One of the most mysterious, enchanting, and severely dangerous places to visit in Dungeons & Dragons has been Candlekeep. The location is essentially a sanctuary for knowledge as it is a massive library sitting on the Sea Of Swords, guarding one of the biggest collections of written works in the Forgotten Realms. Along with all the dangers and treasures that come with knowledge and the power tied to it. This is why it feels like the perfect setting for the company's latest tome of adventures that came out today, which they have appropriately called Candlekeep Mysteries. We were sent a copy in advance, and after flipping through the pages and finding a LOT to talk about, we're ready to give it a review.
So first off, we need to address the possibility of spoilers. We're not going out of our way to spoil any of the plot points within the book, but we are going to talk about the book in this review. So if you're one of those stickler players or Dungeon Masters who is about to stick out a finger and shame us, this is your one and only warning. We're going to review the book! Which means we're going to talk about what's in here. There may be spoilers within this review! If you don't want to know anything about the contents within, skip all the way down to the last paragraph and just read our summary of the thing. But if YOU CHOOSE to read beyond this point, be fair warned, your grief in the comments section will be heavily ignored. … Possibly mocked. Read on at your own peril.
Candlekeep Mysteries is the very embodiment of the location it takes its name from, as this book contains seventeen different adventures, planned out for different difficulty levels ranging from Level 1 characters all the way to Level 16. Each adventure takes on almost the same introduction, that you have come here and discovered a particular book. What that book contains will unravel into the beginning of an adventure for your group to start on. Which is one of the primary goals of this Dungeons & Dragons collection is to give your campaign a thrilling starting point, or a really awesome adventure your current campaign can visit.
Unlike previous books of this nature (Tales From The Yawning Portal, Ghosts Of Saltmarsh), these adventures weren't just a collection of previously published works formatted to Fifth Edition. All of these are original stories made specifically for this book and were put together by a who's who of creative talent in the Dungeons & Dragons community. That full list of writers includes Graeme Barber, Bill Benham, Kelly Lynne D'Angelo, Alison Huang, Mark Hulmes, Jennifer Kretchmer, Daniel Kwan, Adam Lee, Ari Levitch, Chris Lindsay, Sarah Madsen, Christopher Perkins, Michael Polkinghorn, Taymoor Rehman, Hannah Rose, Derek Ruiz, Kienna Shaw, Brandes Stoddard, Amy Vorpahl, and Toni Winslow-Brill. Each of them giving a specific storyline that feels unlike any of the others in the book with its own lore, compelling tale, and twists that will make even the most jaded of campaign vets be surprised.
On the DM side of things, this is a chance for you to throw a spark of hardcore magic into the game, either as a starting point or as a focal point to an already-existing campaign. There are a number of tales that you can start off with that bring you right to Candlekeep at the beginning of the escapades. For example, the story called "The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces" begins with your party seeking aid at the legendary library for a stricken town, in which a local mage directed you here to seek out a specific sage to help you out, eventually leading you to the specific book from which this adventure is named after. The story gives you a starting point, an objective, a plot point, a figure to seek out, and a number of other additions that essentially take care of a good chunk of the storytelling aspect for you.
But it isn't all Dungeons & Dragons starter adventures, such is the case with "The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale", which is a story set for characters that are at least Level 11. Without revealing anything too in-depth about the plot, this particular one charges your group with the task of locating the book within the vast halls of Canclekeep in order to help a specific cursed figure. This is a story that can easily be adapted into a campaign that is currently running by tweaking a few things in your own campaign and allowing them to fit this new mini-adventure. It provides a bit of a twist to whatever your party was doing and possibly giving them something extra in the process.
From the player's standpoint, the adventure of the unknown is the real selling point to taking on some of these adventures. Because the world of Dungeons & Dragons is so vast and has a ton of unexplored mysteries within it, there's great potential to come across a ton of creatures, figures, magic, and situations your party wouldn't normally come across. How often in Dungeons & Dragons are you going to meet a dragon who has no real intention of doing you harm and is spending their time within the library gaining even more knowledge? How often will you be charged with solving a string of killings that can't be solved and your help is required to solve it? How often will you ever see a tower essentially turn into a giant firework?!?
Another aspect that will be of great temptation to the players is the unknown treasures within. Every adventure comes with its own troubles and rewards. No player ever likes dealing with the consequences of a foolhardy adventure, but they're more than happy to scoop up everything of value from it if it happens to pay off for them. Candlekeep Mysteries is absolutely full of treasures and rewards that pay off for players beyond just getting 1,000 gold for their troubles. We won't get into specifics, but there is one adventure in the book that has the possibility of you gaining a companion at the end of it. No real strings attached to it either, if you manage to do things the right way, that is. It will be a legitimate NPC that you control much like you would a Familiar creature or a pet, with the DM in charge of the personality while you do have a bit of a say over what they can do. That's one hell of a reward just for rummaging through a library.
One of the many questions we asked ourselves about this collection of books was the combining of tales. Would it be possible to mix and match stories up if you decided to become a regular visitor to the library. Well, yes and no. It is possible to keep visiting Candlekeep to explore more of these adventures, but the price to get in is that you have to contribute a new book that they don't already own. This is essentially the Dungeons & Dragons way of giving the DM a McGuffin to prevent greedy players from coming back over and over if they happened to love one adventure and figure they could abuse the library for more riches. That being said, if the DM is truly adventurous, they could do more than one adventure, but it couldn't be back-to-back without causing some serious complications in the storytelling format. It would be best to space them far apart, say with a starter adventure, then maybe return for one when they're at Level 13.
Overall, Candlekeep Mysteries is one of the best additions to Dungeons & Dragons in Fifth Edition, and that's saying a lot considering everything that's been published over the past seven years. The book literally embodies everything about the game across multiple stories so there's something here for everyone. Puzzles, battles, quests, fun characters, thrillers, mazes, and a lot more. If you're looking to lure someone into the game with magic after they're done with the character building, this is definitely the way to go. What's more, it serves as a great story saver or booster. The alternative red cover to the book covered in gold could literally say "Open In Case Of Emergencies" on the front, because this could serve as a cure-all to give any adventure a little spice. We highly recommend it if you're a DM who loves short adventures and would love some help with your campaign incorporating some fresh magic.