Reviews | Written by Ed Fortune 19/01/2022

Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Reborn

Critical Role is a fantasy franchise founded on getting a bunch of talented people together to play Dungeons and Dragons and making it look like incredible fun. The world they play in is one of Dungeon Master Matt Mercer’s own invention,  Exandria. Until recently,  fans wanting to emulate the adventures of heroic adventurers from the early days of the show either had to watch the many, many hours of the stream with a note-pad in hand or hunt down a long out of print source-book written by Mercer back in 2016.

Tal Dorei Reborn is, as the name suggests, the second edition of the sourcebook that details the wildly popular game world. It’s also the same place that the forthcoming animated Amazon Prime show, The Legend of Vox Machina, is set in. It’s filled to the brim with useful story hooks, setting information and world-building. Much like the legendary Grog Strongjaw, this thing is both pretty and quite dense.

By which we mean it’s filled from cover to cover with story ideas, setting information and world building.  The art is eye-catching and well directed; there’s not an illustration out of place.

It's also a lot. D&D sourcebooks tend to be filled with detail, but this is a top-down take on worldbuilding. We start with the world’s creation, the gods and their secrets and when we drop down into the lives of mortals, their cities and societies. It slots together in a way that’s narratively useful; remember this book is meant to be a manual for running your own games set in Matt’s world. It’s a fun read, but if you’re a Dungeon Master, keep a notepad handy, you’re going to have ideas. This book is epic, in every possible way.

Rules wise, they are some meaty new character types to play with here, and some interesting takes on magic items that aren’t innovative but are nice to have. There’s some optional rules for running D&D provided that have been clearly well play-tested and thought out.

This book had been produced by Critical Role’s own games company, Darrington Press, rather than Wizards of the Coast. What makes this interesting is that other books set in the world of Exandria are. This makes Tal Dorei Reborn  quite a different beast from Explorers Guide to Wildemount . It’s denser and bolder in approach, and much more connected to the show than the official books. For example, Tal Dorei Reborn  has a nice section at the back that tells us what happened to the members of Vox Machina after Campaign One ended, each with lavish illustrations. And no, it doesn’t have hints or spoilers for the currently in-progress Campaign Three. (Though that won’t stop some of you looking for them.)

The book comes with a map, which is very nicely done (and the sort of thing you’d want on your wall). Even better, there’s a pocket in the front of the book to slip the map into, and the map isn’t attached to the book, unlike the maps found in the Wizards of the Coast book, which have to be carefully removed in order to be used.

Darrington Press sent a copy to Starburst Towers in advance, so we could take a look at it. Overall, we found it to be a solid addition to any Dungeon Master or Critical Role fan's collection.  They are some pretty big ideas in this book, and useful tools and ideas. Games designers Matt Mercer,  Hannah Rose and James J. Haeck have gone all out here; if you’re a fan of the show this is essential. If you’re an avid D&D player or DM, this book is also just generally really useful.  The last time the team at the Secret Starburst Gaming Thunderdome got this energized by a D&D sourcebook was when the ground-breaking Eberron first came out.