To celebrate the coming release of Call of the Netherdeep, Critical Role’s first adventure book, we’re taking a deep dive into Exandria! This world bears the scars of The Calamity, a war fought with and against the gods. No region of Exandria was as badly wounded during The Calamity as what is now known as the wastes of Xhorhas. And it is in this desolate landscape that Call of the Netherdeep kicks off.
We already know a lot about the wastes of Xhorhas thanks to the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. Within this sourcebook, we learn about creatures that appear throughout the continent of Wildemount. Among them is the gargantuan-sized horizonback tortoise, atop which mobile villages and siege weapons are built.
Let’s take a close look at the horizonback tortoise and how to bring them into your game.
Monster spotlight: Horizonback tortoise
Horizonback tortoises are native to Eastern Wynandir, where the desolate wastes of Xhorhas are found. Measuring 50 feet in length from nose to tail, these creatures are comparable in size to dragon turtles, though they are less temperamental. In fact, horizonback tortoises will tolerate wastefolk who feed and look after them. In return, they’ll serve as the foundation upon which mobile homesteads or siege weapons are built. A typical horizonback tortoise can carry up to 20,000 pounds.
Goblinkin are among the most common allies to horizonback tortoises. The two are so interlinked in Wildemount that the creatures understand Goblin. But horizonback tortoises aren’t just beasts of burden. They’re omnivorous and in a famine could turn on the very creatures who serve them. In the wild, you’d be hard-pressed to train a hungry horizonback tortoise.
Creatures on the frontlines
The wastes of Xhorhas are fraught with warring tribes and the persistent threat of starvation and attacks by monstrosities and fiends. However, following the Calamity, a sect of drow emerged from the Underdark to establish the Kryn Dynasty and the city of Rosohna. Since then, they’ve sought to unite the people of Xhorhas under the light of the Luxon while grappling with agents of Lolth that seek to destroy them from below as well as the Dwendalian Empire, which seeks to destroy them from the west.
Such conflicts mean that the Kryn Dynasty has had to build a sizeable military. In the process, they’ve made good use of the monsters found in the wastes of Xhorhas. These include moorbounders, which serve as mounts, and horizonback tortoises, which transport soldiers and siege weapons.
Horizonback tortoise statistics
Horizonback tortoises are relatively slow but are hard to hit. And if you find yourself underneath one of these creatures, hope that it doesn’t fall prone.
Playing with horizonback tortoises at your table
Horizonback tortoises can add flair to your setting or act as traps in badlands. If you’re planning a one-shot adventure set in a village, for example, have the village built atop a herd of horizonback tortoises, with structures connected by poorly constructed rope bridges. Or you could have horizonback tortoises act more like ambush predators, lying in wait in the wastes of Xhorhas until a creature is within striking distance. Giving these creatures the False Appearance monster trait would have the characters terrified of every mound and hill they encounter:
- False Appearance. While the horizonback tortoise remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from a hill.
A horizonback tortoise can also function as a mobile base for the characters. If you go this route, allow the characters to spend gold on improvements to make their base truly unique. For more ideas on bringing horizonback tortoises to your table, check out the following adventure hook, which can be played on its own or lead up to the events of the Wildemount adventure “Unwelcome Spirits.”
A siege upon reclaimed ruins
You can hear the approach of the mobile settlement of Urzin long before you see it. Comprised of 40 lumbering horizonback tortoises—atop which are built homesteads, Luxon temples, and other structures—Urzin’s approach is marked by a rumbling that shakes the earth. Nearer to the village, you can hear the songs of goblinkin, gnolls, and orcs, and smell their stink.
When you’re spotted, you’re met with weapons before a goblin seer appears at a window atop a temple and shouts, “Put those sticks away, you fools, they’re just the ones to help us!”
The goblin seer is Bol’bara. A highly respected figure, Bol’bara is tasked with protecting Urzin, a mobile village that acts as a military fortress for the Kryn Dynasty. Lately, she’s been dealing with a group of goblins that have deserted the village and established a new settlement in the nearby ruins of a fortress. Bol’bara wants the goblins to return to Urzin, lest their actions inspire more of her people to shirk their duties to the Kryn Dynasty.
The goblins have refortified the damaged walls of the fortress and refuse to negotiate with Bol’bara. The seer knows that the only way to bring the goblins back is by force. However, some of the goblins in Urzin argue that they should be free to leave their posts. Doing so could cause the Kryn Dynasty, which has long provided supplies to Urzin in exchange for service, to retaliate.
To help settle the matter, Bol’bara seeks the help of the characters. Arming the group with a cannon-backed horizonback tortoise, she asks the group to tear down the fortress walls and retrieve her people alive. In exchange for their help, she promises weaponry crafted by the Kryn Dynasty.
Ticket to ride
The fortress is in The Brokenveil Marsh, a land marked by tangled brush, mud pits, and gnarled trees. The horizonback tortoise can be mounted by each of the characters and provides protection from environmental hazards. It travels at a pace of about 5 miles per day and will reach the fortress in two days.
Use the following statistics for the cannon mounted on the creature:
Hit Points: 75
Damage Immunities: poison, psychic
Cannon Ball. Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, range 600/2,400 ft., one target. Hit: 44 (8d10) bludgeoning damage.
Source: Dungeon Master’s Guide
Because The Brokenveil Marsh has seen many skirmishes between the Kryn Dynasty and the Dwendalian Empire, the party may be attacked by undead along their journey.
Attacking the goblin fortress
The walls of the fortress have been damaged with age and shoddily repaired with mud by the goblins. These deserters are holed up inside the fortress with enough stores of food to last them one week. While the fortress walls are up, they refuse any negotiations with the characters, claiming that they are establishing a free nation of their own.
A fortress wall has 100 hit points, immunity to damage from nonmagical weapons excluding siege weapons, and resistance to all other damage. The horizonback tortoise has enough ammunition needed to bring down a fortress wall. When the characters attack the fortress, 1d6 goblins fire arrows at them from above. A goblin will retreat if brought to half of its hit points or fewer.
Just desserts for deserters
When the fortress is breached, the goblins will surrender and agree to follow the characters back to Urzin. There, Bol’bara will reward the characters and announce a suitable punishment for the deserters: six months of scrubbing the hind of the horizonback tortoises’ shells.
An epic adventure awaits
Call of the Netherdeep is Critical Role’s first adventure module set in the world of Exandria. It takes characters from 3rd to 12th level and spans multiple continents. If you’d like to learn more about the world before the book’s release on March 15, check out the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. It has everything you need to know about Wildemount, offers player options like subclasses, and has a bestiary and adventures for low-level parties.
Michael Galvis (@michaelgalvis) is a tabletop content producer for D&D Beyond. He is a longtime Dungeon Master who enjoys horror films and all things fantasy and sci-fi. When he isn’t in the DM’s seat or rolling dice as his anxious halfling sorcerer, he’s playing League of Legends and Magic: The Gathering with his husband. They live together in Los Angeles with their adorable dog, Quentin.