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The Parchment Paladin

Candlekeep - Keys to the Great Library

Banner from Bernardini's Map

from Marco Bernardini's map,
Elminster's Candlekeep Companion

Candlekeep—bastion of knowledge and enlightenment in the Forgotten Realms—is my all-time favorite adventuring locale. It's like Hogwarts meets "The Name of the Rose". The famous library-fortress, sometimes called the Castle of Tomes, has captivated players and Dungeon Masters for decades. It oozes lore, and provides enough nooks and crannies, NPCs and quest objects, adventure, intrigue, and wildly imaginative, fantastic locations to spawn many a rich campaign. However, despite its allure and importance, there remains a noticeable gap in the D&D community: the lack of detailed, keyed maps for the myriad of intriguing locations within its Inner Ward.

This blog post seeks to address this void, exploring Candlekeep's cartographic portrayal in the 5th Edition (5E) of D&D. I aim to not only review existing maps and their contributions to the lore but also to give something back in the hopes it enhances the usability and immersion of this iconic setting at your gaming table.

Marco Bernardini's Map #

The release of "Elminster's Candlekeep Companion" on April 28th, 2020, saw the first-ever complete depiction of Candlekeep for D&D.

Marco Bernardini Candlekeep Map

This supplement--which, by the way, is worth every penny--features an absolutely all-star lineup of designers and artists, and even included the participation of Ed Greenwood himself! The "definitive" map was illustrated by Marco Bernardini, and manages to be somehow both fanciful and gritty. Notably, Bernardini's map detailed interiors within the rocky crag upon which Candlekeep sits, encompassing the Vaults beneath the Great Library, the Catacombs below that, and the further depths of the Caves reaching down to the Sea of Swords.

As fantastic as this map is, it was also a missed opportunity. The Great Library was so imaginatively rendered! I mean, just look at it! There's a pirate ship, an ancient Red Dragon clings to the side of one of the towers, and rumor has it there might even be a rocketship in there somewheres. It fairly begs to be explored, but Elminster's Candlekeep Companion doesn't go there. Perhaps that was an intentional omission, but it seems like a large one.

What is needed, for such a complex warren of corridors, towers and tomes, is a keyed map. Notably, Bernardini's map does provide a few keyed locations (well, 15 of them), but almost none inside the Inner Ward, where there are scores and scores more waiting to be catalogued and explored.

Mike Schley's Map #

Mike Schley's 3/4 view map, created for "Candlekeep Mysteries," and published March 16, 2021 was faithful to and built upon Bernardini's work.

Mike Schley Candlekeep Map

It provides a valuable "3D" perspective, which is especially useful for visualizing larger and taller structures like the Bastion of Exaltation. Yet, the cavernous area beneath the Great Library, which was such a great addition to the lore in Bernardini's map, is missing in this rendering. Also, and sadly again, no keys. Very little is labeled. Now we have two awesome and evocative maps of Candlekeep, and neither are particularly usable, practically speaking, for exploring the Great Library in the Inner Ward.

Inside the Great Library #

This gap in detailed, usable content for the Great Library really bugged me, as I found the art so tantalizing, particularly after purchasing Duncan Rhodes' "Candlekeep Locations: Inside the Great Library," published March 7th, 2022.

Candlekeep Locations: Inside the Great Library

I found Rhodes’ work to be imaginative and rich (you should also check out his excellent adventure module, "Candlekeep Murders: The Deadwinter Prophecy"), but the lack of a keyed map rendered it less usable in practical gameplay, and this sat unused in my PDF collection for a long while.

Recently I was motivated to both key and label the map myself, driven by a desire to make sense of the lore and to maintain my sanity while preparing for an Adventurer's League mystery set in this legendary library. I blogged about crafting the final encounter terrain for this adventure in a previous post.

I reached out to Mike Schley and Duncan Rhodes over email, and both were very responsive and kind. Mike confirmed what I suspected--WoTC owns the rights to the map, so it wouldn't be possible, even with his permission, to legally release a keyed version for public distribution or sale. Duncan very generously offered several corrections to my interpretations of the location descriptions detailed in "Inside the Great Library", and also gave explicit permission to release the following label overlay for Mike Schley's map, which labels all of the locations described in his DMsGuild PDF:

Label Overlay

Label Overlay #

Download Full Overlay Image: Labels

If you extract the Mike Schley map jpeg file from the Candlekeep Mysteries PDF, it should be sized 5000x3539 pixels. That happens to exactly line up with the size of the overlay image, so if you were to copy and paste the overlay image on top of the map image in the image editor of your choice, well, then you'd have a labeled map, I suppose.

The finished map should look something like this:

The Finished Label Overlay

NOTE: the label "Exaltation" in the overlay should exactly cover the same word in the original map.

Similarly, if you'd prefer a numeric key, I have created an overlay, so:

Keys Overlay

Key Overlay #

Download Full Overlay Image: Keys

The finished keyed map should look something like this: The Finished Key Overlay

NOTE: Exaltation is numbered 1, the High Tower is numbered 2, right down the line of Duncan Rhodes' listing which was not numbered, since there was no keyed map... to 47, The Rotunda.

Concluding Thoughts #

Hopefully someone finds this helpful, and it spares you a little pain. And, while the Avowed of Candlekeep would likely tell me it's no use crying over spilt ink, I'll say this: if you ever work on a project with an illustrated map, please just go ahead and add numbers to all the interesting elements, even if you haven't yet thought up what they all mean. Your future readership will thank you!