Table of Contents:
Sunken Treasure or Dead Fish?
Critical Role’s Call of the Netherdeep is the newest official adventure path to hit 5e D&D. Set in Critical Role’s world of Exandria, the adventurers will have to compete with a team of rivals to find their destiny and dive into a world of abyssal horrors and psychological trauma. An ancient hero and demigod sends messages and visions pleading for help, calling the adventurers deep into a place no mortal was meant to sink. Is this worth diving into? Grab your swimsuit and a potion of water breathing as we go through everything you need to know.
What’s in the Book?
Call of the Netherdeep clocks in at 224 pages which seems to be dead on the WotC word count for this type of adventure. I’ve seen some weird price discrepancies with some places trying to sell it for as much as $49.99, but I’ve also seen plenty of places sell it for as low as $29.99. I’m fairly certain $29.99 is the intended MSRP so just watch out and shop around for that price if you’re picking it up.
Call of the Netherdeep is a straight up adventure and the vast majority of the book is devoted to the adventure path itself, but we do get some extra goodies in the form of monsters and magic items to play with. All in all you can find the following in Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep:
- Exandrian Lore
- Call of the Netherdeep, 3rd-13th Level Adventure.
- 37 Monster/NPC Stat Blocks.
- 15 Magic items.
- 9 “Fragments of Suffering” (More on that in a bit).
- Poster Map of Ank’Harel
I’ve watched quite a bit of Critical Role but my Exandria knowledge pales in comparison to the “critter” (Critical Role fan) community. But as someone who doesn’t know the world inside and out, I found the refresher on Exandria and its cultures very helpful. Most of the lore here focuses on the Apotheon, a champion turned demi-god that drives the story and the role he played in the realm’s formative history. As a DM I felt the lore did a good job of covering what I needed for the adventure, but I imagine it will have extra value for the fans looking for extra tidbits of worldbuilding for their favorite setting.
Call of the Netherdeep Adventure Path
Call of the Netherdeep starts off in a very traditional D&D fashion with a festival giving players a low-stakes opportunity to prove their worth in festival games such as mazes and pie-eating contests. But it subtly sets the tone of the entire adventure as the players meet their “rivals” who will be their counterparts for the entire adventure and their early interactions are important.
During the final game an amulet activates broadcasting the Apotheon’s cry for help, a well-known figure who’s supposed to be dead is calling on adventurers to save him and destiny quite literally calls. Who it calls is an interesting question though. In this early interaction the players can screw it up, and the entire book is laid out with the assumption that either the players are following their destiny while fending off attempts to steal it by persistent rivals, or that the rivals have a destiny the players are persistently trying to steal.
This open nature of the rival/player dynamic speaks to the whole adventure. Half-way through the adventure players will be able to select one of 3 factions to join in their pursuit of a sunken city where the Apotheon is said to rest, and while each faction essentially goes after the same things there’s still a fun variety of quests and the factions do feel distinct and different.
Once the players get to the titular Netherdeep they’ll be treated to the psychological horror of all the demigod’s baggage. The Netherdeep itself is formed by the Apotheon’s memories and psychological problems that have been festering for hundreds of years, so taking a swim through it is one heck of a trip! The effect was very effective and towards the end of the campaign the mega-dungeon that is the Netherdeep shifts from horror to deep introspection as the players are tasked with not only potentially freeing the demigod but resolving his problems and redeeming him as well.
Overall, the campaign structure reminds me a lot of Tomb of Annihilation. Both start out exploring a festival atmosphere, followed by a city exploration where you learn the location of the mega-dungeon, another sequence of a different city exploration on top of the mega-dungeon, with the final 40% or so of the campaign taking place in the mega-dungeon. Except in this case the mega-dungeon is far more psychological and less full of unfair traps.
I was a little worried about having so much of a campaign take place underwater, but it’s usually in tight confines so you’re not having to deal with a ton of open space most of the time. I think the adventure is well-designed, the mega-dungeon is incredibly interesting, and the team of rivals will grow to be beloved/hated NPCs your players will always remember.
37 New Monsters / NPCs
There are 37 stat blocks but calling them all different or new is a bit deceptive. 15 of these stat blocks belong to the 5 NPC rivals, but with 3 iterations each as they advance in level and capability alongside the player characters. We also get 3 monsters that are reprints from Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount so if this is your first entry into the world of Exandria they’ll be new to you but are otherwise repeated content. That leaves us with 24 new monsters/npcs, with 5 of those having 3 iterations. With all that said, I’m still impressed with the monsters we got, and a lot of the NPC stats will be finding their way into my own games. We get a particularly nice assortment of undersea monsters, and you better believe I’m going to throw that big evil anglerfish at my players at some point.
15 Magic Items
We get a lovely variety here including some fun one-use magic items as rewards for the initial festival and a ton of “ruidium” infected items that can serve as all sorts of corrupted or cursed gear. One of the item slots is a reprint of the “breathing bubble” but that’s to be expected and overall, I’m very happy with this offering of fun new trinkets.
9 “Fragments of Suffering”
So, (spoiler warning) but in the final chapters the players will need to find and absorb “fragments of suffering” in order to pass into the heart of the Netherdeep. These function as interesting buffs/debuffs as each one provides a benefit and a drawback themed around a psychological issue. Once again, the comparison to Tomb of Annihilation pops up in parallel with these and the ancient spirits you could absorb. I wanted to mark these out especially as a wonderfully designed way to inject even more psychological horror and intrigue into the adventure and they can be easily popped into another game as their own thing.
What’s Good About the Book?
Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep is interlaced with both excellent role play opportunities and interesting combats. Players will be able to enjoy exploring vast fantasy cities to chase down and save a legend from the imprisonment of his own despair. A lot of heart and thought has been put into this adventure and while a large section takes place in the same dungeon the first half of the book gives us a wide range of freedom and exploration.
What’s Bad About the Book?
I have some minor nitpicks but oddly my only really big issue is with an event towards the beginning of the adventure. Because the players can easily not be the destined heroes, and instead their rivals, there are some unfortunate pitfalls when it comes to player motivation if the early steps don’t go quite right. I like that it included a “fail-state” that keeps the adventure going, but if you run the adventure, I highly recommend giving the players a little nudge into getting that “destiny”.
It’s also an adventure that represents some significant (but not insurmountable) DM stress, as keeping track of the rival’s attitudes and interactions with the players is important and there are a lot of opportunities to mess up their shifting allegiances and relationships. This is a problem of plenty in that there’s so much roleplaying it can be hard to keep track of, but it’s nothing an experienced DM couldn’t handle.
For the critters out there, it likely doesn’t matter what I say, and you probably pre-ordered this adventure months ago. So, I’ll address this to players who are maybe less familiar with Critical Roll or that have already written it off as a product only for Critical Roll fans. Call of the Netherdeep is a great adventure. It does what Tomb of Annihilation set out to do only better and with far more interesting roleplay. You don’t need to know anything about Critical Role or Exandria to enjoy this adventure and everything you need is right in the book. If you’re looking for a long-term adventure path, I highly recommend following Netherdeep's call and diving in.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10
Last updated: January 27, 2019
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