Critical Role’s EXU: Calamity shows the secrets D&D party members often keep from one another and how to conflicts that arises when those are exposed.
Tension between Dungeons & Dragons characters at the same table is nothing new — after all, not everyone in the party will always agree. Critical Role‘s Exandria Unlimited: Calamity episode three, “Blood and Shadow,” is a prime example of how dangerous secrets can begin to tear even the closest adventuring party apart.
Given what Critical Role fans already know about Exandria’s history, a campaign around the Calamity was never going to be a walk in the park. As tensions launched among the Ring of Brass when Aabriya Iyengar’s character Laerryn began to cast Blight on the tree, she actually said, “Was this called EXU: A Chill Day in the Park?” The players knew what they were endeavoring into and that the likelihood of survival was very slim. Despite the friendship among the members of the Ring of Brass, as the secrets they’d been keeping from each other began rising to the surface, tensions became attacks that threatened to tear everything they stood for apart.
The real strain between party members began when Travis Willingham’s character, Cerrit, noticed a birchbark scroll with Druidic writings in Laerryn’s pack and called it to the attention of the rest of the group. Preparing to leave to reach his children and protect them from the arriving chaos, Cerrit pointed out that there had been some incredibly selfish actions among the group, and he wasn’t sure any of them would actually survive the night. Would the destruction of their city and the world as they know it be their own fault? Would they be the ones to bring the Betrayer Gods back to Exandria?
Arriving at the Arboreal Calix, they discovered that toy Laerryn sent through the planar portal stuck in the branches of the tree. Realizing that the tree siphons magic, Laerryn understood that destroying the tree was the only solution to achieve what she’d been attempting. She set out to cast Blight, but Sorcerer/Bard Nydas (Lou Wilson) attempted to stop her with reason and false prophecy. Laerryn then saw, also trapped within the branches, the incorporeal image of their lost friend, Evandrin and knew destroying the tree was the only way to set him free.
Sam Riegel’s Bard, Loquatious, who just so happened to be Laerryn’s ex-husband and obviously still very much in love with her, did not react kindly to what appeared to be an attack by Nydas and cast Fey Presence in an effort to convince Nydas to back down. In the wake of Luis Carazo’s Paladin, Zerxus, Nydas could not actually be frightened, but the battle didn’t stop there. When the tree began pouring knowledge into Patia (Marisha Ray), Nydas reacted by casting Hold Person on both Laerryn and Loquatious, who failed the saving throw and were temporarily disabled. One interesting aspect was the gift of Zerxus’ aura, which aided Loquatious in breaking the hold because despite his protective actions and threat against Nydas, Loquatious was technically still an ally.
Reluctant to actually harm his friends, Nydas decided he only wanted to maintain his Hold Person on Laerryn to prevent her from casting Blight on the tree. When Laerryn’s Aeormaton, Dweomer, entered the labyrinth and saw a harmful spell being cast upon the Architect Arcane, she cast Disintegrate on Nydas. While Dungeon Master Brennan Lee Mulligan was all about the actions and reactions of the party, he kept the entire conflict moving swiftly along, bouncing from moment to moment without lingering.
Laerryn was at a major disadvantage, and the DM’s intercession caused a break in what could have quickly become an all-out battle between the party members before the real big bad actually had a chance to arrive in Exandria and launch the Calamity. Fortunately, Zerxus was able to Counterspell disintegrate, and Laerryn broke Hold Person on her next turn. Despite giving in to Nydas’ efforts to grapple her, Laerryn cast Blight after watching the tree shoot out branches and impale both Loquatious and Patia.
Brennan’s intervention was an opportunity to drive the story forward. Players can often become trapped in the back and forth, achieving nothing as a temporary situation goes on far too long. By diverting their attention, he was able to get the party back on track and reveal the tree’s secrets. Humbled upon discovering the tree’s protection over Exandria, it became apparent far too late, and the Lord of Hells crossed through and into Exandria.
Artist, writer, avid gamer, lover of comics, manga and anime and all around nerd, Jennifer has been creating online content for numerous websites for over 15 years. She can generally be found on Tuesday nights playing Drow Warlock Zaelien Vel’rai in the So Many Levels D&D campaign on Twitch!