20 April 2021
Stacks of Short Adventures
Over the years that Dungeons & Dragons’ fifth edition has been filling the gaming tables of the world, we’ve been well-supplied with stonking great campaigns that can merrily eat up years and years of roleplaying. However, not every adventure needs to be quite so epic in scale. Sometimes, all you want something that’s going to keep you going through an evening of gaming and nothing more.
Enter Candlekeep Mysteries.
Within its pages you can find 17 different adventures spanning the first 16 levels of the game (for reasons that doubtless made sense at the time, we get a double-bill at level four). In theory each and every single one of them should take just a single decently-sized session to run from start to finish, though in reality this is going to be rather dependant on your play group, especially when it comes to the more high-level stuff.
The framing device used to give the anthology some kind of cohesion is that each of them revolves around a book that can be found at the titular Candlekeep – an arcane library found in the ever-popular Forgottern Realms. Sometimes these are mundane tomes that simply provide the quest hook that kicks the rest of the mystery of, and some of them are enchanted or arcane volumes that play a major role throughout the entire game.
As themes go it’s not the most daring, but it makes up for this in an abundance of charm and easy portability. It may sound a little cutesy to have every adventure provoked by a book, but this conceit rather cunningly creates a situation where all you need to latch one of the mysteries onto your existing campaign is the presence of a library. Switch out Candlekeep for your castle’s arcane archives, or your party wizard’s old collage stacks and you can get a game going.
And if you are still somehow worried about the possibility of the book feeling a bit samey, you really don’t need to be.
The adventures that make up the bast majority of Candlekeep Mysteries range from the fairly conventional, such as a quest to rid a mining town of a nest of fear-loving monsters, through to the utterly bananas. If you’ve ever wanted to run the D&D equivalent of a bottle episode you may get the chance with a snippy adventure set entirely within the confines of a quarantined cellar, and if you don’t mind a bit of genre-mashing there’s a fully functional space rocket hanging about amidst another.
In terms of raw content, you also get a decent mix of options. Only a handful of the adventures cleave to the classic dungeon-crawl format that has been so beloved of short-form adventures, with many more opting to crack up the roleplay options and mystery. If you choose to run the entire thing from cover to cover you’ll find your players fighting plenty of bad guys, but also struggling to pin an arcane earworm under a stack of old books, trying to convince a cursed bard to let them stab him with a crystal dagger and escorting a golem through the desert. Jaunts through other planes and pocket dimensions seems to be a sub-theme running throughout the book, with several of the quests using them to stick the party in weird and wacky surroundings that they must escape.
Alongside the inventiveness on display the writing is usually solid and the events of the short adventures are generally pretty easy to follow. Some of the more complex mysteries don’t really explain what’s really going on until you’ve ploughed through the entire text, making them a shade confusing on a first read, but while this is irritating it is far from a dealbreaker.
Almost as important as the words are the countless illustrations and design flourishes that accompany them. The artwork of Candlekeep Mysteries is utterly charming throughout, with the books that the adventures all revolve around receiving special attention. A rather creepily possessed children’s book, complete with pop-up figures, is a particular favourite, managing to be both adorable and slightly creepy at the same time.
Where many of the earlier campaigns in D&D 5E’s history have offered rather questionable value for GMs who don’t have a party they can rely on for months or years at a time, Candlekeep Mysteries is an incredibly easy book to use. This makes it equally easy to recommend to practically every gaming group out there.
A great addition to every GM’s bookcase
If you liked the episodic nature of Yawning Portal but wished you could get things done in a day, Candlekeep Mysteries is for you
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
This feature originally appeared in Issue 54 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products