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Exploring Candlekeep Mysteries: An In-depth Review

Candlekeep Mysteries is an absolute gift for DMs. D&D 5th Edition adventure books have been either one big adventure like Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden and Curse of Strahd (original or Revamped) or collections of short adventures like Ghosts of Saltmarsh. Candlekeep Mysteries would be categorized with the latter, but it’s so much more.
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Meet Candlekeep​

Candlekeep is a citadel on the Sword Coast that houses the largest library and collection of knowledge in all of Faerun. To enter Candlekeep one must donate a book or scroll it doesn't already possess.

At the simplest, most direct level Candlekeep Mysteries is a book about books—and a book of books. Each of the 17 adventures is tied to and sparked by a book within the library, complete with an image and text description of the book.

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A Library of Possibilities​

DMs can raid Candlekeep Mysteries over and over again for ideas, NPCs, and maps that can be repurposed. The adventures can be run as is, expanded to turn into a longer campaign, or modified and inserted into existing campaigns. Candlekeep Mysteries contains a wealth of inspiration that could make it the most useful official D&D book for DMs after the core trinity.

None of that flexibility is by accident. A section called Dissecting the Adventures gives several examples of how the adventure for 16th-level characters, Xanthoria, could be repurposed. Since that one relates to the demon princes Juiblex and Zuggtmoy, it could also easily be changed to fit with or be an epilogue to Rage of Demons, as just one example.

If you're running a campaign that isn't set in Forgotten Realms, Candlekeep Mysteries can still work for you. For Eberron campaigns just switch it to the Library of Korranberg. Do you still play Greyhawk? Make it the Great Library in the City of Greyhawk. Is Exandria you could use either Soltryce Academy in Wildemount or the Cobalt Reserve in Tal'dorei instead, or any great enclave of knowledge and books in your homebrew.

Candlekeep Mysteries can also be set in any time period you wish. The book states who fills key roles in DR 1492, but you can substitute others appropriate for the time period you choose. So if you're still playing 3.5 or 4th edition and use the earlier time period you can just convert the adventures.

If you're well-versed in Forgotten Realm lore and the prior adventures you'll also find fun Easter eggs in Candlekeep Mysteries. For example, a book called Storm King's Thunder can be found inside the library.

Jeremy Crawford and other D&D staff talk regularly about how shifting sensibilities are going to play out in future adventures. Candlekeep Mysteries provides some insight to these directions with how the Vistani are depicted in Book of the Raven, which includes Tale of Vistani Kindness.


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Expansive Opportunities​

Taken as a whole, the adventures are also expansive, ranging from being solely set in Candlekeep to ones that take the players to places like Waterdeep, Baldur's Gate, and Anauroch, plus demiplanes. Since WotC occasionally hints at what is to come, maybe the latter is a sign we'll finally get Planescape sometime soon? That may just be my own wishful thinking.

Other adventures include species of good alignment that have previously been depicted as evil or, in one case, a lesser form of evil than their historic chaotic evil alignment. Similarly, the book notes that if an NPC's gender identity or alignment is not explicitly stated, the DM can determine it as they see fit. These changes add more flexibility and potential plot twists to a story because players can't make assumptions before interacting with them.

As the book's title implies, the adventures center around mysteries and investigation. Plenty of action is also included, such as opportunities to fight a dracolich and a lichen lich, to name two serious challenges, but some can be resolved without violence.

Before delving into the adventures, the book gives an overview of how Candlekeep operates, its rules, and the magic that protects it. Avowed are the main staff who assist visitors with research. Stat blocks are provided for Sages and Master Sage. Eight Avowed guides are provided in a random chart in addition to ones met in specific adventures.

Similarly the eight Great Readers in DR 1492 who make up the council get a brief description. Miirym, the sentinel wyrm, gets a full stat block, as benefits a CR 22 guardian. A large, detachable map of Candlekeep is also included in the book.

The art is extremely cohesive and the images of the books would fit seamlessly next to the magic item art in the Dungeon Master's Guide. The mainstream cover by Clint Cearley sets the mood by showing a scene of adventurers studying a book, but my favorite is the special edition. Simen Meyer's gold-embossed cover looks like a book that might be found in Candlekeep.

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But What About The Adventures?​

If you're a player, stop here. Spoilers ahead so only DMs should proceed.

The first tale is The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces, a first-level adventure. As the title indicates, the players end up in an extradimensional space to find a missing sage, but then have to figure out how to leave themselves. First-level adventures can be difficult to balance a viable challenge with the players' limited abilities and hit points. This one includes a puzzle for them to figure out in addition to facing challenges like a swarm of animated books. This adventure can easily be expanded to include more about the problem that requires the missing sage. The map for Fistandia's mansion by Dyson Logos is also handy for any DM whose group uses Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion.

The second-level adventure Mazfroth's Mighty Digressions features a book that is actually a monster. Figuring out how that came to be—the titular book is rare but well-known—takes the players to the markets of Baldur's Gate and a group of werejackels who are trying to make the money to resurrect their leader, a kind lamia more interested in books than torture who was killed by adventurers on sight. This adventure provides options for resolving the case with and without violence.

Book of the Raven is a third-level adventure that provides a glimmer of the revised version of the Vistani as well as a shadow crossing while players visit a chalet that houses a secret society. The wereraven stat block in this adventure is the same as that from Curse of Strahd.

Fourth-level adventure A Deep and Creeping Darkness lives up to its name. The players are hired to find out what happened to the town of Vermilion, which was abandoned shortly after an explosion in its platinum mine because survivors began disappear.

Even though that adventure is firmly horror, the next adventure, also for 4th-level players, Shemshime's Bedtime Rhyme might tap player fear even more due to the real-world events of the past year. The tome involved is more of a cross between a pop-up book and a music box, but it conveys a musical curse that is highly contagious, forcing the players to be quarantined in Candlekeep's Firefly Cellar to contain its effects. As the curse continues, foul events occur until the players discover a way to end it.

The Price of Beauty, a 5th-level adventure, takes the players to the Temple of the Restful Lily. While dedicated to Sune, the temple and bath house near Silverymoon has been taken over by disguised green hags who offer deals that pervert the person's desires.

The 6th-level adventure Book of Cylinders features a tale that was designated as something yet to come, and that time seems to be now. The “book” contains cylinders that must be rolled over clay to reveal its story told through symbols. Prodded by the disappearance of crab harvests used to feed residents of Candlekeep, players will discover a tribe of grippli displaced from their fishing village and caught between groups of good and evil yuan-ti.

Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor, a 7th-level adventure, is a book haunted by a girl murdered along with several others to gain power from a Great Old One. The remains of the family murdered is powering further evil as the murder builds a cult. He is also planning a vile ritual that will require many more deaths—unless the players can figure out what really happened, stop the cult, lay the family to rest, and deliver justice to the murderer.

Lore of Lurue, for 8th-level characters, is a storybook adventure that was written by the first High Mage of Silverymoon at the request of a lesser deity. It pulls players into a tale of the god Malar attempting to corrupt the unicorn avatar of Lurue, long before Silverymoon was founded in the same area.

Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion, a 9th-level adventure, is change of pace with a wild premise. The Candlekeep tower known as “Barn Door” holds a secret—in its depths is an ancient mechanism that could launch the tower into space if the cult working to do that succeeds. Touches like this keep making me feel like WotC is teasing us with Spelljammer hints.

Tenth-level adventure Zikran's Zephyrean Tome has the djinn Gazre-Azam bound to a book. The djinn offers the players a wish in exchange for freeing him from the binding spells of a water genasi mage. Zikran has made an elemental cannon and is working to turn a cloud giant keep into a floating fortress for his evil schemes.

The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale, a 11th-level adventure, appears to be a fictional play about a demiplane created by the Harpers to imprison a bard who has been corrupted. The players can try to finish the tale by finding and curing the bard but the players will also have to deal with a beholder with its own agenda.

Twelfth-level adventure The Book of Inner Alchemy takes the players to the far east to find pages stolen from the titular book. The evil Order of Immortal Lotus wish to create Gloves of Soul Catching. Doing so requires sacrificing a being of pure heart, a being of great intellect, and a being of strong body, with the souls of all three utterly destroyed.

The Canopic Being is a 13th-level adventure that takes the characters to Tashluta on the Chultan peninsula. If your players have ever experienced DMs who take away player autonomy you might want to prepare them for a surprise early in this adventure—the players' names are listed in the book as “The Bestowed—willing sacrifices.: The process involves a mummy lord placing one of their organs into the body of a living person instead of a canopic jar, turning the person into their servant. This hasn't actually been done yet to the characters—an oracle has seen that they can thwart the mummy lord Valin so their names were included to draw them in. Still, if your players have had bad experiences in the past, you might want to give them some sort of warning so the players don't assume their characters are being abused.

Fourteenth-level adventure The Scrivener's Tale pits characters against an evil fey but also might press the players' pandemic buttons. The characters are infected by the scrivener's mark, which can only be removed by a wish or defeating the Princess of Shadow Glass.

Like Tomb of Annihilation, The Scrivener's Tale involves a timetable for accelerating the mark, which can lead to total petrification if the character isn't killed through other aspects of the mark, such as becoming brittle as glass. The adventure gives advice on slowing down the clock if, say, the characters travel to Baldur's Gate by land instead of teleportation. Adventures with a death clock mechanic are tricky to pace properly to keep up the tension without accelerating too soon so while I like the adventure overall, I'm not fond of that aspect.

Alkazaar’s Appendix, a 15th-level adventure, takes the characters to Anauroch to unite a lost golem with its master, who possesses one of the Nether Scrolls, which describe how the weave of magic works. The two were separated when a black dragon tried to seize the scroll. After failing, the dragon became a dracolich to wait out the spell preserving the mage so you have to reunite the golem and its master while thwarting the dracolich so the mage can take the scroll to Elysium.

The final adventure, Xanthoria, involves a deadly fungal infection that is destroying crops and turning people into zombie-like creatures. The title comes from the name of a druid who was corrupted by demon madness, and triggered the infestation, which won't end so long as she is lives. The influence of Zuggtmoy turned the druid into a lichen lich with a sprite who functions as a living phylactery. If the DM plays Thunderwings properly, the resolution of Xanthoria could break the players' hearts.


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Should You Buy It?​

While I generally prefer a single adventure instead of anthologies, I love Candlekeep Mysteries. While some of the adventures are more to my taste than others, overall I like the variety and mix of challenges. While they involve plenty of action, mindless combat isn't the point, though players can always find a way to do that.

More importantly, the D&D team did a great job making Candlekeep Mysteries a resource DMs can use over and over. Candlekeep is set up well to be a recurring setting for your campaign, whether that's Forgotten Realms or homebrew. I also plan to raid the book for NPCs and maps.

Having such a range of levels combined with how they're written makes it easy to slip these adventures into an existing campaign. Like one a lot? It can easily be expanded to become a larger campaign.

For the flexibility, creativity, and overall execution, Candlekeep Mysteries is a winner and, I suspect, will be a bestseller.

 
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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


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Curse of Strahd was the only occasion they where portrayed as evil.
In the classic campaign, Vistani enslaved Van Richten's son and sold him to the vampire Metus, on top of Madame Eva being evil-aligned. On the flipside they were persecuted by Gabrielle and Malocchio Aderre, were part of the heroic resistance against Soth and Azrael and had other moments of heroism. They were complex and even then it was clear what might be true of one Vistani was not true of them all. (And most of the evil Vistani were "darklings", ie Vistani outcasts anyway)

Unless we are now at the point where you may not have a Vistani villain at all, which is strange and troubling.
 

In the classic campaign, Vistani enslaved Van Richten's son and sold him to the vampire Metus, on top of Madame Eva being evil-aligned. On the flipside they were persecuted by Gabrielle and Malocchio Aderre, were part of the heroic resistance against Soth and Azrael and had other moments of heroism. They were complex and even then it was clear what might be true of one Vistani was not true of them all. (And most of the evil Vistani were "darklings", ie Vistani outcasts anyway)

Unless we are now at the point where you may not have a Vistani villain at all, which is strange and troubling.

I always viewed the Vistani in Ravenloft as twisted and warped version of normal Vistani, and not a stereotype of all Vistani everywhere. Just like in the real world, where we have our twisted sterotypes that are true of some Roma people, but not true for the vast majority or normal Roma. Just like stereotypes of all other groups work. There are just enough to prove the stereotype true, which then gets it applied unjustly to the rest of that group.

And sure, they could still publish a Vistani big bad, but there should also be plenty of examples in the adventure who are nothing like that person, to show the group as a whole is good. The same should be done with all the other groups WotC is trying to reform and show is not "born" evil.
 

In the classic campaign, Vistani enslaved Van Richten's son and sold him to the vampire Metus, on top of Madame Eva being evil-aligned. On the flipside they were persecuted by Gabrielle and Malocchio Aderre, were part of the heroic resistance against Soth and Azrael and had other moments of heroism. They were complex and even then it was clear what might be true of one Vistani was not true of them all. (And most of the evil Vistani were "darklings", ie Vistani outcasts anyway)

Unless we are now at the point where you may not have a Vistani villain at all, which is strange and troubling.
Sorry, I intended to mean "tending to evil as a group". Up until CoS they had been portrayed as "some are evil, some are good, most are neutral".

And of course they where not in I6 at all.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
With all the Dyson Logos bashing, I'll go on record as saying that I really like his maps. They are conducive to a theater-of-mind style play and help facilitate an approach of shared imagination.

I personally dislike maps that look like stills from a video game. I find that they tend to anchor the focus on the map itself rather than the shared imagination.

To each their own, though. Call me old school, I guess.

I really like Dyson Logos maps if I'm running in-person games. But unfortunately, I can't do that right now.

For VTT games, I much, much prefer Schley-style full-color maps, and the experience they create for my online players is vastly superior. So it's unfortunate that we don't have them here. I will need to make my own, which is a lot of work.
 



Should be, yes—but according to the book’s page on the FR Fandom site, it has been officially set as 1492 by WotC, and indeed the BG3 video game (whose plot takes up where Descent into Avernus leaves off) begins later in 1492. So the book’s own internal evidence doesn’t jibe with the place it has to occupy in the timeline.

I mean, this sort of thing happened back in 2e too, but back then there were dozens of additions to the canon each year. Nowadays there are two or three FR products a year; you wouldn’t think it’d be that tough to keep the dates straight on them.
The specific events of "Descent into Avernus" should happen in 1494, being 50 years after the events of 1444. The Baldur's Gate gazetteer chapter is where 1492 is mentioned. As I read the supplement, the gazetteer seems like a separate product, provided for those who want to run their own campaigns based in/around BG. It's essentially unnecessary for the DiA plotline, which has the players leave BG for Avernus by the time they reach tier 2, never to return (or at least, not until they get past level 13, and then only if they want to for some reason). So I think of this as a separate resource, and it even makes more sense for it to describe "business as usual" for Baldur's Gate rather than the specific situation of 1494 DR when Elturan refugees show up en masse and encamp outside the gates. There is almost nothing in the gazetteer to tie it to the DiA events other than the absence of the Fist's leader; if you leave that out, you can think of the gazetteer as describing 1492 and the Descent taking place in 1494.
 

jeremypowell

Adventurer
The specific events of "Descent into Avernus" should happen in 1494, being 50 years after the events of 1444. The Baldur's Gate gazetteer chapter is where 1492 is mentioned. As I read the supplement, the gazetteer seems like a separate product, provided for those who want to run their own campaigns based in/around BG. It's essentially unnecessary for the DiA plotline, which has the players leave BG for Avernus by the time they reach tier 2, never to return (or at least, not until they get past level 13, and then only if they want to for some reason). So I think of this as a separate resource, and it even makes more sense for it to describe "business as usual" for Baldur's Gate rather than the specific situation of 1494 DR when Elturan refugees show up en masse and encamp outside the gates. There is almost nothing in the gazetteer to tie it to the DiA events other than the absence of the Fist's leader; if you leave that out, you can think of the gazetteer as describing 1492 and the Descent taking place in 1494.
Right. But nonetheless WotC has chosen 1492 as the canon date for Descent. Apparently the video game Baldur's Gate III—which references the events of Descent as having occurred earlier in the same year—is set in 1492. Makes no sense, but that's that.
 

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