‘Exandria Unlimited: Calamity’, Episode One, “Excelsior” aired on May 26, 2022
The four part Critical Role mini-series, Exandria Unlimited: Calamity takes place in the distant past– long before any of the three Critical Role main campaigns. But just because the setting is ancient, doesn’t mean it is primitive. The Age of Arcanum and the city of Avalir was renowned for its seamless blending of arcane and artifice, and the belief that religion was the bastion for the weak.
Critical Role fans know, the Age of Arcanum ends in what is referred to as the calamity: a battle between the prime deities and the betrayer gods, which literally reshapes the entire world and nearly wipes out life as they know it. Dungeon Master, Brennan Lee Mulligan, warns the audience straight away that there will be no happy endings here.
In the floating city of Avalir, we meet our adventures. Starting off with Xerxus (human paladin, Luis Carazo) in the middle of a dream, or perhaps, a vision. He is running through the streets of Avalir, explosions blast around him. He sees his five year old son fishing in a fountain filled not with water, but the night sky. The darkness whispers to Xerxus, “Ghor Dranas.”
He’s about to pull his son away when a mountain-sized body slams into the square- a body with red skin and horns. The creature was struck down by the almighty and powerful form of the Dawnfather (one of the prime deities). The dying betrayer god looks at Xerxus, and asks. “Whom did we betray?… Xerxus, if you look down and see the stars, what will you see if you look up?”
The next morning dawns, and with it comes the daily announcements which are magically transmitted to every street corner. And the broadcaster? None other than Loquacious Seelie (changeling bard, Sam Reigel). As his broadcast ends, Loquacious immediately asks about his ratings (of course he does, lol). They could be better– mostly because of some broken transmission crystals in part of the city. Unfortunately for Loquacious the person responsible for fixing the crystals is the Architect Arcane, his ex wife. And she’s not taking his calls.
Speaking of the Architect Arcane, Laerryn Coramar-Seelie, (elf wizard, Aabria Iyengar) is in the subterranean center of the floating city, monitoring the enormous engine that keeps it all afloat. It’s a big job on a normal day, but now they are only a day out from the Replenishment– when they land atop the mountain from which the city came (which happens once every 7 years).
An attendant approaches her with some tantalizing news. There is about to be a celestial solstice, the biggest one in a century. The solstice will make the veil between the planes thin and make feats of incredible magic possible. She hurries home to study the findings, but before she can digest them, Loquacious knocks on her door. The ensuing awkwardness was played beautifully by actors Sam Reigel and Aabria Iyengar, and while their characters agree to be civil, it implies a whole lot of drama to come!
Next up is Nydas (human sorcerer, Lou Wilson) a guildmaster who is busy at work preparing for all the Replenishment festivities. He is obviously a mover and shaker, (someone who miiight be skimming something from somewhere?? We’ll wait and see). A city magistrate comes to see Nydas saying he heard through the grapevine that Nydas could get his hands on some surplus ether. Nydas is immediately on guard and tells the guy to leave, but he’s clearly worried about a leak in his operation.
We cut to the Cloudstone Neighborhood to see Senior Sightwarden Cerrit Agrupnin (eisfuura rouge, Travis Willigham) is about to dive into a missing persons investigation. The terrestrial city of Vasselheim fears that one of their mages, Vespin Chloras, (Remember him from Critical Role 3x2o and 3×21? Check out our recap here!) has gone to the proverbial dark side and is trying to ascend to godhood. It’s not usually something Cerrit would be interested in, but someone in the Ring of Silver (a noble class) has requested some of Vespin’s artifacts– artifacts that need to be reviewed before they can be released.
Magically recreating Vespin’s sanctum, Cerrit sees something that ruffles his feathers. Everything in the chamber has been hit– indiscriminately– with a blast of disenchantment, a blast that seems to emanate from a summoning circle. Whatever Vespin summoned, it escaped. Cerrit grabs a piece of the debris (a length of rusted metal) and decides he needs to get some help with this investigation.
It is in the highest echelons of Avalir that we meet Patia Por’co (elf wizard, Marisha Ray). Patia is the Keeper of Scrolls and granddaughter of the mage who sundered the top of the mountain that became the floating city. She has been summoned to meet with Loras, an apprentice to one of the city’s rulers.
Loras brings news to Patia; tidings of war are on the horizon between two other floating cities. Loras asks that Patia ready her Ring of Brass (more on that later), he also casually mentions that the Hall of Prophecies is closed for the time being, and oh, by the way what do you know about Cerrit’s investigation? (I’m not suspicious, are you??) Patia doesn’t know anything yet, but says she’ll make inquiries tonight.
Tonight, being the party of the decade!
A gala to remember…
It isn’t until the party at Patia’s ancestral home that we see how this diverse group of characters connect. They’re all members of the Ring of Brass, old friends, and (perhaps) a one-time adventuring party. They’re influential people in Avalir, but it’s clear that there is a deep sense of history between them.
They meet at a private table, and Xerxus tells them about his dream. It strikes all of them differently. Avalir isn’t a superstitious society (and certainly not a religious one) but for a warrior as hardened as Xerxus to be unsettled by a dream– there has to be more to it than that.
Thanks to some outstanding rolls, they puzzle out the meaning of the whispered words, Ghor Dranas: the gathering of shadows. It is an ancient phrase from the time when the Prime Deities overthrew their parents and sealed them beneath the mountain (the mountain that Avalir used to cap… eek). And in the shadows the ancient gods will gather their strength.
The Plot Thickens
Cerrit remembers that summoning circle, and tells them about his investigation into Vespin Chloras, showing the metal he took from the scene. His friends inspect the item, and they realize that it’s no scrap metal. It is a piece of a twelve foot long bow that was once wielded by a Solar (a type of angel from the Celestial Plane).
Sounds cool, but here’s the kicker. No moral magic could have shattered this bow. Something else was in the room when Vespin Chloras’ summoning circle was dispelled. As the plot thickens, Laerryn takes the bow, saying that it is the last piece she needed. (Uh oh.)
The Matron’s Warning
An unexpected guest arrives at the party, the champion of the Matron of Ravens (the goddess of death). The Raven Queen is the only mortal to have ever ascended into godhood– displacing the old god of death to do so. Her’s is a path that many foolish mages have attempted to recreate, and it’s what the Ring of Brass suspects Vespin was trying to do. But remember, Avalir isn’t a city for the devout. It’s very unusual for a divine champion to come there.
The gathered mage’s managed to offend the champion almost immediately, but Xerxus and Loquacious run after him before he leaves. Seeing that they’re sincere, the champion tells them that the Matron sent him after Vespin Chloras. As they guessed, Vespin was trying to recreate her path. But there have been no attempts to unseat any of the Prime Deities. It can only mean that Vespin sought out the power of the primordial gods supposedly locked beneath Avalir’s sister mountain.
Something is moving, the Matron of Raven Warns.
A leak in the ring
While Xerxus and Loquacious go after the Champion, Laerryn bee lines for the heart of the city, asking Nydas to send her four automatons immediately. He does so, but before he goes to meet her, he tells Patia about the suspicious meeting he had earlier. Patia agrees that they have a leak, and she is livid.
Casting detect thoughts, she scans the room of partygoers, searching for anything that might be amiss. And then she hears a whisper. She looks to one of the scarecrow-like automaton servers. The creatures freezes and thinks, Ghor Dranas, before collapsing onto the floor. Cerrit sees this exchange, grabs the now lifeless pile of cloth, and takes it away for investigation.
The Wildmother’s embrace
In a solitary side chamber, Cerrit sets the cloth down and starts searching it, when he realizes he’s not alone. Surreptitiously looking into the mirror before him, he sees the slightest hint of movement. Cerrit grabs his axes, and swings. A body falls to the floor a second before an invisibility spell fades. But it’s a body horrific to behold. Human in name only; it looks like it’s been stitched together from scraps of cloth.
Behind him, Cerrit hears, “You will never reach the Wildmother’s embrace in time. Are you looking for something?”
Cerrit spins, and sees Vespin Chloras standing on the other side of the mirror. He strikes. The mirror shatters.
And Cerrit is alone.