When the announcement was made that the latest D&D book would be centered on the created world of the extremely popular web show Critical Role and its gamemaster (GM) Matthew Mercer, opinions varied.
Some folks wondered why the focus was on a new world, when there were old settings that people were still wanting to see come into 5e. (I see you folks who yell “Starjammer” and “Dark Sun” every time we near a book announcement!)
But as a fan of Critical Role, I was curious to see how much real work was laid out in the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount as when you are just watching a game live, it is hard to see what Matt Mercer has really done and what is being manufactured on the fly.
Now, on some level it shouldn’t catch us off guard that Matt Mercer and a crew of freelancers could deliver a pretty great book. In the fall of 2017, they delivered the Green Ronin published Tal’Dorei Campaign, which is about the places and people that the first campaign of Critical Role was based in.
The setting of Wildemount is adjacent and, while the setting of the campaign is several years in the past, you see some slight head nods in the campaign online but also in the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. But it is definitely a full setting.
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is strongest around the world’s history and pantheon of gods. The temptation when you are worldbuilding is to do just enough to matter to the characters that are directly in front of you and add the rest as you go. And that can work…if you are great at taking notes.
If you aren’t, you can too easily wind up with 3 paladins serving four gods of luck that are all chaotic neutral. Which isn’t to say that you have to be entirely original either. Mercer clearly draws inspiration, if not much more from the existing pantheon of D&D, while he also works on creating his own new gods as well. (And in the Critical Role show, they are even dealing with how a god is created or crafted.)
Laying out a good history makes it easier for me as a GM to find new places to toy with the edges of this setting versus running a campaign where every other session we get a Mighty Nein connection.
Along the same lines, the area descriptions of the world really help. To be sure, the maps in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount are really outstanding. Personally, as a visual thinker, a map can get the creativity really flowing. So having excellent maps (most from Deven Rue) is a great win for Wildemount.
Additionally, a great deal of the art was commissioned from Critical Role fans. (If you have ever watch the Talks Machina show, where the previous episode is discussed, they highlight different people’s art each week and some of it is fantastic.)
The setting also does some tweaks to the existing D&D races and their characteristics, which was fine. There wasn’t too much that was revolutionary to me, just tweaks that would seem to help players lean into their characters a little bit more or to help better define NPCs. It wasn’t an earthshaking part of the book but a nice side piece.
The one place where I struggled was some of the magic and spells that Mercer and crew added. Full disclosure, I am not the most excited about creating new subclasses or magic genres in the way that the creators of this book seem to be. The spells themselves are fine and make sense; there were none that I read and considered broken right away. But, I was not jacked to see the new Chronogury or Graviturgy classes. They just seemed to want to scratch an itch that I just don’t have.
So, who is this book really for?
- First, if you are a fan of the show, this is a great resource. You can learn more about the show and its world. It expands it out in a way that a commentary track can expose you to more ideas than you might get just watching a movie by itself.
- As for others, I think it is a good resource for gamemasters. The map and the world itself are fairly easily adaptable and the encounters and stories that they do the rough set-up for are really good encounters. The small bestiary that is included is excellent as well.
So, you are still going to hear cries for Spelljammer (Go play Starfinder, you nerds!) and Dark Sun, but Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is a good addition to the 5th edition books thus far!
Get Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount here. It’s available now.