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

Comments

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!
That would likely be the normal deities of the setting, given its suggested location along the Sword Coast, and substitute deities should be pretty easy to figure out even if the book doesn't specifically give a list. From the deities I've seen in the previews so far, you could make the following substitutions: St Cuthbert = Helm, Procan = Umberlee, Erythnul = Malar. Vecna could remain Vecna given his multiversal worship (you could go with Velsharoon, but there hasn't been any indication that he's back in 5e). There's some differences in nuance (Procan isn't quite as malicious as Umberlee, for example), but in general those conversions should be fine. Given that the most important Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms deities are both listed in the appendices of the Player's Handbook, it shouldn't be to hard to figure out any further substitutes should more deities be listed.
 
I think you mean Myrkul. He's FR's god of death. Malar is the evil god of hunting and vicious beasts and the like.
No, I mean Malar. Both are gods of violence and slaughter. The Greyhawk equivalent of Myrkul as god of death would be Nerull, or possibly Wee Jas, although the latter has a very weird and eclectic group of godly domains (and her lawful alignment makes her closer to Kelemvor in some ways).
 

Markh3rd

Explorer
I'm hoping my nature cleric will get some good use in this adventure. I thought there would be more underwater adventuring but it sounds like that is limited and the majority of the adventure is above water. Hopefully there will still be opportunities to use his animal abilities.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
No, I mean Malar. Both are gods of violence and slaughter. The Greyhawk equivalent of Myrkul as god of death would be Nerull, or possibly Wee Jas, although the latter has a very weird and eclectic group of godly domains (and her lawful alignment makes her closer to Kelemvor in some ways).
You're right. I was confusing Erythnul with Nerull.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One question: does this book even try to give rules for missile-based ship-v-ship naval combat using ballistae or cannon?
 

mach1.9pants

Adventurer
One question: does this book even try to give rules for missile-based ship-v-ship naval combat using ballistae or cannon?
I wonder if they have rules for semi-automatic, gimbaled, radar tracking long range ship-borne quad-ballistae?

You know, as recently showcased on Game of Thrones, along with stealth ships and magic plot armour!
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
Are the Scarlet Brotherhood a faction for players, ala Zhentarim and such? Because they are pretty thoroughly baddies by my reading in 2E.
The Scarlet Brotherhood absolutely don't parallel the Harpers, as the review indicated. They're Suel supremacists and are one of the key villain groups in the setting. They're very much akin to the Zhentarim or Thayans in Forgotten Realms. You could use them as a player faction if you were running an evil campaign and, I suppose, you could have a PC be a renegade, but in general they're adversaries, often secret and in the shadows.
 

Parmandur

Legend
The Scarlet Brotherhood absolutely don't parallel the Harpers, as the review indicated. They're Suel supremacists and are one of the key villain groups in the setting. They're very much akin to the Zhentarim or Thayans in Forgotten Realms. You could use them as a player faction if you were running an evil campaign and, I suppose, you could have a PC be a renegade, but in general they're adversaries, often secret and in the shadows.
One of the preview images that's been circulating has some text about working with the Scarlet Brotherhood alongside the other factions in town against a greater threat (a Final Enemy).
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
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!
The parallels between the Greyhawk and Realms pantheons are not exact but as you might suspect there are

Greyhawk had four main human cultures which provided gods: The Bakluni, Suel, Oeridian, and Flan, so there are often duplication among different gods. There's no notion of "portfolio" as in the Realms. In addition, there are "common" gods some of whom have no particular attachment to a particular culture. I forget the cultural origin of Keoland, but it's probably Oeridian. I don't really recall what gods would be common in the area but the older Greyhawk material which you can find fairly easily will say, at least to some degree.

Procan: God of the Sea (can't remember)
Pelor: God of the Sun (Flan, Neutral Good, parallel to Lathander)
Hieroneous: God of Law and Justice (Oeridian, Lawful Good, parallel to Torm)
Erythnul: God of Slaughter (Oeridian, Chaotic Evil, parallel to Malar)
Nerull: God of Death (Flan, Neutral Evil, parallel to Myrkul, maybe)
Incabulos: God of Plague (not sure origin, Neutral Evil, parallel to Talona)
Boccob: God of Magic (not sure origin, Neutral, parallel to Ao... maybe)
Beory: Earth Mother (Flan, Neutral Good, parallel to Chauntea)
St. Cuthbert: Righteousness (no culture, Lawful Neutral, parallel to Torm)
etc. See here for more.

Depending on where things are set in the Greyhawk timeline, you can have different faiths be stronger or weaker and you can certainly have local variation. In Saltmarsh I'd suspect that Procan would be fairly commonly worshipped, along with some of the other common gods Beory and Pelor.

The evil gods aren't really worshipped, but more propitiated and their faith is illegal in most good to neutral lands, which Keoland certainly is. But Saltmarsh is kind of a backwater, so you could have secret cults or have the local clergy of Procan engage in some of the extortion that clergy of Umberlee do, maybe on the sly. It would actually be a pretty cool story motivation for a Cleric or Paladin of Procan to deal with the renegade clergy.
 
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Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
One of the preview images that's been circulating has some text about working with the Scarlet Brotherhood alongside the other factions in town against a greater threat (a Final Enemy).
That seems... odd. The Scarlet Brotherhood are really, really bad. They were likely worshipping/drawing on Tharizdun's power, for one, and even if they weren't directly, they were slaving and slaughtering a whole lot of people. But, changes might well have been made to the overall story, so who knows.
 

Azzy

Cyclone Ranger
That seems... odd. The Scarlet Brotherhood are really, really bad. They were likely worshipping/drawing on Tharizdun's power, for one, and even if they weren't directly, they were slaving and slaughtering a whole lot of people. But, changes might well have been made to the overall story, so who knows.
It's only one faction within the Scarlet Brotherhood that revere Tharizdun. But, yeah, the SB is pretty much as scummy and evil as it gets—they're pretty much the nazis of Greyhawk.
 

Parmandur

Legend
It's only one faction within the Scarlet Brotherhood that revere Tharizdun. But, yeah, the SB is pretty much as scummy and evil as it gets—they're pretty much the nazis of Greyhawk.
The Zhentarim were the Nazi's of the FR, as originally conceived and portrayed, until they mellowed out. One of the subplots of Dragon Heist involves [Sblock] modern, hip Zhentarim versus regressive traditionalists bent on world domination. [/Sblock]
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
It's only one faction within the Scarlet Brotherhood that revere Tharizdun. But, yeah, the SB is pretty much as scummy and evil as it gets—they're pretty much the nazis of Greyhawk.
Yeah, exactly. I suppose one could have some faction of the SB that's not nearly so awful as being cultists dedicated to the ultimate destruction of the universe help out.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
I seem to recall Boccob is more important and definitely more distant than Mystra, which is why I thought of Ao, but you're right.
Mystra’s pretty darn important too! Every time she gets murdered, it sets off a Realms-shattering event! Also, Ao is extremely distant - so distant that he doesn’t even have any clerics. The only reason anyone knows he exists is because of his brief appearance during the Time of Troubles.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
Mystra’s pretty darn important too! Every time she gets murdered, it sets off a Realms-shattering event!
True. My Realms knowledge isn't as good as my Greyhawk knowledge---I ran and/or played in Greyhawk for many years through both 1E and 2E, but only a bit in the Realms.

Also, Ao is extremely distant - so distant that he doesn’t even have any clerics.
Boccob is kind of halfway between then, because at least in the early days of Greyhawk he didn't have a clergy, has almost no worshippers, and is extremely distant. He's not the "god of gods" though.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Yeah, exactly. I suppose one could have some faction of the SB that's not nearly so awful as being cultists dedicated to the ultimate destruction of the universe help out.
Based on what has been leaked out so far, the SB are one of three major quest-giving groups in towns, and seem to function pretty much exactly like the Zhentarim have in 5E Adventures so far as "Lawful Evil" that the players can work with against more immediate threats.
 

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