Originally I planned to make a post about the new Star Wars movie in this spot first. Yet I really I went with the direction of love, and I didn’t love the New Star Wars movie . This Sci-Fi fantasy epic has dumbed down, to nothing more Ethan a entertainment thrill ride. Still entertaining as long as you turn of your brain and just enjoy the pew pew and the swoosh swoosh! Luckily the Star Wars show are still pretty good. However since Lord of the Rings is already finished, I needed something to get my fantasy adventure shot. As a D&D DM I have 3 hours fantasy adventures every thursday! But each week I also get provided by a 3 to 4 hour epic fantasy adventure to follow. The youtube channel or Twitch Channel .. of Critical Role. Happy Happy Joy Joy!
Nerdy voice actors, playing dungeons and dragons
Critical Role in it’s concept is nothing more than a bunch of nerdy ass voice actors playing dungeons and dragons. The games are led by Matthew Mercer, who is probably best known for his voice work in the fire emblem games and that cowboy guy that clearly doesn’t have a correct watch in Overwatch. Kinda weird when you think about it right.. a cowboy always thinking it’s high noon.. in a group called overWATCh..you’d figure he’d know the correct time. Even if Matthew might not be a great time teller, he is a great DM that helms not one but two fantasy epic in the form of the Vox Machina Campaign and the Mighty Nein campaign. Both to be found on youtube and the second one being ongoing. The first one has become so popular that it has inspired a origin comic and soon even an animated series. I myself have only really started following the second campaign, which is produced in a lot higher quality and starts it’s campaign right at the beginning of their adventure. Vox Machina they played as a game of friends before they started streaming so we pick up this tale a fair bit into the adventure.
So who are the players in these wonderful campaigns? Travis Willingham , who is known as the voice of Turalyon in World of Warcraft and Knuckles in most of the current sonic games. He is accompanied by his partner Laura Bailey is the voice of Jaina Proudmoore from World of Warcraft, Blaze the Cat in Sonic and kid Trunks in Dragon Ball Z. Matthew Mercer’s partner Marisha Ray is also part of the team, she has done work on the Persona franchise but is mostly working on the twitch channel of Geek and Sundry. Taliesin Jaffe plays along as well this man you might know from the english hellsing dub and like most of them has a role in World of Warcraft in the form of Darion Mograine and Admiral Ripsnarl. Liam O’Brien plays Caleb Widogast in the second campaign, my favorite mage character ever. When he speaks you might know him as Illidan Stormrage! .. yes that is from Warcraft as well. Ashley Johnson is the final girl on the table. Her hollywood career prevents her from being ever present at the game table, she currently stars in the tv series blindspot but I think the most people here would best know her as Ellie, from the last of us. Academy Award Winner Sam Riegel finishes up the table. While he had his fair share of career moments, amongst us I think we best know him as Tristan Taylor and Rex Raptor from Yu-Gi-Oh. He also played Clovis la Britannia in the Code Geass dub. Together this casts puts on a very enjoyable show that is somewhat reminiscent of those old radio plays… but a lot geekier.
That’s a lot of rolling!
Critical role currently has somewhere near and over 200 episodes I think With them being three to four hours long that is a lot of campaign to cover. So where do you begin to watch an 700 hour series? (which is excluding all the bonus one shot and special episodes) Start at the first episode of the second campaign! High production value, good sound quality, plenty of recap episodes to be found and the story is separated from the first. Vox Machina will soon have a animated series, it has a comic and so much more that it will be easy to familiarise yourself with it anyway. The second campaign is a bit more chaotic but also a bit more lighthearted. Which is a great place to start if you don’t know much about D&D and want to see if it might be something for you. Still this series already has about 90 episodes so there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Keep in mind though that the quality of this game doesn’t really reflect an actual D&D game, a fair part of this is somewhat scripted and Matthew has an entire writing team behind him to aid in his endeavours to prepare for each game. Your average DM would not have that, but as a result this kind of feels like D&D the movie. Yes there is a Dungeons and Dragons movie but…if you see blue lipstick on a guy.. back off! Don’t watch it. There are a few other D&D movies but those I shall cover another time.
Critical Role Campaign two focuses on the (mis)adventures of the mighty nein, a group of ragtag adventurous who get drawn together after there an incident when the circus is in town. What begins as a series of mercenary like mission soon begins to evolve into a greater adventure involving Eldritch like creatures and a mysterious artifact of tremendous power.
Each episode is an actual session of D&D , which can include social encounters, traveling, random combat or complete dungeons. The series is very nicely paced where even dungeon like encounters are mostly done entirely in our heads. Only when doodoo gets real Matthew takes out a model of the area and we get the classical grid based movement that comes with D&D. These are all stunningly made and increase the atmosphere so much. On occasion we see the group practice their sessions at big conventions in front of a live audience, which is also a treat to see. So many people are so engaged with the hobby and that is so mesmerising and really oozes that atmosphere of we are geeks for geeks this show succeeds atso greatly. There is so much content from both campaigns too the one shots. The even promoted the My Little Pony role playing game by playing it! It was friggin adorable to see them fight hellhound …by playing with them and pacifying them. Famous geeks oftenly make guest appearances, like Wil Wheaton , Wesley Crusher from Star Trek the next generation, the big bang theory and his own youtube endeavours for example. But also Deborah Ann Woll , best known for her role as Jessica Hamby in true blood. Apparently she is a huuuuge geek, and when she played her character Twiggy on the show .. I had a little celebrity crush moment. She also hosts her own show on the Twitch as a DM but unfortunately due to bad time zones that isn’t really watchable to me….I wish she would get a regular seat in the game… than again.. I would celebrity crush all over again.
Fun fun fantasy
With three hours plus each episode, there is very little going on at the sessions visually. Which makes Critical Role the perfect webshow to put on when cleaning. Compare it too an audio book, but instead of that narrative flow where you know the main character will never really die anyway and you can sort off predict if other characters will die or not everything here is decided by a roll of the dice. Just about everything can happen. There may be a script but all you need is one bad dice roll to completely toss that off track. Part of the fun greatness that is Critical Role is seeing the players have fun, try something out of the box and stump the DM. This is exactly the fun that D&D should be about and even though this version is streamlined for entertainment purposes, it still captures that sense of chaos of an actual game. A lot of the other online campaigns lack that sensation a bit. Here we see the despair on the face of the dm, the fear of death in the players eyes and that irresistible urge to metagame when someone clearly isn’t thinking straight or overlooks their best options. This still truly is D&D. Trough the voice acting of mostly Mercer but also great acting from Laura Bailey for example in her role as the mischievous tiefling jester Lavorre, this fantasy world comes to live like no other. With no visuals to speak of except for some fan art and location models it all plays off in your head , but unlike most audio books i, in so many different voices that it’s something truly unique. We can hear the characters AND the players, and we can feel both of them having fun! Which turns these adventures into true delights.
Some of the highlights to me are when the game opens and Sam Riegel talks about their sponsors. Each week he prepares a little sketch to promote their sponsor and they are all so weird , funny and out there. We do not see a professional Academy Award Winner doing this.. even if he is.. we see a guy having some fun with it, like as if we made these skits up right before our dungeons and dragon games. I wrote Jingles on my bard character like he did, I promoted in game stuff when my character was magicly compelled just like he did. I just didn’t happen to get mine produced into an 80’s cartoon commercial..like he did !It all feels just soooooo … geeky and like one of us… that you almost feel as if you are sitting with them at that gaming table. Their animated introduction is something that is truly amazing making me yearn for the day that their animated show finally gets out. It can get a bit commercial here and there.. but that kind of comes with the territory of twitch and youtube. These guys have found a great community, where geeks unite, this is what I aspire to find.. well not as big and not on my blog persé but I want to be a part of that crowd, a part of people who love each other for loving that one thing they all love. This show is carried by that community and in a way made for that community. Rather than trying to aim this on a bigger crowd or playing this safe in terms of story Critical Role is not afraid to take risks. Yet they never forget their core audience. While each day new people become Critters (fans of Critical Role are referred as such) they will never stop doing what made them so amazing in the first place.
So while we may see an end of epic storytelling in the cinemas where complex stories of moral dilemmas get replaced by battles of absolute good versus absolute evil, we will always have that place where we can turn too for the stories we loved before. While the silver screen rather caters do a few extra dollars than their core audience, somewhere we can still find those epic tales of old being told to us …by people like us. While subtlety and secrecy have less and less of a place in blockbusters in favor of in your face comedy, spectacular boom boom, pow pow that doesn’t need a proper build and where your hand is held in terms of plot.. there is still a place where we can wonder about why that line was spoken so callously, where we can wonder of a guy can be trusted without it being shown to us in the next shot or we jokes can be subtle and require you to see something else to get. To mer personally both The Hobbit and the new Star Wars trilogy have shown that the age of epic storytelling in cinema is over. We have entered the age of epic visual story telling. While that is entertaining in it’s own way it’s like comparing the joy of a rollercoaster to that of a good book. Luckily youtube has the perfect replacement for geeks like me… we just gotta use a little bit more of our own imagination…but with a community as amazing as the Critters even in that we can be helped. Not by the movie makers, but by one another and to be honest that is an even more epic way to experience these things. Because everything is JUST like we imagine it.