The Femme DM – Goblins and Bugbears, Oh My!

A series of posts by The Femme DM as she explores learning how to become a Dungeon Mistress for Dungeons and Dragons, and better yet, hopefully a good one!

Running The Lost Mines of Phandelver, an introductory adventure designed for players and DMs new to Dungeons and Dragons, our heroes were making their way to the ruins of Thundertree to find information on the whereabouts of Cragmaw Castle, a place they hope holds the answers to where Guntar, a missing dwarven friend of theirs (they renamed him from Gunthar), is.

Exciting stuff! Up until this point, my players have come across goblins and bandits, trouncing pretty much any obstacle I put in their way with the slightest of ease. Everything was melting before them like butter as they had a continuous series of great rolls and I wound up doing terribly for the monsters. Some may not view this as a problem, but too much of it can lead to players becoming bored or even more dangerous, feeling invincible.castle

What’s a Dungeon Mistress to do about it?

The module for Lost Mines suggests trying to throw some random monster encounters along players’ paths to make them realize that the world is potentially a dangerous place. Perfect! They’re still low level and the world SHOULD feel dangerous. Everything in the story up until this point had been confined to a small area where random encounters wouldn’t make much sense, but now my players would have to venture out into the wilderness. Who knows what evil lurks in the shadows along the journey?

Within the module there is a table of suggested random encounters ranging from wolves to goblins and owlbears. They all make sense within the region, but with my players effectively walking near the abovementioned castle, which is overrun with goblins, without realizing it, I set up some goblin and bugbear patrols for them to encounter with the intention that, should they knock any of them out and hold them for questioning, they would be able to get the information they wanted from Thundertree without traveling far at all.

In an effort to make them feel more a part of their fate rather than have me roll behind the screen, after they set up watch for the night, I rolled a number to see on whose watch an event may unfurl. I would then have that player roll the die to see if anything should happen. As luck should have it, something did and they were able to spot the danger before being ambushed.

Instead of taking prisoners, my players opted for flat out killing the baddies instead. I can’t say I blame them. In this world, not doing so only seems to bring on more trouble and they’re in the middle of nowhere anyway so what’s the harm?


With these random encounters though, I did accidentally create a hook I now plan to develop after the reaction it got from my players. The module suggests that if players encounter any bugbears, which are large and more intelligent goblins, they find a crudely drawn wanted poster of one of the players in the pocket of one of the attackers. I don’t think the designers had any intention of it being anything as it’s not mentioned anywhere else again, but my folks have latched onto it and now think that there is a hit out on one of them. It’s great!

As time goes on, I’m finding out more and more that I am more of the facilitator than the writer. My players write the story themselves, I am just there to play and narrate their hazards along their path to getting them where they want to go.

I love it!