How Critical Role Changed My Views on D&D
I’ve never really been a big fan of playing Dungeons & Dragons. I mean, that’s not entirely true. When I was little, I was very excited when Dad included me in in his roleplaying sessions. However, it was the sort of thing that I grew out of. Part of it may have been that I thought myself too cool to play some silly roleplay game, but mostly it was because it wasn’t something I understood anymore.
While I was in the Army, my brothers and step sister found one of my father’s old D&D notebooks and after watching the Lord of The Rings movies, they all found themselves wanting to get into the hobby. While I was on vacation, my family “ambushed” me and I soon found myself roped into a game with several members of my family. I felt silly and distant from the whole endeavor. Not an inkling of the magic I had once felt in my youth was there. I just didn’t get it. The second time we held a similar session, I drank copious amounts of Fireball whiskey to loosen me up, but I still felt that inner wall get thrown up.
Fast forward to a few months ago, when I started watching the popular web show Critical Role on Geek And Sundry‘s Youtube channel. For those of you who don’t know, Critical Role is a web show in which a group of talented voice actors gathers round to play Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. I knew the show was popular and it honestly distressed me a little that I had to try so hard to enjoy the few games I had been a part of. I mean, I love everything geek. I love reading high fantasy novels(some of them set in D&D campaign settings) and roleplaying video games are my jam. D&D seemed like it should have been an easy win.
Sometime within watching the first ten episodes, it finally started to click. By watching others play and have fun, I soon began to understand why some people enjoyed the game so much and I was able to self-diagnose why I couldn’t seem to have as much fun as the other people gathered with me the table. I had chained my imagination down to the ground instead of letting it fly free through the clouds, where it belongs. Its why I had loved it so much as a kid, but felt so alienated by it as an adult. All I could see was my family sitting around the dining room table talking to each other in ridiculous voices pretending the plastic pieces and map in front of them was a world of magic and mystery. I couldn’t see the band of mercenary misfits setting out on their journey of epic import.
With Critical Role, I saw a group of friends play the game with their imaginations unfettered and more importantly, I saw them bring an audience into their world with them, much like any other artist or storyteller has to. This long-form narrative that they built(the campaign) and shared oral storytelling(the players interacting with the Dungeon Master’s world) really spoke to the writer in me. It stoked the flames of my own creative desires and where I had once felt a dull ache this last year, I felt a renewed longing.
During the break, my family and I gathered around a dining room table once again. This time it was to play Pathfinder and my youngest brother, The Artist Formerly Known As Jonah, DM’ed(his first time). Not a single internal wall was thrown up, instead, I threw myself into the game with reckless abandon. I had fun and actually was kind of bummed we didn’t get to play more. It was also nice to see my brother overcome a challenge I knew he was nervous about as he’s been wanting to be a Dungeon Master for a long time now. If you are interested about getting into D&D or have some preconceived notions about the game, I suggest giving Critical Role a watch sometime. They’ve introduced a new generation to the game, inspired more than a few, and maybe you’ll wind up being a part of that.
(PS. Sorry this is coming out so late in the day. Its been a busy few days.)