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Critical Role Is A Natural 20 Of A Good Time

Critical Role (logo)“How do you want to do this?” is a phrase that’s branded on t-shirts and hoodies, stickers and scarves. It’s hinted at around gaming tables, talked about on the Internet, and usually followed by screams of joy once a certain dungeon master says it during a game. The game is Dungeons & Dragons; the DM, Matthew Mercer; and the joyful shouts are coming from both the players around Matt’s table and the critters watching this fantasy show unfold online. This now-epic saying is part of a one-of-a-kind experience called Critical Role.

(If you’re a Dungeons & Dragons novice, no worries! Here’s a quick rundown: Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game that’s been around since the 70s. The Dungeon Master (DM) is basically the narrator of the whole game, weaving a story (campaign) for the rest of the players. The other folks around the table create characters with different races, backstories and goals, which then get to play in the world the DM created. It’s collaborative storytelling—an open-world, sandbox story where everyone plays a part.)

Critical Role is a D&D game set in Exandria (a world created by Mercer) that is streamed every Thursday. It’s played by a group of friends—Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brien, Travis Willingham, Marisha Ray, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, and Sam Riegel—who are all well-known voice actors, directors, and writers. They originally started playing in 2012 as an at-home game huddled in each others’ living rooms (Like all good games do!). In 2015 they decided to share their adventures with the world—and the world’s geeky heart exploded in a flurry of fans, artwork, fanfiction, meet-ups and more as hundreds, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands of critters were born. (Critters is the term for people who watch Critical Role; O’Brien originally coined the word, and the fans took it as a mantle of their own.)

Critical Role - Cast

While this is a live-streamed show, it’s the friend dynamic that forms the core of Critical Role. Their bond is undeniable from the gentle ribbing and the easy laughter to how they never hog the spotlight and compliment each other’s acting abilities. They also eat dinner during the show. I’ve seen pizza, donuts, and chicken all make an appearance, among many other yummy foods, and they drink wine! It may be watched by hundreds of thousands of fans, but it really is just a group of friends hanging out and playing a game they love.

Their first campaign swept half a million critters—including me—off their feet and concluded in November 2017. That campaign focused on a group of misfits-turned-heroes: Vex’ahlia, the Half-Elf Ranger (Bailey); Vax’ildan, the Half-Elf Rogue (O’Brien); Grog Strongjaw, the Goliath Barbarian (Willingham); Keyleth, the Half-Elf Druid (Ray); Percival “Percy” Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo, the Human Gunslinger (Jaffe); Pike Trickfoot, the Gnome Cleric (Johnson); and Scanlan Shorthalt, the Gnome Bard and Taryon “Tary” Darrington, the Human Artificer (Riegel played two characters for a bit.). It was an amazing adventure full of betrayal and awkward encounters, magic and dragons, drunken bar crawls and intense battles…and some outstanding stories, too. Each character grew and changed and shaped the story as the story shaped them. They faced their fears, fell in love, and made impossible choices. The narration would make any fantasy lover—or fantasy writer—inspired, again myself included!

Critical Role - Cast in Costume

Right now would be a great time to start watching Critical Role. The first campaign is a huge one—115 episodes and 373 hours of gameplay according to their website—and can be daunting for someone who just wants a taste of what D&D and this nerdy show is all about, but their second campaign started pretty recently! Their second adventure features a group called the Mighty Nein in an area called Wildemount. The Mighty Nein has Jester, the Tiefling Cleric (Bailey); Caleb Widogast, the Human Wizard (O’Brien); Fjord, the Half-Orc Warlock (Willingham); Beauregard, the Human Monk (Ray); Mollymauk Tealeaf, the Tiefling Blood Hunter (Jaffe); Yasha, the Aasimar Barbarian (Johnson); and Nott the Brave, the Goblin Rogue (Riegel). Jester is turning out to be one of my favorites, but all the characters are unique and it’s been really fun to get to know them! Already the drama is high and the villains intense.

Critical Role - Cast at Table

So why am I gushing about Critical Role? Well, I started watching it a few months after it first aired on YouTube, and I immediately fell in love. Awkward—but cool—characters making terrible—but relatable—decisions in a world filled with magic and dragons? Ummm, yes, please! I really needed some good fantasy to escape from the daily grind and Critical Role filled that need perfectly. I got so interested in the show and in D&D in general, that I really wanted to play, too. (I discovered that it’s actually quite common for folks who watch Critical Role to want to play D&D, and a lot of campaigns both online and off have started because of these nerdy voice actors.)

Dice by Kellie DohertyI mentioned wanting to play to one of my friends and they invited me to join their campaign! Hence Nevara was born! She’s a badass Tiefling Cleric who uses cold and necrotic magic in honor of her evil goddess Auril, has a troubled past, and is looking for revenge. My campaign is really fun; it’s full of adventure and battles, cheese wheels and awkward one-liners, and some pretty intriguing bad guys.

So if you want to go on an adventure full of laughter, epic fights, amazing characterization, and yes, quite a lot of magical abilities…or if you simply need an escape from real life for a while, check out Critical Role. It airs Thursday at 7pm Pacific time on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch, YouTube, and Project Alpha. You can find more about Critical Role and the places you can watch it at critrole.com!

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4 Comments

  1. Richard Marpole says:

    Great stuff! Love your enthusiasm for this geeky show.

  2. JR Darewood says:

    I love Grog!!!! Him learning to read was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

    • Kellie Doherty says:

      Ahhh, yassss, same here! He was hilarious! And I adored Grog’s friendship with Pike, too, their back-and-forth was great.

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