Review: Wizards of the Coast – Ghosts of Saltmarsh (Dungeons & Dragons)

Ghosts of Saltmarsh
Ghosts of Saltmarsh is an epic fantasy adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, written by Wolfgang Baur, James Introcaso, Joseph A. McCullough, Jon Sawatsky, and Steve Winter and published by Wizards of the Coast
By Dave Pierson

Learn more about Ghosts of Saltmarsh here
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Disclaimer: After battling dragons, elemental cultists, vampires, demons, and giants, you deserve a relaxing ocean cruise. Please keep all vital limbs will within the ship’s confines. We are not responsible for valuables, hit points, or lives lost during your voyage. In fact, perhaps you’d prefer a more relaxing vacation option. Can we suggest a trip to the Nine Hells? They’re quite balmy this time of year.

– Wizards of the Coast, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, 2019

During the weekend of May 17th through the 19th, 2019, Wizards of the Coast held their 3rd live Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) streaming event, where they bring together D&D streamers from around the world to play a few adventures for the folks at home to consume. They use this event to announce upcoming product launches and, more importantly, the upcoming storyline…Descent Into Avernus. However, through all this excitement, Wizards also released their new adventure location and publication Ghosts of Saltmarsh.

Just about 1 year ago, a playtest entitled “Of Ships and the Sea” was released and many speculated that we would soon see a publication that would encompass adventures on the high sea. The playtest itself had stat blocks and types of ships; what role officers play on a ship; what to expect while traveling at sea; and combat at sea. As a DM, I avoided adventures on the sea as I just couldn’t figure out ship to ship combat. I tried a few other DMs thoughts, but usually just ended up with small skirmishes taking place on the ship itself.  The playtest gave me hopes of being able broaden my homebrew setting by being able to inject some fear of traveling the seas going forward. However, I thought the sea combat was a little too clunky, especially once a few of my players decided to jump ship and take the battle to the pirates and leave a few behind to control the ship.

Now a year later we have Ghosts of Saltmarsh. Just as with its predecessor, Tales from the Yawning Portal, Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a collection of seven previous D&D adventures, famous for their unique challenges among the high seas, updated for 5th Edition. In addition to the adventures, there are new character backgrounds, magical treasures, fearsome aquatic foes and new various rules for ships: how to captain/crew them and how to pit them against each other. All of this is centered on the town of Saltmarsh – direct from the world of Greyhawk.

After spending the weekend reading through the publication and running a few trial runs of the adventures I have to say I’m in love with what Wizards of the Coast have published for us. First and foremost – that artwork! Amazing! I love to use the art to describe to my players what they see, let them use their imagination to see what my words are describing. Once again, Wizards has brought in great artistic talent.

Although Saltmarsh is from the Greyhawk setting, the way the town is presented makes is very easy to drop into your homebrew setting as a town located on any coast. I personally have a continent my players have yet to come across, so dropping this setting into place will work wonders. I can also envision creating an undiscovered island the town rests upon. Change a few background items in regards to politics and factions and you are good to go! Even the backgrounds are helpful for those players that want a more sea faring backstory.

The adventures themselves feel refreshed from their origins. Each provides a detailed background to help set the adventure and plenty of hooks to assist in peaking our player’s interests. Each can easily be modified to fit any campaign setting. In fact, if you are playing in an Eberron or Forgotten Realms setting, there are inserts to assist on where you might find this type of adventure take place. The maps of the ships and places of interest are extremely well done. And, with the way the adventures are presented here, you could build an entire campaign for your players, although there would need to be some additional work on the DM’s part to tailor and align the adventures.

The book itself ends with a bunch of appendices on the types of ships, ocean environments and various encounter types at sea. You can tell a lot of work went into the ships themselves. Size, maneuverability, crew and actions – all very well laid out. The environments are also well thought out and it’s nice to have a few more sea themed creatures that my players can encounter. I’m interested to see if my players would like to have a few rounds of turtle shell toss to pass some time. However, with the positivity, I still found ship to ship combat to be a little clunky. And maybe that’s just me… a few tweaks and I’m sure we’ll be terrors on the high seas very soon.

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