Ghosts of Saltmarsh: First Impressions

Ghosts of Saltmarsh will make Greyhawk fans happy without losing newer D&D 5th Edition players. Billed as a supplement for nautical adventures, it's a mix of new rules for ships and sea travel, adventures and supplemental material for any coastal campaign.

Saltmarsh is a fishing village in the Kingdom of Keoland in the Greyhawk setting from D&D's earliest days. Once it was clear that Forgotten Realms would be the default setting for 5th Edition fans of the other settings have been grumbling for their return. The pantheons for Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and Eberron were included in the 5th Edition Players Handbook, Curse of Strahd dealt with Ravenloft, and Tales of the Yawning Portal had old adventures from some of the prior settings, but other than that, the old settings haven't gotten a hardcover release until now.

Technically, even now Greyhawk hasn't. On a recent DragonTalk episode Ghosts of Saltmarsh was described as an adventure book with a setting instead of a setting book with an adventure. A lot of the official descriptions play up the fact that Ghosts of Saltmarsh is designed to be system agnostic so it can be added to any world or setting, including Forgotten Realms.

Also as the oldest published D&D setting (Blackmoor was created first but published afterward), Greyhawk has deep lore and a broad geography. Ghosts of Saltmarsh offers only a tiny sliver of that setting and just the area of and around Saltmarsh itself, not the Kingdom of Keoland at large. That makes sense for what the developers wanted to accomplish – a supplement focused on nautical adventures – but might disappoint Greyhawk devotees who want Oerth (the name of the world in Greyhawk) fully and officially converted to 5th Edition.

That said, my first skimming of Ghosts of Saltmarsh is anything but disappointing. A follow-up article will delve more deeply into the book, but so far I'm pleased with it.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh is divided into three sections. The first third deals with Saltmarsh as a setting. Whether you use it in a Greyhawk campaign, tuck it into the Realms or use it in your own homebrew setting, this section provides maps, geography, history, locations and NPCs.

You also get three new factions specific to Saltmarsh, one of which is very familiar to Greyhawk fans – the Scarlet Brotherhood. If you do use these adventures in a Realms-based campaign the standard factions will mix with the new ones just fine as the other two are focused on the future of Saltmarsh – Loyalists and Traditionalists. It would be easy to have the standard factions ally with or maneuver against the new ones. Factions like the Zhentarim could easily play both sides of some issues. Harpers work would well as the counterparts to the Scarlet Brotherhood. Infiltrating the Lord's Alliance could be a goal of the Brotherhood.

The second part has the adventures themselves. You can run them as they are individually or use advice provided to connect them into a larger campaign. There's also a section on how to connect these adventures to the reprinted and updated adventures in Tales of the Yawning Portal. Additionally each module has a “Placing the Adventure” box with suggestions as to where to put it/how to make it work in Eberron, the Forgotten Realms and Mystara.

The third part features the nautical rules, maps and stats for various types of ships, etc. The Dungeon Master's Guide has limited but serviceable rules for sea travel and stats for some ships. Ghosts of Saltmarsh greatly expands the options and includes layouts of ships that can be copied for combat maps if needed. There's also info for ship upgrades, weapon upgrades, hazards at sea, random tables to create islands and more. In fact, Ghosts of Saltmarsh contains a lot of random tables for everything from crew members' names to random encounters on the water and so forth.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh also presents new backgrounds like fisher and shipwright. It also has variant suggestions for the established backgrounds to ensure that they fit better in Saltmarsh, such as acolytes could be followers of Procan. The new backgrounds could easily be used in other settings, especially campaigns based in the Sword Coast or other seafaring areas.

While Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a set of nautical adventures they really aren't undersea adventures so think pirates and sailing more than merpeople and deep diving. That said, lesser krakens and sahuagin are among the creatures stated out in the monster manual section in the end.

Since 5th Edition debuted each official hardcover release has featured a humorous disclaimer. The last few were a touch blah and disappointing, but with Ghosts of Saltmarsh the disclaimer is back to its prior levels of amusement. Might it also hold a clue to the next setting to be released? Only time will tell.

My one complaint is that NPCs don't seem to get many portraits. As a DM, that always annoys me. As a player I also enjoy seeing art of key characters. Otherwise the art is very nice. I'm just not sure why Ghosts of Saltmarsh has far less NPC portraits/artwork than Waterdeep Dragon Heist and several other adventures.

All in all, my first impressions of Ghosts of Saltmarsh are very positive. Next up – a deep dive into the content and especially the adventures. Stay tuned for part two.

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!
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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Thanks Beth :)

having looked at at the special FLGS cover, man I can’t get the thought that it looks like a high school art piece by your friend who draws weird stuff all the time. I went with the regular cover with the Kraken on it. maybe if the special cover was by a “known” artist like Tyler Jacobson, I would expect something closer to his work on the other covers I would pick it up but not that bad 80s heavy metal cover fish guy.


Awesome. My Wednesday night group is mostly old LG* (and LC*) players. Most of them are Gran Marchers. So it should be a nice visit "home" for Greyhawk fans, even if it is not a full on source book like Sword Coast.

LG = Living Greyhawk; LC = Living City for folks who may not be familiar with those RPGA campaigns.


Nice review! I pre-ordered and this book will be perfect for my current Eberron campaign which has my players in possession of a Lyrandar elemental ship; just need to tailor it to the Lazhaar principalities. Hopefully Keith Baker writes a blog post about pirates in Eberron to expand on this material.

And my awesome players all chipped-in to buy the Sinister Silver Edition, though won't get that till June.


Chaotic Looseleaf
A lot of the official descriptions play up the fact that Ghosts of Saltmarsh is designed to be system agnostic so it can be added to any world or setting, including Forgotten Realms.

There's nothing explicitly wrong with this. D&D is Forgotten Realms now. Fine. But I really wish fans would stop congratulating WotC for it. Homogenization is not 'multi-setting support.' It's not thoughtful or groundbreaking. It's not even good.


Are the Scarlet Brotherhood a faction for players, ala Zhentarim and such? Because they are pretty thoroughly baddies by my reading in 2E.


Are the Scarlet Brotherhood a faction for players, ala Zhentarim and such? Because they are pretty thoroughly baddies by my reading in 2E.

Yeah they are more like Hydra from Marvel than they are how Zhentarim are now in FR.

I suppose you could be a secret agent for them easily enough, just like any other baddie faction.

I'm just really hoping that Saltmarsh leads them to open up the DMsGuild to Greyhawk content, lots of stuff there that I would like to build off of and put out.


Not to minimize the Mafia, but there's a bit of a gap between them and al Quaeda.

Look up some stuff about the crimes of the Camorra or 'Ndrangheta. Not much difference. I really am uncomfortable with the Zhentarim as presented in 5E materials, to be honest. The player friendly Zhents in Dragon Heist are still horrible, even if the not player friendly Zhents are really, really bad (and yeah, comparable to Al-Quada).


Sounds like a great book! If you dont mind I am curius, does it say what gods are worshiped in a forgotten realms version of saltmarsh (especially if the acolyte variant has a fr equivalent)? I've been thinking about playing a cleric in an AL game and I'm curious what gods are active!

Thanks for the reviews!

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