A few years ago, I was on the Geek and Sundry channel on YouTube. There was a video from their Twitch from a week prior. I checked it out and I’m glad I did because the show, Critical Role, is hands down my favorite show on any media. I was a huge Buffy fan back in the day, and not since the Scooby Gang took on the forces of evil has a show gotten me right in the feels.
The show is a live stream (with episodes being put up afterwards on YouTube) of Vox Machina, a group of adventurers. What sets this apart is that all the players AND the DM (the epicly good at his job Matt Mercer) are voice actors. They really take role playing to another level by using their acting/directing skills. The group actually started playing together 2 years before the show, using the 3.5 D&D/Pathfinder rule system. With 5th edition being the newest version they decided to make the switch. From the first episode you get caught up in their lives, personalities and interpersonal relationships. Over the years the show has only gotten better as the stakes, stories and humor have gone thru the roof. The group has walked on the elemental plane of fire, fought iconic monsters like beholders and vampires and faced off against the Chroma Conclave. Who are they? Oh, I don’t know, just a squad of evil super-dragons that basically ravaged the world the game created. The group is at higher level and loaded with sweet magic gear but the battles get deadlier as the story goes on.
All those epic fights could be skipped completely and the show would still be fantastic. The characters are brought to life not just with great voices and clever quips, but by real emotion. When one of them falls, tears are shed in real life by players and in my case the audience (big boys don’t cry but GOD DAMN). Pain, joy, laughter, love and tragedy are all constantly on display. I don’t want to include too many spoilers as I want you all to check out the show for yourself. Yeah I know I spilled the beans about the dragons but by the time they show up you’re so wrapped up in the here and now of the show it will still be a swift kick in gut. Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons of fun and laughter (spit takes and rib pain are a weekly thing for me) like the Winter’s Crest Festival. I totally stole the idea of a pie eating contest and put it into my campaign. The Dragonborn fighter in my game did exactly what Trinket the bear did on the show. It was fantastic to watch and to play out at my table. I think my personal favorite would be the incredible Bardic Inspiration songs by Scanlan Shorthalt, played by Sam Riegel. Everything the guy says is gold. No wait, my favorite is faithful cleric Pike Trickfoot played by national treasure Ashley Johnson. No, it’s Grog the Barbarian. No, Vex the Ranger (insert wink here). Ugggh, I can’t pick a favorite. They’re my favorite team, none would be who they are without each other.
All this amazing chaos is held together by Matt Mercer, a DM I respect completely. He’s become a bit of a D&D celebrity in addition to his major career in voice acting (IMDB him and see for yourself). His NPCs literally come to life thru not just his voices but in his physical acting as well. Google “black powder merchant”. I’ll wait………..I KNOW RIGHT!!!! I also enjoy the battles he puts together. As both a viewer enjoying what unfolds and someone who has to do these things myself his balance of difficulty is spot on. Not to mention keeping the flow and managing the characters abilities on their turns if they don’t exactly know how they work. Some of the players catch grief from the interwebs but every player makes mistakes, not to mention the high level of the game and all the magical gear. All in all, he wraps things in a wonderful bow for all of us and does a great job of showing how much fun the game is for the DM as well.
Before we wrap things up, I just want to list a few of my favorite episodes. These are, in my opinion the tastiest morsels of Critical Role:
Episode 1: Arrival at Kraghammer
This is the episode that started it all, a great intro and they waste no time sucking you right in
Episodes 18-21: The Trial of the Take
In this 4 episode arc, the team is split in half and each must face a powerful adversary. To help, the team joins up with guest players Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Will Friedle and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. The guests are fantastic (Felicia Day ramps the awkward up to 3000%) and the trials are so well constructed I both admire Matt and hate him just a tiny bit for making it look so easy.
Episode 26: Consequences and Cows
They turn into cows. ‘Nuff said there.
Episode 83: The Deceiver’s Stand
A crazy battle with a spell casting dragon. One of the best D&D battles ever.
I could type all day and not do this show justice. Check it out for yourself, or maybe get the D&D crew together to watch as a group. Guaranteed you’ll get motivated to play, DM, create and all around geek out on D&D. The show celebrated it’s 100th episode this June so there’s something for everyone. They’ve begun releasing the episodes in podcasts (some of these episodes are LONG so that helps) to help new viewers catch up too. Also, earlier this year it was announced that Matt Mercer is making a campaign sourcebook for the world of Tal’dorei. Just try and not get addicted (you know, like how my D20s are addicted to rolling 1s #WilWheatonDiceCurseLivesInMe)!