Suzah’s as well… I was using the sorcerer to represent Zam), as well as some goblins. It was great to see how they were getting into the game.

Problems with Goblins

Saving Sildar

The first session was at our friends’ house. My father watched our youngest and we took our oldest daughter over to play with their son while we played our game. The second session, we invited them over to our place. It turned out to be a little more hectic with our dogs and youngest daughter. She did nap for a good portion of the time, but she was certainly a distraction, especially for Lexy who kept getting pulled away. It was a lesson learned, however.

A few D&D Miniatures.
Araqwyn and Xavier (miniatures)

When we got back into the game, a quick peak revealed a number of goblins surrounding a fire pit and one on a ledge above. As an attempt to give the edge to the low level players, I had Zam cast sleep, which knocked out all of the goblins around the fire. Suzah fired a shot that went wide (another natural one) and hit a makeshift shelf behind the goblin that contained potions (which crashed down and were wasted). The goblin grabbed the prisoner, Sildar and put a knife to his throat, threatening him. Xavier went out to negotiate with the goblin.

The goblin, Yeemik, knows that there is more than just Xavier lurking in the tunnel. He offers a deal that the human would be let go if they kill the hideout leader, Klarg, for him. However, the group doesn’t buy it. Suzah takes another shot, this time striking the goblin, forcing him to let go of Sildar and knocking him back to the cavern wall. Xavier follows up with a javelin that bursts Yeemik’s head like a balloon. By this time, the other goblins are waking up.

After a harrowing battle, the party finally puts down the goblins in the chamber. They take a short rest, reviving Sildar, and move back along the corridor. They reach the bridge and see the goblin on top looking toward the cave entrance. Suzah takes him out swiftly and they move along. When they reach the room with a pool (originally two pools, but one was already released), they find two goblins and make quick work of them.

Finding the Bugbear

At a short tunnel leading to another chamber, they hear the ramblings of a crazed bugbear. Determining that he is Klarg, the leader of this group of goblins. The party moves quickly. Araqwyn strikes with a bolt of light which barely phases the bugbear. The party fully engages, learning that goblins also lurk in the chamber and attack the group along with a wolf. They make quick work of one goblin and the wolf and wear down Klarg.

Map of the cave hideout for the Cragmaw Goblins
Cragmaw Hideout (1st dungeon for LMoP)

Finally, a noise alerts all in the room to a lone goblin charging at Klarg with a small knife. He manages to stab the bugbear, but not before Klarg grabs him and twist his neck, discarding poor Gary Goblin aside. Klarg is hurt by this point and the group finish him off, leaving him sitting in an upright position. When an arrow comes from the darkness, Zam casts a light there to reveal a goblin archer. Startled by being revealed, the goblin retreats to a hole in the back of the cavern. He tries to climb down but slips (Nat 1) and falls into the kennel below, breaking his neck and being jumped on by the wolves.

To end the second session, they receive their rewards of the treasure and find some provisions stolen from supply trains to the town. Before ending for the day, they look in the kennel, the wolves now content and full of goblin, where they examine a pile of hay to find two wolf cubs, one gray and one black. This is where the adventure ends for the second session.

As stated before, some lessons were learned during this session for both me (as the DM) and the players alike. Still, the general consensus was that the group had fun. We were starting to find our grove as a D&D group.

Conclusion

That ended the first leg of the journey. Next time we will take a look at sessions three and four where the group goes to Phandalin and seeks to right a wrong in the town.  Check back and see how the adventure unfolds.

Links

Reflections on Dungeons and Dragons – S. J.Serio (sjserio.com)

The DM Lair – YouTube

The Dungeon Coach – YouTube

Dungeon Dudes – YouTube

Kristen’s Epic Adventures – YouTube

Ginny Di – YouTube

Bob World Builder – YouTube

Lost Mine of Phandelver Campaign Resources – Game Night Blog

Some Tools (software, websites, and apps) I Use:

D&D Beyond – An official digital toolset for Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) Fifth Edition (5e) (dndbeyond.com)

ePic Character Generator | Overhead Games

DUNGEONFOG | Free RPG Battle map editor for D&D / Dungeonfog

Fantasy name generators. Names for all your fantasy characters.