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D&D 5E Justin Alexander's review of Shattered Obelisk is pretty scathing

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'He really laid into this thing, thought it was interesting, some particular highlights.

Again, this makes sense. Obviously you’d want to foreshadow the new adventure and link it to the existing material so that the whole campaign would feel like a cohesive whole! And there a bunch of obvious ways you could do that:

  • The titular shattered obelisk is a Netherese artifact. The original adventure includes a Netherese archaeological expedition, so you could plant links there.
  • The titular lost mine of Phandelver includes the Forge of Spells, a site where dwarves once studied arcane secrets. Maybe they studied the Netherese obelisks!
  • There’s a nothic in the Redbrands hideout, a type of creature with specific ties to the Far Realms, Vecna, and the mind flayers in this adventure. We could link him to the mind flayers, perhaps as an advanced scout in the region?
  • The Spider, who is the main mastermind villain of Lost Mine of Phandelver, seeks the Forge of Spells. Maybe he could also be looking for pieces of the shattered obelisk, allowing us to plant lore in his lair.
  • We could actually just put an obelisk fragment in the Phandelver mine itself! Finding this fragment alerts the mind flayers to the presence of a shattered obelisk in the Phandalin region, triggering the next phase of the campaign!
But the designers do none of these things. Instead, they “foreshadow” the mind flayer plot by randomly pasting psionic goblins into various encounters. These psionic goblins do things that are best described as LOL-so-random-LOL, and it’s difficult to really convey just how dumb this is. Here’s the first reference to them, which comes from questioning the Cragmaw goblins from the first encounter:

Strange Goblins. Recently, strange goblins have sometimes joined the Cragmaws in their road-ambushes, though not today. These strange goblins have elongated skulls, and glowing green energy surrounds their weapons when they attack. The Cragmaw goblins don’t know who these newcomers are; the new goblins simply cackle and leave after each attack.
None of this makes any sense. Why would you allow random people to join your ambush? More importantly, why are the psionic goblins doing this? It’s not just the Cragmaw goblins who don’t know. The designers don’t either.
Most of The Shattered Obelisk is built around dungeons. And these dungeons are filled with the most amateurish design mistakes:

  • Multiple NPCs with no viable route to get where they’re located.
  • A hydra in a crypt that’s been sealed for centuries. (What does it eat?)
  • A barricade (Z7) that stops goblins from going to the lower level of the dungeon… but the dungeon key makes no sense if the goblins can’t/don’t go down there.
  • Maps that don’t match the text, and vice versa. (For example, room keys like X8 that list doors that don’t exist.)
And then you get to the point where Wizards of the Coast forgets how to key a dungeon.

On page 98, midway through Zorzula’s Rest, the PCs enter a new level of the dungeon and… The map is no longer numbered. The description of the dungeon bizarrely shifts from keyed entries to rambling paragraphs describing various unnumbered rooms.

In Whither the Dungeon? I talked about the fact that the Dungeon Master’s Guide no longer teachers new DMs how to key or run dungeons. (It doesn’t even include an example of a keyed dungeon map.) And I talked about how this has had, for example, an impact on adventures published through the DMs Guild, with an increasing number featuring dungeons with no maps or maps with no key.

It’s a disturbing trend that bodes ill for the health of the hobby.

But seeing it in an official module published by Wizards of the Coast was truly a surreal moment.

And, unfortunately, one that is repeated later in the book.

This poor design is, of course, not limited to the dungeons. I’ve already talked about the NPCs with nigh-incoherent backstories and incomprehensible motivations. To this you can add innumerable continuity errors and timelines that contradict each other, to the point where the adventure can’t stand up to even the most casual thought without collapsing like a waterlogged house of cards.
Giving a final rating to Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk is actually a little tricky.

On the one hand, Lost Mine of Phandelver is a good adventure and although it’s been needlessly degraded here, this is nevertheless the only place where it can be found in print today.

On the other hand, literally everything original to The Shattered Obelisk is terrible. Someone asked me if it would be worth picking up as a resource for trying to make a better campaign, and my conclusion was that it would actually have negative value compared to just reading the basic pitch and designing your own campaign with the same concept.

Ultimately, I think The Shattered Obelisk is a travesty and I’m going to give it the grade that it deserves. But I will offer the caveat that if it’s the only way you can get access to Lost Mine of Phandelver, you might still want to consider it (if you can find it at a substantial discount).
Grade: F
Whats your thoughts on it?
i was suprised wotc dropped the ball this hard apparently.

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New Publisher
I had a similar taste in my mouth when I read it, but haven't gone back to it yet because I was so disappointed.... to see if my first read is correct. Awful sentence, but you get the idea.

I thought the lack of much foreshadowing was brutal. Not using the magic item everyone searched for and fought over for five levels? Awful. The far realm was just dungeons with flesh, which really wasn't far realmsy for me. I could go on....


Don't have it or plan on getting it, but do you know who the designers/authors are credited as?

I've been wondering whether these sorts of issues are related to communication management across a large design team or something else.


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Disappointing. I haven’t gotten the book for myself yet because it’s on my Christmas list, but I do plan on getting it if someone else doesn’t, in part because I find the premise interesting, and in part because I want to take all the adventures set in Phandelver and build a sandbox campaign out of them. So I may end up doing the “remix” Justin doesn’t think is worth it.

I’ve considered blogging my progress combining Lost Mine, Icespire Peak, and Shattered Obelisk anyway (and maybe the Icespire Peak sequels? Depends on if they can fit nicely without giving the campaign an identity crisis). So, maybe breaking down and rebuilding Shattered Obelisk can be a part of that. Would anyone here be interested in reading such a thing?

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