It's been a little over four years since the original Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting was released. This 150 page D&D 5e sourcebook expands upon the continent of Tal'Dorei of Exandria, the setting of Critical Role's first campaign, Vox Machina, allowed Dungeon Masters to take their own parties through the world of Critical Role. Now in 2022, the Tal Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn has added over 100 pages of content and moved the setting to a Tal'Dorei of 20 years after Vox Machina defeated the Chroma Conclave. The Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn gives DM's new information about locations in Tal'Dorei, interesting story hooks for Critical Role themed campaigns, new sub-class options for players, and more.
What's included in Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn?
The Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn starts heavy frontloading the lore and history of Exandria and Tal'Dorei onto the reader. In the aptly named Chapter 1: Welcome to Tal'Dorei you're treated to a full dive into the creation of Exandria by the Gods. You learn of All-Hammer creating the dwarves, and the creation of humans from the Lawbearer and Wildmother. All of this story is told in-universe as recordings from the pre-Calamity era or as knowledge from the Cobalt Soul. Detailed in this chapter are the events leading up to the Calamity, its aftermath which led to the Scattered War, and even into the events of the Chroma Conclave and the "misfit warriors known as Vox Machina". It's an incredibly tightly compacted history of Tal'Dorei maintaining one's attention as it skips from major event to major event. While many of these events have been discussed in moments on live-streamed episodes of Critical Role the collected tale really helps one understand the history of the continent.
This chapter also caps off with a list of some of the biggest and most dangerous secrets of Tal'Dorei such as the imprisoned Gods, or secret criminal network The Clasp. While fitting perfectly within the context of this chapter introducing the players to the world these secrets also start the creative gears churning for DMs reading through thinking up how a party might encounter or thwart any of these malevolent forces.
Drifting on from the detailed history of the world of Exandria or Tal'Dorei the next chapter focuses on the Gods and denizens of the world and how they congregate or organize together. Tal'Dorei is a world that has known the gods living among them and because of that is deeply rooted in following their pantheon. Here players aren't just informed of what Gods they might worship, but also what alignment they might follow, as well as what kinds of commandments they might follow. The inclusion of the gods and what alignments they follow isn't anything new but the addition of Commandments adds a level of depth that players might find assists a lot in roleplay.
The idea of Chaotic Good, or Neutral Evil can sometimes be confusing to imagine, or if you aren't too sure of who your character is might leave you stuck creatively in your performance of them. Here knowing that your Lawful Good character might be a follower of the Platinum Dragon will give you these additional commandments to give you a better idea of who you are. The Commandments of the Platinum Dragon are to stand as a paragon of honor and justice, smite evil where it's found but show compassion to those who have strayed, and to decent the weak and bring freedom to the persecuted. It informs the player of who their character is, what they believe in, and that there are others who might carry the same symbol of the Platinum Dragon allowing you to immediately have a "place" in the world. It's a simple, yet effective addition, to help characters and even DM-led NPCs have firmer roots in the world you play in.
From the pantheon of the gods the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn also drills down into the different alliances and factions that can be found around the world. Included are lists of known members, regions they would appear in, as well as the history of each faction. When in Whitestone knowledge of the Chamber of Whitestone will allow the player to be more informed of the governmental systems. This analysis and information on factions extend all the way down to the less desirable groups such as the Clasp.
The approach that these first two chapters take is really impressive and incredibly logical. As the book begins and you're taught of the origins of Exandria the scope of the tale starts so broadly and with each turned page the magnifying glass zooms in closer and closer. This top-down learning isn't just helpful for the delivery of information and the understanding of events in context to a place or time, but it also helps a DM efficiently tune out what information they're not after. If you're flipping through the book and you want to learn more about the Gods you know they'll be after learning about the world, but before learning about the citizens of the world. If you're in the middle of running a game and need that quick information about a certain faction then it's also easy to locate.
The towns and people of Tal'Dorei
It's Chapter 3: Tal'Dorei Gazetter that the magnifying glass is now as close as it will get. Here players are walked region by region through the world of Tal'Dorei (of which there is a beautiful map of at the back of the book) as each city, town, or village is detailed. Depending on what the party composition is, where they come from, or where they're headed the DM will be able to learn what they need to know about any settlement they come across. For small villages like Drynna these explanations might only include the demographics of the town and a two-paragraph blurb, but for any large cities like the port city of Emon you'll get a full map of the town with various points of interest, information on important NPCs around town, and a detailed breakdown of the local government, society, defenses, and even crime.
The book is very much aware that it's a setting for where Vox Machina, the party of Critical Role Season 1, traveled and as such you'll find all sorts of references to what the characters have been up to. This includes plot hooks involving Percy and his youngest daughter Gwendolyn, mentions of Vex'ahlia and Keyleth as members of the Tal'Dorei Council, and even full stat blocks and a "where are they now" section at the end of the book. Critical Role fans will definitely get a few chuckles from these.
Each location will also have a number of suggested plot hooks based on the location and historical context of the settlement. It might mean that a Hydra is camping out at a nearby lake, or that the local lord has a dark secret that he's trying to keep from the rest of the village. Each is optional but allows you to fill the world with other adventures as your party moves from one side of the continent to another. These plot hooks might also give you a set-up, and one or two pieces of required knowledge along the way but the core of the mission is up to the DM to fill in the blanks. It's explained that these are merely "designed to spark your imagination" and not to be a complete adventure. If you're looking for a book that will take you through a curated Critical Role adventure then unfortunately this won't be the book for you and your party, interestingly though the Critical Role adventure book Call of the Netherdeep is releasing in two months so you won't have long to wait.
Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn Subclasses and Player Options
Here's the part that you might be more interested in if you're just a player. What new options do I have for building my character? The Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn includes a series of backgrounds to help ground your characters as part of the world as well as nine new subclass options. There's a new Barbarian with abilities to get into combat and be immovable, a corrupted druid of blighted regions, as well as an update to the Oath of the Open Seas Paladin.
For those who love the Bard, both the class and Shakespeare, there's a new College of Tragedy whose abilities are designed around breaking the fourth wall acting as though the world is his stage soliloquizing after a party member's failure to regain a bardic inspiration dice, invoke the power of an opponents hubris which then leads to crits landing on them between an 18-20 roll of the dice, and even the ability to give a character the main character/last stand moment. At 14th level, for a minute they can grant another character with a +4 to AC, advantage on all attacks or saving throws, added 1d10 to radiant damage, and crits on 18-20. After the minute has subsided though that character will drop to 0 hp and begin making death rolls. This ability could create so many amazing character moments in combat, or be a good way to send off your character at the end of a campaign.
Another notable mention is that Hemocraft is now the center of two new sub-classes; a Blood Domain Cleric and the Blood Magic Wizard. The cleric is all about forming a link with an enemy to give yourself the upper hand either by knowing their exact location or by compelling them to move or attack as you control them from the inside out. You can also sacrifice your own health in order to regain spell slots. The Wizard can turn their body into components taking 1d10 of damage per 50gp of component cost. Can spend blood/health to power up certain attacks or even curse others for additional necrotic damage. It allows the Wizard to be very powerful but at the cost of their own lives. Do you feel lucky?
Some of the new Feats introduced add a cruelty dice that can be added to intimidation effects or when attacking for a more pointed attack, the ability for restorative items and abilities to be more useful, and even a feat that adds Hemocraft as an ability for anyone. After Matthew Mercer's creation of the Blood Hunter and now two sub-classes and a feat, are you ok Matt? The Supernatural Blessing: Fate-Touched is also detailed here. While not a direct feature it does mean a character may be unknowingly marked as one with a gift from the gods. From a mechanical perspective, it means they have the Fortune's Grace feature and can display favoritism from the gods consistently, or when in a tight situation. From a storytelling perspective though this could mark a player as many in the world wish to have a blessing such as this and might do anything in their power to obtain someone with the gift, or attempt to steal it for themselves. This could lead to a huge growth moment for a character as they decide how to use this gift, or be a huge burden on the party. It does seem like it might give a certain character a feeling of "main character" status, so be sure to balance important moments for other players too.
What are the DM Resources in Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn?
The final two chapters of the book are filled with everything the DM will need. A lot of this is common fare for what you'd find in any D&D sourcebook. Lists of magical items, NPCs, and monster stat blocks for everything the player might come across in Tal'Dorei make up the bulk of it but there are a few interesting differences. The Vestiges of Divergence are listed in this section of the book.
These magical items are ones that the party might find in their Dormant form, still powerful magical items what sets these apart from others is that as the character attuned to the item achieves different points of character growth these items will grow with them. First, they will become Awakened, and then at the height of their power will be Exalted. While the concept isn't too dissimilar to the Dragon Horde items first detailed in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons having more variety in the types of ways Magical items can grow and change is never a bad thing. These Vestiges come in all matter of shapes and sizes from circles or rings, to cloaks, bows, swords, and shields.
Another unique addition is the suggestions of Optional Campaign Rules. For lack of a better comparison, these are the home rules as suggested by Matt Mercer and other authors of the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn. It's certainly not uncommon for D&D campaigns to be filled with all kinds of homebrew items, stat blocks, locations, rules, and more but it's still interesting to see them here. These Optional rules allow for a once per long rest "accelerated rest" that allows for a quick 10-minute breather to allow the party to continue where a full hour rest might be detrimental to the story, or even a 5-minute rest that gives the benefits of a normal short rest but you only regain half the hit dice and gain a level of exhaustion. These ideas are really interesting, and I'm sure every Warlock will be clamoring for their DM to adopt. During the break that hour break really can slow down what's happening or if you're in the middle of a chase or time is of importance could not be feasible per the narrative. This will allow for an unbreaking narrative, while also allowing Warlocks and other classes reliant on Short Rests to actually enjoy their benefit.
There are also home rules related to revival and how past a certain level the fear of death somewhat fades as characters have access to certain resources and spells that they didn't at early levels. The revived party member might come back with harrowing visions of their time in the afterlife, or awareness of the undead around you as if your body knows you should be with them. These are fun thematic rules that keep the thought of death as something to avoid, as being revived and coming back might just be worse...
Should I buy the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn?
There is a plethora of content to be found within the bindings of Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn. From the mind of Matthew Mercer, Hannah Rose, and James J. Haeck while this isn't an official Wizards of the Coast sourcebook to add to your D&D collection if you're interested in the Tal'Dorei setting or the character, magical item, or monster options then it's always worth having more information to pull from. With Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep adventure book releasing in two short months as a 3-12 adventure this book might even be the best way to start a new party at level 1. If you're already feeling overwhelmed with the sheer amount of D&D content that has been released recently, or have no interest in Critical Role or its setting though then it's likely that you can leave this book out of your collection.
The copy of Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Reborn used in this review was provided by the publisher.