Hello again, my friends. Welcome back to my review of Candlekeep Mysteries, the Dungeons & Dragons book coming out in exactly ONE WEEK that I was lucky enough to get an early look at. As with Part One, I’ll be giving a little mini review for each of the remaining nine adventures in the book. I’ll also try to sum up my overall thoughts at the end.
The back half of the book contains the higher level mysteries, things for groups up to 16th level (though at one point it was going to go to 20). More experienced parties means that the writers have much more to play with when it comes to story, meaning the scope of these adventures is much expanded over some of the ones from the first half.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
Lore of Lurue
by Kelly Lynne D’Angelo
This adventure really cranks the fantasy knob to eleven. Set in an enchanted forest full of fairies and satyr, “Lore of Lurue” is a glimpse at the past of The Forgotten Realms and specifically the city of Silverymoon. Charged to root out the corruption at the heart of a magic forest, the party faces off with the dark and wild side of nature. Something I found interesting in this adventure was the meta quality to it. While players obviously have their normal level of agency over how the adventure goes, there are times where the characters are railroaded along. It’s a pre-written story with a prologue that characters won’t see, so there’s an extra layer story control laid onto the game that even the DM doesn’t really have a say in. Definitely an interesting take on the “storybook” D&D adventure.
by Amy Vorpahl
How do I describe this adventure? You know that player? The one who names their character Big Chungus and multi-classes as like four different classes? The one who always plays chaotic neutral characters just so they can do whatever they feel and make the DM’s life hell?
Imagine if that person’s brain was an adventure. That’s “Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion.”
Sitting at about the middle of the book, it serves as a breather and palate cleanser from the heavier adventures that populate the rest of Candlekeep Mysteries. There’s a gnome named Stonky, a livestock cult, rockets, someone named Donkey Biscuit, and potentially cannibalism. Underneath all the goofiness, this is a well constructed little mystery that works as a pretty good parody of all of the “stop the evil cult” stories that permeate D&D (and this book). Plus, it introduces these new constructs called Skitterwidgets which are absolutely fantastic, almost like robot Pokemon.
Zikran’s Zephryrean Tome
by Taymoor Rehman
This one is probably the most “standard” adventure in this half of the book, being about stopping a mad mage from doing evil mage things in his secret hideout. What changes things up is mostly the character of Gazre-Azam, a djinn who helps the party find their way and serves as a constant companion during the adventure, and the elemental trappings of everything. It also moves quite a bit more than other one-shots, giving us a look at a few other places on the Sword Coast that haven’t gotten much focus.
The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale
by Kienna Shaw
D&D goes Truman Show in this tale of curses and constructed worlds. Centered around a bard named Arrant Quill, the party has to track him down in his own gilded cage in order to hopefully cure him of a curse that could threaten the entire Sword Coast. It’s a conceptually intriguing setup that uses the magical possibilities within D&D to their fullest. It also plays around with player expectations, as stabbing someone is actually the good ending of this story. I especially like that it gives a little shine to The Harpers, an organization that I’ve always thought was super cool but doesn’t get much attention.
The Book of Inner Alchemy
by Daniel Kwan
D&D really should do more with evil monks. There’s something about a highly disciplined group of evildoers that is so intriguing compared to the chaotic rabble of most D&D villains. The Order of the Immortal Lotus, the main villains of this adventure, are proof of that. Obsessed with the acquisition of knowledge, they’re almost a dark mirror to the Avowed of Candlekeep from whom they’ve stolen.
When players travel to the Lotus’s hidden compound to retrieve the ill-gotten book pages, they’ll encounter a lot of tropes straight out of a kung-fu movie played as straight as an arrow. The arrogant apprentice, the insane old master evilly stroking his beard; it’s homage without going into outright parody, something that D&D struggles with but Kwan nails effortlessly.
The Canopic Being
When you get into high level D&D play, the options for final bosses kind of shrinks. You usually run into a dragon, a lich, or, sometimes, a dracolich. The main challenge for a writer or DM is making this exciting, which Kretchmer does with aplomb in this adventure thanks to the use of the mummy lord and a fascinating twist on canopic jars. The setting also goes a long way towards helping this adventure stand out, since it takes place pretty far from the Sword Coast, in the city of Tashluta. A tropical city built on top of a volcano, adventurers are going to feel a little out of place among all the bright colors and spiced food. There’s plenty of cool stuff here and I think many DM’s are going to want to explore Tashluta more after playing this one. Once the party gets to tomb raiding (and there’s a lot of tomb raiding), the horror ramps up quite a bit. The final fight with the villain, a mummy lord with oracular abilities, is one of the most intriguing in the book. +
The Scrivener’s Tale
by Brandes Stoddard
More problems with the fey in this adventure that brands the party with a strange curse then kicks them out the door to go fix it. A fast moving little story that takes the party to Baldur’s Gate and then, somehow, a different library in search of the “Princess of Shadow Glass.” A pretty straightforward adventure, it’s buoyed by some interesting locations as well as the aspects of the story that deal with writing and inscription, which tie into the overall book theme well. Though I’m sad there isn’t a single “I would prefer not to” to be seen.
by Adam Lee
Remember what I said about dracoliches? My pulpometer broke while reading this, since this entire story feels straight out of an Indiana Jones adventure. There’s a lost golem, deserts, defininitely-not-Bedouin tribesmen (cleverly called the Bedine), a ruined city of secrets, it’s all here. The golem that serves as your helper and charge for this adventure is an endearing addition and parties are definitely going to get attached. The story’s general layout and story beats still fit a mystery, but it’s incredibly refreshing not to be dealing with a lot of murder and evil in this one. There’s some bad things running around, but in the end this is more of a quest for a treasure than anything.
Oh there’s also desert Chwinga now, which is the best.
by Toni Winslow-Brill
Thematically, Xanthoria is the perfect topper for Candlekeep Mysteries. If you play the book as a campaign, it ends in such a classic D&D way: stopping a lich in the dark center of their lair. And for the record, this is definitely the scariest, grossest, most depressing adventure in the book. It’s incredibly short and self contained, but the author crammed a lot of creepy stuff into the space she had. If you don’t like things bursting, oozing, or wriggling then this is not the adventure for you, let’s just say. Centered around a mad druid and a mushroom zombie plague (yes there is a strong The Last of Us vibe), players are going to be truly challenged by what they have to see and do in this story. Winslow-Brill’s new monster the Lichen Lich, an undead horror who draws on the decaying part of nature for their power, is a monster for the ages.
The thing that really elevates things is that underneath the fetid corpses and mutant fairies there’s a heartbreaking tragedy that unfolds, and a choice at the end that is going to challenge even the most hard-hearted adventurer’s in its sadism. Good luck!
Final Verdict, As Best As I Can
You’re gonna wanna pick this book up, especially if you’re a DM. The sheer range of stories in this book means they can easily be slotted into almost any campaign or used for a one-shot whenever needed. While there are a few little quibbles here and there (what is with all the damn fey!?), there’s very little wrong with these in my eyes, and many of them expand the storytelling possibilities of D&D in really neat ways. I hope Wizards keeps this dedication to creativity and diversity going as we head into the future, as it can do nothing but make the game better.
You can pre-order Candlekeep Mysteries at your FLGS, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon as well as on digital marketplaces like D&D Beyond and Roll20. It releases on March 16, 2020.
And don’t forget to check out my series of interviews with some of the authors of Candlekeep over on All Bark, No Dice!
Images via D&D
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