What Do I Know About Reviews, Keys from the Golden Vault, Part Twelve (D&D 5e)
Everyone get aboard, because this next adventure, Affair on the Concordant Express, is a railroad. Okay, not really in the sense that you have no agency. Only in the sense that it’s set on a train that travels across multiple planes while building and disassembling its own tracks as it goes. This adventure from Keys from the Golden Vault is for 9th-level characters.
As always when looking at these adventures, I’m going into enough detail to describe them, and while that may not mean that every twist and turn is examined, it may still be more than you want to know if you going to play this adventure. This may be your stop.
If the PCs aren’t working for the Golden Vault (but honestly, this adventure more than most really makes me want to use them as a patron for the group), there are several provided hooks to get the PCs to take the job. The job, in this case, is to find a criminal named The Stranger, and secure some of the True Names they learned.
One hook has the PCs recovering the names for a faction called the Fixers, who want the names of some important Blood War commanders so they can keep the war between the fiends on an even keel. Another hook involves the Planescape faction the Fated trying to obtain some True Names that they can use in order to leverage the release of a high-ranking member captured by an Ultraloth.
No matter how they get the job, they end up talking to a rogue modron named Glitch who quit their job when conflicting orders from their superiors caused their programming to break. Glitch has tickets waiting for them to board the Concordant Express in the Outlands. They also know the layout of the caboose, the prison car, and the engine car of the train, but not the three (or more) random cars that the DM adds to the adventure.
The PCs board the Concordant Express in the Outlands, the outer plane of balance. The action will be taking place on the Concordant Express itself, which is an enclosed environment, but you know every train adventure ends up seeing someone climb on top of the train, right?
The Concordant Express travels through a few other planes, but mostly shields passengers from the effects of those planes while they are inside the train. There are provided effects for each of the planes through which the Express may travel on the way to Mechanus.
While they aren’t locations that the PCs will visit in the adventure, the Stranger’s backstory is tied to Akharin Sangar from Journeys through the Radiant Citadel. As noted, one of the hooks may involve a Planescape faction, the Fated. In addition to the planes that serve as the stops for the Express (the Outlands and Mechanus), and those that the train may travel through (Acheron, the Nine Hells, Ysgard, the Seven Heavens, and Elysium), there is also a name drop for the Gate Town of Excelsior, also located in the Outlands.
This adventure combines the tropes of a train heist with the tropes of a jailbreak. The PCs need to get information from The Stranger, negotiate what that means (probably setting them free), navigate around the authorities, and avoid drawing attention to themselves while moving from car to car on the train.
But wait, there’s more! In addition to the standard heist tropes, one of the cars may also drop the PCs in the middle of a murder mystery being investigated by a plane-traveling mind-flayer detective, which includes some great tropes straight out of murder mystery crime fiction as well. If your PCs aren’t into getting derailed, er, sidetracked, they don’t need to participate in this murder mystery to complete their job.
There are so many personalities to interact with and individual story beats that can be revealed. The murder mystery is a whole thing just on its own, establishing who was where, and what motives they have. Several of the Modrons on the train have their own quirks that the PCs may need to navigate. The deva standing guard on The Stranger has some quirks that can be exploited so the PCs can get closer to their goal. And that’s not counting all of the ties to other settings that I mentioned above.
For an additional bit of fun, there is a random True Name table, in case you really need to have some examples to use.
This adventure has a lot of variety, although it’s a bit more slanted toward constructs just because of the ever-present staff of Modrons that run the train. That said, there are celestials, fiends, aberrations, and humanoids to make things interesting. Planar travel tends to open up a lot of variety.
If the PCs assist the mind flayer detective in their investigation, they make sure to send the PCs a token of their esteem after the adventure wraps up. If the PCs use any of the True Names that they learned from the Stranger to leverage personal rewards, the adventure notes that they may be able to convince a fiend in disguise to hand over a mortal estate they own, or that the True Names could be used to make slaying weapons of different kinds.
The Golden Vault kicks in a rare magic item once word gets around to them that the PCs got the job done.
I’m really curious to see if any of the rest of the adventures can supplant this one as my favorite in the book. While I understand that WotC has been moving more to having adventures take place “in the multiverse,” rather than tied to a specific D&D setting, I think this adventure does a phenomenal job of tying individual details from the multiverse into the overall plot. I also like that it not only latches onto some details from Journeys through the Radiant Citadel, but also casts its gaze forward to Planescape.
I love the Modron shenanigans in this adventure. I would hope that anyone that questions why Modrons are a solid inclusion in the lore of D&D would take some time to read this adventure. Additionally, that “glitchling” species they introduced in Unearthed Arcana has to be a rogue modron, right? I need to play a rogue modron.
One of my favorite developments in this adventure is the introduction of STEAL, the Syndicate of Terror, Extortion, Assassination, and Larceny, as a rival organization to the Golden Vault. There are some suggestions in this adventure for what NPCs in other adventures might be good candidates to be members of the rival group, and I just wish STEAL had been detailed in the opening with those notes put into those specifically mentioned adventures.
Not only do I need to play a rogue modron, I need more information on STEAL.
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