Last year, Wizards of the Coast published an updated version of the modern classic starter adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver in the adventure book Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk.
Now, the original Lost Mine of Phandelver isn’t without its flaws, but it’s still one of my favorite 5E adventures (I have run it three separate times for three different groups). I was very excited to see what had been updated and if they had fixed some of the issues I (and many others) have had with running Lost Mine of Phandelver.
Reading through it, it’s clear that they have made some improvements, but there are still some key issues they didn’t fix – and even some new issues they introduced. So, I figured, now is probably as good a time as to give you my advice for DMs running Lost Mine of Phandelver – the new version or the old one. In this article, I’ll go over the biggest issues and give you my suggested solutions for handling them.
If you want the nitpicky advice as well, including some maps, item card handouts, encounter sheets, and unique stat blocks, you can grab our DM’s Resources for Lost Mine of Phandelver on the DM’s Guild. But, if you’re just here for the advice – well, read on!
WARNING: Spoilers for Lost Mine of Phandelver – players, stay out!
Issues with Lost Mine of Phandelver
Before we dive into the issues with LMoP, I just want to highlight some of the changes we got in the 2023 version – because they did fix some of the stuff that needed fixing.
First, we get maps for key locations like the Goblin Ambush, Old Owl Well, and Wyvern Tor, which were always conspicuously missing, so that’s a nice addition. There’s still a few maps missing (we provide two more in our DM’s resources), but getting those three is a great addition.
Second, they did a lot to improve the introduction and presentation, especially at the start of the adventure, where we get more information up front, so it’s easier to understand the adventure and its structure. The hardest part about running LMoP was always understanding the adventures and how it flowed, I felt, so getting that fixed is nice.
Finally, there are rewordings, clarifications, and minor changes throughout the adventure, which just fix some of the small issues people would have and give helpful advice to the GM on how to run a section or handle stuff like traps or secret doors. That’s nice.
That said, I was disappointed to see that they didn’t fix what I believe to be LMoP’s three biggest issues – in fact, they even made some of them worse – which, in my opinion, are:
- Chapter 1 can be too difficult and deadly for 1st-level characters, especially if the players and DM are new.
- Chapter 3 tries to be a sandbox but doesn’t really give the characters great reasons to explore cool locations like Old Owl Well, Wyvern Tor, Conyberry and Agatha’s Lair, and Thundertree.
- The final encounters with foes such as Glasstaff, King Grol, and Nezznar the Spider are underwhelming and/or boring.
Below I’ll quickly go over each of these issues and provide advice on how to fix them.
Chapter 1 is Too Deadly
Chapter 1 has a Goblin Ambush right at the start and then Cragmaw Hideout, which is a small dungeon filled with goblins, wolves, and bugbears. In combination, these are very tough for 1st level characters (I’ve had one characters death and multiple near-death characters in my three play-throughs of the adventure). Instead of fixing this issue, the 2023 version of LMoP makes the issue even worse by beefing up Cragmaw Hideout significantly (adding a bunch of goblin bosses and a big snake!)
For the goblin ambush, the issue is that the four goblins likely get to surprise the characters, and if they luck out on their Initiative rolls, they may get several arrows off before the characters get their turn – some of them with advantage. At first level, it only takes one or two lucky shots to kill a character – so for some, the adventure may end before it ever gets started.
The fix, luckily, is simple – don’t let the goblins surprise the party (the horses tip the characters off and they spot the goblins, or whatever you decide) and have them spread out their arrows so they don’t down characters too soon. With those simple tweaks, it’s much less likely that the characters will end up as pin-cushions.
As for Cragmaw Hideout, I’d suggest keeping close tabs on the party’s health and resources. If they’re running low, it’s okay to reduce the number of enemies – especially the goblin bosses that’ve been added. It also helps if the characters can negotiate with the treacherous Yeemik instead of fighting him and his many minions. You may also want to remove the extra two goblins from the encounter with Klarg – a bugbear is plenty tough on its own!
Finally, there’s also a way you can handle both issues simultaneously – simply let the characters start the adventure at second level! Those extra hit points, spell slots, and class features will greatly improve the balance and also give them more to do. You can have progression work the same for the rest of the adventure, having them progress to 3rd level after dealing with the Redbrands in Chapter 2.
The Sandbox in Chapter 3
Another big issue is that we get a bunch of cool locations in Chapter 3, but no real reason for the characters to visit them. The adventure implies that the characters may go there to find out where Cragmaw Castle is (where Gundren and his map have been taken) or where Wave Echo Cave is (where Nezznar the Spider is), but because the goblins in Chapter 1 know the way to Cragmaw Castle, and Gundren and his map leads the characters straight to Wave Echo Cave, it’s quite unlikely that the characters need to visit the extra locations. Likewise, because the main quest is so urgent – save Gundren and his brothers and defeat the evil Spider – they likely won’t spend time chasing down minor side-quests.
If you want to include more locations from Chapter 3, the key is to make it necessary for the characters to visit them. This is done by making it so the goblins don’t know where Cragmaw Castle is – they’ve either never visited it or only of their number, the one the character just slew, was the only one with the navigation skills to find it.
Likewise, Gundren doesn’t know where Wave Echo Cave is (he was never there, but received a letter from his brothers to meet in Phandalin) or is slain before the characters can save him – or is hit with a Feeblemind spell that has to be removed first! You can remove the map entirely (because it’s weird a map is even needed, if both Gundren and the Spider already know where the mine is) or have it be destroyed by the doppelganger in Cragmaw Castle.
You can then have NPCs in Phandalin promise to help discover where Cragmaw Castle and/or Wave Echo Cave is (using their faction contacts) if the characters will help them with their quests – or point them towards NPCs that may have answers, such as “those orcs by Wyvern Tor likely know where Cragmaw Castle is”, “the druid in Thundertree knows the region better than anyone!”, or “Agatha the Banshee can answer any questions you have!”
By doing so, you can keep the sandbox-feel of Chapter 3 and make it so that the characters will visit the locations of their choice on their way to Cragmaw Castle and/or Wave Echo Cave.
For more elaborate tips on handling this, check out the DM’s resources for Lost Mine of Phandelver, which go into more detail with how you can restructure the adventure to include more locations from Chapter 3.
Lost Mine of Phandelver's Boring Bosses
Finally, there’s an issue with some of the final encounters and bosses in LMoP – they’re just not very interesting. In particular, we’re talking about Glasstaff (who’s more likely to flee unseen than fight), King Grol (who’s just a bugbear with a few extra hit points), and Nezznar the Spider (who is laughably weak).
For Glasstaff, we can make it more likely that he’ll try to fight instead of just fleeing. If he gets warned about the characters coming, he may pop a Potion of Invisiblity and prepare to ambush the characters alongside his quasit minion – and perhaps even the nothic by the crevasse, which is also a much better location for a cool encounter than his cramped office!
For King Grol, it’s all about his stat block, which doesn’t do a kingly bugbear justice. In our DM’s Resources, we include a new stat block for King Grol that spice things up a bit and give him some cool actions he can use in combat – and far better offense and defense. You don’t even have to go that far, just double his hit points and give him two attacks per round, one of which is a Thump action:
Thump. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft. Hit: 8 (2d4 + 3) Bludgeoning damage and the target must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be Stunned until the start of King Grol’s next turn.
For Nezznar the Spider, he really needs survivability. Again, there’s a full stat block in our DM’s resources, but in essence you can easily double his hit points, give him Counterspell (1/day) and Shield (3/day), and also add fun spells like Lightning Bolt and Slow to his repertoire. For the DM’s resources, we also put in the option to have him trigger the statue’s ceiling collapse if he’s nearly defeated – and make new, more exciting mechanics for the ceiling collapse that’ll make the final encounter feel truly epic (freely included below)!
Conclusion & Final Words
Alright, so those are my three main issues with Lost Mine of Phandelver and how to solve them. LMoP continues to be one of my favorite adventures, and even if the 2023 version doesn’t make it perfect, it’s an adventure I’ll continue to advice new 5E DMs to try out – it just has that good old classic Dungeons & Dragons vibe!
I hope this advice was helpful and that you’ll have a great time running LMoP. Oh, yeah, and remember – you can check out the DM’s Resources here – and if you like it, please leave a review, they help out more than you can imagine!
All the best,
J. A. Valeur,