A guide to all the sourcebooks for Critical Role’s world of Exandria
Critical Role, the popular Dungeons & Dragons campaign stream starring “a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors,” celebrated its seventh anniversary last week, just one month after the successful conclusion of the first season of The Legend of Vox Machina, an animated retelling of part of the first campaign. Last week also saw the release of Call of the Netherdeep, the first official D&D adventure set in Exandria, the world of Critical Role created by DM Matt Mercer.
This wasn’t the first official sourcebook for Exandria however. Tal’dorei Reborn was released earlier this year by Darrington Press and The Explorer’s Guide to Wildmount was released in 2020 by Wizards of the Coast, so there’s a lot of confusion about which sourcebooks a DM looking to run a campaign in the world of Critical Role would need. And this is especially true when one looks at online resellers and sees Critical Role: Tal’dorei Campaign Setting selling for hundreds of dollars.
So which Critical Role books does an aspiring DM really need? Let’s take a look at the campaign books that will help you follow in Critical Role’s footsteps.
Tal’dorei Reborn explores the world of Vox Machina
The first campaign — as well as the first season of Legend of Vox Machina — takes place in the nation of Tal’dorei, on the continent of the same name. Here the members of Vox Machina made a name for themselves and helped spawn a franchise still going strong three campaigns and seven years later.
It also spawned two campaign books: Tal’dorei Campaign Setting and Tal’dorei Reborn. The former was published by Green Ronin Publishing in 2017 under a limited publishing license that has since expired and therefore is out of print — hence the ridiculous prices you’ll see for it online. Tal’dorei Reborn was published early in 2022 by Critical Role’s own imprint Darrington Press, and it’s a revision and expansion of the Campaign Setting, adding more than 100 pages to the original.
While Tal’dorei Reborn is not an official D&D sourcebook, it is published under the 5th Edition Open Source License and therefore can be easily inserted into any 5E campaign. Structurally it’s very similar to any other 3rd-party 5E sourcebook, providing new character options, a gazetteer of the land of Tal’dorei, NPCs and organizations your players can encounter, as well as the standard new magic items and monsters suitable for any campaign.
That said, Tal’dorei Reborn is set more than 20 years after the events of Campaign One and the animated series, and therefore contains spoilers for the adventures of Vox Machina. (Campaign Setting is set just one year after Campaign One, but is still full of spoilers.) If you or your players are still navigating those stories for the first time, you may wish to steer clear of this sourcebook — but if everyone has seen Campaign One, we recommend buying Tal’dorei Reborn rather than finding a copy of the older book. There’s nothing in Campaign Setting that isn’t in Reborn.
The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount covers the home of the Mighty Nein
The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is the first Critical Role sourcebook published by Wizards of the Coast and is an official 5th Edition D&D publication — it therefore has the ability to leverage all assets of the game, not just those available via the Open Gaming License. This is most evident in the player options chapter, as there are character guidelines for all playable D&D races (even Tortles!) that call part of the Wildemount continent home.
Wildemount is the setting for Campaign Two, starring the Mighty Nein (not yet immortalized in an animated series). Unlike Tal’dorei Reborn it doesn’t take place after the campaign, but during it, with a note from Matt Mercer indicating that the point of divergence is episode 50 of the campaign. While that means there will be some spoilers in the book, it won’t spoil the entire campaign and is therefore “safer” to peruse by the spoiler-averse.
Like Tal’dorei Reborn it includes the standard contents of a 5E sourcebook, but as already noted it’s expanded due to its official status. It also provides four level 1-3 adventures which is a great resource for DMs who want to start a fresh campaign on Exandria.
The Call of the Netherdeep is a stand-alone adventure
Call of the Netherdeep is the first adventure set on Exandria and like the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is an official publication from Wizards of the Coast. It’s also the first Critical Role sourcebook that is independent of events in the official campaign (at least when initially published in March 2022). Starting in Wildemount and taking characters to the city of Ank’Harel — briefly visited by Vox Machina during Campaign One — and into the Netherdeep below, this adventure book provides all the info needed, so purchasing the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount to flesh out the experience is optional.
Designed solely for the DM running the adventure, the Call of the Netherdeep contains no new player options. It also starts the characters at level 3, so an inexperienced DM may want to use one of the level 1-3 adventures contained in the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount if they want to start at level 1 and they’re not confident of creating their own starting experience
Ank’Harel is located on the continent of Marquet where Campaign 3 currently takes place, so it’s possible the two will become entwined in the future. For now, though, it appears this adventure stands alone, and can be run without interfering with the viewing habits of DMs or players.
Much of Exandria is still unexplored
Campaign 3 of Critical Role takes place on the continent of Marquet in the city of Jrusar, and for now this region remains unexplored in a published work by the CR team. Call of the Netherdeep has in-depth information of the city of Ank’Harel, but we expect that a future sourcebook will flesh out the locales of Marquet more fully.
There’s also Issylra, the fourth and largest continent on Exandria, which was featured multiple times during Campaign One. As such it’s a potential candidate for a future campaign and sourcebook, but as the continent is largely uncivilized, it may end up being the location of a published adventure instead.
These are of course the known continents of Exandria, and other lands may spring forth from the imaginations of the Critical Role team. As the popularity of the campaigns and associated works show no sign of waning, D&D players and DMs should expect more published works in the future.
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