Review by C.J. Bunce
The contrast between the good and the evil in Dungeons and Dragons is rarely so striking. From the peaceful peoples of pastoral Phandalin to the demented villainy brewing underneath the town, get ready for gory monstrosities determined to take away everything from your heroes in the worst ways. Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk is a new two-part adventure spinning out of the 2014’s Lost Mine of Phandelver, an adventure in that year’s Starter Set. As you can tell from the cover, experience goblins to be up to no good, and plenty of them are around. And some don’t seem to look like those you’ve seen before.
It all has a vibe that mixes Rings of Power and The Dark Crystal–maybe even Fantastic Voyage, but all within a darker construct like H.P. Lovecraft might have concocted for you. Get ready for Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk.
Obelisks have been key to past adventures, too, including Tomb of Annihilation, Storm King’s Thunder, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, and Out of the Abyss. This book suggests other story hooks once you’ve completed the adventure, including a side quest from Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel (all reviewed here at borg).
The first adventure isn’t about an obelisk, but a re-imagining of the 2014 Phandelin story. An offer, a stagecoach, and unexpected occurrences play out like an old Western story. Strike back or forge ahead? Phandelin is of course a frontier town, like the people of Lake-town in a place that looks more like Hobbiton or the Southlands in the Tolkien realm. The first five chapters are more of a classic D&D journey. But events gradually get darker as elements start brewing from below.
The villains in the second part of this adventure look like a mix of He Who Shall Not Be Named, Cthulhu, and Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Much of the monstrosities are on the oogier end, especially the oozing Encephalons and the Flesh Meld. Those who aren’t fans of body horror, “disturbingly organic tunnels and chambers,” and similar scares, take note.
You might find many parallels to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, beginning with the crystal itself and moving on to its mind control elements. The villains are all about manipulation. Your heroes need to heed all warnings as they attempt to complete their mission.
The book itself incorporates great maps from Mike Schley, including a large fold-out double-sided map to get you acquainted with the territory. A bestiary appendix includes 17 new monsters with others peppered throughout the book, including an aberrant zealot, goblins, and mind flayers. An appendix of new magic items includes mind crystals and a flayer slayer. Look for a reproducible form included for story tracking.
If Phandolin and D&D’s darkest monsters sound like your thing, you won’t want to miss Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk, available for pre-order now here at Amazon, arriving September 19, 2023, with a cover by Antonio José Manzanedo. And check out this great alternate cover version by artist DZO. It’s all happening in only two weeks!
Keep coming back to borg for reviews and previews of D&D content all year long, including a new Planescape adventure!