What Do I Know About Reviews? Elminster’s Candlekeep Compendium (Dungeon Masters Guild)

Picture2Anyone that has followed me for a while knows that certain aspects of the Forgotten Realms setting inspire a deep, nostalgic love within me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Candlekeep is definitely one of those elements of the setting that remains dear to me. I love the concept of this wild mish mash of knowledge from all over the Forgotten Realms, preserved in a magical fortress that requires even more knowledge if someone wishes to show up and share in that knowledge.

When the Dungeon Masters Guild first opened, one of the things that I was hoping to see was a venue for people to explore and expand on the parts of the setting that may not get a spotlight in official releases. While this wasn’t the primary thrust of a lot of the earliest products on the Guild, this is becoming an increasing percentage of products that make an impact on the Guild.

With all of that out of the way, today, I’m looking at Elminster’s Candlekeep Compendium. This product is also part of a growing trend for releases on the Dungeon Masters Guild, where multiple designers work together to explore a topic.

The Offering

Elminster’s Candlekeep Compendium is an 84 page PDF. This includes a credits page, an introduction by Ed Greenwood, a map of Candlekeep, and a table of contents. The PDF itself is full color, with color artwork, parchment backgrounds, and artistics page borders. There are various headers, formatted tables, and stat blocks, which look clear and follow a very similar pattern to the official D&D 5e formatting.

Welcome to Candlekeep

This section introduces the structure of the rest of the book, as well as an introduction to Candlekeep, it’s history, and what’s so important or unique about it.

This does something that I love. It provides a clear five “things to know,” which are all a paragraph or two in length, explaining the position Candlekeep holds in the setting, who lives there, and why adventures might want to go there.

Now, allow me to commit Realmslore heresy: I love that the “history of Candlekeep” section is only about two and a half pages. Instead of providing a detailed timeline (which can have its place, but can also scare people away from engaging with content), this section just hits the high points, such as the founding of Candlekeep, Alaundo’s prophecies, and the various times when outside forces have attempted to seize the library fortress.

Character Options

The character options section includes subclasses either tied to the advancement or recording of knowledge, or more directly to Candlekeep itself. These subclasses include the following:

  • Bard (College of Destiny)
  • Cleric (Prophesy Domain)
  • Monk (Way of the Avowed Preserver)
  • Wizard (Academic Lore)

The College of Destiny bard allows characters to pre-roll their bardic inspiration die and take either that result or the result they roll at the time the die is used, gives the option to use the bardic inspiration die for defense, ads a few boost style spells to the bard’s spell list, and allows for increased damage at higher levels.

The Prophesy Domain cleric gains spells based on the theme, as well as the channel divinity ability to do something similar to the divination wizard, burning a use of the ability to generate a d20 roll to substitute sometime later. Prophesy Domain clerics can give cryptic advice as a bonus action once per rest, allowing a character that has received the advice to reroll certain rolls. They get the melee option at 8th level, and their capstone ability allows them to burn hit dice to retain spell slots. The downside is that they have some kind of physical affliction that marks them as a prophet.

The Way of the Avowed Preserver Monk models the more martial minded monks associated with Candlekeep, and as such, they gain access to the ability to memorize books which allow them to swap out skills, pick up certain cantrips triggered by ki expenditures, gain the ability to impose disadvantage on checks to hear them (they are used to moving through libraries, after all). They learn how to employ a short range teleport (based on needing to access different areas of the library quickly), and their other abilities expand with more spells, as well as the ability to counterspell, as well as a capstone ability to cast foresight with ki points. There is another high level ability, that is essentially an advanced, expanded flury of blows, that is described as being associated with knowledge because “the technique comes from Kara-Tur.”

The Academic Lore wizard learns how to experiment with magical formulas, as well as establishing an academic relationship with other wizards allowing them to share spells. Early on, they can learn specific damage types to substitute. They can learn to identify the types of spells on a person or object by touch, and they can access a reservoir of shared spells called a spell pool. They also gain access to Dweomercrafts, which are somewhat like sorcerer metamagic or warlock invocations, allowing the wizard to add a modifying template to a spell they are casting.

I like tricky ways to play with dice values to simulate divination and foresight, especially compared to trying to discern the actual future of your campaign, so I like those features and how they are handled. While I like some of the Oracle’s Burdens, like the surprising age or choked voice, I’m not as comfortable with the options that reinforce tropes related to disabilities, and I would rather the setbacks for an Oracle were more supernatural and based on not being fully connected to the present.

I like the Avowed Preserver as a means of representing the more combat minded monks of Candlekeep, but the sudden “here is a combat option that fits with a scholar because it’s from somewhere else” doesn’t preserve the theme as much for me.

The Library Fortress

The section detailing the physical location of Candlekeep also includes charts for why a character would be visiting the library, what kind of entrance gifts they might bring with them, and transition locations between the many buildings that have been put up and repurposed over the years. The transition locations often include adventure hooks and NPCs that might draw adventurers into any number of side quests.

In addition to this introduction to the Keep, based on the how and why of entering the Castle of Tomes, there are also rules for Candlekeep specific downtime, in the same format as Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, including downtime complications. We also end up with a discussion of the Avowed, the order that maintains Candlekeep, and the hierarchies of the order.

I love lore expressed in the way it is in this section. Discreet paragraphs discussing what people might see in different areas of the keep, and quick snippets of the lore available in the library. For anyone less familiar with Candlekeep, the “entrance gifts” are books that visitors must bring to the library to gain access, and I like the example texts that populate the random tables.

The Great Library

The Great Library section deals with the actual use of the library, how to request and handle books, and provides an alternate rule for training manuals which allow for extra proficiencies.

It discusses some of the wards on the library, and how that magic guards the library, as well as one of the most notable guardians bound to the library itself. My favorite part of this chapter is the two pages of books that can be found in Candlekeep.

Not only do these books help to flesh out the kinds of books that might be found in the location, but in this case, they serve as callouts to other Dungeon Masters Guild products, specifically calling out certain chapters of those works that can be accessed by reading these books in Candlekeep.

That kind of cross promotion and shared world building really appeals to me.

Candlekeep Adventures

Candlekeep Adventures includes two broad sections. One is a section of adventure “setups” and “resolutions,” including tables for Adventure Introductions, Adventure Climaxes, Lore Seeking Expeditions, and the Prophesies of Alaundo. While many of these are only a paragraph or two, there are some great adventure hooks that are tied really well into libraries, knowledge seekers, or research related quests.

The second section is the “Director’s Cut” of the Candlekeep section of Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. One of the recurring critiques I have heard about this adventure is that the Candlekeep section is a little too short and to the point.

The Director’s Cut introduces the player characters to a conclave of important people at Candlekeep, researching the crisis in the adventure, discussing how to resolve it, and allowing the group to gear up with needed items. The PCs can use a magical book to navigate the library, visit the draconic ghost guarding the library, and gaining her assistance in meeting Lulu and accessing the gate to Hell.

There are notes on what parts of Descent into Avernus to skip if this section is used, and I appreciate that this is less “let’s find this one person and head to the gate,” and introduces more of a council discussing the growing problem with cities dropping into the depths of Hell. It feels like it adds a bit more weight to Candlekeep, instead of just providing a proper name for the place where a quest advancing NPC is located.

Magic Items and Spells

The magic items introduced lean heavily towards books, transportation, and the collection of knowledge. For example, there is a bookcase which allows someone attuned to it to swap out books to the location of the bookcase. There are some more references to other Dungeon Masters Guild products, as well as some magic items that reference the characters from the original Baldur’s Gate video game. 

In addition to more common magic items, there is an intelligent magic item tied to the history of the library, as well as a few book based artifacts.

Spells include utility spells to transcribe quickly, spells that can emulate the fireball spell, but without fire (good for keeping libraries from catching fire), and 5e version of a few famous Forgotten Realms spells, like Elminster’s Effulgent Epuration (a spell that creates several floating wards to intercept incoming spells), and Ilyykur’s Mantle (which grants resistance and advantage against a number of effects).

Friends and Foes

The stat blocks in this section include elemental guardians from the library, the aforementioned ghost dragon, bookworms, bookworm swarms, and NPC stat blocks based on the newly introduced character subclasses.

Pristine First Edition

This product not only makes Candlekeep an attractive site for adventuring, adding reasons for adventurers to visit, as well as a significant number of plot hooks, but it also provides some great details for a DM to drop into wider campaigns. These bits of lore include snippets of Alaundo’s prophecies and various noteworthy books. For people that are more rules oriented, it still manages to deliver on the “library” theme, with knowledge and lore, but still action oriented, player options. Much of this calls back to some deep cuts from the Forgotten Realms setting, but does so in an easily accessible manner.

Volo’s Guide to Second Hand Books

If libraries and books just really aren’t your thing, this book is very much on theme, and it may not appeal to you. While there are lots of adventure hooks, the included adventure is very tied to Descent into Avernus, so it’s not likely to be useful if you aren’t going to run that product.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

Candlekeep has always been one of my favorite elements of the Forgotten Realms. I love that there is a product that gives it a fresh face for 5th edition, while also still occupying the same space that it has always had in the setting. I think anyone that wants to have noteworthy elements to add to a setting will be happy with integrating Candlekeep, and I think anyone that is planning on running Descent into Avernus is going to appreciate both the greater details, and the expanded options for adventure content.

So sayeth the former Senior Scribe Arkhaedun, retired moderator at Candlekeep.com

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