So, what is Critical Role?
Critical Role is ‘a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors [who] sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons’ while a fandom of over 39,717 members* watch. This video, by YouTube user BrooklynnCalifornia**, provides the best summation of what the show is, using footage from Series 1, to those who are as yet unitiated in this cultural phenomenon:
First airing on 12 March 2015 on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch channel, the cast of Critical Role originally composed of 9 professional voice actors:
- Matthew Mercer [Dungeon Master]
- Marisha Ray [Player of Key’leth, a Half-Elf Druid of the Air Ashari (S1), and Beauregard (Beau) a Human Monk (S2)]
- Liam O’Brien [Player of Vax’ildan, a Half-Elf Rogue and twin brother to Vex’ahlia (S1), and Caleb a Human Wizard (S2)]
- Laura Bailey [Player of Vex’ahlia, a Half-Elf Ranger and twin sister to Vax’ildan (S1), and Jester a Tiefling Cleric of Trickery of the god The Traveller]
- Travis Willingham [Player of Grog Strongjaw, a Goliath Barbarian (S1), and Fjord a Half-Orc Warlock (S2)]
- Ashley Johnson [Player of Pike Trickfoot, a Gnomish Cleric of the goddess Sarenrae, and Yasha an Aasimar Barbarian (S2)]
- Sam Riegel [Player of Scanlan Shorthalt, a Gnomish Bard (S1), and Nott the Brave a Goblin Rogue (S2)]
- Taliesin Jaffe [Player of Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rollo III (huzzah!) (you can call him “Percy”), a Human Gunslinger (S1), and Mollymauk (Molly) Tealeaf a Tiefling Blood Hunter (S2)]
- Orion Acaba [Player of Tiberius Stormwind, a Dragonborn Sorcerer (episodes 1-28, S1)]
Since then the show has had many guest players including:
- Patrick Rothfuss [Author of The Kingkiller Chronicle books and for playing Viari in the Dungeons & Dragons game Acquisitions Incorporated DM’ed by Christopher Perkins] as Kerrek
- Felicia Day [Founder of Geek & Sundry and film/tv actress] as Lyra
- Wil Wheaton [Host of Geek & Sundry’s TableTop, tv/voice actor and writer] as Thorbir Falbek
- Mary Elizabeth McGlynn [Voice actor for games/tv and ADR director] as Zahra Hydris
- Will Friedle [Voice actor for games/tv, actor, and host of Geek & Sundry’s Painter’s Guild] as Kashaw Vesh
- Chris Hardwick [CEO of Nerdist and stand-up comedian] as Gern Blanston
- Kit Buss [Official Artist for S1 and artist of the monthly webcomic The Burnt Cake Chronicles: An Online Dynamic Novel] as Lillith Anioska Daturai
- Jason C. Miller [Voice actor and singer/songwriter who composed the Opening Theme for S1] as Garthok
- Christopher Perkins [Writer and Official Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master for Wizards of the Coast and Acquisitions Incorporated] as Shale
- Noelle Stevenson [Cartoonist and comic book creator/artist of Nimona) as Tova
- Jon Heder [Film actor and movie producer] as Lionel “Chod” Gayheart
- Darin De Paul [Voice actor for games/tv and Broadway actor] as Ethrid “Sprig” Brokenbranch
- Joe Manganiello [Film/tv actor, producer, director and author] as Arkhan the Cruel
- Khary Payton [Actor and voice actor] as Shakäste
It has also generated a weekly talk show, Talks Machina, hosted by Brian Wayne Foster, where the events and storyline of the previous episode are discussed with a rotating roster of guest cast members who answer questions sent in by the Critter community, and which awards prizes for the best fan art and fan gif animation of that week.
Nominated for a Streamy award, the show has now a total of 115 episodes for Series 1 and 16 episodes (as of 10 May 2018) for Series 2. Each episode runs approximately 3-4 hours in length and follows the exploits of a band of adventurers. For Series 1, viewers joined the players at Level 7 of their voyage, with a story and history having preceded the first live stream at at-home games. This pre-existing history of play meant that viewers were invited to witness the unfolding story of characters and players who had well established relationships and connections with each other, lending an air of authenticity and narrative strength to Critical Role that other streaming Dungeons & Dragons gaming groups take time to establish. In Series 2 characters were introduced to each other at the same time they were introduced to viewers, starting at Level 1 of their journey, allowing viewers to start this new journey with them from the beginning.
Now in its third year, Critical Role has drawn attention to the fact that media trends are changing, with streaming shows becoming an increasingly stable and utilized platform; as well as the renaissance the game of Dungeons & Dragons itself has experienced in Western popular culture. With more and more articles being published about the show and its success, Critical Role has shone a spotlight on this pop cultural shift that has helped to decrease the remaining stigma towards Dungeons & Dragons and the gaming subculture by normalizing and mainstreaming it as a legitimate form of entertainment and gaming media. With video and computer games often seizing the limelight in the gaming industry, Critical Role has helped to cement the validity of tabletop games as a healthy/normalized social pass-time and highlight that this form of gaming deserves as much attention and kudos as its digitized compatriots. With more studies investigating the uses of games for society (including, but not limited to, applications in health and education) it is important that researchers do not overlook the importance of tabletop games. Critical Role is an exemplar of how tabletop games and online fandoms can positively contribute to society through its community ethic of supporting charities and philanthropic crowdfunding, as well as having positive outcomes on mental health and well-being through the support the community shows its members and the active escapism the story of the show achieves for its followers, as shown by the feedback in the video below.
*This was taken from membership of Critical Role Fan Club on Facebook as of 10 May 2018.
**Used with permission.
Artwork ©Mikandii. Used with permission.