For many trying out Dungeons & Dragons for the first time with 5th edition, or coming from previous editions, chances are you started in the same place: Phandalin. The Lost Mines of Phandelver was for so long the 5e starting adventure, but now with our hands on Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk what are our thoughts on this new adventure?
Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk is a Level 1-12 adventure. The first five levels are an update to The Lost Mines of Phandelver, and the following seven levels of the experience are a new adventure continuing the party's relationship with the town of Phandalin as strange otherworldly effects start taking hold.
An Adventure Revisited
The story begins with a party of adventurers on their way to deliver supplies to the small town of Phandalin. A job so simple any level 1 adventurer would be able to take it on, that is until goblins attack and you learn that your friend - Gundren Rockseeker - has been kidnapped for his knowledge about a long-missing mine.
After the story kicks off, the players will find themselves in Phandalin, a small town that serves as the central hub for the players as they get to know the people, help out with local requests, and explore the surrounding areas.
Lost Mine of Phandelver has a simple but strong hook, launching players into the action with immediate combat that then opens up a larger driving goal for the party.
The significant changes that someone familiar with the original release will notice are more artwork and battle maps, and some NPC have been altered to create a world filled with more than just humans.
After 8 years of D&D 5e releasing a massive number of adventure and sourcebooks adding different creatures and races to 5th edition, it was a nice change to see a city so close to the hustle and bustle of the Sword Coast feel like a better representation of what is around it.
A major aspect of the original release that has been removed, is the beginner verbiage that was included in the Starter Kit adventure. New DMs won't find this version of The Lost Mines as helpful, explaining to the DM what rules they'd need to understand themselves or be able to explain to their players.
A New Quest For The Shattered Obelisk
After locating the Lost Mine of Phandelver, defeating those who wish to use its magic for ill will, and returning to Phandalin, the new content begins. This time goblins wielding unknown powers are ransacking Phandalin for shards of an Obelisk.
The adventure continues to focus on Phandalin and its surrounding areas, but as new dungeons are explored and leads are followed up on, the adventure shifts into creepier territory.
As the players learn more about the mysterious source of power that's seeking the shards of the Obelisk, that same power begins to take effect on the land and its residents. Mechanics are introduced that will dictate the state of Phandalin as it becomes more corrupt with otherworldly powers.
In the beginning, townspeople become lethargic or irritable, but as time goes on their shapes will begin to change. Growths appear on limbs, additional eyes might grow out of their heads, and hands turn to claws as this takes over.
For tables that are interested in playing around more with these body horror elements, there are also rules as to how the energy might affect each of the player's characters adding a sense of urgency to get to the bottom of the issue.
The stakes of The Shattered Obelisk Adventure do a good job of expanding to the grandeur of an adventure that will end at the 12th level but manages to also keep it intimate. It's less about the fate of the world (even though that's definitely on the plate), but instead, it's about Phandalin.
This adventure also has some of my favorite dungeon designs I've seen in published 5e content including a dungeon with rotating passageways, and more naturally shaped dungeons including one shaped like a brain.
The enemies that appear in Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk, especially in the back half of the adventure are a lot of fun to play with and to scare players with.
Mutates are introduced, a class of enemies that are aberrations of previously known monsters that a player might have encountered in the past. Humanoid creatures mutated will obtain abilities to deal with psychic nightmare blasts and will have webbed wings sprouting from their bodies.
The Psionic Goblin Brawlers and Commanders are also a great treat to throw into any campaign if you feel like the regular Goblins just aren't doing enough to challenge your party. A goblin is suddenly no longer the butt of the joke when they're dealing 4d6 psychic damage on a 30-foot radius sphere.
Who Is Phandelver and Below For?
Between the touched-up Lost Mines of Phandelver content, and the new Shattered Obelisk questline I find that the overall collection sits in a bit of a strange place between celebrating nostalgia and taking a step forward.
There's a sense of reverence for the changes that have been made to the Lost Mines of Phandelver. With more art, description, and development in the world it does feel like the Lost Mines of Phandelver is getting an update out of respect for how many 5e players got to experience it as their first adventure.
The removal of that beginner-oriented text however means that a new player wanting to get into Dungeons & Dragons without other experienced players they're likely going to want to continue using The Lost Mines of Phandelver, especially as it's free through D&DBeyond.
Phandelver and Below doesn't feel like it's for new players anymore, and the majority of this book isn't going to be for those who have already experienced Lost Mines of Phandelver before. Who this book will be for are those who have somehow missed out on playing one of the most played and widely available D&D 5th edition adventures but are already knowledgeable Dungeons & Dragons players.
What Is There For The Players?
Interestingly aside from a few new background origins, and rules for how otherworldly corruption could alter the very form of your players, there's nothing in Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk in terms of player options.
No new races or subclasses to do with these threats is a strange omission, but it may also be as OneD&D is ramping up for 2024 there's less of a desire to add new options for character creation that are going to immediately be contradicted/invalidated.
Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk Review | Final Thoughts
Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk manages to remind players why The Lost Mines of Phandelver is one of the best adventures for new players. With a healthy mix of combat, investigation, and getting lost in the small area Phandalin players get to experience a quintessential high fantasy adventure.
Each story beat also leans heavily into what you might expect when you're a new player. You'll encounter bandits, and combat dragons, before delving deep into dungeons.
Players who continue on through The Shattered Obelisk also get to face off against the idea of otherworldly threats that recent games and entertainment like Baldur's Gate 3 and Stranger Things have continued to bring to the public psyche.
Should I Buy Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk?
Here's where it gets weird. The Lost Mines of Phandelver has been out for so long and is so widely available, being actively promoted for new players, it's going to be hard to find people who have been playing D&D who don't already know what half of this book is about.
There is always an option to just start with the new content halfway through the game, though there's a chance you won't have those same connections with the NPC of the world.
If you're a DM who is looking to start with a new group that includes brand new players, and somehow no one has managed to play or read this adventure it's well worth this being your next adventure.
Alternatively, for someone who loved The Lost Mines of Phandelver and wants to own it in its most complete form, this is your book. It certainly has a "special edition" vibe about it in the same way you might get excited for the anniversary LP of an album you already own.
The copy of Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk used to produce this review was provided by the Publisher. All photos were taken by the reviewer over the course of the review.