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.


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.  


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.


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! 

Dragon of Icespire Peak: Starting Your Preparations

First time Dungeon Masters picking up the Dragon of Icespire Peak module can have a hard time navigating the information. For one, it has a lot to work with, and secondly it can go in so many directions.

This is why many DMs love the campaign, but if you haven’t Dungeon Mastered before, the data can be overwhelming.

We are making an ultimate guide to DoIP (Dragon of Icespire Peak), to help anyone struggling to sift through the information and find the meat of the story! Today, we are starting at the very beginning – preparation.

We aren’t going to go through every single quest in the book right now; instead we are going to show you how to visualise the settling. If you want a more detailed guide for each part of the story you can search through our website by clicking here.

Warning – Spoilers Ahead

Reading Through The Module

It may seem obvious to read through the module you have picked up, but on page 10 the book explains that only 3 of the quests are listed on the quest board. This might lead you to thinking that only reading the first 3 is fine, however you may end up confusing yourself later on.

The first 3 quests don’t really connect to the overall storyline of the campaign. Instead they are more of a “get to know your character” and “have fun role playing” kind of session. This isn’t bad of course, but the players may start wondering why their characters are even following these quests.

If you read through the module, you will know what two things are happening in the world at the moment. Storyline one is that a dragon named Cryovain has moved into the area, forcing dangerous monsters into the humanoid lands. This displacement is actively causing chaos and harm. To solve the problem, you need to remove the dragon. That way the orcs, ogres and manticores can return to their homes, and leave the humanoids in peace.

The second storyline is that a group of orc cultists are attempting to bring their God Gorthok the Thunder Boar into this world. Their reasons are unclear, but there are a couple of instances where boars can be seen in the area.

I personally found the boar storyline more interesting than the dragon one, but (as a new Dungeon Master), I found the story too disconnected from the main plot to piece it all together. Unfortunately, I fell into the trap of only looking at the first three quests before reading on. If I had known that these random boars were important, I would have added more detail to their story.

The reason why the boar storyline is so flat is because the creators of the campaign expect you to add to it. As a Dungeon Master, you will have your own creative ideas about how this jigsaw fits together, and your players will end up influencing the story too. This gap is deliberate to allow everyone to have some control in the game. 

To ensure you don’t miss out on any juicy details that can help you create the world, you should read the whole campaign even if you are nowhere near that quest yet. Your Warlock Player’s patron could be Abbathor, your Cleric’s God could be Savras. These are Gods already in the book that can help your characters connect to the story. Reading through can help you pick out these details and develop the story from an open concept to a touching story.

Prepare A Skeleton

Just like the creators have left ideas and concepts for you, you shouldn’t overload your story either. Your players can and will have a massive effect on the continued world they interact with. Not everything will have a “butterfly effect” moment, but if your players persuade the villages of Phandalin to move to Butterskull Ranch for their safety, then you should have enough room in the story to let this happen. This idea is called a “skeleton”; the structure or “bones” of the story is written, but the “meat” is created as you play.

To give yourself some guidance but still allow your players to influence the world, you should only make a skeleton guide of the campaign. You could argue that the module already has a skeleton ready for you to pick up and run on the day, but most of us cannot read a piece of paper once and fully comprehend it. Instead, you should use this premade skeleton as a guide.

The best skeletons have fixed facts that will not change, readily prepared along with beginning speeches. The start of a session, no matter if it’s session 1 or session 20, will not be controlled by the Player. They cannot influence anything they haven’t had a chance to touch yet. This means you can set the scene, bring the drama and tell the characters what they see.

Apart from this beginning scene, there won’t be a lot of chances for you to give massive description speeches. You might think that the players will go through the front door of the Logger Camp, but instead, they jump through the window. If you already made a speech for this entry, then this sudden unexpected entrance means your speech doesn’t make sense. To some, that would be enough to make you lose focus and become confused. You might even seem angry that the players didn’t play the way you expected. That isn’t the issue, of course; it just means you’re suddenly unprepared, and that can be stressful. To avoid this issue, don’t make massive speeches. Instead, write a couple of notes about what you imagine your players will see. Then when they reach this location, through the window or the door, you can use your notes to paint the picture.  

Going back to the adventure’s premade skeleton piece, re-write the contents in a way that makes sense to you. For example, the detail in Gnomengarde was beautiful but crowded. On game day, I needed to pick up a piece of paper that had quick details and sharp notes so I could move as fast as my players. To prepare, I wrote bullet points for each room. The ability checks, devices, and monsters were reduced to a shorthand that I could understand at a glance. Then I wrote down all the gnomes’ names (and there are many) and put them on a separate sheet. I knew my players would care about what each NPC (non-player character) was called, so I wanted an accessible location to pick up the information. 

These are the ways in which I personalized the skeleton. You might care about other details, and long detailed paragraphs might not be hard for you to read quickly. However you like to play, edit the sessions to make them easier for you.

Utilize The Dragon: Cryovain

Cryovain is the main villain of the story. He is happy to cause destruction and eats humanoids, orcs, and livestock in what he considers his territory. In the beginning, the players will be too weak to battle a dragon. Instead, they need to level up with quests to gain the experience they need to be strong. 

However, if you ignore the dragon too much, the players won’t realize how much of a threat he is meant to be to the story. 

On page 11, the campaign suggests that you should roll a d20 to see where the dragon lands each day to feed. 

If the dragon lands in the same area as the players, they can attempt to hurt him, but he will run away after losing 10hp. 

The concept is good, as it allows the players to see Cryovain’s destruction and how powerful he is, but there is only a 5% chance of this happening.  Without this interaction, your players won’t understand just how much he can destroy the land.

Instead, I recommend noting every place he visits each day and creating a mini-story about what happened there. For example, the dragon could land at the Logger’s Camp. The players could find pools of freshwater near the river which an intelligence check can confirm shouldn’t be there. They might even find dead Ankhegs (the monster of the area) lying on the sand with wounds from a weapon no longer in the body. Again, an intelligence check could find evidence of a frozen exoskeleton. 

This way, although the players haven’t seen the dragon, they have seen its effect. This could even happen in locations the players have been to before. Maybe a letter comes from Butterskull Ranch, asking for further assistance after the dragon stole his pigs?

Making the dragon more destructive and visible will allow your players to create a strong dislike for the beast, and they will have a greater connection to the story. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Add To The Content

From everything we have said so far, it should be clear that these modules are meant to be used in collaboration with you and your party. Don’t stick to them religiously, instead explore what they could mean and how they can evolve as the story goes on. 

Maybe the cultists are calling upon their God because they want the boar to take down Cryovain. They might think the party is on the dragon’s side unless your players try to talk them into a truce?

These storylines cropping into your mind could turn this template into a world you can see and predict. Follow your ideas and your players’ ideas to create something you can all connect to. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Take Away From The Content

In the same thought process as adding to the module, you can take away from it too. The Wizards of the Coast (the creators of these games) often use The Forgotten Realms in their campaigns. These games have been around for years, and so it’s only natural that lore and easter eggs have developed. But as a new DM, these unnecessary add ons meant nothing to me. 

Easter eggs are fun but useless content that nods towards other content, like when one Marvel movie has an item from another Marvel movie in the background.

Halia, the human who works at the exchange shop, is one of these easter eggs. She is part of a secret organization called Zhentarim. With so much detail added to this NPC, you would expect her character to play a significant role, or at least the secret organization should be meaningful. Instead, she was just an insert to allow more experienced Dungeon Masters to connect their stories together.

Unless you can see potential in these one-off details, I would recommend taking them out of the story. Otherwise, your players might follow this red herring towards content that isn’t part of the campaign, and (as a new DM) you don’t know how to manifest. 

My advice is to avoid confusion. When you go through the module, pick up on these little extras and cross them out. 

You may find that other parts of the story seem pointless, unnecessary, or too complicated. If that’s the case, cross those parts out too. You want the game to be easy to follow so you don’t get tripped up on too many storylines. Follow your instincts and edit the campaign to make it more enjoyable for you.


Some of the information I have said in this article can be used on all or most other modules too. Always make personalized skeleton modules of the campaigns you are using, and always edit and adjust them to suit your table.

If you are reading this, then you are probably still a little new or nervous about being a Dungeon Master. Most people who pick up this campaign are just starting out. Don’t think of this advice as a cheat or a “dumb it down” method. Experienced Dungeon Masters will already be doing this level of preparation, and the module itself says to “modify the adventure to suit your tastes.” 

Dungeons and Dragons is all about collaborative role-playing, so remember that Dragons of Icespire Peak is an adventure suggestion, and you can collaborate with the creators to make it fit your fantasy. 

If you have any worries or questions, add them to our comments and I will do my best to help you. If you have any additional advice to help your fellow newbies, throw those into the comment section too! We can’t wait to see how you’ve been playing this game.

Which Beginner’s Pack Should a New DM Buy: Essential Kit vs Starter Kit

Most people start playing Dungeons and Dragons because a friend has suggested they join their table. From that day onwards, the game takes over and sooner or later you will want to try your hand at being a Dungeon Master. 

However there are some of us who had no one to help us. We picked up a beginners kit or a manual and studied the rules books page after page, because no one was around to ease us into the game.

To those of you who want to learn the game and have no one to help you, these kits can be a godsend, but are they really aimed at true novices, or are you expected to know the rules beforehand?

What’s In The Box?

A good beginners kit for any role-playing game should have a rule book, the items you need, and a clear direction for the narrator to stay on track. Luckily both sets have these qualities, so we are off to a good start. 

Essential Kit

Inside the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit, you will find:

  • 11 Dice
  • 6 Blank Character Sheets
  • A 64 pages rule book
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign – Preset Adventure
  • Double-Sided Poster Map
  • Dungeon Master Screen
  • 81 Useable Cards (Magic Items, Sidekicks, Conditions, Initiative Numbers, and Sidekicks)

Starter Kit

Inside the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Kit, you will find:

  • 6 Dice
  • 5 Premade Character Sheets
  • A 32 pages rule book
  • Lost Mine Of Phandelver Campaign – Preset Adventure

The Box In Detail

Just by looking at the selection above, we can see that the Essential Kit has way more information and detail than the Starter Kit. But is detail what you need to understand the game?


The additional dice given to you in the Essentials Kits isn’t exactly “essential.” They include an extra 6-sided die, an extra 20-sided die, and what is known as the percentile dice. These dice are barely used in games, and although they can be helpful, they aren’t necessary to play the game. Almost none of the mechanic’s use those dice.

The Starter Kit is made up of one 4-sided, one 6-sided, one 8-sided, one 10-sided, one 12-sided, and one 20-sided. They are also blue instead of red. You need every one of these dice to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Character Sheets

As a new Dungeon Master and a new player, I struggled to understand how to create a character sheet. The proficiency bonuses messed me up, and when I leveled up my character, I left a lot of states on level 1.

The premade character sheets in the Starter Kit eliminate the worry about creating a “correct” character. It also shows what a sheet should really look like. The characters themselves are fairly average, so you know you shouldn’t be killed off in your first game.

If you have already played Dungeons and Dragons before, then you might feel constricted by a premade character sheet. In which case, you should be looking at the Essentials Kit’s blank sheet. Their rule books teach you how to build a character from scratch, and suggest what their backstory might be. The builds are still more limited than what the Player’s Handbook would give, but when you are new to DMing (Dungeon Mastering) these restrictions can help you stay on track.

Now that I know more about the games, I prefer to use DnD Beyond’s online character sheets. They do the math for you, level up your characters, and keep all your special features and spell descriptions in easy-to-find locations. 

I have friends who prefer to play on paper; for them, the character sheets are easy to fill in once you know how proficiency bonus works. 

Your bonus gets higher as you gain levels, and if your character is good at something (like using a bow), they can add these bonuses to their attacks. When your characters level up, you will need to create a whole new character sheet to adjust these numbers.

I think that new Dungeon Masters and new Players should start off with the Starter Kit’s premade character sheets to help them understand how to use the sheets and how to build them correctly. 

Rule Books

The Players Handbook and the Dungeon Masters Guide are the main rule books in D&D for 5th Edition games.

5th Edition is the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons. You do not need to know the other editions to play.

In total, they are around 640 pages long. The 64-page rule book in the Essentials Kit has picked out the essential rules from these books, so you can learn the basics of the game without being confused by the flare of lore. But the rule book in the Starter Kit has been massively watered down and changed.

This elementary version of the rules is way easier to understand than the Essentials Kit. It basically holds your hand as it walks you through the rules, and it has stripped away the lore and confusion that new players often get overwhelmed by. 

However, the Essentials Kit gives you a lot of information (granted, not 640 pages worth) and keeps all of the terminology and lore attached to the rules.

New Dungeon Masters will find the Essential’s rule book overwhelming, and when you think you’ve wrapped your head around it, you forget that the Wizards should have been “preparing” their spells all along.

Players who are not fresh off the page won’t find the Essential’s rule book a mind field. They have already played campaigns that touch on details like proficiencies and lore, so they might find the additional information helpful and insightful.

Preset Adventure

The Essentials Kit adventure gives a kind of “Monster of the Week” vibe. I won’t go into too much detail, as our detailed review explained the ins and out of the campaign. 

First-time Dungeon Masters will have a hard time managing this story, as there are many NPCs (non-player characters) with unfinished backstories and desires just waiting around the game doing next to nothing. If you already know how to weave this type of dangling information into the story, then you won’t have a problem with these background characters, but most new Dungeon Masters will tie themselves into a knot trying to create a story for them to fit into.

The Starter Kit, however, is designed for the 5 premade characters the kit already gave you. The story is relatively short and doesn’t exceed level 5, and the game itself doesn’t go too far off track. There are some dangling NPCs that you should be wary of, but not so many that you’ll trip over your own creation.

Double-Sided Poster Map 

The poster map is only available in the Essentials Kit, and although (again) it is not essential to play the game, it is a fun addition to draw you into the story. The map shows the adventure location and the zoomed-in drawing of Phandalin, the main town. The quality is excellent, but the map and the books don’t explain how long it will take your characters to get from one side of the map to the next.

The math isn’t hard, but the kit doesn’t explicitly tell you how far your characters can move in a day. Instead, I will explain it here.

On page 242 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide and page 32 of the Essential’s Rule Book, it is explained that “Characters can walk about 24 miles a day”. The map’s key says that 1 hexagon equals 5 miles. 

This means that each character can move between 4 and 5 hexagons a day.

You can be creative here. Maybe it takes 4 hexagons to travel the roads, 4.5 to travel the grassland, and 5 to travel through the rivers, forests, and mountains. It’s this creativity that I want to avoid giving to a new Dungeon Master. Ideally, new DMs should understand the basics before being asked to fiddle with the rules like this. 

Dungeon Master Screen

The DM Screen is a Dungeon Master’s best friend, and it is a big shame that the Starter Kit doesn’t include one. 

It has all the basic and quick answers you might need while playing the game, including a size chart, a difficulty chart, condition descriptions, and much more. You can put the screen up, so your players cannot see your dice to allow the tension to grow, or you can stick helpful notes to the screen to remind you of those rules to just keep forgetting.

81 Useable Cards

Because most of my players use DnD Beyond, we didn’t find a need for physical handouts. We started playing in lockdown too, so my one paper-based player couldn’t receive her Potion of Healing card when she found it.

If you are playing in person and would like a physical handout, then these cards will be super helpful. They explain everything the item does, and they can fit into typical card holder pockets, thereby making searching for your items in physical form super easy.

Although I like to play online, I do think these physical handouts are a lot of fun and super useful, so it’s a shame that the Starter Kit does not include it as standard. 

Can They Be Used Together?

Both the Starter Kit and the Essential’s Kit are based around Phandalin. They are not explicitly designed to be used together as the character levels will not match, however that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!

If you were to start off with the Starter Kit’s premade 5 characters and finish the campaign on level 5, you could start the Esseints Kit’s campaign and add in a couple of extra monsters to make the quests a little more challenging. 

If you wanted to play the campaigns at the same time, this wouldn’t be a problem either. The stories mix well with each other, and this way, you don’t need to mess up the monster numbers to balance the encounters. However, mixing two campaigns like that might be a little complicated for a truly new Dungeon Master. This idea might be better saved for someone who has had a little more experience. 

Which Beginner’s Pack Should A New DM Buy?

If you are a genuinely new Dungeon Master and you have never even played before, then the answer is obvious. You should pick the Starter Kit. It has just enough information for you to learn the game, but not so much that you get confused by all the nitty-gritty details. The premade character seems complex enough to be exciting but not so overwhelming that you’ll disconnect from the character or be unable to learn their actions. You get given all the equipment that you need and not a drop more.

If you have Dungeon Mastered before, or are an experienced player, then you should pick up the Essentials Kit first. The added Dungeon Master screen, the additional rules, the fleshed-out lore, and the ability to make up your own character sheets are enough to feel like you aren’t being babied. You already know a lot of the information on playing the game, so you don’t need a super watered-down version. 

You could argue that the Starter Kit would still be an excellent kit for anyone to start with, but because of the missing screen and lack of handout cards, you will be missing out on a lot of fun and useful equipment. More knowledgeable beginners can benefit from those extras.

Whichever one you pick first, you should definitely buy the second kit after. The campaigns are great for every level, and they will fit perfectly into the world you and your players have already created. And who doesn’t love an extra set of dice!

Acid Seaweed from the Feywilds

Acid Seaweed is a homebrew creation of mine, which attacked my unsuspecting players as they swam into the feywilds. If you think your players will enjoy being attacked by plantlife and want to use my creation in your campaign, click here to add it to your D&D Beyond profile. If you don’t use D&D Beyond, bookmark this page ready for your encounter instead, or you print off the stat sheet!

Backstory Around Acid Seaweed

Acid Seaweed is a carnivorous plant that eats whatever fleshy creature that swims into its path. Found in the feywilds, the blue foliage is dotted with pink spots which almost look like gems. These spots glisten in the water, enticing adventures down to the murky depths of the sea.

If water portals to the feywilds are left uncared for, the seaweed will start to spring to life in the overgrown waterways of caves, pond beds, and lake shallows. They are ready to digest anyone brave or stupid enough to walk into their path. 

Adventures must slash their way through the water grass if they want to visit the magical land of The Fey.

Ideas on How To Play The Acid Seaweed

I used this seaweed to cover a 100ft path which is only 5 ft wide. Looking at the “large” size of the seaweed, you may be wondering how I made the creature fit. Instead of assuming the large size meant the classic square shape, I opted for 4 5ft squares in a line instead.

Each 5ft path became a 34 hit point space so that the spaces matched the appropriate size. 

The only problem you may have now comes from opportunity attacks. I didn’t allow the plant to take opportunity attacks unless the players had walked past the 4th square. Large creatures are meant to take up a 4 square radius, so instead, having a 4 square line balanced out the encounter. 

When the players got to the 4th square, a surprise opportunity attack started, creating fear in my players and power in my plants!

Because the plant is attached to the water bed, it cannot move. You may want to create your own homebrew acid fish which lives in the seaweed. The creatures could work together to hunt prey and attack any adventures that try to escape!

How Did My Players React?

The 100ft tunnel held 5 Acid Seaweed beds, but unfortunately for me, the party was smart and took their time before entering into the water path.

First, the Circle of the Moon Druid cast Water Breathing, allowing the party of three to swim through the vast lake without worrying about drowning.

Next, the Swarmkeeper Ranger rolled a history check as plants were a favored enemy against her bees. With a high roll, she told the team that the plants were carnivorous and they should be cautious. 

Already preparing to protect his friends, the Path of the Totem Warrior Barbarian took the lead in the 5ft wide tunnel. He funneled all the attacks onto himself while the rest of the party fought behind him. The Bear Totem Warrior is resistant to all damage when they rage, except psychic, so the party’s Barbarian was an impossible shield that my plants couldn’t break through!

Honestly, the party couldn’t have done better!

I created a monster that used all of their best talents, and everyone felt useful and valued in the attack against vegetation. 

If I wanted to make the plants more of a challenge, I would give them a walking speed to leap onto their opponents after they have grappled them, or I could have made the tunnel wider. Overall, I was happy with the outcome!


Like what you see, have homebrew ideas of your own, or want to add some suggestions? Talk to us in the comment section! We would love to know how you would expect an encounter with a bed of Acid Seaweed will go with your party!

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