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Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (D&D Campaign Setting) Review

March 17, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Explorer's Guide to Wildemount Dungeons & Dragons Critical Role
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Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (D&D Campaign Setting) Review  


Supplement Type: Campaign Setting
Setting: Exandria
Lead Writer: Matthew Mercer
Writers: James J. Haeck, James Introcaso, Chris Lockey
Developers: Jeremy Crawford, Dan Dillon, Ben Petrisor, Kate Welch
Available at D&D Beyond, Amazon, Roll20, and your Friendly Local Gaming Store.

Dungeons & Dragons has been around a long time, and during that time we’ve seen no small number of campaign settings established for it. From the original Blackmoor setting to the high fantasy of Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, the gothic horror of Ravenloft, the space fantasy of Spelljammer, the post-apocalyptic Dark Sun, expansive worlds of Planescape … I could go on, of course. But the point is that the roleplaying game is rife with worlds in which to set your game if you don’t want to homebrew your own.

And yet, it’s been a while since we’ve had a new setting bring some fresh blood into the D&D multiverse. Eberron was the last official new original campaign setting, and that was 2004. We’ve had Ravnica adapted from Magic: The Gathering but in terms of a whole cloth setting, we’ve been waiting half a generation for a new one.

With its influence in the rise of D&D back into a place of mainstream consciousness, it’s fitting that said new setting is from Critical Role. The live-streamed D&D campaign series is one of the biggest success stories in tabletop gaming, as players follow DM Matt Mercer and his fellow voice actors through the adventures of Vox Machina first and now the Mighty Nein. Vox Machina led to a third-party campaign sourcebook, the Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting, being published for fifth edition through Green Ronin press. And now thanks to the Mighty Nein campaign, Mercer’s world of Exandria has joined D&D canon with the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount which brings players into Mercer’s immersive world with plenty for fans of Critical Role and non-fans alike.

Setting

Anyone who has watched Critical Role is well aware of the fact that Mercer has a talent for and love of world-building. Indeed, we’ve seen a fair amount of the world he has put into Wildemount in the Mighty Nein campaign, with adventures through many of the major regions. But what we’ve seen is just the tip of the iceberg that is the Explorer’s Guide, which offers extensive looks at the history of Exandria and Wildemount itself, as well as the various regions and power groups that populate the setting.

In fact, that’s arguably one of the more impressive things about this book. It would have been simple for Mercer and the rest of the team to lean heavily on what’s been shown on the stream. But that would also make the book difficult for D&D players who are not Critters to really dive into this world. Instead, the Explorer’s Guide explores the whole of the continent of Wildemount. Certainly, if you’re a fervent watcher on Thursdays you’ll see names and aspects that you are familiar with like the cleric Shakaste, the aquatic entity Uko’toa, the concept of the Luxons and such. But the book is written with an eye toward those who have no familiarity with the Mighty Nein, making it far more accessible than it otherwise would have been.

To that end, Mercer and the rest of the team devote a large amount of time to laying out the world of Exandria and its history, and more to the point of course the continent of Wildemount. The book details the full history of the world from eons passed up to the Calamity, a war between the gods that is responsible for much of the world’s specific traits. From that point it narrows in on Wildemount and details the rise and fall of empires that bring us to the present day of the setting.

Deities and faith are always an essential part of D&D campaigns and as the Calamity suggests, they are in Exandria as well. The Explorer’s Guide lays out the faiths – many familiar and a couple new, but all tweaked to fit the world’s specific needs. The gods are detailed in more depth than we’ve seen in a 5E book so far, along with some of the Lesser Idols – powerful entities who are not quite gods, but still have cleric and warlock servants – complete with suggested domains and provinces to serve as a guide for warlocks.

The book goes into detail on a number of power groups including the nations like the warring Dwendalian Empire and Kryn Dynasty, arcane groups like the Cerberus Assembly and criminal organizations like the Myriad and the pirates of the Revelry, with several others beside. Each of these are given a good amount of detail including a brief history, goals and relationships with the rest of the world and significant NPCs.

Finally, but far from least, is the Gazetteer that lays out the various regions of Wildemount with some maps, breakdowns of major cities and features and other useful information. A highlight of the Gazetteer are brief adventure hooks, broken down into low level, mid-level, high level, epic level or any level categories that DMs can throw at their players. For example, a low-level party in the city of Rexxentrum could be enticed for work by a group that proves to be a resistance faction against the Crown, or a high-level group in the pirate community of Darktow could be sent off to deal with an angry dragon turtle. These hooks are fairly free-form and give the DM plenty of leeway to devise their own aspects but work well as inspiration for an adventuring session (or several).

Mechanics

As with any campaign setting, a big question among D&D players and DMs is whether the mechanical content will be worth the purchase. Not everyone wants to run campaigns in Exandria and Wildemount, and if that’s all the book contains then that’s a segment of the fanbase who will not be interested in picking this up.

Fortunately, Mercer and the development team have plenty here that work regardless of whether you’re looking to jump into stories involving the Betrayer Gods, the Cobalt Soul and all the rest. The big thing that will draw people’s eye are the three new subclasses, a Fighter subtype called the Echo Knight and two Wizard archetypes: the Chronurgist and the Graviturgist. All three of these classes build off of the concept of Dunamancy introduced in the book, which is the magical energy of potentiality practiced primarily by the Kryn Dynasty in Wildemount. The Echo Knight uses Dunamancy to summon echoes of himself from unrealized timelines to aid in combat, while Chronurgists and Graviturgists manipulate the flows of time and gravity to their own ends.

The easiest way to put this is, quite simply: these are very cool classes that a lot of players will be asking their DMs to let them use in game. The touch of Jeremy Crawford and the rest of the development team’s balancing skill has definitely been felt here; as much as I love the Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting, that book contains some very powerful class options. These three subclasses feel unique and powerful without overshadowing other classes at all. And the Dunamantic spells that Chronurgists and Graviturgists gain access to have that same feel about them.

The book also adds some races that you can play, including a new elven subraces in the mystical Pallid Elves, a halfling subrace in the nature-loving Lotusden, two dragonborn subraces in the socially adept Draconbloods and the tailless Ravenites, and a new option that can apply to any race in Hollow Ones, a new take on revenants. Hollow Ones rise from dying on the Blightshore in eastern Xhorhas and have lost their souls but retain their personalities. Any or all of these can easily be integrated into non-Wildemount campaigns with minimal difficulty and could fill potential holes that exist within the existing set of races.

The Explorer’s Guide also introduces a new system called the Heroic Chronicle. Like the group patron system in Eberron: Rising from the Last War, the Heroic Chronicle functions as a way to help build characters who have a direct connection to the land that they’re adventuring in. The options presented are for Wildemount of course, but it’s a fun and interesting system that can be easily adapted to any other campaign with the proper work.

And of course, no setting book would be complete without treats for the DM in magic items and monsters. This book’s monsters present a host of options specific to Wildemount but again can be inserted without difficulty into other worlds, including an NPC stat block for Mercer’s Blood Hunter class (a class available on DM’s Guild). But the magic items are the real treasure (pun only slightly intended). Those familiar with Critical Role are aware of the Vestiges of Divergence, items of legendary power and lore that start off good but scale up as they are awakened and then exalted according to the DM’s story needs and the PC’s actions. The Explorer’s Guide contains seven Vestiges of Divergence and eight Arms of the Betrayers, which are sentient evil items that also scale up like Vestiges do. Anyone looking for some epic-level campaigns can find ways to utilize these to great effect as MacGuffins, mission items, adversaries or all of the above. There are also several non-Vestige-level new items to play with, all of which are very much the kinds of items that would make an adventuring party ecstatic to find or loot.

Adventure

Not content to let things lie there, the campaign sourcebook contains adventures to help introduce your players to Wildemount in a very in-character manner. And where it says “adventures,” that does mean more than one. The Adventures section actually contains four separate adventures, each designed to take players from first through third level and introduces a different part of the continent.

The first adventure, “Tide of Retribution,” is set along the Menagerie Coast and sees the nascent party relaxing in the tropical paradise village of Palma Flora when an earthquake strikes, followed by an attack by sahuagin who are more than they appear. “Dangerous Designs” finds the players in the gnomish city of Hupperdook in Western Wynandir and tosses them into the Dwendalian Empire’s war with the Kryn Dynasty by way of a jailbreak. The third adventure is “Frozen Sick” and involves a deadly disease that is infecting Palebank Village in the Biting North. And the final adventure, “Unwelcome Spirits,” is set in Eastern Wynandir on the Kryn Dynasty side of the war, where the enemy has captured a warlock who needs rescuing.

Each of these adventures are fairly short but serve as impressive starts to a campaign with plenty to build off of. Each one introduces not only settings and characters who can come into play throughout a campaign, but also lay out the themes inherent to each portion of the continent whether pirate-flavored adventure, war, dark powers, intrigue and more. There’s a lot to like here and all four seem to be fun to run in their own right. The adventures are challenging without being overwhelming and the NPCs are continuing the trend from Descent Into Avernus and Rising From the Last War of being well-developed, memorable characters who one can easily see becoming recurring parts of the campaigns that follow the adventures.

Virtual Tabletop

Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is also available from Roll20, as has been the case with the last several official D&D releases. The Roll20 version comes stocked with map pages so you always have a visual aid to help your players understand exactly where you are, and the four adventures are fully integrated so that you can jump right in after you get familiar with the story without needing to do all the set-up on your own. The VTT version includes integration with the Charactermancer system, allowing you to use it to add the new subclasses, races and spells to your character sheet with ease. It also has the simple drag and drop option as well. The whole thing is very well laid-out and the adventures have wonderfully lag-free so far, making it well worth the purchase if you use Roll20 as a platform.

9.0
The final score: review Amazing
The 411
The Explorer's Guide to Wildemount is incredibly successful at bringing the first new original campaign setting to D&D in 16 years. Matthew Mercer and his team have created an expansive book with plenty of detail for DMs and players alike to immerse themselves in. The new character options are unique and feel appropriately balanced, while the world itself contains more than enough material for a host of campaigns. Whether you're a "Critter" or not, this book is definitely a worthy purchase to add to your RPG shelf for use in your games.
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