How the cast of Critical Role became Dungeons & Dragons rock stars | cbc radio

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CBC radio specials8:41The rise of the critical role

It started out as a group of self-described “nerdy voice actors” performing Dungeons & Dragons, trying to make others laugh.

Ten years later, the people behind the popular live gaming experience critical role They have risen to rock star status among board game fans, helped popularize the game that was once stigmatized as satanic, and through it all, have grown to become as close as family.

“I think it’s the most creatively rewarding experience of my life, of all our lives,” said Liam O’Brien, one of the eight founding members.

Millions watch the group take part in the tabletop RPG in live streams that air on their Twitch and Youtube channels.

Armed with pens, paper, dice, and their imagination, players engage in a fantasy story, known as a campaign, filled with adventure, fighting monsters, and of course, dragons. Mathew Mercer assumes the role of dungeon master, narrating the campaign for all seven players, describing locations and creatures, and using the rules to determine the outcomes of whatever decisions the players make.

Since then, the team’s success has gone beyond broadcasting their game sessions.

In January, Amazon Prime will premiere the second season of The Legend of Vox Machinaan animated series based on critical role, where all the characters are played by the actors who originally created them and played them during their D&D sessions.

The show debuted its first season in 2022, following a Kickstarter campaign that they hoped would fund a one-off animated special. After grossing $11 million dollars, the pilot was expanded to a full 12-episode season and picked up by Amazon.

CLOCK | The Trailer of The Legend of Vox Machina:

O’Brien, who plays Vax’ildan in the animated series, says the idea that they’ve created a world that matters to them and to the fans who tune in is extremely rewarding.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself and say, ‘Be worthy of the gift you have in life.’ “

The adventure begins

It all started in 2012, when O’Brien was voicing Mercer in the video game. Resident Evil 6. O’Brien mentioned that he wanted to get back into D&D, that he loved growing up but hadn’t played in a long time.

For O’Brien’s birthday, Mercer offered to be master of the dungeon and run an abbreviated one-night campaign for O’Brien and some of his voice actor friends.

Marisha Ray received an invite and says game night was a success.

A screenshot from Critical Role’s second campaign shows the enthusiasm and excitement that goes into its Thursday games. (critical role)

“There was certainly like the first 15 to 20 minutes of a lot of laughing at the reality that we were a bunch of adults sitting around playing Dungeons & Dragons,” said Ray, who is now the creative director. from critical role. In the animated series, she plays Keyleth of the Air Ashari.

Mercer, who is still critical roleDungeon Master, also felt that there was something special during their first game together.

“The electricity there was so strong across the board that even though my subconscious self was wondering if they would ever want to come back and play again, in the next few days, everyone wanted to know when the next session would be,” he said. she said.

What we do together is my heart and my soul and my everything.-Liam O’Brien

The group continued to meet and play games together for about two years, before they were approached by actress Felicia Day about streaming their games on her YouTube and Twitch channel, Geek & Sundry.

Mercer says there was some concern about sharing his game at home.

“If you put something on the internet, there’s a very good chance it could catch fire,” he said.

“Especially if it’s a comparatively niche passion that’s largely misunderstood, which board games have historically been, ever since the satanic panic.”

In the 1980s, some labeled Dungeons & Dragons a danger to society. Scaremongers worried that the game, which debuted in 1974, would lead players to commit torture, murder or even cannibalism. Many parents forbid their children to play it.

With that in mind, the team agreed to stream their games online. But they certainly didn’t expect to attract a large following.

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the bugs

The first live broadcast on June 24, 2015, it was plagued with audio issues: players were talking to each other and eating mid-game snacks. But viewership still grew exponentially: That first episode alone has over 20 million views.

In 2018, the critical role The cast parted ways with Geek & Sundry to form their own company. Since then, they have released over 300 episodes across three D&D campaigns, garnering hundreds of millions of views in total.

Mercer credits the team’s chemistry and storytelling skills as the reasons the broadcasts became so popular so quickly.

“We were all trained artists who had spent our lives honing a skill set that allowed us to take an impromptu narrative with no real visual specialty, no effects, no costumes,” he said.

The eight members of the Critical Role cast pose in front of a wooden backdrop.
The cast members say they have become as close as family during their time playing Dungeons & Dragons. From left to right, Taliesin Jaffe, Liam O’Brien, Marisha Ray, Travis Willingham, Ashley Johnson (front), Sam Riegel, Laura Bailey and Matthew Mercer have been playing together since 2012. (Robyn Swank/Critical Role)

Fans of the show, known as Critters, can purchase clothing, graphic novels, action figures and more, as well as watch live broadcasts or attend live shows at conventions.

Laura Bailey, who plays Vex’ahlia on the Amazon Prime series, says she hopes fans can use her game as an escape. She says that she certainly has.

“That may seem frivolous, but life is stressful, and it’s nice to have something to take your mind off it a bit, that can also open up your life experience a bit and make you think in different ways,” Bailey said.

“I think this game is a very strong way to increase your empathy and put yourself in the shoes of other lives. And if we can facilitate that for other people, that’s a great thing.”

the game evolves

What critical role It has grown in popularity, just like the Dungeons & Dragons game.

Steven Edmonds, co-owner of The Bard and Bear board game cafe in Hamilton, says many of his customers were introduced to D&D through critical role.

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“They’ve been a catalyst for an extreme expansion in the popularity of D&D,” said Edmonds, who has been playing for the past decade and is a big fan of D&D. critical role.

He attributes his popularity to a coincidental rise in nerd culture, the appearance of D&D on TV shows like Community Y Strange thingsand a new, more user-friendly version of the game.

“It provided … the first point of contact for a lot of people to suddenly say, ‘Wow, this sounds interesting. You might want to give it a try,'” Edmonds said.

O’Brien and the others don’t take their popularity lightly. He remembers that it was difficult to find people to play with when he was a child.

A group of people sit at tables in a board game cafe and listen to the shop owner.
Steven Edmonds, right, hosts Dungeons & Dragons games at The Bard and Bear, his board game cafe in Hamilton. (Presented by Steven Edmonds)

Now, D&D groups like those organized by The Bard and Bear are packed to the brim.

“The idea that our kind of mischief and stupidity and love for each other is spreading, and other people can do what we fell in love with, that’s magic,” O’Brien said.

Whats Next?

For players, gambling is much more than just business.

Bailey admits there are a lot more responsibilities now that their company has grown, but when they sit down at the table, they’re just a group of friends playing D&D together.

This image shows the production set up with microphones and cameras around a table as the cast prepare to begin a broadcast of Critical Role.
Critical Role, which is in the midst of its third Dungeons & Dragons campaign, has branched out beyond streaming game sessions with the animated series The Legend of Vox Machina, based on the Critical Role characters and airing on Amazon Prime. (Chris Lockey/Critical Role)

“Ten years ago, 12 years ago, 20 years ago, if I had thought that this is the direction my life or my career would take, I would not have understood it or believed it at all,” he said. “But it feels so natural to do it with this group.”

In the new season of the animated series, which will arrive in January, O’Brien and Bailey play brothers. And O’Brien says the entire cast has become like a family.

“What we do together is my heart and my soul and my everything,” he said. “I’m so happy to be in it and do it every day.”

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