Book of the Raven

After a long hiatus I returned to my formerly in-person group for Curse of Strahd.  Very fun, having a great time playing my tortured former wereraven ranger.  It really is the best of the 5e hardcovers to date. I’d play it again, I would for sure DM it again.  But all good things come to an end.  We’ve probably got a good 8-10 sessions of Strahd left yet eyes are swiveling to the next project.  With Candlekeep Mysteries just out we’re considering doing some of these.  I’m excited to do some shorter adventures.

Much as I want a rematch with Avernus, the wiser course is to move on with my TTRPG life. I want the experience of the long term campaign.  But I know it would be a better idea to do some shorter things.  So Candlekeep.  17 “mystery adventures”.  My temptation is to read them all and loot the good ones.  I’m resisting that impulse to enjoy being a player in some of them.  But, I need to feel like I’m contributing and for that I need to DM my share.  I have volunteered to run Book of the Raven, written by the legendary Chris Perkins, the third adventure in Candlekeep Mysteries.

Despite being named Book of the Raven, this is an odd duck.  There’s a description of a literal book that might be in Candlekeep’s archives.  It’s described as a tattered first person account of an injured person rescued by the Vistani.  This feels like a reprint of the “Less Problematic” depictions of the Vistani that WotC wants to push now instead of the “Really Fucking Racist” depiction in Curse of Strahd and D&D editions past.  The adventure says that the book ends abruptly with the last entry by the author describing how the Vistani bring them to a grim and dark castle on a mountain in a mist shrouded land.  And the book looks like it’s been pecked by ravens.  Hurm.  I see you, Chris Perkins.

That’s a cool story but it’s also irrelevant to this adventure.  It sets the mood but there are no Vistani in this adventure.  There isn’t any Ravenloft setting in this adventure.  There’s really no reason for this to be here.  Having not read the rest of Candlekeep Mysteries I don’t really understand the significance of the literal books in Candlekeep.  It’s a fun gimmick to have the adventure titles correspond to these books in Candlekeep.

The point is that the adventure hook for Book of the Raven is “the players find a map.”  Maybe they find it in a book but wherever they find it, the map directs them to a faraway mansion.  There’s a description about the travel to get there that has details but…they’re irrelevant.  The PCs get to the mansion by passing through a village named Wytchway.  But the village is deserted with no encounter there.  Ummm…okay?  Why is it here taking up a paragraph then?  There is the potential for an arduous journey to this remote mansion but in terms of narrative the PCs might as well teleport there.  This is like the description of the book itself.  It’s building a spooky mood but it has no teeth to it.  And you could certainly write your own adventure here but your players might have no investment in a glorified travel montage.

So you have this spooky rural mansion.  Very The Shining, very Resident Evil.  The primary inhabitants of the mansion are a group of Wereravens.  They call themselves the Scarlet Sash.  I’m probably going to make them The Keepers of the Feather for some Curse of Strahd connection.  Honestly you’re going to have to do some work here to DM this.  The wereravens basically try to scare people away from the mansion.  But they are lawful good, they’re helpful, and if the PCs are assholes then they just leave.  It’s tough to make an adventure out of people who get along and agree with one another or people who walk away from disagreements.  One thing I want to note, I’ve complained before about adventures with other were-creatures.  Were-creatures aren’t good enemies for low level parties because they’re immune to non magical damage.  But at high levels people have magic weapons or magical abilities and the damage immunity is meaningless.  Candlekeep changes things, here the wereravens have regeneration.  They’re still tough but not in a dead end the way damage immunity can be.

Most of the rest of the chapter is describing the mansion.  It’s a good location to explore.  There’s a few minor treasures about.  There’s a background story about the mansion’s owner and his family and their tragic end.  His wife, who likely murdered their daughter, is missing.  There’s also another small story about how the wereravens aren’t sure what to do about an evil statue of Orcus they found.  There’s a poltergeist.  The real action of the adventure comes from a portal to the Shadowfell in the graveyard.  There’s a potential big fight here, with waves of foes.  The adventure ends by saying the wereravens “can provide a hook that leads the characters to their next adventure, depending on what direction you want the campaign to go next.”

I’m not sure what to think.  This is a fine way to spend one session.  I am wondering if the instructions for this book were that the adventures all had to be doable in one session.  This almost feels like cut content from Curse of Strahd where although the winery subplot was well integrated into the book, the Wereraven “organization”, the Keepers of the Feather, were a little underdeveloped.  

Still I don’t know if I feel guilt or annoyance or what because Book of the Raven seems to not want to be a one shot.  It’s a location and hooks but not an adventure.  It’s an adventure to get to another adventure.  It doesn’t really seem to realize it’s in a book of one shot adventures (if they are).  Looking at some of the other adventures I’m planning to run (Price of Beauty, Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale) they seem to expect your PCs to have some relation, interest, or stake in the institution of Candlekeep.  And the books they are named after seem like crucial plot elements rather than just moody background.

Book of the Raven final thoughts.  I don’t think this was the kind of adventure that WotC marketed this book on.  But I still like it.  It’s like you order ice cream with caramel but you get ice cream with peanut butter sauce.  It’s not exactly what you wanted or asked for but it’s still good.  And since I have a couple months before I need to run it I can ponder on how I want to run it.  Will it be one part of a short 3-5 session campaign or will I do it one session?

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