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Web Show Spotlight: Critical Role

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Critical Role is a live-show aired on Geek and Sundry’s twitch channel on Thursday nights (7pm PST), in which popular voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons. The show has received acclaim for causing a resurgence in the popularity of D&D, but why should you watch it?

The show began when Liam O’Brien requested that his friend Matt Mercer (the game’s Dungeon Master) run a game for his birthday, inviting several of their voice-actor friends to join them. This one-off game became several, and then a fully-fledged campaign, and after a few years the word got out. Felicia Day (Charlie from Supernatural), who co-founded G&S, approached Matt and co. about broadcasting their game on the internet. After some reluctance, they gave the go-ahead and Critical Role was born.

If you don’t know what D&D is exactly, you can go and read my introduction to the Role-Playing game here, but it mainly consists of improvised reactions and dice rolls.

Whilst many people get bogged down with the maths and logistics of D&D, the improvisational aspect shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re not able to quickly make decisions and move forwards with the game, then it can get stuck in group planning sessions, with indecisive players refusing to continue with the action.

Whilst the characters in Critical Role have had their fair share of planning sessions like this, their improvisational skills often mean that their interactions and battles flow naturally, making it a pleasure to watch. Sam Riegel’s skills with improvisational comedy songs are incredible, and you won’t know what you’ve been missing until you hear one of his personalised ballads to the other players.

The aforementioned voice-actors play a diverse cast of characters, who go on adventures within Mercer’s kingdom of Tal'Dorei. These characters include:

Liam O’Brien as Vax’ildan (the half-elf rogue)

Laura Bailey as Vex’ahlia (Vax’s twin sister, a ranger)

Travis Willingham as Grog (the goliath barbarian)

Ashley Johnson as Pike (the gnome cleric)

Sam Riegel as Scanlan (the gnome bard)

Taliesin Jaffe as Percy (the human gunslinger)

Marisha Ray as Keyleth (the half-elf druid)

 
Each character shines in Mercer’s imagined world, creating hilarious blunders and heroic saves within moments of one another. The chemistry between the cast of friends is electric, and you’ll want to move through the screen to join in with their antics. What’s more, their comfort and ease with the game almost makes it seem… cool?

Okay, that’s a hard sell, but hear me out: a game that was relegated to geeks in their basements in times gone by is now being played by adults with their lives together, who you want to befriend. Travis Willingham, as is often joked by the cast, was the opposite of a geek in high school; he was the sports star who everyone looked to with envy. So the fact that these guys are championing D&D for a new generation of players is pretty great.

Episodes of Critical Role vary from 3-5 hours long and there are almost 100 in total, so taking on a binge-watch of the show can seem a little daunting. However, Geek & Sundry have created a breakdown of the different story arcs in Critical Role, so you can jump straight to a specific story arc that strikes your fancy.

Describing what makes each of these arcs special would incur spoilers for exciting story elements, so I will go about doing so in the vaguest of terms.

The Underdark arc (episodes 1-16) is the first, and simplest, story arc of the show. This could be a good starter for the craziness that is ‘Critical Role’, so you could begin here if you want to ease yourself in.

The Whitestone arc (episodes 24-38) relate to Percy’s backstory, including tragedy, revenge and a whole lot of steampunk. If you like darkness in your fiction, this would be a good starting point.

The Conclave arc (episodes 39-85) involve a whole lot of spoilerific content, so vagueness is my best friend here. If you’re looking for an epic tale of battles and quests, then this arc will be your best fit.

The current arc that Critical Role is experiencing mostly deals with the fallout of the Conclave arc, so it’s advisable that you watch that before continuing with the show.So there you have it – an introduction to the magnificent Critical Role.

I had never played D&D before watching CR, in fact it was the catalyst for me to try the game out. A knowledge of the game mechanics isn’t required for you to enjoy the battles and banter that make up the show’s content, but if you’re interested in starting to play then watching Critical Role isn’t a bad way to begin.

In fact, I’d say that it’s a perfect way to learn the game mechanics, as it showcases the wonders of improvisational comedy and role-play that make D&D truly enjoyable.

Critical Role airs at 7pm PST on Thursdays on Geek and Sundry's Twitch channel. You can catch up on past episodes via their website or via their YouTube channel.

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