Critical Role: Matt Mercer Talks Bringing Explorer's Guide to Wildemount to Life

Today marks the release of Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, the new collaboration between Critical Role and Dungeons & Dragons. The 304-page campaign setting book details the continent of Wildemount, a land on the precipice of war and home to ancient secrets. Wildemount is also the setting of Critical Role's current campaign, meaning that players can start their own D&D adventure following in the footsteps of the Mighty Nein and their allies.

Wildemount, its residents, cultures, and mysteries, all sprung from the mind of Matthew Mercer, the Dungeon Master for Critical Role. To celebrate the release of Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, we spoke with Mercer via email about the design process and timeline for Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, how he kept the book from getting too "spoilery" for both the fans and his Critical Role players, and what it's like to see his world officially part of D&D canon.

-- How surreal is it that Exandria is now an official part of the D&D multiverse, and the world you created is a permanent part of a game that means so much to you?

Mercer: It is so incredibly surreal! D&D and roleplaying games have had such a massive impact on me throughout my life, so to have contributed to that space in such a meaningful way is both amazing and absolutely wild. I’m still trying to comprehend that it happened!

What was the design process for Explorer's Guide to Wildemount like, and how did it differ from the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting book (released by Green Ronin Publishing, and detailing the continent explored in Critical Role's first campaign)?

The design process began very free-form and largely by my own preferences. I was tasked with the chapter layout and overall content I wanted to include in the book. Then Wizards of the Coast and I worked through detailing what that structure looked like, and they set me loose to make it so! I then began creating, writing, and designing on my own for a bit before bringing on some talented folks to both help me with the workload, and help add their own unique flavor to aspects of the tome.

Once the bulk of the content was written, then the collaboration and review process with Wizards really began. Feedback, testing, and overall working together to make this as good as it could be really kicked in, ending with myself orchestrating the art that would grace the interior pages of the book, and working with everyone to get it all to the best it could be for release! Much of the process was similar to the Tal’Dorei guide experience, and with equally amazing people, but the expectations of the book, and the scale of collaboration, was MUCH grander!

Was it hard to balance what to include in Explorer's Guide with what you wanted to hold back as a future surprise for Critical Role?

It was certainly a concern! Part of that was deciding at what snapshot in the world’s timeline it was to take place during, assessing when certain “surprises” would be unveiled before the book’s release, AND generally keeping major story and plot points I had planned for our campaign separate from the Wildemount guide. This helped build a familiar and detailed place to explore, while not feeling chained to the story of one group of adventurers.

When you're creating encounters in Critical Role, you have to design for a group of 7 players; but monsters in D&D are usually balanced for combat against a group of 4 players. Was this a challenge when bringing over monsters to include in Explorer's Guide?

Ha! It was indeed a challenge, and I am thankful that I’ve been doing this long enough that I had a decent grasp on that scale, AND had the wonderful team at Wizards of the Coast there to help me fine-tune and properly balance some elements at the finish line.

Were there any areas or lore that went through substantial revision during the making of this book?

Very little world or lore content was revised, beyond a name here or there, or some smaller sections that were omitted for space in the final stages. Those that were altered were done so only to help sit next to existing D&D IP without confusion.

You have a long history as a rules designer, and some of your designs are among the best-selling work on the DMs Guild. Was there any major differences between designing the subclasses seen in Explorer's Guide with the "homebrew" classes like the Blood Hunter?

A long history of learning to be a designer, yes! Thankfully, subclasses aren’t as intensive a design challenge as, say, a FULL class, so the stakes and scale weren’t quite as weighty. That allowed me to focus on keeping the subclasses distinct, unique, and thematically solid within the ideas I wanted them to convey. The BIGGEST difference was having design feedback from the professionals at Wizards of the Coast, and a dedicated testing phase from many wonderful playtesters to help in making them the best they could be. I could only DREAM of having those assets at my disposal before putting any of my homebrew live on the internet (blemishes and all).

You've now worked on two official D&D books - Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount. Should we expect any more collaborations with Wizards in the future, or has this sated your design appetite?

I’ve honestly really enjoyed every collaboration with Wizards to date, and would love to continue to work with them in whatever scale we would both enjoy. The only real factors there are my free time (given the multitude of irons I stupidly continue to keep in the fire), and their interest in having me!

Final question: with the continued success of Critical Role, how close are we to seeing Critical Role Land become a reality?

Oh man… I am perpetually worried about jokingly making wishes out loud these days, because it seems some withered monkey’s paw in a subterranean vault somewhere just curls a digit. Thus, I will choose to make no comment.


…but man, that’d be cool, right?

Explorer's Guide to Wildemount is available at local game stores and book sellers now. Both of Critical Role's campaigns can be found on their YouTube channel.

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