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Dungeons & Dragons Dives Into Cosmic Horror With Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk

The next Dungeons & Dragons book will be returning to a familiar location but with a twist.
Dungeons & Dragons Dives Into Cosmic Horror With Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk

Back in 2014, Wizards of the Coast released a Starter Set that was geared toward introducing new players not only to Dungeons & Dragons as a whole but to the then brand-new Fifth Edition ruleset. Said starter set came with the basic rules for the game along with pre-written character sheets but also came with a small adventure set in Phandalin that centered on a group of goblins and a mine. Now, we're returning to that world with a brand new full-length adventure set in the world of Phandelver which will explore one of the many obelisks that have been dotted throughout the Dungeons & Dragons universe, in Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk.

Phandelver and Below Chapter 3 Opening Art by John Grello

Whereas Lost Mines of Phandelver was designed as an introductory adventure for players to go from level one to level five, Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk is designed to take players from level 1 to level 12, meaning that players will get access to abilities that they wouldn't have even been within throwing distance of during that first introductory adventure. Usual Dungeons & Dragons adventures go up to around level ten or level eleven, with the aforementioned initial adventure going to level five just to give a taster to players, so a level twelve adventure will give players access to higher level spells, more options in both combat and roleplaying and higher level enemies.

Interestingly, the book will contain that original adventure from the starter set but with slightly remixed content, so it'll still be engaging and interesting to players who are extremely familiar with that booklet. It's not a total departure from what came in the starter set, as you'll be able to spot the seams where extra content has been stitched onto the already existing content from the starter set, but it expands upon the mythos and history of the land of Phandelver to whet appetites for the brand new content later in the book.

Lead Designer Amanda Hamon spoke a bit about the book, stating:

"In Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk, players are immersed in a story that gets stranger and becomes more ominous as the adventure goes on. Once the nature of the threat to Phandalin becomes clear, the characters must race against the clock to save this beloved town against classic D&D villains we've given a fresh, terrifying twist"

Indeed, the standard cover for the book shows Goblins who seem to have powers that would usually be out of the remit of such a species. Psionic powers are on the table for various enemies that you discover along the way that wouldn't usually be able to do these kinds of things with their minds. But what's causing it? That's where your party comes in, to discover what exactly is going on here, why these Goblins are able to perform acts WAY beyond their normal capabilities, and what exactly this Obelisk is doing here. This will also help to answer exactly what the Obelisks that have appeared in multiple different Dungeons & Dragons adventure books over the years are, where they came from, and the wider history.

Standard Edition cover of Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk by Antonio José Manzanedo

As for the decision to return to Phandelver and the town of Phandlin after that initial starter set adventure, Hamon says that both she and the rest of the team were very interested in expanding upon the location and making it into something bigger.

"As far as returning to Phandlin... it is a very iconic location. There's a lot of nostalgia I think for players to return to this place where maybe they played their first adventure, or maybe they first discovered the beauty of D&D and what it's like making choices and having an open sandbox environment."

Hamon also stated that players who are coming to the book as veterans, who played that original adventure, will be able to jump straight into it while skipping the content that they've already played, but that players who are less familiar with the starter set adventure won't feel totally lost if they're jumping in from the very beginning. 

Of course, it wouldn't be Dungeons & Dragons if weird stuff wasn't happening all over the place. Throughout the land of Phandelver, as the power of the Obelisk becomes stronger and stronger, weirder things keep happening. Creatures that would never be found natively here start roaming the land, and normal everyday animals like Cows start to become affected by waves of corruption that are sweeping across the land.

Daisy the Odd Cow by Hex Sharpe

Art Director Bree Heiss elaborated on the aforementioned corruption within the land, saying:

"The corruption doesn't appear only in the story's characters and locations, it is a part of how the book's art and visual design shifts, too. We wanted to create an immersive and thoughtful experience for the players that was as visually compelling as the story is exciting"

Curiously, the alternative cover for the book shows the Obelisk itself surrounded by various creatures from Dungeons & Dragons lore. There are a lot of creatures here, some of which are likely not important in the grand scheme of things, but if you look closely at the book you can see what appears to be a Mind Flayer. This, combined with the similarities that one of the new creatures shown has to an Intellect Devourer, suggests that perhaps the Obelisks are a scheme concocted by the Mind Flayers to take over the Forgotten Lands, though we'll have to wait for the book to release to find out. Baldur's Gate 3 fans will already know a lot about the Mind Flayers, but there are elements in Dungeons & Dragons lore that they won't yet have discovered that could be mentioned in this book. 

Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk Alternative Cover by DZO

The very first Obelisk was seen back in Princes of the Apocalypse, which was released eight years ago in April 2015. There's not much focus put on the Obelisk itself, but it became quickly clear to Dungeons & Dragons players that there was something more to it as more and more adventure books were released. You can find the Obelisks in the following books:

  • Princes of the Apocalypse (the very first Obelisk in a Dungeons & Dragons book)
  • Out of the Abyss (the first time you can actually interact with an Obelisk. It would teleport you outside of the city if you channeled your energy through it.)
  • Storm King's Thunder (Only mentioned, stolen by Cloud Giants)
  • Tomb of Annihilation (If you use Detect Magic on the Obelisk then you'll discover that it has abjuration magic surrounding it, and a demon will attack you if you try and destroy the Obelisk for a total of a minute before leaving)
  • Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (If you use detect magic on this, you'll sense celestial magic. Breaking it frees something inside the Obelisk, with the information given to Dungeon Masters that whatever it is has been there for millennia)
  • Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus (There's a 30-foot Obelisk in the first layer of hell, surrounded by seven stones. Each stone is equivalent to one of the schools of magic, but there's no further explanation of what it's doing there)
  • Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden (An Obelisk is in the city of Ythryn, and investigating it allows players to activate it. If you do, you'll find a celestial being inside, and discover that it was created by a host of powerful spellcasters known as the Weavers who wanted to alter reality by rewinding time. One of the Obelisks was stolen by Vecna, who completely erased the Weavers from existence. it's unknown what happened after this to result in the scattered Obelisks, and it's not known who build each of them.)

Between this book and the already-announced upcoming Vecna book which will be released in 2024, we're finally going to be touching on an almost decade-old mystery of the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse, with Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk likely teeing up reveals that will be coming in the Vecna book, with the return to Planescape later this year in Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse also acting as a stop-gap in his return. If you think that name is familiar, then it's probably because you've heard the name Vecna in Stranger Things, which borrows a lot of names and titles from early editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

Oculorb by Brian Valenzuela

One of the major questions that people will have jumping into the book is whether they can play this as a complete continuation of their adventures in the Starter Set, and Hamon has good news for those players:

"I would encourage them to read very carefully over the introduction, which does very much acknowledge that these are questlines pulled from the 2014 book and which provides very clear options to the DM that lets them decide whether they want the players to co-opt the old characters [from the starter set], that is absolutely an option. Or whether the DM is interested and the players are interested enough to want to start over from scratch, incorporating anything that they want from their original campaign."

Encaphelon by Hinchel Or

"There's a lot of breathing room in that early material, and there's a distinct enough ending slash beginning point at the beginning of the new stuff versus the ending of the old stuff where the DM can be very deliberate about the way they want to do that and the kind of adventure that they want to run."

With recent controversies surrounding Dungeons & Dragons thanks to AI Art in the pages of Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants, and the whole situation surrounding the revamped version of the OGL, Wizards of the Coast is looking for a win right now. From everything that we've seen, Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk could be exactly that win. It feels like a classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure in 2023 and could get a lot of players jumping over from Baldur's Gate 3 to the Tabletop game. The book releases in stores on September 19, and DNDBeyond subscribers will be able to get early access to the game on September 5.