Review by C.J. Bunce
Not just a new adventure for your next Dungeons & Dragons campaign, the new 5th edition adventure anthology Candlekeep Mysteries is a different way to enhance gameplay from Wizards of the Coast. First, it opens up the realm of creators creating the stories behind your next adventure. It’s 17 contained adventures all centered on a visit to the Forgotten Realm’s renowned towering library fortress of Candlekeep. Each adventure has a book– a rarity, serving as a clue, a key, a totem or token, a container, or treasure–at the center of a mystery. And each adventure can be played as a standalone, or, it can supplement another campaign, so a Dungeon Master can splice in one of these stories to places like the Soltryce Academy of Wildemount, the Library of Korranberg in Eberron, the University Library in Sharn, or the Great Library of Greyhawk. Plus new monsters. New magic items. New characters.
Which adventure will you begin with?
Each mystery was designed by a different writer, including contributions from Graeme Barber, Kelly Lynne D’angelo, Alison Huang, Mark Hulmes, Jennifer Kretchmer, Daniel Kwan, Adam Lee, Ari Levitch, Sarah Madsen, Christopher Perkins, Michael Polkinghorn, Taymoor Rehman, Derek Ruiz, Kienna Shaw, Brandes Stoddard, Amy Vorpahl, and Toni Winslow-Brill. The variety of contributors–all given credit in each section–also reveals itself in the varied presentations and artwork contributions, all while having the same overall tone of the D&D volumes players are accustomed to. The pinnacle of this is a fold-out color poster map of Candlekeep by favorite map designer/cartographer Mike Schley.
Some stories have the aura of a mystery dinner puzzle. A missing persons case, a mass murderer, a fraudster, dark secrets to be discovered, short-takes on urban legends, parables, and fables, some might serve as portents, and one is even a play on martial arts theater with a dose of Asian culture. The tales allow for dissection, revision, and adaptation for the community–players are encouraged to use Candlekeep Mysteries nearly any way they see fit, even if just for one of the good maps or plot lines found inside.
Because each adventure is unrelated to the rest, and characters and items are specific to each adventure, look for new stat blocks and magic items within each section (the Appendix at the end is not an Appendix, or is it?). Step back and think if you were writing an adventure tied to a library, where would you begin? Maybe Belle’s library in Beauty and the Beast? Ask what true-life tales have existed for centuries tied to famous writings. How might lessons from the books themselves–beyond the words–become clues? It may help to recall how one gets into Candlekeep in the first place.
Candlekeep attracts scholars like a flame attracts moths. Historians, sages, and others who crave knowledge flock to this library fortress to peruse its vast collection of books, scribbled into which are the answers to the mysteries that bedevil them. Many of these books contain their own mysteries–each one a doorway to adventure. Dare you cross that threshold?
Wereravens, a quarantine quandary, cult fanatics, the ultimate pop-up book, skitterwidgets, a famous Eagles song, chwingas, and lots of golems await you in several fun stories and adventures. Good for players of all levels looking to expanded their play off the beaten path, look for the standard cover for Candlekeep Mysteries available now for pre-order here at Amazon, or the alternate cover at gameshops, both in hardcover editions coming in one week, March 16, 2021.