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D&D General WotC Reveals New Information and Covers for 'Keys from the Golden Vault'

Due in just a few weeks, Keys from the Golden Vault has receoved little fanfare so far. However, a cover and descrioption has appeared on the Wizards Play Network site. Wizards Play Network (WPN) is a network of WotC-approved stores. An anthology of 13 heist-themed adventures for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.   Some jobs require more than simply wielding a sword or slinging a...

Due in just a few weeks, Keys from the Golden Vault has receoved little fanfare so far. However, a cover and descrioption has appeared on the Wizards Play Network site. Wizards Play Network (WPN) is a network of WotC-approved stores.


An anthology of 13 heist-themed adventures for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

Some jobs require more than simply wielding a sword or slinging a spell. Whether it’s procuring a well-guarded item or obtaining crucial information from an imprisoned contact, these tasks require careful planning and flawless execution. The secretive organization called the Golden Vault specializes in hiring crews for such jobs, and for the most daunting assignments—pursuing fabulous treasures and stopping dire threats—that crew is your characters.
Keys from the Golden Vault™ is a collection of 13 short, standalone Dungeons & Dragons adventures designed for characters levels 1–11. These adventures can be placed in any setting and you can run them as one-shot games or link them together into a campaign. This book also includes in-world maps to help players plan their heists, plus advice for running nontraditional games with high risks and huge rewards.

  • Book of 13 stand-alone adventures spanning levels 1–11, each focused on a single heist
  • Adventures can be set in any D&D or homebrew world and can be played individually or as part of a full campaign
  • Introduces the Golden Vault—a mysterious organization for which the player characters can work as heist operatives
  • Each adventure includes a map to guide Dungeon Masters and a map to help players plan their heists
  • Adventures emphasize player choice with each heist having multiple paths toward success
  • Includes advice and detailed information for Dungeon Masters running nontraditional adventures with high risks and huge rewards

There's also an alternate cover.


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I am an experienced DM and I noticed right away.

More generally, though, I see this idea a lot and I always marvel at what a gift this attitude is for D&D designers. Your best customers expect that you will produce mediocre work that they will need to improve.
I likened it once to buying a new car and getting a truckload of parts for you to put together yourself while the dealership tells you everyone approaches driving differently so they’re giving you the freedom to assemble the car the way you like it.

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Anyways, the physics on the rope is all wrong. Whoever that is higher up on the rope they're about to lose their left shoulder when the "gnome's" rope goes taut.
No they're each using their own rope. Look closely at the beam the ropes are tied to.


To be fair, these are not just issues for D&D designers. They existing to more or lesser degrees in all published adventures for all systems by all companies. I here people go on and on about Paizo adventures, but they just seem like a hot mess to me. But I pretty much hold that opinion of all adventures!
I agree, but feel what you said just reinforces my point.

Writing adventures is hard, harder than designing a game, IMO. It requires a different set of skills than game design. But there's no other game in TRPG history that has produced more published adventures than D&D, either first- or third-party. There are so many examples of what works and what doesn't to study and refine. It shouldn't be controversial to expect that the people hired to be official D&D designers have studied those examples and come to an understanding of what makes a good adventure, both at the micro-level of an individual encounter and the macro-level of the scenario's entire structure.

A "good adventure" or a "good encounter" shouldn't only mean that it has some sort of clever, thematic resonance or that it presents an interesting NPC. That's the sort of feedback you'd give to a novelist or a screenwriter. Published TRPG scenarios are examples of game design. You should be able to look at them and praise them for how they use the rules of the game to produce fun at the table. TRPGs are a peculiar type of game, of course, and they should have themes and interesting NPCs. But if no one can provide examples of how your game design made your adventure fun - your use of the rules that you're supposedly an expert in - that's weird. If the audience isn't going to demand that D&D designers create fun play by using the rules, rather than in spite of them, then why are we even calling them "game designers"?


No they're each using their own rope. Look closely at the beam the ropes are tied to.
Yes, I see they have seperate ropes. His is slack. When he hits the end of his drop and/or the arc of his swing and the rope goes taut, it's going to arc right through "Lidda's" shoulder (and maybe rip off his own hand). Notice the rope is behind her at the top, and he's in front of her at the bottom.


But if no one can provide examples of how your game design made your adventure fun - your use of the rules that you're supposedly an expert in - that's weird. If the audience isn't going to demand that D&D designers create fun play by using the rules, rather than in spite of them, then why are we even calling them "game designers"?
I'm gonna quote myself and refer specifically to my running example from Radiant Citadel to add more nuance to this.

Once the actual flying carpet chase is underway, the rest of this section of the scenario has some game design stuff in it. It puts limits on how often either participant can Dash before making Constitution checks. This part is a little weird because it's talking about characters who are flying without using a carpet of flying somehow. If someone has a carpet of flying, they can't Dash at all. So the escaping wizards can't Dash since they're on a carpet. Is it likely that at least a few of the PCs are on the extra carpet of flying? Pretty likely. So, generously, if half the party can fly without the carpet, they're subject to these Dash rules. Maybe that's good because two PCs can Dash to catch up to the carpet faster than the others. But then you've split the party, now it's 2-on-2 and the wizards the party's chasing have fireball. There are also a brief paragraph about targeting spells and attacks.

Is this game design? Yes. But it's also lifted straight from the DMG's chase rules, so it's not Justice Arman's game design. Why is WotC wasting space republishing the DMG's chase rules in this compressed format when you're already short-handing references to monsters, spells, and magic items? Was there a word count issue?

There is a table of chase complications. You roll 1d10 and on a 1-6, there's a complication. Four of the six complications are reskinned versions of the same mechanism from the DMG's Urban Chase Complications table. The form is generally "make a DC 15 skill check or ten feet of your movement is considered difficult terrain". Two of the encounter's complications call for saving throws rather than skill checks. The design principles of the DMG's Complications table suggests that difficult terrain is the penalty for failing a skill check. The penalty for failing a saving throw is a condition.

One of Arman's conditions is a variation on a standard DMG Complication: make a DC 10 saving throw or fall prone. In the Radiant Citadel version, it's been tweaked to read:

"A taught line of tenants stretches across your path. You must succeed at a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw, or you fall 2d4x5 feet, taking 1d6 bludgeoning damage per 10 feet fallen and landing prone. If you are using a carpet of flying, any character on the same conveyance must make the same saving throw."

The original version of this complication in the DMG only affects one person. This could potentially affect the entire party. There are four classes that are proficient with Dex saving throws: bards, monks, rangers, and rogues. For everyone else, a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw could mean a 45% chance of getting knocked off the carpet. Dexterity's not often a dump stat for any class, so maybe the odds are a little better. But anyone who fails that roll is potentially out of the scene. Can I say that for sure? Not exactly, because I don't know for sure what size of carpet is being used by the escaping wizards. If it's the one that moves at 60ft./round, then it's pretty unlikely that a character can continue the chase on foot with their 30ft./round.

Did the designer intend to introduce a complication that could remove more than one PC from the chase with a some bad rolls? There's section called "Ending the Chase" that tells the DM to make Stealth checks for the wizards if they end a turn ahead of the party and out of sight. Are there any design elements in this encounter to model if and when the wizards might be out of sight during a given round? Nope. Admittedly, these are the standard DMG rules for ending a chase. Incidentally, Mages aren't proficient in Stealth, so they've got to rely on their +2 Dex modifier and beat the highest Passive Perception score of any PC in pursuit. It would be great if the wizards had some way of getting advantage on those escape rolls, wouldn't it?

It turns out that there is! The DMG's chase rules have a section called "Ending The Chase" that includes Escape Factors that might give the wizards advantage (or disadvantage). Why has this part of the DMG's standard rules not been reprinted in Radiant Citadel?! Everything else basically has been! It's baffling. They've reprinted the DMG chase rules presumably so that the DM doesn't have to flip to the DMG itself, but then omitted some key modifiers that can make the difference between winning and losing the chase. This one's probably on the editors, or Crawford or Perkins, but it all contributes to the pile.

The other custom complication in this Radiant Citadel encounter requires that a person make a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or be blinded for a round. In addition, the PC must roll on the complications table again and suffer the result unless they decide not to move for a round. Note that there's a specific, custom rule for this Radiant Citadel chase, stating that if a complication could affect multiple characters and those characters are all on a carpet of flying, it's the carpet's pilot who is affected. (EDIT: Presumably, this is Arman's design.) So this pilot must make a DC 16 Constitution saving throw. That's much harder, especially for a character that's not proficient in Con saves. Now, the pilot can avoid the extra complication penalty by not moving during their turn. Does that mean the whole carpet can't move? Again, that could doom the party's chances of winning the chase depending on how many of them are on the carpet. Plus, the blinded condition says that a character automatically fails any skill check that requires sight, like the ones needed in a chase.

Note, too, that the standard Urban Chase Complication table in the DMG has a 50% chance of generating a complication. You roll a d20 and a complication comes up on a 1-10. In the modified Radiant Citadel complication table, there's a 60% chance, since you roll 1d10 and have a complication on a 1-6. Two of those six complications are the potential chase-enders with the saving throws. So this chase will have more complications on average than a typical chase run with the DMG's rules. That might be a sensible design choice, but I'm leery. Two of the custom complications are harsher than the ones that the DMG can create and they're going to happen more often on average.

Is Justice Arman's Radiant Citadel complication table designed with intention and purpose? Does it produce fun and interesting play and is that a result of his efforts? It's hard to say! Most of the complications are straight out of the DMG. A couple have a small twist, and that could be Arman's hand. But the tweaks create a little more risk that a player might make a bad roll and have to sit out the rest of the chase. It doesn't strike me as a fun play pattern. I suppose that could be the outcome of other chase systems in other games, but that echoes something I said earlier. Just because other games' chase systems have potentially unfun features doesn't mean that you can get away with using them in your design.

Does Arman sort of want the wizards to get away? Maybe. The way the scenario's designed, the PCs can fail the chase, but discover where the wizards went by asking if anyone saw a flying carpet and making a DC 12 Persuasion check. So there's no real cost to losing the chase, so maybe the design itself doesn't matter as much? Throw in the standard DMG rules, tweak a couple of complications to feed your creative soul, and move on?

All of this comes on top of the other flaws in this encounter I identified earlier. These little impressions start to add up. Where is Justice Arman's skill as a game designer in this encounter? Maybe Jeremy Crawford forced him to use the DMG chase rules (as he should, but why waste the word count republishing them, and republishing them incompletely?) and the only opportunity to put his own game design spin on it came in the custom complications. In the two custom complications that seem to have the most visible fingerprints, the changes make it more likely that a player might drop out of the chase. Is that fun? I don't think people would describe it as "fun," but they might say that not every PC needs to be involved in every encounter. It happens in D&D. But after a fight, a chase is one of the most exciting sorts of encounters in a D&D game. It's not great that the designer's tweaks shift the balance away from all players participating.

In the hands of a designer I have more confidence in, I can see past this sort of thing. But this entire encounter's a bit of a wreck, top to bottom. Once I lose a little of that confidence, it's hard to get it back. Some of the possible missteps, like the modifications to the complications, are closer to judgment calls. But the stuff about the different speeds of carpets of flying, the environment when the chase starts, ignoring the spells available to the expert wizards performing this theft, those are more basic mistakes. If the designer can't get the basic stuff right, I can't help but withhold the benefit of the doubt for the judgment calls.

EDIT: It occurred to me later that the custom chase complication with the chance to blind a participant is a good example of mistaking "thematic" design for good game design. The flavor text for this complication says that "spices from an overturned table fill the air." So that's what's going to potentially blind a character that triggers this complication. Thematically, that makes sense. Blinding cloud of spice gets in your eyes? You might be blinded. But this isn't "blinded", it's blinded, just like it's not a "flying carpet", but a carpet of flying. If the pilot of the carpet of flying suffers from the blinded condition and the DM's trying to use the game's rules, then the pilot's decision is really "Should I risk the chance that I might have to make a skill check that requires sight - like following the escaping wizards - and automatically fail that skill check, or should I stop this carpet for a round and put everyone who's on it further behind in the chase?" The difference between "blinded" and blinded has a real impact on what that pilot player's going to do. It's a crappy decision to have to make if you're the player. How often will this happen in play? It might not happen at all. But the potential is there in the design. Did the designer intend for that potential to be there? Maybe Arman thought the probability of the worst outcome was pretty low and that the overall design of the chase is better if this trickier complication is included. That's a judgment call, too.
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I am an experienced DM and I noticed right away.
An experienced DM adapts the content to the group. It's not something my players would notice or consider significant. It's like the juvenile horizonback tortoises in CotN having a different creature type to the adults. I noticed it, but also noticed it didn't matter to the player's experience.

Movies are often full of stuff that makes no sense if you think it through. There are some people for whom that will spoil their experience of the movie, but the majority of viewers just suspend disbelief and enjoy it.

Really, the whole of any D&D campaign setting makes no sense if you think about the implications of the existence of magic. Why do cities have walls when it is easy to fly? Why lock anything up when someone can teleport and take it? Why steel something when they can track it down with locate object? Why is there medicine when there is healing magic? Why doesn't everyone live in Tiny Huts? Why farm when the cleric or druid can create food and drink?
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I agree, but feel what you said just reinforces my point.
I don't think my comment really reinforces your point, but your point is completely valid and I am sympathetic to it. However, I think it must be quite hard or unclear to a lot of adventure designers how to do it well. There doesn't seem to be a universal understanding on how to make a good adventure.

Again, I will go back to Paizo because the are typically hailed as being good at adventures. The first 3-4 APs for PF2 were often criticized for not being very good and in particular for not showcasing the strengths of the game design. If a company who's bread-and-butter is adventure design can't do what you want, well, I can only conclude it must be really hard?!

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