In the past few years, Dungeons & Dragons books have bordered on formulas. In the front there is a series of narrative or rule-intensive content, in the back a few attachments full of monsters, spells and magical items. It was of course a formula for success that took the original role-playing game to new heights. But it’s also a bit stale.
Candlekeep Mysteries Is quite different. Inside, you’ll find 17 new adventures from 20 different authors, each of which can serve as a starting point for a home-brewed campaign or an interlude between published adventures. But maybe more than any other book in the 5th edition of D&D, Candlekeep Mysteries makes room to dream. It’s a series of one-shots – adventures that can be done in a single session – but it’s also a series of tools and tricks that can be placed in virtually any setting imaginable. That makes it a resource every Dungeon Master (DM) should have on their bookshelf.
The imagination behind it Candlekeep Mysteries is that it’s a book filled with other books, each off the shelves of a fictional library in the Forgotten Realms, the main take for this edition of D&D. It starts with a fierce preamble that denotes the Describes the layout and customs of the title candleholder. There is also a beautiful poster size card with the borders at the end of the book. But exactly where these books are hidden in the world doesn’t really matter. Publisher Wizards of the Coast endeavors to encourage DMs to move the library and / or their collection anywhere – including the world of Exandria, which is home to the popular new environment created by Matt Mercer for Critical Role, however also was created by Eberron and Greyhawk.
Each of the chapters in Candlekeep Mysteries is named after the title of an in-fiction book and contains all of the new content you need to play a single two- to four-hour game with your friends. Of course, to complete these adventures, you’ll need the other three basic D&D books – the Player manual, the Monster manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
The titles of the books in Candlekeep Mysteries Alone enough are enough to let your imagination run wild, including gemstones like Mazfroth’s mighty digressions, Lurue lore, The book of inner alchemy, and The joy of extra-dimensional spaces. But these are not just books to be pulled off the shelf and devoured with the roll of a single cube. Many are complex magical artifacts that player characters interact with as the adventure progresses. Some are even mechanical or physical in nature, and figuring out how to read them in the first place is often a mystery in itself.
While these books contain a story, each is treated as an object with its own story. That makes every book a different character in the adventure. Everyone receives a written description and illustration, great news for anyone who has invested in making props for their campaigns. I think there are some who could even have a good life as a handcrafted product on Etsy – especially one that involves rolling multiple cylinders on wet clay to keep the narrative moving.
The adventures themselves are enormous and include some of the best writings of this generation by D&D. The complications they depict are a delight, including a sketchy bookcase with an even more sketchy collection of staff; an abandoned mining village with a s inister secret; a haunted house trapped in another dimension; and a catchy tune so poisonous that it will quarantine players. The latter adventure that the catchy tune is involved in is actually pretty smart. The book at the center of the encounter is actually an elaborate clockwork device, the complexity of which is reflected in the elaborate social interactions of the adventure. There is almost no fight. Instead, the DM is forced to take on the role of several NPCs. It’s up to the player characters to tease things, mostly through dialogue.
A chapter entitled “Kandlekeep Deconstruction” by Amy Vorpahl made me laugh as I read it. It is absolutely ridiculous to introduce technologies that, even given the powerful magic in the Forgotten Realms, would be groundbreaking if they were to break loose. Of course, the DM is always in control in D&D. From that perspective, all hell breaks loose adventure is a feature, not a bug.
In addition to writing, the art direction is in Candlekeep Mysteries is unusually strong. The chapters include works by various artists that give each one a completely different appearance. In contrast, the cards featured throughout the book are simple and almost unadorned. This is clearly by design as they easily stand out and re-thematize for a completely different setting. That also makes this book an excellent resource for DMs who were digitized during the pandemic.
For bookworms of a different kind – that is, people who love to buy RPG books and read them like others might read a novel – there is yet another level of fun. Scattered throughout this series of adventures are a number of subtle allusions to previous Edition 5 campaigns, including Storm King’s thunder and Curse of Strahd. Even if you tread new narrative paths, Candlekeep Mysteries I can’t help but wink and nod at the rest of the 5th Edition canon.
While structurally an outlier, Candlekeep Mysteries Still, it fits perfectly with the rest of the 5th edition material. I’m excited to see where the players go from here.
Candlekeep Mysteries arrives on March 16th. A special alternative art cover designed by Simen Meyer is only available at Your friendly local game store, while the standard edition of the book is available everywhere – including on Amazon. Digital versions of the material are available for this D&D beyond Toolset for Fantasy Grounds and on the Roll20 Platform.
Candlekeep Mysteries was checked against a pre-release version of the books provided by Wizards of the Coast. Vox Media maintains partner partnerships. These do not affect the editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find You can find more information on Polygon’s ethical policy here.