One summer’s day in 2021, feeling restless, I walked down the leafy Passeig de Sant Joan boulevard in Barcelona and popped into the Gigamesh fantasy bookstore. Half on a whim, and half with an adventure idea in the back of my mind, I picked up a copy of the (then) recently published Candlekeep Mysteries and took it back home to read at leisure upon my roof terrace.
And a very pleasant read it proved to be. An anthology of 17 short, mystery-style adventures, by new voices, Wizards of the Coast smartly tacked these diverse stories onto a 5th edition introduction to Candlekeep – a wondrous library-citadel which sits on a crag jutting out of the Sword Coast and is home to the scholarly order of monks known as the Avowed. Each of the 17 adventures is named after a book located in Candlekeep (thus neatly tying the setting and the anthology together), and each of these books function as a story device to kickstart a new adventure.
This 5th edition product comes with an absolutely gorgeous poster-size map of Candlekeep by Mike Schley (pictured above).
Nine months later, having given each adventure a second read, I feel ready to share my insights on the compendium, including some running tips and remixes to smooth over some of the issues I encountered along the way.
Candlekeep Mysteries Review
Candlekeep Mysteries is very much a product of component parts, so let’s break this bad boy down and review it chapter by chapter. For a bit of fun, I’ll dish out my personal rating of each adventure as well, using a simple 1-5 stars system, which you can interpret roughly as follows:
5 stars: Überhip – hand me my f***ing dice!
4 stars: Très chic – a well-crafted offering.
3 stars: Passably cool – a flawed, but still worthy, adventure.
2 stars: Somewhat shabby – a disappointing effort.
1 star: Downright lame – I want my money back!
A lot of love has gone into this anthology, and I will try to give a balanced view of each adventure, with no sleight intended on those that scored a little less highly. Personal preference is very much at work here.
Candlekeep (Introductory Chapter)
With my own Candlekeep adventure brewing in my mind, the main reason I invested in Candlekeep Mysteries was for the lore contained in the introductory chapter. Once I got over the disappointment of this chapter only being eleven pages long, I found plenty of gold in those eleven leaves.
I particularly liked the section on entering Candlekeep, and the library’s unique entry fee (a written work not held in its archives); the 8 briefly-sketched adjutants who might be assigned to an adventuring party; the magical wards that protect against fire, thieves and teleporting; and the section on the high-ranking Avowed (note: WOTC chose not to assign gender and alignment to any NPCs… these details are not really missed, while allowing for DMs to imprint their own imagination on the setting).
This chapter also includes some great sub-locations, but frustratingly we are not invited to step inside the Great Library in any meaningful way, with just over half a page dedicated to the ‘Inner Ward’. Like the seekers who travel far and wide to consult the Candlekeep’s tomes, us DMs must content ourselves with the services that lie around the Court of Air (such as the Hearth tavern, the Bath & Steam House and the Pillars of Pedagogy).
The chapter does end with an intriguing peak at what lies below the library, and I love the Chamber of Lost Lore and the legend of Miirym, although the potentially intriguing Echoes of Alaundo (voice recordings of Alaundo the Seer’s prophecies) seem rather pointless given that the library contains: “the largest repository of written lore in Faerun, including the collected prophecies of an ancient sage named Alaundo the Seer”.
Also included in this section are master sage and sage stat blocks. For better or worse these spellcasting stat blocks are elaborated using the 3/Day method rather than spell slots. My main gripe however is the absurdity of giving the master sage fireball as one of their principal weapons…. a spell that a) feels completely off-brand for a scholarly academic and b) is completely useless in Candlekeep, given the fire prevention wards.
For the purpose of the rating, I consider Mike Schley’s map part of this chapter.
Author: Chris Lindsay
Editors: Michele Carter, Hannah Rose
Final Rating: ★★★★☆. I love pretty much everything that is included, but there’s so much more I’d like to know about the setting (ranks, robes, rituals!) and I’d have loved some concrete sub-locations in the Inner Ward…. even if I can see (and have latterly taken advantage of) the benefits of leaving parts of the setting blank.
1. The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces
A book leads characters on a quest to find a missing sage (level 1)
Candlekeep Mysteries‘ inaugural adventure uses a bait and switch to trap the party in a permanent Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, more or less obliging them do a room-to-room recce (i.e. a dungeon crawl) in search of a way out of their predicament. The adventure has a balanced mix of combat (against the rather brilliant new monster swarm of animated books for one!), social interaction with various amusing critters, exploration, and puzzles… not least the one that will enable them to open the portal back to Candlekeep. Most of all, the adventure has charm in abundance, and each room of the extradimensional mansion is rife with fun and original details, without a goblin or pit trap in sight. There’s a limit to how good a dungeon crawl can be in my eyes, but we’re off to a solid start here.
Author: Michael Polkinghorn
Rating: ★★★★☆. A refreshingly original first level adventure.
2. Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions
A monstrous revelation sheds light on a book merchant’s scam (level 2)
Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions starts with a compelling premise… a number of Candlekeep’s books are turning into ectoplasmic blobs and sucking the life of unsuspecting scholars. When this happens to the players, the Avowed incentivise them to go and investigate this troublesome mystery. It shouldn’t take much effort for the party to trace the murderous books to a merchant store operating out of Baldur’s Gate, where a sheepish jackelwere pack have been running a scam. Using a ritual, taught to them by a now-dead lamia, the jackelweres have been creating monsters, known as a gingwatzims (revived from 1st edition D&D), which have the rather handy trait of being able to replicate tiny objects. They’ve then been selling the gingwatzims, disguised as valuable tomes, while keeping hold of the originals. Their plan is to raise enough moulah to resurrect their lamia mistress.
Despite this pretty interesting premise, Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions has been roundly panned by reviewers as one of the weakest of the Candlekeep Mysteries, mostly on the grounds that the adventure fails to go anywhere. The party simply confront the jackalweres either at their book store (in the unmapped but intriguing ‘the Wide’ marketplace) or at their hideout (a mapped, but extremely boring square-shaped house location) and there’s either a fight, or a deal is made. The latter would be anticlimactic in the extreme, and I rather think the author made a mistake ‘promoting’ this option as it makes the adventure feel very low stakes (when it could be the opposite).
I actually think all the ingredients are here for a great little adventure, especially if the jackalweres were able to revive their lamia mistress. There’s also a second antagonist in Mushika the wererat (who the party might meet on the road) for DMs to leverage.
Author: Alison Huang
Editor: Hannah Rose
Developers: Hannah Rose & Christopher Perkins
Final Rating: ★★★☆☆. Great backstory, premise and ingredients, which, if remixed with a better final location and memorable final encounter (hint: here’s how to plan a good one!), could hit the high notes.
3. Book of the Raven
A treasure map tucked inside a book beckons adventurers to a remote hill-top chalet occupied by a secret society that shuns visitors (level 3)
A treasure map that offers little incentive to follow it, a mystery that doesn’t need solving, and a hidden Shadowfell crossing with no reason to unearth it, makes for a bit of a head-scratching 3rd level adventure. The Book of the Raven was inked by the quill of none other than Chris Perkins himself (the only exception to the ‘new voices’ criteria that dictated the recruitment of the anthology’s other authors), but it’s more a toolkit, or mini-setting, than an actual adventure.
The idea is that the players find a treasure map, hidden in a battered old book, and feel compelled to follow the instructions on it to an unmarked building in the bottom left corner of the map. The building turns out to be an abandoned hunting lodge and a kind of haunted house scenario unfolds, in which the new inhabitants – a kindness of wereravens – do their best to scare off the party with their mimicry abilities (note: get the SFX ready because this could be a brilliant device during the exploration phase of this adventure).
Aside from the wereravens, the lodge is rife with tragic back stories, but there’s no reason for the party to dig into them, or set the ghosts that reside here to rest. There’s also no reason for them to find the adventure’s coolest feature… a Shadowfell crossing, hidden in the grave of a young girl, which – if it is found – leads the party into an awesome necropolis fight, where a wight with a ring of jumping harries them with a longbow while ghouls slaver for their flesh.
I would definitely enjoy repurposing the Book of the Raven as a way to begin a Curse of Strahd campaign (indeed, this feels what the adventure was designed for!), or perhaps give it the hook that is badly missing. Still, while many DMs enjoy repurposing official adventures, I believe that such material should be written to be playable as purchased, and the Book of the Raven feels like a bunch of delicious ingredients without a cooking manual…
Hipster Remix: “A Shadowfell crossing needs finding and closing before bad shit happens.” While searching for the crossing, the players find evidence in the hunting lodge that some cool treasure is hidden in the necropolis on the other side of the crossing, giving players an incentive to dip their toes in the Shadowfell (and fight the wight and ghouls) before scurrying back and closing the crossing for good.
Author: Christopher Perkins
Editor: Kim Mohan
Final Rating: ★★★☆☆. Despite the frustrating lack of hooks, I love the ‘delicious ingredients’ so much that the Book of the Raven still earns a respectable 3/5.
4. A Deep and Creeping Darkness
A book describing a mining disaster prompts adventurers to search for a missing town (level 4)
A Deep and Creeping Darkness is a textbook example of a designer taking a monster in the Monster Manual (well ok from Volo’s Guide to Monsters in this case), reading the lore (not just the stat block!) and then extracting all the best bits and crafting it into an adventure. The monster in this case is the meenlock, a creepy, insectoid-looking, fey which spawns from human terror and is the embodiment of fear itself. Yes, this is a horror story, but – true to the anthology’s promise – it starts with a mystery. The players are sent to Candlekeep by a mining company to research what happened to the former mining town of Vermeillon, and their first clue is found in book: A Deep and Creeping Darkness. From there, thanks to the intelligent placement of clues, the adventure unfolds at a steady pace, as first the players ask questions around the town of Maerin, before an exploration of the abandoned village of Vermeillon should lead them to the Platinum Mine, for a final face off against the meenlocks.
Are there any flaws in the adventure? Not really, my one reservation being that running horror in D&D can be extremely hard to pull off. However, written in to the adventure are some great tips on how to run the meenlocks, with concrete suggestions on how to elicit fear. DMs should also brush up on the meenlock stat block… their Shadow Teleport ability offers an almost foolproof way they can escape and regroup, meaning the monsters should survive first contact with the players and keep the lurking menace going.
Author: Sarah Madsen
Developer / Editor: Michele Carter
Final Rating: ★★★★½. A really well put together adventure that runs right out the box. DMs will have to think about to maximise the horror aspect though.
5. Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme
A catchy and contagious rhyme traces back to a sinister clockwork book (level 4)
This dark fairytale of a malevolent spirit whose legend is kept alive by the music box of a mechanical book is worthy of the Brothers Grimm and arguably the best story in the anthology. But I use the word ‘story’ deliberately here, rather than adventure… because my spider senses are tingling on how it might play out on the table.
It shouldn’t be too hard to quarantine the players in the Firefly Cellar, following the adventure’s advice, but keeping them quarantined might be another matter, and could also lead to player frustration. With a clearly delineated set of events supposed to unravel, Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme feels a little too scripted, with too many pre-ordained events and not enough flexibility – almost as if the designer has prepped a plot and not a scenario. Even the villain can only be killed in a specific way, which could play out horribly wrong.
A bit of research reveals that folks have had both very good and very bad experiences from running this adventure, so you will have to size this one up in your head and see if it’s right for your group. It’s definitely a cool and inspiring read if not, and introduces us to a cool new Candlekeep location (the Firefly Cellar) and several more library denizens.
Author: Ari Levitch
Editor/Developer: Michele Carter
Final Rating: ★★★½. A fantastic story that may, or may not, translate into a fantastic adventure.
6. The Price of Beauty
A book about beauty shows the way to a secluded temple where beauty is only skin deep (level 5)
“Will my players enjoy this?” is obviously a question every DM asks themselves when choosing an adventure to run, but I like to ask what I feel is an equally important question… “Will I enjoy this?” For that reason, The Price of Beauty stands out as my absolute favourite adventure in the anthology, because it just looks like a real blast to run. A fey-infused spa makes for a highly original location, a bunch of devious NPCs with disguised appearances and goals (not least the trio of hag arch-antagonists), and plenty of underlying satire on the real world wellness and work out culture, just looks like the kind of cocktail that I enjoy shaking up at the table.
I have a few reservations about how it might pan out, and the mystery of the hags’ true identity seems too blunt and easy to resolve… every other NPC the players encounter knows what’s going on and is willing to share it, but I think the worst that can happen is that a final confrontation takes place a little earlier than ideal (it would be fun if the players end up using some of the spas treatments before tackling the mystery).
While I love the cut and paste job the author has done on Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, with the cursed paintings, as a device they are not really on brand with the spa theme – why are guests suddenly being offered a painting at a thermal spring?
Hipster Remix: Perhaps I’ll rename the spa The Plunge & Portrait Wellness Centre (and have a few old signs that mention ‘Temple of the Restful Lily’ as clues to its former identity) and brand the paintings as a pioneering ‘Perfect Self Portraiture’ treatment that harnesses ancient elven magic. I’ll give it a gold piece cost as well, as the ‘small favour to be redeemed later’ is a dead giveaway to any savvy player that this offer can’t be trusted… the trick is in the curse already anyway, so this catch upon a catch doesn’t quite make sense.
EXTENDED REMIX: I did in fact run this for my group already, and you can read my extended guide to running The Price of Beauty here.
Overall, The Price of Beauty definitely qualifies as a scenario not a plot, and DMs that enjoy running something a bit more sandboxy will enjoy this adventure.
Author: Mark Hulmes
Editor/Developer: Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Final Rating: ★★★★★. Ah hell, it’s not quite picture perfect, but I’ll round up and give this baby full points. A stand out adventure that will no doubt see play at my table.
Shameless plug alert. I find it hard to talk about a fun-focused sandbox with naughty NPCs and satirical undertones without mentioning my own adventure DRAGONBOWL, a pulp action pastiche on money-grabbing sporting events and festivals. In a weird way it’s very similar to The Price of Beauty (there’s even a cursed medusa to rescue!), but on a much bigger scale… and with way more blood to spill, and beer to drink.
7. Book of Cylinders
Engraved cylinders contained within a book tell a gripping and portentious tale when rolled across wet clay. (Level 6)
One thing I enjoyed about this anthology in general is the creativity that went into the books themselves, which provide the launch point for each adventure. This tome is arguably the top dog: the book is actually a container that holds three engraved cylinders which spell out (with the help of some clay) a troublesome prophecy. The prophecy corroborates reports that have just reached the library from the Sword Coast, that serpentfolk have hounded out the peaceful grippli crabbers from their village threatening Candlekeep’s supply of delicious squishy white meat…. the Avowed will sure get grumpy if they don’t get their crabstick hors d’oeuvres!
Breaking down the story, there’s not much mystery here and the structure is rather basic. The players travel to point A, to basically confirm what they already know, then sneak into point B to deal with some guards, before a final showdown in point C, where they have to stop a ritual being performed. It’s almost formulaic; but the adventure still wins me over thanks to the flavour and lore we encounter along the way. We are introduced to the grippli, a froggy folk that are far friendlier than the average bullywug, and the author does a great job of creating a credible settlement for them on the Sword Coast, complete with ‘crab maze’ – a sort of sea-merged farm for over-sized crustaceans.
Frustratingly, more than once, the adventure clumsily encourages the DM to push the party towards travelling in a certain way (in order, I guess, that they approach the village via the crab maze, the adventure’s most original feature). “The trading post is about 5 miles south of the grippli village, which is most easily reached by sea. (An overland trip along the marshy coastline is a fool’s route, fraught with obstacles and perils).” I don’t have a problem with directing the party along a certain route, but in that case at least outline what the obstacles and perils are on the suboptimal route. This way the DM can describe the party’s options, without bias, confident the party will make the sensible choice. Without these simple tools, the players might feel that they’re being railroaded. Just putting a time limit on getting to the village would more or less oblige the party to take ‘the right’ route, without it feeling forced.
Author: The author was not happy with how WOTC edited and adjusted his material without his consent – a common, sometimes even necessary, practice in publishing, but no doubt a frustrating one – and asked for his name to be removed from future editions. There’s a video where he discusses the changes here. My review is for the published version of the adventure.
Developer/Editor: Kim Mohan
Final Rating: ★★★½. This feels like a classic D&D ‘local hero’ style adventure, but with enough fresh lore and features to keep it from being a stale experience. Has the advantage that it is requires min. prep to run and would work well as a one shot.
8. Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor
A haunted book points a ghostly finger at the perpetrators of an unsolved mass killing in Waterdeep. (level 7)
The chilly apparition of a tormented spirit from one of Candlekeep’s forgotten tomes kickstarts this adventure in atmospheric fashion, and the ghost’s missing tongue is a gruesome and intriguing detail. Sadly, however, this strong start doesn’t materialise into the mystery story I was hoping for. The ghost was murdered, but she knows who by and is able to communicate the killer’s identity to the party, and so – assuming the party even care enough about Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor to track down her murderer – there is no mystery of note to solve. Ok, we don’t know why Lord Viallis did what he did, and exactly what he’s up to, but there’s no central tension, just a rather straight forward chain of enquiries to follow to the adventure’s final location.
I do like the village of Greenfast, and the interactions with the mayor and innkeep could raise the stakes of the adventure, by letting the players know innocent(ish) lives have got involved with Lord Viallis. But I have some bones to pick with this section too… anyone searching Lord Viallis’s House finds no clues or info, for example, nor anything that can help the players in their quest. This just feels like a wasted location, potentially leading to wasted game time (something of a design crime!).
What I like about the Cult of the Burnt Tongue, at the centre of this story, are a) the awesome name, b) how we’re encouraged to view it as a predatory faction that recruits the easily influenced (including relatives of Greenfast’s mayor and innkeep), which could complicate combat, and c) the sacrificial ritual that creates grells. What I don’t like is that we never find out why tongues are removed (and presumably burned) from the victims of the cult, and what the relationship with burnt tongues and grells is!?! Indeed, only a few grells are encountered in the adventure, and only at the very end of the story. I would also question whether a CR 3 monster is the right threat for a level 7 adventure.
Hipster Remix: For this cult to be scary, I feel that a) there should have been a foreshadowing encounter with creepy-ass grells earlier in the adventure and b) it needs some kind of ‘übergrell’ to be summoned at the end. Given that there’s currently no realistic chance to disturb the ritual being performed in the final combat scene (which feels like another design mistake), I might replace this ritual with a longer one that summons the aforementioned ‘übergrell’… its tentacles stretching through a portal that widens every round until the gargantuan aberration can enter. A cliche, sure, but one that delivers more chills IMHO. Maybe the übergrell can pull a PC (or innocent NPC) into the portal with one of its tentacles, meaning the players may be forced to allow Viallis to finish the ritual! Going back to the adventure’s beginning, Sarah should ask the players to find out who murdered her (not tell them who did it!), and in investigating this, at the scene of the crime, the party are attacked by grells (foreshadowing the final encounter) and discover clues that lead them to Greenfast.
Author: Derek Ruiz
Developer/Editor: Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Final Rating: ★★★☆☆. A traditional-style D&D adventure with some good ideas and locations, but the story could use a bit more drama and suspense.
9. Lore of Lurue
Adventurers become immersed in a storybook conflict involving Lurue the Unicorn Queen and Malar the Beast Lord (level 8)
When the players turn the pages of the Lore of Lurue they are sucked into its story and forced to play their part in the struggle between good and evil contained within. The ‘trapped in a storybook’ device is a cool idea that we’ve seen work in various cheesy films from the 80s and 90s, and – while I would never use this concept for a campaign – it kinda works for a short, time-constrained adventure, because players are basically forced to march forward to the story’s climax.
On the other hand, I’m not surprised that several corners of the Internet singled this adventure out as one of the anthology’s worst, because the device doubles as a very heavy-handed railroad, with the players pushed along the tracks come what may. The lack of player agency is never more apparent than at the story’s predetermined end, with good triumphing over evil no matter what. (If the players made a difference they might earn a reward, however).
I can personally forgive the railroading (most adventures are… this one just lays its cards on the table!), but the adventure has at least two other big problems. Firstly, while the encounters are thematically related (they all smack of fey and fairytale), for the most part they are not narratively related, meaning the story never really builds with the adventure. I found myself just wanting to skip what felt like filler encounters to get to the final conflict.
Secondly, I am not at all convinced by the metrics of the final fight. Flavourwise, I love the idea of bloodthirsty followers of the Beast Lord ripping animals limb from limb and corrupting the Pool of Eternal Spring to call forth an evil unicorn… but when this corrupted avatar of Lurue emerges it has just 90 hit points, and no damage resistances or legendary actions (the text mentions it should have some of the latter, but none appear in the stat block). This BBEG is supposed to take on not only a party of 8th level adventurers but a bunch of werewolves as well. If it makes it to round 2 I’d be very surprised! If it rolls bad enough initiative it might not even roll an attack roll.
One final niggle, the sentence: “The characters might correctly assume that this place it what it looks like: the site of a well,” boils the blood of the editor in me! The correct sentence would be: “There’s a well.”
Hipster Remix: For all its flaws, I do still like Lore of Lurue. The central conflict feels epic, and overall I like the adventure’s distinctly Legend vibe – so I put some thought into how I would run it. If we make the first encounter a chance to prevent a satyr wedding ceremony from turning into a bloodbath, at the hands of rampaging Malar cultists, then we’d be introducing the adventure’s central conflict from the off. Grateful survivors of the attack would take the players to the safehaven of the Polvarth Plateau, where a treant named Feynor might know of a way back to their world. Feynor says the Pool of Eternal Spring sometimes acts a portal to other worlds, conveniently tying the players’ fate in with the good denizens of this demi-plane. From Polvarth Plateau, the players are presented with a choice. Head to the Pool of Eternal Spring through the night hag’s territory, which is free of cultists (but not free of night hags!). Or make their way to the pool via Dewlight, which is currently known to be being attacked by cultists. Once at the pool, the final encounter needs some extra oomph… maybe the corrupted avatar brings with it dark minions from the now besmirched waters. I should note that Tabletop Bob also had some cool suggestions for improving the adventure.
Author: Kelly Lynne D’angelo (I should mention that Kelly is one of the best Dungeon Masters out there IMHO. I believe she’s moved on to other things, but well worth checking her out on Girls, Guts, Glory, where she DMed Out of Thay.).
Developer/Editor: Kim Mohan
Final Rating: ★★★☆☆. Like many adventures in this anthology, we are given lots of cool elements to bring to our table, but some frustrating design flaws present the DM with a fair bit of thinking to do before the session.
10. Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion
A stolen book leads adventurers to a tower in Candlekeep that is more than what it seems. (Level 9)
Strap yourself in for this one, because we’re in for one helluva ride. Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion surely features the anthology’s coolest concept: that of one of Candlekeep’s forgotten towers blasting off into space as a rocketship.
The adventure pits players in a race against time to discover what’s happening at the Barn Door tower, and then to intervene and possibly stop it. If you haven’t guessed by now, Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion is an adventure that’s intended to be played for laughs. The rocket scheme is the plan of a deranged gnome, Stonky J. (for Jenius) Noptopper, and his cult the Livestock, who all go by ridiculous farm-themed names like Rooster Muffin, Alpaca Macadamia Nuts and Donkey Biscuit. This bunch of Candlekeep outcasts believes that the library’s most valuable books would be safer in space, and are willing to lay down their lives for the cause. The cult’s fighting power is considerably augmented by a bunch of skitterwidget constructs, a ‘cute’ (or so we’re told!) mechanical, dog-headed cockroach.
The adventure is likely to play out as a raid on first the Barn Door tower, and then its underground control rooms, and there should be plenty of fun moments along the way – such as finding several fanatics strapped to chairs in preparation of lift off, or encountering the final boss on his knees in search of a lost ring of telekinesis. The players may even find themselves in the tower-turned-rocket when it blasts off into space. This is the kind of absurd, over-the-top scenario that I personally try to avoid for campaigns (when I like to take my D&D pretty seriously), but that can make for great one-shots.
The adventure comes with a few minor flaws, at least if you’re a nitpicker like myself, so let’s run through those. Firstly, according to official lore, there are no servants in Candlekeep, so this group of custodians (the Livestock) rings a little false. Secondly, why would deserting cult member Buron Sternmettle run all the way to the Court of Air to give the players, in particular, Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion? And then do the players care enough to investigate? (I do like the ‘earthquake’ caused by the engine test as an excuse for the party to be given permission to enter the Great Library though). Thirdly, if the books stored in the Barn Door are of little academic interest, as stated, the stakes for stopping the launch feel quite low. Fourthly, the ticking clock is only discovered late in the day, so players may not realise they’re in a race against time (not necessarily a bad thing I suppose!). Fifthly, there’s quite some narrative pressure on the hidden door in area B1, contravening my advice on designing secret doors. These flaws probably qualify as irritants more than things that are worth fixing.
Hipster Remix: I don’t think the adventure needs too much work to run it, but maybe someone the players know have got caught up in the cult, giving them more reason to get involved, or stop the launch. Or maybe a book they desperately want to get their hands on is locked in Stonky’s study…
Author: Amy Vorpahl
Developer: Christopher Perkins
Editor: Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Final Rating: ★★★★★. Unbeatable premise with lots of laughs along the way. I was about to settle on 4.5 stars, but as it’s the only adventure in the anthology that actually takes place in the Great Library I’m rounding this up to full points!
Kut & Kopy. In my adventure Candlekeep Murders, I actually steal the Barn Door and repurpose it into the Vault of Secrets, a library of genuinely world-changing books, buried deep underneath the Great Library. So if you want to play with this idea, but in an adventure with a bit more medieval grit and gravitas about it, look no further than the DMs Guild.
11. Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome
A djinni trapped in a book offers a wish spell to adventurers who find a way to release him (level 10).
In this solid, but I felt somewhat unspectacular, adventure, a genie promises the players a wish if they can track down and kill the water genasi archmage that trapped him in the eponymous tome. This involves the players heading to two locations that don’t hit their max potential. At the first, the ‘flooded’ part of a flooded sea cave doesn’t really come into play in any meaningful way, while an encounter in which the players lay some ghosts to rest feels like filler. Next up, and negotiating with the cave’s resident eccentric dragon could be a fun little social interaction, but it feels like something I’ve done many times in my D&D career.
At the second location, a ruined cloud giant’s keep is mapped out in a rather dull manner (it’s a square basically), and contains a slightly confusing mix of apathetic and hostile cloud giant ghosts, while the BBEG patiently awaits them in the basement. The final fight does actually look pretty fun, especially if the DM adds some mechanics to the description of an elemental crystal that fills the room with “whipping winds and biting cold”… but why on earth has Zikran mounted his elemental cannon inside his workshop?
As the braggadocious archmage reveals his plans to restore the ruined cloud giant’s keep to its former glory as a flying fortress he can ride into battle, I’m thinking: It would be great if he’d already done that, because that would be a scenario to get truly excited about! At the very least, I feel the elemental cannon should be mounted on the front of the keep and that the players should have to raid the fortress, in the face of enemy fire (maybe the cannon recharges on a 4-6, meaning some rounds are safer than others to advance), or fight a pitched battle outside it.
A couple of other design issues. Firstly, the lab investigation (in the flooded cave) throws up all three pieces of info at this location on a single check, making the mystery part of this adventure pretty cheap and easy to solve. (Check out my staggered skills checks technique for something more satisfying here. Post coming soon!). Secondly, a wish spell is pretty nice incentive to take up the quest, but one that had me envisioning future problems. Like how will the party share it? And how will this affect the campaign? I’d only give the party such a powerful spell if I didn’t have an idea where my campaign was heading next, because the results could give me a headache. Finally, everything feels delineated into static room-by-room encounters, which I is not an adventure structure I like much. I’d prefer a dynamic location.
I don’t want to appear too harsh on this adventure, however. While I wanted more drama, there’s nothing wrong with Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome and no surgery at all is required to play this out of the box. I also thought the between-location encounter ideas, while simple, were really cool: harrying my players with wyverns along a coast, or having a yeti ambush them on a snow-capped mountain were encounters I wanted to play.
Author: Taymoor Rehman
Developer/Editor: Christopher Perkins
Final Rating: ★★★☆☆. A serviceable adventure that got the brain juice flowing about an awesome one, in which a runaway, ghost-filled flying fortress – mounted with elemental cannons – is terrorising local towns.
12. The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale
A book holds the key to unlocking a bard’s prison (level 11).
There are shades of Westworld and Inception about this story, which challenges the players to track down a book in Candlekeep in order to enter an artificial extraplanar village and de-corrupt a bard called Arrant Quill, by stabbing him with a dagger (especially forged for the purpose). Quill was once a prominent member of the Harpers, but his colleagues had to construct an elaborate prison for him once he fell foul of evil magic. The twist is that a beholder has dreamed its way into the same demiplane, and subsequently trapped Quill in a prison within a prison.
There’s some cool mindfuckery for the DM to play with here, and I can already envision playing Wisteria Vale’s constructed commoners as credible humanoids, who slip, droid-like, into familiar patterns of speech (constant comments about the weather, or repeating the same piece of gossip). Maybe there’s even a chance for a Westworld-style romance? Meanwhile a ball held by the beholder and a fake version of Quill should give the players a chance to solve the mystery of where the real Quill can be found (he’s been trapped in a painting).
This is a real cool offering, and I’m really curious how it might play out on the table. Minor gripes include a banquet menu choice that can kill you (I’m not a fan of death by random choice), a rather boring mansion map (another square! I have a strong feeling the writers are designing their own maps in this anthology), and the whole premise is far-fetched to say the least, but overall this definitely reads like one of the anthology’s top tomes.
Author: Kienna Shaw
Developers/Editors: Christopher Perkins & Hannah Rose
Final Rating: ★★★★½. A really original offering that should provide plenty of memorable moments come game night.
13. The Book of Inner Alchemy
A search for the missing pages of a book puts adventurers in conflict with the monks of the Immortal Lotus (level 12).
I’ll start with a gripe! The adventure begins with an embarrassed member of the Avowed presenting The Book of Inner Alchemy to the party and apologising for the fact that some pages have been stolen. Oh yeah and two Avowed are lying dead in the Great Library. I’m nitpicking but ’embarrassed’ just feels like completely the wrong emotion to introduce this hook, that starts with MURDER.
Anyway, the adventure’s underway and it starts with a crime scene investigation that even includes the lesser-spotted Medicine check (always pleased to see one of those!). One way or another, the players learn that the Order of the Immortal Lotus are behind the theft of the missing pages, and that these missing pages contain world-changing knowledge. So we’re talking about epic stakes… which, as everyone knows, are the best kind of stakes. The Avowed offer the party a decent reward to retrieve these stolen folios, and the players head off to the Cloakwood, where this evil order is known to hideout.
After a chance to battle some Immortal Lotus monks and / or two black puddings, the party arrive at the Temple of the Immortal Lotus, a complex that consists of the aforementioned temple, two training grounds, a living quarters and a hall of knowledge. The way the adventure is written seems to encourage DMs to run this location as a series of sequential combats, and at this point the adventure feels very much like a kung-fu computer game, in which you battle various lieutenants to get to the final boss. Given the close proximity of the various battlegrounds, it feels like anyone playing the adventure as a realistic scenario is going to basically set up one huge fight, with new opponents flowing in every few rounds. Unless of course the players punk the adventure, by simply waiting for nightfall to pounce. Or perhaps they try to stage a heist.
Hitherto unmentioned pros of this adventure include the detailed lore on the Order of the Immortal Lotus (even if it feels a little stereotypical! Bak Mei is a barely disguised Pai Mei), the banter of the arrogant antagonists (“You are mere worms slithering through the mud!”), and some other nice details – like Steel Crane floating down from two steles to give the players their first taste of the order’s techniques.
Concerns include the same-y-ness of the fights. Monks, monks and more monks. The annoyingness of the stunned condition in play (thankfully the standard Immortal Lotus Monk stat block does away with this… while somehow raising their CR by 2 over the stronger Martial Arts Adept stat block), and the near complete absence of two of the three main pillars of D&D play (combat is heavily present, but social and exploration pillars almost non-existent). Oh yeah, and Bak Mei is never a CR 13 threat. Maybe if he could do his Crane Dance Legendary Action as a Legendary Reaction to taking damage he could survive three rounds of combat against a level 12 party.
Finally, I think the author missed a trick by not having the other teachings of The Book of Inner Alchemy be relevant to the adventure in some way. Maybe those that study the book en route to the Cloakwood can learn enough about the flow of ki through the body that they can better block the Immortal Lotus monks’ stunning strikes and force strikes (gaining advantage on their saving throws)?
Author: Daniel Kwan
Developer/Editor: Hannah Rose
Final Rating: ★★★☆☆. Rich lore doesn’t really come into play in this rather one-dimensional adventure. Should prove fun one-shot material though, esp. if you’re a big fan of Kill Bill and other ‘kung-fu’ classics.
14. The Canopic Being
A book brings several puzzling organ transplants to light (level 13).
As in The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces and The Price of Beauty, The Canopic Being sends players on a quest to find a missing sage. And there’s no need to worry that the players won’t want to get involved… because their names appear, alongside the missing sage’s, on a list of intended vessels for a mummy lord’s transplanted organs.
This should have them teleporting into Tashluta, capital of Tashalar, a land where divination is practiced by everyone, but reaches its art form in the House of the All Seeing Orb. At this prophetic temple they meet the high priest (Shir Endellion), who tells them the former high priest (Xemru Thaal) went to visit a famous oracle, Valin Sarnaster, in her sanctuary and hasn’t returned. The players already know the names of Valin and Xemru, and voila Shir directs the players to Valin’s sanctuary, setting up a dungeon crawl adventure. While Shir is unaware of this, Valin has since become a mummy lord and has deliberately lured the players to her lair in order to turn them into her organ vessels.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, dungeon crawls aren’t my favourite flavour of D&D, but this is certainly a good one. The dungeon is made of translucent crystal, is covered in eye ‘sensors’, is warded against teleportation (and potentially summoning, depending on your interpretation of the text), and many zones have other area effects that will challenge and surprise players. It was deliberately designed to contain no stairs – so perfect if your party contains a player using a Combat Wheelchair (or even a DragonChair™ – available to buy at Dragonbowl’s ArcTech Expo!). Overall it feels like a unique and innovative location, the likes of which your players likely won’t have encountered before.
The players’ goal in the dungeon is to retrieve the missing sage, however she is already dead, having bravely cut out Valin’s transplanted pancreas from her body to avoid becoming a vessel to the mummy lord (Hipster Remix: could the players find the sage alive but bleeding out, having just performed the suicidal surgery… this would enable them to get any more info they need via some dying words, plus potentially enable them to revive her using the ‘Replacing What’s Lost’ method of revivification mentioned in the adventure). However, given that the players are also on the transplant list it’s likely that they will scour the rest of the dungeon in order to shut down the mummy lord’s enterprise, hopefully confronting her in her gravity-free observatory for a climactic last encounter.
I think this is a great story and a great dungeon, but I do have several criticisms of it. Firstly, it’s really quite confusing at times. There are a lot of names, some at least that don’t really seem necessary; there are two versions of the main ritual, the actual of process of which we don’t learn; there are two separate ways to undo the ritual; and then the whole organ swap thing is a bit of headspinner too (why does the mummy lord even need to keep the vessels’ original organs?). I think a few things could have been stripped out and some key points could have been repeated to help DMs keep on top of quite a complicated scenario.
I’m also extremely worried about the golem combats… this is a CR 13 adventure, but at some point the players will have to fight two, possibly three, CR 13 Canopic Golems simultaneously – and in a booby-trapped room. With 252 HP each, and autosaves on spells of 7th level spells or lower, I’m not really sure how a party that isn’t comprised of martial characters is expected to bring them down (Hipster Remix: Autosaves on spells of 4th level or lower might give the players a fair chance, plus it would force them to use their high level slots on the warm up act, making the final battle against the mummy lord way tenser).
One final gripe is we’re told this sanctuary/tomb is warded against teleportation, but Valin herself uses dimension door to get around.
Overall, these flaws can be easily fixed and The Canopic Being feels like one of the anthology’s stronger adventures.
Author: Jennifer Kretchmer
Developer/Editor: Scott Fitzgerald Gray & Christopher Perkins
Final Rating: ★★★★☆. A great premise which leads to an original dungeon crawl.
15. The Scrivener’s Tale
A tome leaves its magical mark on the adventurers, dooming them unless they can find a way to remove it. (level 14).
When the players chance upon, and read a portion of, The Scrivener’s Tale, they unleash its potent magic: approximately a fifth of their flesh is covered in the fine elvish script of the book. The ‘Scrivener’s Mark’ offers them a pretty cool benefit (they can speak sylvan and magic can’t put them sleep) and a pretty negligible drawback (they can no longer cast a reflection or shadow), however a successful Arcana check, or more research, tips them off that this mark is likely to grow and that the drawbacks might start to outweigh the benefits. Indeed, every three days they must save or another 20% of their body is covered in the mark until they eventually become a glass statue.
What a fantastic device! Now we’ve got an adventure hook and ticking clock in one, and a lovely bit of give and take as the drawbacks start of offset some pretty cool benefits (at 60% skin coverage you can cast one of a suite of cool spells for free per day…. but you can no longer attune to magic items).
The book is a prison for a ‘selfish and amoral’ archfey called The Princess of the Shadow Glass, who was trapped there by the book’s author, Zyrian, an elf mage who was forced to write this biased account of The Princess and her struggles against the Queen of Air and Darkness, the ruler of the Gloaming Court in the Feywild. As the players try to work out how to remove the Scrivener’s Mark, the trapped archfey tries to persuade them to free her by destroying Zyrian’s ghost, while the Queen of Air and Darkness sends her agents to forcibly retrieve the book from the party (presumably to ensure her enemy, the Princess of the Shadow Glass, remains trapped).
So there’s some good tension and conflicting factions to work with as the players journey first to Baldur’s Gate, to find out what happened to the book’s previous owner (who only managed to get rid of the mark using wish), and then to the underground ruins of the library where the previous owner found the book and where the ghost of Zyrian remains.
The ruins are the adventure’s final location, where the heroes will need to summon the Princess of the Shadow Glass in order to destroy her and end their curse. This finale looks to be the anthology’s best set piece battle so far, as the Princess has some really good abilities and lair actions, as well as some tasty minions (possibly too tasty… see my thoughts on the adventure’s flaws!).
All pros so far, but the adventure comes with some several cons… starting with it being rather confusing. Why does the book mark the characters? Seems like if you are designing a book prison you want that book to be as inoffensive and forgettable as possible. And why did Zyrian bind the Princess into the book in the first place? At some point we are told he encouraged her to go and claim her rightful place at the Feywild court, and we don’t really get any context here for how the Princess fell out with her humanoid allies. Meanwhile, the adventurers receive a mysterious dream, which hints at a back story that sounds cool, but which doesn’t come into play. And while the Princess is bound to the book, when she is freed from her prison she appears, not by the book (which is left in Candlekeep), but in the ruined library – which is now her lair. I was constantly thinking while reading the adventure: this nearly makes sense, but not quite.
Tied in with the confusing story is the rather unsatisfying mystery element. The adventurers end up going to the ruined library and summoning and fighting the Princess whatever they discover, or don’t, about the back story, and whoever they end up trusting or not. Meanwhile the investigation involves going all the way to Baldur’s Gate to speak to one cooperative NPC and find all five clues in a single location, no check required. (Interestingly, the author doesn’t seem to like skill checks, preferring to give players clues merely for having proficiency in a skill). A final reservation I have is that the combat-heavy ending could turn into a slog (there’s at least one, potentially three huge fights in the lead up to the final showdown), or simply be too difficult for parties that might be suffering the drawbacks of being extensively marked – such as vulnerability to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage.
Overall, some absolutely terrific elements in play here, but they just hang off a story that doesn’t quite fit together for me (or at least isn’t elaborated clearly enough for my liking!).
Author: Brandes Stoddard
Developer Christopher Perkins
Editor: Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Final Rating: ★★★★☆. A brilliant beginning and fantastic finale, sandwich a slightly muddled mystery.
16. Alkazaar’s Appendix
A book chronicles an unsolved mystery about a wandering stone golem in the desert. (level 15).
Another tome, another chance to teleport your players into a new adventure. In Alkazaar’s Appendix players portal into the Anauroch desert to complete the one quest that the eponymous adventurer Alkazaar couldn’t in his lifetime – the finding of a fabled Nether Scroll. Reading the book tips the players off about a golem called the Sapphire Sentinel, which holds the key to finding this scroll, while the book’s portal takes them directly to this golem – and they arrive just as two desert nomads discover it half-buried in sand. The nomads are a cute grandfather and grandson combination, while the mute golem has some good comedy-pathos potential. The grandfather believes the secret of the scroll’s location can be found in the Haruun caves, and here the players need to battle a purple worm to get the clue that will take them to their final destination: the Necropolis of Azumar. The final destination has a nice mix of environmental and monster hazards, while a dracolich (with lair actions) makes for a cool BBEG.
In a way, this adventure is similar to Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome in that it involves one clue-finding location and one final boss location, with some optional road encounters, but I think it benefits from: a) placing both locations in the same environment, allowing the author to really milk the North African desert vibe; b) having some fun NPCs along for some of the ride; and c) more plentiful and better-designed encounters.
Where it offers no improvement is the almost complete lack of mystery to uncover. The players get the adventure’s backstory, in almost its entirety, by reading the book before they set off, while the key to the adventure – the Sapphire Sentinel – is delivered to them in the opening scene. (Hipster Remix: Perhaps the heroes get a rough location or clue to the golem’s whereabouts and have to succeed on a skill challenge to find it in a land of oppressive heat and sandstorms… or at least actively enlist the desert nomads in order to locate it).
When they travel to the caves of Haruun, the players will have no trouble finding a series of colourful murals (Hipster Remix: these should be covered in sand and should only be revealed on a successful Perception check, or casting of detect magic) that divulge more details about the story behind the Nether Scroll. Now, face-to-face with the murals, surely we’re going to enjoy that satisfying Indiana Jones-style scene in which the players are forced to pore over these curious depictions and consider what they might mean? Nope! A series of inscriptions underneath each mural bluntly spell out to the players everything they need to know, as well as handily providing a map to their next location. Facepalm, with a side helping of facepalm. (Hipster Remix: We need to remove those inscriptions and as well place their desert nomads in danger during the purple worm fight… if the heroes fail to protect these humble folk, their quest just got a whole lot harder. The map should require a separate check to find).
Aside from the mystery aspect needing some surgery, my only other major concern is that the final battle against the dracolich takes place in a very cramped room… which can hamper your chance to stage a really dramatic and dynamic boss fight. (Hipster Remix: Re-map area V3 to be at least 20 feet wider and consider sticking in a couple more interest terrain features – here’s a list to help you – including some significant cover, so the dracolich has to move to best use its breath weapon).
Author: Adam Lee
Developers: Michele Carter & Christopher Perkins
Editor: Michele Carter
Final Rating: ★★★★☆. The author really nails the desert theme for me, and provides memorable NPCs and epic encounters. One point docked for making me remix the mystery!
A fell grimoire helps adventurers end a fungal plague (level 16)
When a fungal plague ravages the Sword Coast, its victims droning ‘Xanthoria’ again and again, the heroes make their way to Candlekeep to seek out a book of the same name. This book charts the descent into madness of a druid (called Xanthoria), and players set off to find her in lair, a cave network known as the Lykortha Expanse. Here they battle all manner of fungal foes and monstrosities in a bid to shut down the druid-turned-lich’s perverse operations (thus ending the plague).
Structurally and thematically, there are a lot of parallels with Xanthoria and The Canopic Being. Both feature undead lords who use living vessels as the repository for their phylacteries, while both lure the players into a thematic dungeon crawl to deal with the adventure’s chief antagonist. If I criticised the lack of mystery in finding the dungeon in The Canopic Being, then there’s none at all in Xanthoria – the players shortcut directly to the final location (there’s not even an on the road encounter!), armed with all the knowledge they need. Overall, the adventure feels like the finale of a story, the rest of which is missing.
Anyway, there’s some genuinely creepy sh*t going down in these caves, and the location is packed with some really imaginative encounters. The agony-wracked victims suspended in the mycelium tendrils, the parasite-infested behirs running around on the ceiling as the players suffer the effects of a necrotic fog, the purple worm spewing up rotten flesh in the charnel pit, and the final face off against the Lichen Lich (I hope that was pun unintended!), all look like great encounters – with lots of environmental effects to spice things up. Although I do get a gut feeling that the number of nasty effects and hit point erosion throughout the dungeon could be too strong, even at this high level, while the author uses the re-skinning a monster stat block trick a few too many times for me (it starts to feel a bit cheap and lazy on the third and fourth time around!).
Bizarrely, the heroes themselves are never threatened by the ‘Saprophytic Plague’ that underpins the whole adventure.
Hipster Remix: This whole story is crying out for more build up, and when I think about a ‘deadly plague’ adventure, the way it should evolve should be:
- Incidental contact of the sickness with the players during a routine encounter on the road against some goblinoids/bandits/whatever… the PCs risk infection (and in this case here the word ‘Xanthoria’ for the first time).
- The players rock up to the next community, possibly searching for a cure for one of their party, only to find that this community is under threat from the plague. They must take action! (First by fending off sick goblin hordes and secondly setting up a quarantine system).
- Whether they succeed or not in saving that particular community, the plague is spreading in other communities… the heroes must get to the root of the problem. They might ask around and get a lead or suggestion to travel to Candlekeep… or you could skip the book as a device, and just finding out about the druid is enough. They can go directly to Xanthoria’s lair to deal with her.
Author: Toni Winslow-Brill
Developers: Bill Benham & Christopher Perkins
Editor: Kim Mohan
Rating: ★★★☆☆. A well-designed dungeon crawl, with a very focused fungal theme, but one that feels like a final location rather than a whole adventure.
Candlekeep Mysteries Ranked!
The human brain demands that I now rank these funky folios, as per my ratings. There’s really not much to separate positions 11-17 for me, all of which have a lot to offer, but are held back in the rankings by either some significant flaws or omissions… so you could consider this a 6 way tie. I would also like to repeat my earlier caveat that these ratings are based on one DM’s personal response to the stories, and furthermore I’ve deliberately been a tough marker to help differentiate the good from the great. Now off we go…
- The Price of Beauty. Feeling as fresh as its spa’s fragrant lilies, this adventure memorably mixes the foul and the funny. 5 stars.
- Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion. Just such a blast! 5 stars.
- The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale. Even though it’s not maximised, I love the Westworld concept so much that The Curious Tale edges out A Deep & Creeping Darkness to 3rd place. 4.5 stars.
- A Deep & Creeping Darkness. Probably the anthology’s best designed adventure… but one that can’t quite compete with the crazy imagination of the three above it. 4.5 stars.
- The Scrivener’s Tale. A little muddy in the middle for me, but the outstanding hook and final battle seal 5th place for this superior offering. 4 stars.
- Alkazaar’s Appendix. Only a frustrating lack of mystery prevented this epic tale getting top marks. 4 stars.
- The Canopic Being. A brilliantly creepy premise and a unique dungeon make this 4 stars, but I feel there’s a bit more to get your teeth into in the two 4 star adventures above it, hence TCB settling into 7th place. 4 stars.
- The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces. A cute introductory dungeon crawl that feels perfectly themed for this anthology. 4 stars.
- Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme. I probably wouldn’t play it (not in a hurry to relive a quarantine situation right now!), but I loved reading this dark fairytale, worthy of Brothers Grimm. 3.5 stars.
- The Book of Cylinders. Not quite epic enough for my tastes, but I felt like this was well thought out… and who wouldn’t want to run the crab maze? 3.5 stars.
- Book of the Raven. More of a toolkit that an adventure, but it’s one that I’ll likely use at some point. 3 stars.
- Lore of Lurue. Needs remixing, but there’s enough I like about this epic fey-world fairytale that it sneaks in at 12th. 3 stars.
- Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome. This is better designed adventure than the two above it, but lacks a strong theme or concept to tie it together. 3 stars.
- Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor. This is a decent adventure, but one that doesn’t leverage anything too original and exciting for me. If the author had gone to town on the grell cult we’d be in 4 star territory. 3 stars.
- Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions. As written, MMD is in serious danger of fizzling out without any drama. But if remixed could actually be a really cool little adventure. 3 stars.
- The Book of Inner Alchemy. Doesn’t really pretend to be anything other than a flavourful D&D beat’em up – which is fine by me. It’s simplicity means I’m actually more likely to run it than some others, but if I’m ranking the adventures on design merits it’s 16th. 3 stars.
- Xanthoria. While the encounters in this dungeon crawl might be the best-designed in the entire anthology, this feels like an adventure that is missing a beginning and a middle, and which has no moving parts for the DM to have fun with. 3 stars.
Candlekeep Mysteries: Stats
It’s impossible not to notice some reoccurring themes and villains crop up in Candlekeep Mysteries, so here are a few fun figures and stats that I noted:
No. of book-portals: 5
No. of undead BBEGs: 5
No. of demi-planes: 4
No. of ‘missing sages’ adventure hooks: 3
No. of cults: 3
No. of adventures set in Candlekeep: 2.5 (The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces I’ll count as half!).
No. of new stat blocks: 26 (of which 9 are unique / individual creatures).
If I had to sum up Candlekeep Mysteries in one word it would be ‘inspiring’. There’s so many fresh ideas here, be they intriguing concepts for an entire adventure or campaign, original encounter ideas, or just cool atmospheric details. Even though some of the adventure design lacks dynamism, the stories behind the adventures are invariably rich and well-developed – making the anthology a damn good read.
I would question the decision to have the adventures go all the way up to 16th level, as it’s hard to believe that the higher level adventures will see as much play… by the time you get to those levels, you’re usually talking about experienced DMs running longstanding campaigns with many moving parts.
I also feel that the maps left a lot to be desired… it felt like the authors themselves were left to design the locations, many of which were geographically very dull indeed, and then the cartographers were just told to realise those plans. (I speak not of Mike Schley’s gorgeous coloured map, which I have spent many an hour gazing at – indeed, I have created 30+ new locations based on his drawings for my own Candlekeep Mystery).
Finally, with only two adventures set in Candlekeep (and one in an extradimensional space attached to the library), and no really well designed mystery-investigations within the anthology, Candlekeep Mysteries does rather leave DMs with an itch that needs scratching…
My overall rating then for the entire product is:
The Missing 18th Candlekeep Mystery!
OMG… it seems like by some bizarre clerical error one of Candlekeep’s most intriguing mysteries actually went missing from the anthology!
Luckily, the enigma of who murdered the Keeper of Tomes has been meticulously preserved and catalogued, by none other than this very blogger, for prospective sleuths to pit their wits against.
I already had a Name of the Rose inspired detective story brewing in my mind when I bought Candlekeep Mysteries, but when I discovered that virtually none of the anthology’s adventures step foot in Candlekeep, and few-to-none contain a mystery that require more than a single skills check and/or informal chat to solve, my plans stepped up a gear.
In Candlekeep Murders: The Deadwinter Prophecy, the players arrive on a bitter cold Deadwinter’s Day to discover that none other than the Keeper of Tomes has been murdered… and as the only folk not in Candlekeep the night before it falls on them to take charge of the investigation. After first inspecting the crime scene (cue staggered success Medicine and Investigation checks), the players must interview witnesses and suspects to reconstruct a complex crime, made more opaque by the side machinations and secrets of the scheming Great Readers. There’s no right or wrong way to solve the case (or cases, as the body count increases during the night!), and clues are delivered that still require player deduction and insights to be interpreted correctly.
As the mystery plays out, the stakes are raised when the murderer manages to down the library’s defences allowing a powerful evil faction to teleport into the citadel and begin a race with the players to discover the fabled Vault of Secrets. The resultant treasure hunt takes players across every corner of the Great Library (25 new locations are elaborated in the adventure), while fighting running battles with the enemy faction.
It’s not for me to review it, but I enjoyed DMing Candlekeep Murders A LOT, and so far public opinion – including that of Ed Greenwood – has been very kind. So do please check it out if you have a moment!
There are plenty of useful resources to help you play through Candlekeep Mysteries, and I always enjoy the suggestions of Eventyr Games in their companion series for all WOTC official adventures. They’ve bundled together their advice and maps for 6 of the adventures. Check out the bundle here.
This series of encounters looks fun too.
As does this book of additional NPCs…
You can find some invaluable lore, inscribed by none other than Ed Greenwood himself, on this rather antiquated website.
Otherwise, for 5th edition fun and frolics, your best authority is Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion, compiled by an elite team (with Ed as consultant).
There are quite a few cool Candlekeep Mysteries reviews you can find online, and what’s quite fun is that each reviewer tends to have their favourites. It’s a game of opinions after all!
Definitely my favourite reviews were those of Tabletop Bob’s, and I love his review system where he awards marks out of 5 for ‘Story’, ‘Hook’, ‘NPCs’, ‘Pacing’ and ‘Combat’.
Another go-to reviewer of mine is Rogue Watson, who has a great eye for the pros and cons of any given adventure. You can check out his thoughts and final rankings below: