Critical Role, and Never Knowing What’ll Happen Next

Genre: Fantasy RPG

Synopsis: A party of adventures called Vox Machina must make their way through a changing world, facing ever more powerful enemies and their own personal demons. The story is brought to life by a cast of professional voice actors, and the ever-present chance that bad planning or bad dice rolling will end that journey forever.

Series: 64 episodes.

I’ve Watched: All of it.

Verdict: I love this show so much.

Available: All of the episodes are uploaded to the Geek and Sundry website. The show streams live on the Geek and Sundry Twitch channel, Thursdays at 10pm EST.

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The story has come such a long way, and the character work really makes this show shine. I’ve talked about Critical Role’s main campaign twice now–once when if was 14 episodes in, and once when it was 36 episodes in. It’s been good from the start, but the storytelling has been becoming increasingly more powerful as the weight of what’s come before accumulates. Not every series can pull that off–in fact, most don’t.

It’s amazing to me that I praised the way Critical Role isn’t afraid to shake up the status quo last time, right before the biggest shake up of all. The current storyline is dealing with upheaval on a scale I didn’t see coming. And it’s amazing. The way the characters have responded to it, and the way it’s hit them–this has been a very powerful and varied story, highly dependent on the choices that the party makes at any given time.

Especially from the Briarwoods arc on, the character work has been exceptional. This might be one of the huge benefits of having one professional actor dedicated to representing one protagonist–our main characters take turns showcasing their psychology, developing their growth, and playing off of each others’ personalities. My favorite characters often rotate, depending on who’s getting the most focus at any given time.

During the Briarwood arc, it was Percy. He finally had to confront the people who killed his family, after all that time he spent dreaming of vengeance. It takes him to some dark places, and ever since, he’s been learning who he is–and learning that he might not necessarily like who he is.

Afterwards, it was Vax for a while. He’d been reckless and even careless with his life so often, completely dedicated to the people around him at the expense of himself. But then, he had another purpose forced upon him, which continues to push at his character.

Most recently, Vex has been my favorite. She’s spent so long supporting the party without really getting into her own development, that it’s fascinating to get glimpses of what she’s hiding beneath that. Having to face her estranged father and seeing just how much that relationship has affected her, then having her face an opponent who looks inside of her and twists it, so he can throw the worst possible interpretation back at her–it’s awesome to see those cracks behind a demeanor that’s generally so together.

And every quest is so different. I especially loved the Feywilds, where everything–literally everything–is dangerous. Our heroes couldn’t help but to stumble right into those dangers, just to see what would happen.

That’s the fun thing about Vox Machina: you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes, they’ll come up with brilliant and creative ideas. Sometimes, they’ll come up with ridiculous plans that make them scramble to get out of the ensuing mess. And other times, they’ll walk right into a situation with no plan and just go for it. I love that even the worst decisions set up some of the most entertaining scenes. The team is at their best when they botch up a situation themselves, and have to improvise on the spot to save it.

The element of chance also adds a level of unpredictability to every interaction. In a novel or a movie, characters will or won’t notice something for a reason. They’ll succeed at the perfect moments, and fail where it’s most appropriate. And that can be harnessed very well, but it can also fall into patterns that we start to recognize. By removing that element from the story and determining success or failure by a dice roll, that pattern is broken up. We still get those moments that come out to have a purpose–but they might not be the ones anyone was expecting.

Still, that wouldn’t mean much without an excellent cast and DM who know how to make use of those moments. And Critical Role has that. This show is definitely one of my favorites.

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