Available everywhere today (March 16, 2021), Candlekeep Mysteries is an anthology of seventeen mystery-themed adventures. Each adventure is centered around a single book found in Candlekeep, the Forgotten Realms’ iconic library fortress. In this book, D&D provides a showcase for a variety of voices, with each of the adventures written by a different author. All of these adventures are intended to be played as one-shots or dropped into an existing campaign and running them however you like is encouraged. The book also provides more than enough setting information for your players to visit Candlekeep in each of these adventures (or for your own adventure).
Before we get into the review, here’s the text from the official product page.
GREAT BOOKS HIDE THEIR SECRETS WELL
An anthology of seventeen mystery-themed adventures for the world’s greatest roleplaying game.
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?
Candlekeep Mysteries is a collection of seventeen short, stand-alone D&D adventures designed for characters of levels 1-16. Each adventure begins with the discovery of a book, and each book is the key to a door behind which danger and glory await. These adventures can be run as one-shot games, plugged into an existing Forgotten Realms campaign, or adapted for other campaign settings.
This book also includes a poster map of the library fortress and detailed descriptions of Candlekeep and its inhabitants.
Adventure writers include: 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.
Disclaimer: Tribality author Brandes Stoddard is one of the mystery writers in this book and is using this detail to get a break from the review desk.
This “book of books” starts with two pages of notes for how to use the adventures. You’ll find broad background information on the Forgotten Realms and where this book sits in the timeline (1492 DR). However, this book is meant to be flexible and where, when, and how you run these adventures is up to you… as nothing is “too sacred”. The text encourages DMs to dissect the adventures and take what they like. You’ll also find ideas for library locations to run these adventures in other D&D worlds such as Exandria (Soltryce Academy or the Cobalt Reserve), Eberron (Library of Korranberg), and Greyhawk (Great Library). As I read through the adventures, it did feel like any of the adventures could be dropped into my campaign set outside the Forgotten Realms with some minor tweaks, even the higher-level ones. So I think D&D was successful in its goal of publishing a flexible resource for mystery adventures.
The introduction pages also provide notes for being a sensitive Dungeon Master, specifically by providing advice on setting hard and soft limits to keep everyone at the table relaxed and having fun. Knowing the subject of some of these adventures, placing this text here is a good idea.
The Library Fortress
Candlekeep is a towered library fortress that sits on a cliffside overlooking the Sea of Swords. You’ll find eleven pages detailing Candlekeep and the locations within.
Candlekeep isn’t a location where characters can roam around as they please and details are provided for securing a guide. You’ll also find lots of notes on how the library is protected by magic and rules. If your players are mischief-makers, you’ll find plenty of ways to keep them on their best behavior or they’ll find face repercussions such as banishment from the library.
You’ll also find details for a number of locations in the outer Court of Air, the Inner Ward and Great Library, and even beneath the fortress.
The majority of Candlekeep Mysteries is filled with seventeen adventures designed for characters of levels 1-16, each focused on a book found in the library. These adventures can be run as one-shot games, plugged into an existing Forgotten Realms campaign, or adapted for other campaign settings such as Eberron, Greyhawk, Exandria, or even your own world.
Each of the adventures contains excellent artwork, with an illustration for each book (and the interior for the book below) and lots of NPCs too. The adventures also provide words to describe the book’s appearance, dimensions, weight, and other details such as the effect of casting spells on the book.
Maps of interior and exterior locations can be found throughout the book, ranging from a single floor of a building to larger locations with multiple rooms,, caverns, and buildings to explore. Most of the maps are provided in the clean and simple style of Dyson Logos, seen in other books such as Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
For each adventure, the characters either come to Candlekeep to find information to solve a crisis happening elsewhere or they discover a book in the library that contains a mystery that requires going on an adventure to solve. While the adventures all share the premise of a book as the focus, these adventures come in a wide variety of flavors. I’d be surprised if everyone doesn’t find a handful they’re interested in running and maybe a couple of the adventures that are a hard pass. I’d like to see D&D do another multi-author anthology filled with five-room dungeons, short wilderness adventures, or another type of adventure.
Here’s a quick breakdown of each of the adventures.
— OBVIOUS SPOILERS BELOW —
The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces
1st Level – Michael Polkinghorn
The adventurers are lead on a quest to find a missing sage trapped in an extra-dimensional space, similar to the Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion spell. Once they find their way through the portal, they must solve a mystery to escape.
Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions
2nd Level – Alison Huang
This adventure features a book that is actually a monster and a part of a malevolent plot. As the adventurers start to uncover the truth, they are led to Baldur’s Gate where they encounter werejackals and their kind lamia leader.
Book of the Raven
3rd Level – Christopher Perkins
This book has a treasure map hidden inside. The mystery leads the players to a secret society’s hilltop chalet and then onto a crossing into the Shadowfell. This adventure also provides an updated take on the Vistani from Curse of Strahd.
A Deep and Creeping Darkness
4th Level – Sarah Madsen
This book describes a platinum mine disaster and the mysterious disappearance of people in the town of Vermilion and surrounding villages. The adventurers are hired by a mining and exploration group to find the cause of disappearances which takes them to the abandoned town to find the cause (meenlocks).
Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme
4th Level – Ari Levitch
After staying the night at Candlekeep’s inn, the adventures all awake with the same catchy and contagious rhyme in their head. This mystery leads the adventures to a sinister clockwork book after being forced into quarantine, which is a scenario many of us will find easy to relate to.
The Price of Beauty
5th Level – Mark Hulmes
This book has a magic mirror build into its cover which opens a portal that leads to the Temple of the Restful Lily. The adventurers will find that beauty is only skin deep as they face a trio of elves who are not what they seem.
Book of Cylinders
6th Level – Graeme Barber
When rolled across wet clay, three engraved cylinders contained within this book tell the story of a grippli village attacked by serpentfolk through symbols. The mystery leads to the discovery that the story is actually unfolding now and points them to a grippli trading post in need of help.
Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor
7th Level – Derek Ruiz
The adventurers are called on to solve a mass killing in Waterdeep after the ghost of one of the victims, Sarah, seeks them out. Solving the crime will allow Sarah and the other victims to finally rest.
Lore of Lurue
8th Level – Kelly Lynne D’Angelo
The adventurers become immersed in an enchanted storybook. They are transported to a demiplane in the heart of a forest and will need to solve the mysterious cause of a blight that has arisen in the woods.
9th Level – Amy Vorpahl
The adventurers are led by this book to a tower in Candlekeep that holds a secret. The adventurers must race against the clock to stop a cult from using an ancient mechanism in its lower levels to launch the tower into the stars.
Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome
10th Level – Taymoor Rehman
This adventure slightly twists the genie in a bottle trope, where a djinni trapped in a book offers a wish to the adventurers if they can find a way to release him.
The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale
11th Level – Kienna Shaw
This book tells the tale of a heroic bard who became corrupted by evil via a play in three acts. The book also contains Wisteria Vale, a demiplane holding the actual bard until a cure can be found. The adventurers are tasked with visiting Wisteria Vale to find and cure the bard, encountering a beholder with its own plans.
The Book of Inner Alchemy
12th Level – Daniel Kwan
A search for the missing pages of a book puts the adventurers in conflict with the monks of the Immortal Lotus. The adventures must stop this order of monks from sacrificing souls to create magic gloves.
The Canopic Being
13th Level – Jennifer Kretchmer
The adventurers must investigate the disappearance of a Candlekeep sage. The mystery leads the adventurers to find that they are the targets of a plan involving a mummy lord who wishes to transplant organs into their bodies to take control of them.
The Scrivener’s Tale
14th Level – Brandes Stoddard
This book about an archfey princess leaves its deadly magical mark on anyone who reads it. Marked by the book and hearing the voice of the archfey princess in their heads, the adventurers face doom. The mystery sends them to Baldur’s Gate to find the origin of the mark and an eventual showdown with the archfey princess.
15th Level – Adam Lee
This book chronicles an unsolved mystery about a wandering stone golem in the desert. The adventurers are tasked with reuniting the golem with its master while taking on a dracolich.
16th Level – Toni Winslow-Brill
In this final book, the adventures must deal with a deadly fungal infection. They’ll find themselves facing off against a druid corrupted by demon madness and turned into a lichen lich. The adventure concludes with the tough decision of how to deal with the lichen lich’s phylactery, a sprite named Thunderwing.
The Alternative Cover
Simen Meyer has designed an alternative art cover with a distinctive design and soft-touch finish. This cover is available exclusively in game stores on March 16, 2021.
Should I Buy This Book?
If you’re looking for a collection of short mysteries to have on your shelf as a resource that you’ll come back to again and again, this book is a must-have.
You should buy this book if:
- You are a DM who likes to have ready-to-run one-shots and interesting locations to visit. If you are, then you’ll love having this book full of hooks, interesting NPCs, and short adventures on your shelf.
- You always wanted to run a mystery adventure and didn’t really know how to go about it.
- You like shorter adventures such as those found in Tales from the Yawning Portal and Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
- Your players enjoy researching the prophecies, curses, and enemies they are facing and would happily take a trip to the great library of your world to learn all they can before jumping into danger.
- You want to encourage D&D to provide more anthologies to showcase even more authors in the future.
You might want to skip this book if:
- You and your players prefer to just hack and slash your way through monsters and are not interested in chasing down details to solve mysteries.
- You are looking for player options or DM rules content like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything or Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
- You are looking for an appendix full of new monster stat blocks to add to your collection. This book does contain nearly 20 monster stat blocks, conveniently located with the related text. Some are reprints (e.g. Chwinga, Meenlock, Naiad, and Wereraven). I did find the new monsters interesting and most I would be very interested in running.
- You are looking for a storyline with a super adventure to keep your players busy for months and months.