For myself and many others, Wizards’ last D&D release was a bit of a dud. Well, it’s a new month and that means they have a new product in which they can try to redeem themselves. This time around, we are given an adventure book; Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk. If the name Phandelver sounds familiar, there’s a reason. It’s goes back to the original D&D 5E Starter Set. You may remember that boxed introduction to 5E included an adventure called The Lost Mine of Phandelver. And as far as starter adventures go, The Lost Mine of Phandelver was a hit. Not only was it an excellent introductory adventure for both players and DMs, but most of the community agrees that it is just a fantastic adventure overall.
A few months ago, when Wizards’ previewed their upcoming release schedule, many people (myself included) had questions about the cryptic “Phandelver campaign” that appeared on the list of upcoming products. Was it a new adventure that simply took place in and around the now familiar area of the Phandelver Mine? Was it a re-release of the now out-of-print starter adventure? WotC wouldn’t provide any details at the time. We simply had to wait and see. Well, the time has come and we finally have our answer. Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk is both a re-release and expansion of the starter adventure. All of the content from the original module is present, only this time it has been refined, rebalanced, and includes more background information. On top of that, the adventure also contains additional chapters that expand on the original story.
If you’re curious just how much new content has been added, let’s put it this way; the original adventure was designed to take characters from level 1 to level 5. This new version will take players all the way up to level 12!
One obvious question that some players are going to have is, “What if I played the original adventure back in the day but want to do something with this new content?” Well, that’s certainly an option. But it might take just a little bit of work on the DM’s part. The new content certainly links in with the chapters that come before it. But it also isn’t explicitly tied to everything that happened in the first part of the story. A clever DM should be able to seperate the two sections if they chose to do so.
After reviewing the contents of the book for myself, I have to say that I think many of the tweaks and adjustments made to the original adventure are a mixed bag. A handful of the encounters have been modified to be “more balanced”. But to me, many of the changes just seem pointless. For example, in the original module, a certain location was populated with orcs. This time around, the orcs have been replaced with another type of monster. The change seems pointless. Also, several characters have had their genders, races, and ages changed. No good reason is given for the changes, so I have to assume that it has been done simply for the sake of diversity. I try not to harp on this in my reviews, but this is something that has really become a trend in WotC’s latest releases.
In fact, “woke mentality” has become so prevalent in these new products that it is starting to affect the basic elements of gameplay. Not long ago, the fantasy races of D&D lost their racial stat modifiers. Now, this new product comes with a “consent warning” at the very beginning of the book:
*Player Consent is Required
Before you use the character transformation rules presented in this section, check with each player to determine if they are open to their character experiencing physically transformative effects. A player will not miss game benefits if they choose not to use these rules for their character.*
The passage above refers to a part of the adventure where the player characters may potentially become transformed into beings of another race. This change is done as a big part of the adventure’s plot. And personally, I think it’s an amazing part of the story. Requiring consent for something of this nature makes absolutely zero sense to me. D&D is a FANTASY game. The characters that players control are FICTIONAL. What is the purpose of asking for consent? What’s next? Will DMs need to require consent to kill a character if their hit points are reduced to zero during combat? I know that in today’s world people have mental and emotional triggers. But, call me old fashioned. If the thought of something being discussed in a make-believe game could shatter your mental state – then perhaps you don’t need to be playing a game like Dungeons & Dragons… But, enough about that. It’s not my intention to turn this into a rant.
All in all, I find this book to be a solid release (even with all my gripes). The Lost Mine of Phandelver is a universally heralded module and it’s also one that was out of print. The release of this book not only brings that adventure back into the hands of DMs. But it also does so with additional content. This book would make a great first campaign for any group of new adventurers. I can’t recommend it enough.