Dungeons & Dragons’ next adventure offers players a whole new type of experience. Wizards of the Coast will release Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep later this month, a new full-length adventure set in the Marquet Critical Role campaign setting.
A significant portion of the new adventure takes place in the Netherdeep, a mysterious underwater location inhabited by malignant creatures corrupted by something found deep below its depths.
Wizards of the Coast offered ComicBook.com an exclusive peek at portions of Call of the Netherdeep’s Underwater Bestiary, with three monsters (and their descriptions) displayed below.
Additionally, ComicBook.com got the opportunity to speak with D&D Lead Story Designer Chris Perkins about the new book, how it varies from previous Wizards of the Coast adventures, and the kind of creatures contained in the book that startled even him.
Perkins, Chris: That is an excellent question. I should begin with a little note. Three leads were included with this device. I was one of them, but Matt Mercer and Joey Haeck were the other two.
Unlike most of the associated items, I didn’t have as much creative control over this one as I usually do. Matt Mercer generated all of the story beats, major plot lines, and locales, and he turned over his plan and all of his notes to Joey.
With the assistance of freelance authors, the two of them developed the tale, filled out the settings, and built the monster bestiary.
All of it was dumped on my desk, and they said, “Here, please turn this into a book.” Which is essentially what I did. As a result, I was heavily involved in the backend process.
That is not to suggest I did not approve the outline or was not active in the tale development, but I wanted to be explicit about that. You’re speaking with the man who was essentially responsible for the project’s failure.
Thus, what I received from Matt and Joey was a collection of creatures connected to this really rich environment, which we discussed extensively at the outset of the project.
The Netherdeep itself needed to be more than a mere underwater setting; it required activity. Matt developed the concept of a strong being imprisoned for millennia and the Netherdeep forming around it.
Because this monster is being tormented in its prison, the Netherdeep needed to enhance the sensation of confinement, isolation, and torment. Because the Netherdeep is a manifestation of the psyche of this species. What does this signify for the species that call it home?
They cannot seem to be ordinary undersea animals. Something perverse and wicked must accompany it.
That was the design intent. We used deep-sea species as a starting point and then considered how we might enhance or exaggerate characteristics that bolster the tale we’re attempting to convey and the place we’re attempting to bring to life.
Thus, you may encounter a creature that resembles a large, frightening jellyfish, but it is also a jellyfish capable of petrifying you.
That is not acceptable. After that, we ensured that each species had a particular silhouette or profile. This one resembles an eel, while this one resembles a shark, to provide some variation.
Not to get into too much spoiler territory here, but you’re talking about this thing imprisoned within the Netherdeep and its near-manipulation of its surroundings.
That seems extremely Demon Lord-esque, similar to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons’ Ancient Dragons. Is it reasonable to argue that’s a similar concept?
Perkins: Yes, I believe so. The big mystery and not a spoiler are that you have no idea what the Netherdeep is. We want children’s imaginations to go wild. We want players to make educated guesses. Is this something like to a Demon Lord? Or is it something else entirely?
Of course, the explanation is that it is unlike anything we have done previously in a Fifth Edition adventure, but the players are unaware. One of the adventure’s strengths is that it forces players to wait before they truly grasp the Netherdeep, what it means, and what lies underneath.
When discussing the bestiary, the Netherdeep, and this concept of the huge unknown probable threat, we must remember that most humanity is scared of things they cannot see.
It’s particularly frightening in deep underwater conditions since vision is restricted, it’s cold, it’s lonely, and it’s isolating. This is a location where fear is easily evoked. I believe that one of the bestiary’s objectives was to arouse that basic terror.
As a result, you’ve created hundreds of D&D adventures dating back to the First Edition. How does constructing an undersea monster for underwater fighting vary from inventing something for gamers to battle on land or in the skies?
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How does this creature is submerged alter how these designs are approached?
That is an excellent question, Perkins. To begin, you must ensure that the monsters you construct can live in the ecosystem they are placed in.
As a result, they require particular characteristics for these monsters to operate in their environment. If any of those parts were absent, we had to incorporate them.
Now, certain organisms, while being submerged, function almost identically to those on land. For example, one of the monsters in Call of the Netherdeep resembles a crab.
Now, it’s doing some strange things; it has a large snake tendril that emerges from its shell, yet it wanders around on the ground and fights in a 2D world.
It’s not a huge deal with that monster. There is no strain there since it behaves just like a terrestrial organism that happens to be in the water. However, some organisms that rely on the three-dimensionality of underwater movement may require features that enable them to operate in that three-dimensional environment.
The norms governing visibility come into play, and we must also adhere to them. Because visibility is severely limited in that environment, organisms may require blindsight or another way of seeing and detecting objects to operate efficiently.
Another important design choice that applies to all adventures in the Fifth Edition series is that we know that not everyone who picks up this book will run it.
However, we want the monsters to be adaptable to various environments. Thus, there were a few instances where the authors confined creatures to the Netherdeep in their descriptions.
We removed that since we didn’t want any impediment to DM traveling. “What’s that you say? I’d want to include sorrowfish in my undersea trip.” We wanted these monsters to seem quite at home in the Netherdeep, but their presentation and descriptions do not confine them to that place. And it is deliberate.