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Sneak Peak of Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk

Phandelver is back with a new Lovecraftian-inspired adventure, Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk

The Lost Mines of Phandelver has become one of the most popular D&D adventures ever. First appearing in the D&D Starter Set, during COVID lockdown Wizards made the adventure a free download on D&D Beyond. Now, that classic adventure is the starting point for a full hardcover adventure called Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk.

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The PaB:TSO campaign is designed for players level 1-12, and starts with TLMoP, but the new book reworks TLMoP somewhat. New art is added, such as Agatha, and a map for the goblin ambush. Some plot hooks are streamlined and others are added to draw players into the larger mystery. A few original NPCs have also been reworked, with some switching gender or races.

The shattered obelisk mentioned in the book's title is one of several Netherese obelisks mentioned at various times throughout D&D's history. In PaB:TSO the obelisk's “weird, nefarious magic” is being co-opted by a group of villains.

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One of the many reasons for the popularity of TLMoP is that it's a relatively family friendly adventure, and the violence in it can be eased when running it for younger players. PaB:TSO is designed as a slow-burn cosmic horror adventure that starts in the charming town of Phandelin and then gradually draws the players into the horror rising from below. To navigate between family friendly and cosmic horror PaB:TSO has a sliding scale for the horror, and DMs have an optional subsystem they can use to adjust the level of corruption a ritual causes.

DMs are also given options as to how to handle PaB:TSO if the group has already played TLMoP. Players could continue their original characters and get a refresher to then start with the new material or could start over with new characters in the reworked original adventure. There's a distinct end point to the old material and starting point for the new material to allow DMs to handle it however they want.

“I think everybody's answer is going to be different mand there may be some groups who actually want to do it both ways, so it's important to read over that introduction because it does break down and spell out, this is specifically what we've done, this is what's different, and then here's what the new stuff is,” said Amanda Hamon, lead designer for PaB:TSO.

A lot of guidance is also provided in regard to backgrounds you can take specifically for this adventure, and how they'll be relevant throughout the adventure. However, taking a feat or a specific feat is not necessary at all.

PaB:TSO also includes advice on how to dial back and adjust the horror for your group's play style, which could be handy because the last chapter is not family friendly as written and would need to be adjusted for a family campaign. Another option would be to just run the first three chapters for kids and save the rest for the adults.

It's definitely a “read it before you run it” campaign, said Hamon. A session zero is also recommended.
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The art for the new, higher levels of the campaign definitely indicates horror and becomes more grim as the adventure moves along. Art director for PaB:TSO Bree Heiss said that one creature, the Encephalon, has been nicknamed “brain spewing baby monster.” The art, by Hinchel Or, for that creature certainly looks like it could set off someone with trypophobia.

But it's not all grim and gross. Art early in the book establishes Phandalin as a cozy town players will want to save. The NPC artwork I saw from Robson Michel and Couple of Kooks was great.
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Also on the less grim side is a gnome archaeologist the players will run into at a certain point. In the game his official name is Rivibiddel, but the designers tended to call him “Indiana Gnome.”

Hamon and Heiss referred to themselves as “Team Weird” and their enthusiasm for horror, strange, unworldly creatures, and especially cosmic horror came through during the press event. Hamon added that PaB:TSO “may be the strangest adventure we [the D&D team] has ever done.”
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Other examples of some of the “gross” creatures “Team Weird” made for PaB:TSO are the Oculorb, a creature made of eyes (and artist Brian Velenzuela had each eye show a different emotion), and a cloaker mutate that has a dwarven skull fused to it. The latter is getting a mini and is an example of how they reworked some already established monsters. Another mutate is the FleshMeld, and that name alone explains why you don't want to meet one in a dark dungeon.

Why revisit Phandelver? “There was a strong desire from a lot of folks in the studio to preserve The Lost Mine of Plandelver in a hardcover book because it was just in a booklet in the Starter Set,” said Amanda. “It's not quite the same as having a hardcover book on the shelf for perpetuity. We wanted to preserve, and quite frankly, update, that adventure to have that longevity and staying power.”

Hamon added that in expanding TLMoP into a full campaign, they also wanted to take the plot to places no one would expect. While they're giving out some hints in the press preview and art, they were also very careful to avoid key points to keep the players on their toes while moving from the earlier content to the brand new stuff so players have the surprise of the unknown.

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The alternative cover, available through game and hobby stores, actually provides some hints. Both Hamon and Heiss said if you look closely and “Where's Waldo?” the alt cover by DZO you can find creatures and clues to the adventure. That cover's metallic inks also convey a sort of otherworldly green that both women said was a recurring theme in the adventure. The alternate cover and its shade of almost slimy green was inspired by a lot of vintage horror novel covers.

TLMoP had a lot of language geared toward beginning players and even beginner DMs to get them used to how things work in D&D. PaB:TSO does not have that language because it's a successor to The Starter Set. Instead, PaB:TSO is designed to be a the perfect second adventure for people becoming comfortable or already comfortable with D&D.

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Also contains:
  • A bestiary with more than 20 new creatures featuring psionic magic, mutates, and more
  • New consumable metamagic items and duergar magic
  • A double-sided poster map with the Phandalin region on one side and the town of Phandalin plus multiple dungeons on the other
Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk is available in stores on September 19. Pre-orders of the digital copy through D&D Beyond, by itself or as part of the combo, will receive digital access on September 5.

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Also on the less grim side is a gnome archaeologist the players will run into at a certain point. In the game his official name is Rivibiddel, but the designers tended to call him “Indiana Gnome.”
Please god tell me he doesn't actually act/talk like Indiana Jones, and it's just that the designers have no reference points for archaeologists except Jones. Bad Indiana Jones rip-offs are absolute menace to the tone of RPGs, both TT and videogame. World of Warcraft, for example basically wrecked an entire zone, for example, on their obsession with "Harrison Jones", a cheap Indiana Jones rip-off. That said I'm pretty sure a sizeable pile of cocaine was snorted by the designers of that zone, and I doubt that's going on at WotC.

The art is definitely on the good side, at least.


A couple thoughts:

1. This is, i think, the first 5E campaign adventure focused on cosmic horror, correct? I know abominations featured heavily in out of the Abyss, the bad guys were actually demons in that one.

2. While i think it is good for WotC to support family friendly adventures since lots of us oldies now have kids of our own, but I think there should be separate lines. That said, maybe the sliding scale will work better than i imagine it will.

3. My guess is that the Vecna adventure will be for level 12+ and will intend to follow any of the 1-12 adventures, but especially those in which obelisks featured.

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