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I need to preface this review the same as when I reviewed the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount back in 2020: I know very little about D&D streaming show Critical Role. I’m impressed by their storytelling prowess, D&D skills, and popularity, but I haven’t the time to keep up with a 4-hour session series (which goes for most D&D shows).
But I do review and play lots of D&D adventures. And I can confidently proclaim that Call of the Netherdeep is an excellent D&D 5e campaign, regardless of your Critter-ness.
The following is included in the Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep module ($29.99):
- Call of the Netherdeep adventure
- 5 non-gridded region and town maps.
- 2 10-ft square battle maps, subdivided into 5-ft grids
- 7 5-ft square battle maps
- 100 NPC statblocks with matching tokens and art handouts (including over 20 new monsters).
- Over 25 named NPC statblocks with matching tokens.
- Over 40 magic item handouts (including over 20 with art)
- Select supplemental rules handouts from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Player’s Handbook, and Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.
- Over 40 player art handouts, not including creature and NPC art.
- Call of the Netherdeep Compendium
- Call of the Netherdeep Art Pack
- Over 100 tokens and handouts.
- Call of the Netherdeep adventure
Call of the Netherdeep is a full level 3 – 12 campaign set in Exandria, the fantasy world of Critical Role. It does not require the Critical Role sourcebook, Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. In fact, you won’t be seeing much of Wildemount (the setting of Critical Role’s second campaign) beyond a limited section of the Xhorhas Wasteland.
It’s a role-playing heavy campaign, which isn’t surprising, though also features some of the best dungeon designs I’ve ever seen in D&D 5e.
It’s also a very urban-heavy campaign, with the majority of the adventure taking place in (and beneath) three specific towns and cities. Players hoping to explore more of the Wildemount or Marquet regions may be disappointed.
The seven-chapter adventure begins in Jigow, a small town in the Xhorhas Wasteland. Xhorhas is an exotic region with a Morrowind vibe: badlands dominated by drow, orcs, and goblins. A refreshing change from the overused Sword Coast of Faerun.
Jigow is hosting a festival. The new level three PCs can engage in lots of fun activities with ample opportunity for dice-rolling and role-playing, including a pie-eating contest, tortoise racing, and sparring.
Throughout the first chapter they’ll meet the important NPCs that will become their rivals. These rivals are one of the best parts of the campaign book: fully fleshed NPCs with their own backstories, RP notes, and motivations.
The rival adventuring party shows up to mess with the PCs throughout every major story beat of the campaign, and the PCs are encouraged to develop their own relationships, whether antagonistic or friendly or anywhere in between. Each of the five rivals (who are pictured on the cover) includes three different statblocks to represent their own “leveling” growth to keep pace with the PCs.
I love that the story pays special attention to the choices players make and how that affects the rivals, and in turn changes how they act throughout the story. Every D&D campaign going forward (and any future Dungeon Master’s Guides) should include this wonderful rival system.
At the end of the festival the PCs adventure through a fun little underwater dungeon and discover a fated artifact: a vestige of divergence called the Jewel of Three Prayers, and the pleading whispers of a trapped demigod. The adventure begins!
In chapter two the party travels to the besieged city of Bazzoxan. Overland travel is limited to this single chapter in the entire campaign, and it’s mostly left to random (but interesting) encounters.
In chapter three the PCs arrive at the city turned fortress, still defending against the constant demonic incursions from a nearby rift. After meeting with some important NPCs and learning more about the artifact, they’ll naturally have to delve into the nearby demon dungeon that leads to the rift, Betrayer’s Rise.
Betrayer’s Rise is an awesome deathtrap dungeon (level 5-6), and the best I’ve seen since the Tomb of the Nine Gods from Tomb of Annihilation. Multiple paths, secret doors, creepy riddles, horrifying death traps, nasty monsters — it’s a DM’s dream dungeon, and almost worth the price of admission by itself.
After some important reveals and rival shenanigans, the PCs are teleported to the city of Ank’Harel in the continent of Marquet. Chapter four presents an excellent urban adventure as the players choose from one of three different factions, all vying to establish a monopoly in the ruins beneath the city where the PCs need to venture.
Thanks to the included Ank’Harel Gazetter, the DM is given plenty of lore and information to bring the city to life.
Each of the factions features six different missions, all of which are linked together with important narrative developments — no fluffy side quest fetch quests. Investigate a smuggler, nab an elephant-transforming artifact, root out a mole, and even play out an entire casino heist. I found these faction missions and rivalries a more compelling urban mini-campaign then Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.
On the flip side, it’s a bummer that we don’t get to explore any of the rest of Marquet — we don’t even get a regional map! In fact, the only included regional map is a zoomed-in view of Xhorhas, even though we only use a tiny fraction of it. The rest of the area maps are for Jigow, Bozzoxan, and Ank’Harel.
Battle maps are provided for the dungeons, and they’re absolutely gorgeous. Plenty of detail, textures, and colors, which especially goes a long way for all the underwater dungeons.
After rising through the ranks of their chosen faction, the party delves into the partially excavated ruins of Cael Morrow beneath the city (Level 10-ish).
Cael Morrow should become a gold standard for creating an underwater dungeon. Magical tunnels allow for walking and breathing through the excavated portions, while anyone can venture out into the water to battle demonic sharks and jellyfish, talk to ancient ghosts (or a bartender sea elf), and battle the roaming Aboleth.
The final leg of the journey is entering the rift into the titular Netherdeep to deal with the corrupted demigod, Alyxian.
The campaign oddly lacks a central villain, instead featuring a powerful but unstable Apotheon named Alyxian, who once wielded the vestige of divergence that the PCs discovered back in chapter one.
Throughout the adventure the party learns more of Alyxian’s forgotten past as a selfless, bullied protector who sacrificed himself in a desperate battle against an evil god. He has become corrupted through his sorrow and despair, and built a prison for himself in the Netherdeep.
In the end the party must venture through the final gigantic dungeon, learning more of his past and absorbing his fragments to gain temporary abilities and drawbacks — not unlike the trickster gods in Tomb of Annihilation.
The final multi-stage boss fight features lots of role-playing as the PCs try to redeem him before they’re forced to destroy him as she shifts into different forms.
On the scale of open-world, story-lite explore-athon to linear narrative-rich railroad, Call of the Netherdeep leans heavily towards the latter. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the main plot is easily one of the the better 5e campaigns right out of the book, even without a real villain.
But the story beats are quite linear, and there’s little opportunity for the PCs to explore Wildemount or Marquet. Especially with Marquet, I found it disappointing to be transported to this all-new continent only to remain in a single city for the rest of the campaign.
Thanks to the stellar dungeon designs (and maps!) the campaign looks great in Roll20, and you can expect all the usual features such as premade macros, a DM Tips page, and a well-organized Journal.
However, DMs should note that Call of the Netherdeep includes far fewer maps than one would expect in a campaign: 14 in total, 9 of which are grid battle-maps. In contrast, the last few official 5e campaigns, Tomb of Annihilation, Rime of the Frostmaiden, and Descent into Avernus, all included about 30 maps.
- Fully-fleshed rival NPC party that interacts with the PCs throughout the campaign.
- Ank’Harel Gazetteer provides a wealth of information for the new hub city in the latter half of the campaign.
- Excellent faction quests that tie directly into the main plot.
- Few but phenomenal dungeon designs, with high quality map art (credited cartographers Stacey Allan, Will Doyle, Deven Rue)
- Helpful Dungeon Master Tips page for Roll20 users.
- Marquet’s adventuring is limited to a single city (and what lies beneath).
- Relatively low number of maps for a full campaign.
The Verdict: whether you’re a huge fan or a neophyte, Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep is a well-crafted, narrative-rich adventure that builds upon the best parts of previous 5e campaigns.
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