Critical Role: Liam O'Brien and Aimee Carrero Discuss Exandria Unlimited
Critical Role's newest series serves as an interesting departure from the show's previous full-length campaign. Earlier today, Critical Role announced Exandria Unlimited, a new eight episode series featuring a mix of veteran cast and new players. As its name suggests, Exandria Unlimited is set in Exandria and is considered canon within the Critical Role timeline, but has several key differences from past multi-episode shows. For one, the show features brand new characters played by Matthew Mercer, Liam O'Brien, Ashley Johnson, Aimee Carrero and Robbie Daymond. Additionally, the show features Aabria Iyengar as the Game Master, marking the first time Critical Role has had someone besides Mercer run a "canon" series of games.
ComicBook.com had the opportunity to speak with Liam O'Brien and Aimee Carrero about Exandria Unlimited, getting to explore familiar settings through new eyes, playing with Matt Mercer as a player as opposed to a DM, and how the show serves as a gateway for the Critical Role universe. Please note that this interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ComicBook.com: Before we get started, Liam, congratulations on Campaign 2 wrapping up. What was it like playing in a seven-hour D&D game? I haven't gotten to do that in decades.
Liam O'Brien: It was a little bit of a return to form, because when we used to play at home, we would go for 10 or 12 hours.
Aimee Carrero: Woah.
O'Brien: Pizza would be ordered and mimosas would be made. We were only playing every five or six weeks back then and it kind of had that feel, the night we shot that. We reached a certain point, and we're like, "Keep going?" And we want to keep playing. So we did.
So now that Campaign Two is wrapped up, we're jumping into Exandria Unlimited, which will feature a mix of long-time Critical Role cast members and some new players, like Aimee. So can you two tell me about the new show.
Carrero: So this is my first foray into Dungeons & Dragons, but I've known [Critical Role cast member] Sam Riegel for a long time. He was a voice director on Elena of Avalor for years and years and years. So I've heard about Critical Role and have been a fan of Critical Role. So when Sam approached me and said, "Would you be interested in this?" I jumped at the chance because I've been a fan for so long. And I was nervous, but I'm so glad that I did it, because it is now my favorite job that I've had.
O'Brien: And we can see that, Aimee. I'm playing a new character, which is awesome. That's great. But really, I think my favorite thing of Exandria Unlimited is watching our new players, who are new D&D players. And watching them fall in love with the game for the first time, at least for me, has been the best part of this experience.
This is a first in a lot of ways. We're still in the world of Exandria. We have Aabria Iyengar who is running the game. And it's the first time that someone has come in and held the reins on the world of Exandria. And we've had guests before too, but never for this long on our show.
We've got a great mix of the old guard of Critical Role, fresh talent, and both a super experienced game master. Aimee, for me, it's been like when we would do Christmas morning with the kids. You're remembering when you were there, going, "Oh, my gosh. I remember believing in Santa" and I remember the wonder of being a kid for a second time. And watching you have your, "how do you want to do this" moment before we were even doing the official episode, seeing it layer in for you game after game has been the best, both you and Robbie.
Carrero: A big part of my enjoyment and falling in love with this game has been because of Liam, because of Ashley, because of Matt and Aabria and Robbie, but specifically, the more seasoned players, the professional players. Because they have been so cool about being patient and understanding that it takes a little while and being so inclusive. And I just can't imagine being such a pro at a game and then having someone like me with very little experience. And so it's been just so lovely.
Aimee, I know that you've shown interest in D&D on your Twitter account and you have a Player's Handbook. Did that all come because you were doing the show?
Carrero: Actually, I had met up with Matt a couple of years ago about making a guest appearance on Campaign Two. But by the time there was an opening in the story, the pandemic hit. So I've been wanting to play for so long. Before the pandemic, leading up to wanting to be competent enough to play, I did a few one-offs with friends. And so I've definitely been a lurker and in the wings, just waiting to go on. So this is just feels like such a great opportunity.
O'Brien: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you were weeks away from joining us at the table.
Carrero: Yes. But you know, the pandemic is so awful, but I'm glad that I had the extra time. Because had I not watched as many episodes as I had, maybe I just wouldn't have gone into it as confident as I did when I finally was able to. And so that was good.
So Liam, this is the first time that you've played with Matt Mercer in a Critical Role game as a player. What's that like? Because you've literally been playing with him as a DM for a thousand hours of recorded content.
O'Brien: That's right. And I feel like for the first time, those of us who played with Matt this long as our game master, we're seeing Matt unleashed. We all know that Matt is a man of a thousand voices, endlessly creative, and a world builder. He's just a wonderful soul. But when you run a game for your friends, you're catering to the sort of story that they're hoping to tell.You're surprising them and subverting their expectations and yanking rugs out from under them and all that. But you're also meeting them halfway with a kind of story they want to tell. But now we're watching him as a player where he just gets to follow his nose and do whatever the hell he wants to do.
Carrero: It's so fun.
O'Brien: And I guess we shouldn't say much more than that, but he's just on his nose, wherever the hell he wants to go. And it is a joy.
We can't talk too much about the game itself, but can we talk a little bit about the setting that Exandria Unlimited takes place in? You're returning to Emon, it's set after both Campaign One and Campaign Two. What's it like returning there? Aimee, you've seen Emon as a fan, Liam, obviously you were there when Emon got destroyed. So what's it like kind of going back to that setting?
O'Brien: It's strange to see familiar places with a time jump, told through the lens of a different game master. I also don't want to talk about where we go, but there is overlap in places that fans are familiar with from the first campaign. We'll be bubbling up in different ways and fun ways and coming at them from different angles. Aimee and I particularly have an overlap between Campaign One and Exandria Unlimited.
Carrero: It's such a joy to watch the players wade into those crossovers because it's emotional. It's emotional when you spend so much time in this world and then you maybe see...well, I can't say anything. But it's cool to watch people who have walked through those halls, if you will. Walking through them again as different characters, knowing the Easter eggs, and also just being really affected by them is really fun to watch.
O'Brien: I've also loved a couple of times, without getting into specifics, we've encountered familiar elements from Campaign One. And Matt and Ashley and I are very familiar, and Aabria too. It's almost like bringing the Amy and Robbie over for a slumber party or something. We're saying, "this is my best friend. I want you to meet him!" Or, "this is my tree house, the best!" And then you get to watch them see the tree house for the first time and fall in love with it like you did. It's like Christmas morning.prevnext
Can we talk a little bit about Aabria as the Game Master? Could you describe how she DMs and what it's like getting to play with her as players?
Carrero: I don't have a ton of experience with Dungeon Masters, but having watched Matt for so many episodes and then seeing Aabria, it's just so cool how they are both master world builders but have different flavors. It's like watching someone cook a very elaborate 20-course meal. You think "Oh, I think I've had this before." But then its, "No, I haven't. This is all the different flavors. And I didn't know this could taste like that!" So in my eyes, it just feels like watching someone at the very very top of their talent bring out notes and flavors of things that you never expected could be there.
I also think again, as a very novice player, she strikes me as so talented. With the improvisational part of it, she really she took the temperature of the group, because we do have a very kind of specific vibe, and really just went with it. I don't know how she does it, but it's really just been such an eye-opener. And I'm just in awe of people who are able to do the job that she's able to do.
O'Brien: She really is excellent at rolling with the punches. There are a few times where we were convinced that something was a planned moment but she told us it was improvised us after the fact. She has her very unique style for running the game. She comes with both that sort of depth and gravitas and soul that you want for the bones of the game. But she also has a great playful side, sense of humor, and she mixes things up. Like Matt, she has a great way of making the games. It's not just like, "[dun-dun-dun-dun] and the combat" for every single game. Like some of the episodes are really different from the others. And it's because of where the focus lies. She's excellent at it. And a little hypnotic at times when she gets into her sort of world-nourishing zone.
Carrero: It's not until after I'm driving home and realized, "oh my God, this is the story we just told." It's not just the surface level story we're telling, it's so much more. And Aabria has that in common with Matt.
When you sat down and started to plan out Exandria Unlimited, you knew that this would be a limited show. This wasn't a big Critical Role campaign where it could go for 100+ episodes. You know you had like a set amount of episodes. How does that affect building your character and trying to determine what sort of story you want to tell?
O'Brien: Let me just give a shout out to Marisha Ray, Exandria Unlimited is really her brainchild. I guess I didn't experience any difference in character creation for this, because we really are just hoping to expand our universe with a different game master, really. We weren't thinking of it as the B-show or the smaller show. So I put as much thought into the character I'm playing as a did to any of my past.
It's clear that Robbie and Aimee put a ton of thought and joy and love into the characters they created. And I loved it really sinking in for the two of them that "Oh, I get to make the role that I want to play." It just gets deeper. You come up with all these ideas, but it doesn't really happen, the magic doesn't happen until you play, and then you play it again.
Carrero: Because I have very little experience, I came to Aabria with the story that I was interested in telling, and the character that I was interested in playing. I started with a conflict and said "Here's the issue that she has. How can I build a character from that?" From that, she made really great suggestions as far as, "Well, if you do this, then this will become a conflict for you later on. If you do that, that will." So I think I built the character unconventionally. Maybe it's just because I'm new, but I often also do that during combat rules. I'm like, "Okay, here's what I want to do. What is possible?" And to my great delight, pretty much everything is possible. Looking back, I definitely was made the most interesting character that I could play in this moment and worked backwards from there.prevnext
What do you hope that Critical Role fans - old fans, new fans, and maybe people who decide this is going to be their first dive into the franchise - what do you hope that people take out of watching Exandria Unlimited?
Carrero: I think it's a really good time for people who have been curious about the Critical Role universe and maybe feel overwhelmed by the amount of story that's already available. This feels like a nice gateway into the world because it is a limited story. Having been an audience member, if I'm just starting out into this world, or even if I'm like an experienced player or an experienced watcher, I think this is just like a really perfect time to dip your toe in the water if you're interested, because it's very easy to catch up. And you don't feel like there's so much information that you need to know before watching it.
O'Brien: Exactly that. It's going to be a great way for people who have been curious or hadn't heard of us until now to find an easy starting point. And then if you love it, you can decide where you want to go in our universe next. And really, we want the show to do what we want our past campaigns to do, which is share the love of this game. Because there's nothing like it. It's one of the most human shared experiences you can have. And I think anyone who tries Dungeons & Dragons for any amount of time finds that. It used to be a hard thing to communicate to people and it's not anymore, which is fantastic.
Carrero: And maybe for people that haven't played D&D or maybe feel a little bit intimidated, it might be nice to see a new player on the show. Where it's like, "Well, she doesn't know what she's doing all the time. And that's good that those are questions I would have." I'm hoping that maybe we'll give that group a little representation to show you don't have to be an expert in Dungeons & Dragons in order to enjoy it, and to play it, and to make friends, and tell stories that feel important to you.
O'Brien: That's an excellent point, Aimee. You'll see that as we play together, those of us who've been playing together for so long are just thrilled to be bringing in new friends and introducing people to it. And you really are like the avatar for brand new players.
Exandria Unlimited begins on June 24th on Critical Role's Twitch and YouTube channels.prev