Keys from the Golden Vault Review
Table of Contents:
Keys from the Golden Vault Review
Keys to Adventure or Fool’s Gold?
D&D has released a new set of adventures in “Keys from the Golden Vault”, this time focused on elaborate magical heists. Players will take on the role of noble thieves as they plan their heists, case the joints, and scramble for plan B when something inevitably goes wrong. But does this latest addition to the D&D 5e library capture that heist movie feel? Grab your thieves’ tools and your best disguise as we go through everything you need to know.
What’s in the Book?
Keys From the Golden Vault is a comparatively slim volume, coming in at 208 pages, making it one of the shortest official 5e releases to date and definitely the shortest adventure collection. It’s at the lower price point though of around $29.99 but it is a worrying trend to see these books shrink as the releases roll out. With that said they waste no space, and the entirety of the book is a short introduction including several options for running the adventures and the 12 included heist adventures themselves.
All told you can find the following within Keys from the Golden Vault:
- Introduction Into the Golden Vault.
So, What’s the Golden Vault?
The harpers have a new covert good guy organization rival in the “Golden Vault” an organization and plot device of agents who do crimes for moral reasons. They’ve got vague links to the metallic dragons, and they take care of issues where a bit of law breaking is necessary to do the right thing. All this adds up to an amazing excuse to pull off some heists, with a solid framework for getting the initial missions, contacts, and motivations for carrying them out.
The “keys” from the golden vault are actually the magical dead drops of their organization that fit into little magical music boxes each agent has. Each key is specific to a particular mission, and when turned in the music box produces the mission briefing, should they choose to accept it. It’s a wonderful mix of cheesy spy movie and high fantasy and I really appreciate how well it sets the mood and establishes goals.
Golden Vault Adventures
So overall, what are these heists like? I’m happy to report that they’re not only well-designed adventures, but also that they nail the heist genre aesthetic. They didn’t just make dungeon crawls with a heist paint job. Each adventure involves a briefing from the music box key, contacts, opportunities to case the joint and multiple different approaches and methods for snagging the McGuffin and getting away. Guards have names and little snippets of personality that a good DM can sculpt into great encounters. The player version of maps are intentionally sketchy hand drawn versions of the DM maps, reflecting the player’s hasty scouting in true heist movie styles.
I can’t emphasize enough how well-crafted and compact these heists are, and every room is packed full of opportunities and angles the players can take without being strung along. There’s no “correct” method to steal each item, only a bunch of moving parts that the players can cobble a plan out of on their own.
Each adventure can be run on its own or run together as a big heist-filled campaign. They also include ways to continue and branch off each adventure if you run one as a one-shot and want to keep going. They’ve set up a rival heist team to add a layer of extra challenge to any given heist, and each encounter is designed flexibly, with contingencies for the major ways the heist can go wrong and the ramifications. They made a ton of excellent design choices here that permeate through the whole collection, and I have trouble finding fault in it. As a nitpick, I wish the rival team had a bit more depth since as it is now, they’re just a sentence or two of description and a generic stat block, but that’s splitting hairs.
Each adventure seems to be designed for 1-2 sessions, depending on how much time your players spend on planning. Though the higher-level adventures might spill into 3 sessions if plans go especially awry.
The Murkmire Malevolence: 1st Level
A mysterious stone is on exhibit at the museum but it’s not the crown jewel that it seems. The stone is actually the egg of a horrible monstrosity and it’ll hatch and devour countless people unless the players can infiltrate the exhibition gala and swipe the offending ovum before it can hatch. The gala is in full swing, so players will have the opportunity to dress up and mingle before slipping into the closed wings. And the giant allosaurus animatronic just so happens to be easily broken to go haywire and cause a distraction. Very fun, campy, and overall, it sets the book off on the right foot.
The Stygian Gambit: 2nd Level
One gambler double crossed another and set up his own casino, now they want their share back from this cavernous casino nestled behind a waterfall. You’ll feel like you’re roleplaying a James Bond movie as you schmooze, gamble, and drink your way into the casino vault. I really appreciate how well they manage to pull off a spy movie in 5e D&D form, just be prepared for a ton of shaken martini jokes.
Reach for the Stars: 3rd Level
This one stretches the term “heist” quite a bit and is more of a scooby-doo mansion styled dungeon crawl. Much more than the previous two, Reach for the Stars is a dungeon crawl first and only technically a heist. You’ll battle traps and monsters while you sneak through a spooky mansion, talk to disembodied heads, and stop a cultist from summoning an otherworldly horror. It’s a fine adventure, but I can’t help but think it was a previous concept jammed into the collection under flimsy heist pretenses.
Prisoner 13: 4th Level
Players will have to infiltrate the Forgotten Realm’s favorite frozen prison, Revel’s End. An inmate has the key to a vast fortune, and they’ll need to extract either her or the key, or both. I’d have been surprised if a book about heists didn’t include at least one prison break and Prisoner 13 delivers with prison break tropes and misdirections galore. Though players hoping to ride Jarnathan out will find it sadly lacking in luckless aarakocra councilors to fly out on.
Tockwork’s Clockworks: 5th Level
A gnomish tinkerer has gone insane and taken over a small town in the underdark with an army of clockwork contraptions. The whole town is almost like one big puzzle with moving bridges, pulley lines, and tons of ways the players can sneak through and avoid the automatons. I’d argue this is less a heist and more just a sneaking mission, but I found the puzzle-like nature of the town very satisfying to put together and figure out.
Masterpiece Imbroglio: 5th Level
A thief's guild has stolen a valuable portrait and the owner wants it back, quickly and quietly. This starts off as one of the most straightforwardly “heisty” of the heists, there’s a big house full of bandits and a painting and you need to get the painting out. What starts out straightforward though will almost certainly turn on its head when one of the many twists and revelations (which I won’t spoil here) force the party to change plans mid-thievery. Simple at first, but I expect players to have a great time as they scramble from plan A to plans B through Z.
Axe from the Grave: 6th Level
A famous bard has died and returned from the grave as a zombie that can only be given rest by returning his stolen lute “his axe”. Romp is a good word for describing this one. The players will go through several misdirects before finally finding the lute, and it captures the playful feel of a lighthearted misadventure despite the initial undead premise. Excellent, light, and sure to get some good rounds of laughter out of your players.
Vidorant’s Vault: 7th Level
This one feels like you get the most enjoyment out of it when running all the adventures together as a campaign rather than a one-off. The heist itself is fairly straightforward, steal a fancy tiara back from one thief to give back to another thief. Where it gets interesting is at the end when the players are presented with an opportunity for a double-cross and some thieving-themed magic items. Good adventure as part of a larger campaign, less interesting as a one-off though.
Shard of the Accursed: 8th Level
Get that thing back where it came from, or so help you! In a reverse heist the players must return an accursed object back into the tomb from whence it came to prevent a town from literally crumbling apart. Despite the classical “ancient tomb” setting, this still plays out like a heist instead of a dungeon crawl, as players piece together the reality of this “ancient curse” while sneaking through the abundant hidden passages.
Heart of Ashes: 8th Level
This is another one that’s a traditional dungeon crawl wearing a hat with the word “heist” on it, but it’s a damn cool dungeon crawl. Players must venture into a castle that is literally floating apart beneath an all-consuming magical void. You must jump between floating chunks of castle to find the cursed king’s still-beating heart to save the kingdom. Extremely memorable adventure, still a dungeon crawl and not a heist, but good.
Affair on the Concordant Express: 9th Level
Players will have to sneak aboard an interplanar train to extract vital information out of a legendary prisoner. The flying train is constantly on the move between planes and locales providing the heist with an infinitely variable backdrop. Incredibly fun and imaginative adventure, and I take no shame in admitting that I’ll be stealing this train for my own campaigns.
Party at Paliset Hall: 10th Level
Infiltrate a fey gala to steal a dangerous gemstone. Nothing is as it seems, however, and this adventure is loaded with twists and turns that’ll surely be high fey gossip for months. This is the most “talky” of the adventures in a good way, and it encourages the players to mix and mingle to talk their way through everything that stands between them and the gem. Great pick if you want to do a lot of roleplaying and pretend to be debutantes for the evening.
Fire and Darkness: 11th Level
Sneak into an evil dragon’s fortress and steal the one and only book of vile darkness before the cultists can use it to transform their master into a dracolich. The first half of this adventure can be called a heist as the players need to figure out how to sneak in. But in the second half it really just boils down to a dungeon crawl with an emphasis on hopefully sneaking but more likely fighting your way through. Still fun, with several twists to keep the players on their toes.
What’s Good About the Book?
Keys from the Golden Vault accomplishes what it sets out to do and provides a DM with a dozen heist adventures they can use to sprinkle into their own campaigns, run as one-shots, or combine into a longer campaign. Many of the adventures manage to capture the heist tropes and feel, and lets the players figure out their own plans using the pieces the book lays out for them. I especially appreciate the set-up with the key dead drops, and the “hand sketched” nature of most of the player maps making it feel like the players jotted down notes while casing the job. The missions are creative, well-written, and manage to provide tools for the most likely outcomes and player decisions without bogging the DM down (a hard feat to tackle).
What’s Bad About the Book?
My biggest gripe with this book is the size. Keys From the Golden Vault contains 13 short adventures, but Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel also contained 13 adventures but it also had a bunch of additional setting content, and Candlekeep Mysteries before that had 17 adventures plus additional content. I can’t help but notice we’re getting less and less content for the same type of product at the same price point, setting a worrying trend. Will the next adventure collection be another 30 to 40 pages shorter with fewer adventures? Only time will tell but I get the feeling they’re seeing how little content they can get away with without lowering prices and I don’t like it.
Beyond that, 3 out of the 12 missions seem like normal dungeon crawl adventures wearing a “heist” hat. They’re still fine adventures in their own right, but I can’t help but feel like they don’t quite fit in the collection and were jammed in and altered to “make them fit '' rather than being designed with heists in mind from the get-go.
I have some gripes, but if the biggest gripe essentially boils down to “I wish there was more of it” then you’ve got a good product. The heists are thematic, fun, and perfect for shorter campaigns. I’m excited to sneak these scenarios into my own games, and I’ll definitely be saving a few for when one-shot opportunities arise. This doesn’t take the odd setup of Candlekeep or Radiant Citadel, and the adventure quality just seems higher here. Each adventure is a refined and compact package, while still letting the players make their own decisions and not holding their hands. I still have reservations about WotC making adventure collections (I feel the 3rd parties are handling that area just fine) but this is a primo offering to serve that need. I think out of all the adventure collections that Wizards of the Coast has released so far, I’d recommend this one the most.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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