I’m sure that many people’s first experience in 5th edition was running through Lost Mines of Phandelver. Not only is the module pretty affordable, coming in as cheap as $13 USD on sale, but as adventures go, it’s also not nearly as intimidating as starting in a place like Waterdeep.
Review of Sources
There are a few official sources that examine the city. The Starter Set/ Lost Mines of Phandelver being the one that people are probably the most aware of. I don’t think you’ll need anything more than it to run the town. Also, the information provided about the town in the Essentials Kit is the same (with the only differences being the fact that the Redbrands are no longer in charge and what quests are mentioned).
The Acquisitions Incorporated book also has a campaign set here, but I don’t think it adds anything to our understanding of the town.
Beyond that, there is Volo’s Guide to the North. Honestly, you’ll get a lot of the details here in the Lost Mines of Phandelver. The only thing beyond that it adds is that the orcs that attacked Phandalin hundreds of years ago paid human mages to bury some roads and hurl down some keeps in the area. This could be an explanation for why Cragmaw Castle exists (as it is not on any roadway or strategic area needing a keep).
What Makes it Unique Compared to Other Settlements?
Other than its proximity to Wave Echo Cave I don’t think the town is all that unique from other similar mining towns. But that’s fine. It’s a great stand-in for a frontier town that is struggling to survive.
What are the Settlement’s Issues?
Phandalin is a failing mining town. It’s off the road from the Triboar Trail and not in an area of the Forgotten Realms that is particularly accessible. While there are mining opportunities that exist for the town nothing after 3-4 years has taken off. Between its remote location, the monsters that live in the area, bandits, and most recently the Redbrands there has been a lot preventing the town from really becoming as successful as it could be.
Lack of Defence
Looking at the map, I figure there is probably around 35-40 homes in the town. Assuming three people per household that would make the town have between 100 – 120 people, with more people living in the outlying area (you’ll see some sites claiming there are like 1000 people in town, but that doesn’t seem very likely). A town that size would have a pretty hard time protecting itself from outside threats. The Redbrands appearing and taking over is a symptom of a much larger problem.
How Can I Use It in My Campaign?
I would play this as a town where the Redbrands are only the latest in a long list of problems the town has experienced. The Redbrands, after all, have only been there for two months. While the town, on the other hand, has been up and running for 3-4 years. The town is struggling financially and lacks the kind of clear leadership that it needs to succeed. It doesn’t even have the kind of formal leadership or structure to examine its issues. So instead it’s a place that just sort of trudges along hoping things get better soon.
It’s also a place that could be very transient. Adventurers, provided they are human, could slip by without really drawing too much attention to themselves. It still sees enough prospectors for a person like Iarno Albrek to be relatively unnoticed by the townsfolk.