Keys From The Golden Vault Impressions

This is my first impressions given of an official D&D release since the controversy around Wizards prospective new Open Game License. In the time between the launch of Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen and this book, The official D&D team had their OGL leaked, criticized, poorly revised, then seemingly gone back on. In less than a month, Dungeons & Dragons went from being lauded by long term and new fans alike, to being nearly abandoned by both. Despite Wizards of the Coast’s 180 degree turn on what was going to be a creator unfriendly OGL 1.1, fans and creators are still wary about D&D as a brand.

It’s this new climate that Keys From The Golden Vault is being released in. A collection of heist based adventures written and designed by a large team of freelance designers, likely put into production almost a year before the new OGL fiasco, KFTGV has a lot going against it.

So how is the actual book? Putting aside everything that’s happened and the state of D&D as a company, how does this anthology of adventures stack up against previous iterations on this format? Is Keys From The Golden Vault worth saying “You son of a b*tch, I’m in!”, or should this vault stay locked up?

A Golden Vault of Adventure

The titular ‘Golden Vault’ is an ancient organization of good-aligned metallic dragons who want to steer the course of mortal affairs away from chaos and destruction and towards prosperity. Their creed is “Do good, by any means necessary”, meaning their modus operandi is usually theft, subterfuge, and crime in order to create a positive effect in the world.

The Golden Vault acts as a semi-anonymous patron to goodly thieves guilds, crews of adventurers, and other roguish types with hearts of gold. They send out golden keys to these groups, along with mission briefings. These missions often involve stealing artifacts or other precious goods currently in the hands of those who’d use them for evil, or to put them back in the hands of their rightful owners. 

This gives the thirteen high stakes heist adventures with setups that feel like they’re out of Mission Impossible or The A-Team moreso than Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job. The Golden Vault hires all kinds of adventurers to make up the crew of a heist, not just roguish types or thieves.

To support this framing device, KFTGV introduces two elements: a human contact named Meera Raheer is introduced as an NPC who acts as the party’s ‘handler’ on behalf of the Golden Vault. The daughter of civil servants who framed for embezzlement by a corrupt mayor, she’s a lawful good agent of the Golden Vault who stands against the corruption of powerful systems.

The other is a rival heist crew with motivations of their own for taking on the same jobs as the PC’s. These rival NPC’s feel thematically similar to the rival adventuring party from Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep; they’re good and decent people acting in their own self interests, but said interests put them in conflict with the PC’s. This keeps them as friendly antagonists to be one-upped, rather than villains to be vanquished, which seems to fit the themes of the adventure really well.

I think these framing devices that tie all the adventures together as a campaign are nice, but because they’re so brief and they lack a lot of mechanical support, they feel more like an afterthought, making KVTGV much more a collection of varied adventures than something to be used as a whole campaign.

What About Them Heists?

So how are the actual heists? After reading through the book a couple of times, I’m happy to say they’re pretty excellent.

All of them are short, tense little affairs with no shortage of action and drama. They support a variety of playstyles, with almost all of them being able to be overcome and pulled off using charisma and guile rather than stealth or brute force.

A party of bards or a party of wizards would have just an easy time engaging with the adventure as a party of rogues would, which is pretty cool.

The heist premises include some of the following creative setups:

  • Stealing an eldritch being’s egg that’s mistakenly been put in a museum as an artifact before it hatches.
  • Stealing from an infernal-themed casino in order to strike back against Devils.
  • Breaking into a prison to retrieve a key from a prisoner.
  • Steal back a cursed painting that was recently stolen by a thieves’ guild.
  • Perform a train robbery on a planar prison train bound for Mechanus, recovering a list of demons’ true names from one of the prisoners.
  • Steal the Book Of Vile Darkness from an efreeti’s stronghold before it can be put to nefarious use.

All of these heists are time sensitive, but involve enough time beforehand for players to stake out locations, make plans, and then put those plans into action. Roughly drawn location maps are included with each adventure, so players are almost never going in blind to a heist.

This means a lot of the adventure is creating a plan, then trying to pull off that plan while random or unexpected complications are introduced. It’s a kind of adventuring we haven’t quite seen in D&D 5e so far, and I like it a lot.

Each of the heists is really unique and varied, with enough lore and storytelling to make each of them an incredible one-shot adventure.

A Gilded Look and Feel

Mike Schley and Francesca Baerald return as the cartographers of this adventure. Each heist contains two full color maps: one player use one, and one more detailed DM use one. The player maps are all charmingly crafted things with scribbles and notes in them, looking and feeling either like maps drawn from memory, or annotated blueprints. The DM maps are the full color, grid-based battle maps we’ve come to expect from these two cartographers: perfectly detailed and legible.

KFTGV also makes use of some incredible interior illustrations that will no doubt go on to become key art and promotional art for other D&D products and projects. There’s a lot of incredible character art in this book, and it’s worth flipping through to gain inspiration.

This release also included something new for reviewers like myself; an early promotional code for the D&D Beyond version of the adventure, something I’d never gotten to preview before.

I normally like to think of myself as someone who prefers the physical releases of D&D books, as I’m a big fan of book design and adventure layouts. Having used and gone over the D&D Beyond version, I am pleasantly surprised at how good it looks.

While the organization and quick links throughout make running the adventure online a breeze, I was surprised by how well the adventure’s art assets are incorporated into the digital release. If you get the D&D Beyond version, you definitely do not miss out on anything compared to the physical book.

Final Thoughts

Keys From The Golden Vault is a surprisingly good release from D&D, and ended up being much more interesting and novel than I had originally anticipated. The collected adventures and heists are all incredible showings in their own right, but they make for a wonderful collection.

While creative DM’s will no doubt be able to easily incorporate these setting agnostic adventures into their own campaigns, I am a little disappointed that there wasn’t more done within the pages of the book to thread these varied heists together into a cohesive campaign. With just a bit more worldbuilding and a few more NPCs, I feel like KFTGV could easily have been a slam dunk recommendation as a roguish campaign of thievery.

Instead, it’s just a really solid, and very recommendable, collection of individual adventures. I wholeheartedly recommend you check it out, especially on D&D Beyond.

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