So I would like to say first and foremost: Happy 1st Anniversary to Critical Role! On Thursday, March 13, 2015, a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors sat at a bunch of tables in front of a camera and decided to share their personal Dungeons and Dragons game with the world. And for that, I (and I’m sure other people are as well) am eternally grateful.
For those of you who don’t know what Critical Role is, I’m sorry. You really need to check it out, especially if you have a lovely D&D bug in your soul. It is webseries starring a group of voice actors from LA playing D&D every Thursday 7pm PST, hosted on the Geek & Sundry twitch channel. It is a very large time commitment to catch up with every episode averaging about 3.5 hours long and there are over 40 episodes of this stuff, but if you can, I highly recommend giving it a watch. I promise you will see some of the most amazing Dungeons and Dragons gameplay out there.
I can confidently say that my ever-growing love of the game is a direct result of Critical Role. It was like when you go on an amazing first date, but you don’t want to get your hopes up about the potential about a relationship so you don’t really talk about it. You continue going out, having fun, messaging them the cute “I miss you” and “Can’t wait to see you on Thursday”, and then suddenly as if all at once, you realize you have fallen madly in love… That’s what it was like becoming a Critter.
If you saw my “How I Got Into D&D” post from two weeks ago, you’d know that I lived in a sort of D&D-limbo after hearing about the game for the first time. My interest in the game was a very quiet one, one that I would only talk about after a lot of coaxing or would indulge on gameplay and rules in my own private time. I always said: “Oh that’s cool… Maybe I will try it out one day. When I have time.” And alas, I never made the time for it.
That is, until I found Critical Role. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie. I actually saw that very first episode on March 13th, and honestly, it was pretty difficult for me to get into it. I can’t explain why, seeing as I am now so removed from that first experience, but I can make a logical assumption that it was probably due to my lack of D&D knowledge combined with the 3.5 hour investment at 10pm (Oh timezones). A tired mind at bed time isn’t the best time to try out something new. Can you really blame me?
With the premiere of TableTop’s “Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana” RPG series on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel, I felt I gained a better understanding of what Critical Role may be. So I gave it another shot. This time I watched it on the Geek&Sundry website, starting from the beginning. It was the benefit of on demand watching; I watched whenever I felt like watching and commit as much time as I wanted to… Too bad that was essentially ALL OF THE TIME!
By the time I finished episode 3, I was hooked. Every moment I could spare was dedicated to watching all of the episodes and to one day catch up with the live stream. The players have worked and developed such interesting characters with very dynamic chemistry and relationships with each other. As actors, they are able to add their own expertise into playing their part in the story. They give their characters voices to differentiate themselves and add personality to their characters. They know when it is time for them to shine, but also when to give another character the spotlight. They become believable beings, with their own strengths and flaws. And not in a min/max your character way. In a “creature of the world” kind of way.
A good example of this kind of character is Grog Strongjaw, the Goliath Barbarian played by Travis Willingham. Grog is a massive powerhouse in the game. He is usually the one to deal the most (non-magical) damage combat, but has a very “human” flaw outside of the battlefield. Grog suffers from the low Intelligence of 6. He can’t even read; but Travis (and the others) don’t view it as a detrimental flaw of the playability of the character. It is actually a quality that adds character to Grog. With that low of an Intelligence, it makes for very interesting NPC interactions, especially when Grog tries to do make the “smart choice” or haggle down the price of potions. These moments have become some of the most memorable in the game, more memorable than a handful of their epic battles.
The Dungeon Master, Matthew Mercer, is a pro when it comes to world building and story telling. It’s almost as if he is in a league of his own. Not only has he created an amazing world for his friends to play around in, he gives his players just enough incentive to go on a quest without railroading the game (or at least if he is railroading, he is doing a great job of making it seem like he isn’t). His world is so vast and diverse, but takes into account the natural progression of the world. I can’t even imagine the amount of time he spends on writing the lore for his game.
And he is a master when it comes to developing NPCs. Of course as a voice actor in many animes and video games, he has a wide range of voices in his arsenal and he isn’t afraid to use it. He gives every character, down to the random beggar boys on the street, a distinctive voice and mannerisms. And then remembers all of that… For that one character. Now imagine that with all of the NPCs you could encounter. There are several moments where he essentially has a conversation with himself, playing both roles. He seamlessly jumps in and out of every character, prepared to wear the mask at any given moment.
With that being said, you can see how much dedication both Mercer and the players put into this game. You can see that the players are just as invested in this show as we are as their fans. Every week on Twitter, you can see them all count down the days until the next Thursday. They want to see what Mercer has in store for them and Mercer waits in anticipation to see how the players will deal with what he’s prepared.
What I absolutely love about their game is the focus on roleplaying. Every D&D game, big or small, has some sort of ratio between roleplay and combat. I believe Critical Role has found the magic sweet spot between the two (I totally understand that this is not how a bunch of people like to play, but for me personally, I think this is the perfect balance). And it seems only natural for this game to be heavier on the RP side for a bunch of actors. This is where their talents as [voice] actors really shine. Watching every player interact with an NPC, or even with each other, is like watching a scene out of a movie. The players just melt into their characters Every reaction, sentence, and motion is made as their game-selves. Even conversations with each other are done in character, in full character voices. They are truly helping the DM to carry the narrative across.
I used to believe that Dungeons and Dragons was mostly rolling dice, doing a lot of math, and trying to kill goblins and dragons somewhere along the way. After getting so deep into this show, I can see that it is much more than just that. Sure the combat and killing stuff are fun and all, but the story and characters are the driving force in my books. Their social interactions with the world and each other make me more and more invested in their story. After seeing scenes and moments between characters, the stakes in combat encounters are raised just a little bit more.
I couldn’t help but feel emotionally invested. I’ve cheered with them at great triumphant victories, and cried with them to see them suffer and fight within their family. Never in my life have I ever jumped onto the shipping train. Now I’m pro-Vaxleth, but at the same time I’m pro-Vaxmore… And I’m VERY pro-Jarex. I can’t stop myself from caring about their characters because they made me care about them. The players have shown us viewers why we should care about every single one of them and their stories.
And that is why I love Critical Role.
Now I can’t talk about Critical Role without giving honourable mention to the amazing fanbase, the Critter Community, on all social media platforms. They have shown such generosity to each other and to the cast of the show. Every Critmas episode (done on the first Thursday of the month) is evidence of the gracious hearts of the community making endless donations to charities in the cast’s name and taking the time and energy to make such amazing gifts for them. If you just search #CriticalRoleFanArt on Twitter, you will find an bottomless pit of Critical Role fanart, including one from me!
Aside: My personal favourites, apart from the creators of the official Critical Role art work Kit Buss (@AnemoneTea) and Wendy Sullivan Green (@WendyDoodles), are Meg Simmons (@Megzilla87) and Chibical Role done by Lemmie (@LemonandHoneyCo). Go follow them. All of them. And tweet at me when you find more amazing CritRole fanart. :3
The Critter fanbase is full of the most intense yet welcoming people out there; and the cast knows it. The cast’s gratefulness for their following is on par with the Critter’s generosity. They make sure that every Critter knows they are appreciated, whether they are a big part of the community (I’m looking at you @CritRoleStats) or a small part of it. Every single tweet I have tweeted at any of them has always been given either a like or an @reply. They want to like their fans know they pay attention to them. They are more than happy to talk with the people who love their game just as much as they do.
Between the amazing characters, phenomenal storytelling skills, clear investment, love, and commitment to the game, and the warm Critter Community, what else can I really ask for from Critical Role? They have given me the chance to feel, experience, and be a part of something wonderful and magical – something I haven’t felt since the Harry Potter days. So thank you to everybody who is a part of Critical Role and to everybody out there who proudly wears the Critter label on their sleeves. You guys have something really special in your hands, that has touched the hearts of thousands around the world. And that is definitely something worth holding onto.
Actually there is something I want to ask: When are you guys coming to Toronto? Just putting that out there…. 😀
All of these wonderful gifs can be found on the CriticalRoleSource Tumblr page