Even with 5 players assumed, the adventure seems quite brutal. Could someone please explain why the Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign has so many deadly encounters?

Some examples:

  1. The very first encounter with 4 hidden Goblins has a difficulty of 400 XP (which is considered Hard), but we also need to consider that this is a surprise attack, which increases the risk greatly to such low-level characters.

  2. If you don't side with the Goblin Boss to save the human, that encounter is adjusted to 1,250 XP. It only takes 500 XP for an encounter to be considered Deadly to 5 level 1 characters. I feel like that doesn't give players a lot of options... the booklet mentions taking them on as a valid choice, but it really isn't. So if the party wants to survive, the party is destined to lose all of their money to meet his back-stabbing demand once you kill the Bugbear.

  3. The bugbear encounter is 700 XP, which again is over the 500 XP threshold for a Deadly encounter.

In between all of that, there are many Medium encounters and other damaging surprises to wear the party down. Why is this adventure trying to kill the players at every turn? These are beginners trying to learn the game.

The only sensible solution to Chapter 1's cave is to convince the Goblin Boss to join forces to take on the Bugbear... which the adventure book doesn't even account for. That way, you could wear both groups of goblins down, and clean up the other group (if the party didn't want to side with the Goblin boss).

It seems the encounters just get worse from there. Can anyone explain the design?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes. I'm totally new to D&D as a tabletop game (I have played the video games for decades though), and I'm trying to DM my first session. I'm running through the math of the encounters, and I feel awful that I'm going to kill them repeatedly. I don't see how they can win. \$\endgroup\$
    – Katie
    Mar 22, 2018 at 17:06
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I have never run that module but, never underestimate your players... I have had many escape seemingly impossible circumstance on many, many occasions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Mar 22, 2018 at 17:07
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I guess I don't give them that much credit, lol \$\endgroup\$
    – Katie
    Mar 22, 2018 at 17:09

2 Answers 2


The XP guidelines are guidelines only, and aren't always accurate.

Having recently run a party of 5 newbies through this adventure I can testify that not every encounter is hard/deadly. In fact, they stomped right through most of them, the only encounters giving them trouble were the 1st bugbear and the Flameskull (they even killed the dragon, which I did not expect at all).

Part of the answer is that the exp guidelines are just not exact, especially at low levels. At level 1 both the party and most NPCs will die in one or two hits, So good tactics and strategy decide most of the outcome.

The other part of the answer is that if your players are smart and cautious (not min/maxers, just not charging ahead screaming 100% of the time) they will get the drop on most of the enemies and will be able to kill 50% or more of the monsters before they even get a turn. Also consider reminding the players that they can retreat and rest if they need to; there is no push to explore everything all at once.

If your players are being careful and reasonable, they will probably win, even if the numbers say they won't. The designers of the module knew this and playtested to make sure it was winnable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Apr 23, 2018 at 22:01

The difficulty of encounters (based on EXP) from DMG is highly overestimated.

From my experience, either I'm awful playing NPCs at combats or the guidelines on encounters are intended for a really safe world. I've run lots of "Deadly" encounters where at worst my party would deplet their resources, but hardly (even ONE PC) would die from it.

This is specially true for the Adjusted XP, mainly for hordes of CR-lower-than-1 monsters

Example with Spoilers from The Death House (one-shot adventure that is a hook to Curse of Strahd, also regarded one of the hardest published adventures as far as I'm aware) ahead:

Near the end, the players are put against a CR5 Shambling Mound as a bunch of level 2 players. For a 4-PC party of lvl 2 players, a deadly encounter is 800XP - a CR5 alone is 1800, which is almost the entire adventuring day (2400XP). By the time they get there, they usually have used some of their resources due to numerous previous combats. As far as I remember the adventure, they were supposed to just run from it. The Barbarian decided he did not want to and they fought it. After many rounds, the Barbarian dropped to 0 HP and the Mound went for the other PCs. Then they started to kite it (mound moves slower, even with Dash it still closes up slowly) and eventually defeated it. TL;DR: Four 2nd level adventurers can defeat a CR5 monster.

So, don't underestimate your players.

Even if they are defeated, it doesn't mean they should be killed

For the ambush, the Book even explicitly states that

In the unlikely event that the goblins defeat the adventurers, they leave them unconscious, loot the wagon, then head back to the Cragmaw hideout.

While not explicitly stated, the same can go for the Bugbear fight - he can trap them and want to sell them as slaves, leading to a quest to free themselves before they can attempt to fight again.

About the encounters you mentioned

  1. Yes, the ambush is hard for new players. It's specially hard if one player goes alone to check the horses. That said, goblins are dumb - so don't instantly target the party's Wizard or whoever is easier to kill. They are also lazy and hard to coordinate even under a leader, so by themselves they probably shouldn't be hitting the same target, while the players should be focus firing. The main hardship from this fight is the surprise and hiding, once the goblins are spotted, 7 HP under a 15 AC is quick-to-die.
  2. All the encounters inside the cave can be done in a way that the players have the surprise attack. As you mentioned in the Goblin Ambush, the surprise is an important factor. They should be able to take out one or two goblins early on (read: on surprise round) and make it as easy/hard as the Goblin Ambush, but without the goblins have easy spots to hide. On a side note, I don't see how six goblins turned to a 1250 adjusted XP encounter. If they were 6 regular goblins, this would be a 600 Adjusted XP encounter. I don't see how one of them having +5HP more than doubles that.
  3. Same as above: players can surprise the bugbear. Also, it's a Boss Fight, it's supposed to be hard. Also, the bug bear runs away (or tries to) as soon as you kill the Wolf, making it a lot easier - similar to the Young Green Dragon at the tower, which runs away at half HP.

About the second mentioned encounter

From your wording and numbers, it seems the math you did was:

6 goblins = 300 XP

1 Goblin Boss = 200 XP

500 * 2.5 = 1250 adjusted XP.

There are two confusions here: First, you are confusing the Goblin Leader Yeemik with a Goblin Boss - this is NOT intended. If he was a Goblin Boss, it would be highlighted as such. The Goblin Boss stats aren't even on the starter set. Yeemik is just a regular goblin with 12 HP instead of 7.

Second, there are a total of six goblins, meaning 5 + Yeemik, not 6 + Yeemik.

The adjusted XP for this encounter is around 600 XP (around because Yeemik's CR is not defined), which while still Deadly (>500), it's way lower to the 1250 XP you calculated initially.


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