Beadle and Grimm’s DM Vault is a package of components that function as player aids, DM tools, and in-game documents for D&D’s Keys From the Golden Vault Adventure. The collection functions as an in game dossier, from which players receive mission briefings. It’s a respectful achievement that mixes artistry and practicality, giving you things that will make your game easier to run and enhance your players’ immersion in the story. Some of those components are shackled to the Golden Vault adventure, which limits their usefulness, but others have utility that could easily be ported elsewhere. Were it not for the $95 price, this would be an effortless recommendation, but the calculus of that price tag to these tools is a personal one.
To start with, you have a carrying case with a magnetized lock which folds open to reveal its contents, purloined letter style. The cardboard is lightweight and not likely to survive a journey in a bag unscathed, so you will need to be careful lest this fall apart or show visible damage. It’s not tough. The simple yet appropriately enticing symbols on front to back contain a puzzle for your players to unlock the first time they accept the case. It’s the type of riddle that’s so obvious when you know the solution you will think yourself an idiot for having taken long to figure it out. I could see a group of adults needing some aggressive hints to get past this. It’s a nice consideration for something that would otherwise be a glossed up folder.
Inside you will find 13 maps for players, 13 maps for the DM, 6 Battle Maps, 13 call to action letters, and 9 in-world handouts. The handouts are things like an in-game menu or train ticket, and even include a decorated envelope to enclose one of the letters. For both the letters and handouts, the paper varies in type, size, texture, and color. It’s clear thought was put into these. No two are exactly alike and many show artificial signs of wear and tear. The text is less stylized, but this is not necessarily a drawback. The text is printed in ink, with various fonts but not stylized to replicate a quill pen in most cases, as in-game tools prioritizing readability is a reasonable method.
Those are also the components you would have the most difficulty translating to a non-Golden Vault adventure. For something this expensive you would want to make the most of your purchase, unless you think yourself likely to run the adventures multiple times. Some of the documents, like the menu, could be used elsewhere. The letters are the most explicit, with the most information related directly to the heists. That makes them an asset for those specific adventures, but becomes a liability when trying to extract them.
Nothing else in the vault has that problem. The player and battle maps would not need modification to be used in another adventure, though some of them are clearly drafted for the purpose of breaking into a location. It’s here the variety and verisimilitude may go a step too far; a few of the maps feature artificial damage to the paper, with partial tears. Those tears worry me, and I think less than careful handling could expand them. That’s not to mention the ever-present perils that are the DM’s cat or wayward Mountain Dew.
The 6 battle maps, located on 3 double-sided sheets of thicker paper, are nice. I don’t have many notes. They have art and color but remain readable. Some of the areas are smaller than the overall areas, such that I’m not sure you need a battle map of this size. Given that these are intended for specific boss combats, they are meant to have a psychological effect when you bring them out. They are easy enough to port to another adventure, but due to not being laminated they may not last long in that life.
Last but most important are the dry erase, annotated dungeon maps. I say most important as a forever DM, by the way. The players will be more interested in the handouts and letters, but the practical utility a DM can get out of these blows the rest of the vault out of the water. I’m not kidding, Beadle and Grimm, this is the innovation that I think should be a major focus of your business, and one that doesn’t require you to be shackled to other creator’s adventures. Before I dig into what exactly I mean by that, I will give you some more specifics on what these maps actually consist of: full maps of each dungeon, with a key and annotation for every room telling you what they contain. It’s a GREAT help, summarizing the area, keeping you free to check your books or notes, able to survive exposure to moisture, and retain notes for a later session or let you erase them immediately. These maps remove a lot of the headaches that come with running a dungeon, all while being effortless to use elsewhere. The only problem is that a 5E module will still ask you to keep separate monster stats and notes to navigate you. That is where this team could use these techniques to make a huge improvement over what’s already there.
Beadle and Grimm, if you happen to be reading this, here is how you make a few million dollars for relatively little effort: you know the One Page Dungeon contest and One Page Adventure books out there? Kickstart a book of 60-100 of those, on this paper. You’ll be selling DMs a collection of zero-prep adventures that they can pull out at any time. Take one or all of them to an RPG night and have a variety of tools they can whip out and have a full adventure ready to run. Prioritize ease of use, forget Wizards of the Coast, and go use this approach to save DMs hours of tedious prep time.
That tangent over with, I bring us back to the one point of real hesitation that I have about this collection: the price. Yes, a few of the components are likely to fall apart or are less necessary, like a map of a train which is just 3 unidentified cars and 3 known ones, or the double sided train ticket that you will whip out once and then likely ignore. Those are minor, passing concerns. The $95 not including shipping is what makes this a qualified recommendation. If you are likely to use the more sturdy of this vault’s components for a long time, you will be happy with that purchase. As a premium enhancement of an existing adventure alone that price tag feels less appropriate.
John Farrell is a legal aid administrator, living in West Chester Pennsylvania. You can listen to him travel the weird west as Carrie A. Nation in the Joker's Wild podcast at: https://jokerswildpodcast.weebly.com/
Beadle & Grimm DM Vault Keys to the Golden Vault
All hail the age of premium adventure supplements. Though the price tag and product quality do not always match up and components are tied directly to Keys From the Golden Vault, this collection is bursting with tools that will improve playability and increase immersion. Beadle and Grimm’s collection is full of thought, artistry, and practicality that speak well to the group’s respect for the tabletop experience.