The popular tabletop roleplaying game of Dungeons and Dragons has changed much over the years, to the point where it’s even separated into various versions referred to as “Editions”. However, some things have managed to stay the same the whole way through, such as it being a great adventure for you and your friends to embark on full of magic and wonder. 

In D&D, there are two main roles between those playing, “The Dungeon Master” and “The Players”. The Dungeon Master takes the role of the storyteller, planning out the story, describing the scenes, and taking control of the NPC’s and monsters. The Players, on the other hand, are the main driving force behind the action, as well as the direction the story takes. Whilst The Dungeon Master may lay down the world and story, The Players ultimately decide where they will go, leading to situations that can be weird and wonderful, or even dire and drastic. 

Critical Role is a series in which “A bunch of us nerdy-ass voice-actors sit around and play Dungeons & Dragons”, a quote said near the beginning of each episode, which perfectly sums up the atmosphere of the show. Matthew Mercer, the voice of many popular characters, such as Overwatch’s Cassidy, plays the role of The Dungeon Master, creating a beautiful world for his friends to experience adventures in. The cast of the show is all equally famous voice actors, who just happen to be a group of close friends, Marisha Ray, Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brien, Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham, Sam Riegel, and Taliesin Jaffe. Each playing equally captivating roles throughout the show’s history, they have time and time again managed to pull in a crowd averaging in the several tens of thousands, and that’s just live on the streaming platform Twitch, each episode ranging in millions of views when they get released on YouTube. 

But does it make a good introduction to the game of D&D? 

This is the critical question. Many people have their first experience with D&D through these types of shows and Critical Role is hardly the only one, though it is the most well-known, so a lot of fans of the game have some concerns about whether or not these shows might be a worse introduction to the game than simply playing it. And, to be entirely honest, it’s not a concern without merit. 

Critical Role is, when it comes to it, a game between friends, but it can’t be denied that it is a friendly group of professionals and, while this is great for the environment that it can provide both them and the viewers, it does cause some genuine issues, many of which it can be hard to notice. 

The problem arises from one of the best parts of the show. That they are all voice actors. Great ones at that. This may not seem like a problem, but it can be. It can give people an unrealistic standard of how a normal game between their own friends would be. And, when someone doesn’t realize it, they might become disappointed with themselves and their friends. There’s even something aptly named the “Matt Mercer Effect” which describes the unrealistic expectation that their experience will be to a similar standard to the show, which comes from both the players’ ability and Mercer’s amazing DMing skills being far above the norm. 

But I believe that the pros far outweigh the cons. I think that, so long as the watcher doesn’t become delusional when they try to play themselves, that it is the perfect introduction. 

Whilst D&D, like all games, has many rules that come with it, Wizards of the Coast, the current creators of D&D, actively encourage making your own rules, referred to as “Homebrewing”, and even outright ignoring the official rules, if it enriches your game. In Critical Role, they do exactly this. They are full of homebrewed classes and races for the players to embrace and work off of. They make their own rules to improve their experience. They pick and choose the rules that make them have the most fun, and I think this is a great message to send new viewers. 

When it comes down to it, I feel that the essence of D&D is about having a fun time with your friends, a sentiment I feel most people who play it would agree with and, at its core, I feel that Critical Role embodies this with passion. In truth, you can see in each and every episode just how much every member is engaged in the story they are creating together, becoming truly immersed in the roles they play, sometimes even speaking in their characters’ voices by accident. 

So, to answer the question of “Does Critical Role serves as a good introduction to D&D?” I would say: Yes. But as always it is a matter of opinion. So, you should make your own conclusion, but more than anything, I would recommend watching the show yourself, as even if you never want to play D&D, or even if you think it’s a bad introduction, it’s an amazing show full of tension and hilarity alike. 

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