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

330596_INTRO—HEIST PLANNING_ Art by Alexandre HonoréThe next stop on our tour of the adventures in Keys from the Golden Vault is another 8th-level adventure, Heart of Ashes. The PCs will be trying to steal something, but there is a whole lot going on, meaning that the description of the job leaves a lot left to the imagination.

Spoiler Warning

As with the other adventures I’ve looked at, I’m going to be looking at the general structure and components that go into this adventure. I may not reveal everything in the adventure, but if you see too many of the building blocks, you may get the idea of what’s in store. If you are going to be a player in this adventure, now is the time to hit eject on this blog post.

The Hook

The Golden Vault wants you to steal a human heart from the ruins of a castle in a cursed city. Pretty short and sweet. In theory, you could have another reason to meet up with the survivor of that cursed city, a knight and bodyguard to the local ruler, but the adventure doesn’t spend any time on building out alternate hooks beyond working for the Golden Vault.

It wouldn’t be too hard to have a relative in the cursed city, establish that the knight is a friend of one of the PCs, or any number of other hooks that don’t revolve around receiving a mission from the Golden Vault, but you’ll be fleshing out those hooks on your own.

The Setting

This adventure takes place in the city of Ghalasine, with most of the action taking place in what’s left of Castle Cinis. You’ll be able to find Ghalasine, because there is a big giant void hovering over the place.

With the descriptions of the deterioration of the city, parts of the castle breaking loose to float in the air, and the soulless bodies of the former inhabitants of the city turned into elemental husks, I’m getting some major Dark Souls vibes from this location.

Heist Tropes

As with most of the other adventures in this anthology, you get a map for the location, and you have the opportunity to plan your approach for entering the castle and tracking down the heart you need to find. That said, the ability to plan with a layout and the idea that you are “stealing” something (more context on that later) is the most this adventure draws from heist tropes.

Because of how the region has been warped, and souls have been pulled into the void above the city, a lot of the guards aren’t people just doing a job that you’re trying to avoid, but manifestations of a curse. The heart that you’re trying to steal isn’t a treasure that has changed hands, but was literally torn from the ruler’s chest to enact the curse. There isn’t really a twist, other than maybe doing the “wrong thing” with the heart, and it would take a crew with a serious vendetta against the PCs to want to brave this situation just to beat them to the punch.


Most of the character details in this adventure are going to come from the knight at the beginning of the adventure explaining that the king’s mage, Charmayne Daymore, became jealous of his other advisors and of the king’s rapport with his subjects. You get more details on the state of affairs before the king’s heart was literally stolen for the ritual if the PCs find a drow ambassador that has been trapped in the form of a mephit.

In another “Souls-Like” touch, there are also charcoal figurines that Charmayne has used to trap the emotions of some of her victims at the moment of their death for possible magical experimentation, and PCs can, after picking them up and experiencing the last moments of the people whose emotions are deposited in the figurine, use them as a spell focus that can do additional psychic damage to Charmayne.


The motif in this adventure is that Charmayne’s jealousy is turning everything to ashes, and I like that to reinforce this theme, instead of the soulless bodies being represented with undead, the people of the city are animated husks of ash and embers that are represented with elementals. There are also some hellhounds, which are the mutated pets of the king, and a few constructs.

The king himself is effectively a golem with an open chest cavity and some customized abilities. If you don’t agree with me on the Souls vibes coming off this adventure, I ask you to direct your attention to the artwork for the king in his cursed form.

In a change-up from the other adventures in this anthology, you don’t really run into any humanoids in the course of the adventure proper. Even Charmayne, the wizard whose jealousy caused all of this, is currently affected by the curse as well, and also appears as an ashen elemental.

After Action

You just finished up an 8th-level adventure, and you saved a king. If you really want it, you can get lands and a title for your trouble. D&D 5e may not have a ton of rules for that sort of thing, but it’s a nice narrative boon for people that helped out a king in his moment of need.

The Golden Vault gets you a gift card for a Thayan Enclave that expired 120 years ago on Toril. I’m kidding. They reward you with another rare magic item.

In theory, the PCs could get the “bad ending” if they are really desperate to end the curse and destroy the heart before taking it outside of the range of the curse. That still ends the curse, but it doesn’t return everyone to life. Other than not getting land or a title, it doesn’t seem like going this route is going to upset the Golden Vault too much.


This one could be more “heist-like” for sure, but I really like how it comes together, overall. When I say this is “Souls-Like” I mean the atmosphere, the descriptions, the fact that you can find out what inspired Charmayne to enact the curse in the first place by doing some research in the cursed castle, but you don’t really need to know that backstory to fix the curse.

I did want to touch on the fact that this is the second 8th-level adventure in the anthology. Not only is it the second 8th-level adventure, but both 8th-level adventures involve hearts that are symbolically broken or framed in a poetic way related to a curse (“the heart of Ghalasine has always been its king”). I think I would pick one of the two adventures to run if I were stringing this together in a campaign, just to preserve the impact of whatever story you choose to run, and to keep the heart symbolism reigned in too close together.

This is a good adventure to have in your back pocket for those nights when multiple members of your gaming group start to express their love for Souls-style story elements.

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