The next collaboration between the world’s largest role-playing game and the livestreaming behemoth is almost upon us. Dungeons & Dragons Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep
offers an adventure path that spans levels 3 through 12 for fans of the show or for D&D players curious as to what it feels like to play in the world of the successful show. Preview copies of the book are landing this weekend and I had a chance to read mine over a gloomy afternoon. What did I enjoy the most? Let’s find out together.
Note: I will try to talk about these elements using broad elements and not reveal big plot twists, but if you want to stay completely unspoiled, you may wish to stop reading now.
One of the key features talked about in previews of the book were the band of rivals that the PCs will encounter throughout the adventure. These rivals are detailed in the front of the book with a big two-page spread and show up throughout the adventure, changing not just based on how the players treat them but how they experience the events of the adventure. These rivals are the thing I would be most likely to steal from this book for a homebrew campaign, though I would also add in the relationship mechanics from Strixhaven: Curriculum of Chaos
to make how each rival feels about the players matter mechanically.
A Journey Across Exandria
Most of the official D&D adventure books focus on one main area or type of adventure. Rather than telling players about Exandria, the story shows them by taking them on a tour of various locations ranging from a goblin port city to a gloomy castle on a portal to hell to a big city built around an oasis. There’s a dedicated early chapter to the journey between the goblin port and the castle. Dungeon Masters who want to take the long way could probably fit in some more traveling encounters in between the big location shifts, especially if they are invested in the other books that detail the Critical Role world.
A Megadungeon of Feelings
The last quarter of the adventure takes the PCs through a big dungeon built out of a strange substance: the memories and emotions of the main bad guy. It offers an interesting way to explore the history of the character in a way that calls to mind some of the weirder dungeons of the OSR. There are still plenty of traps, fights and treasure but the psychological element generates some sympathy for the villain.
Hugging It Out With The Big Bad
The final fight shows off Matt Mercer’s love of Final Fantasy games. There are big Lair actions, multiple forms to grind through, and some examples of dialogue to bounce at the players during the battle. There’s also an unexpected element of social combat. Players who express sympathy and roleplay with the villain can make Charisma checks to wear down the villain as well. It brings to mind grand duels where words are as sharp as blades, like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader trying to turn each other during their last duel.
Most official D&D campaigns tend to end with a few short paragraphs about how to continue the story. Here, the book details what happens not only if your PCs defeat the big bad guy but how they do it. The endings take into account if the bad guy wins, if the bad guy is defeated or if the bad guy is redeemed. It’s up to the players which path they choose and what happens to the world because of it.