What Do I Know About Reviews? Keys from the Golden Vault, Part Four (D&D 5e)

330472_The Stygian Gambit—GOLDEN SKELETON KEY_ Art By CoupleOfKooksLet’s return to our review of Keys from the Golden Vault, picking up where we left off with the next adventure in the anthology, Reach for the Stars. This adventure is designed for characters of 3rd level.

Spoiler Warning

As with all the other parts of this review, we’re going to be looking at how this adventure progresses and discussing specific elements of the adventure. I’m not going to be doing a deep dive into every aspect of the adventure, but a few spoilers are bound to get out, so if you plan on playing in this adventure, now is the time to bail out.

The Hook

A book called The Celestial Codex has been stolen by Markos Delphi from a scholar named Vasil Talistrome. Vasil hired a previous crew of adventurers to retrieve the Codex from Markos’ mansion, and divination magic reveals that they are all dead.

Depending on if the PCs work for the Golden Vault, the hooks include the Golden Vault recruiting them to retrieve the Codex on behalf of Vasil, Vasil approaching the adventures to see if he can find more durable adventurers this time around, or the Delphi family may hire the PCs to steal the book back for Vasil. The family is concerned about the effect the book may be exerting on Markos.

The Setting

This adventure takes place in a remote mansion that has been partially warped by magic from the Far Realm. Depending on where the PCs explore, and what they do in various parts of the mansion, a list of four different randomly determined Eldritch Surges may trigger, warping reality for the next hour.

The PCs start off in the wilderness, and the spirit of one of the deceased adventurers in the mansion can lead them to the adventurer’s old camp. If the PCs follow this suggestion, they pick up a player’s map that they can use to plan their exploration, as well as learn the phrase that unlocks the Arcane Locks on the windows of the mansion.

Heist Tropes

There are two things that technically make this a heist. The PCs should be stealthy, so they don’t attract the attention of too many of the cultists or monsters in the mansion as they explore, and they are hired to steal a book.

That said, this feels a lot more like a standard D&D adventure to me than the previous heists. A lot of this exploration is just about being careful, but still running into magical effects or monsters that the PCs may not be able to avoid.

While the PCs have been given the task of stealing the Codex from Markos, when they find the Codex, they stumble into a ritual that they will want to stop before leaving. Technically, they could leave, but then you have a Far Realm entity inhabiting a new body on the Prime Material plane. Unfortunately, Markos knows the ritual well enough that stealing the Codex doesn’t stop anything.


In addition to Markos, there are a few cultists in the mansion that are more concerned with cult activities than fighting people that aren’t part of the cult, and they can provide some backstory and information. You also run into employees and associates of Markos who have been warped by the Far Realm, but can be reasoned with if the PCs make the effort.


There are a variety of creatures present in the warped mansion. Some are aberrations, some undead, and the aforementioned humanoid cultists. There are also a few animated objects providing some constructs for the PCs to fight or avoid.

After Action

If the PCs save Markos, his family pays them the same amount as they will if they end up needing to kill him. Interestingly, while Vasil is one of the potential employers, he’s never brought up as a character that rewards the characters.

If the PCs are working for the Golden Vault, they reward also includes . . . drumroll please . . . an uncommon magic item. If you are playing this as an campaign, that means your 3rd level party has three uncommon magic items, which is a pretty good payout so far.


This feels a lot more like a “mission” than it does a heist, especially since retrieving the book ends up being almost treated like a side effect of stopping the ritual that allows a Far Realm entity to be grafted to a dead body.

As a mission to infiltrate a mansion and interact with the characters in the mansion, I like it, and I think it works well. As part of a campaign of heist themed adventures, it’s not the most thematically resonant.

When the disembodied ghost head appears to help the PCs, they have to choose between going to the camp or going straight to the mansion, and I wish this were a meaningful choice. The adventure also mentions that you can have the head follow them to offer advice if the PCs get stuck, and I like this idea, but I don’t think the head needs to be ever present to utilize this tool. Otherwise, I’m always a fan of establishing up front that an NPC may be there to help nudge you in the right direction when you hit a dead end.

Following on with the theme of meaningful choices, I would have loved to have seen what kind of response the Golden Vault might have had if the PCs retrieved the Codex but ignored the ritual. There is also a “world building” story element that I’m not a fan of in the resolution with Markos’ family.

It mentions that if Markos dies, they will pay to have him raised. I can buy that a powerful and wealthy family can swing this for their heir. But then it also mentions that they will foot the bill to have all of the dead adventurers raised as well. I don’t like this bit of world building, because it comes from that school of thought that people with enough money have infinite access to any spellcaster they need to cast any spells from 1st to 9th level, which makes the effects of any spell, no matter how powerful, feel like it should be an expected part of day to day life, at least for the wealthy.

It also implies that the family has a cleric that can cast a 5th level spell on retainer to cast raise dead as often as they need, but they hired a party of 3rd level adventurers to resolve this problem.

This isn’t a bad adventure, but it does deviate from the theme we have seen so far, and it misses a few opportunities to create some meaningful choices.