How Candlekeep Mysteries Is Bringing One of Dungeons & Dragons' Most Iconic Libraries to Life

Is it a bird? Is it a druid shapeshifted into a bird? No, it’s...Candlekeep!
Is it a bird? Is it a druid shapeshifted into a bird? No, it’s...Candlekeep!
Image: Julian Kok/Wizards of the Coast

When Dungeons & Dragons fans think of the Sword Coast, they might cast their mind’s eye to its most infamous locale: the city of Baldur’s Gate, the titular trade hub that was brought to life in the legendary CRPG series. But true adventure in the Forgotten Realms is born of knowledge—and adventurers in the know would do better to turn their eye to Candlekeep.

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One of the most famous libraries of arcane and peculiar knowledge in Faerûn, Candlekeep is getting its moment in the spotlight for the Fifth Edition of D&D this month. In Candlekeep Mysteries, you’ll find a new adventure book full of weird and wonderful “one-shots”—as in, campaigns designed to be played in a single sitting rather than as one long, ongoing game. All of the adventures will be tied to artifacts and stories held within the library’s halls.

But aside from delivering story hooks, Candlekeep Mysteries also has to bring its titular setting to life. It fleshes out the history of, and what it’s like to live in, one of the Forgotten Realms’ greatest repositories of magical information—a task that fell in part to Chris Lindsay. Between being a product marketing manager for D&D at Wizards of the Coast and helping to create content for the official D&D campaign series at the D&D Adventurers League, Lindsay delved into the depths of Candlekeep for Mysteries’ background sections. Check out our interview, conducted over email, for more on how he fleshed out Candlekeep, as well as some new artwork from Mysteries debuting exclusively here on io9!


James Whitbrook, io9: When you’re approaching writing background material like this, what are the earliest processes like for you, where do you start?

Chris Lindsay: When I began this project, I was asked to focus my attention on the most current published material discussing Candlekeep in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, but after reviewing that I felt the need to take a deeper dive, looking for elements from past products that might have escaped the notice of our most recent version. At the same time, I looked for inspiration in the world around us. To that end, I did a search online for details on the largest libraries in the real world in an effort to pull inspiration from what I might learn there as well.

io9: Adventure writing is quite different to some of the other hats you wear at Wizard. What’s it like switching between those roles when you get the opportunity to work on a book like this?

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Lindsay: There’s definitely a transition from working on the business to working in a creative space for me. I like to dedicate a day to start when I have no meetings and no reason to actively monitor my email (Fridays generally work best). Frequently it helps to step away from my laptop altogether and start the outlining process in a notebook away from the day-to-day interruptions of various technological devices. Once I’ve begun a project though, it becomes easier to make that transition as I’ve already got a previously established flow and know the direction I’m headed with the writing. Something as simple as the right soundtrack or playlist will bring me back and put me into the thick of it. For Candlekeep Mysteries it was a combination of Tool’s Fear Inoculum and the Hellraiser soundtrack.

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Image: Mark Behm/Wizards of the Coast
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io9: Candlekeep not only has to serve as background detail in Mysteries, but a place to connect the starting points of all these adventures together. What kinds of information about the citadel were you most mindful to explore to allow the variety of all these hooks for adventurers to visit it?

Lindsay: One of the things that I really wanted to do with this section was bring Candlekeep to life. Put names to the Avowed and create a scholarly community within. Give them the amenities they’d need for day-to-day living and breathe life into the location in a manner that a new Dungeon Master can just pick up and put to use, and an experienced Dungeon Master can extrapolate and create specific inspired experiences for their players based on the established routine that already exists therein.

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io9: You’re not just writing about the structure itself, but the people who inhabit it. Tell us about the process of creating and detailing these characters for the D&D audience, whether it’s familiar faces or new ones entirely!

Lindsay: This was one of the most fun parts of the project. Where characters existed, it was quite simple to slot them into an appropriate role. For example, it was an easy choice to include Sylvira Savikas (originally featured in the adventure Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus) as the Great Reader specializing in planar studies. However, there are four primary skills involving knowledge in the game (Arcana, History, Nature, and Religion), so it seemed natural to break each of these into two specialties and then populate them each with a fresh face. A couple of favorites include the halfling master sage Fhenimore Scrivenbark, specializing in folklore and culture, and V’ziir-Ag, a githzerai master sage that has, for practical reasons all their own, extensively studied aberrations and the Far Realm. Each of these Great Readers are a fantastic resource for visiting heroes to tap into.

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Image: Katerina Ladon/Wizards of the Coast

io9: One big thing about Candlekeep is that there’s a lot of familiarity with it outside of D&D as a game itself through its place in the early lore of Baldur’s Gate. Was that something you were mindful of exploring in here, stoking the familiarity of an “outside” source like that?

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Lindsay: It has been a hot minute (let’s say decades) since I’ve played the original Baldur’s Gate. That said, I’m certain that there are still details lurking in my subconscious that might have pushed me one way or the other. While it would be untruthful of me to say that I sat down and replayed the game in search of obscure bits about the ancient library for this design pass, I think it’s fair to say that the two share a common progenitor lurking somewhere in the mind of master storyteller and fellow raconteur Ed Greenwood.

io9: What do you think it is about Candlekeep that still appeals to adventurers all these years later?

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Lindsay: It is the allure of knowing the unknowable and the power that represents. Anyone that has ever asked a question that nobody could answer or mourned the loss of knowledge (real or imagined) feels the pull toward this ancient library of truly monumental proportions. What better place to find such gems within the boundless confines of our own fantasies, as this ancient library with an extraordinarily stiff entrance fee? Just imagining what fell tome you might find in the stacks on your next visit, is enough to bring those of us with aspirations of erudition calling back, again and again.

io9: What’s your favorite little detail about Candlekeep that you got to write into Candlekeep Mysteries?

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Lindsay: My favorite addition to Candlekeep is called the Echoes of Alaundo. This is a storehouse of magic gemstones that hold the recorded prophesies of Alaundo, some of which are spoken in strange languages.


Candlekeep Mysteries releases on March 16.

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DISCUSSION

I’m honestly more interested in the new Ravenloft book they announced. The Candlekeep book is just an upscaled Tales from the Yawning Portal. Which I’m all for having a series of quick adventures you could run through. Im not unhappy we are getting it, it just seems like sort of a way to hold over fans until bigger things come.