Candlekeep Mysteries: Bite-sized magic
Candlekeep Mysteries has been out for a about a week now and a lot of people have been curious about what it contains; should they buy it? Is it for them?
There’s a lot of good stuff in here, so let’s unpack it. First, what Candlekeep Mysteries? Well, if you don’t know, it’s a campaign book that includes 17 short adventures that vary in length from 8 to 15 pages. They’re intended to take up a session or three. Think Tales of the Yawning Portal as opposed to Rime of the Frostmaiden.
One of the big differences for this book is that Wizards recruited a handful of amazing freelancers from the community at large to produce the adventures. The diverse writing team is great because it offers a series of unique and fun adventures that are far different than the types of adventures we usually see; that’s not to say what we usually see is bad. Not at all.
It’s just that adventures like Rime of the Frostmaiden and Descent into Avernus, while different (and compelling stories) the writing feels the same…because it’s the same people writing them.
Candlekeep Mysteries offers a different perspective and it’s quite enjoyable.
We’re going to delve deep into the adventures (SPOILERS) but before we get too deep, you might be wondering about the audience for this book; as in, who should buy it?
Well, if you’re a completionist you certainly want the alternate cover. As I’ve said in many different places the Candlekeep alternate cover is beautiful with its silky finish and embossed foil detailing. It’s my favourite alternate cover by far.
If you’re a DM or a player who’s likely to DM in the future, Candlekeep is a really good book for you. For a few reasons.
First, while Candlekeep, and the adventures contained within, are set in the Forgotten Realms, they are easily portable. With a little bit of reflavouring you can make them fit in Greyhawk, Exandria, or your own home brew world. There’s enough flavour to make it interesting, but not so much that reflavouring these adventures would be burdensome, and that seems a purposeful design directive.
There’s something for everyone in Candlekeep and I think the variety will make for an enjoyable experience.
Where Candlekeep shines is as a bridge resource. What do I mean by that?
Well, did a session end a bit earlier than you expected because your players skipped an encounter? Or maybe you didn’t prep as much as you wanted to and the players overleap your prepared storyline. You can easily pull one of these adventures out and uses it to fill in where your own story is short. Or if your current adventure ends, and you need a plausible way to get your characters from one place to another quickly without seeming to use deus ex machina?
It’s great and simple: oh they find a book! they’re sucked into a portal! What a fantastic world…etc etc.
So Candlekeep Mysteries is really good for those situations. If you’re playing a particularly scholarly or bookish party you could even run the book from level 1 to 17 but it’s definitely not intended for that and you’d need to build in some unifying elements between the adventures and ground your heroes in the Candlekeep citadel itself.
It’s doable for sure, with a bit of work.
I really think it’s a good resource to have on your shelf as a DM and future DM.
If you’re exclusively a player with little to no DMing in your future, it may not offer the best bang for your buck; there are a lot of cool magic items in here which you can prod your DM into giving you (the watchful helm is one of my favourites) but really this is an adventure book geared more toward DMs than players.
We love it as a bridge resource, but if you won’t ever DM, it may not be the best bang for your buck. This is as spoiler-free as it gets! If you don’t want to read an in-depth review of the adventures in the book, jack out now!
The book is the thing
Every adventure in Candlekeep Mysteries starts with a book. And that book leads to adventure! It gives you as a DM, some hooks to play with as well. For example, in The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces you could take the offered plot hook of finding the sage Matreous, but it could be as simple as stumbling upon the book while researching the creation of permanent magical effects or about demiplaces, pocket dimensions, or other spaces. OR create your own.
The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces (Michael Polkinghorn)
The book was found in the library of the mage Fistandia who bequeathed her library to Candlekeep upon her untimely disappearance.
When they access the book, the characters are teleported to Fistandia’s home away from home, a Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion spell that was made permanent by Fistandia’s impressive magical enchantments.
The characters will explore the mansion, and maybe even get in a fight with some ornery books, as they explore looking for answers, and possible treasure. It’s also not clear how they can exit the mansion…that’s a fun puzzle they’ll need to solve.
If you’re looking for some wacky and fun encounters and a bit of exploration and mystery, The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces is a great start.
Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions (Alison Huang)
Yalerion Highscroll, a scholar, purchased the book from Baldur’s Gate and donated it to Candlekeep. Your PCs could happen on the book by researching magic and the weave, lycanthropy and its origins, or Demon Lords of the Abyss. Or some other spooky way.
Not much is known about the author Mazfroth but he rambles on long winded tangents about subjects as diverse as divinity, the multiverse, and the nature of magic.
The twist? The book is a actually a gingwatzim and it attacks the players after they open it! Rolling initiative upon opening a book could be hilariously fun, depending on your party.
With some helpful tips from the denizens of Candlekeep, it’s a road trip adventure to Baldur’s Gate (because all good stories have a road trip!)
Some investigation through the market stalls reveals a gang of jackalweres are hoarding books and selling fakes to make money to revive their lamia leader, Nidalia. If the PCs play it right they might find some impressive allies!
There’s some exploration, and some combat, and a lot of potential roleplaying opportunities depending on how your party wants to encounter the gang. Depending on your campaign, it could set up a long-running antagonist/ally group for your party.
Book of the Raven (Chris Perkins)
Even in an anthology book, you know that Chris Perkins needed to write something and his contribution is Book of the Raven.
Would you be surprised to learn that the book was mysteriously delivered to the library by a raven?
Hooks for this adventure include researching the Vistani and other planar travelers or possible routes into or out of the Shadowfell. But if you want to be REALLY cool, you could have a raven deliver the book to the players directly.
The book is a first-hand account of an author who was rescued by kind Vistani travelers and nursed back to health. It provides a detailed account of the Vistani way of life.
The adventure lies in the map that’s tucked between the book’s pages.
The map leads to a chalet that’s used by the Scarlet Sash, a group of wereravens…yes, wereravens, as a base. You also learn that a group of were ravens is called a kindness, which is kinda nice.
Characters will meet the group and potentially become a member themselves…if the kindness finds them worthy.
It is a dark adventure, with some elements of horror and cult, and if they’re studious, the characters may find their way through the Shadowfell: via an open grave.
The adventure is more focused on exploration and combat, though given the theme, they just might find some undead lurking about, too.
A Deep and Creeping Darkness (Sarah Madsen)
The book was delivered to Candlekeep by adventurers, as their ticket into the citadel. It was given to them by a grateful villager who alleged that her grandfather had written it himself.
It discussed the village of Vermeillon and its gradual demise by gradual, unknown means. Following an accident in a platinum mine, you see, villagers began disappearing…
Hooks include receiving a contract from a mining outfit to find out what happened to Vermeilon, or by searching local legends history and lore, the mining industry, or the unexplained disappearance of individuals and entire settlements (which could potentially build on the broader theme of disappearances in your campaign.)
As they enter the village, should they rest, they’ll be fitted with nightmares. Something foul is afoot in Vemeillon! They’ll run encounter a corrupted mayor in his mansion and eventually explore the mine that’s causing all the trouble.
There’s a lot to see in Vermillion, and there’s some combat too. There are stakes here, too, as noted in the adventure because if the monsters aren’t dealt with they’ll threaten other nearby towns as well.
The final combat is interesting and tactically enjoyable, so if your players enjoy a challenge they should enjoy it.
Shemshime’s bedtme Rhyme (Ari Levitch)
The book made its way to Candlekeep via a rare book dealer who arrived and was promptly placed in isolation due to singing madness. There are no further mentions of the book dealer in the archives…what happened to him after his quarantine is as yet unknown.
The adventure begins with the characters waking up with a tune in their heads; one they can’t stop humming. Eventually they realize that the tune has spread.
They are quarantined in Candlekeep’s cellar to keep the illness from spreading throughout the library.
Creepy things begin happening as the library attendants who stay with them begin succumbing to the song, and some even try to escape! Eventually the characters will be attacked and used against one another, if the foul Shemshime has its way!
The mystery is revealed once the characters find the final stanza of Shemshime’s Rhyme…
The final combat isn’t so much of a combat, but rather a tactical scenario, whereby the villain can be stopped with some clever tactics the players must figure out from the rhyme. If your players are easily frustrated by non-linear adventures, this one may not be for them.
But if they like a little out of the box fun, Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme will be a blast!
The Price of Beauty (Mark Hulmes)
The Price of Beauty is a book filled with wonderful depictions of art, jewelry, woodland scenes, and prayers for meditation and self-healing; it smells of fresh lilies.
The book leads to a portal to the serene Temple of the Restful Lily…but all is not what it seems, as a coven of hags has taken over the temple and tricks its guests into unfavourable deals, preying on their insecurities.
The deals are enticing: an ability enhancement (a boost of +2 to a stat), a physical transformation, even to a different race, or youth. The temple is littered with the discarded people who’ve entered into these dark deals and other guests waiting to fall prey to them.
There are some fun encounters, which include performing a workout (like some high intensity Zumba), amongst others.
The players can unravel the mystery and help those affected lift their curses; if they manage to figure out how.
The adventure offers some opportunity for extended relationships: do the people whom the players have saved become allies? Does the temple become a respite for them in times of trouble? That’s up to you!
Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor (Derek Ruiz)
It’s a mystery centered around murder in Waterdeep. A ghost seeks your players out; how or why is left up to you. The apparition wears a uniform, a symbol of a famous Waterdavian family.
The book they find is a journal, a firsthand account of Sarah. Over time the entries gradually change in tone…to something darker and afraid.
It’s a story as old as time: man wants power, contacts a great old one, murders his family and servants, moves to a different town to start afresh.
There is some room for exploration, and roleplay in Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor, but the hook is engaging; a forlorn ghost who needs justice. Can the heroes break the cult and put Sarah to a rightful rest? There are some really exceptional story elements here, and some lovely seeds that you can plant and build on in future adventures. In my initial pass, I didn’t really notice Sarah of Yellowcrest manor, but it’s WONDERFUL. It may actually be my favourite.
Lore of Lurue (Kelly Lynne D’angelo)
Lore of Lurue is one of the two adventures I really liked during my initial pass. It’s a whimsical tale that takes the players back into history.
It’s a story; a fairytale, but one that the characters get to live. I love the build-up of the adventure; it’s wonderful and immersive. There’s exploration and roleplay and combat, and some very clever encounters, overall.
But as I intimated in my previous glimpse at the book, I didn’t love the ending.
It’s a story: it’s already happened. So there’s a real deus ex machina at the end where, no matter what the characters do, the hero comes in and saves the day. Whether it’s by saving them from a possible TPK or by resurrecting the dead corrupted avatar they defeated, the adventure ends the same way.
I don’t love that, but I do like the adventure overall. I love the whimsy of it, even if I didn’t appreciate that element of the ending.
Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion (Amy Vorpahl)
Now to be clear, the writer of the book Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion hated the letter c as a hard consonant and wrote his book accordingly…it’s a tiny detail, but it’s fun and clever.
The adventure begins with a bang: a dwarf is carrying a book; but it’s so heavy he dies under it. No magical power can return him to life… Cue the mystery: it turns out that there’s a tower in Candlekeep, and for reasons nobody is quite sure of, it’s fallen into disrepair. Nobody has made efforts to fix it.
Well, it turns out that’s because this tower is a rocketship and can be launched into space. That’s right. It’s like something out of Pinky and the Brain! The villain plans to load it with all the most valuable tomes from Kandlekeep (because they don’t deserve nice things) and launch it into space.
If that doesn’t pique your interest, nothing will!
Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome (Taymoor Rehman)
Once the tome is opened it’s revealed that a Djinn named Gazre-Azam is trapped inside and he beseeches the characters for their aid. But therein lies the rub because he can only be released if the wizard that imprisoned him releases the spell…or is killed.
Some hooks for seeking out this alliterative tome include: research on the denizens of the inner planes, especially the Window Dukes of Aawa and djinn, extraplanar travel or magic fortresses.
It’s a weighty request BUT he’ll offer the characters a free casting of the wish spell to lubricate their moral compass, if you will.
There are some very archetypal roleplaying moments, including one with a bronze dragon who’s taken over the villain’s former lair, but could turn into a fight…if the players wanted. Climb high into the cloud peaks and confront the evil spellcaster…and then, what do with the wish? That is, if they survive…
There are some neat character moments as well, with a cloud giant ghost in a bedroom at a desk seemingly writing a letter to a lost love, doomed forever to continue the farewell. The characters needn’t even fight it unless they want to.
ZZT was quite an enjoyable read for these types of moments.
The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale (Kienna Shaw)
The book is actually a script; a play, telling the story of a heroic bard and their downfall into evil.
The players have been hired on a quest and are being paid 5000 gp if they successfully uncover the book. Alternatively, they could stumble upon it if they’ve been granted access to the inner ward.
The adventure lands the heroes in a demiplane; a prison if you will, which was holding the protagonist of the play in seclusion as the Harpers, a noble network of good-aligned spies, sought to end a corruption that had befallen him.
But in the demiplane all is not right, as it turns out that the bard been attending to a very important guest: a beholder. And he invites everyone to meet this new guest to allay their fears! Well, it turns out that the beholder imprisoned the protagonist, so it was the beholder all along! Haha.
Will they save the protagonist? And if they can, will he trust them? OR WILL THE BEHOLDER WIN? Expect weird things, as nothing as it seems, when a Beholder dreams…
The Book of Inner Alchemy (Daniel Kwan)
The players catch the rumour of an ancient tome containing martial arts techniques associated with immortality…
Characters could stumble upon the book of inner alchemy when exploring the nature of ki and its uses in hand-to-hand combat and healing, legends pertaining to immortality, monastic traditions, especially the way of the open hand or the crafting of magic weapons.
What the characters learn when they stumble upon the book is that some pages have been expertly removed! And therein lies the quest: the Avowed, the keepers of Candlekeep’s vast library, want the desecrator found and the missing pages returned.
The players find clues that will lead them to the Cloakwood Sanctuary or the Order of the Immortal Lotus. An investigation ensues, and possibly some combat against some evil monks?
The adventure also cleverly gives you, the DM, some seeds as to where the campaign may lead! Some lingering plot hooks that you may want to connect to in your campaign.
It also introduces a new magical item, a set of gloves that enhances your constitution and unarmed strike damage. Monks can use a bit of a boost to their damage, which is great, but these gloves are quite powerful and are Legendary.
The Canopic Being (Jennifer Kretchmer)
The Book details the ritual that allows a mummy lord to transplant its organs into a living host: hence the name, canopic being (In ancient Egypt, the canopic jars housed the mummy’s internal organs, so I am assuming it’s a play on that!)
The book also includes a more sinister revelation: the book includes a list of names of all the recipients and the names of the characters are all on it!
The players will need to forge a path to Talshuta, and then eventually to the tomb itself (‘cause you knew there’d be a tomb…)
There are elements of combat and exploration in this one and if you love Egyptian theming it should be right up your alley.
There are some fun plot threads to follow up on too; the characters need to make some difficult choices and they will determine the future! Will the mummy rise up and attack them again? Or will it be destroyed for good? I really like the new magic item, the watchful helm, too. It’s really clever and it’s one I’ll include in a campaign in the very near future.
The Scriveners Tale (Brandes Stoddard)
“An evil archfey is bound within the tome, and once the characters run afoul of its magic they must defeat the archfey before they succumb to her power!”
The players will be touched by great power and each will receive a benefit and drawback; and the drawbacks are cleverly insidious. There’s room for a lot of roleplaying and some combat too, if it tickles you; the adventure even gives you some suggestions on what creatures may serve the villain so you can add them into your game.
There’s also a very cool combat where guardians emerge with mummy allies and the players need to survive the onslaught to progress any further. It’s like waves of combat and I really enjoy the challenge of resource management for this type of battle.
The final combat is very intense, too.
The players will battle with the archfey in her lair, and considering some of the drawbacks the players might be suffering, it could be vicious and require good tactics and teamwork to overcome!
Alkazaar’s Appendix (Adam Lee)
The characters begin by reading the Appendix and they discover a picture portal, which teleports any willing creature to the hidden location where a golem awaits them.
The golem was affiliated with Alkazaar, as the players will learn, and will help the players set on to their quest of fidinging a powerful nether scroll, and what became of Alkazaar himself.
There are some interesting roleplaying opportunities in this one. The golem can interact with the PCs but cannot speak, and they need its help to progress forward. This interaction can be simple or complex depending on your preference and that of your players.
The hot sun beating down on them reflected by the sand of the anauroch desert, trying to convince a silent stone golem to help them seems like a fun way to spend an afternoon to me.
There are some puzzles which aren’t difficult but may require a bit of help, unless accompanied by a helpful NPC…so if your players aren’t huge on puzzles there’s any opportunity to give them a bit of help, if they need it.
This, like the Canopic Being, has some intense combat moments including a battle with a Dracolich. Your players should be prepared for an all-out war.
Zanthoria (Toni Winslow-Brill)
Not unlike our world, a plague is ravaging the Sword Coast. It targets not only beasts and humanoids but crops and stored foodstuffs too; not even a wish spell can reverse the havoc the plague has wrought upon the world.
After a brush with madness, the players will delve deep into the Lykortha Expanse, and encounter some new and unique creatures to battle.
It’s a fun one, particularly if you’re playing a druid.
Candlekeep Mysteries is a wonderful book. So many of the adventures would find a great fit at my table.
Take a look, it’s in a book…