It’s only been a few days since the release of the first D&D release of 2021, Candlekeep Mysteries!
With promises of enchantment, mystery, and a wide variety of adventures, I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book!
This release stands apart from other D&D releases by breaking from the traditional formula that we’ve gotten used to over the last several years.
But does this approach hold up?
Read on to find out!
What Is Candlekeep Mysteries?
Candlekeep Mysteries is a collection of 17 brand new adventures from 20 different authors from around the D&D-o-sphere. They have a wide range of levels from level 1 to 16, which means that there are plenty of options for parties of all levels.
Initially, I had expected something in line with other compilation-type books like Ghosts of Saltmarsh and Tales From the Yawning Portal. Both are great books, but Candlekeep Mysteries takes it a step further.
The adventures themselves are represented by the various books that a group may find in the library fortress of Candlekeep. Because of this, Candlekeep Mysteries is a book filled with books that are filled with adventures.
Ok, so it sounds kind of trippy, but this is a very fun and interesting approach. Because each adventure is intended to be more of a one-shot, these mysteries can be seamlessly incorporated into whatever other story your group is telling.
Whether being brought into your existing game or serving as a jumping-off point for a new campaign, there really is something for everyone in Candlekeep Mysteries.
The adventures range from terrifying to quirky and lighthearted to chilling and sad.
With so many writers and a fantastic collection of one-shot adventures that focus on mystery-solving, Candlekeep Mysteries is proof that there is still plenty of room for innovation and “outside of the box” thinking in officially published D&D adventures.
Who Is Candlekeep Mysteries For?
Candlekeep Mysteries is a book for Dungeon Masters who are looking to add extra “oomph” to their campaigns.
Unless you are looking to DM for your group (which I always recommend giving it a try!), you should avoid this book.
It’s well-crafted, but reading ahead without getting the opportunity to experience the mystery adventures first-hand is doing yourself a massive disservice.
This is the type of book that’s at its best when kept to “Dungeon Master Eyes Only” status.
I personally really like having a nice and detailed map of Candlekeep. Between the adventures in the library’s books and plenty of information about Candlekeep itself, it is entirely possible for an entire campaign to take place in Candlekeep with this book.
For those things that Candlekeep Mysteries doesn’t directly hand you, it provides massive springboards of inspiration for your own storytelling.
What This Book Is Not
While there is a nice balance between combat and intrigue in most of the adventures, the assumption in most of these adventures is that the party will explore and interact with the world.
If your group is looking for more of a “hack and slash” experience, they might be turned off by these adventures.
As I previously mentioned, this isn’t a book with resources for players. There aren’t class and character options in this book as the focus is on the adventures and the library itself.
That’s not a bad thing though!
These clever adventures deserve to be experienced fully and with fresh senses by the players. Including options that might tempt players to read through the mysteries would be a pretty big conflict of interest!
Standout Adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries
With such a wide collection of themes in Candlekeep Mysteries, it’s difficult to choose which ones are the best.
However, these are the 5 adventures that stood out the most to me on first impression!
Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor
One of the newer additions to the shelves of Candlekeep is Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor.
Brought to the library by an apprentice mage, the book is a relic of the Yellowcrest family of Waterdeep. Written as a diary by Sarah, a servant of the Yellowcrest family who was learning to write, the tome provides a firsthand glimpse into what happened before the family and their servants were murdered.
Sarah had grown concerned at Lord Yellowcrest’s obsession with strange books and rituals. The final entry in the diary details a horror that she had hoped to bring to Lady Yellowcrest’s attention.
With depictions of a terrifying creature and arcane symbols, the question remains: what happened to the inhabitants of Yellowcrest Manor?
The Price of Beauty
The Price of Beauty is a thick tome with a mirror on the front cover. Auras of illusion and conjuration magic radiate from the book. The mirror’s function is a mystery, though there are reports of this book speaking to some who read it.
Looking into the book’s mirror, the viewer finds their own reflection replaced by that of Sune, the god of love and beauty. Those who are unhappy with how they look or that wish to change some part of themselves will be greeted by a portal to the Temple of the Restful Lily.
After meeting the elves in the Temple, things begin to take a tone that becomes gradually more and more unsettling. Beauty and transformation are possible, but at what cost?
The Scrivener’s Tale
I have a special love for stories involving the Fey and The Scrivener’s Tale is no exception!
This book was brought to Candlekeep with the stipulation that it was to be locked away and never read. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enforced and the book finds its way into the characters’ hands.
Within the book, an evil Archfey known as the Princess of the Shadow Glass lies in wait. Banished to the material plane by the Queen of Air and Darkness, the Princess seeks to claim her place as ruler.
In her quest for vengeance, the Princess casts herself as the protagonist of The Scrivener’s Tale and is willing to sacrifice as many mortal pawns as necessary to achieve her goals.
With parts of the tale spreading on the reader’s flesh that threaten to turn them to glass, the clock is ticking as the adventurers find themselves caught in the struggle between the Queen and Princess.
They must act to bring the conflict to an end before it is too late.
But what side will they choose?
Lore of Lurue
An enchanted tale of Lurue the Unicorn, this enchanted storybook transports the reader to a demiplane in the heart of a vast forest.
However, all is not well. Learning of a terrible blight that is spreading and threatening to corrupt the forest, the party find themselves as active partipants in the storybook.
Seeking to summon a corrupted avatar of Lurue, the Beast Lord known as Malar aims to assert his dominance over the domain.
Lore of Lurue is a colorful adventure that does a great job at captivating a type of whimsical wonder that one might expect from a storybook. But don’t let that fool you into a false sense of security! The evil in this tale will stop at nothing to prevent a “happily ever after” ending!
Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme
This book was delivered to Candlekeep over 600 years ago by a man who was driven mad by a neverending song. Worse still, the “singing madness” spread amongst the Avowed of Candlekeep such that the man had to be placed in isolation.
It’s when the party finds themselves humming the same song that the Candlekeep’s Avowed begin to worry. As the Avowed attempt to contain the singing madness, the party find themselves in a fight for their own sanity.
Can they find how to end this curse before it drives them mad forever?
As the curse causes those afflicted by it to turn on one another, only time will tell…
Is Candlekeep Mysteries Good?
Keeping with the criteria from my other reviews, I’m rating this book on three primary factors: Usefulness, Quality, and Value.
The final verdict will be given as “Get it Now!”, “Get it on Sale!”, or “Pass!”
So let’s get to the nitty-gritty!
I think it’s difficult to overstate how useful this book is for Dungeon Masters. Whether you’re looking for a quick aside from your current storyline with an engaging mystery or if you are opening Candlekeep up in its entirety to the party, you’re in for a treat.
Most of these adventures can be easily inserted into any story with minimal effort. Some may take a bit more creativity to work in, but it’s very possible.
As a DM tool, this is a great book full of options and inspiration.
My only gripe is that there isn’t a dedicated appendix at the back of the book. Stat blocks are presented in the sections of the specific adventure/mystery that they are in.
But, to be fair, it’s not like that doesn’t make sense. It’s more out of habit that I was a little surprised to see that there isn’t an appendix in the back of the book.
The writers of these mysteries paid very good attention to detail. Each story feels lively and unique without being too out of place or disconnected from the others in the book.
While Candlekeep Mysteries has definitely deviated from the traditional “recipe” of most releases up to this point, I think it does so in a way that’s exciting and fresh.
That said, the book itself is still laid out just as well as one would expect at this point.
As for the art, I do always look forward to seeing the pictures in every release. My first skim of any D&D book is usually to see what kind of eye-catching art is in it.
Much of the artwork in Candlekeep Mysteries is vivid and imaginative. Is it just me or have the last several books just knocked it out of the park with their artwork?
Lastly, we’re looking at the “bang for the buck” of Candlekeep Mysteries.
I’ll be honest, when I noticed that this book was on the shorter side compared to many other releases (it’s 224 pages versus the common length of 256 pages), I was a little worried.
But my worries were pretty quickly laid to rest!
These adventures are meant to be run with minimal prep time to get your players immersed in the story as fast as possible. This kind of streamlined design works great and the hardest part of reading this book was fighting the urge to scrap my current Ravenloft campaign and just dive into Candlekeep instead.
Final Verdict: Is Candlekeep Mysteries Worth Buying?
So, here we come to the moment of truth: is Candlekeep Mysteries worth buying or should it stay on the shelf?
The Tabletop Joab final verdict is:
“Buy It Now!”
Candlekeep Mysteries completely blew away my expectations. As time goes on, I expect this collection of adventures to be counted among the best that D&D 5e has to offer.
While some of the adventures strike my fancy more than others, I really don’t see a single weak link among them. I would love to see more in the future from every single one of the writers of Candlekeep Mysteries.
My only disclaimer for the “Buy It Now!” rating in this case is to keep in mind who this book is for.
If you are a Dungeon Master or are looking to start DM’ing, this is absolutely for you.
If you are strictly a player, pass on this one. (Though you might want to pester your DM about it or possibly give them the old hint-gift!)
You can check the current price of Candlekeep Mysteries on Amazon by clicking here or pick up a copy at your friendly local game store!
If you found this review helpful or have suggestions for the next review, I’d appreciate you letting me know in the comments and maybe sharing this article with your friends!