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Critical Role is an American web series in which a group of professional voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons. The show started streaming in March 2015, partway through the cast's first campaign. "Campaign one" ran for 115 episodes, and ended in October 2017. The cast started playing "Campaign two" in January 2018, which is still ongoing as of November 2019. A number of one-shots were aired in the hiatus between the two campaigns.

Critical Role
GenreFantasy
Dungeons & Dragons
Created byMatthew Mercer
Based onDungeons & Dragons 5th edition
Starring
Theme music composerJason C. Miller
Opening theme
  • "Critical Role Theme Song" (Season 1)
  • "Critical Role Too"
  • (Season 2, episodes 1-43)
  • "Your Turn to Roll"
  • (Season 2, episodes 44-present)
Ending theme"Twin Elms" (Season 1)
"Welcome to Wildemount"
(Season 2)
Composer(s)Jason C. Miller
Kevin MacLeod
Justin E. Bell
Colm McGuinness
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes115 (Season 1)
86 (Season 2)
Production
Production location(s)Los Angeles, California
Running timeApproximately 180–360 minutes per episode
Production company(s)Geek & Sundry (2015–2018)[1]
Critical Role Productions LLC (2018–present)[2]
Release
Original networkTwitch
YouTube
Original releaseMarch 12, 2015 (2015-03-12)
Chronology
Related shows
  • Talks Machina
  • Critical Recap
  • Between the Sheets
  • Handbooker Helper
  • All Work No Play
  • MAME Drop
  • Pub Draw
  • Travis Willingham's Yeehaw Game Ranch
External links
Website

The series is broadcast live on Thursdays at 19:00 PT on the Critical Role Twitch channel, with the video on demand (VOD) being available to Twitch subscribers immediately after the broadcast. On the Monday following the live stream, the VODs are made available for the public on Critical Role's website and uploaded to their YouTube channel.

A number of licensed works based on the show have been released, such as the official campaign setting guide written by the show's dungeon master, Matthew Mercer.

Critical Role is also the name of the studio owned by the cast. The studio has produced Critical Role and Talks Machina since 2018. It also develops and produces other programming for the studio's Twitch and YouTube channels.

Campaign structureEdit

The Critical Role storyline occurs in a campaign that consists of a series of story arcs, which are usually played over multiple episodes. Between—or sometimes within—the major story arcs, the characters rest, resupply, or go on side quests. In addition, every player character has a backstory, an unfinished part of their personal history that can be relevant to the campaign from time to time. Sometimes, major story arcs are intrinsically tied to a character's backstory.

Both campaigns are set in Exandria, a world of Matthew Mercer's creation.[3]

Campaign oneEdit

Campaign one takes place primarily in Tal'Dorei, a continent of Exandria. It follows the exploits of an adventuring party known as Vox Machina, previously known as the Super High-Intensity Team, a rag-tag group of mercenaries originally formed in the swamp-town of Stilben.

Pre-series historyEdit

In their adventures prior to the start of the series, the group saved the family of Sovereign Uriel Tal'Dorei III, ruler of Tal'Dorei and its capital city of Emon. In appreciation, Uriel gave the group seats on the city council, and provided them with a residence called Greyskull Keep, which is located just outside the city. Episode 36, titled Winter's Crest in Whitestone, features a summary of the pre-series history (starting 1 hour 35 minutes into the episode), with artwork created by Wendy Sullivan Green and voice-overs provided by the cast.[4]

The forthcoming Critical Role animated series will include a canonic story that takes place within the pre-stream time frame.[5]

On-stream campaignEdit

The first episode of the show aired on March 12, 2015, beginning the on-stream part of the first campaign, which concluded with its 115th and final episode on October 12, 2017.[6][7]

The Kraghammer story arc (episodes 1–16) jumps in at the point in Vox Machina's story where the cast's original home game left off. It takes place primarily in the subterrenean depths of the Underdark, and culminates in a battle between Vox Machina and a dangerous beholder by the name of K'varn, who is controlling an entire city of Illithid.

The Vasselheim story arc (episodes 17–23) splits the party into two groups, who seek to prove their worth to the "Slayer's Take", a local adventurer's guild in the ancient city of Vasselheim, by taking on dangerous missions. This arc features multi-episode guest appearances by Felicia Day (Lyra), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Zahra), Wil Wheaton (Thorbir), and Will Friedle (Kashaw), adding a new twist to the now-divided adventuring band. This arc also includes the first episode (episode 22) that touches on a character's backstory, as Keyleth visits another druid tribe to continue her Aramenté, a journey to become the leader of her people.

The Briarwood story arc (episodes 24–38) leads Vox Machina to Percy's ancestral home, the city of Whitestone, which was once ruled by his family. The party have to fight for control over Whitestone against Lord and Lady Briarwood, who are responsible for the demise of most of the de Rolo family and have taken the city as their own. The Briarwood's ties into necromancy and a secret cult make things even more dangerous, and Vox Machina must stop them from completing a ritual that threatens to endanger the entire kingdom. During the early stages of this arc, Tiberius leaves Vox Machina for good.

The Chroma Conclave story arc (episodes 39–83) begins with the attack of four ancient chromatic dragons on Emon, the capital of Tal'Dorei, with the Sovereign and other important political figures falling in the onslaught. The dragons take control over and divide the kingdom, and in order to defeat them, Vox Machina needs more power than they currently have. They search for the "Vestiges of Divergence", famed and extremely powerful magical items from ages passed, which are scattered throughout the world. During the ongoing battles against the powerful dragons of the Chroma Conclave, the backstories of some characters are also further explored. Smaller arcs focus on Grog's herd that once exiled him, the last figure from Percy's traumatic past, as well as a strained family reunion for the twins, Vex and Vax.

The Taryon Darrington story arc (episodes 84–99) begins with the departure of Scanlan from the group, whose mental problems and disagreements with the group culminate in an argument that shakes the party. While traveling to Ank'Harel on the continent of Marquet, Vox Machina meet Taryon Darrington, an inexperienced aspiring author and adventurer. Adventuring together with Taryon, some smaller story arcs see Vox Machina helping Keyleth (who seeks to complete her Aramenté), literally traveling to hell, as well as dealing with Taryon's family, who reside in the Dwendalian Empire on the continent of Wildemount. During this arc, which is loosely defined by Scanlan's absence and Taryon's presence in the party, Pike's family also makes an appearance and her relationship with them is explored. The arc includes a one year time skip between episodes 94 and 95.

The Cult of Vecna story arc (episodes 99–115) revisits the mysterious and dangerous artifact that was activated beneath Whitestone Castle during the Briarwood story arc. Scanlan finally rejoins Vox Machina, while the party now has to fight a cult which tries to summon the evil lich demigod Vecna, who seeks to ascend to true godhood and rule Exandria. His ascension actually succeeds and he becomes the only god on this side of the Divine Gate, which keeps the other gods from directly interfering in the world they created. With the indirect help of some of the prime deities who aid them with special powers, Vox Machina are the only group of heroes who can possibly stop the "Whispered One" in one gigantic final battle.

Post-campaignEdit

In 2019, over a year after the first campaign ended, Critical Role produced three canonical one-shot games that feature Vox Machina in the time frame after the banishment of Vecna. The first one-shot, Vox Machina: The Search for Grog, was played at a live show in Los Angeles on January 19, 2019, and released on YouTube and Twitch on February 23, 2019. It explored an event that took place in the final episode of Campaign one, but was not played out in detail because it would have disrupted the ongoing epilogue. More Vox Machina one-shots were unlocked as rewards and stretch goals during the Kickstarter campaign for the Critical Role animated series. The first of these was Vox Machina: The Search for Bob,[8][9] a continuation of the events of The Search for Grog. It aired on the Critical Role Twitch channel on June 21, 2019, with the YouTube VOD being made available on June 23, 2019.[10] Another Kickstarter reward was Vox Machina's Summer Reunion at Dalen's Closet, which aired on Twitch on August 29, 2019, with the YouTube VOD becoming available for the public on September 2, 2019. This one-shot takes place a year after the events of The Search for Grog/Bob, as Percy and Vex renew their wedding vows on a beach in Marquet, with all of their friends and family present - as well as a few uninvited "guests".[11]

Also in 2019, Critical Role played another canonical and Vox Machina-related one-shot at a live show: The Adventures of the Darrington Brigade was played at the Bass Concert Hall in Austin, Texas on November 23, 2019. It stars Sam Riegel as Taryon Darrington, honorary member of Vox Machina, who leads a group of new characters into their own adventures. This one-shot will air on the Critical Role Twitch channel on November 29, 2019, with the YouTube VOD being made available on December 1, 2019.[12][13]

Campaign twoEdit

The second campaign began on January 11, 2018, and follows the adventuring party known as The Mighty Nein. The story is set on the continent of Wildemount, which was briefly visited during the Vox Machina campaign. The Mighty Nein campaign is set 20 years after Vox Machina's final battle against Vecna.[14][15]

The Trostenwald/Alfield story arc (Episodes 1–7) serves as an origin story for the new adventuring party, whose members meet for the first time in Trostenwald, a town in the south of the Dwendalian Empire. Five travelers stay in the local tavern: Fjord, a male half-orc who gained magical powers out of nowhere; Jester, a young female tiefling who follows an unknown god; Caleb, a very guarded male human wizard; Nott, a seemingly benevolent female goblin; and Beauregard ("Beau"), a young human woman "on a wandering tour". They then meet Mollymauk ("Molly"), a pompous tiefling, and Yasha, a quiet swordswoman, who work for a traveling circus which is currently in town. The circus' first performance ends with several audience members turning into Undead, and the outsiders and circus people are quickly blamed for the incident. The seven individuals join forces to investigate the case and clear their names, discovering a fiendish creature which was responsible for the chaos. After surviving their trial, the seven decide to travel together. Before they leave north towards Zadash, the second-biggest city in the Empire, Beau is cornered by an elven monk named Dairon. She later reveals to the group that she ran away from the monks of the "Cobalt Soul", but has now rejoined the order after Dairon agreed to be her new mentor and gave her freedom to travel. On their journey, the group run into trouble in the town of Alfield, where they lend their assistance to the Empire's police forces, the Crownsguard, during and after a dangerous gnoll attack. At this time, the party come up with their party name, "The Mighty Nein".

The Zadash story arc (Episodes 8–18) covers the party's adventures in the city of Zadash. After arriving in the city and doing a small job for the Crownsguard, they come into contact with a secret group that fights corrupt high ranking government officials. The Mighty Nein decide to help and find evidence that leads to arrests, but also have to flee when a corrupt judge is killed in front of them. At the same time, the "Zauber Spire", a mage tower in the middle of the city, nearly crumbles in an attack. The group run into one of the attackers, a fleeing Drow. He is later killed by Crownsguard, but the Nein - unbeknownst to anyone else - "acquire" the mysterious power source he seemingly stole from the mages of the Empire-allied Cerberus Assembly. Laying low, the Mighty Nein start doing jobs for The Gentleman, an enigmatic figure who controls the criminal underground of Zadash. During this time, it is revealed that Molly is missing most of his memories, and Caleb entrusts the horrible secrets of his past in the service of the Cerberus Assembly and Archmage Trent Ikithon, who he is now hiding from, to Nott and Beau. The Nein also participate in (and win) the annual fighting tournament of Zadash - but on the day after their victory, as a consequence of the Drow attack on the tower, the Dwendalian Empire declares war on the Kryn Dynasty, the Drow rulers of the eastern country of Xhorhas.

In the Northward story arc (Episodes 19-31), the Mighty Nein decide to keep away from the war, and leave Zadash to deal with two important missions for the Gentleman. Their first errand takes them westwards to Berleben, a town in the Labenda Swamp. They eventually have to travel into the swamp itself to investigate one of the Gentleman's smuggler safe houses that recently went dark. The party deal with the responsible creatures, and also find a mysterious orb - which is suddenly sucked into Fjord's body. With no immediate answers to this development available, they take up their second errand by traveling north. On their way to the Empire's northern border, where they are supposed to aid Ophelia Mardoun, an ally of the Gentleman in the lawless city of Shady Creek Run, the party are ambushed by a dangerous group of slavers known as the "Iron Shepards". Fjord, Jester, and Yasha are kidnapped, and a desperate rescue attempt from the rest of the Nein leads to Molly's death at the hands of Lorenzo, the leader of the slavers. Caleb, Beau, and Nott grieve, but decide to gather new allies - including Caduceus, the last keeper of a holy graveyard in the forest outside of Shady Creek Run. They attack the Iron Shepards in their stronghold, managing to rescue their friends and kill all the slavers, including Lorenzo. Dealing with the Iron Shepards coincidentally was the job the Nein would have been assigned to in the north, so the group, alongside Caduceus, who wants to accompany them, returns to Zadash. After learning of Molly's fate, a grieving Yasha leaves the party temporarily.

The False Serpent arc (Episodes 32-47) leads the Mighty Nein out of the Empire on a more private mission, as they travel southwards towards the city states of the Menagerie Coast, specifically the coastal city of Nicodranas, where they hope to find out more about Fjord's strange powers and the orb in his body. After briefly meeting and helping out Jester's mother Marion, a famed courtesan, as well as a surprising reunion with Yasha, the Nein try to track down possible sources of information. An absolutely crazy series of events involving the group, pirates and the city guards leads to the Mighty Nein fleeing by sailing a ship onto the Lucidian Ocean. On their following journey, they discover that Fjord's powers - and the orb - are granted to him by an ancient being named "Uk'otoa". The party is forced into working with the cunning pirate captain Avantika, another one of Uk'otoa's chosen. She forces them to help her with her plan to release her ancient "god", and manages to break one of three necessary seals. While resting on Darktow, an island controlled by the pirate group known as "The Revelry", the Mighty Nein manage to sever their ties with Avantika by revealing her plans to overthrow the "Plank King", the current leader of the pirates. Avantika is executed, but Fjord continues to follow Uk'otoa's path, breaking the second seal despite the doubts of his friends. Then, he finally figures out that he doesn't want to be responsible for releasing an evil calamity, and, despite Uk'otoa threatening him in his dreams, decides that the party needs to leave the ocean without searching for the third seal. The Mighty Nein head back into the Dwendalian Empire after hearing about developments in the war with Xhorhas, specifically a Kryn attack in the city of Felderwin, Nott's former home in the east of the Empire.

In the Xhorhas story arc (Episodes 48-71), the Mighty Nein travel east and get in over their heads. In Felderwin, they learn that a halfling named Yeza was taken by the Kryn, triggering major revelations from Nott. She reveals herself as a halfling named Veth, who was forcefully turned into a goblin - and Yeza is her husband. The Nein travel into the wastelands of Xhorhas in search of Yeza. In the city of Asarius, they take on mercenary work to gain favor with the Kryn, managing to seal a rift to the Abyss, the demonic plane. As their reward, the group are granted an audience with the Bright Queen, ruler of the Kryn Dynasty. During the audience in the capital, Rosohna, the party are accused of espionage. In a last effort to save their lives, Caleb pulls out the object the party "acquired" in Zadash. It turns out to be one of the "Beacons of the Luxon", key parts of the Kryn's religion that were stolen by the Cerberus Assembly, and that Yeza unknowingly helped experiment on - the theft was the reason for the war. The Mighty Nein are declared heroes for returning one of the Beacons, and Yeza is released from prison. The party continues to work for the Kryn to understand them better, quickly stumbling upon more rifts they manage to seal, for which the Kryn reward them with a house in Rosohna. Continuing to investigate the mysterious rifts, the Mighty Nein find out that they were opened on purpose. They chase the responsible person, Obann, northwards to a place called Bazzoxan, where he lures them into an ancient underground temple. Here, everything breaks apart: Obann reveals himself as a demon and releases an ancient, mad terror known as the "Laughing Hand". In this moment, Yasha turns on the party. She had, in a past of which she had no memory, served with Obann in the cult of a being called the "Angel of Irons". The rest of the party barely escape with their lives, unaware that Yasha was influenced by Obann and had no control over what she did. Shaken, they return to Rosohna, and take the time to reunite Yeza with his and Veth's son, Luc, escorting them to live with Marion in Nicodranas. Meanwhile, Dairon, Beau's mentor, who has infiltrated Rosohna for the Cobalt Soul order, stays undercover in the Nein's house. The group now seek a way to deal with Obann and the Laughing Hand.

In the current story arc (ongoing from Episode 72), the six remaining party members first travel into the "Greying Wildlands", north of the Empire and Xhorhas, where they hope to gain power by reforging an ancient sword known as "Dwueth'var". The Mighty Nein receive help from the Dust family, keepers of a holy kiln, from a dwarven smith living in the city of Uthodurn, as well as from Uthodorn's resident vigilante. They acquire the materials for the reforging process, while narrowly escaping from an encounter with the ancient white dragon Gelidon. During this mission, Uk'otoa takes away Fjord's magical powers after the half-orc refused to obey any further. Fjord seemingly destroys his pact weapon and Uk'otoa's final orb in the legendary forge of the kiln. With guidance from Caduceus, he begins to form a connection with the cleric's goddess, the Wildmother. By becoming her Paladin, he regains his magic, and can wield the reforged Dwueth'var. Back in Rosohna, Dairon promotes Beau to "Expositor" (a special agent rank), and leaves Xhorhas shortly after. After speaking with Essek Thelyss, their main Dynasty contact, about possible next steps, the group - via Jester's Scrying spell - witness an attack on the Cobalt Soul library in Zadash, carried out by Obann, Yasha, and the Laughing Hand. Learning what information Obann sought in the library, the Nein track him and Yasha. However, they come up short again when Obann manages to release another ancient terror, the "Caedogeist", and flees with the controlled Yasha. Seeking guidance, the Mighty Nein reconnect with Yussah Erennis, a mage from Nicodranas they had met after returning from the ocean. Unfortunately, Yussah vanished into the hidden depths of a magical object the Mighty Nein had left with him: The "Heirloom Sphere", a creation by the legendary mage Halas that consists of many rooms separated from normal time and space. The Nein make their way through the sphere, searching for Yussah, while Allura Vysoren, an ally of Yussah's, supports them from the outside. The Nein manage to free Yussah, but miss weeks in the real world because of the time effects of the sphere. However, Allura has prepared a ritual to reveal the true face of the Angel of Irons: Tharizdun, the Chained Oblivion, the maddest and oldest god of darkness, which is trying to break its ancient shackles. The Mighty Nein hurry to the Empire's capital, Rexxentrum, where - under the temple of Pelor, one of Tharizdun's godly enemies - the "Angel" cult is trying to break one of the six chains that keep the Oblivion from returning. At the same time, Kryn forces attack the city. Meanwhile, the Mighty Nein have to face Obann's group of terrors once again...

Cast and charactersEdit

Since October 2015, Critical Role has consisted of eight main cast members, all of whom are the original cast. The show had a cast of nine for the first 27 episodes.[16] A number of guest players have also appeared on the show over the years.

MainEdit

The cast, their character(s), as well as that character's race and class for the two campaigns are listed below. When a player has taken the option of multiclassing, the classes are listed in the order taken by the player. An H is used to indicate a homebrew class developed by Mercer.

Actor Campaign 1: Vox Machina Campaign 2: The Mighty Nein
2015
(1–36)
2016
(37–79)
2017
(80–115)
2019
(one-shots)
2018
(1–46)
2019
(47–on)
Matthew Mercer[17] Dungeon Master (DM)
Ashley Johnson[17] Pike Trickfoot
(gnome cleric)
Yasha Nydoorin
(aasimar barbarian)
Laura Bailey[17] Vex'ahlia "Vex" de Rolo (née Vessar)
(half-elf ranger / rogue)
Jester Lavorre
(tiefling cleric)
Liam O'Brien[17] Vax'ildan "Vax" Vessar
(half-elf rogue / paladin / druid)
Lieve'tel Toluse
(elf cleric)
Caleb Widogast
(human wizard)
Marisha Ray[17] Keyleth of the Air Ashari
(half-elf druid)
Beauregard "Beau" Lionett
(human monk)
Sam Riegel[17] Scanlan Shorthalt
(gnome bard; absent 86–98)
Nott the Brave
(goblin rogue)
N/A Tarryon Darrington
(human artificer; 85–102)
N/A
Taliesin Jaffe[17] Percival "Percy" Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III
(human gunslingerH)
Mollymauk Tealeaf
(tiefling blood hunterH; 1–26)
Caduceus Clay
(firbolg cleric; 28–on)
Travis Willingham[17] Grog Strongjaw
(goliath barbarian / fighter)
Fjord
(half-orc warlock / paladin)
N/A Sir Bertrand Bell
(human fighter)
Orion Acaba[16] Tiberius Stormwind
(dragonborn sorcerer; 1–27[18])
N/A

GuestsEdit

Guests are an irregular occurrence on Critical Role and, in most cases, only stay on the show for a one-off appearance or a few consecutive episodes. Only a few guests (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Will Friedle and Patrick Rothfuss in Campaign 1, as well as Khary Payton in Campaign 2) have appeared in non-consecutive episodes, with their respective characters playing an active role in different parts of the overall storyline. So far, Chris Perkins is the only guest to have appeared in both campaigns, playing a different character for each campaign.

Actor Campaign 1
(2015–17)
Campaign 2
(2018–current)
Felicia Day Lyra
(human wizard)
N/A
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn Zahra Hydris
(tiefling warlock)
N/A
Wil Wheaton Thorbir Falbek
(dwarf fighter)
N/A
Will Friedle Kashaw Vesh
(human cleric)
N/A
Kit Buss Lillith Anioska Daturai
(tiefling wizard)
N/A
Jason C. Miller Garthok
(half-orc rogue)
N/A
Chris Hardwick Gern Blanston
(dragonborn wizard)
N/A
Chris Perkins Shale
(goliath fighter)
Spurt
(kobold inventor)
Patrick Rothfuss Kerrek
(human paladin)
N/A
Noelle Stevenson Tova
(dwarf/werebear blood hunter)
N/A
Jon Heder Lionel "Chod" Gayheart
(half-orc bard/barbarian)
N/A
Darin De Paul Ethrid "Sprigg" Brokenbranch
(gnome rogue)
N/A
Joe Manganiello Arkhan the Cruel
(red dragonborn paladin/barbarian)
N/A
Khary Payton N/A Shakäste
(human cleric)
Mark Hulmes N/A Calianna
(half-elf sorcerer, 1/10 black dragon)
Ashly Burch N/A Keg
(dwarven fighter)
Sumalee Montano N/A Nila
(firbolg druid)
Deborah Ann Woll N/A Twiggy
(forest gnome rogue)
Mica Burton N/A Reani
(aasimar druid)

BackgroundEdit

Critical Role is a creator-owned[19] streaming show where the cast play an ongoing Dungeons & Dragons campaign, with Matthew Mercer serving as the show's Dungeon Master for the seven other cast members.

The group's first campaign began two years prior to the start of the series as a one-off, simplified Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition game for Liam O'Brien's birthday.[20][21] The players enjoyed this initial game so much that they continued to play while switching to Pathfinder.[22][23][24][25] After Felicia Day heard about the private home game from Ashley Johnson, she approached the group about playing it in a live-streamed format for Geek & Sundry.[23][25] In order to streamline gameplay for the show, the game's characters were converted from Pathfinder to Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition before the web series began airing on March 12, 2015.[6][26]

In June 2018, Critical Role launched its own Twitch and YouTube channels, with cast member Marisha Ray being announced as the creative director of the franchise. Critical Role then started to self-produce new shows and content which did not air on Geek & Sundry's channels.[27] The sets for Critical Role and Talks Machina moved from Legendary Digital Network's studios to Critical Role's own studios in July 2018.[1] In February 2019, Critical Role's amicable split from Geek & Sundry and Legendary Digital Networks was completed, with live broadcasts of their shows and VODs airing exclusively on Critical Role's channels. "Legacy episodes" (the entirety of Campaign 1, the first 51 episodes of Campaign 2, as well as the first 100 episodes of official discussion show Talks Machina) remain available in Geek & Sundry's archives on YouTube and Twitch.[28]

FormatEdit

Critical Role is a mixture of a weekly show and a modern gaming Twitch stream.[24] Each episode usually runs for 3 to 6 hours[29][30] and is streamed live on Critical Role's Twitch channel on almost every Thursday, with possible breaks from the show being announced at least one week prior to the broadcast. The VOD is made available for subscribers of Critical Role's Twitch channel immediately after airing, before being uploaded to Critical Role's YouTube channel the following Monday, where it can be watched for free.[31][28]

Critical Role has played with a live theater audience six times: the first for episode 60, Heredity and Hats, held on July 14, 2016, at the Landmark Theatre in Los Angeles;[32] the second for episode 62, Uninviting Waters, held on August 6, 2016, at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis;[33] the third for episode 109, The Ominous March, held on August 18, 2017, at the Old National Centre in Indianapolis;[34] the fourth for episode 29 of the second campaign, The Stalking Nightmare, held on August 3, 2018, at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis;[35] the fifth for episode 37 of the second campaign, Dangerous Liaisons, held on October 4, 2018, at the United Palace Theatre in New York;[36] and the sixth for a one-shot game called Vox Machina: The Search for Grog, held on January 19, 2019, at The Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles.[37]

A number of the streams have also served as a donation drive to support nonprofit organizations such as St Jude, 826LA, Extra Life, and Doctors Without Borders.[38]

ReceptionEdit

Critical responseEdit

As of January 2016, each episode of the show has been watched for more than a million minutes on Twitch, totaling over 37 million minutes watched for the whole series.[22][39] Additionally, the YouTube archived videos have over 17 million views.[40] It has amassed over 68 million views overall.[41] On January 11, 2018, the second campaign's first episode peaked at 135 thousand viewers on Twitch and YouTube, compared to the first campaign finale's 40,000 viewers.[citation needed]

In a January 2016 article, Polygon described Critical Role as a "thoroughly modern" show with a business model that is still developing.[22]

The show has caught the attention of the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, Wizards of the Coast, who discussed it at length on two occasions on their official D&D podcast, along with cast members Matthew Mercer, Marisha Ray, Liam O'Brien, Laura Bailey and former member Orion Acaba.[42][43] In an interview with the online gaming magazine Polygon, lead D&D designer Mike Mearls commented about the show, stating "It was really cool, as a guy who works on Dungeons & Dragons, to open up my Twitch app on my iPad and see Dungeons & Dragons in the first row".[44]

Viewer responses to the show have been overwhelmingly positive,[25] with many fans, nicknamed "Critters",[45] creating content such as fanart, fan fiction, character-inspired music, and fan-created merchandise for the show. Fans also send in many gifts for the cast and crew, resulting in occasional "Critmas" episodes during which the gifts are opened and distributed.[46]

The cast of Critical Role are active participants on sci-fi/comics convention circuits, appearing for panels and signings at San Diego and New York Comic Cons.[23] For the 2015 New York con, "critical rolls" were available from one of the food vendors.[47]

AccoladesEdit

Year Award Category Result Ref
2016 Streamy Awards Gaming Nominated [48]
2018 Streamy Awards Live Streamer Nominated [49]
2019 Webby Awards Video Series & Channels - Games Won (Webby Award & People's Voice) [50]
2019 Shorty Awards Games Won (Finalist & Audience Honor) [51]

Spin-offsEdit

There are a number of spin-off shows and podcasts, all of which are produced by the Critical Role studio.

Various third-party, licensed works have been released since Critical Role began in 2015.

ShowsEdit

The Critical Role studio produces several shows, some of which are directly related to the original Critical Role series.

One-shotsEdit

Instead of an episode in the main storyline, the series will occasionally feature a one-shot game - a self-contained story that can be told within the time constraints of one episode (or three to four hours of gameplay). A one-shot could be described as the RPG equivalent to a short story.

Some of the Critical Role one-shots are canonical parts of the storylines that play out in one of the campaigns, covering events that occur outside the time frame of the respective campaign, but still feature some of the campaign's main characters. Other one-shots only have a tangential relationship to the campaigns, as they are set in the world of Exandria, but feature a different cast of characters, often in smaller scale adventures that may or may not be canon. There are also one-shots that have no connection with the campaigns or the world of Exandria at all.[52] Especially for the latter two types of one-shots, it is not uncommon that several guest players replace absent cast members.

Critical Role aired several one-shots in the hiatus between Campaign one and Campaign two. Also, during the runtime of a campaign, the series will occasionally air (sometimes prerecorded) one-shots as replacements for regular episodes, for example on Thursdays on which multiple cast members are unavailable due to other work commitments. Sometimes one-shots are aired as additional content, for example as rewards for the fans donating money to a charity the cast promoted. Not all Critical Role one-shots use the Dungeons & Dragons game system, as some are based on different, sometimes one-page, RPG games. Also, in many one-shots, other cast members take over the role of Dungeon Master or game master (GM) from Matthew Mercer. As of October 2019, over 25 one-shots have aired, and every cast member - with the exception of Ashley Johnson - has taken up the duties of DMing or GMing at least once.

Several of Critical Role's one shots have been sponsored. One-shot sponsors have included Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Hearthstone, and Call of Cthulhu. In 2019, a one-shot was sponsored by Wendy's to promote the Feast of Legends RPG system[53] – a tongue-in-cheek RPG system developed by Wendy's. However, after some fans were offended, the Critical Role team chose to take down the VOD,[53] and Tweeted that they had donated that week's sponsorship profits to the Farm Worker Justice organization.[54]

Talks MachinaEdit

Talks Machina airs live on Critical Role's Twitch channel at 18:45 PT on the Tuesday following each new Critical Role episode. It is an aftershow hosted by Brian W. Foster,[55] a close friend of the cast. On each Talks Machina episode, Foster and a few (usually two) cast members discuss the most recent installment of Critical Role. A few days before a new episode of Talks Machina, the cast members who will be present as guests on the respective episode are announced, and fans can submit questions which they want these cast members to answer. Some questions are picked out by the Talks Machina crew and answered on-air by the cast, allowing the fans to gain some more insight on in-game events, decisions, or character development.

Talks Machina also runs weekly competitions for fan content, such as "fan art of the week" and "cosplay of the week". The winners are announced in special segments that act as interludes during the show. Prizes for the winners of these competitions include Critical Role merchandise, Wyrmwood products, or special merchandise from the respective episode's sponsor.

The first 100 episodes of Talks Machina were broadcast on Geek & Sundry's channels and are available via a playlist on Critical Role's website. Beginning in February 2019, and coinciding with Critical Role's split from Geek & Sundry, new episodes began airing on Critical Role's Twitch channel. The VODs are available to Twitch subscribers immediately after the initial broadcast, and are also uploaded to YouTube on the following Thursday.

Critical RecapEdit

Hosted by Critical Role production coordinator Dani Carr, Critical Recap quickly summarizes the events of the previous week's episode of Critical Role.[56] Starting with Episode 11 of the second campaign, Critical Recap aired on the Geek & Sundry Twitch channel before the Critical Role live stream on Thursdays. After Critical Role's split from Geek & Sundry, new episodes of Critical Recap are now premiering on Critical Role's YouTube channel every Tuesday, while a rebroadcast airs on the Critical Role Twitch channel immediately before the Critical Role live stream on Thursdays.

Handbooker HelperEdit

Handbooker Helper is a to-camera, weekly show that aims to explain the basics of playing Dungeons & Dragons.[57] The show's name is a parody of Hamburger Helper and a reference to the Player's Handbook. Though not a requirement to watch, the Critical Role campaigns are often alluded to through inside jokes and other meta-references.

The first episode of Handbooker Helper dealt with the different types of dice the player can expect to come across.[58] Later episodes cover aspects of Dungeons & Dragons such as character quick builds, and rolling with advantage.[58]

Animated seriesEdit

On March 4, 2019, the cast launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a 22-minute animation called Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina Animated Special.[59] The animated story will be set just before the streaming portion of the campaign started – when the players were around level seven – during a time when, canonically, there is an in-game period of roughly six months when the (then eight) members of Vox Machina were not all together at the same time. For a single 22-minute animated short, fulfilling the other campaign rewards, and the fees associated with a crowdfunding campaign; the cast projected a cost of US$750,000. Not knowing how long this would take to raise, the campaign length was set at 45 days.

Within an hour of launch, however, the Kickstarter had reached more than $1,000,000.[60] At the end of the first full day, all of the announced stretch goals had been unlocked, and the total had reached more than $4.3 million.[61] With four 22-minute episodes funded in the first 24 hours,[61] additional stretch goals were added, expanding the project into an animated series. The first two episodes would cover the pre-stream story arc. The subsequent episodes would adapt the Briarwoods' arc, also from the Vox Machina campaign. By March 18, 2019, eight 22-minute episodes had been funded.[62] Finally, on April 4, 2019, the last published stretch goal of $8.8 million was reached during the airing of episode 57 of Campaign 2, pushing the total length of the animated series to ten episodes. A "secret" $10M stretch goal of Travis Willingham being filmed going around a haunted house was reached April 16.[63] The final total raised by the Kickstarter when it closed on April 19, 2019, was $11.3M.[64] When the campaign closed, it was one of the most quickly funded in Kickstarter history, and was the most funded Kickstarter for TV and film projects.[65][66]

The cast will reprise their respective Vox Machina roles, with the exception of Orion Acaba.[67] The animated series will be written by Jennifer Muro, and animated by Titmouse, Inc.[60] The project is slated for release in late 2020. In November 2019, Amazon Prime Video announced that they had acquired the streaming rights to The Legend of Vox Machina, and had commissioned 14 additional episodes (two additional episodes for season 1 and a second season of 12 episodes).[68] An update posted to the Kickstarter campaign assured backers they would have access to the first season.[69]

ComicsEdit

Geek & Sundry produced a six-panel series of webcomics weekly from November to December 2015 that describes a "Winter's Crest Festival" that occurred pre-series. The webcomics are written by cast members Marisha Ray and Taliesin Jaffe, and feature artwork by Wendy Sullivan Green.[70]

On July 22, 2017, at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con, a comic book that tells the tales of the beginning of Vox Machina pre-stream and pre-game was announced.[71][72][73] It is written by Matthew Colville, drawn by Olivia Samson (a long-time member of the Critical Role community), and colored and lettered by Chris Northrop.[74] It was scheduled to be released before the end of 2017.[75] On September 6, 2017, Geek & Sundry announced that they partnered with Dark Horse Comics for the comic book. They also revealed the cover for the first digital issue by Deborah Hauber and release dates. It was announced to be available digitally beginning September 20, with a physical graphic anthology to follow in Spring 2018.[76] The first digital issue was released on September 20, 2017.[77][78][79] A trade paperback Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins series I was announced on March 11, 2019, and is due to be released on October 15, 2019.[80]

On March 11, 2019, a second set of six comic books was announced continuing the Vox Machina Origins stories.[80] Also published by Dark Horse Comics, Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins series II is written by Jody Houser, drawn by Olivia Samson, colored by MSASSYK, and lettered by Ariana Maher. Issue one will release on July 10, 2019.[80]

Campaign setting booksEdit

On August 8, 2016, Green Ronin Publishing announced that it had signed a licensing agreement with Geek & Sundry to release roleplaying game sourcebooks based on Critical Role. The announcement was made by Chris Pramas, president of Green Ronin and Ryan Copple, General Manager of Geek & Sundry, live on the 62nd episode, Uninviting Waters, at Gen Con 2016.[81] All books in the series will use the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition rules. The books will be written by Matthew Mercer and will be set in the world of Exandria.

The first book, titled Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, is set on the continent of Tal'Dorei where most of Vox Machina's adventures take place.[82] The hardback edition was released at Gen Con 2017 on August 17, 2017,[83] while the PDF version was released on July 17, 2017.[84][85] On July 14, 2017, Green Ronin revealed the cover by Aaron Riley of Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting on Twitter.[86]

PodcastsEdit

On the 100th episode of Critical Role, the launch of the Critical Role podcast was announced: an audio version of the game sessions.[41][87] It is available on iTunes, Google Play Music, and at the Geek & Sundry website.[88]

The first campaign's podcast episodes were released in batches of 10-15, between June 8, 2017,[41] and January 8, 2018.[89] Since the start of the second campaign, the podcast episodes have been released on the following Thursday.[90]

Talks Machina has been available in a podcast format since episode 101. Like the podcast version of Critical Role; there is a week's delay between the broadcast of Talks Machina on Twitch, and the corresponding podcast episode's release.[91]

Art booksEdit

On August 18, 2017, at a live show in Indianapolis, a Critical Role art book titled The Chronicles of Exandria Vol. I: The Tale of Vox Machina was announced. It includes backstories for Vox Machina, as well as some of the NPCs. It features artwork from the community.[92] On August 3, 2018, was announced.[93] The Chronicles of Exandria Vol. II: The Legend of Vox Machina, a sequel to the first art book, was released November 2018.[94]

The first Mighty Nein art book The Chronicles of Exandria: The Mighty Nein was announced on March 11, 2019.[80] It is expected to be published late 2019.

Video gamesEdit

Obsidian's RPG Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire received a free DLC entitled Critical Role Pack on launch day, adding additional character voices and portraits. The set corresponds with eight characters from the first campaign, making up the bulk of Vox Machina.[95][96] Additionally, the characters Arkhan the Cruel and Spurt the Kobold appear as playable characters in Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms. Arkhan's inclusion was announced on Talks Machina as part of a sponsorship deal.[97][98]

Licensed miniature figuresEdit

In July 2018, Steamforged Games (SFG) raised approx $1.2M in a Kickstarter campaign for a collection of licensed miniature figures based on player characters (PCs) and non-player characters (NPCs) from both Critical Role campaigns.[99] The Kickstarter campaign included miniatures of both Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein, and exclusive miniatures of Taryon Darrington, Doty, Pumat Prime, and three Pumat Sols.[100] Because Caduceus was not part of the Mighty Nein until after the SFG Kickstarter campaign finished he is not included in the Mighty Nein set of figures.[101]

In a February 2019 update, backers were informed that the expected March 2019 fulfilment date would be missed, as quality control samples had failed to meet both SFG's and the Critical Role cast's standards.[102] The miniatures began shipping to backers June 2019,[103] and have since been added to the Critical Role online stores.

A Caduceus miniature was announced as part of SFG's coninuing "Vault" line of Critical Role miniature figures in July 2019.[101] The Vault line are limited edition figures, which are produced in resin at lower volumes than the PVC figures in the Kickstarter campaign.[104]

Charity involvementEdit

On October 16, 2015, the Extra Life fundraiser episode raised over $20,000 for the Children's Miracle Network during the broadcast.[105] This charity episode included a reappearance of the Critical Rejects, as well as three members of the Critical Role cast, Liam O'Brien, Marisha Ray, and Orion Acaba.

During the show, viewers are invited to donate money to 826LA, which is later provided in a lump sum to the charity.[106] Donation amounts and messages appear live on the stream, and on earlier episodes, a list of donors was read at the end of each session. During Geek & Sundry's 2015 Extra Life fundraiser, a special interactive episode was broadcast. This episode alone brought in over $20,000 for the Children's Miracle Network, and the event as a whole raised over $76,000. In late November 2015, Geek & Sundry's Twitch channel held a special Doctors Without Borders fundraiser, with nearly half of the $10,000 goal being raised during the 4-hour Critical Role broadcast. In December 2015, the cast released a "Critter's Guide to Critmas" in response to the flood of gifts they were receiving from fans, asking them to instead donate to a variety of charities, with a different cast member sponsoring each charity.[107]

In Spring 2018, the show held a charity drive for 826 LA which resulted in community members donating over $50,000, which was matched by a generous community member. This charity drive resulted in some prizes being unlocked for the community, such as discount codes for D&D Beyond and Wyrmwood Gaming, a second Fireside Chat with Matt Mercer, and a second Honey Heist run by Marisha Ray.[45]

The Critical Role studio and Stephen Colbert teamed up for Red Nose Day for a special one-on-one adventure with Mathew Mercer as Dungeon Master that aired on May 23, 2019. Fans were able to donate to the cause and vote for elements of the adventure such as Colbert's companion, his class, his legendary weapon, and the villain. In the one-shot campaign, Colbert played a half-elf bard named Capo, and had a bee named Eric as a companion. The event raised $117,176.20 for the charity.[108][109][110][111][112]

Critical Role company and studioEdit

The Critical Role company, Critical Role Productions LLC, was incorporated in 2015.[113]

As of 2019, Travis Willingham serves as chief executive officer,[2] Matthew Mercer as chief creative officer,[50] Marisha Ray as creative director,[114] Ed Lopez as chief operating officer,[50] Rachel Romero as senior vice president of marketing,[50] and Ben Van Der Fluit as vice president of business development.[50]

The company moved to their own studio space in 2018,[1] and started putting out new shows on their own Twitch and YouTube channels. The amicable split from Legendary Digital Networks was completed in early 2019,[28] at which point Critical Role studio took over production responsibility of the Critical Role and Talks Machina shows.

ProductionsEdit

The company produces and broadcasts the following shows:

  • Critical Role and podcast
  • Talks Machina and podcast
  • Critical Recap
  • Between the Sheets – Brian W. Foster interviews a different guest each episode. Non-Critical Role guests have included Logic and Amanda Palmer.
  • Handbooker Helper
  • All Work No Play and podcast – Liam O'Brien and Sam Riegel catch up over a drink and try a new activity each episode. The show was developed from Liam and Sam's original AWNP podcast (2012-2017), which predates the home game that would become Critical Role.
  • MAME Drop – Taliesin Jaffe and guest(s) play old-school arcade games on the studio's MAME cabinet.
  • Pub Draw – Marisha Ray is taught how to improve her drawing by comic book artist, and Critter, Babs Tarr.
  • Travis Willingham's Yeehaw Game Ranch – Travis Willingham and Brian W. Foster play video games.
  • #EverythingIsContent – a show of no fixed format. Several of the episodes have had sponsored content. The show can be something of a testbed for the studio too; with Pub Draw and MAME Drop originally piloted as episodes of #EverythingIsContent.
  • UnDeadwood – A four-part series in which Brian W. Foster GMs a game based on the HBO series Deadwood, using the Deadlands RPG system.
  • Mini Primetime – A show hosted by Will Friedle on how to improve painting techniques, specifically for Dungeons and Dragons miniatures.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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