Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Candlekeep Mysteries Review: Alkazaar's Appendix and Xanthoria

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 hereSarah of Yellowcrest Manor and Lore of Lurue hereKandlekeep Dekonstruktion and Zikran's Zyphrean Tome here, The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale and The Book of Inner Alchemy here, and The Canopic Being and The Scrivener's Tale here. In this review I'm going to give my impressions of the last two adventures in the book, so you can better decide for yourself whether this is a sound purchase for you and your group.

Alkazaar's Appendix

Written by Adam Lee

Developed by Michele Carter & Christopher Perkins

Edited by Michele Carter

"Alkazaar's Appendix" has a good premise: a search in the desert with a stone automaton for a lost scroll. However, the execution of that premise ultimately results in an average adventure because its strong points are counterbalanced by a few poor design decisions. The stone golem that the party teams up with has great potential to be endearing, but the shape of the adventure does have a bit of a "follow this NPC around" feel to it that the scenario could have done more to mitigate.

Another issue with the adventure is that each of the mapped locations are incredibly linear with few opportunities for exploration. The cave sequence, for example, is really just a straight tunnel with one blockage that needs to be moved out of the way. Since the tunnel leads to single chamber with six murals you need to describe so that the players get the gist of what's going on in the adventure, there is an obvious solution here: turn this tunnel into a branching cave complex with each mural located in a different chamber surrounded by additional points of interest. The necropolis at the end of the adventure is similarly linear: fight the guys at the top of it, go down the stairs, fight the monster down there, wrap things up.

This problem doesn't just appear in the adventure locations, it shapes the adventure itself. The overall plan of the scenario is a straight line: meet the automaton, go to the cave, go to the necropolis, finish the adventure. There are some optional encounters presented that could stretch the adventure into at least a two-session affair if you wanted, but unfortunately they don't really alter the direct course it sets the characters on.

Additionally, I don't really love the conclusion to this adventure as written, which seems to offer a choice between getting the scroll (which means opening a sarcophagus, which causes the prince held in stasis inside to rot away) and letting your new stone golem pal carry his beloved master into heaven. This is especially an issue because I don't think the content of the adventure really telegraphs the gravity of that choice well enough. I changed this in our playthrough; it absolutely wouldn't have fit the mood we had going on at all.

I've been quite critical of several components of this adventure, so to cap this review off I do want to note that we had a good time playing through it. The interactions with the stone golem were very fun to roleplay and actually lent themselves to an unexpectedly emotional session. Also, the addition of lair actions to the dracolich made that fight feel varied and interesting--it absolutely did not fall flat as a boss fight. Though there are some issues here, this was a decent adventure overall.


Written by Toni Winslow-Brill

Developed by Bill Benham & Christopher Perkins

Edited by Kim Mohan

As the last adventure in Candlekeep Mysteries, "Xanthoria" has a suitably strong premise: a fungal disease has swept the world, and it's up to the players to stop it. One thing I was slightly concerned about is that the premise hits at an odd moment; an adventure about a plague takes on a new meaning for people who are still dealing with the fallout of a real-world pandemic. It's not something the people who worked on the adventure could account for, but it nonetheless remained a potential for resemblance I tried to mitigate in play.

I also altered the adventure to make it a suitable conclusion for my campaign; instead of largely taking place in cave of the Lykortha Expanse, our playthrough took place on the moon--which gave the players a reason to fly their rocket tower to their final adventure, which I know was something they were really looking forward to.

Exploring the cave complex was the bulk of the session, and I think it works pretty well as a dungeon. There's interesting stuff that happens in there, unusual encounters (though I did pare some away to fit our time slot), and a good deal of atmosphere. You can get a good bit of mileage out of describing gross fungus and mold. In general, I'd say that the small- and mid-sized dungeons in Candlekeep Mysteries are frequently successful at providing site-based adventure. 

The lichen lich's stats, which are bespoke to this adventure, evidence a solid understanding of what an upper-level threat should be able to do. This is especially obvious if you compare its stats against those of a regular lich from the Monster Manual. The lichen lich is easier to run, has more interesting options, and also feels appropriately dangerous. 

The moral quandary posed at the end of the adventure is also fairly well done. Used as the conclusion of a campaign, "Xanthoria" gave me all the tools I needed to end the game in a way that I was really happy with.