If time is the enemy of Dungeon Masters, Candlekeep Mysteries is a godsend. An anthology of bite-sized adventures that can be completed in a single session, they're designed to be plugged into any campaign or used as quirky one-offs. And it works; this is likely to go down as one of the best Dungeons and Dragons books.
There's more to it than filling a niche for time-strapped DMs or groups that can't meet all that often, though. It contains some of the most inventive D&D stories in years. To put it plainly, Candlekeep Mysteries has the makings of a modern classic.
Containing 17 one-shots that are designed by a diverse cast of writers, each quest revolves around a case that the party must solve. However, this doesn't mean they're repetitive. A surprising variety of genres and tones are represented here, ranging from dark fairytales with entire worlds trapped inside a book to a fungal plague, not unlike the one seen in The Last of Us franchise. Fancy yourself as an armchair detective? Candlekeep Mysteries will be the perfect fit.
These quests also jettison the starting point in many of the best tabletop RPGs - the humble tavern. Instead, every adventure begins at one of D&D's oldest locations: the library fortress of Candlekeep. It's a place with plenty of real-world and in-universe history. Besides having appeared for decades across the lore of the Forgotten Realms (which is the same universe as Dark Alliance and the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set, by the way), it's known for its role in the first Baldur's Gate video game. That gives these stories a unique feel you won't find anywhere else, all while offering a long-term home for players should they want it. Because of this framing device, Candlekeep Mysteries is reminiscent of the similarly-themed Tales from the Yawning Portal or Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
Crucially, these missions are light enough on detail that they can be inserted into any setting or homebrew world with (relative) ease - there's just the right amount of flavor to give a sense of personality, but no more. That means you can chop, change, and drop these stories into existing campaigns should you wish.
Even though a few of these adventures end up being stronger than others, most of them are reassuringly diverse - in more ways than one. Developer Wizards of the Coast has been open about its aim for more culturally sensitive output, and (much like Tasha's Cauldron of Everything) that comes across loud and clear in Candlekeep Mysteries. It's true that some aspects are handled better than others, and specific elements still need work, but we're heading in the right direction nonetheless.
Alongside a wide cast of characters from all walks of life, certain ideas take us in refreshing directions as well. One example is the fact that the book doesn't always rely on European fantasy. Instead, many quests draw inspiration from mythologies across the globe that don't normally get a look in during your average tabletop roleplaying game.
What's more, bringing in fresh talent gives the franchise more zest than we've seen for a while. Amy Vorpahl's Kandlekeep Dekonstruktion (starring a cult of underappreciated janitors) is the perfect case in point. Thanks to a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that wouldn't be out of place in a Terry Pratchett novel, it's endearingly offbeat and will be fondly remembered. The same is true of Shemshime's Book of Rhymes, a creepy ode to horror where the party is quarantined after encountering a contagious rhyme. Trapped underground with NPCs whose mental state unravels over time, it's fantastically written.
This is the greatest victory of Candlekeep Mysteries: even though its adventures don't tend to exceed a dozen pages, many of them are deeply original and will stay with your party long after the action is finished. As a result, this book is memorable enough to become a favorite.