…and I gather it’s kind of a big deal. There’s quite a few “Actual Play” streams following the same format, and I’ve seen a few posts by different people commenting on how it brought a large influx of new players to the RPG hobby in general and to D&D in particular.
The tone of these posts has varied. A couple were all about how the show sets somewhat unrealistic expectations on new players because the cast and game are so awesome. One, by a genuine scion of the Old School, went the other way and lamented that the hobby was truly damned if Critical Role is what Kids These Days consider a good game1.
I guess I’m somewhere in the middle? I’ve been at this long enough to know every group is going to have its own style, and I’ve been burned by enough flame wars to accept that a given style isn’t bad because it’s different from mine.
For example, I’ve come to accept that uncut videos of 5-hour game sessions aren’t my preferred medium for following other people’s games. Give me a well-written and well-summarized text report any day of the week! Still, the videos I did watch did provide me with at least one take-away I can use in my own games: do the voices!
Sure, the Critical Role group is entirely composed of trained voice actors, but even if you’re not one of them you can still add a little something to every NPC. Perhaps a simple but distinctive mannerism, or a slight change in pitch. Tiny changes that anyone can do and which might be enough to make your characters more memorable. I used to do that a lot more in the past, and now that I see how effective it can be for people on the receiving end I’m going to start doing it again.
If you’re a player, then you can do the same for your own PC. At the very least it will help others to know when you’re speaking in and out of character.
Watching the videos themselves is kinda fun: you can see that this is a well-oiled group that has been playing for a while. They obviously enjoy each other’s company and are very much into the game. Watching them in action sometimes kinda makes me want to join the group, impossible though it might be. I don’t often get to be a player.
I get why people say it feels railroaded, though I don’t necessarily agree with them. You’re watching a full game happen but have neither any input on how it develops, nor any access to the GM’s notes. There’s no real way to know how much material2 goes unused, nor how much is created between sessions or improvised on the spot in response to player’s decisions.
Of course, my inner grognard can’t help but notice that while Matt Mercer is very skilled, he does have a different style from mine. I can’t help but think there are a few things I would do differently if I was in his position.
The first is that when a PC attacks an enemy he describes everything himself, from the PC’s actions to the monster’s reaction. The only exception seems to be when a PC takes down a boss. Years of playing Exalted have hardwired me to always let players describe their own actions, thankyouverymuch.
The second is that he interprets every hit in combat as resulting in physical wounds, which leads to some quite gory descriptions at times. Sometimes I actually start to pity some of the high-HP monsters they fight. I like systems such as GURPS or Dragon Heresy because they make a clearer distinction about what’s a wound and what isn’t.
There’s a third thing, but you didn’t pass your Perception check for this paragraph so you don’t see it.
In the end I guess I’ll probably resort to things like this recap site when I want to keep up with the Critical Role campaign. It’s not quite the same thing, but it does the job of conveying what happened in a session a lot faster.