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Candlekeep Mysteries is a collection of short mystery-themed D&D adventures in the famed library of Candlekeep in the Forgotten Realms. This official WOTC book became available on March 16, 2021. When promoting the book, Chris Perkins, along with the rest of the D&D team, touted this book as an anthology series of independent adventures that can plug into home campaigns.
The book includes:
- Seventeen one-shot D&D adventures that focus on mysteries tied to unique books within the famous library fortress of Candlekeep.
- Adventures tailor to specific levels of play from levels one to sixteen.
- A poster map of Candlekeep.
Premise to My Review of Candlekeep Mysteries
Each CM writer did a fantastic job, and this isn’t a competition. Each of these Candlekeep Mysteries is full of compelling ideas, and they provide rewarding tabletop experiences. I acknowledge an author’s vision and what is published are not always the same. I respect everyone who worked on this book. My ratings do not diminish the hard work put into this project in any way.
There will be spoilers, so approach at your own risk! You may view the rankings while avoiding spoilers by reviewing the final rankings at the bottom of this article.
If you’re not interested in reviews of individual adventures in the anthology, I can tell you that the book is worth purchasing. It’s fantastic for running one-shots for your group, but you can also use each adventure for plot hooks and ideas in a long-term campaign. I highly recommend it.
Though the book does not specify that each adventure lasts one session, I rated them based on how well they resolve in one sitting. I considered what I want out of a short adventure to identify five criteria for my ratings: Story, Hook, NPCs, Pacing, and Combat.
1. Story: This includes the overall plot’s quality and how unique and creative the events in the adventure are. These are supposed to be Mystery themed adventures, so how good was the mystery? Did the players uncover hidden truths? Were there plot holes that the DM needed to address or fix? How readable was this adventure?
2. Hook: The hook/premise is important in a one-shot or short arc of a campaign. The story feels forced if there is no practical reason for the characters to go on a mission. I know that a lot of you are probably thinking, “If my party says no, I just say there’s no game.” It is reasonable to ask your players to buy in, to an extent. I think half-decent players will go along with a bad hook because this is a game. But a good hook makes the entire story more believable and meaningful if done right.
3. NPCs: Characters make one-shots memorable. How interesting and helpful were friendly NPCs? How helpful were they to the DM? Was it challenging to run the NPCs? This includes the quality of villains in the adventure. Did they have clear motivations and goals? Did they feel real and help the immersion of the players? NPCs obviously are important for a long-form campaign. They are integral to a one-shot for delivering information and setting a tone in a short amount of time.
4. Pacing. Nothing kills a one-shot like not finishing it. I think the ideal time for a one-shot is under four hours. It is the DM’s fault for going over time just as much as the players in many cases. But these prewritten adventures can sometimes shoot themselves in the foot by making the adventure too long. Adding frivolous combat for the sake of having combat.
The pacing doesn’t solely refer to length, either. Sometimes a short adventure can drag from having too much or too little of the same thing: roleplay, combat, meandering down hallways. The action needs to feel fresh. Some modules give guidelines for when the DM should do something else. This was really important to me as I usually play on a time constraint or late at night.
5. Combat. This category is all about combat balance. Normally, I don’t go crazy trying to balance combat in my campaigns. Players must make hard decisions. Can we win this battle, or should we retreat and live to fight another day? Can we negotiate? Should we surrender? In a one-shot, you don’t always get that option. If you TPK or have to give up on the adventure, the session is over.
Balanced combat, in my opinion, is challenging the party to the point where if they make bad decisions, PCs can die. Not too hard, and not too easy. And the biggest threat of dying is in the finale of the session. I also favor interesting and unique combat encounters that utilize interesting game mechanics.
Bonus Points! I gave a bonus point to the books that rated best in a category. Only five books get that coveted bonus point.
Additionally, I included the runtime of each book’s live-stream game. This is just a reference for how long my games went. Not every second of the stream was gameplay, so there may be five to ten minutes of introductions and promos for my other videos that you won’t do with your group.
Skip to a particular book/adventure from Candlekeep Mysteries:
My Ratings for Each Candlekeep Mysteries One-Shot Adventure
I will summarize the main story of each book/adventure. Then I will elaborate by rating each adventure on a scale from one to five for each ranking category.
You can watch my YouTube videos that cover the same material in this article:
Part 1 Review Video:
Part 2 Review Video:
The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces, written by Michael Polkinghorn (23 Points)
- Story: 5/5
- Hook: 3/5
- NPCs: 5/5
- Pacing: 5/5
- Combat: 5/5
- Run time: 3:04:08
JOES is the first-level adventure in the book. The players begin by looking for a sage named Mastreus. When they arrive at his study, books are out on the table, including the Joy of Extradimensional Spaces. After some investigation, the players find a way to use the book to uncover an instance of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion that was hidden in the room.
A portal opens, and the players can jump in to find Mastreus, who just recently entered the portal for the first time himself. Before the players can really make any decisions, Mastreus explains that he is glad they got here because he has been stuck here for at least a few hours and wasn’t sure he could open the portal again. He places some of the loot he has found in his office before being attacked by something! The portal closes, and the players are stuck inside this mansion.
The players search through rooms to see animated objects throughout the mansion that keep it up and running. 2 Hamonculi, Cumin, and Coriander give some exposition. One belonged to an archmage named Fistandia, and this is her mansion. There is a way to get out of the mansion, and that is to find the books. There are seven identical-looking copies to the JOES but on the spine is a letter. The letters can be rearranged to make a password to exit the mansion.
The players travel room to room looking for books, fighting animated brooms, bookcases, swords, and even a chair mimic. They can befriend the homunculi, some cats, and fairy dragons to keep the search fresh. They look until they ultimately figure out the password. It is pretty cool because they technically don’t need all the books if they can figure it out with some missing. Also, all the rooms are themed. The observatory transforms into a starry night, and the basement is pretty creepy with lots of experiments and preserved specimens.
It’s a fantastic introductory adventure, and there is surprisingly a ton of combat. What’s good is there are endless opportunities to rest. Time is the one thing the PCs have a lot of.
If someone were to die, a new sage from Candlekeep can come looking for the group and be played by that player or make a new character who then stumbles into the mansion.
The adventure ends when the PCs get out of the mansion to discover Mastreus was attacked by an Imp (the one stuck as a statue). When the statue was taken out of the mansion, it came to life and killed Mastreus, closing the portal.
On to the ratings.
First off, I loved this adventure. The story is simple but really leans into the mystery part. Not just about where Mastreaus went, but also what happened to Fistandia? It engages the players and leaves open story threads for the future—5 on the story.
Hook leaves a bit to be desired. I don’t know too many experienced DnD players who will willingly walk into a portal without some serious concerns. You do risk the group deciding, “Maybe only one of us should go into the portal to make sure it is safe”.
You may need to have Mastreus come out and hire the group to go in and look for more magical items. Or do what I did and have Mastreus not worried at all. He believes the password is the one that opened the portal in the first place. Mastreus only just got to the mansion himself and is so giddy about the treasures hidden here. He misty steps back to his office with the treasure he’s holding, and then the portal closes. Ultimately 3 out of 5 points for the hook.
NPCs. 5. Wonderful NPCs. Cumin and Coriander are hilarious and great for exposition. All the enemies are so cool. Not the typical villains in low-level campaigns like goblins.
Pacing: Because the players have unlimited time, you might think it can be slow, but when people are scared to be trapped, they want to get out asap. There are many rooms, but many can avoid combat slogs, and there are cool puzzles and traps to even it all out—5 out of 5.
Last, Combat. As mentioned, there are a lot of combats, but they aren’t too deadly. They kill you by attrition. And they punish bad behavior. Many objects warn you in some way before striking. The mimic chair is obvious if you look for danger. And you can take short and long rests at will, which helps the level one characters—5 out of 5 combat.
I rate the JOES at 23 points.
Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions, written by Alison Huang (16 Points)
- Story: 3/5
- Hook: 3/5
- NPCs: 4/5
- Pacing: 3/5
- Combat: 3/5
- Run time: 3:20:09
MMD begins in the Great Library. They come across the book while researching lycanthropy, demons, or the magic of the Weave. The book quickly transforms into something terrible, a Gingwatzim. The Gingwatzim is basically a 3ft ball of ectoplasm that can take the shape of objects. Similar to a mimic in some regards.
After defeating the creature, the Avowed ask the players to find out why these books keep doing this. It’s the 3rd time this week! Or something like that. The PCs interview two current guests who brought those books, and the group learns they both attained their title from a seller in the Wide. The market of Baldur’s Gate.
The party heads to BG, hoping to find this seller. After arriving, they discover the book stall’s name, Amberdune books. The players can speak with the owner Korvala or one of her many workers. There is a list in the module for reference. After getting no leads, the players can stake out their bookshop and home, the Amberdune hideout. Once they discover the book shop attendees are all Jackalweres, the party ambushes them at their home. Although created by some ritual, they discover that the books are actually not supposed to attack their owners. The books have gone rogue. It was basically one big misunderstanding!
As you can see by the ratings, this one missed the mark a bit. I can see where the author wanted to go with this by subverting expectations and making it so Korvala, also illustrated as a menacing villain, is actually just trying to earn money and raise their true leader from death. After the first combat, the game could, in theory, go without combat and have little payoff other than just figuring out what the heck happened: low stakes and low reward.
I gave it a 3 for the story because it is interesting, and the mystery is full-on. Even finding out the name of the bookstall is part of the investigation. But the payoff is a bit weak even if it subverts expectations. I’d have the last of the Gingwatzim at their hideout go haywire when Korvala agrees to stop selling those fake books, so the party has some cathartic ending.
The hook is decent. The book attack starts with a bang. The players feel invested in what happens. But the avowed might need to entice the players a bit more than the small minor magical item they offer. And shouldn’t the avowed be vetting these books! This will be a common theme in these reviews—3 for the hook.
NPCs were solid. I liked them. There are 2 pretty well fleshed out NPCs the players investigate at the beginning. Yalerion Highscroll and Valor. Both have pieces to the puzzle but don’t know too much. The Amberdune pack does subvert expectations, and Korvala’s goal is admirable rather than insidious. 4 out of 5.
Pacing, I went with 3. It starts with combat, which is cool, but then the pace is rather slow. Lots of talking and exposition with the option to avoid combats in general. It seems to move as fast as the players decide. The DM can do little to push things along without giving the mystery away.
Combat I went with 3. The Gingwatzim can TPK a party of Level 2 characters if they roll hot. They do 4d6 damage on a hit which is insane. I had Valor, one of the NPCs nearby to rush in and help the party if necessary, and it was! The wizard of the group went down before getting a turn. Jackalweres and even the wererat road encounter you could throw in are immune to normal weapon damage. Again luckily, the Jackalweres are not interested in fighting, so negotiation will win the day. Also, the maps are minimal and not conducive to combat. I would have liked a slightly more detailed map and a map for the Gingwatzim fight.
Overall this book received 16 points.
Book of the Raven, written by Chris Perkins (12 Points)
- Story: 2/5
- Hook: 2/5
- NPCs: 3/5
- Pacing: 2/5
- Combat: 3/5
- Run time: 3:14:24
This book was one that most people were excited about. I took a poll in the DMs Facebook group asking which adventures people wanted to see first, and the Book of the Raven was a no-brainer. I was also interested to hear that this was the one adventure written by Chris Perkins, the lead story designer of DND himself. Additionally, the first draft of this was used to give the independent writers an example of what WOTC was looking for. Since it was Chris P instead of an independent artist, it makes me feel a bit better about what I will say about this book!
The BOTR begins with the characters researching interplanar travel, the Shadowfell, or just chillin’ doing literally anything! The book can be found, or the book can be dropped off at the players’ feet by a raven. The book is a firsthand account of a girl who fell off a horse and broke her leg. A traveling group of Vistani (the group made famous by the Ravenloft setting) finds this girl and takes her in. While the leg heals, she sees scary things and eventually dies while writing the book in a spooky fashion. Inside is a map. This really interesting-looking map looks like it will be crucial in solving some mystery. Wrong! It has nothing to do with the adventure!
Players are given the map and told to go to the house at the bottom left to find a treasure of some sort. But the map doesn’t even tell you where to go. And if it did, no road leads to that house. There are no encounters on the way to the house, so the map is basically useless and honestly confuses your players. You might be better off not showing it!
The players follow the map; I mean, you basically tell the players you’re headed for the mansion after deciphering where some of the other landmarks might be in the forgotten realms. And you fast-track the travel.
Once they reach the house named Chalet Brantifax, the party explores this fairly obvious haunted house to look for treasure. You realize soon that it’s not haunted, but it kind of is, but that’s not the point of being in the house. You see, there is a group of Wereravens that use this house as a hideout and secret place to stash powerful items. They scare people away with their mimicry, which just really entices players to search the house more. They find the Wereravens only to realize they are good-natured, and the Wereravens ask the players to go out into the yard.
Dig up the grave of the daughter of the house and lay in her burial plot. This will transport you to the Shadowfell. Yes, there is a shadow portal right here, and it connects to a small demi-plane only accessible through the grave. There’s a wight and some other evil creatures that protect a powerful saddle relic of some evil creature. The Wereravens need to get it and protect it even though there’s no way in hell anyone would ever have found it if they didn’t tell anyone. UGH! The players can do this because that seems to be the adventure and then earn the favor of the Wereravens.
Now, if that sounded a bit sarcastic, I apologize. It’s just that this adventure was, without a doubt, my least favorite. I feel like it did itself no favors. It has such a cool appearance and theme going on but misses the mark on so many levels. I have to be honest with all these reviews, so here are my ratings. The story just doesn’t make too much sense. Could you be better off having this as a start to a Shadowfell campaign? Yes. Have the players start by looking for a way to enter the Shadowfell, which falls into their laps. But the story is feeble as written, so I give it a 2.
The hook is also weak. Why would they trust this map and book? If a raven brought it, I would probably just give it to the library. 2 for the hook.
The Wereravens were cool, and they each got a fully fleshed-out character. Although you don’t really need to have all of them even speak.
Pacing is so slow. Travel takes no time. Meandering through the house is slow with minimal payoff. The mimicry is fun, but it doesn’t guide the players to anything.
There is only one combat. The final battle in the Shadowfell. It’s cool with some dynamic maps, but it’s actually kinda OP. The hunter shoots from a safe position while other creatures swamp the PCs—3 out of 5.
No offense to Chris Perkins or anyone who worked on this. My Players told me afterward that even though some things didn’t quite make sense, they still enjoyed the spooky theme and had a lot of fun rolling dice. With some hindsight, I would rework some of it to rerun it.
A Deep and Creeping Darkness, written by Sarah Madsen (22 Points)
- Story: 5/5
- Hook: 4/5
- NPCs: 5/5
- Pacing: 4/5
- Combat: 4/5
- Run time: 3:55:47
ADACD gives the players a built-in hook. They are hired by a mining company that wants to reopen a mine that has been closed for 70 years in a town that has been completely deserted for nearly the same amount of time.
After researching, the players find that a mine cave occurred in the town of Vermillion. The villagers then began disappearing mysteriously until everyone in the town decided to abandon it.
The players venture to Maerin, a nearby town that many of the displaced Vermillion citizens fled to. Only a few people are alive, and the players speak to both of them. They give vague experiences as both NPCs were young, but their tales amp up the intrigue.
Eventually, the players can search the town of Maerin and find strange occurrences. Whispers on the wind. Random noises. Vivid nightmares accentuate their fears. This builds as the players search through buildings, including Mayor Duvezin’s home. They realize the town mayor had figured out what was causing the disappearances and was planning to confront these monsters in the mine.
If the players travel to the mine, they are ambushed by Meenlocks. These are the things of nightmares. They sprout up in places where the earth shifts. They feed off of fear and slowly transform you into one of them. This is what became of mayor Duvezin as they recognize similar features and jewelry on her Meenlock body. In the final fight. This cave also pits the group against bats and a Black Pudding! They can clear the mine and earn their reward.
Now for the Ratings.
I give ADACD a 5 for its story. It is so creepy and mysterious. The investigation flows naturally, and the party still can be surprised by the ending.
The hook is good as the party works for another entity. It may seem like a cop-out, but players don’t care, and it makes sense. 4 out of 5.
I give this adventure a 5 for NPCs. Both the people you speak with in Vermillion are full of flavor, and the art is great. Lukas even gives the party a side quest to get his wife’s locket from a tree in town. He hasn’t had it for 65 years. And finding out the mayor turned into a Meenlock makes the villain that much more dramatic.
The pacing gets 4 out of 5. Once they reach the town, the group is given far too much latitude to wander. Several events and the Meenlock whispers will push them along, though.
Combat really only exists in the cave. You can give them Meenlocks earlier, but that takes away the suspense. The cave is brutal; even with 5 pcs, we had a player character death. The Meenlocks are tough, but a Black Pudding can easily outright kill a player character. 4 out of 5.
Overall this adventure gets 22 points.
Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme, written by Ari Levitch (24 Points)
- Story: 5/5
- Hook: 5/5
- NPCs: 5/5
- Pacing: 5/5
- Combat: 3/5
- Run time: 2:54:04
- Bonus Points: +1 for best pacing
SBR is a children’s pop-up book that has been stored in Firefly Cellar. A section in the library for older books that no one really looks for anymore. It is undergoing renovation and re-cataloging. The players are forced to stay in the cellar for a few days until the other rooms upstairs are freed up. Candlekeep apologizes for overbooking!
Players are introduced to a half dozen avowed members and even the daughter of one avowed scribe. They arrive late at night, weary from the road. After a brief exploration of the cellar, they head to bed. Before retiring, they hear one of the avowed or the daughter humming a tune. A lullaby of sorts. They head to bed thinking nothing of it.
When they wake up, they realize the father, Ebder, is singing a tune at breakfast. Then the players cannot help but sing or hum along. Eventually, all the cellar inhabitants cannot control themselves, and then strange events occur. Gailby, the daughter of Ebder, found the book and read the rhyme. It tells the story of a creature called Shemshime. It is a monster that kills people in ways that seem like accidents—a dog attack, farming safety mishap, and so on.
One Candlekeep Avowed alerts the archmages and quarantines the group in the cellar. The avowed mages place a powerful ward on the door to prevent the lot from getting out and infecting the rest of the guests. 6 total events occur, and the DM can implement them when necessary to move the story along.
Eventually, the PCs can’t help but sing the song and discover lyrics in their minds. The cause is the book. It curses those who hear the rhyme. Once enough people chant, the dormant Shemshime becomes empowered. It manifests, and the players need to uncover clues from the book to stop it.
Ultimately, they realize they must repair the pop-up book to hear the final verse, which uncovers the method to defeat the Shemshime. The party must crush Shemshime with a millstone or a weighty stone-like object. Luckily there are a few objects in the cellar that get foreshadowed, and savvy players will figure it out.
The players either defeat Shemshime or die trying! It has a horror theme where players are holed up somewhere, and something terrible is happening. The claustrophobia is real!
In terms of story, this gets a 5. So unique and creative. It really keeps the players guessing and pays off at the end.
The hook is also a 5. It starts so innocently. Just a clerical error caused the PCs to stay in the cellar, and before they knew it, they became quarantined. It seems like a railroad on paper but feels totally reasonable. They don’t get approached by an Avowed or need to research a book. They feel like they have complete freedom for the first night. In fact, the players will wonder what the threat is and when it is coming.
NPCs. 5 out of 5. The Avowed members are all well developed and grow throughout. There is a variety of Role Play opportunities, including a Kenku who mimics sounds and language. The little girl is creepy as hell. She draws pictures that are nightmare fuel! What’s important is that the motivations of everyone make sense.
Pacing is what this adventure does best. You will be on the edge of your seat the entire time. The DM can progress the story with the Cellar Events. They aren’t required to happen after the PCs do something. So they can either work fast or miss a lot of the info, but you push that pace when necessary. This one ran under 3 hrs for me, but it felt totally satisfying to the players and me. 5 points, and this adventure gets the big bonus point for pacing!
Combat is the weakness as there is really only a traditional battle with shadows and maybe subduing an Avowed. The Shemshime itself is basically invincible and will kill a PC or TPK if the players can’t figure out how to kill it. 3 out of 5.
The total score for SBR is 24 points!
The Price of Beauty, written by Mark Hulmes (22 Points)
- Story: 4/5
- Hook: 4/5
- NPCs: 5/5
- Pacing: 4/5
- Combat: 4/5
- Run time: 3:47:54
- Bonus Points: +1 for best NPCs
There aren’t too many true sandboxes, and this one is excellent. The players begin when they are approached by an avowed acolyte named Lorris Niss. She is looking for their friend Falthrax, an older dwarf who has been depressed lately. She found the book in his quarters and wants the group to locate Falthrax for her. I decided to have the group find the book naturally. My group discovered this book in a section about self-improvement. It was open on a table with glasses left behind. This method helps if you have characters who are looking to change something about themselves. I made it so each had something they hated about themselves, either physically or emotionally, and it worked well. When they asked an avowed about it, that is when Lorris mentions her friend.
Once the PCs find the book, they look into the mirrored cover, and *poof* a portal appears! Similar to others in the book, the PCs are basically invited in by the book. It teleports them to the forest of Silverymoon. It actually is a real place, and that kind of eases the characters’ minds. No one is worried about being trapped in an alternate reality.
The players follow a path that leads to a spa called the Temple of the Restful Lilly. It is a fully functioning spa and bathhouse. To be honest, it feels almost like a resort in contemporary times. They enter the temple to see dozens of patrons all partaking in various health and wellness activities. You can take a bath, exercise, get your haircut, and even eat and drink. Everything is mostly real and safe.
Once the players relax, some events can set the story in motion. A Naiad attacks guests in the baths, and the players are asked to help rid the place of this fey by the owners, 3 Elves named Azirssa, Morganna, and Greensong.
The players can do this, and as they search more around the spa, they pick up clues about a devious plot. While the spa is real, the 3 elven owners have actually stolen this place from the true owner Slyvarie Silversong. And the owners are not elves, but actually Hags in disguise. They have been using the spa to tempt customers into making a deal with the Hags for magical benefits. Want to stay young? Be physically stronger, change your appearance? All are possible. The Hags just need to paint you, and you then basically lose all you are given in a year. The Hags end up controlling you. They’ve done this to many people, including Sylvarie.
There are a host of NPCs, including double agents working in the spa, who are willing to help. The players ultimately uncover the truth about the 3 Hags and decide how to save the people they have trapped here.
Ratings, I give the overall story a 4. It is unique and very cool to have basically a spa day for the first half. The players really don’t see anything coming if you play the Hags as very grounded characters. Even humorous rather than just helpful. The problem is that a lot of the interesting story bits and background give away the twist that they are hags. They probably won’t learn the whole story, which is a problem for most of these one-shots.
For the hook, I went with 4. The book basically sends the party on a quest for a missing person. This will have them alert for trouble from the get-go. They may not even try to enjoy the spa, which is half the fun of this adventure. If Flathrax may just have stumbled here on accident like the players, they won’t suspect foul play.
NPCs are absolutely the best part of this adventure. There are so many of them, but they are all fantastic. From the 3 hags who get about 2 full pages of background and motivations to the spies and all the people who are trapped in this place. The best NPC award goes to this adventure. 5 out of 5.
Pacing is tricky here. I gave it a 4. This adventure can be completed in under 4 hours, but I’m not sure it should be. There is a part of this adventure where characters stay the night, which is good. There are nighttime adventures that allow the mystery to develop slowly. My players (I think) metagamed and saw that we were approaching the 3 hr mark and pushed the final combat too early. This caused a TPK, but it was at least at the hands of the Hags.
Combat. If the players act like my group and expect this to be a one-shot, they may bite off more than they can chew. At full power, the Hags and all their minions are a lot to handle. It can also be tricky to manage combat with coven spells, and they do change what spells they get here. I made a mistake when running it, actually. Nonetheless, it’s possible to TPK too early. The other combats are generic but still fun. 4 out of 5.
Overall, 22 points for the POB and a beauty it was!
Book of Cylinders, written by Graeme Barber (17 Points)
- Story: 3/5
- Hook: 2/5
- NPCs: 3/5
- Pacing: 4/5
- Combat: 5/5
- Run time: 3:40:30
Before getting into this one, I can say this is an adventure where what was published did not show what the author had intended. There are a few videos and interviews where Graeme Barber explains the differences. I enjoyed hearing Graeme’s perspective before running this adventure.
The story for this is relatively simple. The Grippli, a humanoid frog race, is being threatened by Yuan-Ti. The Grippli normally supply Candlekeep with meat from Giant Crabs, and now that resource is cut off due to the invasion. An Avowed approaches the BOC, which is really a carrying case for cylinders and clay that, when rolled out, tells a story. The Avowed attempts to get the PCs to help.
The players decide to help because they must. They travel by ship to the Cloakwood, where the Grippli outpost is located. The group speaks with the Grippli leader, Pond Mother, to determine if the story in the cylinders is either true, a prophecy coming true, or history repeating itself. A small group of good Yuan-Ti came to town and asked the Grippli to excavate an old ruin for artifacts. The Grippli had no problem until an evil group came looking for the same artifacts. Some Grippli were killed, and others fled to the outpost.
The players head to the village, but the best way to get there is to go through the Grippli crab farm called the crab maze. Could the players walk around this bay? Sure, but what fun is that? The crab maze allows players to get attacked by giant crabs, and then they reach the village. They encounter various Yuan-ti before coming to the ruins. The party defeats the evil Yuan-ti and restores peace to the village.
This one had major issues with story and motivation. It is a unique theme, and I love all the attention given to the Grippli, but there are serious plot holes due to the author’s issues with this finished product. 3 out of 5.
2 for the hook. In my game, I started the players in the hearth, the tavern at Candlekeep. They overhear the chef, captain, and avowed members arguing. They naturally discover the issue with crab meat, and the customers applaud the players when they consider taking on the adventure. The peer pressure basically forces them to take the job! Crab fest could not be stopped! Also, avoid giving any information about Yuan-Ti from the book or the Avowed. It makes the mystery theme better.
NPCs. Pond Mother was cool, and the Yuan-ti are classic baddies. But some extra Grippli NPCs could be helpful to navigate the village—3 out of 5.
The pacing was actually OK. The Crab maze is different, and many of the areas have specific goals like the brooding pools to save baby Grippli. 4 out of 5.
5 for combat. It seems balanced with some variety as each Yuan-ti has different stats and abilities. Also, your goal is to stop them from excavating, so killing is optional.
Overall a solid adventure, but some missing links. 17 Points.
Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor, written by Derek Ruiz (16 Points)
- Story: 3/5
- Hook: 2/5
- NPCs: 4/5
- Pacing: 2/5
- Combat: 5/5
- Run time: 3:26:01
This story starts with a really cool image. Players stumble upon a book randomly, but once they open the book, the Ghost of Sarah, a servant of the Yellowcrest Family from Waterdeep. She has no ability to speak as her tongue is ripped out even in death. The book is her account of life at YCM. She describes a good life until one day, the Master of the House, Lord Viallis saw her snooping in his basement. He had a sacrifice going on, and she saw.
After some research or help from the avowed, the players learn that Viallis’s family was murdered. The Ghosts pleads without speaking for players to put her soul to rest. The players accept and then move towards the next logical step, go to Waterdeep. I don’t know if it’s that obvious, but that is the next stop. You would think that the characters are going to explore some spooky cult house, but no. A new family lives there now. There’s no map either. You can meet the butler of the new home or Sir Vecken, Sarah’s former lover. There’s also a street brawl opportunity with a trader who knows Viallis, but to be honest, I don’t see how the PCs would reasonably want to fight in the streets here.
After learning that Viallis moved to Greenfast, the PCs now head there. They can talk to some new NPCs like the Mayor or the Trader again. Either way, they learn that Viallis actually doesn’t live in his home anymore. He’s always out fixing up this old abandoned tower on the outskirts. So we head there! You can fight with Vaerl the Trader here, which makes a bit more sense.
Finally, you enter the tower. The tower isn’t really being renovated, but rather the basement is where all the action is at. You can sneak in and thwart some summoning rituals going on.
Story. The story here is decent. It’s not the worst, but it’s not close to the best. All the mystery is frontloaded, and I wish that Viallis wasn’t the obvious bad guy. 3 out of 5.
The hook may be the weakest of them all. I gave it a 2 in total, but it very well could be a 1. I like the premise of helping a ghost who can’t speak, but it falls flat. In fact, I don’t think the players will always know what their goal is. You will need to spoon-feed it with an Insight check or an Avowed’s prompt to get her soul to rest.
NPCs. 4 for this. There are decent NPCs like Faerl. They are both memorable, and I like their art. Viallis is not a terrible villain either; he’s just a bit on the nose. I like his ruthlessness.
Pacing is slow. It’s a lot of travel too. You go to 4 separate locations. Candlekeep/ Waterdeep/ Greenfast/ Tower. I toyed with the idea of cutting out Waterdeep, but Vecken and the Manor seem to be too important. You could shorten this by cutting out the Greenfast section. They can go straight to a tower on the outskirts straight from Waterdeep.
The combat was great. It’s basically a Cthulu cult that summons Grell. The final battle has cool dynamic combats with stopping a ritual, but also Cultists have hold person and decent touch damage spells. It’s appropriately balanced and challenging. If necessary, you can bring in Sir Breken, who is looking for revenge if the players tell him of Sarah’s fate.
Overall, Sarah of YCM gets 16 points. I just want to say that this is an example of a lower-ranked adventure that was super fun to play. We kept the pace up, and I was prepared to do that. Fast track combat, and once you get players the info they need, tell them upfront and move on! Also, my players really elevated the material with their quirky characters and group dynamic. It was one of my favorite streams, and I suggest you check this one out!
Lore of Lurue, written by Kelly Lynne D’Angelo (17 Points)
- Story: 3/5
- Hook: 3/5
- NPCs: 4/5
- Pacing: 4/5
- Combat: 3/5
- Run time: 3:45:17
This was one that I had my eyes on once I got my hands on the Candlkeep Mysteries and read the preliminary information about it. Basically, the characters read from this fairy-tale-style book. It then transports the group into the story, placing them in the situations and encounters described.
The group starts by meeting some Satyrs who ask for the group to help them get home after a night of revelry. The group can escort, and once they get to their home, they meet a grand and majestic treant named Feynor. He exposits that the realm is under siege by Malar, god of the hunt. His minions have done something terrible to the pool of eternal spring, affecting the inhabitants.
Players can get more info about the conflict and the lesser deity Lurue associated with that spring. The players go to the pool to confront the cult of Malar only to find that they have corrupted the pool creating a corrupted avatar of Lurue. The cult is all Werewolves, by the way. They fight the avatar and the Werewolves and save the day.
Basically, the entire adventure looks like this. The party goes into the book and learns of the conflict. Then they proceed to help by traveling to the pool and, on the way, get into a bunch of encounters that test the players in a hero’s journey style quest.
Story. While the theme is super cool, unique, and creative, there is still a lot to be desired. It doesn’t seem to be super fleshed out. Motivations and goals are not always obvious. The conclusion of beating the avatar seems simplistic. The minor events and random encounters seem too disconnected from the main storyline—3 out of 5.
The hook is similar to other “you are sucked into a portal” adventures. You basically have no choice. It is thematic, though, and the players will be intrigued. 3 out of 5
I went with a 4 for NPCs because there are many fun whimsical creatures to role play as the DM.
Pacing is generally good because you can just simply “turn the page” on an encounter. But it does feel disjointed, and that I am not sure there is much you can do about. 4 out of 5.
Combat I went with 3. Now, this is something you need to consider. The dangers presented in this book are actually not dangerous at all. By the book, if a person dies in the adventure, they just come back to Candlekeep and can reenter the book. There are so many issues with this, but from a combat perspective, it sucks. Death needs to be permanent. The final combat can be tough if you don’t have silvered weapons for all the Werewolves. I just said the story called for silver weapons, so your weapons all have a new silver sheen! It kind of works with the theme too.
Overall I gave this a 17. It has a terrific premise and theme. If it weren’t for some of the plot holes and lack of danger, I would go higher. This was one where I changed quite a bit. I had the characters basically separate from their consciousness. They were still reading the book in Candlekeep. We had cut scenes where the players were reading through portions of the book and then cut back to the adventure in the book. An NPC from the library got sucked in with them and died, signaling that if you die in the book, you die in real life. The reveal was awesome. Now they have to roleplay as their real characters who don’t know this, and their in-book characters who think death is permanent. It was a fun dynamic to add.
Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion, written by Amy Vhorpal (19 Points)
- Story: 4/5
- Hook: 3/5
- NPCs: 4/5
- Pacing: 4/5
- Combat: 4/5
- Run time: 3:38:14
This might be the wackiest of all the adventures in a good way. The players are approached by an avowed custodian carrying the book. He dies reaching out to them for help and drops the book.
The characters speak with a Dragonborn Avowed member or can Speak with Dead. Yes, there is a section for this that is very helpful for the DM.
If they speak with the avowed, they learn this book should never have left the vault. It contains blueprints of all the buildings. Bookmarked is the “Barn Door,” an old tower no one uses anymore. There is a rumbling like an earthquake, and that prompts the players to investigate on their own or as an agent of the avowed.
The players find custodians in the bark door tower with food and other unique inventions. The building has been refitted to be a rocket ship. You heard me correct. Stonky Noptopper is a gnome avowed member who just wants to get out of here and go to space. He has a following, a cult called the Livestock. They name each other after ridiculous farm word combinations. Some gems include Donkey Biscuit, Duck Bean, Pig Wheat, and Alpaca Macadamia Nuts. They are a laughable bunch who pose virtually no threats to the players. In fact, one of the funniest moments is when they break into the barn door only to find they have seat belted each other into chairs. They tied themselves up for players to interrogate them!
After discovering there are weird controls and what seems to be a vehicle about ready to leave, the players explore the basement. They confront Stonky and his Skitter Widgets inventions, mechanical dog-like creatures. If the party beats Stonky and his creations, they can do a bunch of things to change the trajectory of the ship, start and stop it, or make it launch into space. This could have two very different endings depending on how many clues the PCs find and if anyone can figure out Stonky’s codes.
Let’s talk ratings. I went with a 4 for the story. While it is a hell of an entertaining read to me and my personality, I think this type of story is so cool. I can see some players thinking it’s just too much. There isn’t really a downside to letting Stonky escape, other than the stealing of the Candlekeep books and property. Also, some players expect the game to be a bit more serious. This is not for those players.
The hook is arguably the weakest part of the module. It hopes the players will be interested in exploring for free or because they care about Candlekeep. It also begs the question, why aren’t the Archmages investigating this since it is one of the only adventures actually to take place in the library? Just a bit confusing with motivations is what I am saying. 3 out of 5
Cool NPCs, although they all mostly fall on the humorous side, they are fun to roleplay. 4 out of 5.
The pacing is pretty good. There could be some meandering as they might not know what to do once they are on the ship. They will also need to open a secret door to get down into the basement. I mean, you need to let them see that ultimately. 4 points.
The combat was decent, if not a bit too easy. None of the cult members are actually threatening. Lightning golems are protecting the control room in the rocket. The real challenge is the Skitter Widgets. They’re unique to this book, so that is a plus! 4 out of 5
In total, this is a humorous adventure that has a nice theme. It is on the lighter, easier side, so it can be run as a change of pace one shot. I really enjoyed running it and seeing the looks of confusion on my players’ faces as they learned each part of the plan. 19 Points is the final tally for Kandkleek Deconstruction.
Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome, written by Taymorr Rehman (20 Points)
- Story: 4/5
- Hook: 5/5
- NPCs: 4/5
- Pacing: 3/5
- Combat: 4/5
- Run time: 3:44:58
This adventure has one of the best hooks in the game. I was seriously between this and another adventure for the bonus points. More on that later.
The players find the book while researching Extraplanar Travel, Djinn, or Denizens of the Inner Planes.
It is a book that is locked. No mage at Candlekeep has been able to open it, so it sits idly on the library’s shelves. Little do the Avowed know there is a Genie trapped inside that appears when it senses a person or group that would be willing to steal the book from Candlekeep. Ultimately, the Genie opens the book and presents itself to the party. The PCs are persuaded to free the Genie with the offer of a Wish spell! That’s a pretty sweet reward at 10th level.
The players speak with the Genie named Guzray Azam. They are told that the Genie’s master, Zikran, trapped him here because the Genie refused to grant his magic to Zikran’s creations. He is an archmage and an inventor.
Once the Genie spills all the info, the players head to the only place the Genie knows to go, Zikran’s Laboratory. This feels like the start of a dungeon crawl, but it is actually just a flooded 4 room cavern. The Lab has been long abandoned, and a Bronze Dragon has taken over the caves its new lair. Ashgarlyth the Bronze is a quirky dragon who loves tales of the high seas! He will have conversations with the PCs, and as long as they aren’t threatening, the Dragon will allow the party to explore the old lab. There they can find notes and locations on maps. This will lead the group to Zikrans Cloud Giant Fortress and foreshadow his powerful weapon. More to come on that.
The characters must then travel to the cloud peaks. There’s an entire encounter about climbing the mountain with encounters for each day of the journey. Alternatively, the dragon can fly the group there to speed up travel and help the pace.
Finally, the party reaches Zikran’s new fortress, a Cloud Giant’s abandoned keep. Or is it abandoned? This is a run-down fortress that was once inhabited by Cloud Giants. Now their ghosts roam the ancient halls of this keep. There’s even a stat block for the Cloud Giant, so you would think the party will need to fight them. Well, no, sort of. If they disrespect the giants by messing with items in the keep, the giants will attack. Interrupting their card game in the mess hall will provoke violence! But seriously, it’s a good way to throw a scary threat at the group. If they are smart (and not murder hobos), they can avoid the combats.
After searching around, the players will find Zikran located in his new lab, the basement of the Fortress.
Zikran is an archmage and has a crazy spell list. I suggest you read through all the spells and possibilities. Don’t hold back. Use Time Stop so Zikran can power up and get ready to blast the players with all the damage-dealing spells. Bodyguard elementals protect him.
To top the combat off, there is a massive cannon that shoots at initiative count 20. Zikran has the remote control to the device.
Zikran will surrender rather than die and release the Genie. The players can kill him to release Guzray Asam and get their Wish spell.
The story gets a solid 4 for me. It was interesting, and I really love the theme of this adventure. The motivations of Zikran are basic, and several details seem like plot holes. It’s not that important, and players may not notice. But I did.
The hook is great—5 out of 5. Wish is one of the best carrots on a stick you can entice players with.
NPCs, I only gave it a 4 because there aren’t too many. Ashgarlyth is fun but ultimately doesn’t have much to do with the story. Zikran can be played like a maniacal evil wizard, but there isn’t too much to go on.
Pacing is the real issue here. Heading to the old Lab feels like it was just jammed into the module to add a bit of mystery because if Guzray knows where Zikran is, then there is zero mystery. But still, it just feels wedged in and takes up a lot of time. Your players will probably be cautious and take their time here.
The combat was great. There really is just one, though. And as a DM, it can be tough to run the high-level Mages because they have access to so many spells. I always thought that running high-level spell casters is tough if you don’t run them from level one. This is really the case here. The PCs gang up and focus to defeat Zikran.
I give Zikrans Zephryan tome a 20 spot.
The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale, written by Kienna Shaw (23 Points)
- Story: 5/5
- Hook: 4/5
- NPCs: 4/5
- Pacing: 4/5
- Combat: 5/5
- Run time: 3:45:33
- Bonus Points: +1 for best combat
One of my personal favorites, this adventure is objectively excellent.
The story assumes the group is hired by a harper mage named Ryllia. The harpers have imprisoned a harper Bard who has become corrupted by a dark and evil crystal. The story is vague and does not mention the Crystal all that much, so you can go ahead and fill in the gaps there.
Since the harpers do not want to kill the Bard, named Arrant Quill, they imprison him in a demiplane located in the book until a cure for his powerful curse could be found.
The party’s job is to deliver that antidote now. There is a dagger imbued with healing magic. This the harpers believe can cure Quill, and he can come home once the cure is administered. Once Quill is cut by the dagger, he will have the curse removed, and the demi-plane in the book will close. Simple right?
The Characters enter the book in Candlekeep and meet the Constructed Commoners. These are not real people and have peculiar reactions to the characters’ questions. They think they are in a story.
Characters can approach Quill’s manor in this demiplane “Wisteria Vale” and join the ball. The friendly townsfolk invite the players.
Once in, they start to realize all is not well. Some events can occur that make things seem amiss in the demi-plane. Random color changes, weird weather patterns, and strange sensory events occur. The players eventually realize through exploration of the Manor that a Beholder named Renekor has infiltrated this demi-plane too. Eventually, players learn Quill is actually a prisoner of the Beholder locked in magical pictures in the Manor. Players have a lot of freedom to attack the Beholder first or continue to explore. They can go into the pictures before or after the Beholder fight.
In the end, Quill can get released, and the Beholder will attack. This is very satisfying combat as Quill is magically invincible. The players cannot cut him with their dagger unless he consents. Fortunately for the players, this immunity does not last while in the anti-magic cone of the Beholder. So ideally, your final combat will be players trying to stab Quill in the anti-magic field, but being in the field messes with all their abilities and gear. It’s actually ingenious. Quill is pretty powerful himself. He has an attack called Supreme Mockery, which does a ton of damage. All around, this is an incredible fight scene between the Beholder’s eye beams and Quill’s magic. The players are in for fantastic, dynamic combat.
After freeing or killing Quill, the characters are transported back to Candlekeep.
Ratings are overall high for this one. It is a creative story with a solemn and dangerous mission and a huge twist. The Beholder has entered this demi-plane accidentally because it is dreaming! So cool. It feels epic but also very contained all in one. 5/5
The hook is good. It does hinge on giving background motivation to players. It really works as a one-shot. In fact, I altered it slightly. I gave each character a secret goal or motivation, and it really added to the hook. You can check my stream for the full video.
NPCs were solid. Quill and the Beholder are fun to RP. So are the townsfolk. 4 out of 5.
Pacing, I have to give it a 4. The sandbox nature means that the players can get dragged down in excess social encounters with everyone they meet. The people aren’t real, so they’re really just talking to mannequins.
Combat is superb. So dynamic and clever. Dodging Beholder eye rays and fighting a powerful Bard at the same time is super cool. Also, Quill may not trust the party, so it’s really a three-way battle in the end. There are many opportunities for combat. There are Stone Golems and Animated Armors if the players start exploring places off-limits. The picture frames also have 2 combats which were potent if faced head-on. These dynamic combats don’t always need to involve beating something until its hitpoints are gone, making the game fun for the DM and player alike. 5 out of 5, and the best Combat award goes to Wisteria Vale.
All in all, this is a tight adventure with fantastic concepts and combat. It really hits all 3 pillars of the game, and I cannot recommend it enough. 23 points total.
The Book of Inner Alchemy, written by Daniel Kwan (19 Points)
- Story: 3/5
- Hook: 3/5
- NPCs: 5/5
- Pacing: 4/5
- Combat: 4/5
- Run time: 4:21:09
This was an excellent book in terms of theme. It is basically an old-school kung fu movie transplanted into the D&D world. The Asian influence is apparent and intentional, showcasing Asian culture and expanding the concepts of Ki or Chi in D&D. It was really nice to see that representation in an official product.
The Story is quite simple. A group of Monks called the Immortal lotus, Led by a legendary Monk, Bak Mei, broke into Candlekeep’s vaults and stole pages from the Book of Inner Alchemy. The heroes are tasked by the Avowed to recover the pages as they may be designs and instructions for crafting a powerful artifact. Although there isn’t much of a mystery here, there is a ticking clock element. The artifact allows its bearer to gain incredible power, including invincibility.
The heroes find some clues, like a symbol of the Immortal Lotus at the crime scene, and head to their base of operations in Cloakwood. As they approach, they encounter Dryads who speak to the evil deeds of the Immortal Lotus. They feed dead bodies to Black Puddings, which are destroying the woods.
Eventually, the party will arrive at the compound and, in classic film style, fight one student of Bak Mei after another. These characters introduce themselves, have personalized moves and stats; it’s very cool. Beside them is a stat block for Immortal Lotus Monks, which are pretty strong because they utilize a force strike that can knock people prone.
After defeating these disciples, the party fights Bak Mei in his Jagged Sanctum. The PCs can ultimately defeat Bak Mei and return the pages before the Artifact, called the Gloves of Soul Catching, has been crafted.
This was a delightful stream for me. I felt like this game, more than the others, was hard to be subjective. I pushed the idea to my players to run an entire Monk game. Each player ran a different subclass and showed off their own style. But if I were to rate this book honestly, I have to take the added and player-based elements out of the equation.
I rated the story a 3. It gets so much credit for the theme and representation, but as the mystery goes, there is very little. The group is pointed in a direction, and bam, they start fighting. Also, while the gloves are nasty items in the hands of a Monk, they aren’t something that will end the world or bring about some great evil in the realm. It’s not really an emergency.
Having the group of all monks made this have more of a personal stake in the matter, as the monasteries would want this wrong righted. That’s why I had to give the hook as the book presents it a 3 out of 5. I cant see a traditional party feeling the intrinsic desire to complete this mission other than for the game’s sake and perhaps gold.
NPCs are fantastic—5 out of 5. I really considered giving this adventure the award for NPCs because of How flavorful the immortal lotus monk characters were. Jade Tigress, Steel Crane, and Bak Mei were awesome villains. The Dryads were a nice touch to give motivation and provide an ally or healing if necessary.
The pacing was solid. The group is pointed in the right direction to Bak Mei. However, it is a bit combat-heavy. As a result, this could take longer than expected. 4 out of 5.
Finally, for combat, I went with 4 out of 5. The fights were very cool, and as I said, the dynamic themes of each NPC made the combats interesting; however, the rest of the monk enemies were tedious to run. So many stunning strikes and force strikes make this combat a bit too one-sided if saves go poorly. Also not a big fan of stunning the PCs. No one likes losing their turn. I know it’s a decent consequence to an action, but it isn’t fun to have to wait an extra 10 min between turns. Additionally, while the combats were hard, I actually felt like Bak Mei was underwhelming. I gave him the Gloves of Soul-stealing to force the fight with 4 PCs to go down to the wire.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable adventure, and I do suggest you mention to your players that an all monk group will be so much fun here. If you run your regular group through this, try to add a bit to the mystery by having him steal the entire book. I know the adventures all find the books, but that will help with the mystery aspect. And make it more imperative to get the book back! 19 for the overall score.
The Canopic Being, written by Jennifer Kretchmer (20 Points)
- Story: 4/5
- Hook: 5/5
- NPCs: 3/5
- Pacing: 3/5
- Combat: 4/5
- Run time: 4:12:02
- Bonus Points: +1 for best hook
This one had me excited from page one. The players are called to meed with an avowed about a missing scribe at the library. The players are told that the avowed member was last seen with the Book the Canopic Being in her quarters. It contains dark rituals for creating mummy lords and theories like placing organs in living canopic jars, people. The book’s back is a list of people who donated their organs to Valin, the Oracle of Tashalar.
The PCs can ask the Avowed, “Why is this important to them?” The Avowed will show the PCs the list. The book’s back pages list each player character’s name. This will have your PCs wondering, did I agree to something? How did our names get there? This motivation keeps them guessing until the end.
They meet a priest at the temple in Tashalar who allows the party to get into Valin’s private sanctum, a sealed demiplane. No teleportation or conjuring from other planes of existence is allowed. Be careful with how you rule this. I had a horizon walker play in the game, and all their class features were useless, as were some spells.
Once they enter the sanctum, the PCs are greeted by Alessia, one of Valin’s chosen. She instructs them to wander this dungeon, and eventually, Valin will greet them when the time is right. The PCs find a whole bunch of stuff in this place. A sun sword guarded by Dao, a ritual pool to undo the canopic process, and even a room that lets people relive their past.
Ultimately, the Party comes across the canopic Jars that contain the body parts of the living canopic beings. The PCs can discover the only way to truly destroy Valin, who has become a mummy lord, is to kill the beings who are used like canopic jars. There are large Canopic Golems who were the other canopic beings that contain Valins organs. They were turned into these golems, unlike Alessia. The Golems are nasty in combat and shrug off most magic damage.
After the PCs defeat Valin, they can leave the Sanctum and hopefully gain back their sense of free will.
In all honesty, I really like this one. But it was a bit hard to read and follow what was going on. It is long-winded, and it feels like the PCs need to talk to someone, then talk to someone, then talk to someone, then talk to another someone. Many of these stories have a similar structure, but there are literally 5 people in this flow chart.
The Avowed ask PCs about missing Avowed. Then they talk to an oracle at the temple. Talk to Alessia. Talk to Valin. And the way it is written, it is unclear if Valin actually portended the events or if it was just a rouse to get the PCs to come. I’m fine with the players not knowing this but, the DM should know. Overall, the story was unique and creative, but there were some logical issues with it—4 out of 5.
The HOOK is excellent. In fact, I gave it the bonus point because it is mysterious and really draws the characters in. How did their names get into the book? Does this mean I have no free will? Can I stop this from happening? Did it already happen? By going to meet Valin, am I falling right into a trap? Overall the most non-railroad but forceful hook!
NPCs lacked a bit in this one. I gave it a 3 because I think Valin is cool, but the other members, including Alessia, just come off a bit annoying to the PCs. No player likes smug know-it-all villains, let alone people who are not the main villain or even evil. There isn’t much development to those side characters, and outside of the 3 I just mentioned, there aren’t many others.
The pacing gets a 3 out of 5. I debated a 2 on this one. It isn’t a “slow” adventure per se, but the map is huge with long corridors for no reason. The players can tend to go super slow and are cautious every step of the way. I just wanted to say I will move your tokens for some stretches. There is also a lot of freedom to miss key pieces of info, which will ultimately limit the ending possibilities.
Combat. While I really enjoyed the combat, it may be just plain unfair for unoptimized characters or groups that rely on teleporting and conjuring. Now I may have interpreted this rule too strictly. You can make your own mind up here. The rule about the sanctum’s extradimensional interference reads: The tomb is warded against teleportation, and creatures inside it can’t travel using teleportation or by extradimensional or interplanar means.
To me, this means spells that remove you from this plane, in any way, are not allowed. This would include short teleport spells like misty step or dimension door. Additionally, anything from another plane cannot be summoned here as it needs permission from Valin. So any summoning spell would not work, right? I don’t know. Maybe I was a harsh DM, but it is 13th level. So I don’t know what the intention was. Of course, I had a Horizon Walker Ranger, and I felt like the Bad DM for making his abilities not work. I tried to warn him without giving away any info about the adventure. He didn’t take the hint and ran that character.
Additionally, the Canopic Golems are so badass. But they can really nerf the wizards of the group. All spells of 7th level or lower (which is all the PCs will have) don’t work against a golem. It repels spell attacks automatically and can even redirect them to the PCs. Finally, the golems automatically pass saving throws from spells. It is deadly and cool at the same time. Overall I went with 4 because they actually made a tough adventure for high-level play. It just may need some tweaking and forethought as to how you want to run things.
Overall, Canopic Being clocks in with a 20 total score.
The Scrivener’s Tale, written by Brandes Stoddard (19 Points)
- Story: 4/5
- Hook: 5/5
- NPCs: 3/5
- Pacing: 3/5
- Combat: 4/5
- Run time: 5:05:43
This was the 14th level adventure, and it feels like it. The final 3 adventures all were excellent for challenging those high-level characters who can seem like demi-gods at this point.
The characters locate the Scrivener’s Tale by accident. An Avowed scribe accidentally puts this book in with the group’s pile of books. The party reads the book, and immediately the words of the book begin to appear like tattoos covering about 20 percent of their bodies. They need to start reading for this to happen. Everyone in the party gets it. This means if an Avowed or anyone else is in the vicinity, they probably will get it too.
The actual book is a cautionary tale. Is it fact or fiction? That is unknown, but it describes the protagonist as a shadow glass princess. Probably Eladrin but then transformed into a powerful arch fey. The shadow glass princess named Sintra is looking for revenge on the Gloaming Court.
After reading the book, players can make all sorts of spells and ability checks to gain more info. There is a short guide for what info to give if players have commune or legend lore spell (beneficial).
The Avowed will tell the players to head to Baldurs Gate to speak with Machil Rillyn, who donated this book to Candlekeep. Perhaps he knows how to reverse this curse.
BTW the curse is sick. You can make the PCs make a DC 20 CHA save every 3rd dawn or faster if you want. The Mark of the Scrivener is absolutely debilitating. Each step on the chart has a benefit too, but the negatives quickly start to outweigh. At the 4th stage, your Benefit: You cease to age naturally, and magical aging no longer affects you. But the Drawback: You become as brittle as glass. You gain vulnerability to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, and effects that grant you resistance or immunity to such damage are suppressed.
This is nasty if the players hit this level. The next level is basically death as you are turned into a shadow class statue.
The players find Machils’ estate, where his niece Yvandre lives now. She can show the PCs Machils’ belongings and provide insight into his debt problems. Here they will uncover more of the mystery and find Machil traveled to the Haven of the Red Quil. Likely where the PCs need to go to find the cure to their curse. Or at least the source.
When the PCs travel to this location, many days may have passed, so they need more saves against the Mark. If they fail, the mark grows, eventually covering their whole body when they die.
The Haven of the Red Quil is the location of The Scrivener’s ghost and where the pcs can perform a ritual releasing Nintra, the only way to rid themselves of the curse. What is confusing here, and I had to read many times, the ghost basically is a guardian of this tomb. Stone Golems and Mummies protect the tomb. The ghost will ultimately reveal the Archfey is trapped in the book. Using the chamber to release her will spell danger for the entire realm.
If the players decide to fight her, they can do so by releasing her from the book. A big battle ensues as she summons shadow glass warriors and has lair actions here. If the players defeat her, they lose their curse and save the world.
The Story gets a 4 out of 5 for me. It was interesting, and there were interesting investigation opportunities. It was just a bit confusing and actually hard to read. I didn’t really understand the motivations of Nintra other than escape. The background conflict between her and the Gloaming Court isn’t really explained enough for the DM. If you know nothing about the Feywild, this will also be tricky because the adventure does not explain any fey terms and locations to the DM.
HOOK is excellent. A curse that isn’t fully understood, cannot be removed, and requires further investigation? Heck yes. Also, it gets progressively worse by the day, so time is a factor here. I couldn’t give it the best hook because it just seems a bit odd that if one character reads the book, everyone around them in an unspecified range also is afflicted? IDK just a bit confusing again, and I was tempted to just give the curse to someone who read or was listening actively. But I stayed true to the book for the stream. 5/5
NPCs. Well, there aren’t many at all. Yvandre is cool, and my PCs even brought her along, but really that’s it. Nintra is a great villain, but as stated, her motivations aren’t fully explained to the DM. I loved that they allowed her to visit PCs in their dreams, so she is sort of present throughout the adventure—3 out of 5.
Pacing, I went with 3. It is a whole ton of investigation and travel for the first half. Then it’s 1 to 3 possible combats one after another. And those combats take forever because there are tons of HP to chew through. There are roughly a thousand HPs in the final combat alone.
Speaking of Combat. This one is very challenging. I think it is appropriate for level 14, but if you feel like your group isn’t optimized or only 2 or 3 pcs, then this will be a TPK. Nintra is so powerful, and she can also expedite the Scrivener’s Mark effects. If you had any PCs at that 4th tier, the shadow class warriors would annihilate that PC. These minions use the gladiator stat block. If you haven’t seen that, here it is. 3 attacks per turn! 2d6 or 2d8 +4 damage. A shield attack. Parry. 112 HP. And there are 6 of them. If the character is vulnerable to the damage, this will be short-lived combat. Because level 14 characters must be challenged, I gave this a 4 out of 5.
Overall the Scrivner’s Tale finishes with 19 points.
Alkazaar’s Appendix, written by Adam Lee (24 Points)
- Story: 5/5
- Hook: 4/5
- NPCs: 5/5
- Pacing: 4/5
- Combat: 5/5
- Run time: 4:28:37
- Bonus Points: +1 for best story
Oooh boy. This is a really great story. It is a bit hard to summarize because it is pretty vast and epic, but I will do my best to be concise.
This slim volume accompanied a thicker tome titled Alkazaar’s Thrilling Tales, in which Alkazaar, a legendary hero, chronicled his numerous heroic exploits. He bequeathed these books to Candlekeep and also gifted the Avowed with a series of live storytelling sessions. Alkazaar is long since retired but urges the reader of the appendix to finish a quest that even he could not complete. Finding a Nether scroll.
The PCs can learn that Alkazaar found a stone Golem of legend called the Sapphire sentinel in the Anuroch desert. The Bedine people there guided Alkazaar and the golem, which was the key to opening the tomb where the scroll was stored, to the ancient halls of the lost city called Azumar. However, purple worms thwarted his journey, and he was never able to finish it.
The nether scroll, characters can discover, are ancient and mighty artifacts that can grant the reader immense power and magical control. So it’s a decent hook, but they just need to read the book and decide that they want to go.
Once they discover the book is actually a portal to the Golem, the party enters through the book and is transported into the deserts. From their a Bedine guide and his grandson Shamir and Pesh. All 3 NPCs are delightful as the grandson is excitable and optimistic. The grandfather is weary and always cautious. The Golem cannot speak and makes gestures to communicate. The Bedine guides can lead the party and the sapphire sentinel to the Rainbow Hall, where they will discover the location of the nether scroll and fight a Purple Worm. They also see frescoes that depict more of what happened to the nether scroll. A Blue Dragon named Ziksokrishka wanted it, so to protect the scroll, Prince Hamukai, buried himself in a tomb with the scroll. Powerful magic wardings were created to seal him in the Mastaba of the city. Ziksokrishka is determined to wait all eternity to get this scroll, so she finds a way to become a Dracolich and now is a permanent fixture of the Mastaba waiting for one day, the magic to wear off.
Then the group heads to the ancient ruins of the Azumar to eventually face off against the Dracolich and her minions in an epic battle for the scroll.
What I left out is that the adventure, as stated, is only a small part of what is written. The author went into great detail about the background of the adventure, which is very helpful for the DM. Also, at every stage of the module, there are multiple options for random encounters, combats, skill challenges, extra PCs to meet, and complications. You can even search through Worm poop to find valuable items! And there’s a classic sphynx with a riddle. There is enough here to stretch this into a multi-shot of maybe 3 to 5 adventures at minimum, or even make this an arc in your own campaign.
It is because of this that I decided to give this the award for best story. It is so rich and well developed but can be adapted to fit the needs and time crunch of the group. And it really is an epic tale.
Hook, I went with 4. While the scroll makes great bait for the PCs, it lacks any call to action. I had the PCs since they are 15th level basically act like rock stars. People come up to them asking for handshakes and autographs when one young Avowed girl, the Tiefling NPC named irony, asks them to read the book and complete her favorite adventurer’s failed quest and final regret.
5 out of 5 for NPCs. They all rocked. The Bedine guides were so fun to RP. It is fun to have 2 NPCs that are foils to each other: the cautious grandfather and the ambitious grandson. The Golem is hilarious because it cannot speak. This leads to great RP opportunities. Finally, the Dracolich Ziksokrishka is written very well, and I appreciated the determined nature of this dragon that is willing to wait for this scroll out for all eternity.
Pacing is tricky. I went with a 4, only because it is on the long side. It all depends on how many travel encounters and optional encounters you include. If you are inexperienced with high-level play and don’t estimate the time each encounter will take, this could easily end up being 6 hours of gaming.
The combat was excellent. I ran it with only 3 players, and they were relatively optimized characters. It got dicey for a stretch. I think with 4 or 5 typical builds, this would be spot-on, appropriate, and engaging combats. Purple worms, sphynx, Dracolich. Iconic monsters to fight. 5 out of 5.
That brings Alkazaar’s Appendix to a total of 24 points. Now we head to the final adventure, Xanthoria.
Xanthoria, written by Toni Winslow-Brill (20 Points)
- Story: 4/5
- Hook: 4/5
- NPCs: 4/5
- Pacing: 4/5
- Combat: 4/5
- Run time: 4:37:03
This is the highest-level adventure in the book. Designed for 16th level, I think this does a nice job of getting the PCs to the combats quickly and challenging them.
The story is rather straightforward. A widespread fungal plague is destroying food sources, killing people, and turning them into fungal zombies. So the stakes are high. The PCs were invited to Candlekeep because they are heroes of legend, and the Avowed were given a book that may contain information about ending the plague.
The book is titled Xanthoria, and It contains the writings of a druid by that name who began to experiment with dark magic attempting to gain immortality. It’s possible that she caused this fungal curse on the lands. The PCs are told the location of where this book was found, and they head there. Easy peasy.
Once they get to the location, the party basically enters an 11-room cave crawl.
At the entrance to the cave, they meet a confused and weeping sprite named Thunderwing. She doesn’t remember the past few days for some reason and just knows that her best friend Xanthoria is in trouble. She will start to recall info as the PCs explore the caves.
Inside, the party will fight all different sorts of fungal abominations created by Xanthoria to protect her lair. Most of these enemies are reskinned fungal versions of creatures in the MM. Some of the highlights include Death Tyrant, Death Knight, Behirs, Mummy Lords, Vrocks, and even a Purple Worm! Once they find Xanthoria’s laboratory, they get filled in on the rest of the mystery. She transformed herself into a Lichen Lich. This is a new monster with a new stat block. She has lair actions and a bunch of minions at her disposal in the final battle.
If the heroes succeed and defeat her, they will need to locate her phylactery. Xanthorias notes will reveal she has a living phylactery, Thunderwing. The PCs need to basically convince this sprite to allow itself to be killed (cool little twist at the end).
On to the final ratings of the final book.
I went 4s straight down the line with this one. I really liked it. Overall it did everything I wanted from a high-level one shot. Nothing to throw in that would slow down the pace. The cave map is just the right size with a natural flow allowing for 1 or 2 encounters to be bypassed. Appropriate challenges, although I would have liked some unique monsters instead of fungus reskins. Side note, the VTT tokens on Roll 20 are just tokens that say things like “fungal servant.” No artwork for it, which is lame. But all in all, I really enjoyed Xanthoria. It might be just the most balanced adventure of them all.
20 points final score.
Candlekeep Mysteries Final Rankings
- Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme (24 Points)
- Alkazaar’s Appendix (24 Points)
- The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces (23 Points)
- The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale (23 Points)
- The Price of Beauty (22 Points)
- A Deep and Creeping Darkness (22 Points)
- Xanthoria (20 Points)
- Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome (20 Points)
- The Canopic Being (20 Points)
- The Scrivener’s Tale (19 Points)
- The Book of Inner Alchemy (19 Points)
- Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion (19 Points)
- Book of Cylinders (17 Points)
- Lore of Lurue (17 Points)
- Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor (16 Points)
- Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions (16 Points)
- Book of the Raven (12 Points)
Candlekeep Mysteries Ranking Commentary
There were inevitably many ties on the list. When it came down to it, I just had a gut feeling about which ones I liked slightly more. However, I found a way to put my finger on it and put words down about my tie-breaking decisions. So as I reveal each rank, if there was a tie, I will describe my thought process.
Number 17, The Book of the Raven. No doubt this was my least favorite for so many reasons that I refuse to discuss now.
Number 16. With 16 points, Mazfroths Mighty digressions. Number 15 also with 15 points comes Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor. Despite the poor pacing of Sarah of Yellowcrest manor, it had a cohesive story and a satisfying conclusion. Mazfroths most likely will end without that.
At #14, with seventeen points, Lore of Lurue. At 13, also with 17 points, is the Book of Cylinders. This tie-breaker, for me, came down to DM prep. To make Lore of Lurue make sense to your players and keep the threat of death in the game, the DM should adapt the material. Book of Cylinders does not need that. It is a much more straightforward adventure that doesn’t put as much work on the DM. Despite Lore of Lurue being much more creative, I had to go with Sarah.
In a three-way tie with nineteen points, we have number #12 Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion, #11, The Book of Inner Alchemy, and #10, The Scrivener’s Tale. Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion is great, but the silliness doesn’t hit everyone the same. Humor can be very subjective. The Scrivener’s Tale barely beats out Inner Alchemy, but this was truly the ultimate coin toss, in my opinion.
Another 3-way tie with 20 points each brings us the Canopic Being at number 9. Zikran’s Zephyrean Tome at 8, And Xanthoria at 7.
No doubt, the Hook of the Canopic Being was fantastic. But it had two 3s in categories. More low-end scores than either Zikrans or Xanthoria. And it also feels very much like Xanthoria with the living phylactery plot thread. I went with the balance of Xanthoria that I believe makes it more enjoyable to run from the DM perspective. It’s also hard to make a balanced epic-level adventure; we need more content at this tier of play!
Now we get into the upper echelon of adventures—the cream of the crop. I will definitely rerun the top six at some point. In fact, I already have run some of them.
At number 6, with 22 points, we have A Deep and Creeping Darkness. Tied at 22 points is number 5, The Price of Beauty. Both adventures are terrific. It is hard to compare because of their style. I gave the nod to Beauty because of its near-flawless sandbox style. It can be so hard to make the PCs feel like they aren’t on a railroad in a one-shot. This does a great job of flipping that script.
Number 4 with 23 points is the Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale. This is the best “We got sucked into a book” adventure in the module. There were so many epic moments with this one.
Number 3. Also with 23 points is the Joy of Extradimensional Spaces. The biggest issue with this adventure was the weak hook. Aside from that, the rest of this adventure is near perfect in every way. In fact, it is the ultimate level 1 adventure that I have ever seen published. It hits all aspects of the game well and can introduce new players to DND in a new and refreshing way. It is because of this I gave it the nod over Wisteria Vale.
The final 2. Both of these Adventures are legendary. They tied with 24 points, and I thought about this decision for weeks. Here we go.
Alkazaar’s Appendix finishes in second place. This adventure has the ultimate story in the book. It is deep, fleshed out, and can provide your group with far more than a one-shot’s worth of material. I definitely recommend running this if you have a high-level group and have a hard time finding appropriate material. You will not be sorry!
But there could only be one! Finishing at the top of my Candlekeep rankings is none other than Shemshime’s Bedtime Rhyme! This adventure is so unique; I can’t really recall running an adventure that felt so different than any other premade module. The pacing is flawless, allowing the DM to dictate the game’s pace without seeming like a control freak. The horror elements are sprinkled in perfectly. The party desperately searches for clues and a way out of this in escape room style, just hoping they can figure out how to kill the Ahemshime before it’s too late. There is just so much going on in this seemingly simplistic one-shot that is a true one shot!
Concluding Thoughts about Candlekeep Mysteries
That does it for me and my rankings, But what about YOU!? Tell me your thoughts down below in the comments. Do you agree with my rankings now that you have heard all my thoughts? Which adventure was your favorite? And which are you excited to try?
Don’t miss the poll in the top sections of this article if you’ve played Candlekeep Mysteries before. We’d love to hear which adventures were your favorites in the poll above or in the comments section below.
You can catch my streams of each Candlekeep Mysteries adventure with this playlist. The first episode is embedded below for The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces:
Thanks for reading. I will see you on the tabletop!