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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Critical Role - Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting

You can get the pdf of this book right here.
You can order it on amazon here

Today we're going to look at a brand new product: the Tal'Dorei campaign setting. This is the realm in which the Critical Role show takes place.

I've only seen the first episode of Critical Role. I liked it, but the episodes are very long and it's hard to keep up.

That means that all of this stuff is going to be new to me. We'll go through and pick out the best ideas that could be mined for your home game. I'll try to give you an idea of what's in the book so you can decide if you want to get it.

I'm interested to see if the Raven Queen is in this, as I'm pretty sure she is used on that show. I also know that this campaign started in Pathfinder, which makes it a real mix of stuff. I am wondering what they can and can't use, legally.

I run a Planescape campaign and I love the idea of having my group go here for a session or two, so this should be a lot of fun to check out.

Essential Information
  • This book is primarily a description of the realm of Tal'Dorei.
  • A lot of the deities in this book are D&D entities that are not called by their normal name.
  • The art is top notch.
  • There are monsters and magic items, but it feels like there could have been more. 
  • If you are looking for a setting or a book to pull (non-dungeon) locations out of to use in your game, this is definitely worth getting. 
  • I think that players might really like some of the options in here.

Very Good Cover: I really like the cover (see the very top of this article). There's action! I'm real picky about D&D art and this is definitely the kind of thing I like to see. It's a scene that shows you the stuff you can do in the game. I also really like that they resisted the idea of making it a standard group shot of the characters from the show. Their backs are turned! Ballsy!

Lots of Names: Looking at the credits, I see that Mark Hulmes from High Rollers had some input. I love that guy. Crystal Frasier did some work on this, too. She wrote that epic first adventure of the Hell's Rebels path that I am dying to run. The main authors: Matthew Mercer with James Haeck.

History

We start off with the history of the realm. A lot of times, I hate these things because they are so long-winded and just too complicated. It's hard to get this stuff across to groups without their eyes glazing over.

When I see a wall of text, I'm not too thrilled. Only Ed Greenwood can walk me through big paragraphs. He has a breezy style that's easy to fly through.

It turns out that this section is written in a similar way. I was able to get through it without too much of a struggle.

Tal'Dorei is on a world called Exandria. Gods known as the Protean Creators made the elves, then the dwarves, then the humans. They created metallic dragons to protect them.

The Primordials didn't like this.. Heyyy! The 4e primordials! Awesome. Fighting broke out. Some gods wanted to fight back, others didn't. This formed a split:
  • The Prime Gods: Gods who battled the Primordials, creating things like alchemy to aid mortals in their fight.
  • The Betrayer Gods: Deities who aided the enemy, went nuts, etc. They were banished to their own prison planes.
The primordials were defeated.

The first great city was founded: Vasselheim.

Raven Queen: Hey! A mortal mage crafted rites to challenge the God of Death..! I smell a Raven Queen. I wonder if they'll have art of her.

There is one truth when it comes to 4th edition and that thing is as follows: Everyone loves the Raven Queen.

Somebody named Vespin Chloras freed the Betrayer Gods. This led to a massive war. The good guys won and the Betrayers were sent back to solitary. Years later, a woman named Zan Tal'Dorei led an effort to fight off spawn of the betrayers and other stuff. The land ended up being named after her.

A red dragon named Thordak the Cinder King wreaked havoc and was sealed in the Elemental Plane of Fire.

This led to a bunch of dragons called the Chroma Conclave becoming a problem. Vox Machina (heroes of the Critical Role show) took them down an that bring us to the present day.

Good Choices: There are a lot of good names and words in this book. The Frostweald, the Rimelord, the Verdant Expanse (! love that one), Brimscythe!

Guns: Firearms are here but can be easily scrubbed out. It doesn't seem to be mentioned much at all.

Gods of Tal'Dorei

Let's check out the gods. It turns out that they don't refer directly to D&D gods by name. That's kind of a bummer. It seems to me that D&D has benefited tremendously from this show, and I think they should have allowed the use of certain entities that they don't normally allow. 

The Prime Gods

The good guy gods.
  • The Archeart: God of magic and the fey. This looks like Corellon!
  • The Allhammer: God of dwarves, knowledge and war. Moradin.
  • The Changebringer: God of Trickery and Nature. "She Who Makes the Path."
  • The Dawnfather:  Revered by those who hunt aberrations.
  • The Everlight: She believes that the corrupt can be redeemed. Apparently she was betrayed by "the Lord of the Hells". I think this might be the Pathfinder deity, Sarenrae. I really like that this show mixes Pathfinder and D&D concepts.
  • The Knowing Mistress: God of lore and knowledge. Ioun?
  • The Lawbearer: God of law. Has a "tempestuous romance with the Wildmother, a furious love that is only tempered when civilization and nature are in balance." Hot damn!
  • The Matron of Ravens (Raven Queen!): The few who have seen her says she's a pale woman wearing a white, porcelain mask.
  • The Moonweaver: Goddess of moonlight and love. She protects the "trysts of lovers with shadows of her own making." Well now, how about that. Sehanine?
  • The Platinum Dragon (Bahamut): It's Bahamut.
  • The Stormlord: God of strength and storms.
  • The Wildmother: Goddess of wild animals and "the heat-harried stillness of the desert." I love that rich description.
The Betrayer Gods
  • The Chained Oblivion: An "engine of utter destruction and madness." I think this is Tharizdun?
  • The Cloaked Serpent: God of snakes, poison and assassins.
  • The Crawling King: Looks like this is Torog from 4e! Nice.
  • The Lord of the Hells: Apparently the Changebringer tricked his armies onto attacking each other.
  • The Ruiner: Gruumsh! His missing eye shifted to the center of his face. That's a nice little way to reconcile the two different depictions of Gruumsh.
  • The Spider Queen: Lolth. The drow are in the thrall of Tharizdun's minions. Lolth can see through the eyes of all spiders. She hates the Stormlord, who impaled her against a cliffside with a thunderspear.
  • The Strife Emporer: Maglubiyet? Honorable warrior, evil patron of war and conquest. His broken armor litters a plateau - his massive helmet houses the capital city of a hobgoblin empire. Awesome!
  • The Scaled Tyrant: Tiamat.
Spicy Drow: There's some cool ideas about the drow being plagued by the Chained Oblivion, and some of them embracing him, becoming dopplegangers. Drow are a little boring and this seems like a good way to spice them up.


Turns of the Phrase: The master of D&D flavor text is James Jacobs. I'll never full recover from "wet and ruinous" and the "heaving birthflesh" from the demonomicon Malcanthet article from Dragon Magazine. Some of the stuff in here approaches those lofty heights. I love the description of the tempestuous affair between the gods.

Vecna: In the factions section we see that in this world, Vecna tried to ascend to godhood but it didn't work out. He's dead, sort of. His cult is trying to bring him back. The cult is separated into factions called the Eyes, the Voice, the Blood, the Hand and the Heart, which I believe is very similar to the groups in Vecna Reborn.

Gazeteer

This section makes up the bulk of the book. It details the realm, complete with adventure suggestions.

My favorite stuff:
  • The Moon Mistress: A night hag who takes the guise of a water nymph. You can stop right there! Sold.
  • A quasit heading up a team of griffon-egg poachers.
  • Centaur skeletons! Awesome art, really cool idea. The Herd of the Damned, succumbing to a curse of undeath.
  • Harpy pirates! Led by Captain Silvercomb, an arrogant, dashing, and well-spoken grandmother.
  • A city protected by an illusory dome. Powering it requires wizards to dump spell slots into it. I really like this one.
  • The Plainscow, a popular mount! I had a character who rode a cow once. I would cast fly on it and we'd zoom all over the place.
  • Graz'tchar, the Decadent End: A magic sword that contains the remains of a demon prince (sounds like it's Graz'zt). They have stats for it and everything.
  • The Holocaust Seed: An unborn primordial titan seed! Its presence makes the surrounding jungle thrive. If triggered, it awakens rapidly.
Class Options


I much prefer this depiction of halflings as compared to the halflings in the Player's Handbook.

The last 40 pages of the book deals with stat stuff. There are a few class options.

Class Options

(Cleric) Blood Domain: You can do extra damage, control people and make them attack others. You can study the spilled blood of a creature to find their current location and their state of health. That is awesome.

(Barbarian) Path of the Juggernaut: You can push creatures when you hit them, you can't be knocked prone, and you deal double damage to structures and objects.

(Sorcerer) Runechild: You have runes on your body that you can pump sorcery points into. When you get hit, you can use those runes to subtract d6 damage per rune! You can use them to get advantage on checks, and put them on other people.

I love this option and I would definitely play one, but I'd change the name. I like "runepriest" better.

(Monk) Way of the Cobalt Soul: You can recall lore, spend ki points to learn about the creature you struck, and "you can hit a series of hidden nerves on a creature with precision, temporarily causing them to be unable to mask their true thoughts and intent."

I love this one, too. I would like it if the "extract aspect" power let you learn about the creature's past, thoughts, that kind of thing. As it's written, you learn stat stuff: AC, vulnerabilities, immunities, etc.

Backgrounds

There's some backgrounds. I like the Ashari.
  • The Clasp: A thieves guild.
  • Lyceum Student: A rich kid, student at the highest place of learning in Tal'Dorei.
  • Ashari: Protectors of nature that are tied to the elements. There are four tribes, one for each element.
  • Recovered Cultist: Former evildoer.
  • Fate-Touched: Your soul is linked to history itself.
New Feats: There's a pile of them. The one that stick out is "rapid drinker." It lets you drink a potion as a bonus action.

The Vestiges of Divergence: These are powerful magic items that have powers that gain potency over time. I think there was something like this in 3rd edition.

The item advances in power at certain times, often manifesting in a dramatic moment. They are dormant for levels 1-8, awaken at 9-15, and 16+ they are "exalted."

So, as an example.. the Armor of the Valiant Soul:
  • Awakened: Can cast command once per long rest, +2 to AC, resist acid, immune frightened.
  • Exalted: +3 to AC, frightened immunity extends to allies within 15 feet, immune acid, DC of command goes up.
There's a lot of these items.

Variant Rules: We get a bunch of variant rules. Quicker rests, alternate resurrection rules and more.

There's a big section on resurrection. You lose 1 Con each time you're raised, you might have long term madness and you also might accrue corruption. There's an idea of a "resurrection challenge", where others must perform a ritual to convince a god to bring them back.

The loss of Constitution is an idea that goes back to older editions. It never really worked out, because generally you don't die that much and the Con loss is a bummer.

I do love the idea, though, of running an adventure where the character keeps dying, and they have to complete a task before their Con runs out and they're dead forever.

Monsters

There's pages of lore explaining how different monsters fit into the world. The origin of the orcs: When Corellon shot out Gruumsh's eye, Gruumsh's blood spilled onto elves and humans, transforming them into orcs.

I really like that. Although it is weird to say that during that battle, elves spawned from Corellon's blood and then a few minutes later, Gruumsh's blood changes them.

We get some stat blocks. The Ashari are very cool. The Ashari firetamers can actually turn into a fire elemental.

Cinderslag Elemental: I love the art for this one. They're part lava. They can seep through cracks, they have a molten gaze, very cool.

There's more. Goliaths, Vecna cultists, mostly humanoid NPC types.

That's it!

Overall

The Art: The art in this book is really good. In some cases, it is better than the art in the 5e core books. There is a consistent level of quality and it feels less restricted - the artists were able to show off their style while still adhering to the general parameters of D&D art. Bryan Syme really kicked some ass in this book.

The Presentation: I love the way the pages are set up. It's sort of a hybrid Pathfinder/D&D look.

This is a good book. If you're into Critical Role, I think you'll really like it.

If you're not, then you should definitely check out what's in it before buying. The vast majority of the product describes locations. There aren't any encounters to steal or anything like that. There's no list of magic items - at least, not traditional magic items. The vestige items are very cool though, and there's a lot of them.

I do think players would like this book. The character options are very cool, particularly the monk and sorcerer ones.

There you go. Thumbs up! 

3 comments:

Nykademos said...

The Archeart: Corellon
The Allhammer: Moradin
The Changebringer: Avandra
The Dawnfather: Pelor
The Everlight: Sarenrae
The Knowing Mistress: Ioun
The Lawbearer: Erathis
The Matron of Ravens: The Raven Queen
The Moonweaver: Sehanine
The Platinum Dragon: Bahamut
The Stormlord: Kord
The Wildmother: Melora
The Chained Oblivion: Tharizdun
The Cloaked Serpent: Zehir
The Crawling King: Torog
The Lord of the Hells: Asmodeus
The Ruiner: Gruumsh
The Spider Queen: Lolth
The Strife Emperor: Bane
The Scaled Tyrant: Tiamat

It's the Dawn War deities plus Sarenrae minus Vecna (at least for now).
Also, thanks so much for doing this review! I really am loving Critical Role and want to get this book, but can't really afford it right now. So all this insight into what's inside makes me squirm with joy!

glados131 said...

You really should watch the show. There's no need to rush it; it's more fun if you take your time.

The cover art is definitely amazing. It's actually taken from a super-iconic fight scene in the show.

Dungeon Master said...

Thanks for this! Geek & Sundry is now transferring the show into podcasts that are easier to go through. Give a listen when you can!

http://criticalrolepodcast.geekandsundry.com/