For those who don’t know, Critical Role is a weekly actual play live(ish) D&D stream that has aired on Twitch for the last five years, and has amassed an immense following of devoted fans called Critters. Performed by a bunch of self-proclaimed “nerdy-ass voice actors,” it has proven to be one of the most successful and popular D&D games out there. And with every piece of content the Critical Role team delivers, they go from strength to strength. So much so, that now Critical Role is far more than just a bunch of “nerdy-ass voice actors” playing Dungeons & Dragons; it has become a phenomenon which nobody can stop.
This year looks like that phenomenon is only getting wilder: 2022 sees not only the continuation of the third D&D campaign set in Exandria and first series of their record-breaking Kickstarter-funded animated TV show the Legend of Vox Machina, but also the release of Tal’Dorei Reborn, the revised, updated, and vastly improved campaign setting set just after their first much-loved campaign.
So, why should you be interested in this book? Is it just for fans of the show? And what if you already own the original Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting or the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount? Here are 5 reasons why I would recommend adding this book to your D&D collection:
1. Tal’Dorei Fully Realized
For those of keen to run games set in Exandria, there’s everything needed to develop a fully imagined version of Tal’Dorei. From the founding myths of Exandria, to the origins of the continents, the Great Calamity, and most recent history, the first chapter looks at all of the pre-story information you’ll need to set up your game. Then there’s the updated pantheon of gods, including the Wildmother, the Ruiner, and the Crawling King, their alliances and animosities chronicled in fascinating detail. Also included are the important factions and notable NPCs your players might meet in your game, including some very familiar names. Just reading through these first two chapters is enough to get the cogs of your imagination whirring.
Then comes chapter 3, which is the real substance of the Tal’Dorei Reborn Campaign Setting. Amazingly detailed descriptions of all of the locations both familiar (to Critters) and not-so familiar fill the 80 pages of the Tal’Dorei Gazetteer that make up the third section of this book. From the Lucidian Coast to the Verdant Expanse, dungeon masters are given all the tools they might need to bring a fully-realized version of Tal’Dorei into their own home game. Each location includes descriptions, population demographics, and potential adventure hooks, with the larger locations and cities of Tal’Dorei given more space for politics, points of interests, and geography.
All these elements and descriptions are tied together through the post Vox Machina narrative, which Critters are already well-familiar with. Look out for references to the Slayer’s Cake, the Cobalt Reserve, and the wondrous city of Syngorn, and try not to let your head explode as you read about Gilmore’s Glorious Goods.
2. Lots of New Character Options
Tal’Dorei Reborn is a book that wants you to get excited about creating a new character and starting your next Exandria-based D&D campaign. After a brief note on the importance of a session 0 and how to set the boundaries in a game so that all your players are comfortable and understand the ways to play your game in a safe space, Chapter 4 focuses on player character creation and the options you have for developing unique and memorable characters. This section of the book includes lots of brand new material, which if you do already own the original Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting absolutely makes it worth picking this copy up, because it’s what you’ve been waiting for.
It includes nine brand new sub-classes for barbarians, bards, clerics, druids, monks, paladins, and sorcerers, featuring all new content—enough for multiple adventuring groups. It also features character backgrounds for Ashari, Clasp members, Lyceum Scholars, Reformed Cultists, and even the Whitestone Rifle Corps. And finally, there’s seven brand new feats to develop your character even further.
Using this book my next character will be a Kraghammer Dwarf Runechild Sorcerer. With the Reformed Cultist background, my dwarf will have a lust for vengeance and has dedicated themselves to exploring the philosophy that: “Life needs things to live.”
3. Tal’Dorei Treasures
Tal’Dorei is a land awash with magical items and Chapter 5 of Tal’Dorei Reborn is the Game Master’s Toolbox, which contains 22 standard magical items (yes, I know how oxymoronic that sounds!) and 17 Vestiges of Divergence. While a lot of the items included here were featured in the previous Tal’Dorei campaign setting, here they’ve been refined, re-imagined and in some cases entirely re-invented to fit in with the slicker version of this book.
But that doesn’t mean there are no new items here. Oh no, quite the contrary. There were some glaring omissions from the previous edition which have been rectified here—see Star Razor—for instance. As well as the inclusion of some magical items you might recognize from campaign 2—both the Magician’s Judge and Dagger of Denial make an appearance here.
What’s great about the inclusion of these familiar items is that they can be added into any D&D game that you might already be playing at home. In fact, this goes for a large majority of the content of this book. It’s all very adaptable and could easily be dropped in your own campaign without any disruption, which is one of the real tests of any 5th edition book.
4. 44 Monster Stat Blocks
Any DM will tell you they can never have enough monster stat blocks. No matter if you already own the official fifth edition Monster Manual or Volo’s Guide to Monsters, or any other third party bestiary, there will always be times when you just can’t find the particular monster that you’re looking for. Well, here’s an additional 44 monster stat blocks to help you in those desperate times of need.
The original book had 16 monster stat blocks and I thought that was a pretty decent offering, but this tome really outdoes itself with 44 brand new fiends and NPCs, including Cyclops Stormcallers, Demonfeed Spiders, four brand new golems, and—of course—the all-important Ravager Stabby-Stabber.
Of all the monsters in this book, the one that stands out to me the most is Jourrael, The Caedogeist. A nightmarish specter and ancient assassin of many names, including “The Inevitable End,” anyone who has experienced campaign 2 of Critical Role will know the name and will be intrigued to see the stat block for this awe-inspiring and sensational monster. At challenge rating 15, this assassin shouldn’t be too much for mid- to higher level parties, but if you’re able to channel even 20% of what Matthew Mercer managed, you’ll make this a spectacular foe to remember.
5. Vox Machina!
Finally, what we’ve all been waiting for, this book of course contains the stat blocks for challenge rating 9-18 versions of Vox Machina. And they’re as full-bodied and vestige-powered as you might have hoped. There’s Grog, wearing his belt of dwarven kind and the Titanstone Knuckles; Keyleth, who as an action can call down a meteor; Percy and Vex with trusty Trinket, both with their guns, bows, and special abilities; Pike wearing the Plate of the Dawnmartyr; Scanlan with his arcane fists (“Scanlan’s Hand!”), cutting words, and bardic inspiration; Taryon and Doty (X) ready to compile their stories of might and heroics; and finally, Vax’ildan, the Champion of Ravens, the highest challenge rating of all Vox Machina, with Whisper, his touch of life and death, and the famous boots of haste. What more could you ask?
Well, as you did ask, how about some exclusive After the Epilogue information on your favorite adventurers? Would you like a few tantalizing paragraphs on what the heroes of Vox Machina did after they defeated the Whispered One? Well it’s here, look no further.
Overall, this book is exactly what I was hoping it would be. It builds and develops on its predecessor, creating a worthwhile and relevant 2nd edition that fans of Critical Role will love. While there were clearly some issues with rights and using specific names of things—Vecna becomes the Whispered One, the Raven Queen is now the Matron of Ravens, and there is no Castle Greyskull in Whitestone—these are small details and they really don’t spoil the finished product.
This book is a supreme addition to any Critical Role collection. It’s an ideal companion to the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. It’s the perfect primer for the upcoming Critical Role TV show. And it is already the foundation and seminal text for my next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
Disclaimer: GeekDad received a copy of Tal’Dorei Reborn for review purposes.