(During the Phandalin phase, I used the player's map of Phandalin, and put markers on each building that the group was pointed to. I used one marker to represent the group. That worked quite well, as it gave a visual aid where they were and where they could/would go.)
[What happens in Phandelin stays in Phandelin]The group arrived in Phandalin with Sildar in tow. As Sildar goes ahead to the inn, the team turns their cart to Bathen's, who is happy to receive the good. Barthen recognises the crates with the signet of the Lionshield Coster, and agrees to lend his cart a bit longer so that the group can return the stolen goods to the Coster trading post at the city centre. The group gets paid and Barthen mumbles something about times being tough, with everybody being shaken down by the Redbrands. At the Lionshield Coster, they're handsomely compensated for their troubles and they do some discounted shopping. Especially the Folk Hero Fighter stocks up on all sorts of equipment that may or may not be useful when dungeoneering... Here again, they are told about the trouble those Redbrands cause everybody.
They take a small detour to the Shrine of Luck. They ask if she knows the location of Cragmaw Castle. They hear Sister Garaele's request, but when they hear they have to deal with a Banshee, they're hesitant to take up this quest. Nonetheless, she marks Agatha's Lair on their map. Then they join Sildar at the inn to settle in for the evening.
There they hear the unending litany of the wrongdoings of the Redbrands from the locals, and when they get told about the murder of the Woodworker, it sinks in that these are not merely a gang who leeches off the locals, but a band of criminals who don't stop at nothing! Especially the Noble is ready to fight them at the spot, but he calms down considerably when he hears there are between 20 and 30 Redbrands in total... They get pointed to Alderleaf Farm and the Miner's Exchange for more information on the Redbrands.
They also enquire to the location of Cragmaw Castle, but nobody present know about it. The locals point them to Qelline Alderleaf, because she has been living in these parts for decades, and to Daran Edermath, because he used to be an adventurer like them. When the evening winds down, the group enjoys a restful sleep at the inn.
The next morning, they are taken to the Townmaster's Hall by Sildar. Sildar presents his letters from the Lord's Alliance to Harbin, who has to other choice but to accomodate Sildar's wishes to make this his office. Empathic characters detect that Harbin is both annoyed (someone is taking his power away!) and relieved (now someone else gets to deal with the Redbrand problem!). While Sildar is counting out the reward for escorting him to the town, the group tries to reassure Harbin that they're tough customers who can deal with any trouble the town is facing. Harbin seems glad, and points them to the notice about the orcs, and marks Wyvern Tor on their map. (He is still too scared to suggest they do something about the Redbrands.)
After they receive their reward, they pay a visit to Edermath Orchard. Daran Edermath did not expect visitors, and the group notices the longsword within arms' reach next to the front door of the cottage. They introduce themselves, and Daran invites these junior adventurers into his home. His living room features a comfy couch and a large display case featuring all kinds of trophies and knick-knacks that Daran collected during his career. The Wizard is curious (also because Daran is a half-elf and so much younger than himself), and checks out the collection. Daran sees him looking at a large golden helmet, and starts telling the tale of how he single-handedly defeated an enemy general who wore that helmet. The tale takes about fifteen minutes... When the Noble asks how Daran got the helmet so clean it can be displayed like that, it turns out that he really didn't wanted to hear the answer of "one hour in boiling oil" after all!
Pleased with having some ears to listen to his tales (in which he always plays the starring role), Daran offers refreshments to the group: sweet apple juice and fresh spring water. Only when Daran takes a sip of his own juice can the group get a word in edgewise and ask him after Cragmaw Castle. Daran doesn't know the location, but does tell them about the undead at Old Owl Well. Maybe that has something to do with it? When asked about the Redbrands, Daran mentions that they're too afraid to confront him directly, but that there are too many of them for him to organise something. But heroes like the group...
Daran mentions that the Redbrands also leave the Miner's Exchange alone. Halia Thornton is backed by a mighty trading house, and harassing the Exchange would also annoy every miner around -- if they would group together, the Redbrands would have a hard time indeed...
The group says their goodbyes to Daran and heads to the Miner's Exchange. The front of the building is open to the public, and a few miners are sitting on wooden benches, waiting for their turn to turn in their finds at one of the windows. There are two of those: behind each one sits a clerk with a precision scale and a notepad. The windows are fortified with thick iron bars. There is also a door consisting of bars that leads into a storage room stacked with crates. There is a guard standing by, and the group asks him to speak to the leader. After some time, they are let through the door and led past the crates to the office of Halia Thornton. She wears clothing of a better quality than the locals and has an air of efficiency around her. She only has two chairs in her office for visitors, and the whole group keeps standing. (I added this detail to see who would sit down and who would be forced to stand, but the group has remarkable solidarity with each other.)
They discuss the situation in the village with Halia, and she offers them 100 gold to eliminate Glasstaff and his correspondence. This raises a few eyebrows with the characters with a high Insight, but since the Redbrands were on the menu anyway, they tell her they'd see what they could do.
When they walk back towards the Townmaster's Hall, they notice it's quiet in the street. They can see some playing children being pulled indoors, windows and shutters being closed, and an eerie quiet descending on the town... (I went for a wild-west showdown feel, and the players picked up on this.) Four Redbrands appear, trying to provoke the group into a fight. The Redbrands didn't have too much trouble with that: their leader had not even finished his sentence when the Cleric hit him with his warhammer! The rest of the party was up in arms in no-time, but when the Redbrands counter-attacked and two of them did their total of four attacks against the Cleric, he went down... This gave the group some pause, but with some handling of greatswords and battle-axes, with support from the Rogue and the Wizard, three of them went down in the third round. The last remaining Redbrand tried to make a run for it, towards the Inn (and back to the Sleeping Giant), but the Folk Hero calmly dropped his sword, grabbed his longbow and shot him through the throat.
The Rogue quickly rifled through their pockets (I ruled they had a few silver amongst them), and then they wondered what to do with the bodies. In the end, they piled them up at the door of the Townmaster's Hall (which had been closed down too -- Harbin's doing) and went for a Short Rest in the Inn.
Refreshed (and some abilities recharged), they went to visit Alderleaf Farm. Passing by the Townmaster's Hall, they noticed the bodies were gone, but there was no acitivity in the streets at all. (The village was waiing with bated breath what the Redbrands would do after this.) Arriving at the farm, far away from the fight in the village centre, they are greeted by Carp, the young halfling cousin of the Rogue. He takes them inside and calls his mother, who promptly cooks them a light lunch (well, "light" by halfling . They ask after Cragmaw Castle, and she tells them about Reidoth the Druid in Thundertree -- he might know where it is.
Carp tells about the tunnel he found, and his mother gets mad at him: she told him to stay away from there! The group them leaves, but asks Carp to point them the way. They take a small detour and clamber across a collapsed section of the wall between Alderleaf Farm and the woods south of the manor to avoid being seen by Qelline, but then send Carp back home when they get close. They do find the secret passage into the cave below the Manor, partially hidden by two bushes. The Folk Hero also detected a path of sorts leading away to the south-east. (I ruled that the Redbrands would go away from the village for a ways at first, and only then go to their destination.)
The Rogue tied a rope to the trunk of one of the bushes, and the Noble hid in the other bush holding the rope to trip up anyone who would leave the cave. The rest of the group hid in trees and bushes and settled in for a long wait. (To my surprise, they kept on waiting through several hours.)
When a Bugbear emerged from the tunnel, the Noble managed to trip it up, rendering it Prone. The Folk Hero had trouble with hitting it with his bow, but the combined efforts of the Noble, the Rogue and the Wizard felled the Bugbear before he could get up. The Bugbear carried a small note: "Black Spider, please send reinforcements", which had been signed by Glasstaff. (I ruled that the Redbrands would have gotten nervous after this sudden display of competence from the adventurers they were supposed to chase off, and so one of the Bugbears would get sent to Cragmaw Castle to ask for reinforcements -- but it would take them some time to realise what had happened.) The grouped cleaned up the mess and waited some more, but nothing further happened, so they went into the tunnel to the Redbrand Hideout.
In the cave, the Nothic asked the Wizard telepathically for meat when it emerged from behind the south pillar. Without even considering the question, the group rolled for initiative and arrows started to fly. (I gave the Nothic a hissing, raspy voice, which did not improve the party's disposition to negotiate with it.) It tried the necrotic gaze on the Noble, but it failed -- but it gave the Noble the shivers -- so he used his Action Surge to attack the Nothic twice in his round. The Nothic was unceremoniously hacked down...
The group didn't pay the crevasse too much mind and went into the hallway leading off to the south. The Wizard listened at the door to the south, and could make out the words in Goblin. The Noble concluded that someone in that room needed to be rescued -- and he (and his friends) were the one to do so! The group kicked in the door and surprised the two Bugbears and the Goblin inside. (The third Bugbear had been sent towards Cragmaw Castle and had been defeated earlier.) During the fight, the Wizard performed a Burning Hands, which sadly also roasted the fainted Goblin inside... With great interest, the group looted the body of Mosk, and the Rogue took possession of the key.
Listening at the door at the north end, they could make out that there was a rowdy game going on in there -- presumably Redbrands. After a brief (and whispered) discussion, it was decided to not confront this group. The Rogue locked the door with the key, and they jammed a piece of wood into the keyhole, so that it would be hard to open the door from the inside.
The group doubled back and took the north passage to the west. Again, they locked the door to the gaming room, and again jammed a splinter in the keyhole.
Then everything went quickly: they opened the door to the room to the north and find a wizards laboratory. The Wizard and the Cleric peer at the bookcases with interest, while the Rogue listens at the door to the east. He hears hurried footsteps going away (the rat in the laboratory is, after all, Glasstaff's familiar) and barges in. Now begins a frantic race to catch up with the fleeing Glasstaff, witht he Rogue at the front and the rest of the party dangerously spread thin behind him. While the Wizard stays in the laboratory, fascinated by the experiments going on there, the Folk Hero hears him mutter something about an invisibility potion -- which is highly alarming to him: a hidden wizard could get them into all sorts of trouble!
Luckily, the party encounters no resistance during their pursuit, but when the Rogue arrives at the hallway next to the weapon's chamber, he can't hear any footsteps anymore... Which is a good thing, because his support (both Fighters) are lagging behind, and the Cleric and Wizard are even further back...
The group re-groups in Glasstaff's sleeping quarters, and because Halia specifically asked for correspondence, they rifle through the papers on the desk, and find the letter from the Black Spider adressed at Iarno Albrek...
This is where we ended the session. Each character has racked up 290 XP this session, putting them at 590 -- just a little under halfway to level 3!
I really like the scenario. Walking around Phandalin and speaking to the local movers and shakers gave some nice roleplaying moments, which is why I pushed the initial confrontation with the Redbrands as far back as I could. I really like how the group gelled together, with all sorts of mannerisms and patterns emerging through play. In this group, the Noble is the spokesperson for the group (which makes sense given his background), but that's not something that was decided -- it just happened. I like how the scenario allows for some flexibility in the reactions from the townspeople and the Redbrands, even though it's kinda episodic.
Getting the players maps for this campaign is one of the best decisions I made. Cutting it up and placing it together as the group explores the dungeon really adds to the experience.