If you’ve played Dungeon & Dragons at all since 2014, you’ve at the very least read the words Lost Mine of Phandelver before. It’s the 64-page adventure book included with nearly every D&D starter set for almost a decade, designed to provide a relatively simple set of quests for levels 1-5 that can be played by just about any age. It’s well balanced, replayable at nearly every skill level, and very easy to spin into a larger adventure you’ve built on your own. Even the now globally popular D&D podcast The Adventure Zone started with this intro book, though if you’ve listened you know it quickly and hilariously goes off the rails and into something even greater.
In its continued campaign of modernizing classic adventures and worlds this year, publisher Wizards of the Coast has released an updated 200-page version of this classic story. Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk takes that beginner adventure and spins it out into a much larger story, one that maintains all of the things that made the original great, with a darker and considerably more challenging adventure for players looking to play through to level 10.
Anyone who has played The Lost Mine of Phandelver will be extremely familiar with the first half of this book. It’s not exactly the same — Wizards of the Coast has made a number of small changes to characters in an effort to line up with modern gameplay styles and character creation. There’s also a ton of new art and maps, which do an incredible job of making this part of the story feel a great deal more complete. And like the original, these first four chapters can be played by just about anyone at any age with adult supervision.
Once you cross the threshold into Chapter 5, the tone of the adventure takes a turn. It doesn’t happen all at once. This very much feels like the same story, but it’s clear the difficulty has grown to match the newly powerful adventurers. Players are faced with new, more complicated puzzles and fewer guardrails when it comes to what gets explored and potential consequences for rushing from objective to objective. Once you reach Chapter 6, however, I’m a lot less inclined to call the story universally age-appropriate. The good news is you really can stop the story at Chapter 4 and not feel like younger audiences have missed out on anything. The better news is older audiences are in for a spectacular ride as the story continues.
An important thing to know about the back half of this adventure is the survival of the players and a happy ending is not a guarantee. Each chapter does a great job of giving the DM suggested points for players to return to town for rest and resupply, but even if the party takes all of those suggestions, it’s possible to fail. There are potential next steps if the players want to continue, but the way this story accounts for failure is a welcome departure from the “standard” D&D endgame experience.
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There’s so much to like about The Shattered Obelisk as a whole. It continues the great work Wizards of the Coast has been doing in modernizing D&D classics, while setting the stage for a story that will entertain, challenge and possibly even horrify players of any skill level. The D&D team have taken what is now a classic adventure book that many saw as their first adventure, and turned it into something every DM should have on their shelf, if only as inspiration for creating stories with enjoyable and lasting challenges.