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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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. …