“The road to the house winds through the rocky coastal terrain, often offering a view of the sea below. Low clouds press upon you; occasional patches of sunlight appear out over the water. A stiff wind blows in off the waves, carrying the briny stink og churning salt water.”
- The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Dave J. Browne and Don Turnbull, 1981
Like Tales From The Yawning Portal before it, Ghosts of Saltmarsh presents a series of previously-published Dungeons & Dragons adventures, updated and re-polished for the wondrous world of Fifth Edition.
Lead Designers Kate Welch and Mike Mearls continue to expand the D&D world by revamping famous landmarks, like the town of Saltmarsh itself, while keeping it fresh and -most importantly-, accessible for up and coming Dungeon Masters taking their first strides into the game with this blockbuster edition.
For the most part, Ghosts of Saltmarsh eschews the traditional fantasy setting of castles, dragons and dank forbidden dungeons beneath the keep. It's the perfect book to expand your horizons, to begin weaving tales of swashbuckling fantasy adventure amongst haunted houses, seas-side caves and briny fishing villages.
The modularity of the book is one of the reasons it will appeal to such a wide range of players. While Ghosts of Saltmarsh is primarily a book designed with Dungeon Masters in mind, players looking to dip their toes into a Saltmarsh campaign (or indeed a series of one-shots, Adventure League style), will find plenty of resources to help bring Saltmarsh characters to life.
A wealth of new character backgrounds allow players to create characters directly tied into the setting, as well as giving traditional classes and character concepts a Saltmarsh-flourish. Backgrounds like Shipwright, Urchin, and Fisher stand out in particular, especially the table of options for the Fisher's “fishing tales”, which includes such gems as “You are haunted by a fish that only you can see.”
For the Dungeon Masters, Ghosts of Saltmarsh contains a whopping seven pre-written adventures, complete with maps, NPCs, new monster stat blocks and the layout and quality of life updates that Fifth Edition has become known for.
My favourite of these is the re-vamped trilogy of original Saltmarsh adventures by Dave J. Brown and Don Turnbull from the early 80's. The first adventure, The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh serves as the perfect avenue to bring a group of fresh first-level adventures into the deep, and to get your group keen to explore Saltmarsh and its surrounds.
Welch and Mearls go to great lengths to make these adventures serve whatever purpose is most suitable for you and your group. While you can always run them as written- one shot adventures, perhaps with your resident Adventurer's League character-, the book gives you ample information and examples on how the stories therein could be linked together, and indeed supplemented by adventures from other books (like the aforementioned Tales From the Yawning Portal), to build a modular campaign.
If you're like me, and prefer to tell your own tales of daring adventure, then Ghosts of Saltmarsh has plenty for you to draw upon if you're brewing up an original campaign.
The primer on Saltmarsh itself is full of deep background, tidbits and rumours that will easily spark the seeds of original adventures. The city has a history of such depth that it can work as a campaign setting in itself, particularly if characters are drawn out of the city limits to explore places like the Lizardfolk Lair, and the Drowned Forest- of all the recent Dungeons & Dragons books, Ghosts of Saltmarsh is the most primed for a sandbox style campaign, where you lay out a map and let the players explore and discover the dangers (and riches!) of the wilds.
This sandbox style of game could be further amplified by taking your adventure to the high seas. The Appendix not only has rules for ship combat, but also extensive stat blocks for different kinds of ships, allowing you to work with your players to design their own unique sea vessel.
The Appendix is rife with random encounters, events and hazards to populate many adventures on the ocean- or indeed use them to pad out a journey, and make the time feel meaningful, rather than just a teleport from one continent to another.
Who knows, maybe your adventurers will set sail from Saltmarsh, only to make port at a strange land being ruled over by an aristocratic Vampire...
There is a lot to like about Ghosts of Saltmarsh, and I think it's very close to being my favourite release for Fifth Edition so far.
The fact that the book has such a wide appeal makes it a must-have for anyone even remotely interested in the world's best roleplaying game.
Ghosts of Saltmarsh as well as the full library for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition are available right now at your local Good Games!