Join the Campaign, Watch “Critical Role”


“Critical Roll,” a weekly web show, stars a number of voice actors playing the game Dungeon and Dragons. (Facebook)

“Critical Role” is a weekly web show centered around famous voice actors playing a personal campaign of Dungeons and Dragons. Liam O’Brien, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray and Ashley Johnson star in the show, with Matthew Mercer as the dungeon master, or DM.

For those unaware (or just not as nerdy as I), Dungeons and Dragons is a role-playing game focused on campaigns, or stories, crafted by the DM and acted out by characters created by the players.

Each minute decision, each major character choice, can only be thought of by the players with next to no guidance from the elusive DM.

“Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of Critical Role, where a bunch of us nerdy voice actors sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons,” is how Mercer begins each week’s show. After a brief rundown of announcements, including an always stellar advertisement created by Emmy-winner Sam Riegel, the game picks up where it last left off.As soon as the game is in play, each actor fully becomes their character, including everything from slight accents to distinct physical tics. Every character has their own distinct backstory, which in turn affects the decisions they make in their adventure.

Each week follows the ragtag group The Mighty Nein (named after the German translation for “no,” as there are only seven members currently) as characters pursue their respective destinies; every character has both short and long-term goals, as most people in the real world do.

Similarly to everyday people, most of these goals originate from experiences the characters went through prior to the campaign’s start. For instance, the group’s resident wizard Caleb (spoiler alert) is searching the fictional continent for a way to turn back time in order to reverse his greatest regret burning his mother and father alive. Of course, there is more to this story than meets the eye, including tropes such as an abusive mentor, tortorous training methods and the occasional bout of brainwashing, which combined to create the PTSD-riddled fan-favorite of the group.Fortunately, not every member has such a tragic background as the squishy wizard. Backstories range from slight misfortunes to drastic downfalls, and each is crucial to the makings of the character involved.

Each week’s episode can consist of two modes: the first (and my preferred) focuses heavily on the role-playing aspect of the game, featuring small but significant moments between characters, which often contribute to their development as people. These moments also remind the audience that most of the players are professional voice actors who thrive in a theatrical environment. In contrast, the second mode is played as more of a game, centering on in-game encounters with enemies, which in turn could potentially lead to hours-long battles. This aspect of the game is much more stressful, as everyone watching is reminded that, at any moment, a character could be killed in combat and, if not quickly healed or revived, would die in the campaign. This unfortunate chain of events leads to a player having to “roll up” a completely new character, parting with their original choice.

I will warn any of you potentially interested in tuning in: the show is currently on episode 50 of its second campaign (or season, if you will), and the first campaign has over 100 episodes, each spanning about four hours. Though it takes quite a while to catch up, I highly recommend this show for anyone, regardless of their experience with Dungeons and Dragons. When I began the show, I knew almost nothing about the game, and to this day there are probably dozens of rules I don’t even know exist.

However, the beauty of “Critical Role” is that the show isn’t about a group of professional players speeding their way through a campaign. It’s about eight good friends having fun together by going on a fantasy adventure that only Dungeons and Dragons could provide.