5e: Ghosts of Saltmarsh – a Breakdown and Review.

Today I’ll be reviewing the recently released campaign book, Ghosts of Saltmarsh. This review is intended for DMs, who are the product’s intended audience (there is only a very little amount of player content). As part of the review, I’ll break down the contents of the book, summarise the adventures and other content within, and highlight any issues I might perceive in the content.

In short: this review is not spoiler free. If you are intending to play in any adventures from this book, or you think you might watch a video stream or listen to a podcasts of other people playing, don’t read this review in full. Instead, here’s a very brief summary for you to take away:

  • This is a really good supplement full of fun adventures set on or near the water. 
  • It contains supplemental rules your DM is bound to find useful while running these adventurers or if your homebrew campaign ever goes near the sea. 
  • Likewise, the adventures include a decent collection of new monsters that will add value to your DM whatever their campaign.
  • As you’d probably expect, there is very little content aimed at players. There are four new backgrounds, but you’d be better off talking to your DM about the new options available than purchasing the supplement yourself. 
  • I recommend this product: I think your DM will get a lot of value out of the content and should enjoy running the adventurers within for you. Likewise, you should enjoy playing them! 
  • Point your DM in the direction of this review if they’d like further details!

From this point on, the review begins in earnest. Time to turn back if you don’t want spoilers!

What is Ghosts of Saltmarsh?

Ghosts of Saltmarsh is the latest set of published adventures by Wizards of the Coast. This is an interesting product, because it falls somewhere in the middle of previous adventure books in terms of its presentation and purpose. Like Tales from the Yawning Portal, it collects and updates a set of unrelated classic adventures and a DM can cherry pick from among them. Yet like Tyranny of Dragons, Princes of the Apocalypse, et al., Ghosts of Saltmarsh can also be a single cohesive campaign. Three of the converted adventures were already a trilogy, and the additional adventures can be slotted in among them to flesh out the character’s adventures in and around Saltmarsh.

Here’s what Wizards of the Coast have to say about what this product offers:

Ghosts of Saltmarsh brings classic adventures into fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. This adventure book combines some of the most popular classic adventures from the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons including the classic “U” series, plus some of the best nautical adventures from the history of Dungeon Magazine: Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, Salvage Operation, Isle of the Abbey, The Final Enemy, Tammeraut’s Fate, The Styes.

  • Ghosts of Salt Marsh includes a variety of seafaring adventures, enough to take characters from level 1 to level 12.
  • This supplement introduces the port town of Saltmarsh, the perfect starting point for a nautical campaign.
  • Each adventure can be played individually, inserted into your ongoing game or combined into a single epic nautical campaign.
  • Dungeon Masters will find rules for ships and sea travel, deck plans for various vessels, an appendix with rules for new and classic monsters, and much more.

Production Values

Ghosts of Saltmarsh (hereafter referred to as GoS) runs to 256 pages, which is the typical length of a Fifth Edition product by Wizards of the Coast. It has a recommended retail price of $49.95 in the US, and £38.99 in the UK. As with other official titles, two covers exist: the limited edition cover (available for pre-orders and limited quantities in local game stores) and the regular cover.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh Standard Cover Ghosts of Saltmarsh Alternate Cover
The Ghosts of Saltmarsh Cover (left) and Limited Edition Cover (right)

Honestly, I think the standard cover is more attractive and the alternate cover looks too dark. Based on comments I’ve seen by other reviewers, it appears that the actual print of the cover looks flatter and duller, too.

Naturally, GoS is also available on DnDBeyond, with the usual variety of purchase options: all content, compendium content only, and cherry-picking individual content. It’s also a content pack for Roll20. I have the DnDBeyond version of the content, which means I can’t comment on the physical quality of the book or its interior design, but if you already own official fifth edition products in hardback you should already know what kind of quality to expect.

I’ve noticed a meager handful of editorial errors in the form of minor typos. It’s hard to know if they’re actually in the book, or whether they’ve slipped in during the transfer of content to DnDBeyond.

You’ll either love or hate the maps in GoS. The map of Saltmarsh is full colour, but the majority (including the hex map of the region) continue the trend of recent Waterdeep products to return to a more old school line art style. The maps look as though they were taken straight out of a 2nd edition module and given that many of the adventures in the book are converted from older editions, this approach lends the product an additional feel of nostalgia.

The Cellar
The Cellar


GoS includes an introduction, 8 chapters, and 3 appendices, which are broken down as follows:


The book’s introduction provides a brief summary the content of the book and how to use it. It hints that some of the adventures in the book might make ideal side quests for campaign set in a port town (eg. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist/Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage), and can also be interspersed with the adventures from Tales from the Yawning Portal to build out a larger campaign.

We also learn that the official setting for Ghosts of Saltmarsh is within the region of Keoland in the Greyhawk campaign setting, not in the Forgotten Realms. While it’s not the first time Fifth Edition has used a campaign book has a gateway into another world (that would be Curse of Strahd, which acts as a gateway to the larger Ravenloft setting), this is still a huge deal. A vocal subset of fans have been asking for the return of Greyhawk for a while now. This may or may not be a sign of more official Greyhawk to come. On balance, I think probably not, though that certainly depends on how well the product does and how much demand for more there seems to be. However, it is almost certainly a sign that Greyhawk is about to be added to the list of supported settings on the DMsGuild, which would enable fans to update Greyhawk themselves.

Chapter 1: Saltmarsh

This chapter is dedicated to describing both the town of Saltmarsh and the region around it. It’s further broken down into the following sections: a brief introduction to the town, followed by Politics and Factions, Saltmarsh Overview, Downtime Activities, Saltmarsh Region, Adventures in Saltmarsh, and Saltmarsh Backgrounds.

Politics and Factions is where we learn about the Traditionalists and the Loyalists, as well as secret interference in the town by a third faction I won’t name here. It’s also where the major NPCs of the town are described. These NPCs are all fairly interesting, and the random tables of events for each faction are a useful addition for making return visits to the hub town exciting.

Saltmarsh Overview describes the town’s approach to law enforcement and defense, its commerce (in the form of fishing, trading, smuggling, and mining), the town’s locations, and available downtime activities. Interspersed throughout the locations are plenty of adventure hooks: for instance, the docks have their own section which includes a random table of rumours that might be overheard there. There are also several tables for generating jobs that various NPCs might want help with. There’s even a section dealing with how to determine the mood of the town on any given visit, depending on whether the town’s fishing industry is doing well!

The region around Saltmarsh is described, and is fully laden with adventure hooks which you can use to expand your GoS campaign beyond the adventures already fleshed out in subsequent chapters. Included is a list of shipwrecks that characters might try to find for their lost treasures, and tables for random encounters. The table for encounters at sea includes four pirate ships! Their colourful crews are described immediately after the table.

The Adventures in Saltmarsh section is very useful. It begins with suggestions for how the DM can tie the standalone adventures in the book together into a cohesive campaign. Following this, it provides recommendations for where within the region of Saltmarsh you could drop in adventures from Tales of the Yawning Portal! This latter advice is honestly one of my favourite parts of the book: in a few brief paragraphs, it massively increases the play potential of a campaign set in and around Saltmarsh for anyone who also owns TotYP.

Finally, Saltmarsh Backgrounds provides four new background options (Fisher, Marine, Shipwright, and Smuggler) which are useful additions for GoS specifically but also great new options for any character in any campaign. The section also provides ways for characters of old and new backgrounds alike to be tied to Saltmarsh – these are tools intended for characters who are local to the region.

Chapter 2: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

The first adventure in the book happens to be the first adventure of a classic trilogy which also includes Chapter 3Danger at Dunwater and Chapter 6: The Final Enemy. These three adventures introduced Saltmarsh to Greyhawk and together form the backbone for the book’s optional campaign arc.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh feels like two short adventures, rather than one: it’s divided into two parts, The Haunted House and The Sea Ghost. Completing both parts is expected to take 4-6 characters from 1st to 3rd level.

During The Haunted House the adventures investigate the abandoned cliffside abode of a long dead alchemist, which seems to be haunted. They discover the so-called haunting is actually trickery on the part of a band of smugglers who are using the house and the sea cave beneath it as a base of operations.

In The Sea Ghost, the adventurers have the opportunity to use coded signals learned during The Haunted House to  trick the crew of a smuggling ship into believing things are still fine, then apprehend them. On the Sea Ghost, the adventurers also meet a party of lizardfolk, and find other clues that suggest busting the smuggling ring isn’t the end of Saltmarsh’s problems.

Boarding the Sea Ghost
Boarding the Sea Ghost

A sidebar provides recommendations for where a DM might place the adventure if they choose to use it in one of three other settings. Naturally these include the Forgotten Realms and Eberron. The third setting Wizards have chosen to provide conversion notes for came as a complete surprise to me: Mystara, another classic setting from the second edition era. They’re certainly going out of their way with this product to cater for nostalgic fans hungry for settings which previously had no support. Note that a similar sidebar gives localisation guidance for each adventure in this book. I’m mentioning that now so I don’t keep repeating myself in my summaries of the following chapters, though I won’t mention it again in my descriptions of the following chapters.

It’s worth noting that if you’re playing in a world other than Greyhawk and you intend to run the book as a campaign rather than pick stand-alone adventures from it, you might find it difficult to include some adventures in your campaign. This is because the guidance for placing the adventures relies on suitable geography that exists in the world. For example, the book recommends placing Saltmarsh (the setting of The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and its two sequels) on the Sword Coast between Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep, but suggests Tammeraut’s Fate be set off the coast of Cormyr. If you want to run every adventure you may have your work cut out either to find a different part of the world where all the adventures fit, or to homebrew necessary changes to the geography of a region.

Chapter 3: Danger at Dunwater

Danger at Dunwater is the second adventure in the through line trilogy that started with The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. It was an oddity in its time and is still a bit of an oddity now: if played smart the adventure requires absolutely no combat. The adventure is for 4-6 3rd level characters, but depending on their current XP the awards they gain may not level them, in which case you’ll want to run a shot side trek after this chapter to get them ready for chapter 4.

In the events of the previous adventure, it was discovered that the smugglers were supplying weapons to a tribe of lizardfolk living in a colony near Saltmarsh. Fearing an attack, the town’s leaders send the adventurers to investigate.

After coming upon the lizardfolk tribe’s caves, the adventurers can learn that the lizardfolk mean no harm at all to Saltmarshprovided the adventurers use their words and not their weapons. If they do come in hot, there are opportunities to redeem the situation if they haven’t done anything the lizardfolk can’t forgive.

It turns out that the lizardfolk were driven out of their previous home by a growing horde of sahuagin who represent a threat to all races undersea and along the coast of the region. When the characters arrive, diplomats from several groups of aquatic races are present for negotiations to join an alliance against the sahuagin. The lizardfolk have been purchasing weapons from the smugglers to arm themselves for their planned counterattack.

The sahuagin are indeed a threat to Saltmarsh and it would be in the town’s interest to help, but the lizardfolk hadn’t previously considered them a useful ally against a primarily underwater foe. But if the adventurers favourably impress the lizardfolk and the visiting diplomats of other races, then they may be able to forge ties between the alliance and the town of Saltmarsh.

Whether Saltmarsh is invited to join the alliance depends on the player’s actions throughout the adventure, and is resolved by way of a point system.

The adventurers only ought to end up in a fight if they fail to act diplomatically, or if they end up helping the lizardfolk with some local problems in order to earn goodwill.

This adventure is the first appearance within the book of an adventure site roster, which are brief summaries of what creatures are in which rooms and what might cause them to leave their current location. These tables are paired with more complex adventure sites in an effort to make them more manageable. This is the first campaign book I’ve read through properly, but I understand these rosters also appeared in previous campaign books. I want to take this opportunity to talk about them for a little bit, because I don’t think they work. While any effort to improve the DM’s running experience is fantastic, the actual execution of trosters is nowhere near as helpful as it could and should be. It surprises me that what seem like glaringly obvious issues have never yet been improved upon.

Here’s how the adventure site roster currently works: it’s a numerically ordered list of rooms or areas. The entry for a room only tells me who is in the room and where else in the dungeon those creatures might go. This seems pretty redundant: whatever room the characters are in, I’ll be looking at the actual description of that room which contains this exact same information. What would be far, far more useful would be a summary of what creatures might arrive in a room from elsewhere. I can currently get that information from the roster but only by an unnecessarily convoluted process:  First I need to check the map to see which other room numbers are nearby, then I have to check each individual entry for those rooms on the roster in order to be confident I know which creatures might move from their room to the current location, and what triggers that movement (noise, a messenger from this room, etc.). This process is slightly more efficient than reading each of the room’s full entries, granted. It’s also true that rooms nearby on the map are mostly also nearby on the table. However, this isn’t always the case (for example, in Danger at Dunwater creatures might move between room 10 and room 29).

A far more logical and helpful approach would be to summarise who might arrive in a room and why in the roster, so that you only need to glance at one entry on the table: the one for the room the characters are currently in.  The roster would be far more effective a tool.

The first of tables below is an example of how the roster currently presents information, while the second shows how I would personally change the roster for improved clarity and quicker reference in play:

Lizardfolk Roster (Original)

Occupants at Start
5 lizardfolk
These guards are alerted by noise in 1. If they are challenged, one of the guards tries to escape to 3 for help.

Lizardfolk Roster (Updated)

Occupants at Start
5 lizardfolk
  • These guards are alerted by noise in 1.


  • The guards in 3 reinforce this room if summoned (see below).


  • If they are challenged, one of the guards tries to escape to 3 for help.
  • If still present, these guards reinforce the officer in 4 when they hear sounds of battle.

Unless and until Wizards of the Coast change how they present their rosters, I’d recommend making your own version before running any such adventure so you can add key information.

Chapter 4: Salvage Operation

In this adventure, the characters are asked by a struggling merchant to help salvage his wealth from a former ship of his fleet, long thought lost to the sea. The ship has mysteriously reappeared in local waters, providing a once in a lifetime opportunity for him to reclaim the property deeds and promissory notes aboard, which he intends to sell in order to regain his lost wealth and prestige. He offers 10% of the profits of the sales to the characters, plus of course the friendship of a wealthy and important person may have other benefits. The adventure is for 4-6 level 4 characters.

Since chapters 2, 3, and 6 are the trilogy that form the through line of the larger campaign, this is the first of what we might call side quests. However, a sidebar does provide the necessary information to run a sahuagin attack on the way to the adventure site.  This is presented as optional but if you are intending to run the whole book through as a single campaign, my recommendation is to consider the attack extremely non-optional. The last thing you want is for the sahuagin to be a distant threat right up until the adventurers face them. It’s valuable to show that the menace is growing, that they’re willing to attack surface vessels now, and to start making it personal for the characters.

While the events of this adventure are very exciting, it has significant problems. The disappearance and reappearance of the ship relies on a detailed background story that there is a good chance the characters will never learn. If this happens, the adventure is reduced to the level of an old school dungeon crawl of seemingly random monsters dropped into a location without context (in this case a Lolth-worshipping half-orc druid, spider-themed monsters, and a random group of ghouls which are somehow aboard the vessel).

The background in question: the lost ship was not sunk in a storm as thought, but actually driven off course. Its crew dropped anchor at an island to look for food and water, only to fall victim to the cannibalistic tribes which lived there. After the island broke into war between two factions, one group escaped the conflict using the ship. At some point afterward the ship was attacked by a giant octopus (which is still pursuing the vessel), and only one of the cultists that was crewing it remains alive, along with various monsters.

The trouble is that the captain’s log may not be found as discovering it requires a DC 15 Perception check. In any case the log only describes events up until the captain and crew were defeated and consumed by the cannibals. The cannibal cultists of Lolth have left no written records which might shed further light on events. Since only one cultist survived, he’s the only person capable of telling the next part of the story. However, the adventure directs that he “attacks at the first sign of intruders”, meaning his death before he can tell his story is a very strong possibility.  Furthermore, neither the captain’s log nor the druid can explain the presence of four ghasts in the cargo hold (though the druid falsely believes them to be emissaries of Lolth). We are given the background to this: these were a group of thieves who stowed away on the ship before its last voyage and drowned in the storm. But the means of their death makes it unlikely we can provide any further context to our players: we might think about adding a letter on their persons, but how would such a document have survived water damage when the thieves drowned?

The adventure ends with a dramatic timed scene in which the ship is torn apart during a sudden attack by a giant octopus. If they have managed to talk to the druid, the characters will know that the octopus already attacked the ship once and can deduce that it is pursuing the vessel. Otherwise, the attack comes out of nowhere and feels contrived.

There’s potential here, but it’s a shame there are holes that need patching by the DM. As things stand,  I would probably wouldn’t use Salvage Operation. The effort involved to rework what I perceive as the adventure’s flaws could be better spent homebrewing my own adventure that actually ties into the sahuagin arc.

Chapter 5: Isle of the Abbey

This second side quest takes the characters to the island abbey of an evil group of clerics. The abbey has seemingly been left empty after the clerics quarreled violently with local pirates, but there are undead present. The characters are contracted to clear the site of monsters so a lighthouse can be built at the location. In addition, there are optional rumours about the site you can use to encourage the characters to take the job. This adventure expects 4-6 characters of 5th level.

The first conflict of the adventure is a pretty creative encounter, or series of encounters as the case may be. The characters attempt to land upon and cross a region of sandy dunes in which a large number of skeletons are buried in the sand. Crossing the dunes is akin to crossing a minefield, except choosing the wrong path results in an explosion of undead from the sand. If the characters can find signs of the single clear path, they can follow it safely through the dunes.

Complications on the Dunes
Complications on the Dunes

After successfully traversing the dunes and arriving at the abbey runs, the adventurers will discover that the clerics weren’t wiped out after all. Upon encountering the clerics, the adventure might branch from its original path: although it is very difficult to do so, the characters may be able to avoid fighting the clerics and might decide to help them to the mainland so they can get help to rebuild the abbey (if they agree to this and aren’t deceiving the clerics in order to deport them, they obviously cannot complete their original contract). If the characters forge on and fight the clerics, the abbey ruins are essentially a straightforward dungeon crawl.

I like this adventure. It has a unique and likely memorable opening encounter, and depending on how characters handle things events on the island could go very different ways. As written the adventure is pure side quest: it has no obvious links to the sahuagin arc or other adventures in this book. However, it’s the perfect place to add such links. Here are some ideas:

  • Guildmaster Tabeth of the mariner’s guild is aware of the town council’s alliance with the lizardfolk, and their fears of sahuagin attack (as a lead figure in the mariner’s guild, he certainly should be in the loop). Although this quest isn’t directly related he can negotiate using this information: he can talk about how the sahuagin are not the only menaces the people of Saltmarsh have to fear, and hint that the sahuagin may even make surface allies of their own. A fortified lighthouse on Abbey Isle makes the shipping lanes safer and can also give Saltmarsh advanced warning of invasion by sea.
  • Lean heavily and expand upon the additional adventure hook or hooks you choose to use for motivating your players.
    • Gilded Rumours: make it clear with the rumours that people think whatever treasure or treasures are hidden in the abbey are probably magical: they’re kept by clerics after all, would they be so mundane as mere gold or gemstones? Plant the idea that its treasures would be useful to the characters in their upcoming battle: Now that the abbey appears to be abandoned, and with the sahuagin threat the dominant issue facing the citizenry of Saltmarsh, it’s quite natural that talk should turn again to old rumours about the abbey’s hidden treasures. After all, there may be something there that would help Saltmarsh defend itself. And what if the Sahuagin got hold of whatever is there first?
    • For the People: people might suspect that the dangerous fogs on the waters near Abbey Isle aren’t natural, and that the source of the fog is some sort of magical item hidden on the island. If such an item exists it would be very dangerous if the sahuagin got their hands on it and used it to help mask an invasion. It’s up to you whether this rumour is really true, but if you want to lend credence to the  fog being unnatural you could use one of the three kinds of eldritch mist described in Appendix A: Of Ships and the Sea. Either way, if you rely on this rumour it would be worth having the characters encounter the fog on the way to Abbey Isle. They may be at risk of crashing against the rocks around the island, in which case they and Major Ursa might wash ashore upon the beach.
  • The main arc of Ghosts of Saltmarsh concludes with chapter 6 and the two final adventures are unrelated to the sahuagin threat, or each other. Consider introducing another arc by somehow tying the events of this adventure to chapter 7 or chapter 8. 
    • Maybe they worship Orcus, like the undead pirates in Tammeraut’s Fate? This is a really good fit considering how many undead guardians serve the cult. The clerics and pirates probably aren’t working together, but the characters might find references in their unholy texts to the Pits of Hatred and ta prophecy that suggests the coming of Orcus’ hordes is nigh.
    • Alternatively, or perhaps in addition, the evil clerics here once belonged to the same order of monks that occupy Firewatch Island in Tammeraut’s Fate. Written records in the abbey might reveal this fact, though its relevance will only become apparent later. 
    • Another option is to make them cultists of Tharizdun. The characters might find communications from the cult in the The Styes, or a draft of a letter from Ozymandius to “D” (Mr. Dory). 
    • Be wary that determining the clerics follow Orcus or Tharizdun make a diplomatic solution to the adventure even less likely, if the characters figure out who exactly the clerics worship. 

Chapter 6: The Final Enemy

The Final Enemy concludes the trilogy which began with The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. It’s designed for 4-6 characters of 7th level, so the characters may need to undertake another side quest after Chapter 5.

The characters are once again asked for help by Saltmarsh’s town council on behalf of the alliance against the sahuagin. This time, the characters are tasked with an essential role: they are to infiltrate the sahuagin stronghold in the former home of the lizardfolk, and return with intelligence that will bring about the enemy’s defeat.Their goals are determine the sahuagin’s strength of numbers, identify key areas of the fortress (which has been modified since the lizardfolk were ousted), discover significant defenses, and learn how soon the sahuagin might attack. The adventure continues the trilogy’s preference for thoughtful solutions: the characters are infiltrators, so should avoid fights where possible and defeat any enemies they do encounter quickly and quietly. If they do alert the stronghold as a whole, this adventure has the potential to go very wrong for the characters very fast.

The adventure site can be reached by sea or land. There are no encounters preceding arrival, so I’d recommend either skipping past the journey or spicing it up the journey. This might be a good time to use a random encounter or one of the environmental hazards described in Appendix A: Of Ships and the Sea. A storm, fog, or sandbars might fit here.

The sahuagin stronghold is a big place, and lots of sahuagin are present.  This means that the included adventure roster should be a helpful tool for determining whether the characters alert any nearby sahuagin as they move about the fortress. However, as you know by now it also should be far more helpful than it actually is. I’d consider it worthwhile prep to redo the roster with better organised information.

Slaves present in the fortress add an additional complication for moral characters, who may hate the idea of leaving the slaves even if they may be rescued in the subsequent attack. If given the opportunity to do so, they will flee the stronghold, but they’re really in no condition to be wandering the corridors alone without an escort. If the characters allow them to do so, many may not survive.

After returning with their intelligence, the characters are rewarded, but of course there part in the plan isn’t done: the alliance want them to join the attack on the fortress as a strike team so it’s back to the stronghold they go! The alliance forces sweep through the stronghold, and they will win no matter what, but the degree of success is determined by the characters. Their own victories and achievements add points to a tally. The degree of success also affects the rewards granted to the characters by the Saltmarsh council at the end of the adventure. In addition, the DM is tracking the sahuagin’s alert level, the raising of which has consequences for the battle. It looks like quite a lot of tracking, but the result seems like it should be a lot of fun!

Chapter 7: Tammeraut’s Fate

If the characters have been playing through the entire campaign, they have by now been awarded with citizenship and a free house in Saltmarsh. With these ties in the area and other possible adventures to be had in the region, they’re hopefully in no hurry to leave. That’s good, because although the campaign’s central story is now concluded, the book still has two higher level adventures for them to face! In Tammeraut’s Fate, the characters travel to the nearby village Uskarn (a choice of hooks are provided to help you get them there from Saltmarsh), where they accept the request of a druid to investigate the hermitage on nearby Firewatch Island. He’s concerned that the monks that live there haven’t been heard from in some time. For this adventure the party ought to have 4-6 characters of 9th level, so do another side quest if you need them to level up.

The monks have become victims of a crew of undead pirates who serve the demon lord Orcus. They need humanoid corpses to feed the Pit of Hatred, a rift to the Abyss. The corpses go in, and drowned ones come out. If not dealt with, the drowned ones will spread to skarn, Saltmarsh, and beyond,  continuing to seek new victims and build an undead army.

The adventure briefly describes Uskarn. The village description even has an Intrigue section which includes information about local smuggling operations, providing an adventure hook entirely unrelated to the main quest.

The characters will have to explore the Firewatch Island Hermitage, while avoiding or overcoming a particularly nasty peryton that hunts in the area. They then must defend it agaisnt a horde of drowned ones, before venturing underwater to face the drowned ones’ leader and seal the Pit of Hatred.

The Monstrous Peryton
The Monstrous Peryton

Aside from the smuggling operation noted above, the final sections of this adventure pertain to further adventures characters could have that are connected to Tammeraut’s Fate. If you do the work to flesh them out the three adventure seeds provided, it’s feasible to significantly expand your GoS campaign with a second major arc.

Chapter 8: The Styes

The final adventure of the book describes events on a decaying port which can be established as a self-contained town or as a district of any large coastal town in your campaign world. Saltmarsh itself is not large enough to contain the Styes (and we see that it isn’t included on the Saltmarsh map), meaning that this is another adventure that requires the characters to travel elsewhere. The notes in chapter 1 recommend placing it in an isolated harbour city on an island in the Azure Sea. The expected level for this adventure is 11th, and it’s once again designed for 4-6 characters.

As with the last chapter this adventure first describes a new location The Styes, and provides potential hooks to get the characters to the town. This provides the backdrop we need for the following parts of the adventure, which kicks off with a murder mystery. This sets off immediate alarm bells because of the expected level: 11th-level spellcasters have significant ways to steamroller through this sort of adventure. Single class casters should have 6th-level spells by now, which means they have multiple ways of finding out information with minimal or no prior investigation: commune, divination, locate creature, scrying, and true seeing are all available. Fortunately, an awareness of this seems to have factored in at the design stage: indeed, the adventure references divination and commune specifically as options for characters who have lost the trail. Just don’t be surprised if your players manage to skip big chunks of the investigation with well-reasoned and well-phrased questions to higher powers.

The investigation eventually leads the characters to the mysterious Mr. Dory, and an investigation of his warehouse leads to a fight with he and his skum minions. This is one of the memorable encounters I’ve seen, as it includes a decommissioned ship held aloft by a crane in the warehouse yard. Mr. Dory uses this ship as his lair.

Mr. Dory’s connection a cult of Tharizdun and a being called The Whisperer, believed to be Tharizdun’s messenger, who gives the cult orders. They find an aboleth at the temple (which is of course the Whisperer) recuperating after being attacked by its kin. Here they may defeat it, make a deal with it, or perhaps succumb to its psychic enslavement…

The final stage of the adventure involves finding and exploring a sunken temple known as Landgrave’s Folly, where the aboleth keeps and protects a juvenile kraken touched with madness. The kraken is fed kidnapped beggars and other folks no one would miss, while all the negative emotions of the people of the Styes feed dark magic that accelerates the kraken’s growth. To foster the fear of the citizens, the kraken manufactured the Lantern Ghost, enslaving a local fisherman and forcing him to kill.

The juvenile kraken must be slain. If not dealt with, it will soon emerge and begin a reign of terror in the area. Causing the kraken to flee avoids that horror, but taking the long view it may be a worse result: hidden in the ocean depths the kraken can grow to adulthood unopposed. Any kraken is a catastrophe in physical form, but one touched by Tharizdun’s destructive madness could become a threat of apocalyptic proportion in the fullness of time.

This is a very cool adventure with intensely high stakes and a whole raft of interesting encounter locations. As mentioned, access to high level divination spells might bypass some of the adventure, but after reading it through I’m fairly confident that it should still be a good play experience, with enough meat on the bones of the adventure even if the investigatory aspects are largely skipped.

Appendix A: Of Ships and the Sea

What good would a supplement about sea-based adventuring be if it didn’t include new rules governing sea-based adventures? This appendix will be invaluable not just in running GoS, but other nautical adventures as well. Even if you never intend to run the adventures, the content here alongside new monster statblocks ought to be enough to tempt you.

The appendix starts with rules governing ships. Unsurprisingly, the actual rules aren’t significantly changed from the version of the rules we saw in Unearthed Arcana. Most differences are ultimately cosmetic: some rules have been slightly reworded, and the appearance of some sections within the rules has even been reordered. I noted a few major differences:

  • The actions section of a ship’s statblock has changed. Rather than their exact attacks be specified, ships can now take a certain number of actions chosen from a list (this section of the statblock looks similar to a monster’s legendary actions). The number of actions that can be undertaken goes down as crew are slain or incapacitated.
  • Each sample ship also gets a detailed description as well as a statblock, including a breakdown of a typical crew (including which statblocks to use if necessary). The descriptions summarise what can be found aboard the ship, and larger ships are broken down into multiple sections as though they were an adventure site to help you find things (“main deck”, “officer’s quarters”, “forecastle” etc).
  • All sample ships come with a map (with the exception of the rowboat, which obviously doesn’t need one).
  • The rules here now include ship upgrades, which grant your ship special benefits/powers. The upgrade system has been made intentionally simple: rather than price everything separately, each upgrade costs 15,000 gp and requires 1d4 weeks of work. In play, I’d suggest using these numbers as a baseline but introducing a small amount of variance to the price and construction time for upgrades slightly based on current market conditions, availability of materials and skilled workers, rarity of the technology, etc.
  • The hazards section has been significantly expanded, and now includes rules to govern a number of specific types of hazard. These include crew conflicts, fires, fogs, infestations, and storms. There’s a table you can use to determine a hazard type at random.
  • The section “Owning a ship” has been removed entirely, along with the downtime action Managing a Ship. This is a slightly surprising omission, as this downtime action specifically resolved finding a crew which many DMs would no doubt find helpful. If you ever need such a rule, at least you know you can find it on page 9 of the Unearthed Arcana version of these rules.

Smaller Ships
Smaller Ships

The section Ocean Environs provides rules for a variety of environmental hazards and sites of interest. These include blue holes, coral reefs, currents, depth, kelp forests, sandbars, shipwrecks, and whirlpools. There are also a few less more mystical environs: eldritch mists, kraken’s graves, lure lights (the souls of dead aboleth!), sapping snow, and magical storms.

Encounters at Sea provides Open Water Encounters tables for ships travelling out on the deep blue. This is an adventuring environment not catered for by the tables in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, though look there for coastal and underwater encounters! Some of the encounters on the Open Water tables are ships, but the nature of the ships isn’t specified: they should also be generated at random, which can be achieved using the guidelines in the subsequent Random Ships section. Likewise, you might roll a “mysterious island”, which can also be generated using rules in this chapter.

It’s worth remembering that there are also two random encounter tables in Chapter 1: Saltmarsh. Although those tables are intended specifically for the Saltmarsh region, there’s no reason you couldn’t use them every now and again to add variety to any other nautical campaign. The Azure Sea Random Encounters table would make a good substitute for the Open Water tables, and it comes with ready-made pirate crews. Meanwhile, the Coast Random Encounters table might be more easy to access at the table than the more expansive equivalent table in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, or you may not have that book.

The Random Ships section includes tables to generate the following:

  • Type of ship (taken from the sample ships earlier in the appendix)
  • Ship name
  • Crew names. These aren’t given names, you could use other tables for that: they’re meant to be  sailor nicknames. This table is a fun idea but only moderately useful in my opinion. How much use you’ll get out of it largely depends on your tolerance for very silly names, as only some of the results of this table really sound like hardened sea dogs. To give you some idea, it’s perfectly possible to get results like “Drizzly Patches”, “Silky Angel”, and “Pretty Charm”. Drizzly Patches must be an unfortunate character indeed, and the latter two sound more like magical girls than grizzled sailors!
  • Ship Purpose (cargo, passenger, fishing, military, piracy, mercenary, or ghost)
  • Attitude and Race. As well as determining who is crewing the ship and whether they’re friendly, indifferent, or hostile, this section has tables to determine their disposition: whether they’re willing to trade, have an emergency, etc. Personally I’d not use the race tables very often (with perhaps a few exceptions I’d rather crews be of mixed backgrounds) but your mileage, or nautical mileage in this case, may vary. 

Overall the Random Ships section is pretty decent for throwing together a ship encounter, but if you can I’d recommend coming up with a few in advance so you’re not rolling one up in play. Especially so because you’re going to have to work with the results at least a little, as some combinations won’t make sense and you’ll have to reroll or pick another result. You’re unlikely to encounter a galleon which is intended for fishing, for example.

The mysterious island section of this appendix describes and provides tables for generating a variety of uncharted isles ripe for adventure.  The section describes 6 island themes:

  • Alien islands are ruled over by strange, eldritch creatures (aberrations) and inhabited by humanoids or cultists indoctrinated into their worship.
  • Cursed islands are steeped in the residue of dark magic, and are typically inhabited by undead.
  • Hostile islands are inhabited by intelligent creatures that actively want to harm visitors to their shores. It’s a bit of a generic concept, and ends up being less exciting than some of the other islands for it. 
  • Sanctum islands are inhabited by creatures that want to protect themselves from raiders or live in isolation. They may or may not be willing to entertain visitors.
  • Wild islands are those on which nature and wild magic reign. Typical inhabitants include beasts, plants, and fey.
I like this section a lot for what it is. I could wish for more specific types of mysterious island because I think there’s a lot of untapped potential still, but perhaps we’ll see a collection of additional types on DMsGuild one of these days. 
The final section of this appendix describes and provides a map for three generic underwater locations that you might find useful for insertion into an underwater adventure: a reef, a shipwreck, and a ruin. Alternatively, these locations can be used as a starting point to inspire adventures: each location has a section of guidance for generating adventures that might take place there. Each also has a collection of ready made encounters that use the map, and each of these encounters has a hook that you can use to tie it into the GoS campaign. This whole section is well though out and fantastically useful.

Appendix B: Magic Items

The second appendix is a short one, containing just six magic items. These are the Charm of Plant Command, Cursed Luckstone, Helm of Underwater Action, Pipe of Remembrance, Pressure Capsule, and Sekolahian Worshiping Statuette.

They’re fun, and mostly useful. The Charm of Plant Command and Helm of Underwater Action in particular need no explanation. The Cursed Luckstone lets you roll with advantage, but then inflicts disadvantage on your next two rolls. And of course, the typical curse that you can’t easily get rid of the item. If used carefully, this still might be considered worthwhile.

A Pressure Capsule is a consumable that allows you to ignore effects of swimming at depths greater than 100 feet (if you’re not aware, these effects are described in the “Underwater” section of Unusual Environments in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The Pipe of Remembrance has no mechanical benefits, but is very cool all the same since it lets you conjure smokey images of your past achievements and victories.  I can see a lot of characters wanting to take possession of it, especially since you don’t need to attune. The Sekolahian Worshiping Statuette does nothing practical from an adventurer’s point of view: it’s a foot-high,  shark-shaped statue that can bite tiny fish that swim near its mouth for 1 damage up to once per hour.

Appendix C: Monsters and NPCs

This appendix includes statblocks for a number of creatures. Some are republished from Volo’s Guide to Monsters for convenience. A number of others are converted, new to 5e but not new to D&D. The appendix contains the following creatures:

  • Amphisbaena – if you ever want a more deadly version of this CR 1/2 monster (which is CR 1/2), my own CR 5 take on the amphisbaena can be found in Monstrous Monograph: Monstrosities Volume 1
  • Bard – also in Volo’s Guide to Monsters
  • Bodak – also in Volo’s Guide to Monsters
  • Bullywug Croaker
  • Bullywug Royal
  • Deep Scion – also in Volo’s Guide to Monsters
  • Drowned Ascetic
  • Drowned Assassin
  • Drowned Blade
  • Drowned Master
  • Fathomer
  • Giant Coral Snake
  • Giant Sea Eel
  • Harpy Matriarch
  • Juvenile Kraken
  • Koalinth
  • Koalinth Sergeant
  • Kraken Priest – also in Volo’s Guide to Monsters
  • Kysh (Triton) – though Kysh is a named NPC this statblock is useful because Kysh is typical triton warrior, and to date we only have a triton player race and not any monster stats).
  • Living Iron Statue
  • Lizardfolk Commoner
  • Lizardfolk Render
  • Lizardfolk Scaleshield
  • Lizardfolk Subchief
  • Locathah
  • Locathah Hunter
  • Maw Demon – also in Volo’s Guide to Monsters
  • Maw of Sekolah
  • Merfolk Salvager
  • Minotaur Living Crystal Statue
  • Monstrous Peryton
  • Mr. Dory – a named NPC, he’s an unusual variant of skum (which also appear in this appendix).
  • Oceanus (Sea Elf) – those who own Storm King’s Thunder already have stats for a sea elf warrior, but Oceanus is slightly stronger so you could use this statblock for leaders of sea elf patrols.
  • Pirate Bosun
  • Pirate Captain
  • Pirate Deck Wizard
  • Pirate First Mate
  • Rip Tide Priest
  • Sahuagin Blademaster
  • Sahuagin Champion
  • Sahuagin Coral Smasher
  • Sahuagin Deep Diver
  • Sahuagin Hatchling Swarm
  • Sahuagin High Priestess
  • Sahuagin Wave Shaper
  • Sanbalet – a named NPC smuggler. He’s a 3rd-level wizard, you could use his statblock as a template for other lower level mages.
  • Sea Lion
  • Shell Shark
  • Skeletal Alchemist
  • Skeletal Juggernaut
  • Skeletal Swarm
  • Skum
  • Storm Giant Quintessent – also in Volo’s Guide to Monsters
  • Swarm of Rot Grubs – also in Volo’s Guide to Monsters
  • Thousand Teeth – a legendary giant crocodile
  • Vampiric Jade Statue

A Skum
A Skum

As you can see there’s quite a lot here that’s new – to Fifth Edition at least! If you like picking up new sources of monsters to help diversify your own adventures, there’s good value in this appendix for you.

My Rating and Summary 

18 out of 20! A superb hit.

DMs looking for their next published campaign have a lot to look forward to if they choose GoS. As mentioned, the adventures are mostly superb: they’re highly competent conversions of the older material, expanded and improved and tied together into what amounts to a pretty satisfactory campaign. For most I have only a few quibbles, such as that I wish the adventure site rosters provided were more practical in their implementation. The only adventure I’m less than keen on is Salvage Operation. I regret to say that in spite of its exciting setting I’m surprised this is considered a classic adventure. I’m equally surprised that it was found worthy of inclusion in its current form alongside so many better thought out adventures. If I run a GoS campaign, I’m not sure I’ll include this one. Fortunately, it’s completely disconnected from the main arc and is easily replaced. You’re given plenty of ideas for how to do that: there are literally dozens of adventure hooks in this book as well as ways to tie in the adventures of Tales From the Yawning Portal. Whether you agree about Salvage Operation or not, whichever adventures you personally like or dislike, the designers have made it trivially easy to weave whichever parts you’re prepared to use into a full-length campaign. This is probably the book’s greatest strength.

The fact that there is no overarching story (three out of eight adventures aside) may be considered a weakness by some. For DMs intending to run the whole sequence of adventures as a full campaign, there may be some extra work to be done here to tie things together more cohesively and bring about a satisfactorily epic conclusion. There is a very loose connection between all the adventures that might be worth exploring: every single one pertains in some way to an evil deity/power. The three adventures of the core Saltmarsh trilogy has the characters face off against sahuagin, who worship the shark god Sekolah. Salvage Operation involves a cannibal cultist of Lolth. Isle of the Abbey introduces evil cultists who worship a deity of your choice. In Tammeraut’s Fate (along with the hooks for further connected adventures described in this chapter), undead hordes of Orcus are on the verge of being unleashed upon the world. Finally, The Styes involves a cult worshiping Tharizdun. There’s definitely something here to build upon if you want a grander story. While these entities are different enough that it’s not easy to tie them together into a single conspiracy, perhaps the connection is simply that the power of evil is waxing. The rise of all these dark powers may be a sign of a coming apocalypse?

Another strength that can’t be overstated is the fact that the book actually includes three adventure hubs. Saltmarsh gets a whole chapter, of course, but if a DM wants to do so they also have enough information about Uskarn (the village from Tammeraut’s Fate) and the Styes (from the adventure of the same name) to run additional adventures based in and around either location. Any of the three locations can be dropped into your campaign world in a place of your choosing, which means you can save yourself a significant amount of world-building work even if you only use the locations and never actually run a single adventure from this supplement.

All in all, this is an excellent supplement that oozes potential and inspiration. I’d love to run GoS! But even if you don’t intend to use the book’s adventures, GoS still comes highly recommended for all 5e DMs who might ever expect the player characters to venture out to sea. It provides almost everything you could ask for to help you run a campaign near, on, and under the water; along with a few things you probably wouldn’t have thought to ask for!