Candlekeep Retrospective

I have now played or run all of the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries.  So far all of the 5e Adventure anthology books have been worth picking up.  Even if you don’t like all of the adventures, the maps and the variety provide a tremendous value.  That said, some adventures are more equal than others.  Here are some quick takes now a year and a half after the book has come out.

The book gimmick was mostly a miss.  Our table was running these one after the other and it became a running joke about whether the hook for the adventure was a portal or a missing/dead scholar.  Someone in editing probably shoulda said “hey you can’t have this many books be portals”.  It’s a fun idea when it works but uneven enough that I’d probably cut the book/candlekeep ties if I ever poached one of these adventures for a home game.

The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces: This is a functional level 1 adventure.  If that’s what you need, here you go.  That’s it.  There’s more to say about the nature of 5e at level 1 than this adventure.  It’d be a great starting adventure if you ever want to play level 1 5e again which personally I don’t.

Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions: I want to like this one more than I do.  In this adventure’s finale the players need to raise an amount of money to solve the problem which is beyond the scope of this adventure.  So this adventure specifically does not work unless it’s integrated into a campaign in which case it would be fine.

Book of the Raven: This was the first one of these I DMed. This was also the only adventure our group didn’t play in 5e, instead I adapted this for Call of Cthulhu.  Raven is a weird one.  As written, it’s a terrible adventure.  As a place to set an adventure it’s evocative.  Also please note that legendary D&D writer Chris Perkins does not integrate the titular book into the adventure one damn bit.  This chapter is a Fantastic Location in the Sly Flourish sense but you need to do more work than typically worth it to make it into an adventure.  I think I liked this one more than literally everyone else on the internet.

A Deep and Creeping Darkness:  This one was hit and miss.  I thought it was mostly fine.  An investigation, an abandoned village, a mine with a fey portal.  The mine is really where this one lost me, the RP stops there.  This is also one of many adventures that are based around a specific monster created or adapted from an old edition for the adventure.  Some of these are real tough cookies.  In aD&CD the monster is the meenlock and they paralyze on hit which can very quickly mess up the adventuring day.  Per Total Party Thrill, “Don’t give CR 2 monsters save or suck powers.”

Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme: The idea here is better than the execution. This is one of those adventures like Dragon Heist that really only works at low levels before PCs get access to high level magic and abilities.  And as I’ve said, I’m just done with low level 5e.  The scenario is ‘everyone is locked in a basement and it’s fucking haunted’.  It’s basically the movie REC and really could work. The adventure as written really hinges on making a very specific skill check to get the info to solve the adventure which is almost always a mistake in an adventure.  If you could find a way to not make the finale so…’I’m telling you the answer to win’ this would be top tier.

The Price of Beauty: This one is great.  It throws the PCs into the situation of a spa/health center run by hags and then turns them loose.  Which is a lot like Book of Raven in terms of putting the PCs in a situation or place rather than Shemshime or Creeping Darkness’s more plot-based adventure.  But I found everything here more interesting.  You’ve got a huge map to explore with tons of NPCs to interact with.  If I had a downside to it, #1, as soon as the PCs realize the place is run by three women the DM has tipped their hand.  And #2, some of the spa activities are a literally bit too mini-gamey.  Like a lot of low level 5e adventures seem to have 3-5 tiny encounters like fairground games and that’s the adventure and I tend to not like the gamey-ness of that kind of quest hub as adventure.  But that’s a small part of overall package.  This is one of the best adventures in the book.

The Book of Cylinders: This is a bad adventure and needed another run through editing before it was fit for release.  The author was displeased with how it changed between their submission and how it appeared in the book and you can read their thougts online.  The best interpretation of this adventure is a seven samurai tale of villagers looking for help, so if you want that, this is a variation on that story.  This adventure also has some hella broken armor at the end which is definitely not an uncommon item.

Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor: This is a great adventure.  I would also say it’s an archetypical D&D adventure where you kick in the door and run down a cult.  Good and generic.  Price of Beauty is more interesting and original but I could probably adapt this one more easily.

The Lore of Lurue: I don’t like this adventure but I had fun running it.  I think that’s because D&D is fun not because this adventure is good.  It’s just this disjointed series of encounters.  This one’s all about the boss fight as the players fight this Unicorn God Avatar.  That’s pretty metal but the rest of this you could skip.  The storybook gimmick provides an interesting angle on this adventure being a complete railroad but not enough to make it worth doing all these damn encounters.

Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion: This is a comedy adventure with all that implies.  There are inept cultists with a spaceship, stop them if you want.  This is also the only adventure set in Candlekeep itself.  Most of the other ones you can file the serial numbers off pretty easily.  This would be fine for a one shot but I can’t imagine ever running this.

Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome: This isn’t bad but I didn’t like anything in it?  It’s really all about the hook and the boss fight.  The players are offered One Wish if they kill the end boss.  Everything between those is just skippable.  This adventure also has a bunch of Cloud Giant ghosts, a setpiece custom monster.  They’re very tough and if you fight them…well you’re not fighting the boss and there’s no story payoff so there’s no reason to fight them?  I hate combat encounters where “touch or interact with anything here triggers combat”.  It creates a disincentive to explore.

The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale: This is a good one.  The players go into a very Stardew Valley like demiplane.  This adventure tiptoes around fighting a beholder.  But in the story of the adventure, if you have to fight that means your players kinda screwed up.  But that’s…fun?  This one makes a good one shot but it was tougher to run than Price of Beauty.

The Book of Inner Alchemy: This adventure is about the boss fight full stop.  It’s just a bunch of fights with very similar literally the same monster so the final fight is the only standout.  Like A Deep And Creeping Darkness, the opponents here have the ability to paralyze/stun.  I get really anxious about using this kind of save or suck ability because it means someone at the table stops playing D&D and takes out their phone.  One thing going for this adventure is that the scenario is so generic you can really adapt this to any setting and then.  But if you change out the setting and maybe vary up the monsters…what the hell do you need the published adventure for?

The Canopic Being:  A big dungeon full of….empty space?  This could go either way depending on the DM and players.  I liked it.  But if you have a bunch of spellcasters they might find the setpiece custom monsters, nearly magic immune golems, very frustrating.  I think this would fit better into an existing campaign where you need to find a prophecy or something rather than a one shot.  Because otherwise there isn’t really a reason to explore every room and trip every trap.  The incentive becomes to just skip to the boss fight.  This adventure also drowns your PCs in proper nouns.

The Scrivener’s Tale:  I didn’t really like it.  This one is just too convoluted.  The players have a curse that will eventually kill them but they don’t know why.  There’s an archfey that wants to get out of a dungeon, there’s another faction that wants them to stay imprisoned and…that doesn’t have anything do to with the players?  Also this adventure has you fighting stone golems and mummies…but it follows Canopic Being where the monsters are SUPER GOLEMS and a MUMMY LORD.  Canopic Being kind of takes this adventure’s lunch money.  I think if you wanted to break this out into like, a mini-campaign of 5-10 sessions to let the proper nouns breathe I think this would go a lot better.

Alkazar’s Appendix: This one is pretty good.  The PCs find a golem which leads them to a lost city to fight a dracolich.  That’s fine!  There’s a lot of history told to you and there’s a huge treasure the PCs can’t really attain which isn’t great but not fatal.  Most of these higher level adventures, everything from Zikran’s onward, would really benefit from being expanded into short campaigns as opposed to the one-ish shot format this book features.  The authors in all of these put in just a ton of backstory and names and I think expanding these adventures would give them some breathing room and let the PCs actually remember things here.

Xanthoria:  A weird hook and a storyless meatgrinder of a dungeon.  I didn’t care for it.  The zombie apocalypse hits the sword coast!  Holy Shit!  The PCs track the source back to a druidic grove where there is a lich.  Stop the lich which stops the plague.  Hooray!  That’s the story, but like Zikran’s tome there are also some extremely difficult combats with no reward or story whatsoever just pure filler.  Those kind of encounters make me cranky.  Give me some story, give me some treasure, don’t just put in a death knight and a beholder Because It’s A Level 16 Adventure Goddamn It.  And the adventure doesn’t get partial credit for having every encounter give you the same story.  We get it, the druid went evil and became a lich.  This adventure also has Thunderwing the Pixie who wins the Jar Jar Binks/Lulu The Hollyphant award for “The Writer Thought This NPC Would Be Endearing Didn’t They?”

So that’s the book.  There are a lot of good ideas, some examples of what not to do, and a few standout adventures you should add to your bucket list to play.  I payed $32 bucks for this collection of 17 adventures, I feel I got more than my money’s worth.  If you never run adventures you could skip this one but if you want to DM this makes a good add to the collection.

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