D&D 5e’s first adventure release of 2022 is here!
With Call of the Netherdeep, players find themselves in the Critical Role setting of Exandria. The sweeping adventure takes players through treacherous wastelands to a beautifully-realized oasis city and finally into the murky depths of the titular Netherdeep.
In this review, we’re going to take a closer look at Call of the Netherdeep.
The first half of this review will look at the broad strokes of the book, what makes it special, and who this book is for.
From there, we’ll dive in deeper into the setting, the Rivals mechanic, and what you can expect from this adventure.
Let’s get into it!
Overview – Call of the Netherdeep
We’ll start with an overview of what you can expect from Call of the Netherdeep. This part of the review contains no spoilers and answers 3 key questions: what this adventure is, what it’s not, and who this adventure is for.
What is Call of the Netherdeep?
Call of the Netherdeep is an adventure for D&D 5e that takes players from level 3 to 12. It is set within Critical Role’s world of Exandria and is filled with richly detailed locations.
From the starting collection of villages known as Jigow to the bustling oasis metropolis of Ank’Harel to the gloomy aquatic domain of the Netherdeep, there’s a great amount of detail across the adventure’s locations.
Each location is brought to life in a way that easily conveys the mood and gives players plenty to do while keeping the story from veering too far off.
The story itself sees the party going from humble beginnings to answering the cry for help of an ancient and mighty hero of Exandria. From deep within a dark prison, the hero pleads with the party to save them.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this adventure is the presence of a rival party of adventurers. These aren’t villains, necessarily, but they are in a similar situation to the party. The Rivals are seeking to be heroes as well and provide a fun dynamic throughout the story.
Serving as a way to keep the story moving while also adding in unique complications for the party to manage, this relationship with the Rivals is what really ties the experience of the adventure as a whole together.
As one would expect from Critical Role, this adventure opens up the story for very character-centered drama. Plenty of room is given to marry the action, adventure, and drama together in a way that feels natural and truly adds to the story.
What Call of the Netherdeep Is Not
There are no player options in Call of the Netherdeep. Unless you are planning to DM the adventure or just want to add to your Critical Role/D&D collection, this is not the book for you.
There’s a fair amount of lore about Exandria in Call of the Netherdeep. Specifically, there’s enough to run the adventure well. For a lore-heavy campaign setting that takes place in the world of Critical Role, you would instead want to check out the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.
As one might expect from a Critical Role adventure, Call of the Netherdeep is not a typical “kick in the door” dungeon-crawl.
This is a story-heavy adventure that expects that the players will interact with the world and lean into the drama of their characters’ choices, dilemmas, and stories. There’s plenty of epic combat situations, but they are designed in service to the adventure to push the story forward.
Who Is Call of the Netherdeep For?
Critical Role is one of the biggest names in D&D and has drawn legions of new players to the game. It’s no surprise that this adventure is particularly suited for fans of Critical Role who are excited to have their own adventures in Exandria.
However, there is enough meat to this adventure that even those who aren’t fans of Critical Role can enjoy it. In many ways, not being familiar with the adventure’s setting makes it even more interesting as you’re able to get swept up in this strange new world.
If you’ve been looking for a departure from the standard Forgotten Realms settings and enjoy grand sweeping adventures with rich immersion, Call of the Netherdeep scratches that itch in a way that no other 5e release to date has.
Full Review of Call of the Netherdeep
Let’s now dive into a deeper review of what exactly is in the Call of the Netherdeep.
There are some spoilers in this part of the review. If you aren’t a DM or don’t want to have plot points revealed, turn back now.
Specifically, we’re going to take a closer look at the setting of Call of the Netherdeep, the Rivals mechanic, the adventure itself, and what you can expect when it comes to monsters and magic items.
I’m endlessly impressed with the worldbuilding and detail that Matt Mercer puts into the world of Exandria.
The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount felt like a world that was living, breathing, and evolving. The Call of the Netherdeep keeps this tradition in a way that is compelling, exciting, and fresh. You don’t need EGtW to bring Exandria to life at your own table for this adventure, but it does really help.
Centuries after the cataclysmic event known as the Calamity, life on Exandria goes on. However, powerful magics from this event still remain. Two moons, the pale Catha and the red moon of ill omen Ruidus, decorate the sky. Ruidus particularly plays a large part throughout this adventure.
Call of the Netherdeep sees the heroes travelling a great distance throughout the adventure. The first part of the adventure takes place in the region of Xhorhas on the continent of Wildemount.
As the party braves the dangers of the Wastes of Xhorhas, they eventually travel to the desert-heavy continent of Marquet. There they visit the thriving oasis metropolis of Ank’Harel. (You will definitely be using the poster map of this huge city that is included with the book.)
Ultimately, the party will be taking their adventure underwater.
What begins as a sunken city beneath Ank’Harel paves way to the realm of the Netherdeep. This is a realm so dark and treacherous that I’m honestly surprised it didn’t end up in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft (review here) as a Domain of Dread.
The Rivals mechanic is an interesting one. It’s gotten a ton of attention leading up to the release of Call of the Netherdeep.
But what exactly is it?
From the very beginning of the adventure, the party have a group of Rivals. These Rivals are also an adventuring party that are meant to grow alongside the player characters.
The book provides a party of 5 Rivals but recommends that the Rival party is the same number of members as the players.
Each of these Rivals has their own stat block, goals, and personalities just like the players’ characters do. Depending how the story goes for your individual group, the Rivals aren’t necessarily villains. They’re simply setting out to be the heroes of the story themselves.
Ultimately, these NPCs are meant to add urgency for the party and spur them towards action. Sometimes that might be heroic action and other times it might be reckless.
So… does it work?
Some parties might befriend the Rivals where others might fight them to the death right out of the gate. Many moments of the adventure can change drastically depending on what kind of relationship the party has with the Rivals.
It’s a very cool idea and one that I’ve flirted with using in my own games in the past. However, it’s very likely that a lot of players won’t pick up on the idea that these Rivals are meant to be there throughout the adventure.
As a DM, you need to have a plan for how to maintain urgency if your players give the Rivals an early end. Depending on the group, this is more likely than you might think.
The Call of the Netherdeep starts in the coastal town of Jigow with the Festival of Merit. It’s a fun kick-off to the adventure that is similar to the carnival games that kick off the Wild Beyond the Witchlight adventure.
Ultimately, this merriment is what paves the way for the call to adventure.
The party receive a vision of Alyxian, a mighty hero of Exandria also known as the Apotheon. Finding themselves in possession of the powerful Jewel of Three Prayers, the party must navigate the treacherous Wastes of Xhorhas.
To determine why they have been fated to acquire this item, they are to go to Bazzoxan.
Bazzoxan is a military outpost that specifically functions to keep the demons from the temple knows as the Betrayers’ Rise from spilling out into the world. This chapter offers lots of thrilling combat, memorable NPCs to assist the party, and an excellent (though incredibly dangerous) dungeon with the Betrayer’s Rise.
Next, the party make way for the continent of Marquet and the sprawling desert metropolis of Ank’Harel.
Even beyond the specific story objectives in Ank’Harel, the party can begin gaining favor with three distinct factions in the city. Progressing these story tracks brings more experiences in Ank’Harel, rewards, and lore while ultimately furthering the core story.
Into the Deep
Going beneath Ank’Harel, Cael Morrow & The Netherdeep are very interesting aquatic areas.
Cael Morrow is home to a powerful aboleth with enhanced psychic powers that creates a constant and looming threat to the party. Navigating the sunken temple, the party are able to find a rift that will take them into the terrifying and lightless Netherdeep.
Navigating through the labyrinth of dark tunnels, evading the corrupted aquatic predators, and surviving the intensity of the environment itself makes the Netherdeep an intense dungeon. Reading through the module, the Netherdeep just might be one of my favorite dungeons in all of 5e.
The final chapter sees the party finding the Apotheon in his prison: the Heart of Despair. Here, the party prepares for their showdown with the final boss of the adventure. Taking place in three stages, the events of this battle determine which of the three endings the story will have.
As a DM, the Netherdeep really benefits from capturing the feelings evoked by each region throughout the story and relating those to the overall bigger picture of Exandria.
Make sure that you fully understand the lore in the book and capture that at your table. When it all ties together in the Netherdeep, it’s an incredible gut-punch that is sure to get a reaction from everyone at the table.
Lots of aquatic creatures are found in the bestiary of Call of the Netherdeep.
While there are stats for NPCs like the Rivals and some land-dwelling creatures like the Gloomstalker and Moorbounder, there’s a heavy focus on the creatures found in the darkness of the Netherdeep.
As creatures that dwell far beneath the waves where even the light doesn’t reach them, these are particularly terrifying in a wonderful way. From the grotesquely mutated Alyxian Aboleth to the nightmare-fuel Light Devourer, there hasn’t been a reason to be this scared of the water since Jaws!
There are 15 magic items in Call of the Netherdeep. Of those, 7 correspond to games played in the Festival of Merit at the beginning of the adventure.
Most interesting are the items that have been corrupted by Ruidium. Each of these are very powerful but have a corruption effect to them that can be very brutal.
All in all, there’s a decent spread of magic items here. Most are pretty simple but make sense within the adventure.
Is Call of the Netherdeep Worth Buying?
A group can finish the Call of the Netherdeep of the adventure in about 26-30 standard (4-5 hour) sessions. However, players are greatly encouraged to explore and pursue side quests which can easily add an extra 10-12 sessions of playtime.
If you’re playing weekly, the Call of the Netherdeep could very well last you up to a year of play.
Plus, it also ends with hooks to set you up for your own homebrew adventures in Exandria following the events of this adventure.
- Beautifully realized world with a quest as massive and epic as one would expect from Matt Mercer and Critical Role.
- We’ve been needing a strong underwater campaign.
- The two main dungeons in Call of the Netherdeep are brilliantly designed and create a complicated feeling of dread and heroism that I haven’t experienced since Tomb of Annihilation.
- The Rival system introduces a unique way of bringing the world to life and influencing the characters’ decisions.
- Factions create new ways for the story to develop while enabling the party’s decisions to truly matter within the narrative.
- You won’t be able to work this adventure into a setting that isn’t Exandria without a ton of work. Everything is weaved together tightly between the adventure and setting to make it work right.
- While you don’t NEED the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount to run this, it’s a massive help. Otherwise, it’s easy to find yourself fumbling for lore or more “big picture” stuff in the moment.
- The Rivals are very important to how this adventure functions, but I don’t see many groups taking a nonlethal approach to dealing with the Rivals by the time the adventure is at its midpoint. This doesn’t derail the adventure, but there will be a noticeable Rival-sized hole in many moments.
- The ending very heavily reminds me of Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus. Much like Zariel in that adventure, I feel like the Apotheon becomes the center of the story at the end of the adventure and not the players. Homebrewing ways to tie the players’ characters and their actions to the final events of this adventure is a must if you want to keep players at the spotlight.
The Call of the Netherdeep makes big waves as the first official adventure of 2022 for D&D 5e.
As I mentioned, it’s everything that I would expect from Matt Mercer and Critical Role. That is, big sweeping stories filled with a large roster of unique and diverse NPCs all neatly woven together in a story that meshes epic heroism and existential dread in a fascinating and impactful way.
I was initially worried that this adventure would only really make sense to fans of Critical Role. Thankfully, it’s very clear that this is a book intended for all D&D players and not only for Critters.
While there are several bits that work as a knowing wink and nod to longtime fans of Critical Role, it never feels inaccessible to those who won’t know those references.
So, color me impressed with the Call of the Netherdeep! There may be a few bits that need tweaking and some very proactive planning to make it all work as intended, but that’s not an uncommon problem.
This is still a fantastic addition to any Dungeon Master’s shelf.
I can’t stop reading and rereading this adventure. Odds are favorable that my next new campaign will be taking place in Exandria.
See you there?
Conclusion – Call of the Netherdeep Review
Groups and DMs that don’t give this a chance because they aren’t fans of Critical Role are missing out. It’s a fantastic adventure that also serves as a fantastic model for those who enjoy crafting adventures in their own homebrew worlds.
I absolutely see myself running this for one of my groups in the very near future.
But what are your thoughts? Do you plan on running your own adventure in Exandria or have you already started? Let’s chat in the comments!
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