Warning: Lost Mine of Phandelver Chapter 1 spoilers below.

When playing LMOP, my PCs cleared out the the west side of the cave in part 1, namely area #6. They then decided that since the area had only one entry and exit, they would basically just wait there and ambush anybody who came by. They subsequently ambushed two goblins who came to check on the goblins that used to be in that area.

One of my players then pushed the party into moving out, probably because he's also a DM and could see that I was struggling to find a response other than sending more goblins into their ambush.

Had he not done so, what interesting ways could I have used to move the game along?

I have no problem with them playing tactically, but knowing that someone was wiping goblins sent into that part of the cave, I don't think the rest of the goblins in the dungeon would reasonably try to push into it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, were they waiting in area 6? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Grant
    Commented May 4, 2019 at 1:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimGrant yeah, they killed the goblins in that area, healed sildar a bit and decided to just wait there since that part of the cave had supplies. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 4, 2019 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ How do they know there is only one entrance and exit unless they have explored the whole cave? \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Commented May 4, 2019 at 21:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but area 6 of that map looks like a dead-end. Unless the players are keen to starve to death they'll obviously need to leave the dead-end cave eventually, so what's the problem? \$\endgroup\$
    – jhocking
    Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 18:53

7 Answers 7


You tell or show the party why they need to move on

It is always better to show rather than tell, so I would do something like this:

2 goblins appear coming down the cave, the party ambushes them, and mid-way through that ambush a straggler appears running to catch up to his friends. He sees the fight and runs back into the cave screaming that they are under attack.

You then narrate something like "The goblins are now clearly aware of your presence, you sense that if they simply wait it out they will have potentially several week's worth of supplies, worse with their darkvision they may be gathering strength to attack en-mass during the night when they would have the advantage - what would you like to do?"

If they continue to camp the spot:

Say "24 hours pass and there has been no sign of goblin activity, you are fairly sure they are trying to wait this out and you will need to leave, or press forth. Which do you do?"

Or in the middle of the next night have the now prepared goblins charge the party en-mass. This will lead to a hard fight but remember that the goblins are just trying to drive the party off, so they wouldn't pursue, and would allow a tactical retreat. If the party return maybe the cave has been abandoned.

Also consider why the party are there in the first place

The party are probably there to rescue people, use this to your advantage and narrate something like "You get the sense that every minute that passes brings them - if they are even alive - closer to death.

What if they still insist on camping?

After a reasonable period of time I would either have a few emaciated goblins come out under a peace banner, as a mass attacking force, or narrate "It has now been 6 weeks, you suspect the goblins wouldn't have the discipline to ration so most if not all have probably starved to death by now, you should probably investigate". If they go in maybe they find the corpses of the goblins, maybe one ate his dead brethren and has gone mad. Either way you need to consider the impact those 6 weeks had on the town and the overall campaign, specifically the last boss will have had more time to complete his plans and any time sensitive missions (Such as the aforementioned rescue) will have been failed. The town also won't be happy that your slow tactics potentially caused the deaths of the captives.

Generally it is ok to be slow, and you can't force a party to move on, but give them their win (I wouldn't give them xp for that tactic if I decided to let the goblins starve) and show them the cost of the failed missions.

What if they don't care about the cost and do it at the next cave entrance?

This is probably the time you say "Looks guys and gals, D&D is about adventure, if these are the tactics you are going to use maybe we need to discuss the aims and tone of the campaign", and have a session zero if you haven't already (Or refresh the one you did have).

  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ I really like the idea of letting the adventurers turn this ambush into a siege if they really commit to it, but I'd expect them to run out of food before the goblins. As you point out, the goblins can each each other, but the PCs are unlikely to resort to that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2019 at 13:34
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Two more things OP could do. 1: add another exit from the caves where the "trapped" goblins are. 2: There was a group of goblins outside the cave that enter, which means they're now behind the ambushers. \$\endgroup\$
    – sirjonsnow
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 13:53
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ A lighting comes from nowhere and strikes you in the chest. Subtract, 20 hp. You can swear you heard a deep voice in the darkness that ensues afterward that whispers “do not f** up with your DM”. What do you do? Keep it coming until they bend to your will evil laughter \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2019 at 16:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Why not EXP? They've clearly 'defeated' all of the enemies - although in a highly unorthodox manner \$\endgroup\$
    – Selkie
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 17:27
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Full EXP should awarded... to Time itself, being the thing that actually defeated all the enemies. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mike Caron
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 22:30

The other answers seem to think that the PCs have the Goblins trapped. The map tells another story.

By camping out at the entrance to area 6, the Goblins have the PCs trapped.

The Goblins have access to water and food and fresh air. The PCs don't.

Goblins carry a bunch of wood to the two choke points, maybe on a wagon, then break the wagon, set it on fire, and back off to where there is fresh air holding ranged weapons.

The PCs may hear some activity down the tunnels. If they don't investigate, the next thing they get is smoke flowing through the tunnel, and their air going foul. They now have to fight their way through a burning fire trap into a goblin ambush, with filth-covered spikes blocking forward progress while goblins riddle them with arrows.

The bridge at area 5 is rigged to collapse. To the west of 5 there are filth-covered caltrops. A large fire inside the tunnel at area 4, then more filth-covered caltrops and then the river.

The fire at area 5 will take longer to set up, and the goblins may screw up by setting the fire at area 4 too early.

Goblins love the upper hand, and your PCs just gave it to them.

Alternatively, the Goblins simply flee with their treasure. The PCs already killed about half of them.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You beat me to it. If the goblins are living there, they have infrastructure, which includes sufficient firewood to make life extremely unpleasant for a camped party. If they've got stocks of lamp oil as well, the party is going to have a very hot time. That infrastructure also includes stocks of food and water, whereas the party only have what they can carry. \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham
    Commented May 4, 2019 at 7:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Also as the DM, the OP is in control of the map. So your adventurers have hunkered down for no good reason? Guess what, the goblins in the rest of the cave had an escape passage to the surface, so your adventurers are about to get hit from both sides. Staying put when your enemy knows where you are is a sure-fire way to get killed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Graham
    Commented May 4, 2019 at 7:55
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ @graham No, I will not tell DMs to retroactively change the world to nullify and counter player choice and tactics. If you want to suggest that write an answer of your own. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Commented May 4, 2019 at 12:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ This! I could see, as a DM, having difficulty with the PCs trapping the Goblins, and the other answers cover that; however in the present situation the PCs have trapped themselves, and now the DM must decide how to help them to realize how bad their situation is... or just punish them to show them the errors of their way. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 4, 2019 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good way to handle it. Goblins while not bright are cunning and would prefer such devious tactics than attack head-on. Have the situation adapt naturally to the PC's actions. Don't assume "INT 8" means "these guys are utter morons". DM tends to modify dungeon & number of foes, super unfair because it screams "No matter what you guys do, I'll make sure to retcon the situation to make sure the difficulty remains constant" meaning PCs would have no real agency. You can change how XP is given (unheroic tactics = less XPs), but don't render void their plans. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pat
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 18:05

Don't just "handle" them; find a way to guide an enjoyable experience.

As an example: Hold a strategic meeting for the Goblins that become aware of the situation, let the players listen in. Support their roleplay and adjust.

The MM on Goblins, page 165-166 offers common strategies and ways to play Goblins:

They crave power and regularly abuse whatever authority they obtain. [...] Goblins are lazy and undisciplined, making them poor servants, laborers, and guards. [...] Motivated by greed and malice, goblins can't help but celebrate the few times they have the upper hand. [...] Goblins are ruled by the strongest or smartest among them.[...] Goblins festoon their lairs with alarms designed to signal the arrival of intruders. Those lairs are also riddled with narrow tunnels and bolt-holes that human-sized creatures can't navigate, but which goblins can crawl through with ease, allowing them to flee or to circle around and surprise their enemies.

Also, look at the stat block for strategies employed:

Nimble Escape. The goblin can take the Disengage or Hide action as a bonus action on each of its turns.

If they see no way of winning against your ambush they might try to get their family involved, which may end badly for them:

Goblins belong to a family of creatures called goblinoids. Their larger cousins, hobgoblins and bugbears, like to bully goblins into submission.

There are also more general options to move the game along explored in the DMG.

This thread explores player agency when you want to move the game.

If you let them wait out the encounter and the Goblins starve to death, as suggested in SeriousBri's answer and you let the six weeks passage of time severely impact the campaign, then not awarding experience points is inconsequential reasoning. They won, and they paid their price. They solved the encounter by routing/starving unless the state of the encounter changed they have successfully dealt with the encounter.

DMG Experience Points, page 260:

When adventurers defeat one or more monsters-typically by killing, routing, or capturing them-they divide the total XP value of the monsters evenly among themselves. If the party received substantial assistance from one or more NPCs, count those NPCs as party members when dividing up the XP.

The Question is: is the encounter solved, the threat negated, the risk avoided?

MM Experience Points, page 9:

the DM may also award XP for neutralizing the threat posed by the monster in some other manner.

PHB Preface on enjoying the game, page 4:

Playing games with your friends is a lot of fun, but D&D does something more than entertain. Playing D&D is an exercise in collaborative creation. You and your friends create epic stories filled with tension and memorable drama.

Think about the consequences of the player's actions, read the mood of your table. Punishing your players for coming up with creative solutions reinforces that creative solutions are not wanted at your table and may turn your collaborative storytelling into apathetic players who react instead of being proactive.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ I'll be honest. I didn't really read the MM or DMG thoroughly. Just bought the LMOP module and started it off. I might have bound myself too tightly to the map in not considering there could be goblin only passages. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2019 at 11:58
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @YashCapoor When coming up with tactics it is a good idea to look at the alignment of a group of monsters. The more orderly the monsters (lawful) the more likely they are able to come up with sophisticated tactics (and able to hold to them) than those that are less orderly (chaotic). \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 12:15
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Goblins in 5e are neutral evil. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 12:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu My comment is based on a sliding scale with the assumption that N is between L and C. Was that not clear or was your comment not meant for me? \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 13:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ The comment was to clarify the state of Goblins in 5e. This is useful information, but I don't want to add it to the main body as there are also issues with playing too close to alignment which I would want to expand on which would result in an answer that is too unspecific. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 13:44

I am not fond of methods to punish players for unexpected conduct. I say, embrace the situation.

First, as another answer said, laying siege to a group of goblins for weeks and weeks has other consequences. On the other hand, your party now has a reputation as a band of bloody-minded people who are willing to find workarounds for a tough situation.

Secondly, if you were a goblin, what would you do?

  • Try to escape
  • Make your own best group attack using whatever ability you had working behind you (might punch through, might overpower the enemy’s superior position).
  • Try to negotiate with the big people who are laying siege to them.
  • Try to deceptively negotiate.
  • Etc.

Having said all that, it is also both possible and fair for a group of players, with their multiple real human brains, to come up with a viable fast workaround for some scenarios that you give them.

It is okay. This happens. It means they’re dedicated to the game, probably. Just congratulate their lateral thinking and move into the next challenge. If you think there’s another situation where they will use the exact same tactics, maybe you will have a workaround prepared. After all, the same approach doesn’t always succeed.

And if they don’t use it for a while, then come upon a really bad situation later in the campaign, then look at each other and say “remember that goblin cave we were in?” And they all nod at each other and set up an ambush, even though the odds are worse and they’re way different people, maybe it’s good for their tactic to succeed again, or partially succeed. That would be narrative symmetry and everyone would probably remember it as a good scene.

The thing is, you never know what the other person is going to do. Ever watch “a perfect murder” with Michael Douglas? If your plan is dependent on the other person’s actions, then prepare to be thwarted. This doesn’t make the party bad or trying to play unfairly. It makes them real, thinking humans.

I mean, if I were literally, in real life, in their situation, I would try everything I could think of to gain a decisive advantage with as little risk as possible. Wouldn’t you?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for additional guidance. This is a pretty good first answer. Only thing I would say is don't refer to other answers by "as the guy above said", answer change in order based on the votes. Its better to include a link to the answer if you want to refer to it. Thanks for participating and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Commented May 4, 2019 at 4:20

In my opinion, some of the other answers here are needlessly harsh, especially if newer players are involved. And there’s not much about how to use the Last Mine of Phandelver module, which offers useful guidance.

While some of this advice is “after the fact” it should provide guidance on how to deal with similar situations in the future.

Giving the party credit

Your party’s plans is not half bad at face value. They rescued the hostage, and are trying to get the drop on their enemies. This plan will let Sildar stay safe in the back of the upper level in that room. So they’re thinking, that’s good.

You let them pull off one ambush, and then got the notion that it was time to move on. That was a good call on your part.

When the party wanted to “rinse and repeat” the ambush plan, they were pushing their luck. Do they really expect the goblins to be that dumb that they come into the room by one’s and two’s until they are all dead?

(Your player with DM experience very well may have been thinking about what he would have cooked up for the party in that situation, and reckoned it was better to move on.)

Violating Exploration as a Pillar of Play

The game is simply most fun when exploration is part of it.

In your case, your party busted into a room and launched a successful attack, then stayed there to “defend” it. That’s about all that room has to offer.

Fighting in the same place over and over is going to start to get repetitive (boring, for some) even if some of the players get a kick out of making the place a “goblin grinder.”

Exploring new areas and having battles in them is part of what makes the game interesting, so definitely nudge the party in that direction. But you still want to find the fun as you do this. That is, don’t murder the party or otherwise punish them too badly.

You may want to mention this to the players, out of session.

Know your (party’s) enemies

When you’re not sure how monsters in a dungeon would react to some unexpected action of the party, you may want to cogitate on the module a little more. Get inside the monsters’ heads. When you do, you can make the adventure come alive more, even when the party plays it straight.

The Cragmaw Hideout

We know a little about the other denizens in this dungeon:

The “dungeon boss,” Klarg, “is filled with delusions of grandeur and views himself as a mighty warlord just beginning his career of conquest. He is not entirely sane… The goblins under his command resent his bullying.” Then again, Klarg is wiley, and will “hide behind stalagmites while the goblins take cover behind the piles of supplies, hoping to ambush the characters when they enter the cave.”

(LMOP, p. 13)

The goblins in the Twin Pools room built a trap, that they are eager to use. They may devise some plan to draw the party into it.

(LMOP, p. 12)

There are a lot of ways you could go with this information, but note that these are all crafty creatures, not so likely to follow their compatriots into the same trap over and over.

Some more possibilities:

A goblin might guess invaders are present and whisper down the hallway, trying to enlist their help to dispatch the bully, Klarg. Klarg might shout orders, threats, and insults into the room where the party: “Come out, you filthy maggots, or I’ll crush your heads.” Maybe Klarg knows he’s talking to invaders, maybe he doesn’t.

If you need a moment to think what the monsters might do, take it. Get a drink, or whatever. There’s no need to rush.

Sildar Hallwinter

In your case, you’ve also got a NPC well-suited to guide the party.

Sildar might suggest the goblins are probably onto the ambush plan and are likely to arrive in force if they come again. (Wise players understand not to ignore the prescient warnings of their adjunct NPC’s — somehow, what they predict uncannily comes to pass!)

Some more things specific to the LMOP:

Sildar can also guide the party towards achieving important goals, like reaching Phandalin, finding Gundren Rockseeker and Iarno Albrek, and/or finding the goblin’s headquarters, Cragmaw Castle.
It wouldn’t hurt for Sildar to mention that his organization is willing to offer significant gold to a party willing to help with these goals. Sildar may also have noticed the treasure chest in Klarg’s chamber, noting the bugbear might just abscond from the dungeon with it.

Wandering Monsters

It’s also easy enough to let the party get this urge to ambush out of their system by throwing wandering monsters at them.

The wandering monster table, Wilderness Encounters in the Triboar Trail section (LMOP, p. 27) could be used — although you may want to nerf the encouters a bit.

There’s no need to roll the d20 to see if somebody shows up — if the party waits for an encounter, just roll the d12 to see who shows up for dinner.

If a player challenges why there would be random monsters in a goblin cave, you can point out how the guards at the door have been dispatched.

Just make sure the monsters are penniless and have no valuable information for the party (disregard the “bounty” note for the hobgoblins — that particular group doesn’t show up until later).

An ogre, for example, might announce to the party that he just wandered in, and has no treasure or useful information, just a club for smacking heads. The message being: go ahead and have some fun fighting, but this tactic isn’t going to advance the plot.

After every fight, Sildar can make an observation like, “I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish here. Isn’t it time we moved on?”

Once the PC’s are sufficiently beat up, they will want to get out of there.

Onward in the module

Later dungeons in this module have reasons why the party should avoid this strategy:

Redbrand Hideout:

The party should be motiviated to seek the death or capture of the wizard Glasstaff, who may slip away if he discovers trouble.

Cragmaw Castle

A hunting band of hobgoblins will return behind the party if they take too long.

Wave Echo Cave

Wave Echo Cave is inhabited by wandering monsters, who will inflict wear and tear on the party without advancing their aims much.


I would have let the player have their ambush for a few more hours, then the players would hear some scraping and noises from the caves.

If they didn't move, then the noises continue for 3 hours, then stop. If they come out sooner, they find the goblins packing up and abandoning the cave.

If they wait the full three hours or more, the goblins have legged it out an hidden escape tunnel rear of the cave. When they discover this, they get 1/2 to 2/3s the remaining XP and no more loot for the encounter, because they have solved it mostly but the goblins took everything with them and will continue to be a threat in the future.

If they want the rest, they can try to track down the fleeing goblins and and the goblin threat, at which point the get the rest of the XP and all the loot. This could be an interesting side excursion, and the difficulty changes based how long they were willing to sit tight.

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    – V2Blast
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 23:21

The way it says in the rules (PHB p.6)

  1. The DM describes the environment
  2. The players describe what they want to do
  3. The DM narrates the result of the adventurers' actions

Well, 1. and 2. are dealt with so what are "the result of the adventurers' actions"?

It is likely that "the result" will be some sort of reaction on the part of the goblins (and others) inside. It is unlikely that they will choose to starve to death so they will probably do something confrontational. This could range from a series of probing attacks (goblins (and others) are quite Sneaky and may be able to surprise the ambushes) to an all out no-holds-barred assault - which will almost certainly kill all the PCs (and serve them right - don't try an ambush an unknown force which may be superior to yours).


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