This week, the cast of Critical Role had a tearful reunion. Break out the tissues for this episode.
Previously on Critical Role, the Mighty Nein traveled to Ghor Dranas—known by the Kryn as the city of Rosonah—to ask a favor of Bright Queen Leylas Kryn, the empress of Xhorhas. However, in their audience with her, they were revealed to be travelers and possible agents of the Dwendalian Empire, and were placed under arrest. Before they could be dragged away, though, Caleb revealed the magical artifact known to them as the dodecahedron—and to the Kryn as a beacon—and offered it before the court of the Kryn Dynasty.
With tears in her eyes, the Bright Queen declared them heroes of the dynasty. This week, Caleb laid bare all of the Mighty Nein’s desires in Xhorhas. He reveals that they sought Nott’s husband, and hoped that the return of the beacon would grant them the ability to bring him home. The Bright Queen demurred, saying that he might be able to be returned—depending on the extent of his involvement with the empire—but she nevertheless said that such a request was a paltry gift in comparison to the return of the beacon. Fjord responded by inquiring about the nature of the beacon, and the Bright Queen smiled.
She said it was known as a Luxon Beacon, and that it was the body of the Lord of Light himself. Long ago, before the gods came to Exandria, the Luxon arrived and dreamt upon its own nature. It asked what it was, and to discover its nature, it split itself into many and created the fire, the water, the earth, and the trees, and all of creation. The Kryn have fought hard over the centuries to recover the many beacons, and now, thanks to the Mighty Nein, they possess a total of four. Their worship of the Luxon is based on the paths of their souls—rather than becoming bartering chips or pawns for uncaring gods. Their fate is their own, eternally.
At Nott’s request, an aged goblin sitting on a throne behind the Bright Queen explained the purpose of the beacon. She introduced herself as Skysibil Abriana Myriam, leader of Den Myriam and keeper of the history. These beacons are the center of the rite known as consecution. When a being proves themselves in deed, one of the den leaders takes such a hero to be consecuted. When a being dies within a certain radius of the beacon, the spirit is reborn within a newborn child within that range. As the child ages, they experience anamnesis, and they begin to see fragments of memories from their past lives. Such a child is taken to their den leader and guided through a sort of meditation that helps unlock those memories. After many rebirths, a being may become an umavi—a perfect soul. An umavi is a being who, through rebirth, has become enlightened in the meaning of existence.
The Bright Queen granted them a token of her trust—a metal badge that resembled a dodecahedron bent into an infinity symbol. This badge will grant them free passage throughout Xhorhas. Caleb also made a request to consider that the Dwendalian Empire is filled with good people. Though some are terrible, most are kind-hearted. He implored her to simply excise the cancer so that the whole may live. Beau added that they could serve as tools of her vengeance that could enact retribution merely upon those who have truly wronged the dynasty. Caduceus added that her vengeance would only lead to suffering without end. Her expression turned dark and she simply responded, “The world is not as simple as you say…You have not seen the things I have seen….In these twelve hundred years that I have lived, and lived, and lived again, I have seen that these people who live under such banners will believe what they have been fed.”
She refused their merciful request. Her heart was set on stamping out the Empire and all its people.
The Mighty Nein concluded their audience with the Bright Queen and were excused. They gathered in an antechamber and conferred for a time. Ultimately, they alerted Yeza that Nott—Veth—was indeed in Ghor Dranas and was prepared to meet him. Nott disguised herself with an illusion that made her look like her old self—Veth Brenatto. The Mighty Nein were then met by Shadowhand Essek Thelyss, of Den Thelyss, one of the greatest three dens of the Kryn Dynasty, and this dunamancy prodigy led them to the dungeon in which Yeza was being held. Dunamantic magic within the prison clouded their minds and made it difficult for them to remember the path they walked through the prison, so that they could not retrace their steps out.
When they arrived at Yeza’s cell, Jester stepped in first and gave him food and water. When he was satiated, Nott walked sheepishly in and said hello to her husband. Their reunion was tearful and happy, and Nott begged Yeza not to be scared by her appearance. She invited him to hold her hands and touch her face, and he explored the goblinoid features that were hidden behind her illusion. And she dropped her false appearance, and they held each other close.
Yeza also revealed that a woman named Duragna, a member of the Cerberus Assembly, hired him to do experiments on a beacon. Essek Thelyss leaned in and asked him what he had been hired to do, and he revealed that he was tasked with creating a compound that could contain a fragment of possibility extracted from a stolen beacon. After months of hard labor, he was able to create the alchemical compound, and they made a vial of this possibility-enhanced draught. Essek seemed coolly impressed by the revelation, and blithely said that Yeza was free to go. He was now in the care of the Mighty Nein.
With Yeza in tow, the Mighty Nein left the prison, and arrived in the city of Rosonah itself. The towers of old Ghor Dranas loomed in the distance, but a busy marketplace filled with drow, goblinoids, and other “monstrous” creatures. They entered an inn and earned a fine meal by flashing their badges and declaring that they were heroes of the dynasty. Later, they began to suspect that their badges were listening devices, and hid them in their bag of holding when they intended to retire for the evening.
That night, they planned their next move. They also learned from Yeza that the vial they took from his home weeks ago was the vial of distilled possibility created from experiments on the beacon. Their deliberations went in circles for some time, and they ultimately settled on reuniting Yeza and his son, Luke, back in Alfield. That night, Nott chose to set Yeza in the bed while she slept on the floor—but in the middle of the night, Yeza touched her arm and decided to sleep on the floor with her. Finally, that night, Caduceus spoke to Yasha about destiny. About the great works and small works that they are called to do in life. And sleep took them.
The very next morning, Caleb met with Beauregard and took her to a private place. He asked her to keep her voice down, and asked her to trust him. “I need you to be my friend,” he said. “I can’t believe I am saying those words, but I need you to be my friend.”
She smiled and said, “I’ve been your friend this whole time. Whether you believe it has always seemed like a question mark to me. … So do you trust me? Or are we just cogs in your grand plan?”
Ultimately, Beau told him to trust himself. Do that, and she would do him the favor of trusting him—and she hugged him.
Art by Caio Santos (@BlackSalander)
This spotlight includes minor spoilers for past episodes of Critical Role.
Last campaign, Critical Role was chock-full of player-player relationships, with no fewer than three pairs of player characters involved in a serious relationship over the course of the campaign. This time, however, Nott’s relationship with her husband—an NPC played by Matthew Mercer—has taken center stage as the primary player relationship of the campaign. Yasha’s tragic and offscreen relationship with her wife Zuala was a major part of what drove her to adventure.
Any sort of romantic relationships in D&D can be tricky. Finding the courage to be emotionally open with another person and not be embarrassed by acting intimate isn’t easy! Being able to portray a realistic relationship takes a lot of work and a lot of vulnerability, but if you’re into storytelling and the roleplay side of D&D, roleplaying a relationship can be incredibly rewarding. Seeing the emotions on the faces of the cast of Critical Role when Nott reunited with Yeza should give you an idea of just how powerful a well-played romance can be. So what can you do to cultivate a relationship with an NPC or a character?
Of course, this advice applies to people who want to step up their roleplaying game. If you don’t want to be a thespian at the table, then simply working a romantic partner into your backstory and narrating the relationship (without speaking in character), can work just fine.
Let Yourself Be Vulnerable
If you’re worried about how you look, or if you’re worried about looking foolish in front of your friends, you’re going to have a hard time being honestly emotional. And if you’re not able to be emotional, then you’re not going to be able to portray a convincing relationship. Sincerity is key in relationships, even roleplayed ones. If you’re holding onto irony to try and keep your own “dignity” intact, then your performance will come off as flat and forced.
The thing about this is, especially if your fellow players are emotionally immature or unprepared for in-character romance, you might be laughed at for being so sincere. Don’t let this get to you! Think back to the first campaign of Critical Role; when Vax’ildan and Keyleth first started their relationship, the entire cast was struggling not to giggle.
Think of Real Relationships in Your Life
If you want to portray a false relationship convincingly, then you can draw upon experiences of past relationships in your life. Even if you haven’t had any powerful romantic relationships in your life, think of the feelings of devotion and trust you had in any other strong familial or friendly relationship in your life. The sweetness that both Sam and Matthew were able to bring to their reunion was definitely based on relationships they’ve felt in the past. Mentally reliving moments of happiness and trust can help you transfer those same feelings to the fantasy world.
Go With the Flow; Don’t Force It
This is good advice for roleplaying in general, but it applies to relationships especially. In improv, trying to force a single outcome can cause your scene partner to get frustrated. There’s a back-and-forth that goes into creating an interesting and emotional scene, and it’s all about giving opportunities to the other person. In this case, the other person is a player or the DM, depending on whether you’re romancing a player character or an NPC. Even if there’s something you desperately want out of the scene, you have to be willing to let it go so that the scene doesn’t get locked down.
What’s next for Critical Role? Will they return to the Empire? Stay in Xhorhas? Go elsewhere entirely? There’s only one way to find out… is it Thursday yet?
Unless otherwise credited, photographs in this article are courtesy of Chris Lockey and Critical Role.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He loves watching Critical Role and wants everyone he knows to get into it, too. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his very own Frumpkins, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.