What Do I Know About Reviews? Keys From the Golden Vault, Part One (D&D 5e)
I’m planning on looking at a different part of Keys from the Golden Vault every day, now that I have early access on D&D Beyond. I like heists, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the various creators have done with this theme. Since this is the first post that will be looking at this anthology, I’ll post all of the details upfront, and then move into the individual sections from here on out.
I did not receive a review copy of this adventure. I am working from my early access version of the adventure on D&D Beyond. I have not had a chance to use any of the material in the book, but I’m familiar with D&D 5e both as a player and as a DM.
Keys from the Golden Vault
Project Leads: Amanda Hamon, Christopher Perkins
Art Director: Kate Irwin
Project Concept: Dan Barrett
Writers: Justice Ramin Arman, Kate Baker, Makenzie De Armas, Dan Dillon, Brooks Donohue, Amanda Hamon, Tim Hitchcock, Sadie Lowry, Jeffrey Ludwig, Sarah Madsen, Mario Ortegón, Christopher Perkins, Ben Petrisor, T. Alexander Stangroom
Rules Developers: Jeremy Crawford, Dan Dillon, Ben Petrisor
Editors: Judy Bauer, Eytan Bernstein, Janica Carter, Laura Hirsbrunner, Gregg Luben, Kim Mohan, Adrian Ng
Lead Graphic Designer: Bob Jordan
Graphic Designers: Trystan Falcone, Paolo Vacala, Trish Yochum
Cover Illustrators: Simen Meyer, Anna Podedworna
Interior Illustrators: Olivier Bernard, Bruce Brenneise, Kai Carpenter, Sidharth Chaturvedi, Conceptopolis, CoupleOfKooks, Daarken, Alayna Danner, Kent Davis, Nikki Dawes, Axel Defois, Evyn Fong, Alexandre Honoré, Julian Kok, Katerina Ladon, Andrew Mar, Robson Michel, Scott Murphy, David Auden Nash, Irina Nordsol, Svetlin Velinov, Zuzanna Wuzyk, Kieran Yanner
Cartographers: Francesca Baerald, Mike Schley
Consultants: Ma’at Crook, James Mendez Hodes
Concept Illustrator: Shawn Wood
Project Engineer: Cynda Callaway
Imaging Technicians: Daniel Corona, Kevin Yee
Prepress Specialist: Jefferson Dunlap
Before going any further, I wanted to take a moment and call out that this is likely the last product that will have Kim Mohan’s name in it as an editor, since he passed on in December. Mohan was 73 and had worked on D&D on and off since 1979.
The introduction to this anthology gives us the broad concept, that this is a book of individual adventures that all have heists as a theme. In addition to that theme, however, there are some notes for turning the anthology into a regular campaign, as well as general advice on running heist games.
Right up front, it mentions that you can use these adventures in any campaign setting that you want. Prisoner 13 does take place in Revel’s End, which is canonical in the Icewind Dale region of the Forgotten Realms. Other adventures don’t call out a specific campaign setting, but do sometimes reference specific planes in the D&D cosmology (the Nine Hells, the Far Realm, Mechanus, and the Feywild, for example).
I understand the desire to make this as flexible as possible, but as soon as I realized that there was even a little cross-planar flavor to these adventures, I started to wish that each of these adventures had a “canon” placement, across various established locations in the D&D multiverse, to make this more of a plane-hopping campaign. You can still do that, obviously, but without the little touches that might make it feel more intrinsic to the adventures themselves.
We get a quick sketch of what the adventures expect the different components of each adventure to be, including the following:
- Mission Briefing
- Plan the Heist
- Execute the Heist
- Conclude the Heist
Each of the adventures is noted as having a way for the player characters to obtain a map of the location where the heist will take place to facilitate planning.
I like having this list of expected story elements to work from, and I think it’s probably a good thing to let the players know this in session zero, so that they are thinking of framing the adventure in these terms. I would have liked a little more guidance into not letting the planning phase drift into infinity, but I also want to see if the individual adventures address this later on in the book.
The introduction gives us a list of adventures and the suggested level for those adventures. The section on advice for running this as a campaign essentially says to advance your players to the level listed before they start each heist.
- The Murkmire Malevolence (Level 1)
- The Stygian Gambit (Level 2)
- Reach for the Stars (Level 3)
- Prisoner 13 (Level 4)
- Tockworth’s Clockworks (Level 5)
- Masterpiece Imbroglio (Level 5)
- Axe from the Grave (Level 6)
- Vidorant’s Vault (Level 7)
- Shard of the Accursed (Level 8)
- Heart of Ashes (Level 8)
- Affair on the Concordant Express (Level 9)
- Party at Paliset Hall (Level 10)
- Fire and Darkness (Level 11)
The only problem I can see up front with using this as a campaign and allowing the PCs to level before the next heist to be the appropriate level is at levels 5 and 8, where there are multiple adventures at those levels. Most players are going to be fine if you tell them upfront that this is due to the structure of the anthology, but I guess it could also give you a chance to streamline the campaign by picking which of the 5th or 8th-level adventures you want to run, or even giving the PCs a chance to decide which job looks more enticing.
The Golden Vault
The next section in the introduction discusses a potential patron for an adventuring party playing through the anthology, The Golden Vault. We don’t know much about the organization, except that they may be headquartered on one of the upper planes, and they may be associated with metallic dragons.
They send out keys that agents can fit into a music box that will play a message for them that will give them a heist to pull off. The Golden Vault is a good organization, so this is kind of like the planar version of Leverage. You may be criminals, but you’re criminals that want to make the multiverse a better place. We also get details on a contact that can be used for the player characters as their handler from the organization.
I love the idea of a multiplanar thieves guild, and the key and music box imagery is very strong. It’s a good framing mechanism. While I don’t think it is needed for this anthology, I do want to know more about The Golden Vault as an organization, and I hope it appears in future products.
This section looks at two types of complications, moving the MacGuffin and having a rival crew to work against. It warns the DM not to overuse these complications. For example, if you move the MacGuffin once, you may not want to do it again, or risk frustrating the players.
I’m happy to see the rival crew show up as a complication as well. I have always liked the idea of rival adventurers, and I liked the inclusion of a rival adventure party that could grow and change in Call of the Netherdeep.
It’s worth noting that the system for a rival crew isn’t as robust as in that adventure. Because it’s an optional inclusion rather than part of the design of the campaign, we get six example crew members, with their alignments and general personality traits, and a table showing what stat block to use to represent them at what levels.
My biggest disappointment is that we’re pulling from a very limited number of stat blocks, so at 11th level, characters that sound very distinct from one another are represented by using the stat blocks for a mage, an assassin, and four veterans. Definitely worth looking at some other stat blocks from a wider range of books to spice things up, but I do like that this section is included.
In addition to listing their alignments and personalities, as well as what stat blocks to use, there is another table that gives you a specific reason for the rival crew to show up in each of the adventures in the anthology. In most cases, this is giving you the name of the person that hired them, and why that person wants their own crew to complete the heist before the PCs.
- Advice is sound, but a little thin
- Love the Golden Vault as a framing device, and I want more
- Happy with the inclusion of the rival crew as a twist
- Really happy with the customized reasons for the rival crew to show up based on individual adventures
Hopefully, we’ll get the opportunity to look at the first adventure, the Murkmire Malevolence, soon.
Pingback: Routinely Itemised: RPGs #191