Review: Wizards of the Coast – Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk (Dungeons & Dragons)

Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk
Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk is an epic fantasy adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, written by Richard Baker, Eytan Bernstein, Makenzie De Armas, Amanda Hamon, Ron Lundeen, and Christopher Perkins and published by Wizards of the Coast.
By Dave Pierson

Learn more about Phandelver and Below here
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The Homebrew DM’s Perception

DISCLAIMER: The fanatics of Ilvaash can neither confirm nor deny whether they plot to incorporate this book’s owners into a might new illithid empire. Any transformations incurred, up to and including face tentacles, are strictly coincidental.

– Wizards of the Coast, Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk, 2023

My son recently turned 13 and instead of a lavish party, spending hundreds of our dollars on some facility, all he wanted was to hang out with a few friends for a sleepover. We got all the junk food and drinks he wanted and promised that his younger brother would NOT interfere. Then the topic of what they were going to do all night came up, as there was no plan for sleep, and I heard those sweet words “will you run a game of Dungeons and Dragons?” Now none of the guys coming over have ever played, so we planned out how we were going to teach them the basics, creating a PC, getting gear, that at the heart of the game is about having fun and creating a story together, etc. But then I needed to decide, what story should we create? Did I want to have them play in my homebrew sandbox, or should we start where so many over the last ten years have, Phandalin.

As part of the 2014 D&D Starter Set, the Lost Mine of Phandelver, was a level 1-5 adventure, set to introduce players to the world of Dungeons and Dragons. It wasn’t without its own problems, but it did introduce Dungeons and Dragons well.  Recently, after so many updates and addition to its 5th Edition, Wizards of the Coast recently released a new adventure, Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk. The adventure within is split into two halves: a return and reimagining of the beloved Lost Mine of Phandelver and a new plot against the people of Phandalin. By the end of the adventure, players could find themselves at 12 level, a large jump typically not seen in a self-contained adventure. For me, it was the perfect opportunity to return to Phandalin and review what’s new, what’s changed, what’s better, and what was still a miss.

The boys arrived promptly and after some food and cake, they were ready to dive into D&D. There was genuine excitement to give it a try as my son was talking it up to them at school and it just so happened that the announcement around the school’s D&D club also came out that week. Both my son and I took some time to lay out what D&D is and is not, setting some ground rules and then diving into character creation; a mini session zero. 75 minutes in and they were ready to begin. After introducing their characters and how they may have know each other (and 13 year old boys can come up with some creative names and backgrounds on the fly) they hit the road for Phandalin. For four hours that night, they traversed the country side, got into some skirmishes, picked some pockets, and by then end, laughing so loud they woke up the family.

I’m not going to dive into the adventure to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve played the original Lost Mine, you’ll find that there have been a few minor tweaks, but the overall story is still in one piece. Why mess with a story that was good for instructing new players? The meat of the changes comes from the addition of 4 more chapters that delve under the town of Phandalin with an evil and horror based story. What’s great is that if you didn’t want to continue the story after the original, you don’t have to, but you might want to continue on so you don’t miss out on new creatures that explore psionics and body augmentation. The book also includes new magic items and magic effects, as well as new encounter tables, player backgrounds, and adventure hooks. Overall, the addition of the new material only enhances the story even more and takes what was a good beginner adventure for learning to the next level of being great.

What excites me as a DM who loves homebrew settings and some feeling of freedom as I play, this new adventure can easily be drooped into a homebrewed setting, modified to fit your world, and still not lose flavor. Phandalin can be a generic location anywhere, on any plane, and as a DM it’s a great introduction to playing the game. Sure, there’s story to follow, some flavor text to read, however, if your players digress and pivot to something new, you can always come back for a visit, just some things may have changed and moved on. Overall, if your short on ideas on how to start a campaign, and you know the folks at your table haven’t played this adventure before, you could easily make this the central theme of your campaign to help get your and the players’ feet wet in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. There’s plenty to do, plenty of thematic elements to keep the story interesting; the investment into this adventure will pay dividends for years to come.

…And oh yeah, the boys? They enjoyed it so much, they are now running their own campaign, once a week after school in their D&D Club. #HookedonD&D

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