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The Wild Beyond the Witchlight Review Round-Up – What the Critics Say

The reviews for The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, D&D's first official adventure set in the Feywild, are out. Since TWBtW is also the first official adventure designed so that it can be resolved without any combat if desired, making it something new for the game, you might be wondering how other reviews stack up next to my assessment.
Witchlight cover.png

The Good​

Tribality compared TWBtW to a cross between Changeling the Lost and D&D. Like me, Tribality liked the flexibility of the adventure, how it can be added to any setting, and how pieces of the campaign can be repurposed in your own homebrew. We also agreed that the art was beautiful and evocative of the setting. Tribality ranked TWBtW a 10 out of 10, which is an A+ on our scale.

GeekDad doesn't make you wait to know what they think – the headline indicates that the book “HAS to be” reviewer Simon Yule's next adventure. GeekDad also points out that an adventure designed for heavy role-play with an option to skip combat isn't for every group. While Yule does think TWBtW is great for DMs ith limited experience, he doesn't think it's a good fit as the first adventure to DM. Otherwise GeekDad is effusive in its praise, calling out DM tools like the roleplaying cards, story tracker, etc. as well as saying that TWBtW has “the best opening chapters of any official campaign” encountered. Like me, Yule also likes the fact that minor interactions early on can change things later. While a letter grade isn't provided after all of the compliments and only a minor complaint (not liking hags as villains) it's clear GeekDad would give an A+.

Polygon's review starts by pointing how far D&D has evolved from its wargaming roots and that today a large portion of its base came to the game from watching live streams and actual play videos that emphasize the narrative aspects of the game, correctly noting that TWBtW was made with audience (and anyone who loves role-playing) in mind. The designers are praised for going “above and beyond” to create a new style of adventure that focuses on choices, collaboration, and role-play instead of combat. The review also praises TWBtW for empowering players and helping DMs think bigger. TWBtW is praised for its “big swings,” meaning huge chances taken that worked. One cited is a segment where the party is encouraged to split into two groups – long a no-no in RPGs – so one half can investigate while the other half does an improv performance to distract an audience, with the latter facilitated by random lines removed from a hat. The combination of making TWBtW an advanced class in role-playing and storytelling while providing advice and tools for a new DM is also praised. Polygon doesn't give a rating but since the review calls TWBtW “one of the very best products released for D&D's 5th edition” I'm confident assigning it an A+.

Geeks of Doom praised the same things I did – a fresh setting vibrantly depicted, a new approach to adventure resolution, the new races and backgrounds, Easter eggs, and new versions of old villains. The only caution is advice for DMs to get a good grasp on the material to create smooth sessions. Otherwise, TWBtW is praised for its 'bold moves” and “a spectacularly entertaining world.” Though a rating isn't assigned, the totally positive review equates to an A.

Art.jpg

The Slightly Less Good​

Strange Assembly praises TWBtW a lot while also providing disclaimers to ensure that people with the right interests select the adventure. As other reviews, including my own, noted, choices and character actions have long-reaching consequences and the fact that NPCs can reappear later, making things more appealingly complicated than the average adventure. Praise is also given to how it creates the wicked whimsy the creators mentioned in so many interviews. The only real criticism, which is more of an opinion and one I disagree with, is that the two new backgrounds in the book are better for other adventures because they eliminate some of the player's wonder in the Feywild. This review would also equal an A, A- at the worst.

Bell of Lost Souls takes a broad view of how D&D has evolved since 5th Edition launched in 2014, specifically the impact of live streams and how that audience is bringing new players in the game. BoLS praises TWBtW for facilitating a new play style (no combat) if desired, even though writer J.R. Zambrano feels the adventure works best with a little combat. TWBtW is also praised for how it teaches a new DM not only how to run a game but more subtle points, like presenting multiple options, that can take awhile to learn. As I indicated, BoLS admits that it's not an adventure for everyone – the whimsy and fairy tale touches are a specific taste, but overall enjoyed the fact that WotC is stretching beyond the typical adventure style. The review was a “recommended” that falls somewhere between a B+ to an A, leaning toward an A.

Dandylion.jpg

The Final Grade​

While Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft received a tiny bit more praise, the reviews for this first Feywild adventure was consistently, and often overwhelmingly, positive. Combining my A rating with the ratings above, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight continues the trend of the last few D&D books by being an A-rated release.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Mort

Legend
So apparently child slave labor is adorably cuddly? Or adult slaves being forced to perform for their mistress' amusement or be transformed into monsters or be killed in a particularly nasty (although still darkly whimsical) way?

Faerie Tales have always been quite dark and absolutely incorporate all of these elements!

The adventure doesn't promote them so much as highlight faerie tale elements that incorporate them. And it makes no bones about the fact that many of the beings encountered (certainly the hags) are VERY evil characters.

I think glossing over the darker elements of faerie tales would have been a net negative for the adventure.
 

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whimsychris123

Adventurer
If you're waiting for actual play reviews, you're counting on everyone else purchasing the product, running the game for their group, and then disseminating that information in a way that is valuable for your personal gaming group. And that's asking a lot.
I value getting these read-through reviews by experienced gamers, who can predict trouble areas, give you a feel of the adventure, etc.
I’m not really asking for anything. I typically buy all the books unless they happen to hold no interest for me. I agree that reviews can be helpful. I just think that when reviewing these books after a single read we need to get out of the 4-star, A+, two thumbs up mentality of movie reviews because a person won’t know the true worth of a roleplaying product until they’ve actually used it.
 
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JediSoth

Semi-Professional Author
I was about to ask: when did Tribality, Geek Dad, or Polygon give a WotC product a Bad or Ugly review? I'm sure it has happened. At some point...

But hey, D&D, combat-free? That's pretty awesome. And dragon-kin using hot air balloons to fly? That's grea...wait, what?

Re: balloon-riding dragon-kin
IIRC it's a faerie dragon trapped in a cage that the PCs find in the wreckage of a hot air balloon.
 

sevenbastard

Explorer
That’s quite the allegation.

It can’t be that WotC generally puts out good quality material, and has to be … fraud?

Because big sites need a free book that badly?

Getting early access to review copies means you can post articles that people click on. Clicks equals Add revenue.

Fraud is a strong word. But having an easy grading scale so you don't piss off WoTC......

I am not saying WoTC doesn't put out good stuff, but it's not all timeless clasics. I read Candlekeep and can't imagine Candlekeep, which got a "A" , is going to be remembered as one of the best modules of all time.
 

This Effin’ GM

Adventurer
I’m laughing at myself right now.

Me: The early reviews of WBtW are potentially too positive and it feels like a bit of overhype. I will remain skeptical until I prove it’s worthiness through trial by play.

Also Me: Level Up is going to change the way I game forever and Though I forgot to read through the playtests and haven’t used a single mechanic presented in the teasers, I know this in my heart of hearts.

Both are going to be fine additions to any game table, I need to drink some water.
 

That’s quite the allegation.

It can’t be that WotC generally puts out good quality material, and has to be … fraud?

Because big sites need a free book that badly?
No, it really isn't a big allegation, nor should it be shocking one.

And no, it's also not claiming any sort of fraud or other term you wish to use with such severity.

And, as pointed out, its not about these "big sites" (which they might be big in the RPG world, but are tiny from a larger world view) getting free books/products, but about them getting advanced copies so that they can be one of the first sites to post reviews and therefore attract the most amount of clicks and viewers. And every click or viewer is worth cold hard cash to these sites.

So, in short, readers should be aware of what the actual workings are behind things they read and use. (i.e. critical thinking), and in the case of reviews of WotC products, what we know to be the case(s) is;
1) "big site" gets a released copy of a product from WotC
2) Therefore they can get a review article publicly posted as soon the book is publicly available.
3) Therefore buyers who are considering purchasing the book are more likely to visit said "big site" to research if they should buy the product.
4) "big site" makes money for each person who visits their webpage, and they make more money when those visitors click on an advertisement on that page (i.e. this is how digital advertising works)

Therefore, it is intelligent and critical for people who read these reviews to understand that their are biases and influences on what the reviews say. Do the reviewers consciously or unconsciously influence their reviews to be positive? We don't know, but it is intelligent to consider the possibility. And not to leave out the other biases that can impact these reviewers, you also have the editors/owners/operators, who are closer to the advertising money, in which articles and writers they chose to publish. Because they are going to have to worry about paying the bills of hosting the site, paying salaries, etc. Are they going to influence their published content based upon how much money it draws in? (Hopefully they will, since its a key part of their job.)
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
Might not be to all gamers tastes, but I prefer having something a bit different. For somebody that tends to glaze over most D&D supplemental releases, this one looks interesting.

Certainly, I’d say that the lifecycle of 5E is being maintained in a more sustainable way - because of the variety of its releases - than previous editions. Indeed, after seven years or so since original release, 5E looks to be a strong as ever. 4E didn’t even last that long!
 


Retreater

Legend
Day 1 tabletop RPG adventure reviews are like video game reviews where the reviewer watched a video of the game being played.
I can agree with that, but I'm a big defender of early reviews (like what's posted here on ENWorld). Things I'd like to know (that can be determined by flipping through a book): what's the general theme, what levels does it span, how do the maps look, what about the art - in general, what's the approximate ratio of lore to crunch, of the crunch - how much is player-centric (subclasses, ancestries) vs. DM-centric (new monsters, artifacts).
In a lot of cases, yes, this is similar to watching a video game video. But if we're not even allowed to watch those promo videos, what other choice do we have? Some of us don't have local game stores (or any book stores, for that matter) that reliably get in new D&D books that we can casually flip through before purchasing (especially in pandemic times).
Even a flip-through review has value to me.
 

I think the best review was the one that compared Witchlight to Changeling The Lost, as the influence is HUGELY present, in fact the instead of regular fairy tails or Alice in Wonderland, I'd say Changeling the Lost was the biggest influence on the setting, but less horror influenced although they do leave the door open to Domains that do have Fey Horror themes mixed with their wonder.
 

ChaosOS

Legend
Having written reviews in the past, I at least never was influenced by the financials because I was so separated from them. The bigger issue is simply that it's hard to suss out snarls in gameplay with a binge reading - it's easy to imagine the players going along with what the adventure wants (the happy path), it's hard to imagine all the screwball things they'll do to deviate from that (actual testing). Sure, some stuff is obvious on a read - Rise of Tiamat is pretty clearly a product that got its legs swept under from it due to late system changes - but problems like "There's not really enough time in the end game to enjoy the wonder of exploration" (ToA) require a minimum of rigorous mathematical analysis to find without playtesting, which reviewers just don't have the time to do. On top of that, reviewers are the types of people who want to give WotC the benefit of the doubt - after all, they spent a year making the product and had dozens of playtest groups, surely they found obvious issues!

I'm personally excited by Witchlight and plan to run it - it easily adapts to Eberron, a huge plus - but I have zero idea if my groups will bite on the various noncombat solutions in the adventure and will be happy about that method of resolution.
 


Tsuga C

Explorer
All the reviews we see from the big sites are almost always positive because no one wants to bite the hand that feeds them.

The true test is two years from now are people still running it and recommending it?

How adventures read and how they play are often very different.
This is the unvarnished truth as time is the blast furnace that separates the steel from the slag.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
No, it really isn't a big allegation, nor should it be shocking one.

And no, it's also not claiming any sort of fraud or other term you wish to use with such severity.

And, as pointed out, its not about these "big sites" (which they might be big in the RPG world, but are tiny from a larger world view) getting free books/products, but about them getting advanced copies so that they can be one of the first sites to post reviews and therefore attract the most amount of clicks and viewers. And every click or viewer is worth cold hard cash to these sites.

So, in short, readers should be aware of what the actual workings are behind things they read and use. (i.e. critical thinking), and in the case of reviews of WotC products, what we know to be the case(s) is;
1) "big site" gets a released copy of a product from WotC
2) Therefore they can get a review article publicly posted as soon the book is publicly available.
3) Therefore buyers who are considering purchasing the book are more likely to visit said "big site" to research if they should buy the product.
4) "big site" makes money for each person who visits their webpage, and they make more money when those visitors click on an advertisement on that page (i.e. this is how digital advertising works)

Therefore, it is intelligent and critical for people who read these reviews to understand that their are biases and influences on what the reviews say. Do the reviewers consciously or unconsciously influence their reviews to be positive? We don't know, but it is intelligent to consider the possibility. And not to leave out the other biases that can impact these reviewers, you also have the editors/owners/operators, who are closer to the advertising money, in which articles and writers they chose to publish. Because they are going to have to worry about paying the bills of hosting the site, paying salaries, etc. Are they going to influence their published content based upon how much money it draws in? (Hopefully they will, since its a key part of their job.)
I can tell you for this particular site, the reviewer is paid a flat rate, is not in any way influenced or asked to consider any of those things, and almost certainly doesn't know anything about or care about the website's traffic or ad revenue. She's certainly not encouraged in any way to be positive or negative.
 

jeffh

Adventurer
It can’t be that WotC generally puts out good quality material, and has to be … fraud?
I mean, there's at least a few initially well-reviewed titles of theirs that haven't stood the test of time, and keeping reviews positive to keep getting perks from the producers (which can go well beyond free books) is a pretty well-known issue, including, maybe especially, in adjacent spaces like videogames. This need not be consciously dishonest; it can just as easily be an instinctive response to incentives.

Looking at how something like Avernus or Dragon Heist has fared, even if we assume complete good faith on the part of everyone concerned, it doesn't so much look like "WotC generally puts out good quality material" as "WotC products make a really good first impression, which sometimes lasts and sometimes doesn't".
 

Retreater

Legend
I can tell you for this particular site, the reviewer is paid a flat rate, is not in any way influenced or asked to consider any of those things, and almost certainly doesn't know anything about or care about the website's traffic or ad revenue. She's certainly not encouraged in any way to be positive or negative.
The reviewer is paid by the site - not the publisher of the material being reviewed. Correct?
 

Mort

Legend
Looking at how something like Avernus or Dragon Heist has fared, even if we assume complete good faith on the part of everyone concerned, it doesn't so much look like "WotC generally puts out good quality material" as "WotC products make a really good first impression, which sometimes lasts and sometimes doesn't".

I think this is a spot on statement. The books look gorgeous, they have good art, and initially they look like well structured adventures.

Take Dragon Heist, The individual sections are great - good structure, good villains, fun glossy looking dungeons. Easy to see how it makes a good first impression. The problem comes from connecting the pieces together - it's REALLY hard to do smoothly, there is a clear lack of connective tissue - almost like someone designed the individual pieces without much thought (or care) as to how they're supposed to fit together.

This comes out in play much easier than by a read through. Only later, with some play is it going to come out that Heist is not really complete as an adventure module. Plus there's no heist - which, frankly, is irritating to players!
 


I can tell you for this particular site, the reviewer is paid a flat rate, is not in any way influenced or asked to consider any of those things, and almost certainly doesn't know anything about or care about the website's traffic or ad revenue. She's certainly not encouraged in any way to be positive or negative.
Thank you for the transparency :)

IMO all reviews should have such statements so that readers know, but, as can be seen, it's not something often done.
 

Mediocre or poor reviews certainly will not get a site pulled from a media list from any established company, provided that their marketing group is at all professional. The aim of review copies is not to get positive reviews, it’s to get…reviews. Even a review that points out flaws is better than a resounding silence.

I can’t speak for other reviewers, but I’ve never had any “be positive or else” conversations with Wizards (or any other TTRPG publisher.)
 

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