Step Into the World of Critical Role
The second D&D sourcebook to hit the shelves in four months, the Explorer's Guide to Wildemount is now officially with us and part of the D&D canon. Clocking in at a whopping 304 pages, this tome is designed to give you everything you need to run campaigns in the setting popularised by the 2nd season of Critical Role and created by the mastermind behind that series, Matt Mercer.
Despite a mixed fan reaction when the book was announced (it wasn't Spelljammer so naturally the toys went out of some people's prams, sparking fierce admonishments over gatekeeping), the book had no problem finding its way to the top of the Amazon best sellers list. So is it worth the hype?
Check out my video review of the Explorer's Guide to WIldemount, and don't forget to hit the like and subscribe buttons if you enjoy what you see!
To be able to run a campaign in any world in D&D, you're going to need lore. Explorer's Guide to Wildemount gives us that in spades – 160 ever-loving pages of the stuff, to be exact! The history, the Pantheon, the calendar, the geography – no detail is spared. Just as we saw with Eberron: Rising From the Last War, the book is beautifully illustrated with landscapes and characters that capture the soul of the world that players will be diving into. Bonus points for the fact that some of the art was created by members of the Critical Role community, too!
My particular favourite thing about the lore section of the book is the way that the locations are listed – each with enough flavour text for a DM to get the feel of the place without being overloaded with detail. We saw something similar in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, but the wealth of locations described here to bring this much-loved setting to life provides a huge amount of scope for potential campaigns.
Hoo, boy. This was the part of the book that blew me away. I was expecting to pick up a couple of Wizard subclasses and a Fighter subclass, which was already exciting, but reading through this section of the book provided a huge number of pleasant surprises.
First of all, there are some brand new subraces – Pallid Elves, and Draconblood and Ravenite Dragonborn. Adding variations on a familiar theme is always a good way to provide a unique flavour to a new setting. The different stat bonuses for the Draconblood and Ravenite subraces really resonate with the way they were portrayed in campaign 1 in particular, and in the way that Tiberius Stormwind was initially roleplayed.
But that's not all – the racial options section of this book is potentially one of the biggest reasons for a DM to buy this expansion. There are reprints upon reprints of races that you would otherwise only find spread across a wide array of different sources. Brace yourself, here comes the list:
Aarakocra, Aasimar, Firbolgs, Genasi, Goblins, Bugbears, Hobgoblins, Goliaths, Kenku, Orcs, Tabaxi and Tortles.
That combines content from Princes of the Apocalypse, Volo's Guide to Monsters and The Tortle Package, and the spells that can be learned by the Genasi are also reprinted so that this book really does give you all you need to play, if you have the core books to hand. It's also worth mentioning that the flavour of Orc you get in Wildemount seems to be of the same persuasion as the ones we find in Eberron when it comes to stats, which should please a few people!
Finally, given the setting's spotlight on the Raven Queen, a new option called a Supernatural Gift has been added, which allows characters to become Hollow Ones – similar to the kind of Revenant that we associate with Vax'ildahn from Critical Role's first campaign.
These were kept under wraps until the book was announced, meaning no Unearthed Arcana play test process – and that had me a little worried. The Blood Hunter rules (currently homebrewed by Matt Mercer, and not included in this book) are quite complicated compared to the standard classes of D&D, so I wasn't sure what to expect from these. Mr. Mercer loves to layer new things on top of existing rules, which can be great for players who love that kind of intricacy, but there is a tendency for things to become a little difficult to keep track of at times. The Blood Hunter class has been continuously under review since he created it (and to be fair every time he refines it it gets better and better, and it did start from a good place!) so I'm not trying to hate on that in any way, but given that the Wizard subclasses in particular deal with things like manipulating time and gravity, I wondered what kind of territory we would be stepping into.
The answer is – awesome territory. I've already reviewed the Chronurgist, which looks like it will be a whole lot of fun, and the Graviturgist is cut from the same cloth. The Echo Knight looks like it will be quite powerful, but I don't necessarily think it'll be any more powerful than the other flavours of Fighter that went before it, so we're looking at three very reasonable, very flavourful subclasses that are a welcome addition to the game.
The new Wizard subclasses are reinforced by a list of additional spells that are available to them, and only them, barring a very generous DM (in a Wildemount campaign at least as these are not just taught to anyone). We'll look at these in more depth in a future article, but there are some fantastic things here, including the chance to create a miniature black hole that sucks unwitting victims into it to be slowly crushed! The only question that really sprung to mind for me in this section was why the type of the spells wasn't listed as Dunamancy – everything seems to fit into the already existing schools of magic. I didn't see the harm in making a new school or the benefit of keeping the old ones. That's largely irrelevant, though, barring someone finding a way to break one of the spells by having one of the older subclasses learn it, hence why it felt like more of a question than a concern!
When the book was first announced, this is the part of it that I found the most intriguing, largely because I wasn't sure exactly what it would represent. I almost wondered if it might be some kind of journal where you could log your achievements and get some kind of reward for doing so.
I was way off the mark, but I think this is a fantastic tool that could easily be transferred across to different settings, or even used in the Forgotten Realms. Back in Xanathar's Guide to Everything, we saw a series of tables that could be rolled on when creating a character so that, if a player got stuck, they would have a way to push forward without having to think up ideas themselves. In Explorer's Guide, the Heroic Chronicle is a similar thing, but this time it's more guided and there's a narrative that strings it all together. If your players haven't seen enough Critical Role to feel confident about rolling up an avatar that fits in with the world, then this is the perfect way to get them set up with something thematic without them having to scratch their heads or feel out of their depth. (Of course, there will always be players who won't need something like this and can just go off like a rocket with minimal information to make something awesome, but it's still a really cool feature for them to consult even so!)
There are two new backgrounds unique to Wildemount that you can look into taking as well, the Grinner and the Volstrucker Agent, as well as explanations of how the backgrounds from the Player's Handbook can be adapted to fit into the world of Exandria.
I really think this is an exceptional and inspired addition to the book that really boosts accessibility, both to this setting and to D&D as a whole. Hats off!
Yes, adventures, plural. There are FOUR adventures included in this book, designed to start you off on a campaign. I mentioned accessibility not 35 words ago, and here we are again! This makes a DM's life easier, new or otherwise, and for anyone who has any form of trepidation about doing this setting justice, it eases you in so you can get your feet under you before you start brewing up your own adventures. Honestly, if this approach doesn't influence future sourcebooks for 5th edition, I will be surprised! (And imagine if they did it for Spelljammer – those gatekeepers would be... OK, no, they would still complain!)
As you would expect from pre-printed adventures, these are chock full of dungeon maps, narrative and everything you need to really get your teeth into the action.
Surely that's it?
NOPE. There's still the Bestiary, where it turns out the Blood Hunter did make it to the book after all, the Magic Items section, where we meet the Vestiges of Divergence, and a pull-out map inside the back cover. Oh, and a glossary that explains all the key terms relating to the world and its history.
So is it worth buying?
I'm relatively sure that, by now, you've deducted that this is a positive review. I expected this book to be good, but honestly I am extremely impressed. The amount of stuff you get for your money here is insane. Given how popular Critical Role is, we could have been given an average book and it would still have flown off the shelves, but this absolutely shows the level of diligence and attention to detail that Matt Mercer is famous for. While he didn't put this together all on his own, his fingerprints are all over it, and not just when it comes down to him having created the setting.
Even if you are not a Critical Role fan, even if you are adamantly predisposed towards not wanting to get this because you don't like things that get hyped – I would advise you to put your reservations aside and pick up a copy. Even if you do it just for the final 144 pages of the book because Wildemount doesn't interest you, you will find something in it that will spark your imagination. If this is the standard of sourcebooks to come then I am very excited for what the future holds.
Explorer's Guide to Wildemount Review: Chronurgy Magic Wizard
The release day for Explorer's Guide to Wildemount is almost upon us, so let's take just a moment to talk about the first of the new Wizard, subclasses: Chronurgy Magic!