So, it's a twisty turny road back down to Phandalin (ah, that's why I kept calling this Phandalin rather than Phandelver to begin with!) and I realise the players were so quick to take up the tunnel entry rumour previously that I never actually ran the Redbrand 'In your face!' encounter. So I have them walking up the road while the PC's are walking down the road. Well actually they were tracking boot marks from the ruined manors cellar - it's the usual thing players do - they just have to try and kill any potential recurring villain as if they were terminators, even though they never met Glasstaff and frankly he never actually did anything to them. But he got away! I'm not sure why this provokes this responce.
I kind of imagine the Redbrands as a little lax and frankly not expected opponents to be coming from their main secret base, so I have the players roll perception checks and atleast one of them spots the Redbrands. Of course, when you ask for all players to roll perception, really one of them will make it generally, though not always! So I know I'm making the task pretty easy when I do that. But on occasion everyone stuffs up. Come to think of it though, I might want to work something out on that - the more players there are, the even easier it gets. Perhaps some DC adjustment per player over 4?
They decide to set up an ambush in the bushes by the side of the road. For this I decided only those who pass stealth AND use a ranged weapon can get a surprise attack - because of the distance between bushes and road (if they could just jump out five feet from the bushes and melee attack, that'd work). Not sure if adventure league rules is picky about that distinction - probably some pendant would be picky.
In addition the player of the Grappler turns up at this point, late to the session. I decide that he was following the Redbrands from town and ran around the side and ahead to set up an ambush - or atleast I air the idea of that and get no dissent from the player (lack of dissent = consent! lol!...no, don't take me seriously on that!).
My oh my.
The Redbrands roll terrible initiative (as I understand it, you roll even if you're the surprised party and doing nothing).
So the whole group goes...then goes again! If you've ever wondered what is the point of initiative, well this is a magnified version!
They utterly trounce the Redbrands, the Grappler only just barely getting one into a lock, while the Druid showing that early level circle of the moon druids turning into CR 1 bears is broooken!
Having fought a pitched battle with Redbrands before, the party is now relieved at how easy it was...err, from latter events it seems they think they have become more powerful than Redbrands rather than it being the power of surprise attacks (and good initiative rolls).
This makes things go quite wrong latter on...