Before Critical Role fans – known as Critters – could fully mourn the loss of Dungeons & Dragons adventuring party The Mighty Nein, whose three-plus year campaign came to an end last month, they were gifted a whole new story and set of characters to fall in love with in Exandria Unlimited (ExU). Set in the sprawling realm of Exandria, home of campaign one’s Vox Machina and campaign two’s Mighty Nein, Exandria Unlimited presents an eight-episode adventure, helmed by Game Master Aabria Iyengar (The Department of Mysteries).
Thus far, the campaign has featured a chaotic adventuring party consisting of Critical Role alums Matthew Mercer (Overwatch), Liam O’Brien (Carmen Sandiego) and Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us) and newcomers Robbie Daymond (Spider-Man) and Aimee Carrero (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power). Halfway through their adventure, the ragtag group of could-be heroes has proven successful at stumbling into trouble with thieves’ guilds and confounding earthly phenomena – ash-holes, to some players.
A road trip off-the-beaten path in episode four brought the gang closer together, but also led them to a new ally in Anjali Bhimani’s (Overwatch, Apex Legends) fire genasi monk Fy’ra Rai. Bhimani’s appearance proved a welcome surprise in Exandria Unlimited, as the voice actress is no stranger to the world of Critical Role or Table Top Role Playing Games (TTRPGs). The Twitch live-chat erupted at Bhimani’s appearance, as Critters recognize the actress from her role as Miriam Landisman in the short, Western campaign UnDeadwood, her appearance in the DOOM Eternal one-shot and her prevailing friendships with many members of Critical Role’s core cast, including Marisha Ray (8.13) who O’Brien dubbed the mastermind behind Exandria Unlimited, via Comicbook.
Bhimani shared more about her fiery addition to Exandria Unlimited’s latest installment in our interview below.
Artist: Hannah Friederichs
mxdwn: While you have a history with both Dungeons & Dragons and Critical Role – playing Miriam Landisman in UnDeadwood – how did you become involved in Exandria Unlimited specifically?
Anjali Bhimani: My patron saint of role playing, Marisha Ray! Marisha is the whole reason I got back into RPGs a few years back, and I love her so dearly for that and for her ongoing friendship. So when she called and told me about ExU I immediately said yes without even really knowing what it was. What can I say… when Marisha calls, you say YES.
mxdwn: As Exandria Unlimited is pre-recorded, how did it feel being able to lurk as an observer for the first batch of episodes before your role was revealed?
AB: I actually didn’t get to lurk for the first batch of episodes! I did get to watch episode 3, but I didn’t know about what had happened in 1 and 2 so I was playing a lot of catchup in-game. After having watched those episodes now, I actually wish I had seen more just for context… but in a sense that was good for my character since she does come in without much knowledge of who she is dealing with. But I will say this… I was so engaged watching episode 3 from behind the scenes and I was trying SO hard to be quiet while I laughed so hard tears were spurting out my eyeballs, it was as if I HAD been there. It was exhilarating.
mxdwn: In UnDeadwood you had the opportunity to play alongside Matthew Mercer as a player character, how did it feel about getting to play in that space with him again as opposed to having him serve as Game Master?
AB: Magical. I love Matt so much as a person to begin with, I’m hard pressed to think of anything I wouldn’t enjoy doing with him, but getting to play with him? It’s just sheer joy. I actually have more experience with him as a player than a GM, so really I was just excited to tell another great story with him. And obviously Dariax is MUCH different from his character in UnDeadwood… he had me cracking up more than you can imagine.
mxdwn: You have been involved in numerous projects with fervent fanbases, how do your experiences with Critical Role’s Critters compare to other fan communities you’ve been a part of as a performer?
AB: Oh I just love them so much! I do think gaming fanbases are exceptional in their love and artistry, and the Critters are delicious proof of that… their creativity, their kindness… it’s pretty extraordinary. My first chance to really hang with some of them was before UnDeadwood, when I was at PAX Unplugged a few years back, and I was so taken with their warmth and excitement and how inclusive they were that it was another piece of clear proof that what the folks at CR have created is more than a single game or a show… Now there’s a whole world of people and a community who inspire each other and in turn inspire the team to want to create more for them to enjoy. It’s a beautiful relationship.
— Anjali Bhimani (@sweeetanj) July 9, 2021
mxdwn: Last week you tweeted that Exandria Unlimited “is the best thing on any screen anywhere right now.” Do you think there’s something special that actual play shows such as Critical Role can bring audiences that cannot be found in traditional media/entertainment?
AB: Absolutely – it can bring you agency and inspiration to tell your own stories. RPGs, whether tabletop or video games, really put the player IN the story… and I think a show like ExU or the UnDeadwood or the main CR campaigns show people how much they are the author of their own story, their own life. Even though the people on screen might be different from the viewers, we are as invested in their choices in the moment as we would be in our own, we connect with them, we love them, we get mad at them, we feel for them, but ultimately we also know we can start a home game and create our own characters and do what they are doing…or rather, something completely unique to US that gives us a sense of power and joy. It’s vastly different than being told a story that has already been written. To me, it engages our own storytelling muscles as viewers and inspires us to do it ourselves.
mxdwn: Over the years, Critical Role has served as a two-fold portal that has popularized interest in Dungeons & Dragons and the profession of voice acting. As both a voice actor and life-long fan of role playing games, how have you felt the show’s impact?
AB: Well, you can’t talk about role playing games any more without CR coming up somewhere in the conversation, that’s one thing. It’s a touchstone to help people who maybe don’t understand the idea of TTRPGs to wrap their minds around it. And for anyone who scoffs at RPGs or has some preconceived notion of people who play D&D, you only need to point to CR and the incredible community surrounding it to show someone how powerful and special it is. But honestly, for me personally, the show’s impact is probably the same as anyone else watching – it just makes me love the game more and more, and reminds me that especially as an actor this is the PERFECT creative outlet. I mean, I run around the house making ridiculous voices with my husband and dog already, and I play all sorts of characters on TV and in VO, why wouldn’t I want to do that in my playtime too?
mxdwn: As the campaign approaches its halfway point, how would you pitch someone on Exandria Unlimited if they’ve yet to check out the series for themselves?
AB: Hmmmm… Well, first I would say, “JUST WATCH IT. You won’t be disappointed.” Because no matter where you jump in, there’s so much to enjoy. After all, I myself jumped in on episode 4 and I’m IN it. I think I’d definitely suggest checking out online recaps. If we’re talking about pitching it to someone who doesn’t know anything about the show or the style or the medium or anything, I would say that it’s a group of incredible actors coming together to create this world through long form improv, except instead of getting the suggestions from people in the audience, there’s an amazing game master setting the stage and helping weave the story. And whether or not or how they get to do the things they want to do as their characters is determined by rolls of the dice. And it’s incredibly hilarious and heartwarming and I promise it will leave a smile on your face. I myself have laughed uncontrollably a few times watching some of the episodes already.
mxdwn: This might go without saying, but would you be willing to reprise your character in further Exandrian adventures beyond Exandria Unlimited?
AB: Ahahahah…uh…let me think about YES YES YES YES YES YES YES. Wait…no, yeah, I’m sticking with that.
Bihmani’s inclusion in Exandria Unlimited has given fans yet another reason to eagerly ask: is it Thursday yet?