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Critical Role Explorer's Guide to Wildemount Review

The combination of Critical Role's success and its patronage from D&D Beyond in its second season probably made Explorer's Guide to Wildemount inevitable. Wizards of the Coast is virtually guaranteed sales from every DM who is also a Critical Role fan (a.k.a. Critter) and a large percentage of their players, too. Creator Matthew Mercer gets an opportunity to officially play in Dungeons & Dragons sandbox, and anyone looking for a new D&D setting gets a new option.

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But this is not the first Critical Role campaign setting for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. In 2017, Mercer along with James Haeck and additional content by Joseph Carriker and Steven Kenson, produced the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting for Green Ronin. Tal'Dorei was the backdrop for the first season of Critical Role and is another continent on Mercer's world of Exandria, of which Wildemount is another continent. So if you really want to play in Mercer's world having both books is useful even though they function independently.

One of the differences between the two books is that in Wildemount, Mercer can finally use all the names of the D&D gods and other items that are not allowed to licensed creators. While it's easy for anyone who knows the official D&D multiverse to realize that the Scaled Tyrant is Tiamat, the Spider Queen is Lolth, the Matron of Ravens is the Raven Queen, etc. the change doesn't adversely affect players or GMs. It even makes a certain amount of sense that a different continent might use different names. But for a creator, a certain amount of satisfaction comes with being able to use the formal names, otherwise disallowed races/monsters, etc.

Both books feature “The Myth of Exandria,” which details The Founding, The Age of Arcanum and The Calamity – an ancient period that shaped the entire world. What surprises me is that the Wildemount version almost word for word matches Tal'Dorei since the opening of both talk about there not being a definitive creation story but instead variations and variants. It seems a missed opportunity to show a variant, albeit anchored with a writer's note that this is a variant told on this continent rather than being a mistake or reworking since the first season/Green Ronin book.

Regardless of whether it's using licensed names or variants, the story of the prime deities, primordials and betrayer gods feels familiar yet different. That's not a criticism. In creating Exandria, Mercer clearly wanted to play in a setting that both fits classic D&D without being a pre-existing campaign setting so he had room to breathe and create as he saw fit. Using familiar elements but moving them around in somewhat different combinations (but nothing so different that it suddenly makes Vecna a good guy or such) hits a sweet spot for established D&D players who want something familiar yet fresh. Both creatively and practically, it makes sense.

I really like the layout used for the prime deities and betrayer gods. Each entry gets a few paragraphs of backstory and relevant information, depiction, an image of their holy symbol, and their commandments. Prime deities also get a holy day entry whereas betrayer gods get an enemies paragraph. Personally, I think even betrayer gods should have a holy day entry since they are worshiped, albeit not widely. Enemies would be nice, too, but are easily extrapolated from the betrayer gods' entry.

Personally, I prefer the dispute between Corellon and Loloth as depicted in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes because it's more nuanced. The backstory of Mercer's world predates that version, though, so its omission makes sense. A DM could easily tweak things if they prefer that version.

Mercer adds his own myth of the Luxon, a being of light and energy that existed before the gods brought forth life on Exandria. The Luxon is the central divine figure in the Kryn Dynasty and can clearly be used by DMs to add a new element to the typical pantheon-driven stories with this blend of faith and science. I do also appreciate a god whose followers carry hollow dodecahedrons (d12s) as a faith symbol.

The chapter on factions and societies has nothing to do with mainstream D&D factions like the Harpers or Emerald Enclave. These are all groups specific to Wildemount, jockeying for allies and power in various ways. The entries are fairly meaty and also well laid out. Each faction gets a couple of columns of print to explain its history and place in the world, followed by a section in its goals, another section on its relationships and then figures of interest within the faction. It's a small thing but making it clear and easy to find goals and relationships makes things much easier for a DM when they need to check something mid-game.

While none of the figures of interest get a stat block or artwork, there is enough information along with alignment and race to use them in a campaign. I plan on borrowing a few for my own non-Exandria campaign with appropriate tweaks. Still, if Critical Role and/or WotC wanted to sell an easy supplemental product, a “Face of Wildemount” deck with art on one side and stats on the other would probably work so long as they used tarot deck-sized cards to ensure enough room.

I also like that each faction that is also a government, country, etc. gets a sidebar explaining its most common laws and punishments for breaking them. It also explains who the judging authority is in each case. While none of them are drastically different, it does illustrate differing priorities.

Cults also get a sidebar. Harbingers of the Core worship Elder Evils that sound much like the Cthulhu mythos or similarly inspired. The Caustic Heart seek to free Tiamat. If you read Tal'Dorei and were unsure if Remnant Cultists or Remnant Chosen adversaries who worshiped the Whispering One meant Vecna or Tharizdun, it confirms Vecna.

The gazetteer section is much like the one in Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (SCAG) – one to several paragraphs on each location with some art and maps. It improves on SCAG by giving the larger areas a sort of stat block that lists population, government, defense, commerce and organizations that operate within it. Gazetteers are always tricky in my opinion because you don't want to bury readers in details but some readers, like myself, always want more. Other DMs love the more overview approach because it leaves them space to fill in the gaps on their own. Wildemount hits a decent middle ground in the approach.

The race section in the character option chapter was disappointing. For most of them, the traits were the same as those presented in either Volo's Guide to Monsters, Princes of the Apocalypse or the latter's free Elemental Evil Player's Companion, depending upon whether the species is Genasi, Kenku, etc. That does solve the PHB+1 rule problem and each species gets sections how they live in the Dwendalian Empire, on the Menagerie Coast or in Xhorhas, but it makes the chapter feel less special.

What really bothered me about duplicating the information from other books, even though it serves a purpose, is that they didn't commission any new art. I at least thought that the firbolg entry would feature Pumat Sol, one of Mercer's most popular NPCs, and one that he actually played in full make-up and costume at Gen Con in 2018. That seems like a missed opportunity to delight Critters.

Speaking of art, while I like all of it, the juxtaposition of art styles on pages 48-49 to depict miscellaneous citizens of various regions versus the simplistic, cartoony style on 47 is jarring. Jessica Mahon's art is nice and in another section. I wouldn't normally grumble about this, but going from that minimal style with no shading to Anna Velkamp's more realistic style felt discordant.

Back to character options, dragonborn do get two new variants – Dragonblood and Ravenite. Since dragonborn are frequently overlooked in terms of player options, it's a welcome addition here. Dragonbloods have long tails, are prone to social manipulation and have a Forceful Prescience trait. Ravenites are tailless, have a more muscular physique and a Vengeful Assault trait. While Dragonbloods are supposed to be the rulers and Ravenites their soldiers or henchmen, it feels a little cliché for Ravenites to have been slaves to Dragonbloods in the past.

I do like the Goblinkin and the Curse of Strife sidebar in the section on goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears. It presents both an explanation for why those races tend to be evil while also providing a solution if a PC or NPC isn't. Having fallen a bit behind in Critical Role episodes I can't swear that this explains Nott's difference from her kinfolk, but it seems like a viable possibility.

Speaking of Nott, if you were hoping for the show's characters to be NPC options in Wildemount or otherwise get some backstory on them, you'll be disappointed. The book provides information and context on the show's campaign setting but not the characters themselves.

I also like the tips for how to role-play a Kenku and its mimic ability without driving the other players crazy. It's a character race that can easily wear thin on player's nerves. On the show, Mercer made the Kenku girl Kiri adorable so it is possible to find that line.

The Hollow One is another new race option, but it shouldn't be confused with another D&D creature of the same name that has a Soul Devour ability. This Hollow One is a person whose bodies have continued despite all but a fragment of their soul having left for the afterlife. Technically this Hollow One is more like an option laid over top the original character race and you register as undead for the purpose of spells. They're not necessarily evil but have an Unsettling Presence ability to essentially frighten someone into Disadvantage.

One of the new subclasses are tied to dunamis and dunamancy, with the former being a “primal magical energy of potentiality and actuality.” The latter is the practice of it. The Echo Knight is a fighter subclass that uses dunamis to “summon faded shades of unrealized timelines” enabling them to fight “as a cycling swarm of shadows and strikes.” Depending upon your level you can swap places with your echo, originate attacks from the echo's space, put your consciousness into the echo temporarily, etc. It definitely adds a cool set of new options to the fighter class.

Dunmancy also gets its own spell list to supplement The Players Handbook. The low-level spells like Sapping Sting (a cantrip) or Fortune's Favor are fine. Wrist Pocket, which lets you banish and summon an item you're holding of less than five pounds weight, could be a useful little spell. The higher level spells, though, seem overpowered. Even if they technically aren't – I haven't had a chance to play test the material – a spell called Reality Break is likely to give a DM pause unless they love especially chaotic campaigns. Time Ravage is what it sounds like. Only a Wish spell or a Greater Restoration cast at a 9th level spell slot can undo it.

The other two are wizard subclasses related to time and gravity. Chronurgy allows for Chronal Shifts and Momentary Stasis. Graviturgy magic lets you Adjust Density, create Gravity Well, etc. Players will probably love both options. As a DM, I like Graviturgy better because time magic still gives me a headache after a few years of playing Mage the Awakening. Your mileage may vary.

The section on Wildemount backgrounds has instructions for creating a “Heroic Chronicle” with your players. Besides adding more to the backstory and established relationships, you can also create together a prophecy for the character that can help guide their personal story as they seek to fulfill or evade it. Twenty options are presented for inspiration. To me, the Heroic Chronicle option creates the feeling of a Critical Role campaign the most.

In addition to suggestions for customizing backgrounds for Wildmount, it adds two – Grinner and Volstrucker Agent. Grinners are a type of minstrel spy who inspires freedom and hope among the oppressed. Volstrucker Agents have been broken by life in some fashion and are now clandestine agents serving the Cerberus Assembly.

Explorer's Guide to Wildemount comes with four adventures – Tide of Retribution, Dangerous Designs, Frozen Sick, and Unwelcome Spirits. Each one is an introduction to a different area of Wildemount and all are designed for both new players and new DMs. Mercer writes about improvisation and “going off the rails” before the adventures, trying to instill the idea that a good game isn't about slavishly following a preordained script, but having fun and rolling with the unexpected. That's a lesson even some long-time DMs I know need to learn.

I wouldn't say that any of these adventures hold the DM's hand, but they do contain useful tips for how to role-play key NPCs and other things useful for new DMs. I'd like to see more sidebars like that in other adventures.

The section on magic items is fine. I like the Vox Seeker, which is a tiny, wind-up construct, but the Butcher's Bib didn't impress me. It's always dripping blood no matter what you do. In exchange for that you crit on both 19 and 20 when doing slashing damage, and can reroll damage once per turn. I expected more damage for that gruesome item. Items like Needle of Mending and Spell Bottle are what you think.

Arms of the Betrayers, however, could be a campaign focus or terrible items used by recurring villains. They're artifacts forged from the souls of fiends for servants of the Betrayer Gods. Even the names are cool – Blade of Broken Mirrors, Lash of Shadows, Ruin's Wake, Mace of the Black Crown, etc. That section definitely sparked campaign ideas for me, inside Wildemount or elsewhere.

The monster section is somewhat slim but packed with things to give your players nightmares. Elder Evil minions like Core Spawn Crawlers are appropriately alien. Frost Worms are terrifying (CR 17). Gearkeeper Constructs are a potent challenge with a CR of 10. The gargantuan Horizonback Tortoise should raise eyebrows. They have a symbiotic relationship with some citizens of Xhorhas, acting as mobile homesteads and siege weapons when needed.

I love, love, love that Explorer's Guide to Wildemount has both a glossary and an index. While I've been generally very happy with the official 5th Edition books, adding a glossary and especially an index to all books would make a DM's life much easier. The index is even in a readable font size, unlike the PHB index. With long-time players aging and vision issues a possibility for players of any age, WotC really should pay more attention to ease of reading. Small things that make a DM's job easier and make products in general more accessible ensure faithful fans.

So, should you buy Explorer's Guide to Wildemount? If you're a hardcore Critter, you most likely already have a copy or have ordered one. More casual Critical Role fans interested in Mercer's world are also an obvious yes.

If you don't care about Critical Role or even know what it is, it's still a good consideration if you want a fresh setting that still feels like classic D&D. A DM who runs their own setting could still raid from Wildemount and adapt it as needed.

What Explorer's Guide to Wildemount won't do is making you into a DM clone of Matthew Mercer – but you shouldn't be anyway. D&D can be played and DM'd in a variety of styles. While Mercer gives tips as I mentioned, the goal shouldn't be to copy Mercer. Instead learn from watching him (if you want) and use this book to forge your own adventures and game style, within Wildemount itself or your own game borrowing elements and ideas from it.

I like Explorer's Guide to Wildemount and will mine it for my own campaign. I wouldn't call it a must buy, though, like I did Xanathar's Guide to Everything or a highly recommended buy like Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. If you are a fan of Critical Role or want a new setting to experiment with, Explorer's Guide to Wildemout is a worthy option.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


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gyor

Legend
Wrong. The whole of the Forgotten Realms has never been included in a single book or boxed set. Gynor is asking for single definitive book that includes everything and resolves all possible conflicts and contradictions. Even if we set aside the other known continents - Kara-Tur, Zakhara, Mazteca, each of which had it's own boxed set, there is content from the many novels and modules. Consider Cormyr for example. The 3rd edition FR book has five pages on Cormyr. But there is much more you need to know if you want to set an adventure there and you are worried about contradicting "canon". Everything from the lineages of monarchs to street plans of the major cities is out there somewhere. Frankly, you are better off using FR Wiki than any book or boxed set.

(NB, what none of these sourcebooks have are handy tips on the tonality of the various locations - e.g. "Cormyr is medieval France seen through the eyes of 1950s Hollywood*").

*NB, this is my take, it should not be considered definitive!

Its so nice of you to speak on my behalf/s

I do not expect a six encycopidia sized books set on Faerun along, I merely want that 😁.

Okay on a more serious note here is what I want for Faerun.

I want a book at least 320 pages long, but preferably 400-600 pages long.

I want 2-5 pages on every nation state on Faerun and half a page to 1 page for each major city state in Faerun. That would be 120 to 280 pages.

Where as nations in E: RftLW got a After The Last War paragraph, for this book I'd have After the Sundering paragraph.

Then chapter on FR religions, including a complete list of all the Gods including Faerun/Mulhorandi/Untherite/Maztican/Kuongian/CelestialBuracracy/Elf/Dwarf/Halfling/Gnome/Giant/Dragon/Orc/Gobliniod/Monster Pantheons. Not every deity needs a full detailed list, but something like the chart in MTOF, but with a few extra details like home plane and favoured weapon

Also religions like Path of Enlightment.

That should be another 30-100 pages at most.

A section on the realms lore for more exotic races and subraces from stuff like VGTM, EEPG, and MTOFs for example, say 30 to 50 pages.

A huge map folded map of Faerun with all the cities, major road ways, and important public locations marked. Bonus points if its double sided with a map of either the Feywild or Shadowfell versions of Faerun or even Kara Tur/Zakhara.

Given that WotC insists on putting in an adventure in these books, add in some pages for that. Personally I could do without it, but I can also live with it.

WotC will want to put in Player Options in as well, so that is cool.

If there is still space for it, 10 pages per other continent in Faerun, 10 for a quick tour of Realmspace worlds and bit of a Cosmology in FR discussion.

All of this is very reasonable. All can fit in one book.

I actually like SCAG writing better then MTOFs for example, it had personality, no major lore tangles/recons, and it was fun. It just need abit more practical lore and to be 3 to 6 times larger then its anorexia size was to properly cover key details of other regions. And the Subclass mechanics needed playtesting. The SCAG was better written in fact then most of VGTM, MTOF, and XGTE and had no goofy filler like 17 pages of names.
 


gyor

Legend
And I think you are - or are reading different posters.


The SCAG is one. No campaign setting book describe the WHOLE setting. The Eberron book doesn't, the Ravnica book doesn't, the Widemont Book doesn't, the 3rd edition FR book doesn't. They ALL focus on certain areas - some on small areas in high detail, some on larger areas in superficial detail. SCAG gives general rules for the setting, and describes part of it in medium detail, just like the other books.

Those are the only parts of FR I would be interested in a new book for.

Which is what SCAG is. It isn't as readable or well written, but it does just what those other setting books do - give general setting rules but only describe a small part in detail.


The second sundering did not (or did) happen. WotC know the 4e changes to the FR where highly unpopular - they are never going to declare them "canon" (or "not-canon").

The SCAG is too small, its like the 5e Player's Guide to Faerun to a proper 5e FRCG that doesn't exist yet. The none Swordcoast regions don't have enough meat to be usable.
 




gyor

Legend
Anyways having won the FR arguement now, I'm moving on back to the topic of Wildemount before Azzy gets the pitch fork and torchs. I wanted to get this book, but between preexisting debt and other growing expenses I decided to hold off until AFTER Corona has subsided.

I still preordered Mythic Odysessys of Theros both because I want it more and because its not till June.

Fear not how ever I still plan to get Wildemount.

As for how I know anything about the book, I watched review videos of the book on youtube! Fun stuff!
 

The SCAG is too small, its like the 5e Player's Guide to Faerun to a proper 5e FRCG that doesn't exist yet. The none Swordcoast regions don't have enough meat to be usable.
SCAG actually goes into more depth than the 3rd edition FR book, which went into more depth than the 2nd edition book. But the most detailed 5e FR book published by WotC is Tomb of Annihilation. And I do think adventures are the best way to do - say - Cormyr, rather than trying to cram everything into a single volume.

And that brings us back to the core of the thread - why is Wildemont so good (that no one can think of anything to complain about) when SCAG was so bad? I would put it down to the author's enthusiasm for the setting. Current WotC staff aren't really interested in FR, so even if they did write a big book it wouldn't be very good.

A good FR book needs to be written by someone with a real passion for the setting.

Like you.
 

teitan

Legend
The SCAG did not go into more detail then the 3e FRCS. It’s a third of the size! It went into more depth on the Sword Coast but the FRCS went into more depth on the other regions of the Realms and especially the Dalelands which were the heart of the setting for a long time. We haven’t had a good resource on the Realms since 3e. They’ve focused on the video game regions exclusively.
 

What non-mechanics presented in Wildemount are people bringing into their home games?

Are there interesting new religions, organizations, nations, etc that you just have to use?
 


gyor

Legend
What non-mechanics presented in Wildemount are people bringing into their home games?

Are there interesting new religions, organizations, nations, etc that you just have to use?

Yes there are. There is the Goddess Raei and Idols that are like the in between point between Demigods and Warlock Patrons. And some new nations. There are little details about deities like holidays I think. You could poach any of these.

It'd be a great book for Nentir Vale fans too, while the World is very different there are enough common elements to poach from like the use of the Dawn War Pantheon.
 

BrassDragon

Explorer
What non-mechanics presented in Wildemount are people bringing into their home games?

Are there interesting new religions, organizations, nations, etc that you just have to use?

I like the conceit of The Myriad: a criminal organisation that faked its own defeat to continue operating under the radar. The lore of the Cauldron Sea is also an interesting hook to explore.

The adventure hooks in the geography section are short but all are viable to build a few interesting sessions around.
 

What non-mechanics presented in Wildemount are people bringing into their home games?

Are there interesting new religions, organizations, nations, etc that you just have to use?
Well Vesh the Bloody Siren is being brought over and is going to be the Patron/Idol for a mad as a hatter Zealot Barbarian/Priest antagonist in my Forgotten Realms 5E games.

I'll probably also add the weird Eldritch Core monsters as the more "inhumane" servants of Tharizdun.

And we can't let those Frost Giant Zombies go to waste, now can we?
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Well Vesh the Bloody Siren is being brought over and is going to be the Patron/Idol for a mad as a hatter Zealot Barbarian/Priest antagonist in my Forgotten Realms 5E games.

I'll probably also add the weird Eldritch Core monsters as the more "inhumane" servants of Tharizdun.

And we can't let those Frost Giant Zombies go to waste, now can we?

Oh yeah, some of the those monsters are glorious and I want them all.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
If it was alive and well, the authors in charge of it wouldn't have tried to fix it. I mean they literally admitted they messed up the realms. So did the lead designer on the Realms for 4e, Richard Baker. Said that was WOTC's biggest mistake. So I would say the evidence points to it was alive but not well.

4e Realms was a mistake. It contributed to Baker losing his job on D&D , I’m sure.
But it’s kinda like that quote from Firefly, when someone tells Mal he was on thewrong side of the war, and he says, “Losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong side.”

The Realms were alive and well. Better than ever, I’d go so far as to say. They just also pissed people off, and came packaged with a divisive edition of the game. Divisive ain’t good, even if it makes money. 4e, and the 4e realms, made money. And a lot of folks loved them. I don’t remember the peak active sub numbers for ddi, but they were really high for any time before right now or the classic popularity peak. But divisive ain’t good. no matter what the profits are, they’d be higher without the division. Thus? 5e and the sundering.

Anyways having won the FR arguement now, I'm moving on back to the topic of Wildemount before Azzy gets the pitch fork and torchs. I wanted to get this book, but between preexisting debt and other growing expenses I decided to hold off until AFTER Corona has subsided.

I still preordered Mythic Odysessys of Theros both because I want it more and because its not till June.

Fear not how ever I still plan to get Wildemount.

As for how I know anything about the book, I watched review videos of the book on youtube! Fun stuff!
The Heroic Chronicle translates to other settings pretty easily, and mixes well with the Xanathar’s “This is Your Life” tables. My wife and I made characters that way, and it was a lot of fun.
What non-mechanics presented in Wildemount are people bringing into their home games?

Are there interesting new religions, organizations, nations, etc that you just have to use?

I’m already using a lot of the flavor of regions to expand on regions in other settings, like using some of the stuff for the Menagerie Coast for Cyre and Talenta in Eberron, and using parts of the empire for Aundair and Breland. The food, for instance. Although, my Talenta halflings already have a mix of North African, Latin American, and South Asian, cuisine. But adding some Menagerie Coast flair to both that and Cyre makes a fun dynamic where a lot of Cyre’s material culture comes from the Plains Halflings, while a lot of their philosophy is more recognize-ably Galifaran.
 

The SCAG did not go into more detail then the 3e FRCS. It’s a third of the size!
It focuses on smaller region, but what it includes, it covers in more depth. I have both books in front of me. SCAG is 159 pages and has 10 pages on Luskan, the 3rd edition book is 320 pages and has 9 pages on Luskan. Compared to Wildemont both books are as dull as ditchwater to read and lacking in scene-setting artwork. When I was actually setting an adventure in Luskan neither book was sufficient - I used both + FR wiki.

They’ve focused on the video game regions exclusively.
Perhaps because video games are actually better at conveying the feel of a location than text? As they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words. And moving pictures and sound are worth more than that.

Want to know what kind of architecture a town has? What kind of trees grow in the area? What wildlife? What accents people speak with? You can learn all this stuff from a video game but not a source book.

The Sword Coast region looks like Canada. That didn't come from a source book, it came from a video game. But that is the kind of info that is useful for a DM when they are trying to describe a place. Groundhogs and moose. These are just the sort of background details a DM needs to make a location exotic (since neither species is found in the UK).
 
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teitan

Legend
It focuses on smaller region, but what it includes, it covers in more depth. I have both books in front of me.


Perhaps because video games are actually better at conveying the feel of a location than text? As they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words. And moving pictures and sound are worth more than that.

Want to know what kind of architecture a town has? What kind of trees grow in the area? What wildlife? What accents people speak with? You can learn all this stuff from a video game but not a source book.

The Sword Coast region looks like Canada. That didn't come from a source book, it came from a video game. But that is the kind of info that is useful for a DM when they are trying to describe a place.

Okie dokie. It's a circular and unending discussion with you. You also seem to miss points a bit. So have at it as I am done with this particular discussion but look forward to any other future communication. B-)
 

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