So the new book that was announced this week is the Explorer’s Guide to Exandria, an official D&D book of the Critical Role campaign setting. My feelings on this book are… mixed.
Edit: Since I wrote this, Mr. Mercer did a thing on reddit and now I am less concerned.
Not my World
I haven’t watched all of Critical Role. I’ve seen some of Season 1, most of season 2, but I’m sure no matter when you talk to me, I’m probably a few episodes behind. It’s pretty good D&D content. I like the players, I think it’s a well done show, and I’m jealous of some of Matt Mercer’s skills. I maintain that being able to focus on D&D as the main thing you do each week gives you a lot of prep time and ability to develop amazing skills with things other DMs can do, and he’s not as special or as magical as people sometimes make him out to be. Of course, he has been running games for a long time, is a professional voice actor, and has “made it” in terms of D&D.
I honestly don’t know how much of this is sour grapes.
Anyway, in terms of making it, Explorer’s guide to Exandria is the 2nd CritRole book that has been published. I got the Taldorei campaign guide for Christmas. And it’s… fine. There’s some stuff in there, but I can’t see myself using it in a game and all.
Let me explain this from a different direction. Eberron has been life changing for me. If you talk to me about Eberron, my eyes light up, and I get a big grin on my face. I was so excited to start our Eberron Campaign, but I was stuck, because I COULDN’T DECIDE WHAT I WANTED TO RUN. I had to send a survey out to my players to try and narrow down what we were going to do. I can’t think of a part of the world that I don’t find interesting, that isn’t worth putting a story there. I’m curious how many times you can run a player through Eberron before they get board of it.
I don’t feel any of that for Exandria.
To use a similar example, I find the world of Harry Potter to be very interesting. I have a handful of half-started stories, and thoughts on how that world works. But I have never felt that for Lord of the Rings.
D&D has a couple of other worlds. I can’t get excited about running a game in Dragonlance or the Forgotten Realms. I’m interested in Dark Sun and Ravenloft.
I think it has something to do with the Difference between a story about Characters, and a story about Characters in a World.
CritRole is a game that focuses very much on their characters and their interaction, and less about the world. The players are in a world that is wrapped around them, and to me, it doesn’t feel like it goes that far past them. (again, I didn’t watch all of Season 1, so maybe I missed the bits that did that.
All of that said, maybe the Taldorei book didn’t present things quite right. Heaven knows I’ve flubbed pitches. Since this book is an official WotC book, there will have been a team of writers proficient with presenting D&D material in interesting ways. I’m sure Mercer has more experience this time around, and I bet his notes for the current campaign were originally written in a form much closer to publication than his stuff for the first book. Writing ahead tends to have more built in potential than writing stuff behind you.
WotC has impressed me in 5e, as each book has been an improvement (well, except when they changed cartographers). The WotC team has the AcqInc book as a previous experience, so they’re better at the collab. AcqInc had some flaws, but it’s one of my books for 5e.
As said, my feelings are mixed. But there is one thing that I know we’ll get.
While most of the book doesn’t do much for me, there are some cool options in the Taldorei book. Every house rule that the gang made to ease the transition from Pathfinder to 5e has been re-imagined as a feat. There’s also a few class options and a heaping handful of magic items including the Vestiges)
Now, I don’t know how much will be re-printed from the old book. That was Green Ronin Publishing, this is WotC. It specifically calls out the Vestiges of Divergence in the press release, which are definitely in the Taldorei book.
But, for new toys, dunamancy mentioned, so new spells, and there is something called the hero chronicle system, which I have no idea what it is, but I am eager to learn. I think we’ll get some cool and useful stuff, that might not make it into official sources. Adventure’s league has already proclaimed that they will not be supporting this book (which is probably good, they have a ton of irons in fires already)
So I’ll get to pick and choose what I want to include from this book. No clue how much that is, but there will be some, I’ll want to add, I’m sure
I can’t end think about this book without musing about the future of D&D. Most of the time, a new bookj comes out and I’m like cool, a book. But this one has me worried about the brand.
First, how sustainable is this branch of content? This is the 4th book of this style, if you count the Stranger Things box and the Rick and Morty box. What else is big enough that it can be a draw for new players? Make no mistake, all 4 of these products are there because they thought there would be big sales and it would increase the number of players. Books don’t get published without a consideration of the bottom line.
Adventure Zone is big, so that probably has some content, although I haven’t followed that at all. Acq-Inc could probably get another book, maybe with some of the Waffle Crew stats, and Crit Role probably has another book or two before it’s bled dry.
Sirens of the Realms, Dark and Dicy, Dice Camera Action, DCA’s new show that should start this year, Joe Maginello’s home game, there’s potential, I guess, but what will be a big seller and what will bring the players in? I don’t know how long they can mine this before it plays out.
Second, I’m worried that this is their Spring release. WotC puts out 3 books a year, normally, all set in the Forgotten Realms. I mean, it’s not clockwork, but the fact that the Exandria book is the spring release means… something. I’m not sure what, exactly, but it’s momentous.
It could mean that the Forgotten Realms are winding down and we might get a different campaign guide for other worlds once a year, or it could be that the powers that be want to hitch onto Crit Role’s rising star really bad, or that they are running out of ideas for 5e.
Now, I don’t think they’re running out of ideas. I have a bingo board I built for releases I still expect to see, and I know they can make new stuff instead of recycling old ideas (…right?)
Now, to counter my point, it could be that the Powers That Be decided to focus on this book because it’s going to be awesome.
So yeah, mixed feelings. I’ll be watching the videos that will be coming out on D&D Beyond’s and D&D’s Youtube channels, to see what comes up. Maybe it will get me hyped? Idk. We’ll have to wait an see.