Critical Role bring an expanded look at the D&D setting of Tal’Dorei
Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn is a campaign book for Dungeon’s & Dragons. It comes from the minds of Critical Role, the now infamous role-playing group that have taken the D&D world by storm. Unlike many campaign settings, this one isn’t published by Wizards of the Coast but by Darrington Press. While not a Wizards published setting, Critical Role have become so intertwined with the D&D universe that Tal’Dorei is practically an official D&D setting at this point.
The first Tal’Dorei campaign setting was published back in 2017. Not only does this book expand greatly on the setting (by an extra 150 pages, meaning 283 pages of Tal’Dorei goodness) but it provides a completely new look at the Tal’Dorei setting with new characters, lore and plot hooks set 20 years after the previous book.
The Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn is split into 6 chapters covering different elements of the setting:
- Chapter 1: Welcome to Tal’Dorei
- Chapter 2: Allegiances of Tal’Dorei
- Chapter 3: Tal’Dorei Gazeteer
- Chapter 4: Character Options
- Chapter 5: Game Master’s Toolkit
- Chapter 6: Allies and Adversaries of Tal’Dorei
We’ll outline everything you can expect to find here so you can know if this book is for you.
Welcome to Tal’Dorei
This chapter is an introduction to the continent of Tal’Dorei (which is also the namesake of the republic ruling the continent and the founding heroine of the nation). Tal’Dorei can be found on the world of Exandria, the fictional world created by Matt Mercer.
Not only does this section provide information about the Tal’Dorei setting such as the calendar, cosmos and the planes. You’ll also learn about the societies and secrets that provide the plot hooks for running an adventure in Tal’Dorei. This chapter takes you through the creation of Exandria, its prominent kings and rulers through to the inception of the Republic of Tal’Dorei. While Tal’Dorei in certain respects reflects certain classical fantasy tropes you might expect in a D&D setting, in other respects, it provides new twists on the format in the form of secrets that can provide plot hooks for an adventure. This is how this book facilitates DMs in creating an adventure in Tal’Dorei; it inspires with plot hooks and ideas that can then be fleshed out into adventures within this world.
Some of the secrets, or plot hooks contained in this chapter revolve around some of the following ideas:
- Imprisoned gods: Certain gods have been imprisoned and cults are attempting to break them from their bondage in return for the favours a grateful god might bring
- A fledgling republic: Breaking away from the rule of monarchs, Tal’Dorei is attempting to become a republic, but this brings with it political teething issues that can give players a political landscape to circumnavigate
- Criminal Shadow War: A new crime syndicate is emerging and vying for control of the underworld
- A land thrice destroyed: Following three different calamities, the riches of 3 different civilisations lie in ruins across Tal’Dorei, ready for the plunder by adventurers brave or fortunate enough
- Mother of invention: The people of Tal’Dorei have discovered gunpowder and other technology meaning that among some groups (perhaps the wrong groups) firearms have become available which leads to an inevitable power struggle. While not common on the continent, such an arms race might be the hook for an adventure
- Uncharted territory: Not all of Tal’Dorei has been explored and discovered; parts of the map remain unfilled allowing DMs to create their own stories and adventures in this land
The critical role (see what I did there) of this chapter is to give readers enough information to help them envision and understand the land of Tal’Dorei as well as providing them the hooks that will help them create an adventure in this land. DMs looking for a prescriptive adventure probably won’t get what they’re looking for here, but for those that enjoy homebrewing their campaigns, then much like Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, this book provides exactly that support to do so.
Allegiances of Tal’Dorei
While the history and geopolitical landscape of Tal’Dorei are important, most of what occurs for players will be with the groups that inhabit the world; from religious sects and cults to gods and governments to crooks and thieves, Tal’Dorei is home to an array of groups all vying for one purpose or another.
This chapters details out these groups such as the pantheon of gods that rule over Exandria. These include the active deities that are openly worshipped giving insight into their attitudes and approaches, but also the belief systems of their worshippers. You’ll also find details about the pantheon of imprisoned gods worshipped secretly by cultists wishing to be the favoured one to free their sinister master. These gods are malevolent beings that would bring evil to the world were they released.
You’ll also learn about the various factions operating in the society of Tal’Dorei such as the Tal’Dorei council who seek to rule with their powers kept thoroughly in check or the Arcana Pansophical, a group of powerful mages seeking to preserve the truth of magic and protect the land from catastrophe. Each faction has details around their organisation, motivations and their members allowing you to easily insert whichever NPCs into your campaign that fits the adventure you’re running.
Much like with chapter 1, these factions and details on deities provide the backdrop for a myriad of mysteries and motivations that players might find themselves working with or against. While none of the areas covered are hugely detailed, they whet the appetite and inspire the mind with a varied ensemble of ideas to work with handing the keys of Tal’Dorei to the DM.
Much like the previous sections, chapter 3 is a compilation of adventures and locations that players can embark on and visit. There’s a lot of locations covered in here covering them off briefly, possibly a little too briefly. It’s enough to give a flavour for the locale, but means much effort will need to be made to fill in the blanks. The major locations do receive maps which is a helpful addition.
These locations have associated adventures that the DM can draw on to create a fleshed out adventure. As with much of this book, these are plot hooks rather than fleshed out adventures or even detailed explanations of the situation a party might face. These adventure sections are a paragraph or 2 long and while they give some great inspiration, a little more detail would be welcome. DMs can always choose to use more or less of the adventure provided in a book, changing up details, but in these adventure ideas, you’re given no choice; you must fill in most of the blanks yourself.
Tal’Dorei is home to many of the same races and classes players can expect in most other D&D settings, but there are some differences to the lore behind some of these. This chapter provides all the details players need to immerse themselves in the history of the characters they’ll create in Tal’Dorei. Perhaps more interesting are the unique subclasses published with this campaign setting. There’re 9 in total which you can see below:
- Barbarian: Path of the Juggernaut – An immovable force and an unstoppable juggernaut, these barbarians will not be deterred from the path they take
- Bard: College of Tragedy – Such bards weave tragedy into their songs and stories knowing that the emotions they evoke can be just as powerful as those of love and joy
- Cleric: Blood Domain – Clerics that understand the natural life force that blood provides, understanding the nature of sacrifice and how it hangs life and death in the balance
- Cleric: Moon Domain – Moon domain clerics draw on their divine connection with the moon to seek good fortune or ill favour and to reveal and conceal what they require
- Druid: Circle of the Blighted – Such druids are guardians of a location that has become cursed or blighted, impacting the powers they draw upon
- Monk: Way of the Cobalt Soul – Guardians of the greatest library known to man, Way of the Cobalt Soul monks are dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of life
- Paladin: Oath of the Open Sea – These paladins are seafaring travellers that stand as guardians against those who would steal the liberty of other seafaring individuals
- Sorceror: Runechild – Runechildren are naturally gifted with the errant magic that makes up the fabric of the world
- Wizard: Blood Magic – An often taboo form of magic, blood magic uses the vitality of an individual to extend the powers of their magic
Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn also offers a number of backgrounds for players to choose from. These provide some flavour to character options and some help piecing together the skills of a character. These backgrounds include:
- Ashari – A secluded group that guard against the chaos of the primordial realm
- Clasp Member – A member of the Clasp crime syndicate
- Lyceum Scholar – A former student of the Alabaster Lyceum and, most likely, from a wealthy family
- Reformed Cultist – A former member of one of the cults that worship the imprisoned gods of Exandria
- Whitestone Rifle Corps – A trained wielder of firearms
This chapter also details several additional feats that can be used within this campaign setting. All of these additional player options provide unique and new character types giving you new ways to play.
Game Master’s Toolkit
This section provides some additional supportive material for dungeon masters. Primarily, this section contains magical items that DMs can give to the players as part of their adventure. There’s some unique items in here and it’s always nice to have items that provide players with something different they can do. However, the stand-out items are the vestiges of divergence; ancient relics of a past age that become more powerful as heroes accomplish greater feats with them. Each item has a dormant, awakened and exalted set of abilities that improve as players experience moments of incredible significance such as defeating a powerful foe, overcoming fear or losing an ally. There’s great scope for rewarding players for great and heroic actions here and providing them with side objectives to awaken their gear.
One interesting set of optional rules provided in this book is that of a “Harrowing Return” in which the process of being resurrected comes with possible traumatic aftereffects (as you might expect). Some of these aftereffects might involve being stalked by an angel of death, having memories from the beyond or coming back as an evil doppleganger of yourself. These aftereffects lend more weight to death in D&D (which, in my opinion, is a good thing). They’re mainly recommended for darker toned adventures but are a good option for DMs to utilise.
Other optional rules include that of fading spirits where rituals performed by the party can influence the success of a resurrection spell, taxing return where characters lose a constitution point when they are resurrected and rapid quaffing, a house rule allowing potion drinking to only use a bonus action. These are optional rules, but in my opinion, create a dynamic that gives more weight to death and greater dynamism to encounters, which I feel is a good thing.
Allies and Adversaries of Tal’Dorei
This final section is where we learn about all the potential unique enemies (and sometimes allies) that players might face in Tal’Dorei. There are 44 stat blocks in total from standard enemies like skeletal centaurs and cobalt golems, to powerful members of Tal’Dorei society like Percival De Rolo and Jourrael the Caedogeist.
Each enemy and stat block adds some unique flavour making combat interesting and unique and importantly, saving the DM time preparing an enemy of their own making. This section also includes background on standard races that appear throughout the D&D universe, but with background that applies specifically to inhabitants of Tal’Dorei.
Tal’Dorei campaign Setting Reborn is an interesting setting book. It deviates in some respects from Wizard’s usual publications (being published by darrington Press and created by Critical Role), this allows for some unique twists such as the DM house rules around death, potions, and unique relics that become awakened as players perform great feats. The setting itself is interesting and open ended with many plot hooks allowing for lots of ideas for DMs to take players through in their campaigns. Stats for enemies are also unique and interesting offering a great addition to gameplay.
Perhaps the one omission is that many of the plot hooks detailed are perhaps not detailed enough. The most similar book in style to this is Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft which also provides plot hooks and adventure ideas, but those offered in the domains of dread feel more fleshed out and it has its own one shot adventure for DMs to run giving them a flavour of how to run a Ravenloft campaign. Expanding on these plot hooks in Tal’Dorei feels like it would have given DMs more to work with and really have completed this book. As it stands, it remains a great resource for DMs, especially if you want to visit the lands of Critical Role in your campaigns, but be aware that this book will not give you a full adventure to work with, just tonnes of inspiration.