GenCon 2019: Critical Role Live

I’ve been a tabletop gamer since the late 1980’s. I’ve played roleplaying games aplenty. I’ve had characters rise to dizzying heights, I’ve had characters die the most ignominious of deaths. I’ve been mocked and derided for my nerdy passions in years gone by, and while I always knew I was cooler than my high school contemporaries realized, I’m not sure I could have predicted that the wheel would turn to the point where we actively have celebrity roleplayers. This year at GenCon, thanks to Ninja Steve and The Admiral, I was able to partake in one of the most sought after events on the GenCon calendar – the live taping of Critical Role.

The world has changed in recent years. Rather than being eschewed as the province of the social outcast, Dungeons & Dragons has been brought into the forefront in a positive light. Multiple articles have appeared in Forbes, several education and autism groups are using RPG’s as part of their programs, even CBC has heard the good news. In no small part, Critical Role has helped bring Dungeons & Dragons move toward mainstream acceptance. I’ve been running a campaign for some coworkers for awhile now – people who’d never even considered D&D before recent times – and there’s a list of people who have asked to join the group if a slot opens up.

So, when Ninja Steve and The Admiral said “Hey, we’re doing this thing”, I was hardly in a position to refuse.

Sauntering into the theatre we enjoyed an hour-long Q&A with Matt Mercer and the players behind Nott, Jester, Caduceus, Fjord, Beau and Caleb. It was a mix of questions related to character insights and motivations, deeper meta questions about the game, and a few fluffier queries. I had a couple of questions in mind that I would have liked to ask Matt, insight from one of the world’s most famous Dungeon Masters for my own game, but alas, they’ll just have to continue rattling inside my head. As fun as the Q&A was, though, I was hankering for the main event.

This is where I confess that I’ve never actually watched a full episode of Critical Role. I’ve never been able to put aside the time needed to watch a full episode (hey, running Lost Hemisphere is time consuming, dammit, and then there’s work, family, teaching parrots to whistle the Skippy The Bush Kangaroo theme song…). While I was familiar with Critical Role, Vox Machina, the Mighty Nein, more than anything else I was looking forward to watch Matt Mercer herding cats.

He did not disappoint.

Dealing with players that can be easily distracted and lead the party off on a wild side quest, steering a story that is moving way off the rails, balancing player engagement, making sure each participant feels involved and has agency while at the same time driving toward the overarching plot – being a Dungeon Master can be an incredibly frustrating and stressful experience, just as it can be rewarding.

You can watch the episode here:

I left with some ideas on techniques to use in my own home campaign, am idea for a t-shirt design that I need to find an artist for, and if I have one complaint it’s that there was an antagonist used that will be appearing in my own game sometime in the near(ish) future, and if one of my players watches the episode he’s going to know exactly what to be on the lookout for when the inevitable fight breaks out, rather than letting me surprise them with [REDACTED] when they [REDACTED] the [REDACTED] with any [REDACTED].

Oh, and there were some souvenirs.

Sam and Liam have been campaigning for awhile to be President of D&D Beyond. The election closed on the evening of the live recording, but not before we found commemorative campaign coins in the swag bag.

Of course, nothing says nerd souvenir quite like an oversized, subtly sparkly d20. The Critical Role logo is on the 20, because, well, if you roll a 20 you’ve successfully made a critical roll.  Makes sense.

And then there’s the metal dice in a sweet leather dice bag with a Mighty Nein logo on the drawstring. I’ve always been torn on the idea of metal dice, at least without a dice tray to stop them rolling off and damaging miniatures and the like… but I have to admit, these are super cool.

GenCon 2019 was a hoot, but attending the live taping was a very special treat. Huge thanks to Ninja Steve and the Admiral for making this happen, and a tip of the hat to Matt and the Critical Role cast for a sweet evening’s entertainment.