Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Starter Set Sandbox 12 - Phandalin & Wave Echo Cave (Updated 26Feb2017)


Until Lost Mine of Phandelver was published, all we basically has by way of information about Phandalin and Wave Echo Cave was this:
Phandalin was an important farming center located northeast of Leilon, where the Triboar Cutoff East fades into a trail. The road was abandoned after years of orc attacks obliterated every caravan that passed down the road, conquering Phandalin in the process. When the orcs were driven out, the village was left largely in ruins, and it remains so today.

Under the leadership of a chieftain called Uruth, the orcs expanded steadily, building a realm called Uruth Ukrypt (Home of Uruth). Its name echoes today in Kryptgarden Forest. Too lazy to support themselves by farming, the orcs devastated the game in their realm and subsequently took to raiding human holdings for food. Some 400 years have passed since then, during which time concerted human attacks decimated the orc kingdom and nearly drove the creatures from the area entirely.

No one lives here now but monsters, though passing hunters and rangers often camp in one of the more secure buildings. It still has three usable deep wells, one of which is considered to be heavily tainted with an undetectable poison that kills the imbiber three days after ingestion. Orcs and half-orcs are supposedly immune to the toxin.

The orc attacks forced gnomes and dwarves to abandon a mountain delve near Phandalin where they mined mithral in a union they called the Phandelver's Pact. This lost lode was called Wavecho Cave because the roll of waves beating on the shore could be heard in the natural cavern. Shortly before the
mine was abandoned, a lode of platinum was discovered. The size is unknown, but a very old dwarf who worked the mine remembers that the vein "held great promise".

Phandalin is the best preserved of the many ruined keeps and villages scattered along the Sword Coast, most of which are little more than heaped stones, graves, and cellars hidden by reed grasses and creeping vines. Many of these areas shelter predatory beasts or passing adventurers.
And that's pretty much it. (I am quoting from The North boxed set.)

Adapting Other Adventures

Red Hand of Doom

If you've been reading my other posts and my rough ideas for the Cragmaw tribe to be orcs seeking to rebuilt their lost realm of Uruth Ukrypt, you can imagine that a place like Phandalin, once reduced to a monster-filled ruin by the orcs of Uruth Ukrypt, would seem to the orcs as a logical target for the modern day depredations.

One of the few genuinely good adventures published by WotC in the 3.xE era was, of course, Red Hand of Doom. (And, unfortunately, its success led to WotC thinking that Tiamat was the "go to" BBEG for the next two editions with the execrable pseudo-adventure path Scales of War for 4E and now the Tyranny of Dragons RSE for 5E.)

And while the hobgoblins of Red Hand are very different in play to an orc horde, I think the structure of that adventure can help inform a mini-campaign based on a rising orc threat with Phandalin one of the targets on the way to, say, laying siege to Neverwinter.

I will be starting another Neverwinter-based campaign shortly and I expect the orcs to play an even bigger role in that campaign and Red Hand of Doom is definitely going to inform some of the design choices I make.

Of course, some Lost Mine of Phandelver DMs are probably looking at my idea to turn the Cragmaw tribe into orcs rather than goblins as something they don't want to do. In that case, Red Hand of Doom might be much more useable "as is" other than stat block conversions.

With a bit of work it might also be possible to tie it into the Tyranny of the Dragon storyline if that's something that interests you.

Anyway, I'll stick with the orcs and maybe have a balor general driving the horde forwards....

Keep on the Borderlands

One of the really interesting things about B2 Keep on the Borderlands, and particularly the Caves of Chaos, is that it makes nearly no sense. Why are all these evil humanoids, many of whom are fundamentally opposed to each other, dwelling in close proximity without some sort of civil war taking place?

For me, that's not just a rhetorical question. I want to know what is uniting them and keeping them at relative peace with one another.

But before I post some ideas about the answer, let me throw out a suggestion: What if Phandalin replaced the titular keep? And related to that is this: What if Phandalin became the party's home base to scout out rumours of evil humanoids in the Sword Mountains which ultimately lead to the Caves of Chaos from Keep on the Borderlands?

So, what is uniting the evil humanoids? In the final section of the Caves of Chaos - marked with the letter K on the original map - there is a series of chambers that includes THE TEMPLE OF EVIL CHAOS (room number 58). I think whatever unites these disparate evil humanoids is the power represented in this temple.

And here are some FR-appropriate options:

Bane: The Black Lord is the deity of tyranny. Since the Spellplague, he's also been the official deity of Thay because of a deal struck between him and Szass Tam. Maybe this is a Thayan temple to Bane where they perform various arcane and necromantic experiments while also moulding these evil humanoids into an army of conquest. (This probably makes the most sense and also fits in well with the presence of Thayans in the Neverwinter region.)

Cyric: The Prince of Lies is a creature of chaos, murder, and strife. He is also the patron deity of most of the Zhentarim (this is in the 4E era rather than the 5E era where the Zhentarim are now almost player-friendly!). I do like the idea of Zhentarim recruiters training disparate humanoids to perform raids on various caravans and settlements only for the Zhentarim to then turn up and offer protection money to drive the humanoids away.

Garagos: The Reaver the chaotic evil version of Tempus, and possibly Tempus's predecessor as the deity of war. And Garagos is not happy about being supplanted. What if he and his bloodreavers (his clerics) decided to mount a campaign to increase his influence once more? Gathering war-like humanoids could be part of that. I also note that Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue referred to the tanarukka (tanar'ri-blooded orcs) of the Scourged Legion and that their leader was now a bloodreaver of Garagos. That's another option beyond the ideas I have previously posted about the Cragmaw orcs being directed by clerics of Luthic.
The Scourged Legion

Ghaunadaur: I admit, I like drow. I like really evil drow. I like the traditional Gygax-created pre-Drizzt drow. And as much as I like spider-flavoured drow, I also like the insane servitors of Ghaunadaur. (On that note, one of the best combats I ever ran in 3.5E involved a drider cleric of Ghaunadaur. It took five hours to run 15 rounds and, at the end, we all thought it had only been an hour-and-a-half. It was brilliant.) What about an outcast drider cleric of Ghaunadaur with his (or her) fellow drow heretics gradually building their strength to raid a drow outpost somewhere beneath the Sword Mountains?

Lolth: Ahhh, drow again. Some of you may be familiar with the idea of the Demon Weave (just click on the link for more information otherwise) so maybe these humanoids are being used by the Lolthite drow to gather various items and sacrifices as part of the preparation for the creation of the Demon Weave. It also ties in with the drow BBEG at the end of Lost Mine.

Shar: Shar used to be my favourite evil deity but the whole return of Netherese city of Shade and its Shadovar caused me to lost interest in her. However, it would make sense for a band of Netherese as part of an experiment to determine if these various humanoid tribes can be turned into effective troops.

Tiamat: Again I admit I don't like Tiamat but, if you want to use her, look at Red Hand of Doom for inspiration and make this one of her temples. Frankly, this could potentially tie in really well with the Hoard of the Dragon Queen and the whole Tyranny of the Dragons story. Unfortunately, it's not something I can get excited about....

Summing Up

Let's face it, for all of its faults, Keep on the Borderlands is a great starter adventure. Maybe you could use it as part of a Lost Mine of Phandelver-inspired campaign with multiple delves in between completing chapters of the adventure proper?

I must admit, I already have an introductory adventure planned for my next Neverwinter campaign but I am sorely tempted to move the action to Phandalin and kick off the campaign with an updated version of the Caves of Chaos....

Oh, and I have nothing to offer regarding Wave Echo Cave so I simply made it part of this post. Sorry.

26Feb17: About Wave Echo Cave...

When I first did this post, I must confess I didn't actually bother to read the Wave Echo Cave section of Lost Mine of Phandelver. Actually, I may have but clearly I paid no attention to it. That was a mistake because it clearly has potential for expansion and adaptation consistent with some of the other ideas I've posted in this series.

So, thanks, to +Ibskib and +Ben Green for prompting me to take a proper look at it.

The Forge of Spells

The key feature of this location is, of course, the Forge of Spells. While it is implied that it was once a rather potent feature, it has been emasculated to be more suitable for a level 1-5 adventure. I run 4E and use the 4E version of the Forgotten Realms in my games so let me throw around a few ideas from that perspective.

One thing I have failed to do in my 4E games, as my players keep avoiding rituals, is to include magical locations which could conceivably replace the component cost of using certain ritual magic. (3.xE's Midnight Campaign Setting has these sorts of locations and WotC experimented with a similar idea of planar touchstones - go to a place, get a special power - during the course of 3.5E and particularly in the Planar Handbook.)

If I was going to use the Forge of Spells I would have it be, for the purpose of the Enchant Magic Item ritual, the equivalent of the gp value of a level 5 item each day (arbitrary number) but its entire power could be exhausted to produce a level 10 item (another arbitrary number), even for an item crafter of a lower level. That gives the players to choose between a renewing resource or a single major item (and maybe it needs to be level 15 or higher to make it really tempting.) I'm not sure what the equivalent is with respect to magic item creation in 5E but perhaps a 5E fan can comment on that below.

Beyond its usefulness in item crafting, what if it is the remains of an older, purer form of magic?

During the 3E era, Dragon published an article about the computer game Neverwinter Nights and the writer created his take on the reptilian creator race (this has subsequently been replaced by the sarrukh introduced in 3.5E's Serpent Kingdoms). That article postulated that there was a type of magic that predated the Weave which I think it referred to as "old magic" (or "whole" magic) and that the creator races had access to this "old magic" which combined the Weave, the Shadow Weave, and some unknown power. What if the Forge of Spells is, similarly, a legacy of this "old magic"?

Also, <this post> about the Old Owl Well mentions the spell-storing gemstones known as chardalyns. What if the presence of the Forge of Spells has the side effect of seeding chardalyns through the Lost Mine and, indeed, the "stars" - the glittering minerals - in the ceiling of 13. Starry Cavern. What if the presence of the Forge of Spells has the side effect of seeding chardalyns through the Lost Mine and, indeed, the "stars" - the glittering minerals - in the ceiling of 13. Starry Cavern are actually chardalyns that the PCs can recover.


Obviously, Wave Echo Cave is completely useful as is but, if you think about expanding the importance of the Forge of Spells, you may also want to think about how that could change the inhabitants of the 'Cave.


As mentioned by +Ben Green in the comments below, the presence of a dark lake linked to the Underdark (area 16) immediately suggests that an aboleth is present.

So, what would an aboleth want with the Forge of Spells?

SPOILERS FOR NIGHT BELOW. A rough synopsis of the classic 2E boxed set adventure Night Below goes like this: Aboleth-controlled orcs are raiding the countryside and capturing spellcasters. Those spellcasters are being sent into the Underdark where they become the raw material (I forget how - I will need to read it again) for the creation of mind-controlling obelisks which the aboleth will raise around the region to bring the region under the thrall of the aboleth in their city below.

Oh yeah.

Imagine that. With a few changes to LMoP, including making orcs more important and having them capturing spellcasters, you're now looking into a much larger and longer campaign that ends up in the Underdark.

So what purpose does the Forge of Spells serve? In such a scenario, the enslaved spellcasters are brought to Wave Echo Cave and rituals are performed using the Forge of Spells in order to create the mind-controlling obelisks. And once the threat is ended in Wave Echo Cave, the PCs are tasked with exploring the dark lake and travelling further underground to seek out and destroy the real threats.

And you get to run Night Below. Ask Matt Colville; that's a good thing!


I admit, I have beholders on the brain. My favourite bad guys in FR are the Zhentarim and the Zhentarim are not the same without beholders behind the scenes. I think I have already mentioned a few times in this series how I used the Zhentarim when I ran my own version of this adventure.

But the main reason the Forge of Spells makes me think of beholders is because the beholder section of 3.5E's excellent Lords of Madness suggests that beholders derive nourishment by exposing magic items to their central eye's anti-magic gaze. I can only imagine how satisfying something like the Forge of Spells might be by comparison!

So, if your version of LMoP Expanded has the Zhentarim playing a key role, perhaps their beholder masters have them searching for this location because it would increase the potency of the beholder hive to the point where they could produce more beholders.


In the 4E era, WotC made a half-assed attempt with the Rise of the Underdark metaplot/megaplot to tell a big story about how Lolth was going to create her own version of the Weave called the Demon Weave. (I actually like the idea but its execution was, unsurprisingly, botched.) If you look for the Demon Weave tag on this blog, you will be able to find out more about the whole scheme or you can read a short version in the excellent Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue.

If you go this route, the subsequent investigations of the drow plot could lead the PCs into a slightly different version of Out of the Abyss allowing the campaign to continue to level 20 or so with only a few changes to the story.

That's Enough For Now...

This has been very much a first draft based on a 15-minute reading of part of a product I haven't looked at for 2+ years. But even with no real research, it's plain that this can easily be expanded into a much larger campaign and even segue into either Night Below or Out of the Abyss. Of course, committing to such a choice also means making a few changes to LMoP to help tie everything together but, if you've run LMoP before, you're probably ready for a few small changes to keep things fresh and interesting for you as the DM.


  1. It's really a shame you had nothing to say about Wave Echo Cave, I'm a first time GM, and some of your posts have been quite helpful at adding a bit of depth to my campaign.

    My player group just got to Wave Echo cave today at the end of the session, and I was hoping for some of your usual insights in regard to the different opponents, the mine, and the spellforge itself, to help make it a memorable finish next week.

    1. You're right, Ibskib. I probably should have a fresh look at Wave Echo Cave and the Spellforge. I'll tag you if I do so.

    2. It's probably too late, +Ibskib, but I have edited the post to incorporate some new ideas.

  2. To me, the most interesting feature of Wave Echo Cave as described in LMoP is the cavernous lake, with waves created by an ancient spring or geyser deep in the distant darkness.

    This water could connect to Old Owl Well and explain the magic there. It could be a site of Eldritch power. There could be the ruins of Aboleth civilization beneath the surface. At any rate, the structure of the cavern somehow focused the magical power into the spot on which the forge was built, which is why it still has power after so many centuries of neglect.

    1. In my Realms, the aboleth are ultimately responsible for pretty much everything! :)

      And, yes, a cavernous lake is crying out for an aboleth or two beneath the surface....

    2. I've updated the post with a few ideas.

    3. Oh very cool update. Something I particularly like here is how the Night Below could allow me to connect the encounter at Old Owl Well with the rest of the campaign I've been piecing together.

      This is extra useful, because, after reading Wyrms of the North, it was clear that actually sacking Neverwinter - let alone Waterdeep was way beyond any number of orcs and goblinoids. The Eldreth Veluuthra may bring the Feywild into play, which could tip the scales, but adding the Aboleth would give the attack some real bite, and they're already there.

      Maybe Gnawbone, in her fashion, has - from her lair - arranged a three pronged attack, wherein each prong is kept in check by the other two. The Orcs rebuilding Uruth Ukrypt have agreed to help the Aboleths in exchange for support their attack on Neverwinter and Waterdeep from the Underdark. The Aboleths don't mind since they can enthrall orcs even more easily than the more civilized races. At the same time, one of the old, large cells of Eldreth Veluuthra in Neverwinter Wood has decided that this is an opportunity to simply wipe human civilization from the North entirely.

    4. 3.5E's Lords of Madness mentioned that one of the overarching goals of the aboleth is to reduce the world to its primordial soup form so that they can then reshape the world as they see fit.

      As such, the aboleth are a perfect race of BBEGs to be behind any cults devoted to primordials and/or elemental evil.

      That gives a DM an extra layer that doesn't even have to come into play but provides a plausible explanation for all manner of schemes including the aboleth assisting, for example, the Eldreth Veluuthra to depopulate the North of humans. And the EV, of course, may use the orcs as their cat's-paws to accomplish this goal... not realising that, a la Night Below, the aboleth are actually the ones controlling the orcs.

      The PCs wipe out the EV only to discover that the evil plots continue and that the EV were only a red herring.

      Now, that's the sort of campaign I love! :)