Ghosts of Saltmarsh: A Review
  • Ghosts of Saltmarsh: A Review


    Wizards of the Coast is promoting Ghosts of Saltmarsh as an adventure book with a setting and rule supplements so since I already did a spoiler-free review of the book overall, let's take a closer look at the adventures it contains. While I avoid significant spoilers, be aware that broad information about each adventure is mentioned.



    Saltmarsh itself is a fishing village in the Kingdom of Keoland in the Greyhawk setting, but each adventure includes a box with suggestions as to where and how to place it in Eberron, Forgotten Realms or Mystara. That, combined with setting information for Saltmarsh itself, would also make it easy for DMs to place it in their own homebrew setting at an appropriate coastal location, effectively making these adventures setting agnostic.


    Other Ghosts of Saltmarsh content here at EN World include Beth's first impressions review, NewbieDM's look inside the book, and Morrus' summary of the original adventures found within.



    Unlike Tales of the Yawning Portal, which also revived old adventures for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, the seven adventures in Ghosts of Saltmarsh are not as well known. Tales features classic modules like Against the Giants and Tomb of Horrors. Ghosts of Saltmarsh features adventures from Dungeon magazine and the TSR UK staff, all connected through their nautical themes.

    The seven adventures can be played through for characters 1st through 11th levels, not exactly as a single campaign, though advice is provided for how to do that. Most simply, Saltmarsh can be both the location for many of the adventures and the players' base for the rest even though Saltmarsh was only the location for three of the original adventures.

    The first adventure, The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, was created by Dave J. Brown and Don Turnbull of TSR UK and it kicks off not only the modules within Ghosts of Saltmarsh, but it's the first of the three proper Saltmarsh stories. Designed for 1st level characters, it starts with a haunted house mystery that leads into a second part with the players investigating and capturing the Sea Ghost, a smuggler's ship. The latter introduces lizardfolk captives who have been buying weapons. That ties directly into the next adventure in the Saltmarsh trilogy proper.

    Danger at Dunwater, also by Dave J. Brown and Don Turnbull, which is for 3rd level characters, picks up that lizardfolk plot thread, though Dunwater can be run without playing Sinister Secret first. Either way, the players are sent to learn more about why the lizardfolk are stockpiling weapons, with most people assuming they're going to be used on Saltmarsh. It's more complicated than that, of course. Dunwater forces the characters to act as ambassadors, and the scenario is very roleplay oriented, which was unusual at the time of publication. Investigation, diplomacy and cleverness are the means for success in Dunwater, not killing creatures. It also introduces a larger threat that can help tie together the remaining adventures.

    Salvage Operation, by Mike Mearls for 4th level characters, originally appeared in Dungeon magazine. As the name indicates, it's an exploration adventure involving an evil druid that ends with a race against time as the ship, whose contents they're trying to retrieve, is attacked by a giant creature. Salvage Operation is the easiest of all the adventures to place in another setting. It's also the shortest of the adventures and very straightforward.

    Isle of the Abbey, by Randy Maxwell for Dungeon magazine, involves clearing an island of undead and various other dangers. Survivors they encounter could provide some interesting role-playing opportunities and skulduggery. It's designed for 5th level characters.

    The Final Enemy, by Dave J. Brown and Don Turnbull, completes the larger story told in the first two adventures. New writers added “an epic final battle” to complete this adventure. The original portion (it's easy to tell one from the other) actually says “combat not required” because it's focused on the players infiltrating and investigating an enemy stronghold. Players who like to be “loud” could easily die in this adventure that's more focused on stealth and cleverness. Adding the big battle to the end makes sense, though. Personally though, I'd lay seeds for the threat to eventually rise again.

    Tammeraut's Fate, by Greg Vaughan for Dungeon, starts as an investigation with horror themes and otherworldly threats. It's a good challenge for 9th level characters and would be a perfect October adventure.

    The Styes is an adventure for 11th level characters and features an unusual set piece – a decaying ship held aloft by a crane in a downtrodden port town. Richard Pett's adventure for Dungeon magazine has a Lovecraftian feel and involves the cult of Tharizdun, the evil god who has caused much trouble in Greyhawk and, as the Elder Elemental Eye in Princes of the Apocalypse, in the larger multiverse.

    I really like Ghosts of Saltmarsh even though I have a few quibbles. The biggest one is the lack of portrait art to go with the NPCs. Maybe I've gotten spoiled by that in the last few books, but it seems like an obvious and odd oversight.

    Danger at Dunwater is my favorite of the adventures because its not about hacking and slaying. It's ideal for groups who prefer roleplaying and DMs who want to give their players a change of pace – or encouragement to think before they attack.

    While I haven't had Ghosts of Saltmarsh in my hands long enough to actually play test it (I miss the days when gaming only had to fit around a school schedule and, if necessary, a class or two could be skipped), I already have ideas for how adapt its adventures to my Waterdeep-based campaign once we finish Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. It should be fairly simply for other DMs to do the same with their own settings, homebrew or otherwise.

    Ghosts of Saltmarsh will be of primary interest to DMs, but that's always the case for adventure books. A player could buy it for the nautical rules and ship layouts, but they will be the exception. In my opinion, Ghosts of Saltmarsh is worth the purchase price for either the adventures or the nautical rules if only one of the two appeals to you. If both do, you'll be happy with your purchase.

    This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. Ash Mantle -
      Quote Originally Posted by brimmels View Post
      Wizards of the Coast is promoting Ghosts of Saltmarsh as an adventure book with a setting and rule supplements so since I already did a spoiler-free review of the book overall, let's take a closer look at the adventures it contains. While I avoid significant spoilers, be aware that broad information about each adventure is mentioned.
      Nice one, Beth, thanks as always for your reviews!

      What did you think of the create your own adventure section? And the new backgrounds and monsters as presented in the book?

      The Styes is an adventure for 11th level characters and features an unusual set piece – a decaying ship held aloft by a crane in a downtrodden port town. John Pett's adventure for Dungeon magazine has a Lovecraftian feel and involves the cult of Tharizdun, the evil god who has caused much trouble in Greyhawk and, as the Elder Elemental Eye in Princes of the Apocalypse, in the larger multiverse.
      I believe it's Richard Pett rather than John Pett.
    1. SMHWorlds's Avatar
      SMHWorlds -
      Great review. Could you run the entire set of adventures in and around the Saltmarsh area? I should say, does the book provide enough information to make that feasible? Curious how much Greyhawk information is provided.
    1. SerHogan's Avatar
      SerHogan -
      Doesn't seem like there's much actual nautical adventuring in here. :\
    1. VitiumHK's Avatar
      VitiumHK -
      Thank you for reviewing each adventure, I'm inspired to order this book.

      I have a quick question, in your opinion are there enough navel rules or material to devote 4 to 8 sessions exploring the open sea?

      Also, does the book talk about under water combat?
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Could you elaborate on the nature of the "diplomacy" in Danger at Dunwater? (This is in the context of two current threads on skill use.) Are the challenges written in a way that assumes/requires certain skills to be used in certain spots. E.g., "The chieftain can be convinced to do X with a DC Y Persuasion check." Or does the adventure simply provide factors and motivations, and give more general guidance about how things might get resolved?

      I'm guessing the former...especially since it's an updated version of an old adventure...but I'll cross my fingers for the latter.
    1. timbannock's Avatar
      timbannock -
      Quote Originally Posted by SerHogan View Post
      Doesn't seem like there's much actual nautical adventuring in here. :\
      Yeah, sounds very much like the nautical part is how to get from adventure site to adventure site, in-between the actual adventures. So...maybe there's some really good random encounter tables? But yeah, not exactly what I was expecting.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
      Could you elaborate on the nature of the "diplomacy" in Danger at Dunwater? (This is in the context of two current threads on skill use.) Are the challenges written in a way that assumes/requires certain skills to be used in certain spots. E.g., "The chieftain can be convinced to do X with a DC Y Persuasion check." Or does the adventure simply provide factors and motivations, and give more general guidance about how things might get resolved?

      I'm guessing the former...especially since it's an updated version of an old adventure...but I'll cross my fingers for the latter.
      If it's the same as the original, the PCs think the Lizardfolk are the bad guys. It's only after they start to raid their lair they (might) realise they're the good guys, and they're refugees from a Sahuagin attack. They're trying to build an alliance with Locathah and Merfolk to fight back, and humans aren't even on their radar.

      If the PCs have killed too many of them before figuring this out, the original adventure has the Chieftain charge them 10gp per body as compensation. Always seemed a bit harsh to me.

      In The Final Enemy, the battle at the end happens offscreen in the original. Sounds like that's the major change (one for the better -- that was always anticlimactic).
    1. Ristamar's Avatar
      Ristamar -
      Have the crew/nautical rules been notably modified or expanded since they were released in UA: Of Ships and the Sea?
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      If it's the same as the original, the PCs think the Lizardfolk are the bad guys. It's only after they start to raid their lair they (might) realise they're the good guys, and they're refugees from a Sahuagin attack. They're trying to build an alliance with Locathah and Merfolk to fight back, and humans aren't even on their radar.

      If the PCs have killed too many of them before figuring this out, the original adventure has the Chieftain charge them 10gp per body as compensation. Always seemed a bit harsh to me.

      In The Final Enemy, the battle at the end happens offscreen in the original. Sounds like that's the major change (one for the better -- that was always anticlimactic).
      I figured the plot would be the same. I was wondering more how the text expects the DM to resolve the challenges, vis-a-vis the debate(s) we've been having about how tasks are handled in 5e.
    1. sevenbastard's Avatar
      sevenbastard -
      With all the spoilers and it being a decades old adventure to begin with it feels like a lot of players will be put in a tough spot with Danger and Dunwater. It would have been nice of it was more of a sandbox reimagining like they did with the update to Ravenloft. Heck even Sinister Secret plays different when you know the reveal.
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by sevenbastard View Post
      With all the spoilers and it being a decades old adventure to begin with it feels like a lot of players will be put in a tough spot with Danger and Dunwater. It would have been nice of it was more of a sandbox reimagining like they did with the update to Ravenloft. Heck even Sinister Secret plays different when you know the reveal.
      I hope to run this for some kids who have never even heard of these modules....can't wait.
    1. Paul Farquhar's Avatar
      Paul Farquhar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
      I figured the plot would be the same. I was wondering more how the text expects the DM to resolve the challenges, vis-a-vis the debate(s) we've been having about how tasks are handled in 5e.
      The difficulty would vary depending on how many innocent lizardfolk the PCs slaughter before realising they are in a Star Trek scenario. I always think it's a bit silly putting in DCs for social skills beforehand when there are so many potential variables. Something static, like a trap? Sure.
    1. ddaley's Avatar
      ddaley -
      I had been looking forward to running this for my kids... until I read about Dunwater. Two of my kids get bored pretty quickly with diplomacy type scenarios. If I run this, I'll have to figure out a way to change that part. I have the original Sinister Secret at Saltmarsh, but had never read the 2nd module.
    1. Parmandur's Avatar
      Parmandur -
      Quote Originally Posted by ddaley View Post
      I had been looking forward to running this for my kids... until I read about Dunwater. Two of my kids get bored pretty quickly with diplomacy type scenarios. If I run this, I'll have to figure out a way to change that part. I have the original Sinister Secret at Saltmarsh, but had never read the 2nd module.
      It's pretty easy to change: the Lizardfolk are bad, kill them all. There are stats, and maps, and everything.
    1. ddaley's Avatar
      ddaley -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parmandur View Post
      It's pretty easy to change: the Lizardfolk are bad, kill them all. There are stats, and maps, and everything.
      I haven't read the actual module yet. But, was hoping it could turn into a mission of assisting/rescuing the lizardfolk. Maybe they are under siege from actual bad guys when the characters arrive or shortly thereafter? If there is some diplomacy, that is fine. But, if the entire module is diplomacy, then that's gonna be a problem.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by ddaley View Post
      But, if the entire module is diplomacy, then that's gonna be a problem.
      It's not. It's a dungeon crawl with a spot of diplomacy at the end when the PCs figure out the twist.
    1. ddaley's Avatar
      ddaley -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      It's not. It's a dungeon crawl with a spot of diplomacy at the end when the PCs figure out the twist.
      That sounds promising.. thanks. I am still pretty excited about this book. Looking forward to next week. It'll be character creation time!
    1. FitzTheRuke's Avatar
      FitzTheRuke -
      Before I complain, I'm gonna say that I like what I've read in it so far, but I've got one big beef: They've screwed up a few things in their ships, and I've only taken a cursory pass:

      1: The Galley says it has a "Naval Ram" affixed to it's stern! I'm not sure how a ship rams with it's rear end.

      2: The Keelboat is all sorts of stupid. As written, you can row it 20' in a round with only ONE crew member. This is a SIXTY-foot ship, as listed. 20 feet wide. It's got a map side-by side with a Longship, and it's only a wee bit smaller. The Keelboat lists its maximum capacity at 3 crew and 4 passengers.

      Seven People in a 60' ship. My parent's 20' sailboat held more.

      For comparison, they have the map for the Longboat right beside the one for the Keelboat, and they are only marginally different in size and layout. (It's 70 feet long) And yet the Longship lists a 40-person crew, and a HUNDRED passengers. (Which is actually pretty accurate).

      I think they have two types of small craft mixed together here. I mean, you can probably helm a 60' ship with one (or three) crew, but couldn't row it. As it's designed here, you can helm it, row it, AND fire its ballista with THREE people.

      Clearly, it drives me nuts. (/rant!)
    1. Paul Farquhar's Avatar
      Paul Farquhar -
      Sounds like keelboat confused with a dinghy?

      The main distingushing feature of a keelboat is it is a riverboat rather than an ocean-going vessel.
    1. FitzTheRuke's Avatar
      FitzTheRuke -
      I think they should have split it into a "small keelboat" (about 20' long, 5' wide and have the 3-crew, 4 passenger stats listed here) and a "large keelboat" with the 60' length and about 12-20 crew and up to 30 passengers.

      I'd be happy then. Guess I've got to houserule this.
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