While I indulge in many (oh so many) podcasts and vidcasts about gaming, I have had more of a hit-and-miss relationship with offerings featuring actual game play. I can turn to Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop on the Geek & Sundry network for board games (and the occasional, very focused, role-playing game). And Shut Up and Sit Down! does some great how-to-play videos, but again centered on board games. Of course, Wil Wheaton also did Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana, which was a lot of fun and well worth watching. But nothing I watched ever really captured the feeling of being at the table with a group of gamers.
Then I discovered Critical Role, and knew I’d be a Critter for life.
Critical Role is streamed weekly on Thursday nights as part of Geek & Sundry’s Twitch line-up. It features a group of talented voice actors (anything animated or computer-game related you’ve heard in the last five years, and their voices have probably been in it) playing a house-ruled version of D&D 5th Ed. Episodes run between 3-4 hours long, with the previous week’s episode becoming available for YouTube viewing through the G&S site Monday afternoons. I usually try to catch the live-stream, but when I can’t I wait with baited breathe for Monday’s upload to go live.
So what raised Critical Role above all the other RPG game-play vidcasts and podcasts for me? Certainly the quality of the gamers had something to do with it. Matthew Mercer is an amazing GM, able to keep his players entertained and invested in the world and characters, which in turn keeps me invested in them both as well. I want to game in the sandbox he has created for his campaign, and it’s my fondest hope that he’ll publish that game-world at some point. As great a GM as Matt is, though, he is evenly matched by the skill, enthusiasm, and talent of his players. There is something wonderful about watching a group of close friends play a game they love together; when those friends are also talented actors and improvisers in their own right, each episode borders on the epic a good deal of the time.
Certainly all that makes for good shows, and if that was all there was to Critical Role I’d still count myself lucky to watch it. But everyone involved are so obviously good people, and so excited and grateful for the chance to be doing the show and sharing their game with us, that I’ve become invested in the players, not just their characters. Every episode, for instance, there is fundraising going on for one worthy group or another. 826LA is usually the charity de jour, but they’ve also helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for Extra Life among others. Such is their generous nature, they asked Critters to donate to their charities of choice rather than send presents this Critmas.
Okay, so I should probably explain some terms. “Critters” is the name the community of fans gave themselves, and refers to anyone who is a fan of the show. “Critmas” was the name given to the part of an episode when the cast members would open gifts from Critters. The sending of gifts began as a trickle, but soon grew in volume to the point where they had to restrict Critmas to the first Thursday of every month, lest the cast end up having to stay for hours after every episode. Seriously, the amount of stuff sent their way is amazing, everything from dice, to minis, to weapons, and even an enormous stuffed bear or two (representing Trinket, the animal companion of one of the characters).
The community which has grown up around the show is definitely one of the things that keeps me coming back. With very few exceptions (and the exceptions are gently but firmly policed), Critters are a positive and enthusiastic lot, and taking part in the Subscriber-only chats during the livestream can be a blast. And the ranks of Critters continues to grow; just in the time since I started watching, the number of subscribers has grown from a little over 5,000 to almost 13,000, with no sign of slowing down.
I guess what I’m saying is, if you are in the market for a highly entertaining RPG game-play show, that will put a smile on your face when it doesn’t make you laugh out loud (or hit you square in the feels), Critical Role is for you. The show is currently on a break over the holidays, starting back on January 7th. No better time to go back to episode one and watching the adventures of Vox Machina from the start. Trust me, you’ll be doing yourself a favour.