Critical Role: Communal Storytelling with Professional Voice Actors

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Genre: Fantasy RPG

Synopsis: A group of professional voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons, beginning with a journey to the Underdark to track down a missing paladin.

Series: There are 14 episodes so far.

I’ve Watched: All the segments so far.

Verdict: Highly entertaining.

Available: At Geek and Sundry.

This live-streamed story follows a group of adventurers who’ve been together for some time, already forming a strong bond and complicated relationships with each other in the process. The story picks up as the party is assigned a new mission, taking them to a new location.

The main draws to this show are the characters, the flexibility and creativity that this communal kind of storytelling allows, and the sense of adventure that comes out of this. The dungeon master (or narrator) for this story is great, managing to create exciting settings and numerous that come alive. The group will come up with all kinds of strategies both in and out of combat to make the story exciting and unpredictable. Sometimes they’ll come up with ridiculous ideas that fail and it’ll be funny. Sometimes they’ll come up with ridiculous ideas that succeed, and that’ll be funnier.

During combat, I like that there’s a strong element of creativity and strategy involved, where the battle can go in many different ways depending on how the characters engage the battlefield (or on how good their attack roles are). And that’s not restricted in the same way that this would be in video games, where you can’t come up with any idea, you have to follow the guidelines for what the game has been programmed to allow you to do. Here, there’s a person there to react to your ideas in real time, so there’s a much wider variety for how things can go.

Outside of combat, characters may or may not find resources or people with useful information depending on where they explore. Or depending on what doors their interactions with other characters open or close.

It makes for a great, versatile experience that weaves into a story where several people control different parts of it. Each main character has one person getting into that person’s skin and controlling their characterization, which necessitates making the characters at least as important as the plot. And it’s just really great to see something like that. Because of the communal set-up of the story, all of the characters’ actions come out of their characterization. Even during combat they’ll talk to each other, talk to their enemies, prioritize certain actions (or helping certain people) depending on what their character would do.

All of the characters are deep, strong characters (the players have been playing them for two years), but my favorites are probably Tiberius and Keyleth.

Tiberius has this fantastic bumbling obliviousness, and I love his interactions with both his party and NPCs. It’s really cool that there are moments when the party members make sure to rephrase questions or ask for clarification, because they know that he isn’t necessarily making the same assumptions that they are. As entertaining as he can be in any situation, I definitely think this reaching out to understand each other between him and other characters make for my favorite Tiberius scenes. Although when he pulls off epic strategic feats of sorcery is pretty cool as well, especially when no one is expecting him to just go for it.

Keyleth is an awkward druid who tries really hard to do the right thing. When she fails, it results in things that would be awful in real life (and probably leave her traumatized) but end up being ironically, darkly funny in tabletop gameplay. And I really do love that awkwardness she has in social situations, as it in no way deters her from saying or doing something completely and totally unpersuasive (or even liable to offend) out of total innocence.

There’s also a barbarian with an intelligence of 6, an adorable bear who’s usually shielded from combat, and a diplomatic rogue liable to seriously endanger himself through his recklessness.

Fun all around.


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