I had some time the other day to read through Chapter 4 of the exciting new Dungeons & Dragons setting book, Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. As much as I love new setting info (after all, I am usually DM for my group, so any new DM tools are appreciated), the first thing I gravitate toward in any D&D supplement is player options. I love seeing new races, subclasses, and spells, and Explorer’s Guide has a bit of each!
Before we get started, I think there are a few things I should note, as they might impact this review a bit. First and foremost, I’m not really a ‘mechanics’ guy. I know a lot of DMs homebrew lots of stuff for their campaigns, and many players try to find the most tuned-up build that deals maximum damage per round or is impossibly stealthy or what have you, but honestly I’ve never been good at any of that. I just don’t have the kind of brain that can quickly determine if something is well-balanced, or if certain class and race combos are superior to others. It’s the same with card games; I used to play Magic: The Gathering and I was awful at deck-building. If someone handed me a well-built deck I’d know how to play it – I understand the turn-to-turn strategy just fine – but I’ve never been good at ‘big picture’ stuff. I mention this so you’ll know what to expect from this review. It’s going to be less about how over- or under-powered things are and more about how cool and interesting the new options are.
Second, I should mention that I am not a fan of Critical Role, the show where Wildemount originated. I don’t mean to say I dislike the show or people involved. From what I can tell, they all seem like great folks, and they’ve certainly brought a lot of new fans into D&D, which is wonderful! I just never got into it, myself. I listened to a few episodes of their second campaign and decided that it wasn’t for me. Again, I don’t mean that as an insult to them or their fans in any way; heck, I even fell off listening to Acquisitions Incorporated: The C Team, and I’m a massive fan of every person on that show, so I think I might just not particularly enjoy actual-play podcasts very much as a medium. At any rate, I thought I should point this out up front in case there’s any important lore or anything I may have missed in some of these assessments.
Finally, I’m only going to cover stuff that is newly printed here. In other words, I’m not going to discuss things like Firbolgs or Sea Elves that have been printed in other supplements and are only reprinted here for the benefit of people who don’t compulsively buy every book that says Dungeons & Dragons on the cover.
Now that that’s all out of the way, let’s begin! This chapter breaks down into five subsections: races, subclasses, spells, the heroic chronicle system, and backgrounds. Today’s post is going to cover the meatier portions, those being the races, subclasses, and spells. I’d like to talk about the Heroic Chronicle at more length in a different post some other time, because I think there are a lot good (and a few bad) things about it that warrant a more focused discussion.
First up, there’s a rather large section on races. It makes sense that there’s a lot here, as the book needs to cover how all of the races from the Player’s Handbook are viewed in Wildemount on top of adding in some new ones. I like the way this section is laid out, too, offering different views of dwarves, elves, and the rest based on the different regions of the continent; an elf will be viewed differently in the drow-led Kryn Dynasty than they would be in the more human-centric Dwendalian Empire. There are some nice surprises in this section, too. First among these is a few variants of the Dragonborn race. I’m given to understand that most folks view the vanilla Dragonborn as a subpar racial option (again, I have no idea! No good at that stuff, I just like them because they are cool dragon people), but from what I can tell these racial variants have addressed concerns regarding the base race. In particular, the Ravenite Dragonborn variant – which gets bonuses to Strength and Constitution – seems quite popular online. One thing I enjoy is the detail that Draconblood Dragonborn have tails, while Ravenites do not.
Dragonborn aren’t the only ones to receive some tweaks, though! We’ve also got new subraces for a couple other Player’s Handbook races: the Pallid Elf and Lotusden Halfling. Personally, Pallid Elves don’t do a whole lot for me; they have some lore about being a new species who have childlike curiosity, but otherwise they seem a bit thin. They do get the ability to turn invisible at 5th level, which is kind of neat. Lotusden Halflings, on the other hand, are more my style: they’re connected with the woodlands they live in, and they get a few innate nature-themed spells as well as the ability to pass through difficult undergrowth without spending extra movement. They feel a bit more thematically consistent than the generic “kind of weird and magical” Pallid Elves.
Moving on to non-Player’s Handbook races, we don’t have anything that is wholly unique to Wildemount. What we do have, however, are three races that haven’t seen publication in a major supplement before: aarakocra, genasi, and tortles. Aarakocra and genasi were both made playable in the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion back in 2015, but that was a print-on-demand booklet, not a major release; tortles, meanwhile, were available via D&D Beyond’s Tortle Package. Personally, I’m a little bit neurotic about my collections. I like everything to be in the same format if possible, and for D&D that means a big hardcover book. As a result, I never grabbed the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion or the digital Tortle Package, so this is the first time I’ve had these races in print! I’m familiar with aarakocra already (check out last week’s post about them for more info there) but I hadn’t read up on genasi or tortles before now (beyond knowing that they were descended from djinn and turtle-people, respectively).
Genasi are very neat; I’ve always had an affinity for elemental-themed stuff, and that’s exactly what genasi are. They’ve got four subraces: air, earth, fire, and water. Each gets a few nifty abilities tied to their element. Earth definitely drew the short straw, as the only innate spell they get is pass without trace, which is fairly boring compared to the other subraces’ bonus spells. Air is a bit better, getting levitate, but it’s fire and water that really shine. Both get some elemental resistances as well as innate spells with a bit more oomph: fire genasi eventually learn burning hands, while water genasi get immediate access to shape water – thematic and useful!
Tortles are a bit stranger. They’ve got a few racial traits related to their tortoise-like nature, but the main one is their shell. Tortles don’t wear armor, instead relying on the massive shell on their back. They can even retreat into the shell, sacrificing their ability to move or attack in exchange for a hefty AC bonus. I’m sure there are some interesting builds that could be made with these guys, but beyond the novelty of ‘I’m a turtle man,’ I don’t find them particularly interesting.
Also of note, while not technically a race, the Hollow One Supernatural Gift is presented as an option here. Hollow Ones are people who have died and been reanimated by the magic of Blightshore, a spooky-sounding region on the coast of Xhorhas. Hollow Ones have a few mechanical benefits: they don’t age, it’s easier for them to revive from 0 hit points, and they can spend an action to creep out other creatures. I really like the idea of Supernatural Gifts in general, and adding this one to the examples in the Dungeon Master’s Guide is great. I hope more setting books have things like this in the future, as I find them very flavorful and interesting.
Ah, here we go, the real reason everyone flips to the Character Options section right away: new class options! There are three presented here, one for Fighters and two for Wizards. The Fighter gains the Echo Knight, while Wizards get the Chronurgist and Graviturgist. It’s a bit disappointing to see Wizards get two more subclasses when they already have approximately six dozen to choose from, but from a lore perspective it makes sense that these new options are Wizard-specific. Besides, they’re both very cool, so I can’t complain too much!
Let’s tackle the Echo Knight first. The big hook for this subclass is that it can summon an ‘echo’ of itself that can attack foes. The echo’s exact nature is a bit vague in the book, though D&D lead rules designer Jeremy Crawford clarified on Twitter that it is considered an object and therefore can be targeted normally by foes. As the Echo Knight levels up, they can swap places with their echo, make extra attacks through it, have it defend allies, send it ahead to scout, and even re-absorb it to gain temporary hit points. All in all, this is a weird but interesting new option for Fighters. It could offer a significant amount of battlefield control, particularly at high levels when the Fighter can summon more than one.
Next up we have the Chronurgist Wizard, a master at controlling the flow of time. Right off the bat, they gain the ability to force a nearby creature to re-roll its attack, saving throw, or check, which could save an ally from a deadly blow or give them another chance at overcoming an obstacle. As they gain levels, they can freeze enemies in place or even guarantee success or failure on a given roll. One of their most interesting abilities, though, is called Arcane Abeyance – they can essentially ‘freeze’ a spell into a little bead, which can then be activated by anyone. This could be used to give otherwise non-magical party members an extra trick up their sleeve during combat!
Finally, there’s the Graviturgist. Its initial ability lets you make an object or creature within range significantly lighter or heavier, Harry Leland-style (that’s right, you can expect a lot of deep-cut X-Men references on this blog!). As the Graviturgist gains levels, they can increase the velocity of their allies’ weapons, paralyze foes with crushing gravitational force, and move creatures around the battlefield on a whim. It’s a solid support option, helping with battlefield control, buffing, and debuffing.
What would new Wizard subclasses be without new spells? We’ve got 15 new ones here. Four are chronurgy-based, six are graviturgy-based, and the rest are more general-purpose. I’ll just break them down by spell level.
There’s a new necromancy cantrip called sapping sting, which deals a small amount of damage and knocks a foe prone. Pretty basic, but more cantrips never hurt anyone and being able to knock enemies prone on a failed Constitution save could be very useful.
After that we have a few 1st-level spells. Gift of alacrity buffs an ally’s initiative rolls, while magnify gravity is a big ball of gravitational force that deals damage and halves the speed of anyone in its radius that fails a Constitution save. Gift of alacrity isn’t particularly exciting, but magnify gravity is fun. The one problem with it is that it’s not all that different from most of the other graviturgy-based spells or abilities we see, making the whole theme come off as something of a one-trick pony.
For 2nd-level spells, we get fortune’s favor, immovable object, and wristpocket. Fortune’s favor essentially grants a creature advantage on a roll of their choice; it’s fine, if a bit expensive, at its basic level. Where it really gets interesting is higher levels, when it can be cast on multiple creatures at once for the same 100 gp price. Immovable object, meanwhile, magically fixes an object in place so that only the caster and those they designate can move it. Ever wanted an immovable rod? Now you can make one at will! Wristpocket basically invokes the idea of hammerspace: you store something you’re holding in a pocket dimension, from which you can retrieve it at your leisure.
Pulse wave is the only 3rd-level spell, but it’s a doozy: it allows you to exert pressure on creatures and objects in a 30-foot cone, either pushing or pulling them. In other words, it lets you use the Force. I want this spell. I want every character I ever have, forever, to have this spell.
Coming in as a 4th-level spell we’ve got gravity sinkhole, a big ball of gravitational force that deals damage and pulls targets toward a point you designate. Your basic “mini black hole” effect. Definitely fun, even if it is another obvious choice for graviturgy effects.
At 5th level, we have temporal shunt. This is probably the spell I’ve seen the most discussion about, as it is a reaction spell that temporarily banishes a creature as they are attacking or casting a spell, causing them to waste their action (and waste the spell slot, if they were casting something). At higher levels, it can even target multiple creatures. A lot of folks are of the opinion that this makes it an even more effective form of counterspell, though it should be noted that the target can avoid banishment with a successful Wisdom save – something a spellcaster might be well-equipped to pass.
On to the 6th-level spell gravity fissure. This is a bit like a gravity-themed wall spell – you open up a fissure in a 100-foot line that sucks enemies towards it and deals a bit of damage.
The 7th-level tether essence spell is an odd one; it links two creatures so that if one gets damaged, the other does too, and the same goes for healing. I could see both players and DMs using this to set up some strange shenanigans, though honestly I don’t know if any of my usual players would pay much attention to it when picking out spells.
There are two 8th-level spells, dark star and reality break. Dark star creates a literal black hole, summoning a big ball of gravitational force that deals tons of damage to anyone stuck inside it. The spell’s radius is pitch-black, blocks out sound, and counts as difficult terrain. One thing it doesn’t do, surprisingly, is move creatures toward it, despite the fact that the art on the facing page portrays it sucking in some unlucky monsters. Reality break, on the other hand, can cause a variety of madness-inducing effects to a single target. That one could be fun to roleplay, especially if the person it’s used on survives the experience.
Finally, we’ve got a couple new 9th-level spells, ravenous void and time ravage. Ravenous void is – wait for it – a big ball of gravitational force! It sucks people up even better than the other spells that involve a big ball of gravitational force, though, and it deals more damage, too. Time Ravage rapidly ages a person, dealing quite a bit of damage and hamstringing their ability to fight effectively. It also guarantees they’ll die of old age within 30 days unless they can be magically restored to their youth, which is pretty grim.
I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of character options presented in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. I don’t think I’d list it as an essential purchase, but I certainly thought the new subclasses and spells were worth the price of admission. I haven’t taken a look at the more Dungeon Master-focused sections of the book yet, but I’m eager to read more about this world, check out the new monsters, and see what sorts of new magic items are available. Who knows? I might even do a write-up about those chapters in the near future!