The mainstreaming of geek culture has been a rapid phenomenon. From video games to comics, I like seeing how much these once niche interests are becoming more popular puts a smile on my face. I’m always happy to connect with others through the shared language of pop culture. One such is through the tabletop role playing game Dungeons & Dragons and the help Critical Role had with it.
For those unaware, Critical Role is an online series where a bunch of nerdy voice actors who play Dungeons & Dragons. Hosted by Matthew Mercer, the series gained popularity since its 2015 online run. In March 2019, they started a Kickstarter campaign to bring the acclaimed series to animation. What started with a $750,000 goal was reached in an hour of going live. And by the end, reached more than $11 million.
Set before the first campaign, the story follows Vox Machina, a band of mercenaries comprising of twins Vax’ildan and Vex’halia (Liam O’Brien and Laura Bailey), the timid Keyleth (Marisha Ray), the hulking goliath Grog (Travis Willingham), stoic gunslinger Percy (Taliesin Jaffe), the cheeky Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel), and Pike (Ashley Johnson), the heart of the group. After getting kicked out of a tavern, the two take on an offer for Sovereign Uriel Tal’Dorei (Khary Payton) to investigate a creature terrorizing the realm of Tal’Dorei, that’s revealed in time to be a dragon.
Everyone in the cast give an animated performance. The Critical Role main cast bring the same energy that they always bring to their show. Special performance recognition comes from Sam Riegel as the comic relief, Liam O’Brien and Laura Bailey with their chemistry as twins with the banter to prove it, and Travis Willingham, who’s just a joy to watch. And when you look at the rest of the cast, it’s star-studded for a show based on an animated D&D campaign: David Tennant, Stephanie Beatriz, and Grey Griffin elevate the show with amazing performances and shine a brighter spotlight on it.
Right at the beginning, I got the feeling that this felt like watching a one-shot in animation. Many tabletops role online games are verbal in a theater of the mind; spells, combats, and skill checks are translated well into a visual medium. It takes the world Matthew Mercer created and reimagines it for longtime fans and newcomers.
By the end of the first three episodes, I thought that it was just this. But then I remembered the stretch goals to the Kickstarter promised more episodes. And with word of a season two, I’m excited to see more from it. This is a love letter for the fans and a sign of the mainstreaming of geek culture. Gone are the days of Satanic panic; and while this show isn’t the sole reason for it, I’m hopeful to see this and D&D grow to the same popularity as the MCU does.