Wizards of the Coast continues its steady stream of new Dungeons & Dragons content with the release of D&D 5e Keys From The Golden Vault, a brand new anthology of adventures. Centered around the central theme of heists, these adventures are perfect for players who like the idea of casing a joint and taking a mark for everything they own.
To get through some of the surface-level details, this book is filled with thirteen adventures, these range from Level 1 to Level 11. At Level 1, these adventures are pretty much what you'd expect: an important item in a museum needs liberation, a casino job too juicy to pass up, etc. Once you start reaching the higher levels you'll get assigned more complicated and varied jobs, like stealing a diamond from an Archmage of the Feywild. Each of these stories is loosely connected by The Golden Vault, an organization that specializes in putting together crews to heist rare and powerful items for good.
While The Golden Vault as an organization can work well as a patron company, each adventure works completely stand-alone, or always in an encapsulated enough location that they could be dropped just about anywhere in someone's active campaign. It's nice that even while producing more content Wizards of the Coast isn't just creating these massive year-long adventures, but creating more short-form content for DMs to include in their session or for a player to step up and give a forever DM a chance to play.
The adventures in The Keys From The Golden Vault don't just feature a variety of locations, but they also have a wide variety of subject matter. As previously stated stealing an item from a museum or a casino might be standard fare when you think of a heist, but there are also some far more 'epic' and magical adventures to go on. My personal favorite is the 8th-level adventure, Heart of Ashes, where a king's land has been cursed. His castle is broken yet floats menacingly, his people turned to ash monsters, and with only a few survivors left your party is tasked with infiltrating the tower and stealing the cursed king's heart to save the land. This adventure mixes reconnaissance, stealth, and a good mix of fantasy creatures to keep you looped into the magical world of D&D.
One of the things that these adventures do really well is the description of rooms and settings. Where anything could be used to your advantage it's clear that there's a focus on creating the most fully fleshed-out descriptions of the rooms. It might not be of great consequence to know how many bookshelves there are exactly in a room, but if a player thinks one might hold a secret to success in it then it's good to have. This not only helps visual players as rooms are described to them in greater detail but also DMs do not have to worry as much about the embellishments on descriptions that they might add.
Another nice touch is that with each location that players will be "casing" there's always an in-universe hand-drawn map. Provided to the players by the Golden Vault or by a helpful NPC that wants to see the players succeed it will give them a rough idea of a location, but is never the whole picture. For the Museum it might give you a floorplan and where each exhibit is, but the staff entrances and exits and any passages not open to the public won't be shown. It gives players the foundation of a plan but then can encourage them to perform further reconnaissance.
Part of the book that feels very underdeveloped is what happens if the party is caught or seen in places they shouldn't be. D&D is definitely not a game built for stealth, or at least not prolonged stealth. And as we look through each adventure, there are plenty of moments that have us thinking: as you're moving into rooms with set enemies that would be aggressive to the party, would combat not break out immediately? And if you're no longer stealthing through a castle trying to heist an item, but are moving from room to room wiping out all inhabitants, what makes it all that different from a regular D&D adventure?
DMs will have to come up with their own rules about guards giving the players chances, and how lenient they are on the party for low stealth rolls when someone decides the Barbarian was a good character to play. An alarm or notoriety tracker with different elements adding more danger with each misstep could have been a nice addition creating increased tension for the players that don't just immediately start a brawl.
Heist complications are touched on in Keys From The Golden Vault, but it's also an area of the book that feels underdeveloped. The two listed ideas are that the MacGuffin could be in one of the multiple locations and it's up to the party to discern what pattern it is that it moves between these locations. The other is that there's a rival crew who are also competing to obtain the same item. This could lead to a tense situation where you're both dueling for the object in question. The rival crew is certainly the more interesting option but would require the DM to plan a path and secretly see how well this other group is fairing in comparison to the main party. Each complication is fun, but again some more options to help guide the minds of DMs could be appreciated.
One thing that this book is sorely missing is character options. While it makes sense that there wouldn't be a relevant species to a heist this would be an excellent chance for new subclasses to be created with a focus on stealth or sleight of hand. The obvious inclusion would be a Rogue subclass, but there could definitely be other classes that might not fare well in a heist that could have gotten a boost to feel more at home in this setting.
What are our final thoughts on Keys From The Golden Vault?
As a new D&D anthology with a series of short form and well-described dungeons, this book is great for picking up and putting into any session, or for just having a casual one-shot. As a group of heists where players might want to do their best Danny Ocean impersonation and get in and out without being seen, it's not that kind of heist that they'll be able to partake in. Fundamentally I think the issue might not be with the lack of fleshed-out rules for a notoriety system, heist complications, or where the line is between a heist and a stealthy dungeon crawl but Dungeons & Dragons might not be the right system for a true 'Oceans' experience.
Should I Buy Keys From The Golden Vault?
If you're wanting a series of contained mini-dungeons for your game that you can drop in anywhere at any time, or want to make the players obtain their next key MacGuffin be more than just a dungeon crawl there's a lot here to help enhance a standard mini-dungeon. For that, I would recommend getting this book. If you're coming into this with the idea that you'll be having full-heist adventures akin to some of your favorites, then be careful not to let your idea of Dungeons & Dragons' stealth overtake reality.
The copy of Keys From The Golden Vault used to produce this review was provided by Wizards of the Coast