A clifftop citadel standing as a beacon of strength and knowledge, Candlekeep is the largest repository and collection of knowledge and lore within Faerun. The collection of the short adventures within Candlekeep Mysteries is the first of its kind as an official publication for D&D. It marks another step for Wizards of the Coast in their journey to draw from its broad community of creators to contribute their work into this multipurpose anthology and sourcebook for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.
Candlekeep Mysteries is a collection of 17 unconnected (as written) short adventures designed for characters level 1-16 and parties of 4-6 players, all with their introductions or hooks set at Candlekeep. As with all publications from Wizards of the Coast, these are adjustable in their configurations, and can be rebalanced for different party sizes as well as player level, depending on the Dungeon Master. Candlekeep Mysteries offers a new addition to the collection from Wizards of the Coast, adding short adventures and one shot sessions to their vast library of modules and adventure books. The closest publications to it would be the collection of adapted adventures in Tales from the Yawning Portal, or Ghosts of Salt Marsh, with its series of short encounters and adventures based around a specific location. This book makes a great resource for new Dungeon Masters, groups with an inconsistent schedule and no ongoing campaign, or for an introductory group to feel out the game, rather than start a full campaign that may not lead anywhere. The opportunities offered by short adventures and one shots cannot be discounted, and it’s a great addition to have as an official publication.
Short adventures are great additions to any D&D campaign, and this book fulfills the role between an adventure module and a supplement or sourcebook. Prior to Candlekeep, this was only done through independent creators or through the DMs Guild website. By drawing from the Dungeon and Dragons community, Wizards of the Coast has accomplished the dual purpose of highlighting creators and providing a new resource to Dungeon Masters. Wizards has been vocal about their community and working with writers, artists, and other creators, and through two of their most recent publications (Candlekeep Mysteries and Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden), they have done that.
The spirit of the short adventures is a common theme, that knowledge is power. It’s shown in the essence of the setting, of Candlekeep as a location, and through the hooks and introductions to each adventure. Each short adventure has its own style and feel, but the theme is clear throughout the multitude of forms it can take. Players will confront the multiple uses and purposes for knowledge, as well as the different motivations for acquiring and holding knowledge. From the adventures as written, to however a Dungeon Master may implement them, the short adventures within Candlekeep Mysteries stay true to their theme without feeling stale or overdone.
RUNNING THE ADVENTURES
In practice, the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries are short, stand-alone one shot sessions with the opportunity for adaptation or expansion. Depending on both the party and the Dungeon Master, the adventures could expand to more than a single session. As such, understanding both the style of play of the players at the table and the progression of each adventure is important to be clear about prior to running one or more of the adventures. There is nothing worse than expecting a 3-4 hour session, and have it stretch over 10 hours and multiple sessions. Likewise, understanding how to run and contain each adventure is important if you are looking to incorporate one or more into an ongoing campaign or larger adventure. The Dungeon Master should be fully prepared for the possible resolutions to each short adventure, and know the ways in which the players can reach a conclusion. That could be knowing how to point the players back towards the main storyline or arc, or just being able to avoid having them not recognize the resolution to the short adventure. This all comes with time and practice as a Dungeon Master, as well as having a good understanding of your individual style of running games and the players in your game.
The strength of Candlekeep Mysteries is the strength of short adventures and one shots (the good ones, we’ve all likely experienced poorly written or ineffectively run one shots). A good one shot is portioned out to be read and understood in a relatively short amount of time (compared to a large adventure), and then prepared just as quickly. Additionally, I believe a good one shot is self-contained, but provides easy options for adaptation or integration to another adventure or into a longer experience. One shots provide a convenient amount of relevant information for the DM to keep in mind and keep track of, freeing them up significantly to only need to reference the published content briefly.
Within this particular anthology of short adventures, there is a good variety offered within each entry. Between the many adventures, there are straightforward (hah!) puzzles and mysteries for keen sleuths and critically thinking players. Players will experience myth and lore literally coming to life (mummies in their tombs, anyone?) as they encounter devious wizards and secretive monastic orders, as well as cursed (and sometimes animated) books, or have to work to overcome wiley gnome tinkerers. The adventures provide creative uses of mechanics, puzzles, and creatures, particularly creatures and monsters that are less common in traditional D&D. That additional variety makes each adventure feel distinct and unique. Several adventures make brilliant use of extradimensional space, as well as alternate planes and demiplanes to expand the setting, while at the same time creatively containing it. By moving an adventure to a demiplane or alternate space, the possibility of wandering or irrelevant content distracting the players is drastically minimized, which is a fantastic creative choice by many of the writers.
CANDLEKEEP AS A SOURCEBOOK
If you are looking to acquire Candlekeep Mysteries as a resource, and not primarily for the adventures, there are a few things to know. First and foremost, the book is formatted as an anthology, and not like previous sourcebooks from Wizards of the Coast. As an anthology, the individual adventures are divided and self-contained, with stat blocks and magic items located within each chapter. By formatting the book that way, it makes it less useful as a supplement or sourcebooks, even for something like Tales from the Yawning Portal. In sourcebooks, those resources such as magic items and descriptions as well as creature and monster stats are organized in an index or divided into appendices for easy reference at the back of the book. This is not the case for Candlekeep Mysteries. If Candlekeep is being used as a supplement for another adventure or campaign, referencing materials such as creatures or artifacts is more difficult. If they had instead opted to format this book as a sourcebook instead of an anthology, it might not only have been easier to use as a reference, but would have opened up the opportunity to bring in a wider range of stat blocks for monsters and creatures, such as from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes or Volo’s Guide to Monsters. The anthology, by necessity, is more succinct as each chapter fits a shorter play time and physical space within the book. Wizards has a good habit of keeping their adventures contained and only requiring the core rulebooks, but their use of appendices allows them to add more resources, something which I found Candlekeep Mysteries lacking.
Additionally, Candlekeep Mysteries offers the location of Candlekeep to DMs to utilize and implement into their campaigns and settings. Beyond the actual adventures, the history, lore, and structure of Candlekeep as a location is one of the most valuable aspects of the book for Dungeon Masters. It is a must have for a campaign set in the Forgotten Realms, especially one such as Baldur’s Gate: Descent to Avernus or Tyranny of Dragons based on their proximity to Candlekeep, or even for the Waterdeep adventures which offer deep delves into the history and lore of the Forgotten Realms. The adventures are easily adaptable for other settings, and the book offers references and suggestions for other settings such as Exandria or Eberron. For an adventure or campaign that is lore or research heavy, the library and sages of Candlekeep are resources for players within the adventure, and not just for the hooks for the short adventures. Within the citadel, there is a treasure trove of knowledge to be found and clues to be uncovered, though be careful where you poke your nose.
Candlekeep Mysteries is a book that piqued my attention as a DM as a collection of one shots and short adventures that could be artfully integrated into an ongoing campaign or run as stand alone sessions. I thought it could be particularly beneficial as a supplement or resource, especially as a Dungeon Master who is running a campaign set within the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms and a full home-brewed campaign that draws from multiple sources of inspiration. Once I had read through it, I found that it is more than a resource, that it is a wonderful example of the creativity of Dungeons and Dragons. It brings inspiration within its short adventures. Most creators build large scale, grandiose adventures and campaigns, but there is a subtle craft to the short duration adventures that I think is much more difficult to master. The examples given within these adventures, written by multiple contributors from the community, are some of the best I have seen, and I will be looking for ways to implement their work into my own stories as a Dungeon Master.
Candlekeep Mysteries is published by Wizards of the Coast.
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