Tabletop: Removing the Ugly Bits from “The Lost Mine of Phandelver”, Part 2: Cragmaw Hideout

Cragmaw Hideout

Cragmaw Hideout

This is a cave system surrounding a stream that flows from the caves’ mouth at the base of a hill. The idea is that several goblins, their bugbear leader, and their trained wolf pets lair here. They’re an outpost of the larger Cragmaw organization. The adventure notes describe the goblins as “lazy”, “bored and inattentive”, and “unwashed”; the text details how “the goblins have been beating and tormenting” Sildar, their human prisoner. Now, these guys aren’t supposed to be nice. And there are plenty of lazy, inattentive, and unwashed people in the world. But again, this doesn’t take place within a vacuum. This is more of the idea that generalizations about entire ethnic groups are appropriate (or, for that matter, that someone is morally decrepit or deserving of violence because they are lazy, inattentive, or unwashed).

There are two approaches to solving this “evil race” presentation. We can pull the concept of evil away from race – that is, take out or modify the flags that stand in for the idea of all members of species or ethnic group X being evil. Also, we can pull the concept of race away from evil – that is, change things up so that the evil acts in the adventure are not all being perpetrated by one kind of creature (or one hierarchical arrangement, like the bugbear > goblin idea present in this adventure and throughout D&D). I’m going to apply both approaches to Cragmaw Hideout.

The easiest fix to apply initially is to change the Cragmaw group from a tribe to a mercenary organization cum crime syndicate. After all, that’s the role they serve in “Lost Mines” – hired by the Black Spider to carry out specific tasks, as well as engaging in their own raiding and bandity things in the area. If the Cragmaw group is a lowlife organization that anyone can join rather than a tribe of goblins who all work toward the same evil goal, then we’ve already begun to de-racialize the evil acts they commit. It also makes sense that the Black Spider would rather hire professional criminals than an insular clan. The criminals are more likely to fulfill their end of the bargain without feeling that their familial autonomy was being compromised. A clan’s goal is the survival of the clan. A mercenary group’s goal is money now (by completing the task) and money later (by establishing a reputation and by making faithful contacts / employers).

Since this is no longer a tribe, what about those goblins we encountered back in Part 1, Goblin Ambush? Well, they’re just employees. It makes sense to send those goblins for an ambush mission because of their Nimble Escape ability and their familiarity with bows. Their makeshift standard which we crafted for the roadblock refers to the Cragmaw mafia now rather than the Cragmaw tribe.

Let’s go through the eight areas and see what we can do in light of our change.

  1. Cave Mouth is contiguous with the next area –
  2. Goblin Blind. Two lazy, bored, inattentive goblins who attack through a thicket if the characters aren’t quiet. I think we can leave these two as goblins, since their Nimble Escape lets them take advantage of the dense thicket. But if they’re professionals, they’re less likely to be lazy and inattentive than distracted. I got a flash of inspiration when I was mulling this over. Maybe they’re not lazy and bored, but rather they’re distracted by beetles – iridescent beetles that give off a pattern effect when the light strikes them. The effect makes vertebrates who see it placid and drops their passive perception by several points. Keeps the birds off, you know. They’re an invasive species that’s hitched a ride from overseas on a cargo ship. After the Cragmaw crew raided a trader on the Triboar Trail, the beetle larvae made their way out of the captured cargo, metamorphosed to adulthood, and established a colony in the thicket outside the cave. Not only do the goblins now have a better reason to be poor watchfolk, but the party might wind up falling victim to the effect if they meddle in the thicket as well.
  3. Kennel doesn’t need work, and
  4. Steep Passage really doesn’t, either.
  5. Overpass. The original description is of a “lazy, inattentive” goblin guard (this adventure is starting to sound like a broken record) standing on the bridge over the spillway that runs down the center of the hideout. We could change this guard to be of any background that grants darkvision (the point of the guard’s placement is lost if she needs a light source). We’ll make her a hill dwarf. She’ll have more hit points, but she loses Nimble Escape, so if she ever engages the party in combat the party can better manage her movement.
  6. Goblin Den. This is the first room that requires major tweaking. There are six goblins here, plus the ill-treated Sildar Hallwinter, the NPC guard of the party’s employer. The goblins’ leader, Yeemik, uses Sildar as a hostage in order to initiate a truce as part of a subplot allowing the party to take sides in an intrigue between Yeemik and Klarg, the bugbear leader of this group of Cragmaw. We’ll take this room in parts.
    • This cavern has a cooking fire (the map seems to show two small firepits among the bedrolls in the northern, lower tier of the room), so there’s enough light to allow for the inclusion of people who don’t get the benefit of darkvision. Still, the fires might get put out or scattered, so it’s good to have a few darkseers in the mix. Let’s turn one of the goblins into the hill dwarf cousin of our altered guard from area 5. Three more can be human “faces” who don’t do a lot of fighting and banditry but who handle purchasing and fencing in town. Another will be a half-elf, an ex-pirate who got caught up with the Cragmaw after his captain split the plunder and retired.
    • We can let Yeemik remain a goblin. He can still use Sildar as a bargaining chip. He doesn’t have to ramp straight up to threatening Sildar with death, however. I think Yeemik might be smart enough to realize that if he pushes to party to the edge as a first move, the party is more likely to respond with last-resort measures.
    • Let’s have one fire on the top tier and one on the bottom. The dwarf and two of the humans are down below. Yeemik, the other human, and the half-elf are up top with Sildar. When the party rolls in, they can clearly see the layout and everyone’s location. Yeemik immediately signals his nearby fellows to haul Sildar into a niche on the south wall. The party will have no way of knowing that Sildar was only dragged fifteen feet away instead of deeper into the cave complex because they can’t see into the niche. As far as they know, Sildar could be halfway to Waterdeep by the time the party fights their way to the ledge. Now Yeemik can bargain a little more smoothly. “Hold!” he cries. “I’m willing to negotiate for the man’s release.” Now the party is more willing to talk and is more likely to get involved in Yeemik’s attempted coup, and Sildar gets to keep his pants dry.
  7. Twin Pools Cave. Three goblins operate rock dams which can be broken to flood the spillway. These guys can be dwarves or kobolds – people who specialize in building traps underground. I’ll make them kobolds. Goblins this deep in the cave don’t have much use for Nimble Escape, while kobolds can use their Pack Tactics to gain advantage on attack rolls. Oh, but what about Klarg in area 8? The adventure wisely advises that one guard in this area will rush south to warn Klarg. Let’s keep one of these guards as a goblin. This is the one who will bear the warning, using Nimble Escape for a free disengage to do so. The party will have a tougher time catching the Cragmaw leader unaware that way.
  8. Klarg’s Cave. Klarg is written as a bugbear with a wolf pet and two goblin guards. His bugbear combat abilities make him a serious threat, especially if he gets surprise on the first round. I don’t want to tweak those off of him. But again, I don’t want to beat the dead horse of the lazy bugbear-lead-goblin trope any further. We can simply repalette Klarg as an overmuscled human – perhaps he even has a magic tattoo that gives him his Brute and Surprise Attack abilities. His guards can be human as well, since once again the goblins’ Nimble Escape is wasted here.

What this restructure doesn’t address is the inevitability of violent confrontation occurring over the course of the dungeon. Even if the party makes a deal with Yeemik and sneaks by the bridge guard and puts the dam watchers to sleep, they’re almost certainly not going to be able to talk their way out of a fight with Klarg. He’s more afraid of breaking contract (and incurring the wrath of the Black Spider) than he is of fighting the party. I think that’s okay. Regardless of how flexible D&D is, in the end nine-tenths of the rules and character sheet real estate is devoted to “I hit it with my hitty-stick”. That said, I may give further thought to tweaking Klarg to allow a nonviolent outcome when running this for my young daughters.

In the next entry in this series, I’ll look at the next act of the adventure: the town of Phandalin, home to several quest givers and a band of ruffians.

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