Sunday, October 24, 2021

Candlekeep Mysteries Review: The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale and The Book of Inner Alchemy

I've been running the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries, a book of seventeen scenarios based around the legendary library of Candlekeep and the strange tomes kept within. The adventures in the book aren't necessarily meant to be played one after another; they're more geared toward being dropped in between adventures of your own devise, but playing them back to back hasn't been much of an imposition. 

But is Candlekeep Mysteries good? I reviewed the first five adventures hereThe Price of Beauty and Book of Cylinders here, Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor and Lore of Lurue here, and Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion and Zikran's Zyphrean Tome here. In this review I'm going to give my impressions of the next two adventures in the book, so you can better decide for yourself whether this is a sound purchase for you and your group.

The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale

Written by Kienna Shaw

Developed & Edited by Christopher Perkins & Hannah Rose

"The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale" is a decent adventure, but things become a little too convoluted over the course of the scenario. The characters enter a self-contained demiplane where the main events of the adventure are located, but while they're there they also have to navigate multiple extradimensional spaces within paintings inside the demiplane itself. These paintings have random destinations, with multiple routes leading to the same places without any graspable internal logic to figure out. That's a bit much because it basically leads to a situation where players have to try things at random, hoping to get lucky by picking the right portal that will lead them to something helpful. And woe unto you if your players split up to explore multiple avenues. That way lies a massive potential headache. It is pretty cool that this adventure lets the players face off against a beholder; that's iconic and feels right for the adventure's level.

The Book of Inner Alchemy

Written by Daniel Kwan

Developed & Edited by Hannah Rose

There's no way around it: "The Book of Inner Alchemy" is an extremely linear adventure. Pages have been stolen from an ancient tome about ki, clues point to an evil monastic order hiding out in a forest, so the adventurers go there, beat some evil monks, and retrieve the pages. More interesting investigation options or a more complicated layout of the monks' headquarters would have gone a long way toward making this more than a point A to point B adventure. Also, I would have liked to have seen fewer clues gated off behind skill checks; it's potentially possible that the players end up directionless if they flub the rolls as written, which strikes me as bad design.

This might be an unpopular and unwanted opinion, but it's a little wild to me that a guy best known for his involvement with Asians Represent, a group that is pushing back against Asian themes being relegated to stereotypes and cultural misconceptions, turned in an adventure where the premise is "Fight kung-fu guys, and then fight even more kung-fu guys." I was hoping for something a little less stereotypical, though I do think the premise is fine on its own. My issue is that this was a prime opportunity to show the world that there is more to Asian themes and aesthetics than martial arts, but I feel that opportunity was missed. 

That said, my group had a good time with the adventure precisely because we leaned into the over-the-top aesthetics of Sunday matinee Kung-Fu Theater, which, while it provided some outrageous moments of high-flying action, probably didn't do anything to play against reductive conventions or overused tropes. We had to lean into something to counteract the linear "go here, get into a fight with monks, fight more monks, fight more monks, fight the boss monk" nature of the adventure as written. Still, on a final positive note, I do like the stats for Steel Crane, Jade Tigress, and Bak Mei; although they're all evil monks, the slight variations in their statblocks made them feel different in play.