Critical Role has been a cultural phenomenon that caught many by surprise. Except perhaps those of us who already knew the magic that is cast when a group of friends sit down at a table to roll some dice. A safe, creative environment is formed that allows for human connection and strong social bonds. Throw in talented actors/actresses that both love the game, as well as, the time spent with each other, and it’s obvious, to me at least, why people would be drawn to this show. What has made people stick around is another matter entirely. The cast of Critical Role genuinely seem like good people who embrace their community, with a goal to breakdown the barriers of entry that exist in this hobby, as well as, providing an example of a safe and creative space. With the first campaign premiering in March of 2015, many of us have enjoyed the adventures of Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein for over 5 years now. So, I can imagine a number of people who would love to bring the world of Exandria to life at their table, and in the spirit of fostering community, Matt Mercer has spear-headed a new book in partnership with Dungeons & Dragons titled: The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.
The D&D/Critical Role team-up is a match made in a celestial plane. Matt Mercer has performed consulting work for the D&D team on past adventures, and even self-published a campaign setting for the continent of Tal’Dorei, which was the location of Critical Role’s first campaign. With these experiences under their belt, and the full support of the D&D team, I’m excited to explore new lands of Exandria, but this time on the continent of Wildemount, which is the location of the shows second campaign. However, before I get into the review, I have to say that calling this a “Campaign Setting” really under sells it. This book is PACKED. I had heard early previews from people who echoed this sediment, but it’s not until you get your hands on Wildemount do you understand the sheer amount of content that this tome contains. While you certainly get the story and locations of Wildemount, that is only half the book. On top of that, a number of new races are introduced, new sub-classes, a whole spell school, magic items, bestiary, and four small adventures. Honestly, I can’t imagine a plane of existence where a player or DM doesn’t get some value from this book. It’s clear that everyone involved in this project was swinging for the fences, so let’s dive in an explore the lands of Wildemount.
Though there is much more to this book, the bulk of the content revolves around the locations and world building of Wildemount. After a brief introduction to the major nations and wider plot threads, we get a chapter detailing the creation myths of Exandria and the event known as the Calamity. Looking over the list of Prime Deities and Betrayer Gods, many of which coming from the D&D universe, Forgotten Realms veterans will feel right at home. That’s not to say there aren’t any twists or differences, but many names, such as Asmodeus, will be old-hat to those players. Personally, I like this continuity between D&D or home-brewed worlds. It makes the Gods feel more like eternal multi-planer beings. Also, do we really need a thousand copies of the same Gods? From the divine orders, we then move into the factions and nations of Wildemount. The two major players being the Dwendalion Empire and the Kryn Dynasty. Wildemount has erupted in war between these two nations, which will undoubtedly play some role in any adventure set on this continent. The book does a solid job of giving tips to DMs for how to handle a campaign in a war time setting, or even how to down play or avoid this aspect if that’s not the type of game desired by your group. There are a number of additional organizations that could be lifted and placed in almost any setting. Need a mages guild? Use the Cerberus Assembly. With everything from key members to organizational values and goals, these factions are wonderful blueprints that can be used in any game. I can see a lot of DMs being inspired by the factions chapter of this book. We conclude this section with the Gazetteer, which is a 100 page tour of the lands Wildemount. Full of information around cultures, local governments, and commerce, this section is incredibly detailed. I honestly feel you could pick out any location in this section, drop players in, and you would have enough information to start an adventure. Full of detailed maps and beautiful landscape shots that pull you into the setting. If these first three chapters were the entire book, I would say Wildemount is a beautiful look into the world created Matt Mercer, and provides immense value to players who want to adventure in the world of Exandria. However, it’s not the end. If fact, we’re only half way through.
I always love new player options, and sections like these instantly increase the value players will receive out of books such as Wildemount. I don’t think these options should be ground breaking or anything, rather, should thematically fit into the setting while providing players with something new. The first thing we see is a detailed section on the races of Wildemount. Some are classics, like Dwarves and Elves, where we get to see how they fit into this specific world, and how they may differ from their traditional forms. The new races however, that is where the fun is! Genasi, Kenku, and Tabaxi, to name a few, are all outlined to be new playable options. It’s important to note, that some of these races have appeared in other D&D supplements, but since they play a key role in the setting, these races are also included here. Personally, I own the full D&D 5th edition line, so most of these come off as re-prints, however, 1) Not everyone has all of these books, and 2) The book is filled with so much more, that I don’t mind these additions. They are not meant to be the selling feature of the book, so they come off as nice bonuses. For my money, I want to see the sub-classes and spells, and I can tell you, the next section does not disappoint.
We begin with the Echo Knight, which is a new sub-class option for the Fighter. Summoning a shade of an unrealized timeline, this warrior deals devastating attacks all while being accompanied by a swirling shadow of what could have been. At the core of this sub-class, the echo moves around the battlefield, and allows the Fighter to attack from its location, or even instantly swap places with the shade. In doing so, this allows the Echo Knight to keep their enemies off guard, all while controlling the battle field. For a setting that contains strong ties to dunamancy, this sub-class is a neat way to bring this form of time manipulation magic to a marshal class.
Next, we have two new Arcane Traditions for the Wizard Class: Chronurgy Magic and Graviturgy Magic. One focusing on the manipulation of time, while the other uses gravitational forces to deal damage. These schools provide many interesting support and offense spells for Wizards to use on the battlefield. Spells like Magnify Gravity and Reality Break, are just a few of the new options open for all Wizards. While additional abilities are granted to those Wizards that specialize in these traditions, all of these spells are new options for our caster friends. Upon reading many of these spells, I can say that the creative team really tried to think outside the box to craft new powers that feel unique. For example, there is a spell that allows the Wizard to cause an object or creature in motion to accelerate. This means if your ally is making an attack with a sword, you can increase the speed of that swing to do additional damage. Spells such as this provide players a real opportunity to get creative when problem solving. So, focus on what the spell does, and less on the damage/math aspect. That is a good tip for all spells, but more so with the wrinkle of time magic.
O Wait, There’s More!
Now that players/DMs have been introduced to the setting, given new toys in which to play, it’s time to set them loose in the world of Wildemount! Chapter 5 outlines four short adventures that take place in a variety of locations. From driving off sea monsters to dealing with pesky undead, these adventures are a great way to bring new players into the fold. There are still many fans of Critical Role that have yet to experience their first game of D&D. For these fans, by picking up this book, hopefully they feel encouraged to give it a try with their friends. I have to say, if this is your first D&D book, it’s not a bad start. We have covered a detailed setting, along with new spells, but you also get a full section of magical items and a bestiary. Really, if you just download the base rules from the Dungeons and Dragons website, then this book has everything a player would need to start telling tales in Wildemount. So, it’s not just a book packed with random stuff, rather a book that has been carefully crafted by people who truly care about their community, and want to give them all the tools they need to flex their creative muscles.
The Explorer’s Guide the Wildemount feels like a gift to the Critical Role community. A way of saying “All of you can do this, you are included, and accepted”. For some of us, our first D&D games took place in places like the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or Ravenloft, but Wildemount may be the first setting for a new generation of D&D players, and I feel like they’re in good hands.