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!
 
Beth Rimmels

Comments

FitzTheRuke

Adventurer
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.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
It sounds like it's moderately more likely they made an error in the book on the keelboat's info (either size or crew) than it is that they failed their design check and did it that way on purpose.
 

mrswing

Community Supporter
House rules are BAD, Fitz! Even when they are used to fix obvious mistakes by the designers! The interwebz says so.
 

FitzTheRuke

Adventurer
The area map has a weird scale...leagues. Assuming land leagues at 3 miles, but then sub-hexes at 7500 yards. Strange...
Even weirder... if the big hexes are 10 leagues (approx. 30 miles) then why did they make the sub-hexes SEVEN of them to the big hex? I mean, yeah, that works out roughly to 7500 yards, but what use is that? A league is supposed to be about an hour's walk. Yet, in D&D 5e, the 10-league, 30 mile hex is about a day's travel. So the small hexes are what? 1 seventh of a day's travel? 86 minutes? What's that good for?
 

jasper

Rotten DM
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!)
but but but but (ok I sound like a motor but). But didn't Morrus' pod cast interview had Mike mentioning some one from the coast guard help vet the ship rules.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
but but but but (ok I sound like a motor but). But didn't Morrus' pod cast interview had Mike mentioning some one from the coast guard help vet the ship rules.
I haven’t done a podcast interview.
 

Parmandur

Legend
but but but but (ok I sound like a motor but). But didn't Morrus' pod cast interview had Mike mentioning some one from the coast guard help vet the ship rules.
Their M:tG colleague didn't help with rules, ge helped with content for the random tables for exploration and events.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
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!)
Now that I have the book, I've changed my opinion. Somebody either failed a design check or failed a coordination check.

I started a thread to discuss the keelboat problem:
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?659508-So-keelboats&p=7609627#post7609627
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Any body got a clean up map of the ship on page 89. The blue grids and blue plank lines are mess.
 

Burnside

Explorer
Has anybody seen a review of this product anywhere that isn't "first impressions" or a "flip through", but done by a critic who has actually read the entire book, including all the adventures?
 
I've got to say that by flipping through it, here are some takeaways;

1. The adventures themselves seem good.
2. The crunch content is pretty plentiful and good.
3. The art is pretty good; not the best I've seen, but pretty consistent with recent books.
4. The maps are bad. The colored maps looks uninspired, and the blue maps are even worse. I don't mind the black/white maps in Waterdeep, but these are much worse than even those if you look full color.

All-in-all, if you want some old D&D content, go for it. If you want material to easily run nautical stuff, go for it. If you want a truly inspired adventure like Tomb of Annihilation, skip and wait for the Descent into Avernus.
 
Has anybody seen a review of this product anywhere that isn't "first impressions" or a "flip through", but done by a critic who has actually read the entire book, including all the adventures?
I've read it quite thoroughly, and I'm planning on running "The Styles" from it this week.

But I can't be bothered to write a review.
 

jrowland

Villager
I think I'll add "White Plum Mountain" in the middle (a volcanic island basically) and "Tomb of Horrors" at the end to make it a full 1 to 15 campaign. I am also going to add "strongholds" from MDCM's kickstarter to flesh it out some (Pirate Ship Barbarian camp foe).

Classic, Old school, Greyahawk, sandbox as much as I can. Lots of downtown in between adventures with PC pursuits of personal interest.

Be nice to for the PCs to be somewhat "selfish" instead of saving the world for a change.
 

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