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I am a player in a group running through the starter set campaign, Lost Mine of Phandelver.

So far there is no introduction in the gameplay itself or to the underlying rules expectations of characters in order to succeed. All the enemies are so overpowered we just keep dying and achieving nothing. As an introduction to D&D it is not doing too well.

Are we missing something?

We have a Dungeon Master that is putting a lot of effort in but it just seems impossible to achieve anything. We are constantly dying and it is taking the fun out of what was going to be fun.

I am just wondering what possibly we are doing wrong with the game that it is so unbeatable. Is it usual that you do not win any encounters? What is the definition of winning? I assumed defeating the opponents.

We are a group of four: three players and a DM that has played something to do with badgers and burrows. The PCs are

  • a Wood Elf, Ranger, Outlander second level (got to second level in first part of the game)
  • Gnome, Druid, Outlander third level (came into the game at second level with DM)
  • a Dark Elf, Wizard second level.

We nearly all died in the first part. We have seen a few people in the town. We have gone out to the tower well where we met the Necromancer and had to talk our way out as we were overpowered by the undead. We have now gone to take the Orc as they have a bounty, but again we are two members down as the third has had to leg it. We are just not able to hold our own against the enemy as described in the book.

Obviously we are interpreting the rules wrong or doing something else wrong. The DM is suggesting we should be more creative, but that does not help when you do not know what is expected.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The previous conversation helping to refine and focus the question has been moved to chat. If further refinement is necessary, please do so in the chat room. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 6 at 5:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possibly related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/152681/… \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Aug 6 at 7:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Michael There are a lot of games named with the “this & that” form, inspired by D&D, so it’s not that strange. (My guess is it’s Bunnies & Burrows, but I think mixing up rabbits an badgers is kinda unlikely, so I have some doubt too.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 6 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm unclear about whether you've actually died or not, re: "we just keep dying and achieving nothing.... [several PCs leveled up] We nearly all died in the first part." Can you specify exactly how many times PCs in the party have died? \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel R. Collins Aug 6 at 21:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: As mentioned in chat, there's actually a game called Burrows & Badgers as well. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 7 at 1:22
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Your party isn't what the campaign was designed for

Honestly, the problem is simply that Lost Mines of Phandelver is balanced for a party of roughly 5 players, so you're already struggling because you are outnumbered. The action economy is pretty rough in 5e, if you are outnumbered, you'll likely struggle. Likewise, a single boss monster is usually far easier than their CR would indicate because if you outnumber them, you can easily take them down.

On top of that, you don't really have a party layout that can make up for the lack in numbers. If you have a strong frontliner you might be able to salvage such a statistical disadvantage, but unless your druid is a Moon druid, you lack that. If your druid is a Moon druid, you lack the second thing which helps when outnumbered; a healer who can bring people back to their feet to keep things from spiraling out of control.

D&D 5e is very unforgiving at the first few levels, and you're playing a campaign designed for more people with a sub-optimal party layout, which means that unless you're really experienced players, this outcome was to be expected.

I've played the campaign with semi-experienced players in groups of 4 and 5 and there have been times where an unlucky roll caused a spiral that quickly downed most of the party. With three, that's pretty much guaranteed to happen.

Fixing this problem is honestly something your DM is in charge of, not something you as players can do much about. I'd personally suggest talking to your DM and pointing out that the module is designed for a party of 5 players, and that running it straight out of the box without any adjustments for difficulty is clearly not working out. Perhaps they'd be willing to send some NPC help with you to even the odds (although this can put a lot of extra work on the DM, which results in you watching the DM roll dice against themselves, and tends to take away the spotlight from players; the newly added sidekick characters from the new starter set or unearthed arcana might be useful for this), or adding an extra friend to the campaign to help out in that way. Alternatively, they can start scaling down the number of enemies to a point where it's a more reasonable challenge.

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    \$\begingroup\$ May improve answer by suggesting what they can do to fix the issue. Perhaps invite player controlled NPC’s to join the party (possibly from roster of pregen PC’s in LMOP). \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Aug 7 at 9:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ So what's the solution? Do they need to go out and buy a different campaign to play? One that is designed specifically for the number of players they have? \$\endgroup\$ – industry7 Aug 7 at 15:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that adding DM-controlled NPCs to the party can backfire, especially with inexperienced DMs. It can lead to the problem of DMPCs where the DM subconsciously favors their own characters over the "real" player-characters and has them steal the show. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Aug 8 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a recent Unearthed Arcana about creating sidekick characters who help fill out those missing roles in small parties, and are mostly controlled by their 'leader' character. That might be a way to go. A sidekick can be a person, an animal companion, or a lot of other things. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Aug 8 at 23:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ This so much. I've had a party of 4 level-7 characters beat a CR20 in a 1 on 4 fight. \$\endgroup\$ – tuskiomi Aug 9 at 3:38
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What is expected? To have fun.

Obviously, you aren't having fun if you are writing up posts like this.

What you are missing

The major thing that it sounds like you are missing is a big chunk of early content.

The DM should have directed you to deal with a problem in Phandalin, before you set out to deal with threats and issues elsewhere.

If your DM has not mentioned the Redbrands, that is a major error on their part. The fact that you mention other places and encounters but make no mention of this suggests that this is likely the biggest single problem.

Some people may consider me telling you this to be a little spoiler-y, but in reality, everything here is pretty heavily indicated for anyone that plays this adventure.

Backstories

4 of the 5 pre-generated characters for this adventure have backstories and alignments that would make you want to deal with the Redbrands. Two of them have explicit Personal Goals that would have pointed you to deal with them, while the other two have alignments that would have pointed you in that direction as well.

The DM should have either helped you build backstories that incorporated some of those things, or otherwise provided additional clues and direction to you to make sure you dealt with the Redbrands sooner rather than later.

If they didn't have you encounter some Redbrands in the streets of Phandalin, then they are "off script" from the published adventure. Going off script is okay, so long as the DM compensates challenge and story-wise.

I consider it a major error if the DM is not modifying the difficulty of the encounters to adjust for the fact that you bypassed early content, and also did not add additional nudges to get you to go to that early content. I don't know if either of those cases are true, as you aren't expected to provide a full transcript of your adventure to us, but the lack of any mention of this concerns me.

How the encounters you mention should have gone

Note: This section contains minor spoilers to the adventure for content the OP has already completed. However, even for any players who have completed this content, be aware that your DM may not necessarily want you to know this information, or may have modified it for their running of the adventure.

The first part (Cragmaw Hideout)

I assume by the first part that you mean the goblin cave where you (hopefully) rescued Sildar and (potentially) defeated a bugbear.

If you barely survived, that is great on your part. By the published adventure's guidelines you were level 1 at that time, and for just three level 1s to complete that cave is a major victory. Good job. Both the players and the DM did well.

The tower well (Old Owl Well)

This encounter can be dealt with in many ways, but unless your characters leaned on the evil/murderhobo side of things, talking things out was the intended solution. In fact, the NPC that directed you to this place should have simply asked you to find out who was there and what they were up to -- not to go kill anyone and everything that is there.

So, talking your way out was good and it was good that the DM allowed or encouraged that.

The orcs (Wyvern Tor)

I calculated the difficulty for this encounter by using the DMG's Creating a Combat Encounter section on pages 81-84.

That section helps DMs craft encounters of appropriate difficulty for a given party, ranging from Easy to Deadly. Here is the description for Deadly:

Deadly. A deadly encounter could be lethal for one or more player characters. Survival often requires good tactics and quick thinking, and the party risks defeat.

Note that this does not mean that you should never have Deadly encounters. In fact, if your only encounter for the day was a Deadly encounter, that is actually a pretty appropriate encounter to throw at a party. Given that the encounter at Wyvern Tor requires travel, you (ideally) should have been full up on health and spells when you reached it.

That said, an encounter is Deadly to your current party if the Adjusted XP (not awarded XP) is 800 or more. The encounter at Wyvern Tor has an Adjusted XP of 2625. That is over triple what counts as Deadly.

In other words, at your current level, you were meant to run.

What would have been a roughly appropriate party to deal with this? Six level 3 characters, or five level 4 characters, or three level 5 characters (in which case it would actually only be a Hard encounter.)

For a party of three level 2-3s, you were definitely meant to run and deal with this later.

Did you actually run away successfully? Then both you and DM did well in your roles.

How to start having fun

How people have fun in D&D varies a lot, but for most people it at least partly involves combat victories. You say you assume defeating the opponents counts as winning, so likely your personal inclination is towards combat (otherwise, you probably wouldn't be interested in playing D&D).

Deal with the Redbrands in town

This advice is very pointed, but I feel it is necessary to help get you back on track, since your DM apparently provided enough direction for you.

Go back to Phandalin, deal with the Redbrand threat. If you aren't sure what that involves, try talking to NPCs. The published adventure gives a lot of direction to the DM to have the NPCs in town all be concerned about the Redbrand threat, and many will point you to where you can encounter them.

Your party should all be level 3 by the time you finish that part of the adventure. Some of you might even be up to level 4, given that there are only 3 of you and that you have completed other encounters as well at this point.

Talk to your DM

As mentioned earlier, it looks like your DM made a major mistake in not having you deal with the Redbrands first. While ideally a DM shouldn't railroad their players, they should also be giving plenty of hints and direction, especially since the published adventure gives so many for them to give (especially in the backstories.)

That said, don't be confrontational. DMing is HARD. I know, because I just finished up The Lost Mine of Phandelver myself, with just 2 players. Adjusting difficulty for them took a bit of trial and error. I know at some points I wanted to say "just be more creative" to my players, but they were new too, and so didn't really know what was an option.

Ask your DM to provide some examples of how you could have handled past encounters. D&D 5th edition is very much meant to have both the DM and the players working together to create a good story that is enjoyable to everyone. It is not meant to be DM vs the party, so the DM should be willing to provide some more explicit examples of what he thought you guys should do.

If you didn't get many clues that the Redbrands were the "intended" objective you were supposed to follow, tell that to them. Go ahead and direct them to this post.

The DM was provided with explicit instructions to have the Redbrands seek out the party if the party did not show any interest in dealing with them. If you didn't have an encounter in the streets of Phandalin, or if you didn't understand that there was a whole huge gang beyond just the few you fought in the streets, then you should tell the DM that.

They may not realize that they were being unclear. So, talk to them, figure out where the disconnect is. Perhaps they just skimmed too much and have already realized their error.

Optimize or improve your party composition

I think your party should be able to handle this campaign decently, so long as you make sure to be cautious and continue to retreat or talk your way out of problems. You can always return to deal with encounters once you have leveled up a little bit more. Once you hit level 5, all the content should be able to be handled by your group, at least with a bit of care.

That said, a party of 3 is not ideal for an adventure balanced for 4-5 characters. As pointed out in another answer, you are lacking in either healing or tanking.

If your Druid is a Moon Druid, you could have them cast Goodberry, give most of the berries to the other characters, and then Wild Shape into something that can hold off the enemies while their allies dish out damage.

Alternatively, if the Ranger is more of melee type they could take some of the meatshield role, while the Druid heals.

If neither of those works, you could always ask the DM to have the pre-generated Dwarf Cleric waiting at the inn back in Phandalin. That character is great on defense and healing, and even has a personality trait of "I don’t trust my gut feelings, so I tend to wait for others to act", which strikes me as perfect for an NPC to help out a party. They even have a personal goal to get you back on track with the Redbrands, if your DM is so inclined to help you out in that way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The effort in this answer is why I love this site! \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Aug 6 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a very nicely formatted answer. It gives a lot of good, actionable advice. As an aside, if your group isn't too hung up on metagaming, I highly advise OP to run the same module on the other side of the screen. It is quite a difficult module for the party to overcome and the DM to balance, as I have found with a party of four. \$\endgroup\$ – Tyler Gubala Aug 6 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ They aren't all level 1 characters, so I'm curious if they skipped the early content or not. But assuming they did skip it, what's the practical difference? Are they too low level for their current encounter? Are they under geared? It's not clear to me if they created characters specifically to start at the Mines, or if they tried to start from the very beginning and just accidentally skipped past a bunch of stuff thus arriving at Mines unprepared. \$\endgroup\$ – industry7 Aug 7 at 15:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @industry7 The "early content" I refer to is chapter 2. The adventure states that the characters will likely be level 3 sometime during chapter 2. That, combined with the fact that the OP makes no mention of anything in chapter 2, but does mention two specific encounters in chapter 3 makes me think they may have missed something. I may be wrong, but I'd rather risk being wrong and unhelpful for the chance to be dead-on and very helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – Willem Renzema Aug 7 at 17:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Beginner-level Askers make the best use of beginner-level Answers. Well done. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Aug 7 at 17:53
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Our group keeps dying during the Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign. What are we doing wrong?

You could say that you have an inexperienced DM and inexperienced players, but I would hesitate to call that "wrong". You have all learned a whole lot from your failure so far. Your DM has learned that the encounters are too hard for your party. The party has learned that they are not good at stand up fights. Your characters have learned about the abilities of some monsters and a bit about the world they're in.

The only way you could be wrong is in your next action. If you don't adapt and learn from your experiences then you are doomed to repeat them... and that way madness lies.

There are a lot of things you can do now. What you do depends on what you want to do.

DM Do you want to change the adventure? If not then change the party.

You could change the adventure by reducing the encounter difficulty by having fewer monsters or removing some horrible ability that a monster has.
You could playtest some encounters by adding to the adventure. Just add a side quest that leads to a few simple fights. Find out what they can handle and then you'll know how to tailor the rest of the adventure. For example, as a DM in Starfinder, my party took more damage from an encounter than I expected and they were about to run straight into another fight, so I simply changed the next encounter. The Tech didn't fight, but tried to intimidate the party instead.

If you don't want to change the adventure then power up the party. Give the wizard a staff of infinite fireballs, have the gods bless the party with divine powers, load them up with potions... whatever you want to make them powerful enough to succeed. This can be overdone though, so prepare some limitations. In a Gammaworld adventure I was playing in, our GM "gave" us a laser weapon, which made a couple of fights ridiculously easy, until the power pack ran out...

Players Do you want to change your characters? If not then change your play style.

Are you really attached to your characters? Why not kill them off heroically, or just have them retire and live out their days in the local inn telling your next group of characters their tale of woe? You would find it easier with the more classic combination of tank, healer and damage dealer. I have retired a paladin in the past simply because it became obvious that the group was going to be too naughty, so my paladin rode off into the sunset and I rolled up a more pragmatic cleric.

If you do want to keep your current characters though then you could change your play style. You can't win stand up fights, so you need to hit monsters from range and lure them into traps. Use your equipment, rope for snares and trip wires, oil for covering monsters and setting them on fire. etc.

If you don't want to sneak around and you enjoy stand up fights, you could roll an extra character each. Your roleplaying will suffer, but if you like fighting and the DM agrees, go for it. You'll be amazed the difference having some heavy armour up front will make.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you discuss it with everyone, DM and Players. Make sure everyone is happy and then go have fun!

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Two key issues here:

First, every adventure campaign I've ever seen does in fact come with some upfront knowledge and expectations, for both the players and DM.

Part of this preamble to the adventure for the DM includes what size party the campaign was written for. If larger or smaller the DM has to make encounter adjustments to keep the balance.

Part of the preamble for the players is some back story describing environment, inhabitants, religions, etc etc. Using these to build characters that fit into the campaign story should help you to build characters that are not run over by the enemies simply because of an alignment(or lack there of) strengths and weaknesses.

This preamble should have been read and discussed in your Session 0.

Second:

Your party seems very new to the game, including your DM. This is going to make the learning curve steeper, especially with a new DM that will not know how to accurately make balance changes to match the campaign design, on top of balance changes to avoid wiping out new players.

Also ensure your DM understands his relationship with the party is not adversarial. He is there to facilitate the adventure. Making it challenging, but not impossible, is what keeps everyone engaged and having fun.

A possible Solution:

I recommend putting this module away for a few sessions. Look online for some pre-generated characters. Have your DM put together some combat encounters based on the Dungeon Master's Guide that meet the requirements of the characters you guys find. Then run some tutorial-esque combats. It will give your players a better understanding of the combat system, your DM a better understanding of how to build/adjust an encounter, and a chance for all of you to get a better understanding of the rules in general. Keep a digital copy of the rules available and refer to it whenever a question comes up for these and incremental expand everyone's knowledge.

Do this for a few sessions, and when everyone is more comfortable pick up the campaign again. Your DM should be able to better balance encounters. Hopefully he remembers he is trying to challenge you to keep you engaged and having fun, not murder you because it's him vs the party. The players should have a better understanding of the combat system so that combats are more fluid and less likely to hit them with deadly surprises.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Good answer! \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 7 at 1:20

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