How Critical Role brought D&D into the spotlight

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Will Campbell, Writer

The year is 1974, and there is no internet, no smartphones, and the only sources of entertainment were outside, and the television… and a third, brand new and obscure. A small booklet, published by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. Emblazoned on the front of the booklet, in a large font, are the words “Dungeons and Dragons: Fantasy Adventure Game.” From that day, the tabletop roleplaying game was born.

Fast forward to the current year, 2018. Tensions with North Korea are high, social media is buzzing about the upcoming Marvel movies, and a not-so-obscure web series called “Critical Role” has just started its second campaign of the Fifth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, the same franchise that Gary Gygax started as a small endeavor with his friends. The first episode of their new campaign, according to sources on, achieved over 100,000 concurrent live viewers, with 90,000 of those being on, and the rest is on Youtube, and another streaming site called Project Alpha.

But how did a small little stream where a bunch of nerdy voice actors plays D&D grow into such a cult phenomenon, one that even recently has been put on a billboard in L.A?

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This question is a difficult one to answer, seeing as there are so many potential answers. The talent of the actors in the show is obviously a clear reason as to why; after all, they’re all voice actors, and that means they do voices really well. It infuses their characters with a certain quality of personality that adds to the characters and enhances it beyond your average D&D session, where most people just talk in their normal voices, and if they don’t, it often sounds awkward and way too forced.

It’s also important to realize that the cast of Critical Role has been playing their campaign since before the stream even began. In fact, there’s a video compilation of short clips released before the beginning of Critical Role. One of them shows Matthew Mercer, the game’s Dungeon Master — a term used to describe the person who controls monsters and tells the story — proposing the creation of Critical Role. This means that the cast has already fleshed out backstory, and has that chemistry that makes it click, and makes it instantly fun to watch.

But I think the most important part of the show, for me at least, is the story that Matthew Mercer creates for his characters. His talent is superb and completely unmatched. The way he weaves his words is quick to pull any viewer in, along with hilarious moments from cast members like Sam Riegel, a bad roll leading to a funny situation, or even the occasional sad moment that actually manages to bring a tear to one’s eye, it’s all brought together by Matthew Mercer’s excellent storytelling.

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However, that does not mean that the rest of the cast is also not excellent. Taliesin Jaffe, who plays the Human Gunslinger named Percival Frederickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III — or Percy, for short — often has amazing in-character moments. Liam O’Brien is a notable figure as well, his character Vax’ildan having a somber, tragic storyline that was one of the most moving of the entire show. Sam Riegel plays Scanlan Shorthalt, a scandalous bard, and Sam’s humorous personality is often the source of many laughs. Ashley Johnson is warm, jovial, and always brings a smile to the face of cast, crew, and viewers alike. I could go on, and on about these actors and their characters.

And, of course, it is also truly special for introducing so many people to D&D. While the game was never particularly obscure, except for when it first came out, not many knew what the game is actually about. While Critical Role is definitely not what everyone’s D&D session might look like, it is a good introduction to the game and provides an insight into what it can become.

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There is a lot to love about Critical Role and its cast. The story is rich, the world is well-developed, the actors are always at the top of their game, and some of the moments in the show are truly special, and better than the writing of a lot of TV shows!

If you want to watch Critical Role, you can catch the live streams over at at 9 PM CST on Thursdays, or you can watch older episodes on the official Geek and Sundry youtube channel, including the brand new first episode of their second Campaign! Show them some love, and engross yourself in the show!

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