The most recent D&D adventure book Candlekeep Mysteries released on March 16th, 2021. Much like the previous Rime of the Frostmaiden book, I knew I wanted to design a Candlekeep Mysteries Map pack for DMs in need. The big difference from the last release is that instead of focusing on one chapter to reference (Ythryn), I’d have the entire book for inspiration. This was both refreshing and daunting! I felt that this product needed some extra preparation due to the larger scope provided by the setting. Instead of just doing a trivial showcase of the maps included in the pack, I want to go into detail on how I selected the maps that made it into the final print.
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A step-by-step breakdown of our Candlekeep Mysteries Map Pack
Step One: Research
The most convenient thing about recent adventure releases is that they draw upon previously established settings and locations: Dragon Heist took place in Waterdeep, Descent into Avernus found adventurers exploring Baldur’s Gate and Avernus, and Rime of the Frostmaiden examined life in Icewind Dale. Candlekeep Mysteries is a little different in that the main framing device revolves around the library of Candlekeep, but the stories within take adventurers all across the Forgotten Realms.
With that in mind, I did what I could to research Candlekeep from 5e and past systems. The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide had about a page worth of material, and the Forgotten Realms Wiki had tons of information. I was able to find out details like what kind of architecture the keep has as well as other fun bits that help flesh out maps. However, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself and draw something that wouldn’t fit in with the other adventures. Anything that I thought could make for potential map candidates went into a loose list. Places like the Hearth Inn, the Pillars of Pedagogy and Candlekeep catacombs found their way onto this list. Once I exhausted my online research, all I could do was wait and read Candlekeep Mysteries on its debut.
Step Two: Reading the actual book
I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a new release like Candlekeep Mysteries, as not only was it a new D&D book, but I’d be reading professionally! One thing I learned early about Candlekeep is that most of the stories included multiple maps, which requires me to be more selective of what I draw. If an adventure takes place entirely within a map printed on the page, then I didn’t want to simply re-draw the art. My goal was to do maps only for encounters or situations that need more detail than what the book already includes.
Once I had the book in hand, I read over the adventures to determine which encounters would benefit from having more detailed maps. Some chapters like Mazfroth’s Mighty Digressions and The Book of Cylinders got more attention as their open adventure structures meant I could draw content without reiterating on existing maps. Basically, I look for things like random encounter suggestions or descriptions of locations not already shown. For example, Book of Cylinders includes two maps (a large-scale overview of a village and a temple), but the story references multiple locations that aren’t depicted.
The Brood pools
Chapters like Joy of Extradimensional Space and Price of Beauty, however, are entirely self-contained, so they didn’t get any additional art. Once I finished Candlekeep I had a list of 21 map candidates.
Of these 21 map ideas, I color-coded them based on their useability and value for the Candlekeep Mysteries Map Pack: Green is “must-include”, yellow is “strong contender”, orange is “weak contender”, and red is “probably not”. I’m a visual person, and having this color coded list helps me organize my thoughts and get started sooner than if I didn’t have it. At that point I narrowed the list down to 16 maps after removing the reds and oranges. I was ready to start drawing!
Step Three: Draw like the wind
Some encounter sections don’t have as much details as others, meaning I have to elaborate on what’s written. For example in Mazfroth’s, one section details a lycanthrope ambush on the fourth night of prolonged travelling. The only details belong to how ragged the wererat is and how they act in combat.
Since this attack presumably takes place while the adventurers are resting, I decided to come up with a peaceful camp map off the side of a path. Not only does it work for the encounter, but can be used in other campaigns as a “rest-spot” if needed.
And that’s my process for picking maps for my Candlekeep Mysteries map pack! I love doing these kinds of deductive product analysis to figure out what maps I should draw. You can check out the map pack from DM’s Guild here.
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