A Guide To Mounted Combat – D&D 5e

Upon your steed, you gallop into battle. Ogres, Orcs, and Goblins all stand in your way, but with a slight lean to your left and your shortsword in hand, you slash your foes and dash back to safety.

That sounds like a classic Dungeons and Dragons scene, right? Well, it turns out many of us don’t bother using a mount, let alone ride one into battle. When combat starts, some of us try to hide our horses because “if anyone dares touch Sir Galloper, this whole village will go up in flames!”

Well, just as you can be healed with a Cure Wounds spell, so can your mount. So, let’s see what we could do with an animal companion.

Contents:

Player’s Handbook Word-For-Word

Player’s Handbook Broken Down

Classic Mounting Options

Jousting

Best Classes For Mounted Combat

Summary

Player’s Handbook Word-For-Word

You can find the information for mounted combat on page 198 of the Player’s Handbook. Below is a word-for-word reiteration from this section.

The first thing the manual explains is how to mount and dismount your steed.

The second is how to control your steed.

This is literally everything the handbook says about controlling your horse (or other creature). Using the information given and the rest of the manuals, we will explain what this means and how to use a mount in combat.

Player’s Handbook Broken Down

Although the information is concise, it doesn’t give us a lot of examples. We want to show you how you can use the information provided in a way that is completely within the rules of 5th Edition.

Mounting Costs Half Your Speed

The handbook says it will cost half your Speed to mount a creature. It doesn’t matter what your Speed is; a Goliath will take the same time to get on a horse as a Gnome.

If you have two levels of Exhaustion, your Speed is halved. Therefore, a level two Exhausted player would take their whole movement to mount a creature. This is because your overall Speed is used for both scenarios. 

In the same vein of thought, a character who has been “Hasted” (the spell Haste has been cast on them) still takes half their movement to mount a creature. This means their speed is doubled due to the spell, and then halved back to their original number when mounted.

The same goes for the Dash Action.

For example, Elves have 30 feet of Speed. When “Hasted” or Dashing, their Speed doubles to 60 feet. The Elf then mounts a horse, which drops their remaining movement back to 30 feet again.

At this point, it should be noted that once you’ve mounted your creature, they can take a turn in battle. This means you don’t need to save your movement, as your steed can move you. 

Because of this, it might be more useful to see a character running to their mount.

Using the same example, this Elf has 30 feet of movement. They want to run away from an encounter, but their horse is 25ft away. Although they can run up to the creature, they will not be able to mount it on this turn.

Knowing this, the Elf Dashes, using up their action. They run 25ft toward the horse. They now have 35ft of movement left. With more than half of their extended Speed remaining, the Elf can mount the creature. The horse now has a turn to use their Action and their Movement. Using a Dash Action themselves, the horse can sprint away to safety.

In total, on this Player’s turn, they will have moved 140 feet and still have a Reaction, and Bonus Action left.

The Elf could also have run up to the horse and then cast Haste for the same effect. This is because the Player’s Speed (not used movement) is counted. As the overall Speed is doubled, they now have time to mount.

Your Mount Falls Prone Or Is Pushed Back

The next part of the handbook might sound contradictory, but there is a method to the madness.

The manual says that if your mount is pushed against its will (while you’re on it), you must make a DC10 Dexterity Saving Throw or be made Prone. The next statement says that if your mount is made Prone you can use a Reaction to dismount and land on your feet, or you will also be made Prone.

It stands to reason that if you can use a Reaction to dismount, you can also do this if you fail your Dexterity Saving Throw. 

This means you can attempt the save, get a 5, then use your Reaction to stop yourself from falling Prone. Using your Reaction still means you are forced off your mount, but at least you have all of your movement.

Remember that if you are Prone, it will take you half your movement to stand up, and it takes another half to mount a creature.

Because of this, you might not want to use your Reaction. Instead you can save it, and use your full movement to stand and mount.

The handbook specifically states that if you fall off your mount, you land within 5 feet of the creature. To climb back on, you need to be within 5 feet. This means you will have full ability to simply climb back on.

If your mount is pushed back and knocked Prone at the same time, you can use your Reaction to jump off the creature as it gets pushed away from the encounter.

The Tidal Wave spell, for example, pushes creatures away regardless of if they succeed on their save. However, if someone fails, they are pushed away and knocked Prone. 

For example, if the Player Character is a Fighter (a melee class), they might want to stay close to the battle. The enemy casts Tidal Wave forcing the Fighter’s mount backward. Dice are rolled, and the mount fails their Dexterity Saving Throw. The Fighter decides that they want to stay in the heat of the battle, and so dismounts as a Reaction. This keeps them next to the enemy.

The Height Of A Mount

The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that the Tidal Wave spell can reach up to 10 feet tall. 

Depending on the height of the mount, our Fighter might have been forced to make the Saving Throw too.

Let’s go with the standard Riding Horse again. This creature is considered Large. A Large creature is 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide. 

The rules do not state whether we should use the full height of the creature or the mid-way height of a creature to determine where the rider sits.

I believe this is a Dungeon Master’s call. A horse, for example, would likely have their rider sit 5 feet above the ground. However, an Owlbear, which is also a Large creature, doesn’t have their back midway down their height. The Dungeon Master may decide that a rider of an Owlbear sits 10 feet above the ground.

In the Tidal Wave example, a Fighter sitting on a Riding Horse would have to make their own Saving Throw. But, if they were mounted to an Owlbear, the Fighter would not be affected by the Tidal Wave spell and could use their Reaction to dismount once the spell was cast.

How Much Can The Mount Carry

All creatures, including Player Characters, can measure their carrying capacity in the same way.

Simply multiply the creature’s Strength Score by 15. This answer will be your carrying capacity in pounds.

Reach While Mounted

As we said before, the height of a rider while mounted is determined by the Dungeon Master. However, this matter should be discussed before playing the game, because most melee combat options are limited by a 5 foot reach.

If you are 10 feet in the air, riding an Owlbear, your 5 foot reach from a shortsword will not hit a 3 foot tall Halfling. 

Because of this, a mounted melee fighter should own these weapons:

Glaive1d10 Slashing DamageHeavy, Reach, Two-Handed
Halberd1d10 Slashing DamageHeavy, Reach, Two-Handed
Lance1d12 Piercing DamageReach, Special
Pike1d10 Piercing DamageHeavy, Reach, Two-Handed
Whip1d4 Slashing DamageFinesse, Reach

All of these melee weapons have the Reach ability, which means that they can hit people 10 feet away.

The best melee weapon to use while mounted is the Lance. This is because you don’t need to use two hands to wield the Lance while you are mounted (but you do if you are not mounted). 

The other weapons (not including the Whip) need two hands to wield with accuracy. At the Dungeon Master’s discretion, you will either forfeit your aim or your control over the mount when using these weapons. 

The Dungeon Master might force you into rolling with disadvantage, or they could roll a 1d6 to see which direction your steed goes (1 and 6 means the mount follows original orders. 2, 3, 4 & 5 represent South, East, North, and West).

The Whip would be the best option for a mounted Rogue due to the Finesse property. Finesse weapons can be used with a Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature.

We will go into more detail about mounted Rogues later on.

Controlling A Trained Mount

The definition of a trained mount comes under two categories; classic creatures that can be trained (like a horse, a donkey, and a camel) and creatures that can be trained in the Dungeon Master’s world.

Both of these options are up to the Dungeon Master (DM). For example, if a Player sees a horse in the wild, the DM can say that the horse is wild so hasn’t been trained. This is a valid option and sticks with the settings.

A trained mount only has three options for their Action; this is regardless of their actual abilities. 

Trained mounts can only Dash, Disengage, or Dodge. Dashing allows the mount to double their Speed for one round. 

Disengaging allows the mount to move away from an enemy without getting hit with an Opportunity Attack. This Action only lasts for one round.

Dodge forces enemies into attacking with disadvantage when aimed at the mount or rider; it also gives the mount and rider advantage to all Dexterity Saving Throws.

When in battle, you should optimize this extra ability to Dodge. As you are riding the mount, you are connected to all of their movements. Just as the mount carries you long distances, they can also grant you a Dodge advantage. 

However, if you plan on rushing through a crowd, and tell your mount to disengage, only they will be untouched by Opportunity Attacks. If your opponent can reach you, their Opportunity Attack can still strike.

Controlling An Untrained Or Independent Mount

Unlike a trained mount, an untrained or independent mount has their own initiative order. 

The difference between untrained and independent comes down to intelligence. 

An untrained mount is like a horse or an Owlbear that was never tamed. They run wild and may become distressed when you attempt to mount them. To them, it may feel like a grapple.

An independent mount understands what’s going on and can make their own judgments. 

Having a rider does not hinder the mount, and these creatures can do anything they want in combat. This includes using their Attack Actions as normal and trying to kick you off their back.

If a mount tries to throw you off their back, this would be a contested Athletics Check (mount) against either an Athletics or Acrobatic Check (rider). Both make their roll, and the highest number succeeds. 

Depending on the creature’s intelligence, the Dungeon Master could allow a Player try taming them. There is no official rule on how to train a mount. A Dungeon Master could create their own rules or use one made by online homebrewers like DragonCrown.

DragonCrown’s guide to training is simple and effective. They also have readjusted the whole mounted combat process! Check out their content for more options.

Druids As Mounts

A shapeshifter or wild-shaped druid can also become a mount. In this instance, they will be considered an intelligent, independent creature and have their own initiative count.

While they act as a mount, they can use their Creature actions as normal and are not encumbered by their rider as long as they can hold the rider’s weight.

Remember that the maximum any creature can carry in pounds (including Players) is their Strength Score multiplied by 15.

Classic Mounting Options

The best mounted option from the classic range is the Warhorse.

Out of all of the classic options, a Warhorse has the best Speed and the best Armor Class. However, if you want a tank for a mount, the Elephant has the biggest Hit Point count.

Small Player Characters, like Gnomes and Halflings, would benefit from a smaller steed, like a Mastiff or a Pony. Ponies have higher Hit Points, but Mastiffs have a better Armor Class.

There is nothing in the rules about Small Characters riding Large creatures, however visually they might prefer a mount that matches their size.

Although anything large enough could become a steed, this is the whole list of classic mounts:

If you want to ride something more unusual, try a homebrew creature or a monster. Elven Firefly’s Harrasaem mount is just one of the amazing creatures created by homebrew artists! Explore the community or create them yourself!

Back to the official guides – these are your Mount’s gear:

And here are the Saddles you can use:

Jousting

If your Players want to Joust, you can follow our homebrew setup for the encounter:

  1. Two players stand on opposite sides of an arena.
  2. Have both roll for Initiative, using the mount’s Dexterity Modifier.
  3. Whoever rolls the highest runs fastest. They get to Hit first.
  4. Roll to Hit and Roll for Damage as normal.
  5. If the damage (at any point) is half or more of the player’s total Hit Points, the player is knocked Prone and loses.
  6. After 5 rounds, the Player with the most Hits wins (if none is knocked Prone).

In this game, landing a Hit is more important than rolling high damage. However, if you produce enough damage, you can end the game early as your opponent is knocked off their mount.

Best Classes For Mounted Combat

All classes can be useful with a mount, but two, in particular, would benefit the most.

Cavalier Fighter 

The first is the Cavalier Fighter. This Fighter is designed to battle on the back of a mount.

At 3rd level, they have advantage on Saving Throws to stay on their steed, and it only costs them 5 feet of movement to mount their ride.

At 7th level, the Warding Maneuver allows them to use their Reaction to increase their mounts Armor Class. This also works on the Player and their allies within 5 feet.

And at 15th level, they gain the charging spirit of their mount and can knock someone Prone, after charging 10 feet in a straight line. They can do this whether they are mounted or not.

The Cavalier Fighter is built for a steed and is the perfect Class for mounted combat.

Soulknife Rogue

The second best Subclass for mounted combat is the Soulknife Rouge

In fact, all Rogues will benefit from riding a steed due to their Sneak Attack feature.

For the Sneak Attack feature to activate, the Player Character needs to have advantage or be within 5 feet of their target’s enemy.

If the mount attacks the target outright, they will be considered an enemy. However, to most Dungeon Master’s, being an active member of the party will be enough to count as the target’s enemy.

This means that the Rogue will automatically get to use their Steak Attack while mounted.

If they use a Whip, as we said before, they will be able to reach enemies 10 ft away and still manage to use their Sneak Attack due to the finesse weapon. Of course, that is only true if an enemy of the target is within 5 feet.

However, the Soulknife Rouge can take this one step further.

At 3rd level, a Soulknife Rouge can pull psionic power from their soul to create a finesse or thrown weapon, just like a Dagger. This means it can be used for Sneak Attack.

This Soul Blade does 1d6 damage, which is more than a Dagger’s 1d4 or a Whips 1d4. And unlike a Dagger, it will also return back to the Player.

The last thing that makes it impressive is its 60 foot range. 

Normally Rogues are in the thick of the battle, but with a Soul Blade and a mount, a Soulknife Rogue can act more defensively. They can ride into battle, use a Sneak Attack on their target using the Soul Blade. Next their steed can use Dodge and run away. Then the Rogue can use their Two-Weapon Fighting feat to hit with a second Soul Blade from 60 feet away.

Sneak Attack can only be used once per round, so getting out of the enemy’s melee range after hitting is a smart tactic. They can still use their Bonus Action for use their Two-Weapon Fighting feat, but be at a safe distance.

Granted, the second attack is only 1d4, but this Rogue keeps their weapon, has disadvantaged any enemy Opportunity Attacks, and always has Sneak Attack.

Mounted Combatant Feat

The Mounted Combatant feat can be found on page 168 of the Player’s Handbook.

No matter what class you pick, if you plan on riding a mount often, choose this feat. This is especially true if you are a Rogue.

Rogues always want advantage when attacking, so they can use their Sneak Attack. If your Dungeon Master doesn’t agree that your mount is your target’s enemy, then this feat can grant you a constant advantage instead. Just make sure your mount is the biggest in battle.

Summary

Apart from the jousting portion, everything in this article has used official rules from  Dungeons and Dragons manuals.

Now you know how to use mounts in combat, which weapons to use, and understand mount heights. 

The biggest confusion that most Dungeon Master’s face is around the trained mount’s actions. Remember, a trained mount can only use Dodge, Disengage, and Dash. The three Ds.

And if you Player Characters want to mount an unexpected creature, the creature can hold 15 times their Strength Score. It will usually be fine unless the mount is small.

Bookmark this page for future reference, as you’ll never know what mounted combat could crop up in your sessions!


Feature image by kudybadorota

Character Sheet: Dragonborn Barbarian AKA Myshon Elro

This character sheet design was born from a Dice Advent Calendar prize. On day one, I received this wonderful die and instantly saw the draconic writing style. Katie’s mind, however, went straight to The Hobbit

I would have compromised and said this die belonged to a Dragonborn Druid, but this is a 12 sided die (d12) and not a d8. My next thought was a Halfling with Draconic Bloodline Sorcery, but again they have d6s for hit die and not a d12.

That’s when I saw who this die belonged to. A Dragonborn Barbarian with the Hermit Background! She is an ancestral guardian of the forest that once belonged to Halflings. 

Backstory

Myshon Elro is a stern woman and a highly valued member of the Dragonborn Elro clan. Generations ago, the Elros went into hiding after being rejected from their mainlands. They left war and political rebellion behind in the hope of finding a quiet life.

In their travels, the Elros found a quiet and soulful group of Halflings. It took a while for the Dragonborn’s to adapt to their new cohabiting life, but the Halflings of Featherfall were a generous and understanding people.

Soon the Dragonborns developed a strong protective community around the Halflings, offering to travel the harsher lands to find game and bat away roaming monsters. The Halflings, in turn, taught their new friends about using the world around them with harmonious intentions.

Because of this unexpected collaboration, a new generation of people emerged. Some Halflings started to develop magical wonders of Draconic Bloodline Sorcery, while some Dragonborns connected to the spirits of the lands.

Myshon Elro was one of the first to develop this connection. 

The spirits have told her that something strange is happening in the lands. Curious and ready to defend her people before the problem becomes dangerous, Myshon has started to travel to new locations and follow her spiritual friend’s guidance.

Images created using Hero Forge.

Character Sheet

Below is the playable character sheet for Myshon Elro! If you want the sheet in PDF form, you can get it here. If you would like it on D&D Beyond, click here.

How To Edit Your Sessions When Your Players Have Real Life Levels of Exhaustion – 5e

If one or more of your players are parents of newborns, work on the graveyard shift, or have issues sleeping, then you may need to edit your session to cater to your sleepy friend’s needs.

Today, we will remind you that Dungeons and Dragons is meant to be a fun game about role-playing, interacting with magic, and hanging out with your friends. If you cannot achieve everything you wanted in a session because someone fell asleep, it’s not the end of the world. 

In fact, it might be the perfect excuse for more world-building.

Yawning Is Not A Sign Of Boredom

If you see a player opening their mouth for a big fat yawn, try not to be disheartened. There could be a myriad of reasons for why they are feeling tired, but that doesn’t mean they are bored with your game.

It also isn’t necessarily a sign that the session should stop there. Although your players might be tired, this could be a continuous state of being for them. Hanging out with their friends could be a genuine reason for why they want to push through their tired feelings instead of going to sleep.

If you haven’t spoken to the player/s in question yet, ask them how they want to play these games. I have a couple of suggestions that you can discuss with them, but the first one should be about open communication. 

Remind your friend, in private, that they can ask to leave the session early if they are worried about falling asleep. That way, when a yawn comes, you know that your buddy will come to you if they need a break. Otherwise, you can carry on.

Checking in on your friends as the session goes on will also help you feel the vibe of the party. Make this a normal part of your games, so it doesn’t feel awkward or forced. You could do this by having a bathroom break every couple of hours and asking everyone how they are feeling.

Ready Yourself For Unexpected Stops

Following this same thought process, if a player randomly asks for the session to stop because they need to go to sleep, don’t try and force them into playing for another 30 minutes because “they are really close to a good stopping point.” Instead, listen to your friends and recognize their needs. They could have been trying to tell you to stop for a while and only just developed the courage to say something.

Either way, you should be ready to stop the game when your players need it, instead of waiting at a particular location. Prepare your sessions with this in mind.

Sometimes, a player may ask you to pause a game instead of stopping it. This could be because their baby has just started crying, and they need a feed, or something else has come up. In these moments, the players could need a 30-minute break to get their child back to sleep. 

Knowing your players’ needs, you should prepare to pause your game again. Maybe encourage the others to roleplay amongst themselves, or have a backup idea in place as you wait for your friend to come back. Either way, you should be prepared for these breaks and ready to be helpful to your buddies.

If Your Players Fall Asleep

As you read this, you might be thinking, “But what about the other players? We shouldn’t all have to stop for one person.” And that is a valid point. 

If everyone involved (including your sleepy friend) would rather the game continue while they rest, then you could use these moments to include some worldbuilding magic.

This is what I did for my friends whose newborn children often made two party members fall asleep at the table; I included strange sleep magic that infected the people at random.

The Slumber has always existed. It is in every history book and in every memory. Every creature on this plane has experienced The Slumber at least once. It exists in the air and cannot be stopped, but do not fear as you will awaken again. At least, that’s true if your body is protected.

If you notice a player has fallen asleep at the table or needs to run off to look after their children, you can make the player infected by The Slumber. They flop to the floor without taking damage and cannot be awakened by magical or mundane means. The PC only wakes up once the player has returned.

This can create interesting dynamics for the other people at the table. If the party were in town shopping, they might need to pay for a room in a tavern. If they were traveling through a dangerous area, the players might need to roll for deception, so crooked NPCs don’t notice the Slumbering PC. And if the party were in the middle of a dungeon, they’ll have to decide if they should hide the Slumbered or take them along.

Again you might be reading this and thinking, “but you shouldn’t punish the player for looking after their child.” Or instead, your mind could have gone the other way, thinking, “the other players shouldn’t be punished and forced into looking after The Slumbered.” And again, that is valid.

This concept of The Slumber should only be used if everyone at your table agrees. If the idea doesn’t work at your table, you could tweak it to fit better. Maybe instead of;

At least, that’s true if your body is protected.

The next part says;

It exists in the air and cannot be stopped, but do not fear as you will awaken again. To anyone watching, they’ll notice you fade. Only a glimmer will shine where you once were. 

It could be minutes, days, or years before your next return, but it will only feel like seconds have passed. 

In this version of The Slumber, the body of the PC has been removed from the area. This means that the remaining players won’t have to worry about hiding a Slumbered body, and the exhausted player won’t feel cheated into a character death while they were away.

This, of course, is just an idea. You can use it in your campaign or be inspired to do your own version of The Slumber, where your players who can’t always be present can often be taken out of the story, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.

Keep The Plot Simple

If your players are able to stay awake and present during your games or not, they will likely be drained from their daily activities. This means that focusing on quests or making notes on long winding plotlines could be super difficult.

If your other players are willing to do all the notetaking and keep on top of this part of the game, then keeping the plot simple shouldn’t be a worry. However, if most of your players are finding it hard to focus, then it might be more helpful to only have one or two plot lines going at the same time.

If that’s the case, I suggest having an overarching plotline and a session-by-session plotline. For example, this could mean your party’s overarching plotline is finding the Demi-Lich who plans to steal every soul in town, but while they search for the items to make the perfect weapon, they only follow one other small plotline. This could be to do with a player’s backstory or something in the area which gives them a break from the main plot. It shouldn’t last long and could be connected to the main storyline. 

If you give your exhausted players too many bread crumbs to follow, they will start forgetting what their goal is. This will end with you being frustrated and hurt as they ignore obvious clues to a quest from months ago. Or the players could feel lost and stupid as they wrack their heads trying to remember something out of their reach.

To stop any of these upsets, it would be easier to limit the number of background storylines and instead focus their attention on the main plot and a single subplot that fits in with the session.

You might think that even this subplot will be too much for your players, so use your knowledge of their ability to concentrate and reduce your content to fit that level.

Allow Your Games To Be Fluid

The idea of making your games fluid goes back to the concept of readying yourself for unexpected stops. What I mean is don’t be focused on fitting everything into a session. If your players end up taking 5 breaks, this will push your session back, and that’s okay. 

If you don’t let them have these breaks, then they will end up getting frustrated, grumpy, or fall asleep. Instead, you have to accept the fact that your players might not reach that really cool ending you had in your head. Instead, save it for the next session so you don’t push your friend’s mental ability.

Allowing your games to be fluid might feel like going against the classic novel idea of slow rising adventure, the climax of discovery, and the epic battle, but remember that even when we read a novel, we allow ourselves to take breaks.

Your story will be just as loved and just as appreciated, even if it is broken up into smaller pieces.

If you are playing a one-shot, however, you may need to plan a smaller session than normal and add in a lot of time for breaks. This is to allow your game to be fluid and go with the player’s flow. 

If it turns out the PCs finished the game earlier than expected, then you can use your saved time to chat about the game and talk about the cool things the characters did.

Help The Community

If you have any additional ideas to help DMs cater to players who are exhausted, add them to the comment section below! 

Setting Up Phandalin For Your First Session – Dragon of Icespire Peak

The advice we are about to give you is mostly aimed at new Dungeon Masters, but anyone can gain some inspiration and guidance from our suggestions for preparing phandalin. 

Before you do anything, you need to have read pages 8 to 11 of the Dragon of Icespire Peak module, at least. If you have read the whole thing, that would be better. You can then flick back through the pages as a reference.

The story of Dragon of Icespire Peak starts in Phandalin, a small town in Neverwinter. On page 7 of the adventure, you are bombarded with facts about this town which all come down to nothing. It’s essentially history to a story from centuries ago, and if you aren’t aware of Neverwinter’s past, then it’s all pointless.

Today, we plan on helping you navigate through some of the wasted text, and help you create a real beginning to your first session.

Know Your Players’ Characters

As a Dungeon Master (DM), you have to know the world you have created, your Non Player Characters (NPCs), and your Players’ Characters (PCs). 

Knowing the PCs doesn’t mean understanding their thought process inside and out, but instead understanding what might drive them and why they are in Phandalin. These questions will help you create a beginning for the players to get their teeth into.

For example, one of your players could be a bard who simply wants to earn money and travel the lands. Maybe you also have a wizard who uses their magic to create fun tricks.

It would make sense for these two characters to start their journey in the local tavern of Stonehill Inn. There you could describe the empty pub with a happy owner who is joyous to finally have guests. Maybe the bard is playing the lute, and the wizard is creating dancing lights to cast a humanoid image to sway with.  The bard and the wizard then role performance checks to see who the owner likes the most. 

This would then be the first roll of the game. By knowing your PCs you will have written an introduction that takes them into a likely place that feels comfortable for the characters, and let them have a friendly interaction to set off their role playing.

If you have multiple PCs or maybe some that don’t mesh well on paper, then you can plan a mini confrontation. For example, a rogue could be scouting Barthens Provisions for some wine, you describe the low stocked store, and ask the rogue PC if they would like to steal from the poor NPC.

After the decision is made, the PC then either rolls sleight of hand or walks away. Regardless, the Paladin PC notices the interaction from afar. You can then ask the Paladin how they want to react to the scene they just witnessed.

With each decision, you are giving the PCs unexpected agency and allowing each person to enter the story as it best fits their character. Think about the PCS your players’ have created and what would make the best introductory encounter for them. Not only does this allow the players to see the town without starting a 10-minute speech, it also puts the PCs at the center of the session.

If you need help building a character for Dragon of Icespire Peak, then click here for our Player Character suggestions!

Making Notes and Structuring your Sessions

As we said in our article “Starting your Preparations,” you need to have a skeleton structure for the session.

Unlike the other pages in the module, there is no guide to tell you how to begin. So using your knowledge of the players, figure out why the character might have wandered into this sleepy town and where they might have headed.

As this beginning section will be very loose, you may need to make notes about every building in the town. We don’t mean every house and NPC living in it, but instead, you should make a note about what the Shrine looks like, what items you could find in the Armory, and so forth. 

Before coming to this stage, you should already have ruled out some of the NPCs and buildings you don’t care about. For example, we suggest ignoring the Miners Exchange and instead have a shifty-looking NPC in their place. This person will find a buyer for any strange items the PCs want to sell and will find any information they want, for a price.

Whatever you decide to do, make a description for every important building in the town and give these buildings a way for the players to interact with them. The module suggests rolling a D6 to determine a conversion, but we will discuss why a pre-made topic might be better next.

Plan Your Non-Player Characters

So you know how your Players’ Characters will enter into this campaign, and you know what buildings are made available to them. Next, you need to create your Non-Player Characters.

Looking at the module, pick out information that seems interesting to you, and chuck out all the rest. Add the NPC to the information on their connected buildings, so they become easy to find. Then flesh out the NPC until you feel as though you know them. Lastly, summarize the NPC into a couple of bullet points, so their stand-out features are easy to spot for quick reference.

On page 8 of the module, we learn that the owner of the Stonehill Inn is Toblen Stonehill. He tried to be a miner but did better as an innkeeper. You can use this information to envision a large human man with a sensitive heart. 

In my previous example, I said that the owner was joyful to finally receive guests in his inn. When the players finally find this NPC, he could bond with them instantly because of their patronage. It won’t take long for Toblen to express his worry about his friends in the Dwarven Excavation site. 

“A dragon is rumored to fly around this side of Neverwinter Wood. Since the rumors began, fewer people have come to stay in the town. This doesn’t mean it’s true, of course, but I doubt any have told Dazlyn and Norbus, my old friends at the mine. If I pay you 50gp, will you spread a word of danger to them?” 

If pressed, Toblen can explain that he left them for a quiet life and worries his old friends hate him because of the abandonment, and that’s why he won’t go himself.

Again this is just an example, but if you can create your own backstory for the NPCs, one that fits into your story and doesn’t stray away from the main plot, then you can make their plea more realistic and engaging for the PCs. The players are more likely to bond with your NPCs once they have had a connection to them.

The Paladin and Rogue from before would not care about this quest I have just set up, but the Bard and Wizard might feel a warmth towards Toblen after he cheered on their show.

You can always adlib a conversation to create a bond between the NPCs and the PCs, but to do that well, you need to know what makes the NPCs special.

Set Up The First Three Quests

We have kind of already touched on this with my example of Toblen’s conversation about his miner friends.

In the module, on page 10, you’ll notice that Phandalin has a quest board where the spooked mayor puts jobs up for budding adventurers.

This can be a great way to structure your game as the PCs will know that they can find the quests in one simple place. However, quest boards can sometimes feel like a checklist. If you want your players to feel like part of the world, they need to interact with it. 

The method I set up before connects the problems to the town. The Dwarfs in the mines being friends with Toblen gives them a sense of immediacy and allows the players to have a real reason to help. 

With the Umbrage Hill quest (which asks the PCs to return the healer to the town of Phandalin), you could have her be an ex-partner of an NPC in Phandalin. Maybe Linene the Smith is worried about Ababra’s safety, as she is living all alone. But Linene cannot ask her to come back home due to their quarrel. Again we have a human connection to link the healer to Phandalin and a dash of a love story to give the town some history. 

If you are worried that your players will never find the quest if left to their own devices, you can make the quest come to them. Maybe Linene is drinking in the tavern, and Toblen tells the PCs that she only does this when she’s anxious. Here the players have a story-like beginning to a new quest without feeling railroaded.

In my opinion, the Gnomengard quest should come after the first two. Maybe a letter arrived at the Inn where the adventurers are staying, asking them to visit the Mayor in his home. At this point, Harbin Wester (the mayor) has seen how the party is taking on scary jobs and so wants to hire them. He lets them into his manor house, locks the doors up, and keeps the room in dim light. Those with darkvision can see that his home is a tip, and his hair is out of control. This is a man in despair. 

Harbin then asks the players to go to Gnomenguard to find an item to help fight against the dragon. 

At this point, the dragon will have been mentioned to the players twice, and they are aware that everyone is mildly scared. This allows them to slowly take in the short history of the town, and at the same time, the players will begin to develop a growing worry about the dragon.

Of course, these are all suggestions, and you might have found your own ideas in the module. Either way, writing up these interactions to introduce the quests will make them more realistic and exciting to the players. As Cryovain, the dragon, will not be around for a while, we need to show the NPCs growing worried.

Set Up Cryovain’s Terror

All of these quests only touch on the problems that Cryovain gives. In “Starting your Preparations,” I discuss making a mini-story for every place Cryovain visits, under “Utilize The Dragon, Cryovain.” That way, when the Players reach this location, they can see how Cryovain has affected the area. 

When you are just starting up the campaign, you don’t need to add too much emphasis on the dragon. A mild worry is all they need to progress the story at this point. However, as the game goes on, Cryovain’s power needs to be increasingly realized. 

If it has been a couple of sessions between the mention of the dragon, you could add in an NPC who comes from one of the attacked locations and have them flee to Phandalin. They might not ask for help, like a quest, but instead, you can describe their wounds and worries.

The only problem with this idea is that the PCs might see it as a plot hook and will try to visit the area too early for their level (and your preparations). If that sounds like your party, you could instead describe the dragon flying in the distance and a ray of white pulsing from its mouth. The closer Cryovain is, the more obvious this ray is ice.

Either way, you should always keep the looming threat of Cryovain in the back of your mind. For the first session, however, these mild worries are enough to push forward a quest. 

Plug The Later Quests

Lastly, your sessions should contain plugs for later quests. Don’t set them up like we did with Toblen or Linene, but instead, you could have a carriage set up near the back of Barthen’s Provisions as foreshadowing for the Loggers Camp quest, or maybe the shopkeep could sell Butterskull butter from Butterskull Ranch.

Little things like this dotted around will create a “Eureka” moment when the players make the connections, making the quests seem like a real part of an ever-moving world.

Summary

Woah, take a breath. All of this might sound overwhelming. I have just given you a lot of information, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you reached the summary portion a little dazed. So let’s wrap it all up in an easy bow to help you navigate the module as well as your own thoughts.

When you are creating Phandalin and beginning to write up your first session, you should think about these 7 points:

  1. Read the Module. You want to read pages 8 – 11 in Dragon of Icespire Peak. They tell you the buildings in Phandalin, the NPCs, as well as the quests.
  2. Ask The Players About Their PCs. You need to figure out how to place the PCs into this world. What are they interested in? This information can help you build the NPCs, as you will know what will get the best reaction from the players.
  3. Build the Town. Using the module as a guide, remove information that seems pointless to you, and write a new script that makes sense to your visualization of the world. Include descriptions you can read out loud.
  4. Build the NPCs. You know what the players will be interested in and what parts of the town you want to keep. You have created a description for all the buildings, so now add the NPCs. It doesn’t need to be deep, but their thoughts should reflect the world they are living in. Think about the threat of Cryovain and quest plots that could be on their mind.
  5. Get the First Three Quests Prepared. Using the quest board or a storybook approach, find a way to give the players a quest. If you only want to have one prepared at a time, then limit them to one at a time. You’re the DM, after all.
  6. Remember Cryovain. Add in drops of evidence that Cryovain exists. The players might not be facing him yet, but they need to know his power.
  7. Lay Breadcrumbs for Later Quests. You don’t have to do this for every quest or even in every session. But if you can see a clear connection between one NPC and a later quest, then sprinkle in some information for the players to connect to later.

Once you’ve done all of this hard work, you won’t need to mess with Phandalin’s structure again, as it won’t change too much after that. This initial setup will take the longest, but once it is done, you can refer back to the buildings and people at any time. They will be premade, ready for whatever the players throw at you.

Next, you need to set up the Dwarven Excavation Quest, Umbrage Hill Quest, and Gnomengarde Quest. We have guidance to help you with these preparations too. I suggest you have at least the Dwarven Excavation Quest written and ready before you begin the campaign. 

Now pat yourself on the back! You have completed the first session of Dragon of Icespire Peak. Here everyone can introduce their character, start to navigate Phandalin, and learn about the adventure they are about to embark on. 

How to Prepare Umbrage Hill Quest – Dragon of Icespire Peak

Umbrage Hill is a simple quest, which allows your players to choose between combat and conversation. 

If you or your players are new to Dungeons and Dragons, you might expect to fight your way out of every situation. That’s because the typical answer to most fantasy games is to kill your enemy; D&D is different. Umbrage Hill is the perfect example of how combat could be halted if the players use their knowledge or skills wisely.  

Connecting The Quest To The Players And Phandalin

The campaign suggests using a quest board to hand out adventures. In our article “Setting Up Phandalin,” we said that although this process is an easy method, it can feel a little boring. Instead, we suggested making the campaign feel more personal to the players; that way, they have a genuine reason to help out the town and not leave them to their own devices.

The original quest asked the players to find Adabra Gwynn and bring her back to Phandalin, where she would be safe (page 10 of the adventure book).

However, I felt that this type of request should come from a lover, “Come back and be safe.” But then why wouldn’t the lover find their partner themselves? Ah, maybe an ex-lover.

In “Setting Up Phandalin,” I suggested that maybe Linene the Smith is worried about Ababra’s safety, as she lives alone. But Linene cannot ask her to come back home due to their quarrel. This gives the players a human connection to link the healer to Phandalin. It also drops with a dash of a love story to provide the town with some history. 

If the players don’t naturally arrive at the Lionshield Coster (page 9), you can make the quest come to them. Maybe Linene is drinking in the tavern, and Toblen tells the PCs (player characters) that she only does this when she’s anxious. Here the players have a story-like beginning to a new quest without feeling railroaded.

Developing this story-like entrance just means adding a “cut screen” moment before the players enter the Lionshielf Coster or as they enter the Tavern.

For example:

You walk into the Tavern and see Toblin cleaning down some tables. Sitting in the shadows is a stocky-looking woman. With one hand cradling her head and the other hugging her ale, you can sense a sadness surrounding her.

If the players go over, you can add in some dialogue for the PCs to bounce off of.

“Toblin said you helped him, so I hoped you could help me too” Linene tries to focus on you, but you notice her eyes are dropping a little. “Ababra doesn’t know about that Dragon flying around. She’s all alone and too stubborn to listen to me. I need her to come back. To be safe, I mean….” A slight redness colors her cheeks. “Look, if I give you 25gp, will you bring her back here, so she’s safe? Just don’t tell her I sent you.”

The players could then dive deeper into this star-crossed lover storyline, or they could accept this drunkard’s money and run. Either way, the quest is theirs now, and the history of this village is developing.

What To Expect At Umbrage Hill

The map to Umbrage Hill is small. The makers have tried to add history to the land, but as I said with my “Dwarven Excavation” guide, these historical additions are fun but unnecessary. And to new DMs (Dungeon Masters), it will just add confusion.

The unnecessary history in Umbrage Hill is the lost feud of dwarven clans. At the top of the hill, you’ll notice rocks that are acting as tombstones from this long-forgotten battle. And under U.2, you’ll see a stone house fallen to ruins. These shapes will make excellent hiding spots and cover advantages if a battle commences, but other than that, you don’t need to add a ton of history or story to them.

If any players ask, you can say that Cryovain knocked down the stone walls, putting the dragon straight into the story, or that Ababra built around an old and forgotten building.

Arriving at Umbrage Hill

When you arrive at the quest destination, you’re meant to find a Manticore clawing at the windmill’s front door as a woman leans out the window, asking for your help.

The quest tells the DM that if the players try to talk to the Manticore, give him 25 gp in treasure, or offer him meat, the monster will fly away. But the entrance doesn’t suggest to the players that this is an option. 

So I suggest changing it up a bit. 

After a couple hours of walking, you notice a small windmill in the distance. Its blades slowly move in the wind as it sits atop a grassy hill. A wooden fence hugs the landscape around the building.

As the blades move, you notice something large between the wooden material and the wall.

You get closer still and start to see the figure’s shape. A large body of a lion, but with the wings of a dragon. Its main has spikes as long as your arm, and they trail down to the beast’s tail.

You are close enough, now, to hear the faint scratch of claw on wood.

“Don’t be scared, human. I’m only hungry.” The deep voice of the creature travels through the wind, and its steady tone holds a hint of sadistic intent.

The window on the second door flies open. “You there! Help me!” You see a young human woman waving a cloth in your direction. 

The beast hears her too and moves away from the door. In the light, you see its skinny frame with its bones visible through its skin.

It doesn’t speak, but you notice its expression holds a hint of apprehension. 

What do you do?

This intro is much longer than the suggested piece, but here the players can see the creature is hungry, ready to kill, but obviously malnourished. They also learn that the Manticore can speak. This opens up the encounter to the players, allowing them to think about the possible ways that they could help Ababra and maybe even the Manticore.

Just adding a little bit of detail will give your players ideas of how to go forward. I suggest playing the Manticore as scared but willing to fight. At this point, it is outnumbered and will want to live another day, use that to create this monster’s story.

The stats for the Manticore can be found on page 60 of the adventure book or page 213 of the Monster Manual.

Ababra’s Choice To Stay

The adventure book suggests that Ababra would rather stay at her windmill and brace the troubles that Cryovain will bring. She will even offer a written note as proof of the conversation. 

This is another fantastic way for the players to get involved with roleplay and social interaction. Will they try to trick her into coming back, persuade her by breaking their promise to Linene and explaining she is worried about her, or would they respect her decision?

There are so many things that the players could do, all of which could have a butterfly effect throughout the game.

For example, if they persuade Ababra to go back to Phandalin, maybe she will set up a herbal shop in town, allowing the players to receive potions more easily. Or if she stays, perhaps Cryovain could visit the windmill too, while the players are elsewhere, causing a new “damsel in distress” quest to appear.

Make a note of how your players deal with this situation and adapt the campaign to fit the changes.

Letting The Manticore Live

If the PCs decide to let the Manticore live, the adventure book suggests that he comes back every now and then to get more food or treasure from Ababra. 

We can be a little more creative than that. Maybe the Manticore comes back and settles near Ababra, creating an unlikely alliance between humans and monsters. Or perhaps the players notice their new friend dead on the road in the lead up to Cryovain’s big fight. This character could have been popping up every now and then for fun moments in the story, and just when everything is going too well, the players see a frostbite wound on their friend’s leg. Cryovain was clearly the culprit.

Depending on how the interaction went, make a note of how the Manticore will feel about these adventures, then create an extra storyline that could pop up later in the campaign. These moments can create amazing connections for the players later on, so have fun with the domino effect taking place.

Treasure

The only official treasure mentioned in this quest is a handful of Potions of Healing. These are super valuable items, but it doesn’t make sense to only have three in the whole campaign.

Depending on how the story goes, it would make sense for Ababra to make friends with the PCs after this quest. It also makes sense for her to make these potions for a living. I suggest that every time a quest has been completed, Ababra will have finished brewing one potion. She can then sell the positions for 25gp (a discounted price for saving her). This keeps the game from becoming too easy while also helping your players through tough spots. 

Learning The NPCs

As there are only two Non-Player Characters in this quest, it shouldn’t be hard to understand their motives. 

Ababra Gwynn

Depending on why the players have come to Umbrage Hill, you should develop Ababra’s backstory based on the information you have already given out.

With my suggestion, Ababra and Linene were ex-lovers who fell out, causing Ababra to start a new life in Umbrage Hill. So the question is, why did they fall out, and is the relationship mendable? 

For my players, I gave them all a love triangle and said that Halia from the Miner Exchange successfully seduced Ababra as a ruse to get her herbal shop and take over the small town’s real estate. Linene found out and dumped her true love, while Ababra ran away in shame.

The players persuaded Ababra to return to Phandalin, where Linene and Ababra mended their trust. 

Whatever stories you have already started, try to build a backstory for them, so you can answer any questions your players throw at you. Then try to reply as the NPC would. 

The adventuring book suggests that Ababra has commoner stats, but we can play around with the flavor of her weapon. If for some reason, Ababra joins in the battle, you could turn her “club” into a chair. If the Manticore makes it into the windmill, she could pick up the chair and try to smash it over his head.

Just replace the storytelling aspect while keeping the club’s stats.

Manticore

The Manticore has moved from his lands in the rocky mountains to a landscape filled with trees. His wings are not as useful in such an area, which should tell any intelligent character that something is wrong.

The adventure book suggests that the Manticore is trying to find food and a new home since Cryovain the dragon displaced him. In all honesty, his backstory doesn’t need to be much bigger than that.

It reminds the players about Cryovain and shows how the dragon needs to be stopped, as the ecosystem cannot handle the new threat.

Remember the Manicore’s stats too. He is at his most powerful when using the multi-attack, but because the creature can fly and has a ranged tail spike attack, it makes sense for the beast to fly up to the top of the windmill and fire his missiles when no one can catch him.

If you do use the tail spike, however, you need to count how many spikes get used up, as the Manticore can only grow so many in a day.

Remembering Cryovain

Although Cryovain is only the catalyst to this quest, we cannot forget that without him, the Manticore would not have attacked our lovely herbalist. Dripping the details of the dragon into the storyline will remind the players who the real enemy is. You only need to mention him once or twice for the players to pick up on this worry.

Summary

Umbrage Hill is a wonderful quest for first-time players and first-time DMs. You only have two NPCs to worry about, both of which can have detailed storylines that you can easily follow without getting confused.

The quest itself can be completed by the player’s choices. If they are a group that loves to battle, then the fight will be epic. If they are a group that wants to be diplomatic, then they can talk to this magical beast. Most importantly, the players will have complete control over how this quest plays out, and it will give the DM a lot of options for the future of the campaign.

My advice is to make notes throughout the session, so you can pick up on anything the NPCs might do in the session or in the future.

And remember, have fun!

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How to Prepare Dwarven Excavation Quest – Dragon of Icespire Peak

Like everything in Dragon of Icespire Peak, there is a lot of lore, history, and backstory to each area on the map. 

Most of the time, these added details would be great information for Dungeons Masters (DMs) who are used to making massive worlds or even those who have played a campaign near Phandalin before. 

But the majority of people picking up Dragon of Icespire Peak are new Dungeon Masters, so all of the extra detail just overcomplicates their game.

I aim to strip back the Dwarven Excavation content and leave you with a realistic guide to make this session epic for you and your friends!

What to Expect in the Dwarven Excavation

Here is a brief overview of the Dwarven Excavation quest. The parties’ one aim is to warn the dwarfs mining in this area that a white dragon has been spotted. After doing this, the players can go back to Phandalin and collect their 50gp.

You can find this information on page 10 of the adventure book.

Grateful for the warning, the dwarf offers the party a quest of their own. If the players can clear the mine of monsters, then the miners will give them some sending stones. This is what we call a “plot hook,” although it is a weak one as there isn’t a lot of plot involved. 

Still, the players don’t have any magical items yet, so this small addition to their bag will feel like a gold mine (pun intended).

The Sending Stones can be found on page 199 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide or in the packet of magic items handouts. 

If the players accept this quest, they will enter a dark cave searching for beasts. It’s only when they reach the middle that they find one or two Ochre Jellies. They are lost souls of the priests that used to live here, turned into unfeeling and hungry monsters. They can be found on page 61 of your adventure book or page 243 of the Monster Manual.

Once the monsters are defeated, there are no other threats in the cave. However, there is a hidden room with a glowing gem being held by a sketchy statue. If a player gets greedy and reaches for the gem, they risk receiving 22 piercing damage as the booby trap is set off. 

Lastly, as the players leave the mine feeling triumphant, they see Orcs stampeding into the clearing, and another battle begins.

Stripping away all of the empty rooms and (interesting, but never mentioned again) backstory, this is the essence of the quest. 

If you have a warlock player or a dwarven player, it might be interesting to weave Abbathor  (the dwarven god of greed) into the story, as this was the god prayed to by previous civilizations in the mine. 

However, Abbathor is never mentioned again in the campaign, so it would be easy to cut him out if you cannot find a connection. Remember that you are under no obligation to create a connection either. All you need to do is mold the story to match your vision.

Connecting Stories and Knowing Your Players 

In our previous article, “Setting Up Phandalin For Your First Session,” we suggested giving the quest to your players through the retired-miner-turned-tavern-owner Toblen.

If you used this suggestion or created your own mini-history to connect Phandalin and the dwarven mines, be sure to carry on this story. There are two Non-Player Characters (NPCs) in this quest, and they are called Dazlyn and Norbus. 

Dazlyn is meant to be forthright and honest, but Norbus is gruff and cautious. You can edit these descriptions depending on the backstory you have created to get the players here. They are only there to help you create believable and playable characters. 

When the players reach E3, “Courtyard and Temple Facade,” they are meant to meet these NPCs. The dwarves thank the player characters (PCs) and offer their quest, however, depending on your party, this might seem a little boring.

Hopefully, by this point, you will already know what your players will enjoy. If they like to roleplay, then you can use this entrance to make Norbus suspicious.

“White Dragon! What lies! These clean folk are after that legendary gem. I can smells it!”

The players could then roll persuasion to convince the dwarfs, and at the same time, learn about the tempting treasures within. If you use this method, you may want to create a more interesting item than a 100gp gem. Maybe it is cursed, and the PC who holds it becomes obsessed with getting more money even if it ends in pain. Who knows, have fun with it!

If your players are still new and not confident enough to roleplay, you might prefer more of a damsel in distress attitude. Maybe they hear a call for help and rush to the dwarf’s rescue. As they arrive, one dwarf is whacking their pickaxe against the Jelly, while the other is slowly being digested. 

Thrown straight into battle, the players have to kill their enemy before the dwarf dies. This makes the combat dynamic, includes a scary time element, and lets you play around with roleplay without it being core to the game.

If you have no idea what your players will find fun, create the scene to be fun for you. You are a player in this game too, so use your own entertainment as a guide and see how your friends react. 

Next time, it will be easier to see what they enjoyed.

Learn the NPCs and the Monsters

In this quest, there are only two NPCs and two monster types. This means you don’t have to focus on a whole village and what they all want, instead you can put some time and love into the characters in front of you.

Monsters

When it comes to the Orcs and the Ochre Jellys, you don’t need to give them backstories or names (unless you want to!). Instead, all you need to do is know their aim and know their attacks.

We will go into more detail about the Orcs later, but their main goal is to settle somewhere, and they are willing to die for their course.

The Ochre Jellies were once living dwarfs, but they were attacked by their god and turned into these hungry and ugly beasts. It’s unlikely that your players will have a way to communicate with the jellies, so you don’t need to understand their motives other than “attack.” The fun thing about Ochre Jellies comes from their movement. They cannot move fast, but they can climb walls without issue and squeeze through gaps as small as 1-inch without worry. 

When it comes to battle, remember the quirky and unique moves that each of your monsters have, and be sure to bring them to the table. Even if spider climbing up a wall gives a player an opportunity attack, the move will still be memorable!

Non Player Characters

The dwarves are given commoner stats, which you can find on page 55 of the adventure book or page 345 of the Monster Manual.

This stat sheet says that commoners only have a club for attacking, but let’s consider a real miner. They would likely have a pickaxe, at least! Just because the stat sheet says, one thing doesn’t mean you cannot add some flare to it.

I suggested earlier that a damsel in distress could consist of a dwarf being swallowed by a Jelly while another attacks with their pickaxe. In that scenario, I recommend keeping the mechanics of a club but adding some imagination to their weapon description. This way, you haven’t changed the details to become complicated, and you haven’t overpowered the NPCs.

Of course, there is more to an encounter than battling, and the NPCs will have their history. You don’t need to write a whole plot about these characters, but make them memorable in your head, so when the players talk to them, you can create a response consistent with their character.

I suggest making a character sheet for any NPC, with their attitude, goals, dislikes, and likes. This way, you have a quick reference for improvised conversation.  

Loot

If anyone dies, it’s always fun for the players to loot the bodies and try to find treasure. For the Dwarven Miners, they could find alcohol, small gems worth 10gp, and some pickaxes. For Ochre Jelly, they could find poison that could be filtered into empty bottles.

The Orcs, however, could be more interesting as the player can find armor and weapons. Orcs wear hide armor and carry Greatclubs along with Javelins. These could be added to your player’s inventory and increase their fighting power. These items can be found on pages 41 and 42 of your Essentials Kit Rulebook or pages 145 and 149 of the Player’s Handbook.

Break Down Each Area Of The Map

In the official guide to the Dwarven Excavation quest, there are 13 sections, including the arrival and the Orc attack. 

Temple Features

There is a helpful little guide on page 22 about the temple’s features, including its doors, ceilings, difficult terrain, and light. I suggest printing this part out and having it in view, as there will be many times when light and terrain becomes a problem during the game. These are easy features to forget but are an intricate part of the atmosphere building and difficulty challenge. 

Remember that difficult terrain takes twice as long for a character to go through (30 ft of movement turns into 15 ft, etc.), and having no light will make your characters effectively blind. This means that they will automatically fail any check which uses sight and will be disadvantaged when attacking, while their enemies will have advantage to attack them (if they can see).

Even if your players have darkvision, they will be disadvantaged on checks that rely on sight. 

Because of this, you should make a pre-worded description for every room the PCs enter, so both you and them are reminded of their limitations. If a character is blinded from the darkness, consider giving them the condition card found in the pack as an additional reminder.

Going Through The Rooms

I’m not normally a fan of maps with useless rooms, as the DM is forced to make it important somehow, or the players become bored by constantly seeing useless information. However, this map doesn’t have too many dead spaces, and because the Ochre Jellies can wiggle through 1-inch spaces, they can use these dead rooms as escape ways to run away from the party. 

You can even use the strange shapes in the Ruined Settlement (E2) as cover when the Orcs attack.

My only suggestion is to add more detail to the rooms. The priest’s room in E8, for example, could have jeweled silver daggers or blood-red leather armor for the players to find. If the players don’t go rummaging, then they won’t lose out on important items, but if they snoop around, they could find some worthy treasure. 

No matter what you do, be familiar with the rooms and understand how they could be used by your players or by the monsters. Read each section one at a time, and then go over them with a pen and paper to create your own descriptions and changes.

Change Abbathor to Talos

Earlier I said to ignore the history of this place, as it never comes up again in the campaign. If you really want a god in this temple, as you know your players will get interested in the history, then I suggest using Talos, the evil god of storms. 

If anyone investigates the rocks, you can suggest high levels of sea salt, despite being far away from the sea; almost as though previous landscapes would put this temple closer to the sea edge.

Talos shows up in at least four other quests as the Half-Orc anchorites constantly try to summon him or work on his behalf. This temple could be an abandoned worshipping site, which was left behind as the sea levels changed.

Swapping Abbathor to Talos will give you a recurring evil god that feels connected to the story. 

Getting Battle Ready

Unfortunately, the beginners kit doesn’t come with a battle map for every quest, so I suggest buying a reusable battle map that can be wiped away and recreated as the players destroy the temple within.

If someone uses a spell that knocks down a pillar, for example, then you’ll need to re-make this map as the ceiling collapses. 

The only problem with this method is allowing your players to run all around the mine while only having a limited battle map size. Although I would normally suggest using one massive and wipeable surface, for a map like this, you may prefer to use reusable battle blocks. Click this link to understand what I mean. You can add in more corridors as your players discover secret doors. These battle blocks create a more versatile and moveable map.

Avoid Player Disappointment

The one thing that every Dungeon Master hates is disappointing their players. If the Ochre Jelly encounter proved deadly, you need to give your players a break before letting them face the Orcs.

Encourage them to take a short rest at least, or even allow them a long rest in the creepy, moldy priest chambers. If they don’t take a rest (because they didn’t know they could), your players will feel ambushed as the Orcs come to attack. 

The tiny paragraph about the attack on page 23 suggests you go into a fight without explanation. This will feel like an unnecessary attack to your players, so instead, I recommend adding in a little bit of dialogue to show why the Orcs are fighting. 

If a player knows the language “Giant,” you could have the leading Orc give a speech while a timid one mumbles something only that player can understand.

“A cave!” The Orc says with a gaping smile that shows off his long, deep tusks. “Humanoid vermin, be off with you. This is our new home!” He raises his great club and charges before anyone gets the chance to run.

Point out your giant-speaking player, and tell them they notice this interaction too:

A smaller Orc raises his ax, but his enthusiasm is lesser than his friends. “Another fight? I’m too exhausted. Why won’t you let us be!” He mumbles in Giant, but with a huff, joins his comrades. 

If you don’t have a player character who can speak giant, you can still have this interaction through common.

When you add this level of information to your players before the attack begins, give them enough space to attempt to speak before the Orcs reach them. If the charge happens when they are over 40ft away, the monsters have to use the dash action to get into melee range. This gives the players one turn each to interact without attacking and get more information. 

Although Orcs have javelins, their low intelligence makes it easy to imagine them running into melee combat and not staying in ranged distance.

However you manage this element of attack, remember that the Orcs are searching for a new home after the white dragon displaced them. This can be a great way to weave Cryovain and his negative effects into the story. 

It will be easy to let this quest fall into a “dungeon grind,” especially at a low level. A “dungeon grind” is when the players experience battle after battle without any change. Even those who love battles still need a balance with puzzles, social interaction, and downright silliness.

You should decide whether this additional attack will be enjoyable and informative or if your players need a break from fighting. If you figure it’s the latter, you should abandon this extra fight.

Summary

There isn’t a lot going on in this quest, which is perfect for a new DM and new Players. There is a little bit of social interaction, a little bit of battle, and a little bit of investigation. I really like this quest and only felt the need to edit a bit of it.

When I played it through with my party, we had a Dwarf Wizard, so when they stole the gem, I made Abbathor talk to her in her sleep. Our campaign had two plots from then, stop the dragon and release the evil god. 

I highly recommend cutting out all the Abbathor stuff, unless you think your players will be interested in this back story. He doesn’t come up again in the campaign, so you won’t be missing out on information. If you want to add in an important god, add in Talos instead.

Whatever you do, make reminders about the light and difficult terrain either through pre-written entrances for each room or with a sticky note on your DM screen.

And remember to have fun!


Feature Image CC: David Calabrese

Amulet of Orc Pride

Orcs are a strong and resilient race. Even the weaklings of the pack have the constitution of a mountain range. But don’t misunderstand their rugged nature for hostility; if an orc sees potential in you, they may decide to take you in.

Every once in a while, an orc brings someone into their fold and teaches them how to take a punch. They might even share a special amulet that holds the spirit of dead warriors. 

The amulet empowers the person to push through physical pain. Spirits by your side, you hear the chanting of family and pride protecting you.

And sometimes, just sometimes, the connection is so strong that you feel the guidance of experienced hands correcting your fatal strikes.

This amulet has to be attuned for it to work. As you sit, cross legged reaching out to the warriors of orc past, spirits of the community come and sit with you. When the ritual is completed, your body absorbs the legends. With a sigh, you feel the strength and history of orc pride.

Print out the screenshot above or add the magic item to your DnD Beyond inventory, and tell us how your character has connected to the pride of orcs! 

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