I’m not sure when it started. My fascination with role playing games. Even though it was a recent thing. I was always intrigued – I have a vague memory of creating characters and starting some kind of game when I was maybe 11 or 12 with my cousins in my grandmother’s basement. But it’s also possible that was some kind of fever dream, and may have even been a version of Magic: The Gathering. I can definitely point to a specific episode of television that kicked it into high gear, and that would be the “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” episode of Community, which was truly a masterpiece.
And then…things sort of simmered. But in the meantime I was obsessed with board games, and watched Tabletop with love and obsession, having particularly strong feelings for the episodes about the game Fiasco. So obsessed that I asked for and received the game book for my birthday. I tried to host a game…but it didn’t go particularly well. I supported the funding campaign to get season 3 off the ground, and because enough of us did, Wil and the rest of the Geek and Sundry crew was able to make “The RPG Show” that they wanted as a bonus. That was called “Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana”, and again I was obsessed.
I mean, the story – so interesting! The characters – fascinating! The way that Wil narrated the story – terrific! I was instantly hooked. And similar to the way that I used to pine between episodes, of Tabletop, I soon began to long for new episodes of Titansgrave. I needed more. I was an addict in search of a high that I seemed only able to attain through the consuming of dice-based role playing game shows.
And then, it happened. I’m not sure how. Maybe there was an article on the Geek and Sundry website about the show, and it was all, “If you like Titansgrave, here are other RPG shows you might like.” And at the top of their list was the one that they hosted on Twitch, which is mostly a service for live-streaming video games, but is also used to stream other games too. Including their Dungeons and Dragons show – Critical Role. And as soon as I went down that rabbit hole, I was gone forever. I was obsessed. The story felt so amazing and personal. Even though in the first episode you are dropped into the middle of their adventure (or the start of their newest journey), it took only one or two episodes to feel like I knew these players and these characters.
It’s fascinating to look at the setup of those early games and see how much things have improved with both technology and the set that they’re using. But the point is really the story. And one of the things that sells this story in a way that few other RPG shows can is the fact that both the DM (Matt Mercer) and the players are all voice actors. They are professionally good at inhabiting a character through their voice, and likely as a consequence of being a small part of a storytelling profession, they seem to have a better narrative hold on how to make the story interesting. It is also no small task what Matt does every week – he is quite possibly the most talented and engaging DM I’ve ever seen, and he admittedly puts in lots of preparation and thoughtful consideration to what will happen to our band of heroes (Vox Machina) each week. And it doesn’t hurt that they’ve been playing for years together before we the audience even got to start watching, ensuring that there is backstory and depth of character that we haven’t even fully witnessed.
So yes. I watched all the episodes. It took a while, admittedly, and mainly because each episode clocks in at 3-5 hours. That’s right. HOURS. This is a gaming session, after all, and you don’t want to stop at a tenuous moment. So it goes on for a while. But when you’re an obsessive addict, you will lap up each of those minutes with joy. I joined the Critical Role fandom (Critters) last July, and it took me weeks and weeks to catch up as I watched from the beginning. I was “live” with the broadcasts starting around episode 22, and it was at that point that I began to pine for something of of my own.
Perhaps even before that, because for my birthday, I asked my brother if he knew anything about how to get involved in a D&D group – did he know where I could find a DM? “You’re looking at one” he told me, and I was astonished. Could I…could it really be that easy? And he gave me the gift of ultimate nerdery. He said, “Let’s have a game”. And we did. We started out playing an RPG called Dungeon World with a small group, and then this past summer before our vacation up to the Lake I asked, “Do you think we could play actual Dungeons and Dragons? Maybe just a small game?” And we did. It was terrific.
I’m now hooked. I’m not sure that I’ll ever give it up. And if the picture above is any indication, I won’t necessarily have to. (The baby is my niece – not mine). It’s just a matter of making it work. And maybe in a few years that will mean doing game sessions over the internet using Roll 20 instead of in person.
And I’ll still keep watching the adventures of Vox Machina. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with that content now that Geek and Sundry and Nerdist have teamed up to have their own streaming service – Alpha. Apparently I’ll still be able to watch the livestreams on Twitch, but will the content be kept there too? Will I have to subscribe to another service in order to watch the sessions in the immediate days after they air? Who knows. I’m sure those questions will be answered soon. And in the meantime, I’ll be trying desperately to catch up on VM’s latest adventures, because as it turns out…I’m behind again. But no matter. Better to be behind and able to enjoy all those wonderful stories than to be sitting around twiddling my thumbs, wishing I could either be watching or playing.
Ok. Question time – who else loves RPGs? (Ben and Nicole – I know the answer already). Have you played any that I haven’t mentioned? Have recommendations for shows that I would totally get into? And yes, I know I have to listen to The Adventure Zone. I’m getting to it. So many podcasts backed up!
Details: Critical Role streams FREE Thursday nights at 10 pm EST (Yes, I know – it’s so late! I hardly ever stay up for more than an hour of the live broadcast) on Twitch. Old episodes can be be found on the Geek and Sundry website…though who knows for how much longer. Watch ’em while you can!