The newest live-play Dungeons and Dragons game, Exandria Unlimited: Calamity, takes Critical Role back in time by over a thousand years. They have the chance to explore the Age of Arcanum: from the founding of Vasselheim that began it to the Calamity that ended it. Newcomers and veterans of Critical Role may not be aware of just how massive in scope the Age of Arcanum was. The races of Exandria built Vasselheim (whose founding began the age) tens of thousands of years before the Calamity! (Critical Role C1E016)
Much of Exandria’s history has been left intentionally vague and unknown for eager Dungeon Masters to fill in the blanks. However, enough knowledge has been shared to create a rough timeline of events. All credit for these historical events goes to Matthew Mercer and the other talented writers of Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting, Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount and Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn. Exandria and its history would be nothing without Matt and his collaborators.
Bear in mind that this article is in no way the “definitive” Critical Role timeline. But hopefully, it gives a rough perspective on just how many years of history led to Exandria Unlimited: Calamity. Of course, new information from the upcoming miniseries will change what is presented here.
Without further ado, here is the history of Exandria before and during the Calamity!
The Founding (estimated 28,200 years to 20,400 years before the Divergence)
Before discussing the Age of Arcanum, we travel tens of millennia into the past. We must discuss how the world of Exandria Unlimited: Calamity and its gods came to be.
The gods arrive from the cosmos and create the mortal races (elves, dwarves, humans and more) upon Exandria. Unfortunately, the world is already home to elemental titans known as the “Primordials.” The Primordials rise up to destroy the mortals and return Exandria to its original chaotic state. These violent terrors created The Schism between the gods. (Exandria: An Intimate History)
Those who wished to salvage their adopted home and defend their creations became known as the “Prime Deities.” To help combat the Primordials, the Prime Deities gift mortals with the power of creation itself – magic.
Other gods wished to help the Primordials in their destruction so that the gods could either start creation over or leave for a new world altogether. These gods who chose chaos in their grief and anger became referred to as the “Betrayer Gods.” The Prime Deities banished the Betrayer Gods from Exandria to extraplanar prisons. Having dealt with their corrupt brethren, the Prime Deities and their mortal allies destroy the Primordials. The scattered remains of the Primordials create mountains, seas and even the Elemental Planes. (Critical Role C1E110)
With Exandria experiencing true peace for the first time in its history, the first true civilization is established with the founding of the city of Vasselheim.
The Great Kingdoms (estimated 20,400 years to 288 years before the Divergence)
Mortals realize with enough understanding of magic; they too can become gods. Mortals shun their creators to practice and perfect their new gifts. Though surprised and hurt by this arrogance, the Prime Deities leave their beloved children to their own devices. This magical era of innovation and power comes to be known as The Age of Arcanum. (Exandria: An Intimate History)
With magic to complete the most difficult tasks, mortal civilization progresses and accelerates at superhuman speeds. For example, the Kuul’tevir (predecessors of lizardfolk) possess magic on par with the seemingly-unrivaled elves. Mages can build an entire city in a single day. (Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting) Kingdoms fall as quickly as they arise. As shared by Aabria Iyengar on Exandria Unlimited, the ancient Qoniira Tetrarchy lasted for millennia, only to fall centuries before the Calamity. (Exandria Unlimited Episode 3)
However, most societies thrive under the direction of scholarly mages. Magic even allows the Zeidel people to hover and drift through the skies in the flying city of Zemniaz. (Critical Role C2E046)
Archmages Unbridled (288 years before the Divergence)
After twenty millennia of unchecked magical and temporal power, the “archmages” of the era begin seeking wondrous and dangerous new paths of magical experimentation.
An archmage known as Vecna becomes a force of insurmountable intellect among mortals. His peers appreciate Vecna’s contributions to arcane magic, but they overlook Vecna himself. In his hubris, Vecna seeks out the secrets of forgotten magics. He then slays any others possessing those secrets until he alone knows them. Bypassing his own mortality through the terrible necromantic rites of lichdom, Vecna takes on the name “The Whispered One.” He amasses hordes of like-minded followers and undead horrors. They vanish into the Shadowfell, where they conquer the dark city of Thar Amphala, and the Whispered One erects the terrible Tower of Entropis.
The Whispered One will not be seen or heard from for another five centuries. Though his creative bending of known arcane theories will stoke the flames of the Calamity to come. (Critical Role C1E106)
The Night of Ascension (estimated 244 years before the Divergence)
For decades, the Age of Arcanum decays from a bountiful age of plenty and prosperity into an age of greed. Elite mages squabble over resources and wealth. Despite all their knowledge and power (even the power to create new life), the mages lust after the one power that will put mortals on par with the gods themselves: immortality. While gods are ageless and retain their power indefinitely, even the greatest mages will eventually wither and die. Some mages follow in the foul and imperfect steps of the Whispered One. Others utilize clones to extend their lifespan while searching for a less troubling alternative to lichdom. (Critical Role C2E082)
But true immortality of a mage’s own body and mind eludes them all. Until one succeeded…
A mortal mage (her name either lost or struck from history) creates the Ritual of Seeding. This rite of rebirth grants her enough power to challenge the now-forgotten god of death. She instantly obliterates the god and takes his place among the Prime Deities as “The Matron of Ravens.” (Exandria: An Intimate History)
Fearful that mortals now possess the power to kill the gods themselves, the Prime Deities quickly destroy the secrets to the Ritual of Seeding. But now mortals know the impossible is possible. The stage is set for Exandria Unlimited: Calamity.
The Great Sundering (190 years before the Divergence)
Inspired by the ascension of the Matron of Ravens to godhood, Archmage Vespin Chloras attempts to repeat the attempt by seeking the guidance and power of the Betrayer Gods. Archmage Vespin rends open the gates to their prisons, and in an event so destructive, it causes the Elemental Planes to bleed into the Prime Material Plane once more. (Exandria: An Intimate History)
Released into the mortal world once more, the Betrayer Gods mentally dominate Vespin as their first thrall. As the people of the world struggle to combat the elemental monsters pouring forth, the Betrayer Gods take advantage of the distraction. They secretly create a mighty and terrible kingdom named “Ghor Dranas” (Draconic for “Gathering of Shadows”) on the far side of the world from Vasselheim.
The Betrayer Gods begin their attempt to remake Exandria by assaulting Vasselheim with a legion of the damned. After twenty days and twenty nights, the Prime Deities force the Betrayers to retreat.
The Calamity (188 years to 0 years before the Divergence)
With the existence of Ghor Dranas and the threat of the Betrayer Gods revealed, a dangerous arcane arms race begins. For years, gods and mortals alike have created powerful artifacts to do battle against and alongside the gods themselves. As the focus of magic shifts to warfare, conflict is inevitable. (Exandria: An Intimate History)
The opening shots of the Calamity are fired at the Vault of Shumas in the Aggrad Mountains of Marquet. A competing force of religious followers slaughters the Shumas civilization and locks away their temple Vault. Though the god responsible for the incursion is lost to time, scholars hypothesize it was the Cloaked Serpent. (CelebriDnD with Joe Manganiello)
Whoever is truly responsible quickly becomes irrelevant. The gods themselves descend from the heavens to take up arms in the war that shall be known as “The Calamity.” The first battle sees the destruction of the dwarven kingdom of Uthtor in what is now Tal’Dorei. (Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting) Some mortals attempt to flee the Calamity to other planes of existence. After the fall of the Courts of Ullusa, the elves flee Tal’Dorei into the Feywild. (Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn)
Some seek emancipation from the “irrelevant” gods, Prime Deities and Betrayer Gods alike. Aeor becomes such a threat that the Prime Deities and the Betrayer Gods strike a temporary armistice to crash the flying city and destroy its god-killing weapons for all time. (Critical Role C2109)
The Calamity is so devastating that it alters the very earth. Plateaus sink into valleys. Mountains collapse. Century-long wildfires burn forests and jungles (such as the Greying Wildlands and Marquet) into deserts. (Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount)
A century after the Great Sundering, a nomadic people known as the Ashari managed to contain the elemental disturbances to four planar rifts. They divide into four separate tribes to watch over each tumultuous rift. (Critical Role C1E022)
The Divergence (0 PD, or “0 years Post-Divergence”)
Fear grips Exandria for almost two centuries as gods and mortals continue to battle in the Calamity.
The final battles of the Calamity take place in a Wildemount valley that will become known as the Barbed Fields. Mountains sheered flat into bluffs. Earthquakes created are so strong that massive floods and tidal waves wipe out life along the far-off coast. The mortal Champions of the gods are killed, sundered or sealed away.
Though the Prime Deities defeat and banish the Betrayer Gods once more, it is a temporary victory, at best. The Prime Deities now know it only takes one greedy mortal to unleash the Betrayers from their prisons. The Prime Deities decide to prevent the corrupt Betrayer Gods from returning by sealing off all pathways to the Prime Material Plane. This means the Prime Deities would need to enter self-imposed exile. However, the gods feel their involvement in the Calamity is what caused such cataclysmic damage. Only a third of Exandria’s population survived.
The disappearance of the gods behind this “Divine Gate” is known by many names. “The Second Spark” by those who study arcane magic. “The Penance” by those who seek to be close to their gods once more. But the most common name for the end of the Age of Arcanum and the end of the Calamity is simply “The Divergence.”
Is It Thursday Yet?
What do you think? Do you envision a different timeline for Exandria? What historical events and lore of Exandria’s past has you the most intrigued to further explore?
Even though the dates are just best guesses, hopefully, you’ve gotten some inspiration for your own home campaigns! And who knows? Maybe we’ll get a specific timeline when Exandria Unlimited: Calamity premieres on Thursday, May 26, 2022!
[featured image: “Calamity” by Andrey Vasilchenko; Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting; Critical Role]
This article was originally published on 5/23/22.
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