Ghosts of Saltmarsh (2019)

Two prefaces. First: Wizards of the Coast provided me with copies of Ghosts of Saltmarsh for review (the alt cover can only be snagged in game shops). Second: I am all for all sorts of people playing all sorts of games. If 5E D&D is your bag, awesome, you’re probably psyched for Ghosts of Saltmarsh. It seems in line with the other 5E releases I have perused and I think you will be happy with it.

I am mostly perplexed, though. The book collects the U-series modules Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater and The Final Enemy (which I find, despite being classics, to be rather underwhelming adventures) along with five other nautical themed scenarios from other sources, updating them from 5E in the same manner as Tales from the Yawning Portal. The best part of the book, I think, is the detailed look at the town of Saltmarsh – the original modules never bothered to detail it – though this too is drawn from earlier material (3.5E’s Dungeon Master’s Guide II, though I prefer the new version, which has a stronger small fishing town vibe than its predecessor).

It all just feels so dreadfully familiar. “But Stu,” I hear you say, “you were bananas over the Masks of Nyarlathotep revision!” True, but that adds significantly to the original material, which this book does not. Call of Cthulhu also splits its time between revivals and original material, whereas nearly everything from 5E so far seems like an echo of the past. And that is fine, sometimes, but this just feels so flat to me. I am big on taking things as they are, but compare image 6 with the cover of Dungeon Magazine 34, from which it draws inspiration. That should give you an idea of why this feels so bland to me.

Basically, I’ve been waiting for 5E to wow me. The closest they’ve come is with Tomb of Annihilation, which is a solid entry. Five years in, though, I feel like the world’s most famous tabletop roleplaying game should be more exciting than this.

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