The newest D&D5e release is an anthology of 17 book-centric adventures written by a collection of people from the tabletop, videogame, and board game communities. How do they fair? Are they right for you? Find out.
About This Review
Candlekeep Mysteries casts a wide net. Several of the people involved in this project are peers of mine and a few I’d even consider acquaintances if not friends. It puts me in a very peculiar position, as I am overjoyed to see so many diverse and talented people spearheading their own narrative slice of this volume, but I am also by definition supposed to be constructively critical of these releases. The truth is – some of these adventures are underdeveloped at best and it makes me question the selection process for writers in this book when there are so many brilliant designers snapping their teeth with hunger for a chance to work with such a well-known company. Having said that, I have done my best to summarize each adventure and tell you my thoughts on them as individual items. The book as a whole will be summarized in the “Final Thoughts” category and the TL;DR below.
You’ve all seen them already, I’m sure, but here are some obligatory snapshots of the standard and limited edition cover. If you can afford it and plan on buying the book, the limited edition is FAR superior and borderline worth owning for aesthetic purposes alone.
The Book Itself
Just some considerations while using the book that pop up over and over again:
- There is no Appendix. In a book SLAP FULL of magic items and NPCs, curses and diseases and poisons and monsters and lairs and effects – this book really could have used a robust appendix.
- The Table of Contents lists the headers for each adventure and new monsters, which is handy, but there’s a lot of flipping back and forth between it and the chart on page 5 that lists the adventures and their elevator pitches.
- The elevator pitches aren’t all that helpful when selecting an adventure to read, from the perspective of a new DM. It’s a slight thing, but worth saying.
- The book lists the writer, designer, and editor under each adventure, which is PHENOMENAL. I love it along with the ornate design to each chapter. Love it.
- The book just kinda ends? It tells you about candlekeep then gives each of the 17 adventures their space, but since there is no central narrative to Candlekeep, no mooring for a party, there’s no reason to go back there and no appendices. So from the last adventure, there’s just a black page and a map. Feels very strange, if I’m honest.
- Each adventure is self contained. New stat blocks, new items, new NPCs – they’re all IN the chapter of the adventure which means no flipping back and forth in the book – it’s just a straight shot through from start to finish for each chapter.
Candlekeep is a beloved library heralded as one of the most popular locations in all of the Forgotten Realms. The book itself is a “book of books” – each adventure inside is developed around a tome found inside Candlekeep to give the feeling of perusing a great library while using this supplement.
Expectations for developing Candlekeep (location) may have been impossibly high for this book, as the entire Candlekeep chapter of the book is 6.5 pages (once full page stat blocks and half-page art are subtracted) and much of that is devoted to various NPCs and how the book exchange to enter the library functions.
This chapter includes set dates, which is a boon, and I wish more books used hard dates like that. A lot of times dates are obscured and pried out of Chris Perkins, Jeremy Crawford, and Ed Greenwood AFTER a book is released. I know they hide the timeline to keep the books unordered (so you don’t ‘miss out’ by not running a book or running them out of order) but man do I wish we had a way to connect them chronologically more easily.
Some of the inner workings of Candlekeep are revealed (such as modron bookkeepers) but other than a run-down of the various locations present on the map and a peculiar dragon ghost, the chapter doesn’t dive too deeply into secrets, NPCs, quests, lore, etc. Some of the locations in Storm King’s Thunder were more fully developed, in my opinion, but lovers of Candlekeep will enjoy it all the same. Outside of the happenings of the books that make up the adventures, there’s not a lot of moving parts to Candlekeep – it’s more of a backdrop than anything.
Dare I say, Candlekeep as a location functions much like an Ikea bookshelf. Kinda plain compared to what’s on the shelves.
Instead of a primary adventure or framework to get parties interested in the various books (and the adventures therein), Candlekeep Mysteries gives a number of reasons a party may search for the book on their own volition, listed under “Finding the Book” in each chapter. Truth be told, it’s horrifically unfriendly for new or inexperienced DMs to be expected to set the stage themselves for party interactions with these tomes – such as “seeking aid for a stricken town … [home to] one or more of them.” I’m afraid a new DM might struggle to find an option that works for the party and without a good hook, a party is prone to wander and buck against linear storytelling.
As a whole, This book is a departure from what we’ve grown accustomed to over the past 6 years – as a collection of one-shot adventures, there’s not going to be a perfect way to execute it for EVERY player or group. I suppose, in my own mind, I expected a series of adventure hooks to get parties to Candlekeep and an organization with interests in sending out parties to corroborate and/or confirm the information written in various tomes. To me, that seems a more elegant solution to why parties would be involved in flipping through these often-times cursed books – but I suppose for people who want to inject these adventures directly into already established groups, the piecemeal setup might work better. I cannot say.
The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces
The ‘hook’ for the adventure is a little weak in that it relies on happenstance and an accommodating 1st level party. The premise, without spoiling much, is the party enters a room looking for someone and needs to read a note. When all the extraneous details are boiled away, that’s the entirety of the adventure’s opening. Granted, this is an adventure for 1st level characters, but even still – calling it a mystery was/is a bit of an oversell in my opinion.
Once the adventure moves to a second location, things become an exploratory dungeon crawl through a mansion containing 19 rooms and as many puzzles. Since the exit closes behind them and escape is completely impossible, the party has no choice but to explore hoping to find a way out.
Overall, I cannot say I’m a big fan of this adventure. It suffers from the “you have but one choice” yoke and a stubborn party may circumvent or destroy the adventure entirely by refusing to explore the mansion when their village/friend/whatever is at stake, regardless of how persuasive the NPCs are. When its all said and done, the party is DENIED what they came to Candlekeep for in the first place and “have but one choice” but to search Candlekeep again or take on petty jobs to raise money for an unexpected cost. It’s not an ideal situation for a level 1 party. And, from the look of the encounters, it will probably prove quite deadly for one or more of the party.
Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions
Love the title and how it relates to the book of this adventure. The ‘hook’ for this one is also fairly loose but malleable enough – a party looking for particular information about the denizens of the multiverse may come to this journal for some useful mad scribblings. The second stage of the plot hook is: the book turns into a ghostly glob and tries to devour the party’s life energy… so…
The story then transitions to a tale of jackalweres, lamias, tragedy, resurrection, and a firm hope that the party will take up the task of tracking down the REAL copy of the book they just had to murder in exchange for a magic item. Not an unfair prize for this kind of task, particularly at level 2.
Problems arise when you consider this adventure can have up to 8 encounters – many with creatures immune to nonmagical/nonsilvered weapons. To avoid it, characters must have a spare 750 gp lying around or really impress their DM with Metal Gear Solid levels of infiltration into a jackalwere hideout. As a level 2 adventure, it’s pretty combat heavy, only broken up by asking questions to specific, known NPCs. It’s got enough going on to be peculiar and interesting, but parties that choose violence will find themselves unable to complete this fetch quest. I know many players who would feel betrayed by such an arrangement – so DM be warned.
Book of the Raven
Obvious ties to Ravenloft give this book a little extra spice. The ‘hook’ to lead players here comes in three forms: research of the Vistani, search for routes into and out of the Shadowfell, and (my favorite) a peculiarly interested raven who flaps and drags the book over to adventurers. Having a hook that unavoidable and weird is a solid choice that I’d like to see in more adventures in this book.
The story revolves around a treasure map stashed inside the old, obviously enigmatic, featureless, book. There’s a short story about the author’s travels that I think is great – obviously Chris is somewhat familiar with Ravenloft, after all. When the adventure kicks off on the treasure hunt, the party must find a hamlet that is intentionally left locationless, making it easy to inject into your games. From there, they must follow the map to find the mentioned treasures.
The truth is, though – this adventure, again, relies on a party’s laser-focused avarice to actually progress. Otherwise, they will arrive at a destination after several days travel, have a conversation, and leave, ending the adventure. There is no greater plot or ploy other than discovering the location, tracking the rumor of treasure, or using a crossing to the Shadowfell. It’s dark, brooding, and fits perfectly with Ravenloft adventures. The narrative behind the scenes is great – but DMs should expect to have to add a lot of extra work into this one to get kindhearted parties invested in seeing it through.
A Deep and Creeping Darkness
The mysterious disappearance of a town’s population led to its desertion. This adventure revolves around an unnamed mining and exploration group handing an unnamed book to the party with instruction to retrieve a different unnamed book with the information they need which is speculated to be at Candlekeep . That book (the titular title) tells the tale of the forlorn mining town called Vermeillon and sheds some light on the mystery.
The adventure uses a lot of exposition, which I think could have been handled better as a handout/excerpt from the book instead of a half-page of text for the DM to relay. The main thrust to get them moving is a hand-drawn map that points the party in the right direction – a neighboring town.
There are cool NPCs with FANTASTIC art from Mark Behm, but NPCs are just used to give additional objectives (find a thing, put flowers on a grave) – they don’t actually have any pertinent or helpful information as to what happened in the calamity, the party will be heading in with little information.
To be more brief – the first half of this adventure is unaswered questions to get the party to go to an abandoned town and a dungeon (the mine). The town and the platinum mine are both fairly well done with simple but effective maps. A sprawling low/mid level dungeon crawl through a creepy town teeming with meenlocks – it’s got well written descriptions, but may need some additional work to get your party from point A to B to C. The fact it culminates in a dungeon crawl, creature extermination feels anticlimactic.
Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme
A children’s book, kept on a shelf for 600 years, drove its courier insane in tandem with its delivery and has since gathered dust. The party is unerringly afflicted by the same madness and must figure out what’s going on, track down the titular book, and rid themselves and the others afflicted of the spreading madness.
This adventure does not share a similar layout to previous iterations – the first several pages contain overviews, summaries, NPCs, locations, and information for DMs to run the adventure quickly – which feels both strange and like an improvement. A list of five interesting NPCs is supplied, as well as details on the curse afflicting them and the party.
What starts off as a pretty solid adventure framework stumbles a bit when the first 3 objectives given to the party are:
- pick up a stack of books from a table
- deliver those books to a NPC
- Oops – deliver those same books to the CORRECT NPC at a different location
The delivery is meant to introduce you to 3 new NPCs and 3 new locations, but when you’re tackling a one-shot, even these small details can kick the whole night off-kilter. Luckily, the party finds themselves swiftly quarantined to prevent the spread of the madness. While thematic and cool, the rest of the adventure pulls the characters along a preset course, like a cat chasing a string, of tracking down why the hell a lullaby is stuck in their heads and following noises.
With cool art, an interesting hook, and a robust front-loaded framework, I think this may be the easiest adventure thus-far to inject into a campaign – having any member of the party know an NPC in the Firefly Cellar of Candlekeep makes this instantly usable for any group and not overly difficult to run on the fly. I will say, I cannot imagine a party I’ve played with finishing this adventure in one session. It’s a 2-4 session adventure at best with six events, a half dozen NPCs, and 14 individual locations, most of which have hidden discoverables inside.
The Price of Beauty
A hag-centered adventure around a book of ‘tips for channeling self-love and inner beauty’ starts off with a missing acolyte who’s vanished without a trace. There’s no hook at all as to why the party would be searching for the book: “Start the adventure by having the characters seeking The Price of Beauty.” I think, you’ll need to cook up a good reason for the party to get themselves involved other than curiosity or treasure. Truth be told, I find that to be the most difficult part of DMing, so not seeing those options polished to a mirror sheen in this anthology strikes me as so very peculiar.
The thrust of the adventure is: a magical enchantment on the book opens a portal of ‘rest and relaxation’ to a temple bathhouse where three hags have taken control, manipulating patrons into dark deals that lead to their doom.
This adventure shifts into a dungeon delve, of sorts, rife with tons of enemies, NPCs being led down dark paths, and enchanted paintings that house damned souls.
Overall, this is a pretty interesting idea and executed fairly well. It’s a big sprawling area with 18 rooms, boat loads of spells and treasures, NPCs, stories, and secrets. There are some hiccups that rely on the party not casting certain spells (identify) or useful abilities (divine sense) lest the entire exploration become “walk through portal, fight 3 hags and their minions immediately, celebrate.” But it’s inspired and has some interesting outcomes. It’s probably the strongest and most polished ‘book’ thus far.
Book of Cylinders
This adventure focuses on a long-standing rivalry and confrontation between frog-like creatures and yuan-ti, as well as a dire warning from the people who brought the book to Candlekeep. This is the first adventure that is THRUST upon the party and I love it. It’s simple, elegant, and effective: the Avowed of Candlekeep want to hire a group of adventurers to help near-by suffering frog-folk crab farmers. Done. You’ve got me – giant crabs, frog people, weird book, an NPC directly to ‘sell’ the party on the adventure. Hell yes.
The story shifts to that of a 7 Samurai-esque confrontation between the grippli and the yuan-ti terrorizing them. While it may not break new ground and blow minds, it’s done really well and pithily. Who hears “Crab Maze” and “Breakwater” without getting a cool idea of what the sea-churned village is. There’s enough information here to run an entire session just learning about the grippli and yuan-ti.
Overall, This is a solid, well written, and mercifully short adventure. Honest one-shot potential with time for roleplay, exploration, and fun little story elements to show the grippli culture. Well done.
Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor
A dark departure, this book is about a mass murder and an anguishing ghost. I’ve read the introduction for this adventure 3-4 times and haven’t really digested it, but the adventure itself begins when the party is beckoned to the book by Sarah’s ghost. Why the party? Why now after so many years? Unknown/Completely up to you.
What this adventure does well is give a strong sense of mystery and underlying spookiness. The book itself is written in a way to start benign and grow darker in the final chapters when Sarah witnesses a cult ritual.
You get a good bit to work with here – Yellowcrest Manor, the lineage of some of the NPCs, backstory of the estate and family, secrets, histories. It does all of this well, but much like some of the earlier adventures, it’s a whole lot, a vast, unrevivable array, of exposition for DMs to consume before running this adventure. What’s written in this adventure could be expanded pretty easily to fill a novella and there’s a very real chance that many parties will feel overwhelmed by so much information in a one-shot adventure. So, I think this should be split up into a 3-4 part adventure that culminates in the events that happen at Greenfast.
There’s a lot to use here and a cool hook to develop for your players – what connection one might share to Sarah for instance – but running this adventure on short notice would be borderline impossible for all but the most talented and well-read DMs. Still – it’s a good piece and a fun read.
Lore of Lurue
An enchanted storybook hurls the party into a demiplane forest where they are given a quest to root out a blight consuming the land. There are a few rudimentary suggestions as to how the party would come across the book, but they’re mostly superficial – one that stood out is
“[the party could be] assisting one of the Great Readers of Candlekeep by helping them sort a pile of books that need to be reshelved.”
That comes back to central complaint about this book – there should be a singular faction, quest, or agent responsible for hooking the party into interacting with these freaking books! It’d be such a load off of potential DMs if instead of “perhaps they want to know about lycanthropy for some reason?” it said “Great Reader Balewright is losing his eyesight. Knowing adventurers to be discreet, at the very least, he sends his apprentice, Miranda, to fetch a few sellswords willing to help him sort through a pile of tomes with unknown enchantments.” Bing – you have a direct reason to involve adventurers, you have a reason it’s /today/, you have two NPCs to interact with, and the session has a definitive starting point… but I digress.
The book has direct ties to Silverymoon and a lesser deity that happens to be a unicorn. You literally need nothing else to go off of to draw attention. But the demiplane is actually quite considerable, comparable in size to some of the domains of dread. There’s random encounters, magical pools, satyrs/sprites/treants, multiple locations, and the tried and true story of permeating evil corrupting unspoiled nature. The whole thing culminates with a confrontation with a corrupted avatar of a god.
It’s big, it’s bombastic, and it’s got a ton of usable stuff in it with some really well-written descriptions. I feel like this needed more than 9 pages to pull off everything it was attempting to do, but “wanting more” is generally a good sign. Well done.
We ramp things up pretty considerably with this one – the party must stop a portion of Candlekeep from being launched into space.
The book itself is a collection of diagrams and instructions of how Candlekeep was built and its layout/blueprints – left behind for the party to discover by a recently killed cultist.
The good thing about the adventure opening is – it’s direct. A dwarf dies and has this book on their person. The book leads to a clue, leads to an NPC – it has rules for speak with dead, and there’s a light investigation before the party is shaken up by an earthquake. “Ticking clock” was used in the opening line of the adventure and I’m pretty happy to see it injected first thing into the game.
There’s enough here to use piecemeal if you want to, such as a roster of cultists you could sprinkle throughout several adventures in Candlekeep, but due to its linear nature and investigative nature, I think this works pretty well as a one or two shot adventure. There’s quite written for you, including several monster blocks to familiarize yourself with, along with a dozen locations – so be prepared to read this ahead of time and take some notes, but it seems like a fast-paced fun time.
Zikran’s Zemphyrean Tome
A locked tome, which a collection of sages and spellcasters can’t open, finds its way to the hands of an adventurer and finally opens, revealing a tale of of a genie trapped inside.
Sadly, this adventure relies on several magical contrivances to prevent obvious answers and resources from being of any use. The spell trapping the djinn can only be lifted by forcing the caster to dispel it. The book can’t be read or opened by magic because the spells on it are just so strong. The spells inside are hidden because magic – etc, etc. It’s not a huge fault, I’m not overly mad about it, but the artificial nature of such things usually rub spellcasters the wrong way, particularly at level 10+ when they have access to some of the strongest spells in the known universe.
The adventure culminates with the party venturing to several dungeons, facing off against some potentially deadly enemies, and exploring a dozen or so rooms and locations until they track down the malicious genasi archmage who imprisoned the djinn. This adventure is a 4+ session experience, if I had to guess, just because there’s the potential for quite a lot of combat and a great deal of exploration, but it’s fairly straightforward and should be easy to run, at least.
The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale
The script of a heroic play acts as a backdrop to the real adventure in which the party is tasked with freeing a long-imprisoned bard from a curse. As premises go – I rather like this one! The party is hired when the adventure starts for a sizeable purse of gold to get the book and meet back up with an archmage. Very tight opening with an easy to set hook and a peculiar plot to tug on.
The adventure relies so heavily on the contents of the book that I’m amazed it’s not written into a handout for the players to read on their own, despite fears they may make jumps in logic. The adventure heads into a rather large demiplane that’s been fabricated to keep the bard busy. The resources spent on this one character’s safety actually strains credulity but comes across as touching more than anything. When the party finds that a beholder has found its way into the demiplane, the adventure really picks up in an interesting way.
A moderately long adventure with moderate-to-heavy prep, this is an all-around solid addition that really plays up the ‘book’ theme of the entire publication. Good job.
The Book of Inner Alchemy
A book written by masters of the Open Hand speaks to the use of ki in attaining eternal life/vitality, drawing the attention of a monk with less-than beneficent intentions. Such a strong and compelling central premise, sadly, relies on another very lax “finding the book” section – luckily there are several options so hopefully one will work.
For starters, the first page, alone, has so many little details anchoring it to real-world teachings and exploration of the body, mind, ki connection that are often overlooked. From the conflict felt by the monks who made the book to how the pages are written in columns to be read right to left. There’s just a lot of care put into the central IDEA of this book that leaves you feeling like you’re in good hands. It’s worth mentioning and is a commendable feat.
The adventure establishes that a radial monk has sent their disciples to steal instructions in hopes of crafting a powerful magical item to grasp otherwise unattainable power. The party is tasked by Candlekeep’s Avowed to track down those missing pages.
As a level 12 adventure, it works well: growing threats far outside the skill set of everyday people. If it were a lower level adventure, it would strain credulity when a CR 3 Veteran would probably make short work of the venture. At higher levels, one would question why the enemy would pilfer pages and not assault Candlekeep itself. As a ‘crime drama’ narrative, the party has to track the thieves back to their home.
The adventure culminates in a conflict with the Order of the Immortal Lotus in a temple dungeon that’s reminiscent in style of martial arts movies from the 1970s and 1980s – where the party must face the Order of the Immortal Lotus students before facing the master.
Perhaps it speaks to my love of such media (The Zatoichi series, Venom Mob movies of the 70s and 80s, etc) but this adventure injects a lot of style and measured contemplation into what could have become a bogged-down dungeon crawl. Slightly elevated verbiage, concise writing, and great execution of both pacing and difficulty for the adventure show that Daniel is a seasoned designer. Exceptional work.
The Canopic Being
The vile text of a fell ritual that implants the cursed organs of a mummy lord into living people is revealed to contain the names of… the player characters! Dun dun DUUUUUUUUUN!
The adventure begins when the party is tasked to find a missing researcher who had been studying the book. It’s got the dependable hook of injecting the party right into the mess. Thankfully, the procedure has yet to be done on the party (I know many players who would buck that idea immediately) leaving them room to intercede by traveling to the far-off land of Tashluta.
At its bones, the adventure is a short dungeon crawl. What really elevates it is a unique perspective on the mummy lord lore – which is additionally propped up by INCREDIBLE descriptions and art. The bulk of the adventure, then, lies on relaying information to the party in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them, which I feel it does well. It operates, in an odd sense, like an Indiana Jones movie. A scholarly setup, an exploration section tracking down the truth with set piece combat, an action-centric ending with very rare magical items up for grabs. It’s not a perfectly tight narrative and kinda feels like it was massaged or reworked a few times from start to finish into its final shape, but it’s got some really interesting ideas that give a fresh vibe to the whole affair. If you can show the art and maintain the feeling of a mystique about it, it’ll be great.
The Scrivener’s Tale
A tale of a mysterious book that inflicts the party with a supernatural fey curse. So, as you’ve read previously, I’m not a huge fan of this type of contrivance and forced interaction. An acolyte brings the party a pile of books (for an unknown reason) and within the pile is The Scrivener’s Tale. The book is both plainly magical yet completely unidentifiable through magic. The curse happens to be impervious to remove curse and all magic short of a wish spell. It also sparks the adventure through a dream, even if the character doesn’t sleep, require sleep, or normally dream. Such things just bother me a lot and almost no one else will care about it, but I’m obliged to speak my mind.
The adventure begins when the party must travel to Baldur’s Gate (assuming it wasn’t dragged to Baator in your campaign world) at the urge of the curse. On the way there, even if they teleport directly into the city, they are attacked by archfey agents and hounded by enemies while they possess the book. The hook is pretty weak and forced to the point additional incentive is given in the form of bribes (supernatural gifts, coin, magic items, whatever makes the party move forward with the quest) by the book itself.
It takes right at three pages to explain the curse and set up the adventure before much of merit happens because how the curse afflicts the party must be explained in detail and why the curse cannot be contended with due to the high level of the adventure, lest it be sidestepped with a few waves of the hand – one that I didn’t see considered even still is legend lore, a 5th level spell that could basically blow the lid off the later half of the adventure.
There is some good stuff here – the idea of ending a lengthy curse, standing in opposition of warring archfey, being embroiled in political and psudeo-familial intrigue, facing a terrifying fey enemey. But this adventure and the ensuing dungeon delve take a lot of prodding and forcing. The party is cursed (no save) and cannot be rid of it unless they play ball. They’re attacked no matter where they go or what they do. The party cannot make, let alone succeed on Insight checks against the fey. The party has no choice but to move forward. No matter how skilled the party or accepting the players, that sort of thing chafes. For a tier 1 adventure, when the party isn’t quite powerful enough to contend with problematic spells and creatures, this may function wonderfully, but at level 14 the party is on the cusp of demigod status and having agency taken from them can be a hard pill to swallow.
Still – if you’re running a fey-heavy campaign or one set in Baldur’s Gate, there’s interesting NPCs, including the incredible Yvandre Rillyn, as well as a cool enemy and a fleshed out dungeon. With some retooling, this could be a magnificent addition to long-form high-level campaigns.
A pair of books weave a tale of adventure and heroics, save for a single story left unfinished: that of a lost construct. There is a rather choppy history of where the book’s been, its history, and a retelling of the stories inside. But what I love the most: there are numerous hooks that don’t revolve around happenstance or chance to bring the book to the party’s attention. Kudos! The list of ways to inject this adventure into your game is longer than the book’s description and as long as the books history. You love to see it.
The adventure begins when the party decides to finish Alkazaar’s final quest (or any number of the listed hooks), and they research the lost construct. The interesting bit is – there is a portal directly TO the construct written inside the book. So with 1 hour of study, you can step through and skip all the in-between, putting your foot right into the action.
It’s a story of immortality, rage, and the battle between evil and not evil (I dare not say ‘good’). Taking place in one of my favorite locations, the Anauroch desert, the party has to babysit (or murder) the construct and escort it to a particular crypt. There’s a lot of combat, or potential combat, and a whole butt load of locations and outcomes. I can’t imagine this taking fewer than 3 sessions, unless the party is laser focused on finishing it quickly. There’s a ton to use here and it’s straightforward enough for most parties to dig into and most DMs to run.
Unlike all other adventures, this one begins before the book is introduced – a fungal plague is sweeping across Fantasy California (the Sword Coast) and the party must track down the book to figure out how to stop it – or at least get info on the one responsible. It’s a hook that’s easy enough to place in your games and threatening enough to merit the 16th level character suggestion.
After infection, death is assured 4 days later. Luckily, the infection seems affected normally by lesser and greater restoration, which is a sight for sore eyes. The horrifically rapid manner in which it spreads keeps it a threat to the greater population without being too much of a game-ender for the party.
With an interesting hook, good NPCs, and a tale that loops into other adventures involving the Demon Princes, there’s some good stuff here. It shares many MANY story beats and encounters with other adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries (undead, diseased creatures, purple worms, liches/mummy lords/ancient undead), but it’s got enough cool environmental factors and quirky details to make it a fun read, and the difficulty seems pretty high, which is merited for a Tier 3 adventure.
In universe, Candlekeep 100% needs a better system of storing these goddamn books. Does no one open them and look at them before putting them on shelves for people to poke through? So many are cursed, enchanted by gods, full of obviously evil stuff, literal creatures in disguise – a judicious application of detect magic seems merited??? Peculiar to me.
But as for Candlekeep Mysteries, I am torn. On the one hand, it’s got some fantastic work inside by designers who seem HUNGRY to impress. You can feel a wonderfully diverse cast of writers presenting their specific tastes for the world to enjoy and it’s amazing.
On the downside, not all of these adventures feel like they’re designed with much understanding of 5e and the quadrillion mechanics one has to consider when writing such adventures. I do not want to insult anyone and I know this is a dream for so many in the community, which is probably why some adventures absolutely SLAP while others are alright., if a little too focused on populating rooms for dungeons.
A good hook, strong NPCs, and a central need or want – those are your big 3 for pulling off an adventure suited for most DMs. No hook? Players will waffle on what they’re supposed to be doing and why. Weak NPCs? The party will forget them or wonder what they’re doing there (the #1 reason parties mistrust NPCs, btw). Lacking a central need or want? The party will spend so much time weighing their options on “is this worth it” that the adventure will crawl along at a snail’s pace, some players may only come along while kicking and screaming.
One shots are best for new DMs. This book is not very new DM friendly, particularly the tier 1 adventures – and that’s such a big misstep.
I do hope WotC continues to involve diverging and diverse creative voices from the community, but I hope this doesn’t turn into a milking machine – drawing in popular names, using them for promotion, and spitting them back out into the cold. But we shall see.
I don’t always advocate rolling, but when I do… be sure you have to Drop the Die.
Review by JB Little, Follow me on twitter for more “useful” information.