Hello fellow geeks!
Have you heard about Critical Role? It’s a Geek and Sundry show where a bunch of voice actors play D&D (Dungeons and Dragons, for those dice novices out there). If you’re at all interested in roleplaying games, or great acting, or amazing storytelling, or geeky subplots, or creatures of the dark, or anything at all, really, you should watch it.
Now I’m the first person to tell you that the first episode is kind-of slow. I had a rough time getting through it, but I was also late to the game, joining the party about three months after it had started and after it had built a pretty substantial fanbase. The audio on that first episode is crazy. The storytelling is a bit odd. And the characters seem way outta left field. But give it a chance. When you get to episode two and beyond, once they fix the audio and spruce the place up a bit, it’s an amazing show. See, at Critical Role’s core, it’s just a bunch of friends hanging out and playing a D&D campaign. They crack jokes. Laugh. Eat pizza or chicken or donuts. Compliment each other on their acting. And that’s how Critical Role started out, an at-home game between friends. Now, it’s a show with thousands of viewers (aptly called Critters) who dominate Twitter when it goes live on Thursday night on Twitch. It’s a show that spawns gorgeous fanart and risky fanfiction. One that brings people together, in person and online. One that transcends continents, even.
How can a D&D campaign get so popular? Well, a few different facets make this particular gem. The storytelling by Matthew Mercer, the dungeon master of the campaign, is amazing. He brings such life to the game, with his plot twists and turns, his many NPCs (non-playable characters) where each one has a different voice, and his ability to allow the other players do epic (and often humorous) stunts with a simple, “you can certainly try.” He’s the mastermind of the group, and a driving force of why so many Critters out there want to be DMs. Because of his storytelling, they’ve had a range of quests, from epic battles facing beholders to simple bar hopping adventures. His merry band of adventurers have faced death, been forced to make tough choices, and yes, even fallen in love under in his story spell. There’s action, adventure, romance, drama, and humor all rolled into one. His words paint a picture so clear, any writer would be jealous. (I certainly am, but I’m inspired, too!)
But he’s certainly not the only reason why Critters love the show. The other voice actors—the half-elf twins Vax and Vex played by Liam O’Brien and Laura Bailey, the human gunslinger Percy played by Taliesin Jaffe, the druid Keyleth played by Marisha Ray, the barbarian Grog played by Travis Willingham, and the gnome Scanlan played by Sam Riegel—form the band of adventurers called Vox Machina. They’re at the core of what makes this show so great. Their easy banter during the quiet moments make even shopping for potions memorable, and they play their characters so well sometimes I forget that Marisha’s name isn’t Keyleth. Sometimes, like in a particularly harrowing moment in Episode 44, I forget that Vax and Vex aren’t actually “real” but because of Liam and Laura’s portrayals, the characters feel real to me. And to everyone else who watches the show. Their conversations span everything, like professing love in an awkward manner nearly everyone can relate to and apologizing for setting a death trap off to how a certain someone can keep smiling when everything seems to go to hell. They’re as relatable as a druid, half-elf, barbarian, gnome, and human can be. They’re obvious concern for one another makes the show worth watching, their interactions and character dynamic keeps the show moving forward, and honestly, the way each character balances the rest out is fascinating to watch.
They sometimes have guest actors join in the fray, too! Here I’ll add in Ashley Johnson, who plays Pike, as a constant reoccurring character. (So much so, she should probably be considered part of Vox Machina but because of Ashley’s current work schedule, she can’t be around as much as she’d probably like.) There’s also been Will Friedle and Mary Elizabeth Mcglynn. It’s always fun to see someone else join the campaign, react to the characters, and be completely awed my Matt’s words. (Other than the thousands of Critters watching.)
Okay. I’ve gushed about this show enough. But really, there’s never enough. Critical Role celebrated its one-year anniversary on Twitch in April, just had it’s its 60th episode as a highly successful liveshow and will be doing another one at GenCon, and (hopefully) still has many years to come. It’s made D&D cool to the mainstream audience. Made geeks and nerds who like spending time imagining themselves as wizards and fighting dragons feel accepted. Spawned many, many other D&D campaigns. Clearly it’s rolled right into my heart and thousands of others. Will it roll right into yours?
If there are any fellow critters out there, leave me a comment about who your favorite character is and why! To all the newbies I’ve successfully turned on to the show, let’s chat when you’re a few episodes in!
I hope you have a lovely Friday!