Why I’m excited for the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount

Despite not watching CriticalRole.

The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount cover

On the 13th of January 2020, Wizards of the Coast announced its next release, in collaboration with Matt Mercer: The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (https://dnd.wizards.com/products/wildemount). This is a new sourcebook, describing the continent of Wildemount, in the world of Exandria (Matt Mercer’s own game world where the CriticalRole youtube series is based).

We currently have the following information about what the book is about:

  • It’s a guide to the continent of Wildemount, in the world of Exandria (history, creation myth, pantheon, factions and societies, locations), and how the different races fit in.
  • 3 new subclasses around a new form of magic revolving around space and time called Dunamancy: the Echo Knight, the Chronurgist, and the Graviturgist).
  • New spells for Dunamancy.
  • The heroic chronicle (a way of creating a character’s backstory by rolling randomly or choosing from tables in order to integrate the character into the world).
  • 4 starting adventures (levels 1-3), one for each of the regions of Wildemount.
  • New magical items, including some that develop with the character.
  • New creatures to face.

For more information, you can check out the interviews that Matt Mercer did for D&D Beyond: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPjdPog_vKX16iAP7lY8vjUDi2QlgRwJ1.

Personally I’m really psyched for the heroic chronicle idea. The Witcher RPG has a really neat part in character creation where depending on your race and where you’re from you roll for your past family life (parents, siblings, what happened) and then for every 10 years that your character has lived you roll for past life events that allow you to build up a backstory really easily, whilst also allowing players to feel out what sort of feel the setting is going for.

To the surprise of no one, this book was an immediate success topping Amazons best sellers list, an exploit no other D&D book had yet to manage. Also to the surprise of no one, there was a vocal minority complaining about the choice. I don’t particularly want to go into the reasons behind the backlash, apart from pointing out that it’s the internet. I mainly want to go into why I’m happy about its release, despite not watching the show.

In my first blog post describing how I got into D&D (back in March of 2019, I really need to update this more, https://dungeongrumbling.home.blog/2019/03/25/stumbling-sideways-into-dd/), I mentioned that my first look at what a game of D&D actually looked like was when I saw CriticalRole on Youtube, via Geek & Sundry who I watched for their board game videos. It was the first time I had actually seen people playing D&D, or any TTRPG to be honest. I’d heard stories about them, and had some sort of vague understanding of how it happened simply from cutlural osmosis, but I’d never seen people playing one. I must admit I wasn’t a fan at first sight. I didn’t really understand what was going on, and I had a hard time following who was who and what they were doing. I’ve since learnt that in general I have a hard time watching actual play TTRPG games in general, and currently only follow two of them with any regularity and even then it’s in stops and starts depending on my schedual.

It did however lead me down a rabbit hole. I started looking around for other youtube videos about D&D. I looked at D&D beyond for example, and Roll20 where I discovered Adam Kobel and that led me to the Rollplay page (most of whose cast I knew from things outside of TTRPGs already). I also discovered Matthew Colville, who I credit with giving me the courage and the tools I needed to get into DMing and actually play my first game.

Like I said, I’m still not a big CritcalRole fan, but for reasons that have nothing to do with CriticalRole and that are entirely personal. I found out about it late in the game. Their first season was already halfway done and I didn’t have time to go back and try and watch through it. When the second season came out I started trying to watch again but simple time restraints got in the way again and I have a hard time following that many people anyway. Plus, it’s just not how I play D&D. I find the way Matt Mercer runs his games great, I love how his players interact with it. I would probably love playing in a game like this one. But in terms of GM style, which is mainly why I watch real play casts, it’s just not how I do things. However, I love the stories. I love listening to “Critters” tell their favourite parts. When Matt Colville did a video about the end of season 1, I found the entier story amazing, both the actual adventure that Matt Mercer had created, but also the player’s stories, their interconnections and the emotions that come from playing with other people.

TTRPGs, and D&D, are above all collaborative creative zones. It’s the stories that we create together that have the most sense, that impact us the most, that create the emotions and the feelings that separate TTRPGs from a board game or a video game. CriticalRole exemplifies that to me. It is the emotional nexus for so many members of the 5th edition D&D community that it is disingenuous to count it as “niche” or to ignore its significance. They have 757k followers on Youtube, the latest episode of their show got 714k views (campaign 2, episode 89), their subreddit has 185k members (which works out to about 12% of the 1,5m on r/DnD). They have created a collective conscience shared by their viewers about what D&D is, it’s a shared experience that binds them together. It might not be a show that I watch, because of timing and personal preference, but it still affects me. I am happy for its existence and its success as it allowed me to discover so much more, and for the joy that it has brought to so many others.

I read a lot about D&D before I ever played it. Years before seeing an actual game in action I had read sourcebooks for 3rd edition and before. I have since gone back and looked at some of them for other editions, and to look at the different worlds that have existed before (Eberron, Dark Sun, Birthright, Planescape, Spelljammer, …). A great deal of respect for the older editions of D&D was put into 5th edition so that it would feel right, and so that it would respect the old codes. I would love to see some of them brought back and modernized, and they probably will be at some point, but isn’t it time that 5th edition got a setting of its own? Not something from the past polished and adapted, but something new? The old sourcebooks still exist, you can still play in any of the old worlds if you want to adapt them. Most of them have little mechanical effect in-game, and those that do have generally already been homebrewed by now (psionics, the artificer,…). CriticalRole helped get a lot of people invested in 5th edition. It seems fitting that it should now be recognized officially.

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