Critical Role Explores a Bigger World With Exandria Unlimited: Calamity

There's a wider purpose to Exandria Unlimited in the grander Critical Role storyline beyond the chance to see more storytellers and players shake up the world of Exandria. Later this week, Critical Role will launch its latest Exandria Unlimited miniseries, titled Exandria Unlimited: Calamity. The new campaign continues to grow the ever-expanding web of Critical Role stories that spans from D&D campaigns to books to cartoons to comics. And as that catalog of stories grows, so does the opportunity for new crossovers and even bigger plans. ComicBook.com had the unique opportunity to ask the cast of Exandria Unlimited: Calamity about the future of the Critical Role anthology series, including the possibility of a second full-time campaign.

The new Exandria Unlimited series explores the closing days of the Age of Arcanum, a time of great magical achievement that directly led into The Calamity, a war between the gods that utterly devastates Exandria. The new show marks a major departure from the last Exandria Unlimited series, which served as a prequel of sorts for the current Critical Role campaign and now features a plotline that runs concurrently with the "main" Critical Role campaign. This difference led to ComicBook.com asking Critical Role creative director and Exandria Unlimited: Calamity cast member Marisha Ray about how the franchise decides when to make an Exandria Unlimited series.

"Realistically, there are a lot of factors that went into this, and a lot of little decision-making points that are always considered," Ray responded. "The initial impetus of Exandria Unlimited when I was creating it a year and a half ago now, was that Exandria itself is such a rich world. Realistically, we only get to experience Exandria through the eyes of a handful of people, in a very linear setting with each campaign. But there's a lot of other shit going on, not just on the other side of the planet but throughout time and history. So beyond just wanting to explore more of Exandria itself, we also wanted to explore more stories from different storytellers, and to show that anybody can create and build within the world of Exandria. "

exu-calamity-group-table-shot-photo-credit-michael-schmidt.png
(Photo: Critical Role/Michael Schmidt)

Burnout was also a factor, as the Critical Role cast had been playing marathon Dungeons & Dragons sessions on a weekly basis for nearly seven years. "We wanted to bake in times where we could not only take our hands off the reins a little bit and let somebody else drive, but also give Matt [Mercer, the Dungeon Master for Critical Role's main campaign] time to take a little bit more rest in between," Ray added. "All of this has really been sprung forth from his brain, which is a lot. But the name Exandria Unlimited was meant very literal in choosing it because there really are an unlimited amount of stories to be told in an unlimited amount of time."

Of course, there's always the fear that disrupting the status quo could upset the fanbase. "The sheer tonnage of times Twitter replies where I had to say, 'I don't know why you think I'm replacing Matt, that's crazy stuff,'" noted Aabria Iyengar, an Exandria Unlimited: Calamity cast member and Game Master for the first pair of Exandria Unlimited miniseries. But Ray and the rest of the Critical Role crew felt like it was worth the risk. 

"Anytime you mess with the status quo, people are going to get nervous," Ray said. "But it was also something that all of us, as a company, felt very strongly about. Not only was it necessary, but it was time. And overall, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. And I think especially after people saw the first season of Exandria Unlimited, and we got into Campaign 3. "We wanted to have this A-story and B-story plot, but you can't really explain that until people just got to see it."

Of course, the implication that there are two concurrent plots means that eventually, those plot lines will collide. When ComicBook.com pointed that out, Iyengar slyly said, "Oh, interesting," before jokingly giving a, "No comment." 

exu-calamity-lou-wilson-marisha-ray-luis-carazo-photo-credit-michael-schmidt.png
(Photo: Critical Role/Michael Schmidt)

Sam Riegel, who also appears in Exandria Unlimited: Calamity, gave a more diplomatic answer. "I can say, because I don't know anything about what Marisha does, or what Aabria does, that Critical Role's storyline and Exandria Unlimited's storyline, it's not just two paths that might converge, there are unlimited paths," Riegel said. "We've now got the Calamity path, and there's probably other paths that we'll explore in the future, and not just in live play shows, but in comic books, novels, and other forms of media. Exandria's such a broad rich world. Not just a world, it's a universe. So we can have so many different stories that may intertwine and intersect, but only because they all exist in the same universe."

"We have a spreadsheet that is so long, of ideas and stories, and it really is endless," Ray added. "And we're always just feeling it out as we come, with which ones we want to punt to the forefront and to explore in those moments. But there will be no shortage of branching paths, and story arcs, and characters that we will continue to explore. There's a lot coming down the pipeline, for sure."

"Marisha, write this down," Iyengar said. "Taste of Tal'Dorei popup restaurant. We should do it. We should do it."

Ray pulled out a notebook. "You're great," she said, jotting something in it. "I'm actually going to write it down."

"We have a little joke within Critical Role, where we always say we have to be careful about what we joke about, because those are always the things that end up happening and coming true," Ray said. "Sometimes they're the most ridiculous ones, but it always starts with like, Oh, hey, I don't know. What if we do [Blank]?'. And people are like, 'Ha....ha.....ha....'" Ray looked into the air thoughtfully. "That's always the reaction."

"A goof so good, you have to do it," Iyengar said. "I love that!"

exu-calamity-sam-riegel-aabria-iyengar-travis-willingham-photo-credit-michael-schmidt.png
(Photo: Critical Role/Michael Schmidt)

With so many different stories to explore within Exandria, ComicBook.com had to ask whether Critical Role would ever run two weekly Dungeons & Dragons campaigns at once. "A lot of what we want to do in these next immediate coming years is to not only empower other GMs and storytellers, but also empower other players, and see what they bring with their fresh look and perspective into the world of Exandria," Ray said.

She did note that they also have to be mindful about not burning out the audience. "We are a show that is four hours roughly every week," said Ray. "And we understand that is quite the time commitment for our audience. And that's just with Critical Role content. We know everyone has so many choices when it comes to other amazing live play shows, and then just other content in general." 

That's part of the reason why Critical Role is taking a break from the main campaign during Exandria Unlimited: Calamity's run. "We give that space and that runway for Exandria Unlimited to shine," said Ray. "But just like anything with content and the web, we're always watching, and we're always trying to watch and learn. Every piece of content feels like its own new experiment. And that definitely shapes the way that we formulate our programming in the future. That's a long, enigmatic, roundabout way of saying, 'Yeah, keep your mind open.'"

Riegel offered up an alternative idea to multiple campaigns running at once. "I don't think we should have multiple campaigns running," Riegel said. "I think we should have one campaign that is 24/7."

"A Truman Show," Iyengar and Ray offered up at almost the exact same time.

"And when some players have to rest, you take a long rest," Riegel said. And the GM cuts to some other players...or maybe another GM cuts away and we get some other players that are in the same world. And we just keep going every minute of every day."

"That sounds tenable and doable," Iyengar said.

When ComicBook.com noted it sounded like a fantastic charity stream, Ray pulled out her notebook once again and wrote something in it. "That's actually not a bad idea," Ray said.

0comments

"Write it down!" Iyengar shouted. 

"I told you, we've got to be careful what we joke about," Ray said. "This is happening in real time. You're seeing it. Manifestation is real."