There is a common thread here, something that Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Rich Baker, and Chris Perkins seemed to do quite a bit in LMoP: single points of failure. It is also the source of this week’s bit of gameplay hiccup.
Determining that Gundren Rockseeker is held in Cragmaw Castle is one of those points. There’s plenty of opportunity for the party to ask about that, but little motivation for the party to ask about it, meaning that once they’ve cleared the Redbrands out of Phandalin, the dwarf might just be a big mystery. The motivation can come in the form of Sildar Hallwinter, an NPC the party may or may not save, but if he’s dead…then what?
Similarly, this week, they cleared out Cragmaw Castle and found Gundren, but couldn’t find his map – they had left Grol’s wolf alive (but hostile) and left the room, without searching it. So if they don’t find Gundren’s map…then what?
Eventually I sort of gave it to them, in both situations, but that’s exceptionally unsatisfying in play. I am not GameFAQs, this is not an easy-mode walkthrough, failure should be an option, and should have consequences.
Which leads me to the villain. It seems like one of the reasons failure isn’t an option here is because the villain of the adventure can’t achieve his goal – there’s monsters in the way. There’s no timetable for when or if he can ever overcome the other creatures, and what happens when he does. He’s not pursuing the Forge of Spells for any reason beyond a vague drow-ish evil. It’s classic Orcus on his Throne, which helps make the thing very….bland. It almost doesn’t matter if they rescue Gundren or defeat the Spider. Nobody cares. Nothing will happen. Oh well.