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Cover art for Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount features Bright Queen Leylas Kryn, a tiefling with large purple horns, and King Bertrand Dwendal. Between them is a Luxon beacon, a large jeweled polyhedral shaped like a d12.

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Dungeons & Dragons’ Critical Role book is one of the best campaign guides published for 5th edition

Made with love, Matthew Mercer’s work feels essential

Image: Karl Kerschl/Wizards of the Coast

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount formally brings the Critical Role universe into the pantheon of Dungeons & Dragons, and it’s filled with Easter eggs for fans of the “actual play” show. But, as a gameplay guide for regular players, it’s an incredible resource filled with tools that can be applied to any setting. Written with a warmth and care uncommon in these sorts of things, author Matthew Mercer’s 304-page campaign guide may be the best example of its type yet created for the role-playing game’s 5th edition.

First launched in 2014, the 5th edition of D&D has so far focused primarily on the Forgotten Realms setting, dreamed up by Ed Greenwood way back in the 1960s. Additional campaign guides have expanded the multiverse somewhat, adding the Eberron setting (first published in 2004), the world of Acquisitions Incorporated as dreamed up by the team at Penny Arcade (which kicked off in 2007), and a crossover with Magic: The Gathering set on the plane of Ravnica (first introduced to fans of the collectible card game in 2005). The world of Wildemount itself feels more fresh and current than anything that has come before.

Part of its currency comes from how diverse its selection of playable characters is. Wildemount breaks out of the mold established by generations of Player’s Handbooks by giving options well outside established fantasy tropes like elves, dwarves, and halflings. It includes rules for making birdlike races such as the Aarakocra and Kenku, reptilian Tortles, and catlike Tabaxi. It also gives guidance on how the different races perceive one another based on their cultural attitudes and prejudices. The detail in the character options chapter alone will give any Dungeon Master worth their salt plenty of inspiration for their own campaigns.

Mercer goes even further, introducing three new subclasses to D&D, all based on his own homebrewed system of magic called Dunamancy. From chapter 4:

Dunamis is the primal magical energy of potentiality and actuality, an anticipatory arcane force that helps shape the multiverse and might very well be what holds its elements together, like an infinite web of unseen tethers. [...] Those who study to control and tap into this near-invisible power can subtly bend the flow of time and space by controlling the forces of localized gravity, peering into possible timelines to shift fate in their favor, and scattering the potential energy of their enemies to rob them of their potency.

At first it sounds a lot like what would happen if Marvel’s Doctor Strange stopped by for a beer at the Yawning Portal tavern. But, as with every other section of the book, Mercer goes to great lengths to make the concept his own.

A red-haired warrior wearing a purple tabbard, chainmail, and greeves swings a thin silver axe. Behind him his own shadow mirrors his movements.
An Echo Knight in combat.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

His Fighter subclass, called an Echo Knight, fights alongside its own shadow, bobbing and weaving among their enemies. These shadows can be cast as a bonus action, adding much-needed flourish to a class that can feel a bit underpowered at low levels.

Mercer’s first Wizard subclass, which focuses on Chronurgy magic, has the ability to rewind time. The power manifests itself at the table by forcing friends and foes alike to reroll their dice at will, once again adding a powerful new feature at low levels.

Finally, Wizards who practice Graviturgy magic can manipulate the weight and velocity of objects and creatures around them. The skill set encourages players to think outside the box, and riffs on the kinds of abilities common in video games like Mass Effect, Portal, and Half-Life 2. Both Wizard subclasses are supported by an extensive collection of new spells.

Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount ends with nearly 60 pages of new adventures. Combined with the unique art style of master cartographer Deven Rue, they’re perfect for introductory games or one-shot adventures. Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is available now at your local game store, on Amazon, inside the D&D Beyond toolset, and on virtual tabletops like Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, and even on Steam. A free adventure is also available via Roll20.

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