The meteoric rise of Critical Role as a growing entertainment empire has meant its community regularly savours the transmedia fruits of its labour.
I include myself in that sweeping “community” generalisation. I’ve been a fan of CR since early in its first campaign and discovered the show in late 2015. It obliterated my wider viewing habits by giving me exactly the content I wanted to watch, and I’ve been a regular viewer ever since. I’ve gotten to watch the show, and the extant company that quickly grew around it, launch comics, novels, its own tabletop gaming label, and even a TV show. Because the show is a tri-monthly game of Dungeons & Dragons, a significant facet of its transmedia push has included officially licensed D&D books.
I’ve thrown up the spoiler warning for housekeeping reasons, but I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler-free as I can.
The latest Dungeons & Dragons adventure book, Call of the Netherdeep, uses Critical Role’s Exandria campaign setting. Though beginning in Wildemount, the setting for the show’s popular second campaign and first licensed campaign guide, the story quickly moves to Ank’Harel and to aspects present in CR’s current third campaign.
At the time of writing, fans are awaiting new information on Ruidus, the second of Exandra’s two moons. What they know so far is that there’s something funny about Ruidus. A deep crimson red and said to be a fell omen, Ruidus doesn’t behave like a moon. The show’s dungeon master and principal storyteller Matthew Mercer has indicated on numerous occasions that there is more to Ruidus than meets the eye.
This has sent the CR theorycrafters down the rabbit hole. I regret to inform them, that they needn’t have bothered. The introduction of Call of the Netherdeep lays all the information about Ruidus out in painstaking detail.
In fairness, the section that lays all of this information out is in the early part of the book, which is supposed to be “for DM’s eyes only.” It’s not information that players are supposed to access right away, though they will uncover the mystery of Ruidus as they progress.
This creates a two-prong problem for Critical Role. First, it puts Mercer on a kind of deadline for threading story information into his ongoing game before these adventure books hit store shelves. Depending on the hooks his players on the show pick up, he may have that information in the open by the time the book launches, or he may not. In this case, though Ruidus looms large in the Campaign 3 story, he didn’t quite there in time.
Second, it has the unfortunate effect of detonating Critical Role theorycrafting, something the show’s Twitter community has always adored. While they can spin their theories prior to launch, once the book is out there, it nukes those theories with cold hard canon in a way the previous campaigns never did.
It’s real good and you should play it though
None of this is to suggest that the campaign contained within the book isn’t good. I actually think it’s a great little adventure. It’s what I would call a Rollercoaster Campaign, in the sense that it charges along with the momentum of a theme park ride. The brisk pace keeps players less interested in roleplaying hooked in, and gives regular milestones for DM’s to use for party levelling. It also understands that a significant number of players will be coming over from Critical Role, which is a roleplay heavy campaign.
This adventure bears RP players foremost in mind, with enemies that have clearly outlined emotional hot buttons. When engaged through good RP, or with successful charisma rolls, certain foes will undergo dramatic changes. The short version is: if you want the Roll For Initiative sword-and-board D&D experience, you can have it. But Call of the Netherdeep is built to offer the cerebral equivalent too, turning conversations into loaded jousts.
With the right crowd, it seems like it would be a great (if at times grim) journey into the kind of horror that dominated the latter half of CR’s Campaign 2. For fans of the show, it’s perhaps the closest to cracking open Exandria’s origins that Mercer has come to date. Call of the Netherdeep is steeped in the history of The Calamity, a cataclysmic event in which the Exandrian pantheon exploded into a civil war that put the entire world in peril.
Let me clear the air here and now: C2’s heroes The Mighty Nein don’t appear at all. If you were getting your hopes up, allow me to adjust your expectations. Of course, your DM is well within their right to give you a special treat. If you would like to meet the Nein in your adventure, you should let them know! To soften the blow, there are a few direct easter eggs for fans hidden throughout the adventure. Among these is a character directly related to someone in the Nein’s orbit that should cause a great deal of excitement. The adventure is for levels 3 to 12 and can be supplemented with content from The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount sourcebook if you feel you need more. Though the adventure leans into horror and suspense, DM’s can tweak the adventure’s more scarier elements to suit their party’s tastes.
You can pick up Call of the Netherdeep at your friendly local game store today, Tuesday, March 15.
(Feels like it should have come out on a Thursday, but I’m not in marketing at Hasbro.)
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