I love Dungeons and Dragons.
It has been a passion of mine since I was twelve years old. And while there have been times I was not fond of the products related to Dungeons and Dragons, it has still held a special place in my heart. My brother introduced me to Critical Role years ago, a few months into the stream of Campaign One. The show rekindled my love for Dungeons and Dragons, which led to me picking up the 5th Edition ruleset and running a game for friends for the first time in almost a decade. Since then, I have watched with rapt attention as Matthew Mercer and his bunch of nerdy-ass voice actor friends sat around a table, rolled some dice, and played DnD.
The new series created by Critical Role is now streaming on their Twitch channel, Exandria Unlimited. I want to make it clear from the start that my reviews of this new series are not going to be focused on the rules used and how the game is run. Each game is different and each Dungeon Master (the person running the game) is different. While there may be occasions I disagree with a ruling, that will never be the focus of these reviews. My focus will solely be on the characters and the story being told.
With that being written, let’s dive in.
The motley group of adventurers for Exandria Unlimited are exactly what a DnD group should be: diverse characters with different perspectives, desires, and moral leanings. The cast is led by Aabria Iyengar, who has run games for Dimension20 as well as a few other livestreams. Aabria has a playful style as a DM: not overly concerned with the rules and more interested in setting up atmospheric settings for the players to dive in to. The players are as follows:
Matthew Mercer (in a rare turn as a player rather than GM) as Dariax, a Mountain DwarfSorcerer of the Divine Soul; Aimee Carrero as Opal, a Human Hexblade Warlock; Robbie Daymond as Dorian Storm, an Air GenasiBard; Ashley Johnson as Fearne Calloway, a FaunDruid of the Circle of Wildfire; and Liam O’Brien a Orym, a HalflingFighter from the Air Ashari. For those that don’t know what all of these classes are or mean, use the links for each to get more information on the class and species.
The group awakens after a night of heavy drinking to find themselves scattered across a townhouse owned by a wealthy nobleman named Lothar. As they go about getting breakfast, they find that their memories of the past week are clouded, as if someone had taken it away or hidden it from their minds. This kind of thing can happen rather easily in a DnD setting, so I’m intrigued to see how it plays out in the next few episodes. The first hour or so of the stream helps to establish who these characters are. Opal is loud and abrasive but in a sweet way. Orym is thoughtful and unassuming but capable of holding his own in a fight. Dorian is a natural performer, which is befitting a Bard, but he also has a kind heart. Fearne is a bit aloof but charming and a little careless. Dariax is not the brightest bulb in the bunch but he’s also a chaotic force for moving the story forward, being largely a person of impulse and desire.
From a character standpoint, none of the characters have a high Intelligence statistic, which is actually a blessing in some cases. It’s difficult to play someone who is smarter than you in much the same way it’s difficult to play a character that isn’t as smart as you are in real life. That’s the challenge and each of the players relish the chance to do so, particularly Mercer who plays Dariax as dim but not stupid. There’s also some strong roleplay as the plot kicks in, with each of the party members discussing the morality of the task presented to them. Orym wants to help people, as does Dorian; Opal, Dariax, and Fearne are a bit laxer when it comes to committing crimes, provided no one innocent gets hurt in the process. It’s a fine line to walk in terms of character work when you want a character to be comfortable with committing crimes but don’t want to be an outright villain.
The group meets Poshka, a thief for an as-yet-unknown organization that is targeting the wealthy residents of Emon who have been gentrifying the other areas of the city, kicking out the original residents. The story takes place three decades after the end of Campaign One, which saw Emon under the control of a powerful red dragon named Thordak. Much of the city is still in ruin, particularly the wealthiest district known as the Cloudtop. Since that is still under rebuilding, the rich of the city that have returned have been pushing out the lower classes in favor of creating new homes for themselves. This sounds like a noble cause but nothing is ever that cut and dry in Critical Role, which Aabria leans in to (much the way Mercer did repeatedly during the first two Campaigns). There are opaque references to the Campaign One, mainly by Liam O’Brien’s character Orym, since he is tied to the same clan as Keyleth (the character portrayed by Marisha Ray during the first campaign). It’s nice to see that the characters I came to love from the first series are still around, though we may never get to see them in game, so to speak.
The remainder of the episode involves the group gaining access to a ship at the harbor known as the Blightstar. They find the crew murdered and a chest with a barbed circlet (think a thin crown) that immediately makes Dorian sick just from coming into contact with the box it’s in. The party has to deal with some shadowy assassins intent on reclaiming the Circlet, leading to a brawl in a warehouse. The fight is relatively short (by DnD standards, at least) but it shows the character work the actors have put in. While the group may not always agree on the morality of what they’re doing, they are protective of each other, indicating they’ve started to bond despite not remembering much of the last week of their activities.
In the warehouse, they find crates stolen from Zephrah, the homeland of the Air Ashari, containing Residuum, a crystalline substance that can greatly enhance magical energy. This is a callback to Whitestone, a city that featured prominently in Campaign One, and an ill portent. Any shadowy thieves’ guild that is stealing shipments of Residuum is definitely up to no good. The party decides to take some of the Residuum and the Circlet and leave, putting them in the crosshairs of the group Poska works for.
We see at the end in a quick stinger that Poska is definitely not on the up-and-up, ordering the destruction of the townhouse the party was staying in. The group has stumbled into some foul business and it’s a question now of can they survive the plot they’ve unwittingly uncovered.