Critical role is a group of “nerdy-ass voice actors playing dungeons and dragons”.
Dungeons and Dragons, AKA D&D or DnD, is a table top fantasy RPG game. Its appeal has always been limited and its appeal as a show has been even more limited due to its traditionally boring nature of watching a group of people rolling dices and speak gibberish.
Critical Role, however, changed D&D landscape. Initially, they were playing at home prior they began streaming their games live back in 2015.
For reasons not quite clear, they chose to live-stream their D&D sessions via Geek & Sundry. Geek & Sundry is now defunct. More on that at the end of this article.
The rest is, well, history. Using their voice acting as well as improvisation skills, they’ve made DnD an absolute joy to watch.
Critical Role (Official Youtube channel)
The core members as of 2020 are –
- Matthew Mercer (Dungeon master)
- Ashley Johnson
- Laura Bailey (Married to Travis, also known to carry a huge dice bag)
- Travis Willingham (Married to Laura)
- Sam Riegel (Liam’s best friend)
- Liam O’Brian (Sam’s best friend)
- Taliesin Jaffe (Has surreally high luck with dices)
- Marisha Ray (Married to Matthew)
While all of them have had some voice acting history, some of them have spent pretty much their entire lives voice acting.
Now, before I got to know Critical Role more, the only person I knew in the beginning was Ashley Johnson due to her role in the Last of Us.
The reason I didn’t know the rest is due to a fact that I sternly refuse to watch anime dubs. For my whole life, I’ve watched anime subs because I’ve always felt that western voice acting does not get along with the style of anime.
Most of the core members have extensive CV in voice acting. Among them, Matthew Mercer, Laura Bailey, and Travis Willingham have spent pretty much their entire lives voice acting.
However, I must point out that it’s not just skills as voice actors that have made their shows a joy to watch. It is their, natural, friendship. They are friends. They ain’t professional friends but real friends.
Above video is before they began their official streaming. It was way before the beginning of Critical Role. According to them, they had been playing like that for years at home.
A beautiful thing is that they do not lose that atmosphere even after they started streaming live.
Another beautiful aspect about the show is that it is unlikely scripted. Their D&D sessions are streamed live on their Twitch channel on every Thursday. Being live means it’s hard to rig.
Even harder when their sessions are usually 4 hours long, no amount of rehearsal is going to help since it’s a weekly event. There simply isn’t enough time. Even more harder to control dice rolls as well. It is certainly possible to lie about dice rolls. However, each members sit very close to each other and they seem to monitor each other’s rolls.
The cast members can certainly chat about general direction of their games before their sessions but, in the end, it all depends on how their dices roll. If one rolls nat 1 or low roll on an important moment, whatever they’ve talked about prior their session is going down to the drain.
In the end, I dare say it’s probably better for them to go unscripted than scripted. After all. these people are so good at improvisations that it comes to them naturally.
Additionally, there is no evidence that it is scripted. What I’ve said above about being scripted is all my speculations.
Of course, I cannot discredit Matthew Mercer’s skills as a Dungeon master. He is masterful at improvised story telling. He makes everything tick ultimately. He is also insanely good at mimicking sounds and coming up with numerous different voices for NPCs.
While I’ve been speaking good things about Critical Role, let’s talk about its problem. Yes, it’s not plural.
Critical Role has a problem. It is that each of their session is 3 to 4 hours long and there are hundreds of them. Hundreds.
If you are to begin watching Critical Role now, you will need to watch about 230 episodes that are 4 hours long which translates to around 900 hours.
This is a daunting amount and can act as a strong deterrent for those who wish to begin following Critical Role.
Well, my advice is that you simply let episodes play in background. You may miss some bits but, even if you focus on watching episodes in full, you will still forget things.
As long as you are able to grasp the general flow of its plot, it’s fine.
However…, also remember that committing yourself to watching Critical Role WILL make you cry as well.
Scanlan’s 9th level counter spell … Molly’s untimely demise …
The bottom line is that Critical Role is unique. I do not believe we will have anything like this in our life time. Therefore, enjoy while it is there.
About Geek & Sundry –
The reason Critical Role began at Geek & Sundry was because they already had a D&D show, Tabletop. It was a correct decision to have started with Geek & Sundry since the audience was already there.
However, in just 2 years or so, Critical Role had already outgrown them, and Geek & Sundry was rapidly going downhill after being bought out by a Chinese corporation. The new owners appeared to have wanted a return for their investment a little too soon. They aggressively placed their shows behind paywalls and effectively killed many of their hit shows.
At this point, it’s important to note that all members of Critical Role have decent careers, meaning they have their own sources of income, also meaning they have little reasons to seek further revenue from their D&D sessions. What this ultimately meant that Critical Role wanted their D&D shows to be free for all whereas Geek & Sundry wanted to put their shows behind a paywall.
It was only a matter of time that Critical Role broke off Geek & Sundry.
By 2020, Critical Role has their own studio and their own shows (Talks Machina, etc) whereas Geek & Sundry is now defunct. While their official channel may still have over 2 million subs, if you look at view count for their recent shows, it’s virtually nil. As a result, they are no longer uploading new videos.
Thus, effectively defunct.
Critical Role and Geek & Sundry are tales of two halves. The former sought out fun while the latter sought profit.
Buy their books or other Critical Role licensed merchandises if you want to support them.