Watch our sessions live on my YouTube channel every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Subscribe and catch up on previous episodes!

What happens when the players get ahead of the DM’s preparations? Panic and chaos, mostly.

I’d gotten far enough ahead in prepping “The Lost Mine of Phandelver that I hadn’t had to do any major work in weeks. By ‘major work’ I mean building out the maps in Roll20, finding pics, creating tokens, creating character sheets, etc.

Every week I do about an hour of prep work. This mostly consists of notes to myself regarding the specific section of the adventure we’re in. I like to write out longer dialogue sessions so I don’t have to “um” and “uh” may way through ad-libbing, for example.

Unfortunately due to the general busyness of the holiday season, our sessions finally caught up to me. At the last minute we decided to move our normal Sunday session up a day earlier, and I spent a good chunk of the day making the titular mine – the final area of the adventure.

Wave Echo Cave is a mega-dungeon, a large area with over a dozen rooms with various creatures, loot, and other treasures and dangers. Thankfully I’d already found and downloaded some great-looking battlemaps that someone had created, and had spent the painstaking time to line them up to Roll20’s grid. I still had to get all the tokens placed, roll hit points, set up dynamic lighting, and create a few new character sheets for unique NPCs.

Since the dungeon is a bit open-ended, I felt like I had to do the whole thing just in case. I got about 90% finished and called it good enough. And of course, my players (newly leveled up to 4) stumbled on that last damn 10%.

Ochre_JellyFor those familiar with the “Lost Mine of Phandelver” and the associated map for Wave Echo Cave, my players went directly North out of the starting area. The initial cavern was a fun bit of role-playing as I had Gundren lead them in, then become inconsolable when he saw the body of his dead brother. Getting the magical boots off of him proved a funny bit of multiple failed persuasion attempts.

The dungeon allows for multiple paths right at the start, which is cool. What’s not cool is my damn players trudging in a singular direction!

They went through the corridors of Area 2. Dynamic lighting was a spiffy tool here. They saw the stairs to the Northeast (leading to Area 9) but went West instead, where they ran into the Ochre Jelly. The Jelly was a cool monster, but no match for a party of fully healed level 4 adventurers.

Then they headed North to Area 10, where they refused to have anything to do with the ominous dark pool (don’t blame them there). They headed East toward the door in Area 11. Listening at the door provided them with some voices inside, but they decided to move on and continue even farther North. At this point I started getting nervous. I had literally not built anything in Rooms 19 or 20, and lacked character sheets for certain important NPCs.

Sure enough the party turned the corner and headed West, then tried to open the giant door there. At this point panic ensued.

I’ve been running virtual tabletop games for about eight months now, and doing D&D for almost four. But I was completely unprepared for the PCs to waltz up the side of the dungeon and enter this…important room. They discussed matters while I openly joked about my failings, and quickly tried to build the room up, realizing that there was no way I had time to make a complex character sheet in Roll20 on the spot.

Thankfully fate smiled on me, and Kethra the rogue critically failed to lockpick the door, jamming her lock inside and rendering the door useless. I’m honestly not sure what would’ve happened if the players had succeeded to go in there. I could’ve just said the door was sealed, just said no, or let them enter and try to wing it. I was disheartened at this whole zippy journey, as they essentially did this same tactic with the last dungeon, Cragmaw Castle – getting to the big bad boss fight early on. And Wave Echo Cave is a massively cool dungeon!

lost mine of phandelver wave echo cave area 18

Afterwards the players went East and could see a bugbear and a drow. What I should have done, I now realize, is have the dark elf notice the super obvious torch Miri was holding and have that trigger the room before the players ever got any farther.

Another problem with dynamic lighting is the players simply move too fast for me to keep track of  (I was literally flipping through pages trying to keep up with their progress). I may have to reinstate Fog of War on a per-room basis just to slow them down.

Fighting erupted in Area 18. It started out simple enough. Two of the three bugbears were below in a pit and had to climb up, while the weapon-less drow fled to the North. Miri ran after him and tackled him to the ground, while Kalinaar actually handcuffed him to his own wrist after dealing with the bugbear.

At this point I was feeling slightly vindictive, and with the drow under attack I had his warning cries carry down to Area 11 – the room of voices the PCs had passed by. Just as the PCs thought they were dealing with the last bugbear, another five of them showed up, using dash actions to close the distance.

Even with Talus’ fog cloud it was a protracted, painful fight. Miri spent all her ki points, most of Talus and Kalinaar’s spell slots were used, and Kalinaar was very nearly rendered unconscious when he was surrounded by three bugbears. Hilariously, Kalinaar had to fight one-handed the entire time, still hand-cuffed to a very pissed off drow that tried unsuccessfully to grapple and attack his captor, until finally exhausting himself.

It was a long, but fun battle, as the players had to use lots of different tactics, flanking maneuvers, and positioning to emerge victorious. Obviously I’ll have the rest of the dungeon completed by next week, and I’m thankful that things worked out in the end. I will definitely bow my head to the sage DM advice that if the players can screw something up, they will. In this caseL inadvertently reaching the one piece of the dungeon that was Still Under Construction!

Watch our sessions live on my YouTube channel every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Subscribe and catch up on previous episodes!