Previously published anthologies for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons have been particularly strong, including the essential Candlekeep Mysteries and the groundbreaking Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel. Now, publisher Wizards of the Coast is back with Keys From the Golden Vault, a book of heists for levels 1-11.
While all of the adventures inside the book are good, some are quite a lot better than others. Below are our picks for the top seven, listed in order of difficulty. Our notes include tips for eager Dungeon Masters looking to integrate these novel adventures into ongoing campaigns.
[Ed. note: This article includes spoilers for Keys From the Golden Vault.]
The Murkmire Malevolence (level 1)
A fairly straightforward museum heist with lots of thinly written yet colorful characters, “The Murkmire Malevolence” is a single-sitting adventure that DMs will have a great time performing for their group. Even though it’s a first-level adventure, it’s a complex job with great visuals to share with your players. The best part here is what happens if the characters fail the adventure, which leads to a museum-wide hunt for a malevolent demon creature, with nods to Alien and Jurassic Park.
“The Murkmire Malevolence” would be a great way to kick off a new campaign with a new group of adventurers. With a little modification, it could also perform well for higher-level characters.
The Stygian Gambit (level 2)
Clever DMs will steal the setting for “The Stygian Gambit” even if they don’t want to run this particular adventure. It’s a fun little casino heist, pitting old gambling buddies against one another in pursuit of settling old grudges. If your group has been eyeing Poker Face, this is a great way to bring that kind of intrigue into your D&D night. The real pleasure in this one is the casino itself, a luxurious river grotto that runs through with multiple points of entry and exit.
Reach for the Stars (level 3)
“Reach for the Stars” is a haunted-house mystery, sure to appeal to fans of cosmic horror and games like Call of Cthulhu. The experience is elevated thanks to another band of adventurers that precedes the player characters — a smaller but no less skilled party that met with a grisly end. References to these prior adventurers keep cropping up throughout the heist, and there’s even a potential hook for future stories based on the outcome of the mystery.
Masterpiece Imbroglio (level 5)
This high-stakes heist attempt of a valuable painting allies the players with a group of allegedly forthright historians against the local thieves guild. The setting itself has a fairly small footprint — just a few floors and about a dozen rooms — but the experience is nonetheless dense and thrilling.
If you’re looking for a trap-filled location that could lead to a grisly total party kill, this is the adventure to run. The objective of the heist — a sentient painting of a historical hottie — also provides the role-playing glue that holds together the disparate pieces of this story.
Axe From the Grave (level 6)
“Axe From the Grave” may be one of the best adventures yet for 5th edition D&D. As written, it’s a delight from start to finish and should be on a short list for just about every DM who loves running games for their friends.
In this adventure, a stolen mandolin leads the characters on a rambling journey from a creekside fishing hole to a well-heeled musical conservatory. Along the way, players will run into multiple aspiring musicians — and the undead. In so doing, “Axe From the Grave” remixes themes and tones from the classic “deal with the devil” setup and the Charlie Daniels song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” in a charming and surprising way.
This section actually provides the book with its most lively adventure, even though there’s a zombie in the mix. The book also includes advice on how to run “Axe From the Grave” multiple times — including with willing players who want to try it again. This is also the first adventure in a long while that specifically mentions bringing a bard along just to be sure someone in the party can jam.
Shard of the Accursed (level 8)
Keys From the Golden Vault includes several unconventional heists, among them “Shard of the Accursed,” which is a reverse heist. In it, players are tasked with returning an object to the sacred location where it belongs. It’s a higher-level adventure, which means it won’t be accessible to newer players without significant modification, but of all the adventures in the book, it feels like the one with the most narrative potential. What at first blush appears to be a plotline borrowed from an Indiana Jones movie ends up having many additional layers to it, and it ultimately serves as a good test of the moral compass of a given group.
Affair on the Concordant Express (level 9)
In addition to “Axe From the Grave,” “Affair on the Concordant Express” is required reading for 5th edition DMs. It’s a train heist that elevates the concept of a train heist — literally, with a flying train.
Players must board a mechanical conveyance built and designed by modrons, sentient mechanical constructs that have a long history in the worlds of D&D. This adventure is notable in that it easily connects to Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, and that it features a mind-flayer cosplaying as Sherlock Holmes doing his best Hercule Poirot impersonation. As a reward for their service, successful players will be able to earn one of several powerful boons that they can use to their advantage in unrelated adventures. That alone makes it an excellent interstitial quest for longterm players whose DMs are looking to mix things up a bit at the next game night.
Keys From the Golden Vault is available now. The book was reviewed using a retail copy of the physical book provided by Wizards of the Coast. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.