It seemed like a simple enough pitch. After a few years of running a tabletop RPG game for friends, voice actor Matthew Mercer (Overwatch's McCree, Resident Evil's Leon) decided to turn it into a live show. Two years later, it's about to air its 100th episode.
Critical Role launched in March 2015, with Matthew Mercer wanting to bring that "living room-style gaming" to a wider audience. A whopping 68 million streams later, he's given it a red hot go.
Voice actors and tabletop roleplaying seems like a natural fit. Mercer, the dungeon master, is regularly joined by Marisha Ray, Taliesin Jaffe, Travis Willingham, Sam Riegel, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson and Liam O'Brien. Mercer's voiced more than 500 supporting characters in his time running the game, and it's Dungeons & Dragons. Accents are crucial.
"You need to leave your shame at the door," says Bailey, another voice actor and series regular. A lifelong computer RPG fan, Critical Role was her first tabletop campaign. The selling point (and natural fit) for her was the opportunity to explore characters in a new way. And that's something the cast are committed to and part of the appeal, she says. It's demystifying and enticing new players to the hobby.
Mercer's dedicated to the video game side of RPGs too. We got on a whole tangent about The Witcher 3, and I forgave him for being Team Triss once he confessed that he'd be playing a dwarf if he wasn't running the game. Dwarves are underrepresented in fantasy. But for him tabletop gaming has been a personal mainstay for decades.
The cast and crew bring not only the characters (who now have an "unbelievable amount of fan art," says Bailey), but perfectly valid dice superstitions, running gags and "Hamilton" references to audiences each week. Both Mercer and Bailey spoke about the tremendous responsibility they felt due to the show's huge fanbase. They're committed and invested, and it's a different kind of narrative to film or television or novels. It's not straight Hero's Journey stuff.
"The beauty is how it can change on the fly," says Mercer. "The audience learns the next bit of the story when we do. It's like live sport."
Episode 100 will feature a returning Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite"), joining the list of guest stars to appear on Critical Role that includes Felicia Day, Phil Lamarr and Vin Diesel.
In addition to 100 episodes, tonight's broadcast will also include the announcement of a Critical Role podcast and promotional poster from David Mack. You can catch the 100th episode (and the rest of the series) on the Geek & Sundry Twitch channel live at 7 p.m. PT on Thursday evenings, and later on the website and YouTube.
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