When things are going swimmingly in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, it usually means not much is happening. That cannot be said for the second episode of Exandria Unlimited, titled “The Oh No Plateau”. The nascent group of adventurers find themselves in an even bigger mess than they were before and a new set of problems that have to be solved, which always makes for more interesting role-playing scenarios.
Obviously, spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.
Picking up almost immediately after the end of Episode One, the group continues on their journey to meet up with the Fire Ashari, druids closely tied to the Elemental Plane of Fire and custodians of the damaged wards in Emon still reeling from the presence of Thordak, the Cinder King. They are being pursued by The Nameless Ones, which leads to a hilarious moment where Opal and Dorian decide to try and bamboozle their pursuers with magic. Generally speaking, as a Dungeon Master, watching players try to resolve encounters without resorting to combat is super fun, mainly because you’re never quite sure how things are going to play out. The curious lack of Emon’s City Guards during the brief fight between the party and the Nameless Ones leads me to suspect there is a greater amount of collusion between the Guard and this upstart thieves’ guild, which is a troubling sign.
A great amount of the initial portion of the episode deals with the fight and a discussion amongst the party regarding the Barbed Circlet they acquired in the last episode. Dorian, thanks to being a well-traveled Bard and possessing a fair amount of knowledge, hits upon the notion that the Circlet is a Vestige of Divergence, a powerful artifact created centuries before the events of the game that were imbued with fantastic magical powers. The particular Vestige the party has come into possession of is the Circlet of Barbed Vision, a token created by The Spider Queen (aka Lolth), a demonic goddess that subsists on chaos, trickery, and death.
None of the characters quite understand what they have in their possession and the only ones not affected by it are Opal, Fearne, and Dariax. In game terms, the reason for it is that Orym and Dorian’s alignments are closer to the Good end of the spectrum, which both players have shown by their insistence on avoiding bloodshed and criminal activity. Opal, Fearne, and Dariax, while not evil per se, are more morally flexible in their attitudes, particularly Opal and Dariax. How the party will deal with this malicious artifact is going to be the crux of the story, at least at this stage in the campaign. Opal is the first to be affected by the Circlet, dreaming of a giant spider before being interrupted by Ted, her sister. In game terms, Opal is a Hexblade Warlock, a being who gains magical power through their connection to a given weapon or set of weapons. In this case, it appears that Opal’s daggers are her Hexblades and that her sister Ted is tied to them in some spiritual capacity. Aimee Carrero is fast becoming my favorite of the new players, particularly because she is committing to Opal’s petulance and loose moral compass. The argument between Opal and Ted is fun to watch, particularly if you have siblings and have had the exact same conversation. The unfortunate side-effect of the argument isn’t felt until much later, though.
After getting some rest, the party reaches the Flamereach Outpost, the home of the Fire Ashari in the region. Aabria manages to infuse all of the Non-Player Characters with their own unique voice and characteristics, which is essential for any Dungeons and Dragons game. Through halted conversations with the main NPC, Lorkathar, the party learns that the Fire Ashari don’t have the answers they’re seeking and more importantly, the Fire Ashari are up to their ears in problems coming from the Cloudtop District. Someone is disrupting the work the Ashari have done to close the connection to the Elemental Plane of Fire. It turns out the party were in the Cloudtop District, specifically in the crater during the events that destroyed many of the Fire Ashari. It was in Thordak’s Crater that Dorian caught sight of a burning woman with wings who seemed to be made of lava. It was also in the Crater that Fearne pulled a Fire Elemental out, which eventually became her companion Mister the Monkey.
Just as things are being explained, at least in part, a massive earthquake hits the area. Outside of the Outpost, a mesa has arisen from the ground, pumping out a thick cloud of ash and debris into the air. The group runs out and reluctantly volunteers to help, with Dariax grabbing the Circlet. Mercer’s characterization of Dariax is someone who isn’t too bright but ultimately stands by his friends. And if he can make a profit as well, more’s the better. His interactions with the Circlet aren’t readily apparent but I’m intrigued to see how things play out in the next few episodes. Opal discovers to her shock that her magic is gone, a result of her argument with Ted during her sleep. Ted insistently demands an apology, which Opal stubbornly refuses to give. As mentioned above, I like Opal precisely because she’s not a perfect character. She’s a deeply flawed character and those are always the most fun to play and watch.
After dispatching the elementals, Lorkathar is surprised to see the party survive, as well as Fearne’s interactions with Mister, who during the course of the fight resumed its Fire Elemental form. The sigil in the new mesa that appeared after the earthquake is similar to the one found in Thordak’s Crater, indicating these are not isolated events but a concerted effort on the part of an as-yet unseen perpetrator. Lorkathar dispatches the party to speak with someone in Emon who knows quite a bit about runes and sigils, Shaun Gilmore, a fan favorite character from the first Campaign of Critical Role. It’ll be mighty interesting to see Aabria’s take on Gimore, who was one of the first openly-gay characters broadcast as part of a live-gaming platform like this. The stinger at the end is also poignant for a different reason: Ted watches from whatever spiritual hiding place she resides in. She decides to eventually cave to Opal and return her magic because in the end, she loves her sister and wants to protect Opal, mainly from herself. As is often the case in real life, we are our own worst enemies. I’m intrigued to see what consequences the party encounters because of their new association with the cursed Circlet.