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I'm a new DM with new players working through the Lost Mines of Phandelver. The players were able to level up to 2 without too much trouble, but after a (too-brief) sojourn in Phandalin they decided to go exploring (in part three of the adventure). They've already had one very narrow escape, and I'm worried that somehow they'll find their way to Wave Echo Cave without having done enough missions to level up to level 4 as it appears to require.

As a DM, is this something I should at all be concerned about ? Is there a way to hint at players that they just don't have the right level for a part of the adventure, or do I let them die and restart ? I should mention that some of the players are quite young, and the "die-and-restart" bit is something they have a lot of trouble with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why are you worried that they'd even be able to find Wave Echo Cave before they do the other things in the adventure to know where it is? How would they get there? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 14 '15 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ My understanding (and this is limited, granted :)), is that they could get information from the banshee if they asked the right questions. They are at this point aware of the history of the cave and the Rockseekers' mission. \$\endgroup\$ – Suresh Venkat Sep 14 '15 at 18:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How can DMs effectively telegraph specific dangers in D&D? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 14 '15 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie There's also a Druid who can guide them there. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Sep 15 '15 at 2:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Somewhat related but not a real answer: For premade campaigns like the Starter Set, Tyranny of Dragons, Out of the Abyss etc., I found that Milestones instead of Experience Points worked really well because it'll make sure that the players are always at the level that the adventure was designed for. Of course, that takes some fun out of sidequests unless there are other rewards. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Stum Sep 15 '15 at 6:43
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I'm not familiar with the adventure path you're using, so I can't speak to it specifically, but I can give some general advice.

There are, generally, four ways to handle this.

  1. As you mentioned, is let them walk in and die. They'll, hopefully, learn from their mistakes and be more prepared in the future. A lot of people like this kind of play and it's perfectly valid, so long as they have a way to gauge the strength of the area they're going into or some warning that they might be in over their heads.

    However, some players don't like having their characters die and some groups would rather not have to deal with the discontinuity. It can also be a bit immersion breaking for games that are more focused on story, rather than just tactical and mechanical prows. You said that you have younger players and they don't like their characters dying, so it might be best to avoid this method.

  2. Come out and warn them outside of the game. "Just a heads up, the area you're going into is meant for higher level characters, so you might want to come back later." You should still give them the choice to go in, if they want to, but then the decision will be entirely on their heads and they'll also be able to react appropriately.

    This method has the lowest chance of ending in tears and the best chance of ending in success, simply because it's straight forward and gives the players the information and opportunity they need to make an informed decision. That said, it's also the most meta-gamey and that can be a turn off for some.

  3. You can also edit the campaign so they simply can't get in before they're ready. You said there's a banshee in the canon version that can tell them what they need? Ok, well, in your version she doesn't know. Simple as that. If they've never played the adventure before (and haven't read ahead) then they'll never know they missed anything. They won't learn anything, but they're guaranteed not to get to the cave too early.

  4. Don't worry about it. If they get to the cave early, make sure there are some hints that they might be getting in over their heads, but let them go. Then if and when they get into a fight they can't win, let them run. You can also arrange the fight to minimize the chance of them dying, without going easy on them, by doing things like having the monsters prioritize still standing characters over fallen (but still living characters) and active combatants over characters that are trying to evacuate the fallen. If there's something about the cave that means they can't exit it once they enter, you could put a comparable fight (maybe a little bit stronger than average) at it's entrance to serve the same purpose.

    This method is the most game friendly, but it also has the highest chance of someone dying (baring the one where you just let them all die).

Personally, I prefer the fourth method, since it's the most RP friendly and knowing when and how to retreat in an RPG is a good skill. I don't think the players should always win, but by the same token defeat shouldn't default to them dying. There's also the possibility that good tactics will make up for the level difference, in which case they'll feel really good about overcoming a more difficult challenge. Even if they retreat, getting stronger and coming back to beat someone who's already beaten makes for a great sense of accomplishment.

That said, if you're really worried about them dying and you think they won't handle it well, #2 and #3 will serve you quite well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As an alternative to points 1 and 4, you don't have to let the players die. You could play the combat straight, but cause all death blows to be "you are unconscious and barely clinging to life" blows. Then a mysterious NPC "happens" to come along, fend off the baddies just long enough to drag the PCs to safety, then give them a stern warning about how dangerous the area is. The NPC then departs to another realm, never to be heard from again. Or, if the players start trying to retreat, a giant cave troll happens to pick a fight which distracts the NPCs just long enough for the PC's escape. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelS Sep 15 '15 at 6:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer! A few alternatives: For #3, the banshee might recognize that they're too weak, and refuse to even acknowledge them until they're more accomplished. For #4, having a higher-level NPC Paladin come in to rescue them (as in @MichaelS suggestion) could be wrapped up by having the NPC get slaughtered while shouting at the party to flee. He could literally use the spell "Command" to force them to run. This might give them a reason to revisit the cave later, when they're stronger. \$\endgroup\$ – Liesmith Sep 21 '15 at 10:13
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Spoiler alert: Starter Set "Mines of Phandelver"

I'm worried that somehow they'll find their way to Wave Echo Cave without having done enough missions to level up to level 4 as it appears to require.

First off, it's not clear that they can reach the Wave Echo Cave at all without the required map. In fact, given that this very valuable mine has been hidden for centuries, I think it's safe to assume that basically nobody knows where it is unless they have the map.

There's an off chance that the Banshee could tell them, but it's not clear that she would really know. Consider that if the Banshee did know or was expected to know, then the NPC would have sent them there to ask that question instead of the one about the book.

So I think it's safe to assume that the PCs won't just "wander up" to the caves.

... without having done enough missions to level up to level 4 as it appears to require

To be clear here, the XP stuff is just a "recommendation". You can always just give your players level 4 when they are finally ready to progress. My players finished the main quest (just last night) did basically none of the side quests. In fact, they found Cragmaw castle early, so they went: Goblins, Cragmaw, Redbrands, Wave Echo. When I knew they were going to Wave Echo cave, I just gave them level 4 instead of making them wander around just to "level up" like it was Final Fantasy.

Likewise, I don't consider the rest of the adventure to be a waste. In fact, I'm planning to use the other side quests as hooks for the main upcoming adventure and I'm going to scale for their level. At level 5, there's actually a reasonable chance they can beat the Green Dragon, especially with some power-ups from the Mine. Wyvern Tor is easy to upgrade and is likely a hook for the next adventure as the "upgrade" will involve a third party.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually my group met the banshee just last night, and I believe the scenario explicitly says the banshee knows where the mine is and will tell the party if they use their 1 question to ask. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Sep 15 '15 at 0:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep, you're right :) But if you don't want them to get to the mines at level two, it's perfectly OK to change that rule :) \$\endgroup\$ – Gates VP Sep 15 '15 at 22:11
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In game options you could consider are:

  1. As the PCs get nearer, put some tough encounters in their way. It would make perfect sense for Black Spider to have guards patrolling the area in order to keep wandering prospectors out. Hopefully the party will take the hint, retreat, and take on some of the simpler quest lines. If or when they return to town, have the Red Cloaks seek them out.

  2. If the PCs do discover the cave and insist on pushing forward, you have a choice to make. Either allow them to test their mettle versus the encounters as written, or soften the encounters for them. Ways to soften the encounters include removing monsters from larger groups, reducing the hit points for larger monsters, give them some advice for how to gain advantages or impose disadvantage, and giving more leeway for them to talk their way out of combat.

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Okay so my way around it is very unorthodox but I believe it was the most creative and allowed for the most fun out of the game.

One of my characters, while in Cragmaw Castle (which was OP for them), died. A hopgoblin critted him and I killed him off. However, I had his partner return the body to the shrine of luck and had Sister Garele have him go to the Banshee Agatha and ask her if she knew of ways to revive the character. I had Sister Garele and Gundren Rockseeker come along to help the process. She wanted a ring from a necromancer in order to answer that question, and so my adventurers went to Old Owl Well where the necromancer (forgot his name) was working.

He sent them to take out the orcs from (forgot place which townmaster also wanted). He died mid-orc fight and woke up in Cragmaw Castle where King Bloodsword was there and told him that his hopgoblins had taken the Orcs land and found the adventurers almost eaten and only saved them due to the fact that they had previously killed King Grol and now he could be king.

And so from there they got the ring and asked Agatha how to revive the dead character. She sent them to the Ruins of Thundertree where the Scroll of Revivication was in Venomfang's tower. My adventurer beat Venomfang to half his hitpoints and was able to revive the dead character at the Shrine of Luck...

...meaning of the story? Have fun with it. Go crazy. Now my player has a crazy story of suading a banshee, aiding a necromancer in killing orcs, was saved by an army of hopgoblins, searched through the ruins of a destroyed town, and defeated a dragon in combat all to save his fellow player. Show some creativity and after a while your adventure will be ten times better then the module.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I love your answer it's like reading a story. My players were convinced by Glasstaff to become members of the Redbrandts, and the Black Spider sent them on quests (via Glasstaff) to clean up competition (necromancer, Orcs at Wyvern Tor, Cultists at Thundertree). Then Glasstaff and the Black Spider setup an ambush at Cragmaw castle and captured them. The players cut their bonds, and a chase ensued through cragmaw to the NW corner to get their equipment back. Glasstaff again tricked them and wanted to join and raid WEC, but the townsfolk refused to put up with him and staged their own ambush \$\endgroup\$ – Kieveli Oct 23 '18 at 16:29

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