Explorer's Guide to Wildemount Review

Posted by Andrew E. on

Explorer's Guide to Wildemount

Is this a Critical Role or a Fumble?  

Critical Role is practically synonymous with D&D at this point and a lot of new players were introduced to the hobby through Critical Role. So, it’s no surprise that Wizards of the Coast has partnered with Critical Role to create their first official supplement for 5e D&D. Now that Wildemount is an official setting, how does it hold up? Is this just a big book of fanservice or is there something here regardless of branding? Critters and newcomers rally around, as we go through everything you need to know.  

What is Critical Role?

If you’re completely in the dark here, you may be asking what this “Critical Role” thing is. Simply put, Critical Role is the little D&D podcast that could. Critical Role started as just a bunch of nerds getting together and streaming their D&D adventures, and in most ways it still is. They have copious amounts of merchandise and are one of the most popular worldwide streams of any genre, but at their core Critical Role’s content is still just some nerds throwing dice and role-playing their hearts out.

 

Where they stand out is the talent behind the mics. Led by Matt Mercer, each member of Critical Role is a voice actor or actress of incredible range and talent. Even if you haven’t heard their names, you’ve almost certainly heard one of their voices in one of your favorite animated series or video games. Now Critical Role is a true phenomenon, and they are set to soon release their own animated series showing some of their early adventures which, at their core, were just some talented nerds playing D&D.  

 

What is Wildemount?

Wildemount is Matt Mercer’s original setting, or rather it is one continent within his larger setting of Exandria. Wildemount is where the current adventures of the “Mighty Nein” are unfolding, and it’s in the same world (but not the same area) where the first Critical Role campaign took place.

 

Wildemount is a player’s (Matt Mercer’s) take on a traditional fantasy world, and it has all the hallmarks of one. Quite frankly, it has a lot of similarities to the original settings I’ve seen a lot of other players make throughout the years. Wildemount isn’t a themed setting like Eberron or limited to a terrain like Chult. Wildemount has a pirate adventuring coast, wars and political intrigue, magically dangerous frozen wastelands and the god-scarred lands of a dark elven dynasty. Wildemount has a little bit of everything, whether that’s a good thing depends on what you want out of your adventures. For the most part, adventuring in Wildemount is a lot like adventuring in the Forgotten Realms, but with that Critical Role spark.   

What’s in the Book?

Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount totals up at 304 pages, which is about right for the full-sized official settings. It’s technically listed at $49.99, which is a fair price, but I’ve also been seeing it as low as $29.99 which is a steal compared to most releases. The book spends considerable space outlining the lore and fluff of Wildemount, in addition to a respectively hefty amount of class options, magic items, and new monsters. It also includes a whopping 4 adventure paths and devotes a surprising amount of space to the racial entries. All told, it includes: 

 

  • 2 Chapters of lore outlining the nations, factions, and overall story of Wildemount.
  • The “Wildemount Gazetteer” detailing the many locations of Wildemount.
  • 5 New subraces for existing races, and a new Hollow One “Race Template”.
  • 3 New subclasses.
  • 15 New spells.
  • A new player backstory tool.
  • 2 New backgrounds.
  • 4 New short (1st to 3rd level) adventure paths.
  • 50 New magic items, many of which are mythical leveling items.
  • 23 New monsters/NPCs with lore and stat blocks.

2 Chapters of Lore

This will be more of a treat for fans than it will be for newcomers. It’s very well written, but I get the feeling that a lot of the value here is in the references and call backs to bits of the show. Fans will get a lot of “Oh THOSE guys, I was wondering about them”, but honestly most of it just reads like a slightly alternate take on the Forgotten Realms with a splash of Pathfinder’s setting thrown in. And, let’s be straight here, that’s exactly what it is. Exandria (and Wildemount by extension) was originally made in Pathfinder, then converted to 5e D&D later. Wildemount is an odd mixture of 5e lore, and Matt Mercer’s original creations. Vecna and Lolth are good examples, as they are core antagonists of the Forgotten Realms, but are shown here with Matt’s own unique take alongside his own invented deities.

 

The Wildemount Gazetteer

This is quite frankly some of the best work I’ve seen. Firstly, it has detailed maps showing every bit of Wildemount. But unlike other settings before it, they don’t just give you descriptions. Every single location on their maps has one or more plot-hooks. They’re not full adventures by any stretch, but no matter where your players go, you’ll have a great hook and adventure idea waiting for them. Where other settings just have a town name and some statistics, Wildemount has a setup for a mystery or monster you can use to keep the campaign rolling.

 

5 New Subraces

These were a surprise and a very welcome one. I’m tempted to say that the new “pallid elf” incisive sense trait makes them overpowered but that’s my only gripe with the new content (which is always appreciated). We also get a “hollow one” template to apply for characters that have been brought back from the dead. I will say though I was surprised to see the rules for aasimar, firbolgs, tortles, and basically all the rules for races from Volo’s Guide to Monsters here. I get that they are races in the setting, and I suppose it’s nice not to need Volo’s guide or the tortle package, but speaking as somebody who has access to these already it seemed like a massive waste of page space repeating rules. I suppose for newbies though, having it all condensed down into one setting book is probably the best way to go. 

 

3 New Subclasses

These are legit fantastic additions. We’ve gained the “echo fighter” which allows you and your shadow clone to do battle. The “chronurgy wizard” that gains time manipulation magic, and the “graviturgy wizard” that can mess with gravity. I love these, and I even plan on playing an echo fighter in my next campaign, which is about the highest praise I can give.

 

15 New Spells

These are really here to flesh out the new chronurgy and graviturgy wizard archetypes, but they’re not limited to them. They range from cantrips that make the enemy trip, to monstrous 8th level spells that summon black holes. Great spells, and a great addition to the game.

 

Backstory Tool

I don’t think I’ll end up using this tool, but it looks perfect for new players. This more than anything shows how much of a “package product” they were trying to make for newbies. Basically, this contains a bunch of random tables with great story hooks and foreboding prophecies that the DM can use however they’d like. If your group is brand new to the game, this will be a godsend. More seasoned groups will likely give it a pass in favor of more individualized backstories.

 

2 New Backgrounds

These are obviously flavored for the setting, but they could also be applicable to your own campaigns. Well-designed and extremely flavorful, I think you’ll start seeing these backgrounds cropping up in a lot of characters.

 

4 New Mini Adventure Paths

These aren’t terribly long, but they’re FANTASTIC. These are exactly what I want out of a setting book and I hope they do similar adventures in later settings going forward. Each one progresses from 1st level to 3rd level, starting with a solid hook and actually doing something interesting rather than grinding. Fight shark mutants around a sinking island and become a pirate or investigate a mysterious plague and track down an ancient bio-weapon lab. Ride city turtles and fight a shadow demon or track down an escaped convict before fighting a guy in a MECH SUIT. Each of these excellent adventures ends with plot hooks that encourage the player to experience and explore the rest of Wildemount. I can’t think of a better way to settle your playgroup into a new adventure.

 

50 New Magic Items

This is a ton of goodness, and a breath of fresh air after so many books have been so stingy with them. About half of these are powerful leveling items, which make fitting rewards that’ll keep getting better as the players advance. Great stuff, and I hope we get more like them in the future.

 

23 New Monsters/NPCs

For most players this is a great infusion of new monster blood. For fans this is a chance to finally see official artwork of monsters we’ve encountered in the show, like the morebounders. Any new monsters are good, but these are excellent regardless of the branding.

 

What’s Good About the Book? 

I think shot for shot this book does practically everything right. A setting book needs to be more than just lore, and the mini adventures combined with the countless plot hooks found in “The Wildemount Gazetteer” elevate this to a new standard. I could hand this book to a brand-new DM and be reasonably confident that they’d end up with a fun campaign. It tops it off with a bunch of new player options, monsters, magic items, and spells. It’s hard to ask for anything more.

 

What’s Bad About the Book?  

I have a minor gripe in “wasting” space on repeating existing racial stats. However, I do have one major complaint. Critical Role fans might tar and feather me for saying this, but Wildemount isn’t that interesting of a setting. It has a lot of content, but there’s nothing that really makes it stand out from the base Forgotten Realms setting besides the Critical Role branding. Wildemount has a lot of interesting lore, places, and monsters, but there’s nothing here that wouldn’t also work in the Forgotten Realms. It’s a traditional fantasy world setting, a famous person’s fantasy world setting, but a standard traditional one, nonetheless.

 

Conclusions

Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is, without exaggeration, the single best 5e setting book Wizards of the Coast has ever released. This is mainly due to the quality of the mini-adventures, plentiful plot hooks around every corner, and accessibility to new players. Sadly, it has little to do with the setting itself, which is a very traditional high-fantasy world. A well-written world, but a rather basic one. If you’re looking for a new and interesting setting, this will just feel like Forgotten Realms 2.0. Regardless, a traditional fantasy world has a lot going for it, and newbies and veterans alike will find a wealth of fun here. Hardcore fans have likely bought the book already regardless of what reviews like mine say, but I’m very happy to report that the quality here goes far beyond hype and branding. Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is a triumph, and I hope all future settings follow its example.  

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

 

👉GET THE BOOK HERE 👈

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