Ghosts of Saltmarsh
Nestled on the coast of the Azure Sea is Saltmarsh, a sleepy fishing village that sits on the precipice of destruction. Smugglers guide their ships to hidden coves, willing to slit the throat of anyone foolhardy enough to cross their path. Cruel sahuagin gather beneath the waves, plotting to sweep away coastal cities. Drowned sailors stir to unnatural life, animated by dark magic and sent forth in search of revenge. The cult of a forbidden god extends its reach outward from a decaying port, hungry for fresh victims and willing recruits. While Saltmarsh slumbers, the evils that seek to plunder it grow stronger. Heroes must arise to keep the waves safe! (WOTC)
Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a nautical-themed adventure book for Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. Set on the coast of the Azure Sea, players begin their adventure in the fishing village of Saltmarsh, and discover mysteries-a-plenty.
Ghosts of Saltmarsh takes inspiration from a number of revamped, older TSR campaigns, including: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, The Final Enemy, and more!
There are a few spoilers here, but Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a particularly creepy adventure book. There are plenty of undead and soggy, swampy, horrors to discover underneath the depths. Many illustrations in the book might make you wince as you’ll see some maggots and bloated, living carcasses.
As usual with Dungeons and Dragons, the Dungeon Master can revamp or change any content they or their group don’t feel comfortable jumping into. A spooky section can be switched up on the fly or skipped entirely. This is the beauty of running a role-playing game. Of course, there are plenty of magic elements, and in one case, the revival of an ancient demon lord.
I’m a fairly new player of Dungeons and Dragons. Last year, I started running two games of Lost Mines of Phandelver, and we’ve been knee-deep in a homebrew setting since January. For the last 365 days or so, I’ve scoured forums–and the shelf of Dungeons and Dragons books I’ve purchased–for new content and wisdom from well-seasoned Dungeon Masters as I run my games.
It was to my great joy to read through Ghosts of Saltmarsh, and discover that it is indeed another excellent supplement to have on hand.
Saltmarsh takes players on a ride through seven adventures, supposedly tuned to run up through level 12. Through various mysteries in the skeazy fishing village, players will discover salty smugglers, soggy sahaguin, and much more. An excellent feature of the book is the ability to drop in to Saltmarsh between any of the seven pre-written adventures, pending your party’s level. Perhaps other adventure books follow this formula, I’m not sure. This makes Saltmarsh extremely accessible for homebrew campaigns, and just as deadly a DM’s weapon for introducing new players to D&D.
In my case, I found myself using the setting of Saltmarsh in my homebrew world for a Pirates of the Carribbean-esque, Tortuga-style, shanty town. The fishy grime and many unknowns of Saltmarsh fit perfectly with the tone of our adventure. Further, I’ve been able to set the stage for The Final Enemy adventure in Chapter 6.
The feature which has drawn me deepest into Saltmarsh isn’t the exciting and ever-expanding campaign, but the tables and supplements in the Appendices.
Firstly, WotC has designed a list of ship stats and upgrades, which I found extremely useful for a stint of nautical adventures in my game. The ship upgrades are quite interesting, and I found myself letting the players have fun with a reinforced hull, special cannon upgrades, and a powerful figurehead mounted to the bow.
As you dig further into the first Appendix, you’ll see rules for crashing, fog, oceanic environments, storms, and keeping the morale of your crew high. This is great, and saves me a ton of guesswork and encounter design. There is also a great section of tables for rolling up other ships that your players might run into whilst on the seas. This adds for lots of suspense and plenty of opportunities for exploration and roleplay. Yes, your pirate dreams can come true.
Another excellent supplement is about 20 tables of island types and adventure hooks. There’s so much inspiration bleeding from these pages. If you need something more specific, there’s a few short adventures in an underwater cover, underwater ruins, and a shipwreck.
I ran a “merfolk” adventure in the cove as part of our campaign, and was told it was one of my players favorite sessions thus far. This was tied into an eccentric new player who had joined us, but nevertheless, you can’t beat praise like that.
While I’m unable to run an entire campaign of Saltmarsh for the time being, I can absolutely see myself flipping to the back end of this book for sea-worthy ideas and tables to roll on. These are truly quite valuable.
After epics like Storm King’s Thunder, and horrors like Curse of Strahd, Saltmarsh brings a new flavor to the D&D adventure book series. Though pirates and underwater deception might not be to everyone’s liking, I’m excited to continue dreaming about the day I can run the book from start to finish.
A review copy of Ghosts of Saltmarsh was generously provided by Wizards of the Coast.
+ Excellent starter adventure
+ Supplements for a number of one-shot scenarios with plenty of tables to roll
+ Each section of adventure has jumping in points from levels 1-12
+ Pretty good supplements for naval warfare, ship sailing, and running a crew
- Lots of story content will be missed if you jump in at a later level