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D&D General Critical Role: Overrated, Underrated, or Goldilocks?

KahlessNestor

Adventurer
Basically, I feel like the hyperfocus of the argument on 'they are performing' thing is being used to set them out as outliers and invalidate their play style as not a 'real' playstyle.
But they ARE outliers. Does your home game have 300,000 live passive viewers (number from last episode of Campaign 1) and however many later viewers on YouTube and Twitch VOD? Do they pick over every ruling or character or plot decision? Tearing into you because of your characterization, like Marisa dealt with in Campaign 1? Do you have the entire internet speculating on why you parted ways with a player?

The performance aspect of the show has always been there from the beginning. Does it make it a "not real" playstyle? Not really, but it does make it very different from a home game.

And the cast have admitted as much. They actually CHANGED GAME SYSTEMS to make it easier. It also made it more popular and profitable. They meet weekly for 4 hours instead of every couple of months for 8 hours. People complain about watching a 4 hour episode. Imagine sitting for an 8 hour one. In the home game, they lounged around in PJs and munched on brunch. They got up freely from a cramped kitchen table to get mimosas. The cast have all commented on this, and you can see some of the pre-steam home video of this.

Some of the home game carried over to the stream. Early on, they ordered pizza and ate on camera. They were still a bit cramped, though they did have more tablespace. But that all soon went away when they got out of the Geek and Sundry "playroom" set to a real, dedicated D&D set. They have a SET. This is more than just mood lighting and music. Maybe the closest comparable would be Joe Mangienello's personal D&D basement. So none of that stuff happens now. They don't really eat on set anymore. They are obscenely careful with disguising the fact they are drinking Starbucks or a Coke. They can't just go and sing a song from the radio because it fits in the moment. No one is in pajamas, sans makeup. They often wear licensed apparel. Sam runs his t-shirt and flask gags.

And while I still think the primary focus of the cast is their own fun and enjoyment of the game, the fact they are performers means that a lot of their fun comes from the performance for the audience, and not just their fellow players. They have admitted as such about the live shows. If you watch their live shows, you can viscerally feel that the energy level of the players is like 150%. It's definitely ratcheted way up.

So yes, it's an outlier. It isn't like other home games. But it is D&D. Learn from it. But no one should be setting their bar to it.
 

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TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I'm unsure if we're still talking about how much you can learn from Critical Role as a DM or something else, but that's the part of the discussion that I participated in in the other threads.

1. I saw Lewis Hamilton win an F1 Championship. I drive a Toyota Camry at home. Therefore, I do the exact same thing as Lewis Hamilton, because the fundamental nature of the Camry and the F1 car is the same.
That analogy does not represent how I perceive it. Everything you highlighted in your original post was right. They are professional performers, they do play in a different context (better equipment, studio, etc), they do play to create entertainment, they absolutely are more disciplined than most home players. That's all true. And that's why it would be foolish to expect a group to behave or work in the same way that Critical Role does.

But, in one of the previous thread, I argued that I learned a ton from watching Matt Mercer. My analogy would be closer to: I saw a professional painter paint something on YouTube, I don't have the same equipment, I'm not as good as him, I'm not painting for an audience on YouTube, but I saw him do this interesting flick with his brush, or mix two colors I didn't think would do well together. I try that on my own, and sometimes it doesn't really work, but sometimes it does and I learned something!

The comparison that I used was there, for me, learning from Critical Role was the same as when I can observe another "amateur" DM run his game, or on the few occasions I was a player and not the DM. The way Dungeon Masters run their games is scarily different from table to table, and every time I watch one, no matter the differences (different demographic, different type of player, different edition, group that's been playing together for 30 years), I learn something.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
That analogy does not represent how I perceive it.

"People seem much more interested in taking analogies apart, identifying what doesn’t work, and discarding them rather than — more generously and constructively IMO — using them as the author intended to better understand the subject matter. The perfect metaphor doesn’t exist because then it wouldn’t be a metaphor."

To the extent people keep ascribing positions to me that I do not hold, such as "You are forever barred from learning anything from Critical Role," I will simply point out that this is both annoying and frustrating.

A few posts before this, @OB1 did the same thing by demanding that I answer a whole bunch of leading questions (and I wish I was making this up) and ended by asking:
And even if that is what you believe, if you enjoy something that you see done on CritRole and bring that to your game, is that somehow wrong?

To which I have already responded:
Of course not. That's a profoundly weird thing to ask.

This whole experience has taught me one valuable lesson- I might have the utmost respect for the amazing talents of the people who make Critical Role, but ... boy, fans suck. So hard. So very very hard.

I would have been better off discussing Last Jedi or the relative merits of Pokemon or maybe just have a reasonable discussion about whether or not Teslas are good.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
...
I would have been better off discussing Last Jedi or the relative merits of Pokemon or maybe just have a reasonable discussion about whether or not Teslas are good.

It should be taken as it's own movie, not the fanflick movie imagined in your head. Why would anyone have an issue with forced servitude? No.

You're welcome. ;)
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
But they ARE outliers. Does your home game have 300,000 live passive viewers (number from last episode of Campaign 1) and however many later viewers on YouTube and Twitch VOD? Do they pick over every ruling or character or plot decision? Tearing into you because of your characterization, like Marisa dealt with in Campaign 1? Do you have the entire internet speculating on why you parted ways with a player?

The performance aspect of the show has always been there from the beginning. Does it make it a "not real" playstyle? Not really, but it does make it very different from a home game.

And the cast have admitted as much. They actually CHANGED GAME SYSTEMS to make it easier. It also made it more popular and profitable. They meet weekly for 4 hours instead of every couple of months for 8 hours. People complain about watching a 4 hour episode. Imagine sitting for an 8 hour one. In the home game, they lounged around in PJs and munched on brunch. They got up freely from a cramped kitchen table to get mimosas. The cast have all commented on this, and you can see some of the pre-steam home video of this.

Some of the home game carried over to the stream. Early on, they ordered pizza and ate on camera. They were still a bit cramped, though they did have more tablespace. But that all soon went away when they got out of the Geek and Sundry "playroom" set to a real, dedicated D&D set. They have a SET. This is more than just mood lighting and music. Maybe the closest comparable would be Joe Mangienello's personal D&D basement. So none of that stuff happens now. They don't really eat on set anymore. They are obscenely careful with disguising the fact they are drinking Starbucks or a Coke. They can't just go and sing a song from the radio because it fits in the moment. No one is in pajamas, sans makeup. They often wear licensed apparel. Sam runs his t-shirt and flask gags.

And while I still think the primary focus of the cast is their own fun and enjoyment of the game, the fact they are performers means that a lot of their fun comes from the performance for the audience, and not just their fellow players. They have admitted as such about the live shows. If you watch their live shows, you can viscerally feel that the energy level of the players is like 150%. It's definitely ratcheted way up.

So yes, it's an outlier. It isn't like other home games. But it is D&D. Learn from it. But no one should be setting their bar to it.
No one should be judging their game based on anyone else's game period. Different groups will have different play styles and capabilities, embrace your own.

Other than that, I don't think anyone is saying that they haven't made some modifications due to streaming, it's a matter of scale. For example they may not eat meals during game, but they still snack. It's more that if you say that it's primarily a performance piece it feels like you're saying it's somehow phony whether that is the intention or not. Making concessions to having an audience (why does having a nice set matter again?) does not necessarily change the very nature of their game.

Take wrestling as an analogy. We all presumably know that professional wrestling is different from what you'll see at the Olympics. The WWE is all about entertainment. You can counter that by saying that they really are still doing dangerous moves, live action stunts, but we all know that the motivations and goal is entertainment and that everything is just a choreographed show with predetermined results.

On the other hand, I can say that Olympic level wrestling is different from high school wrestling, or the wrestling kids sometimes do. Which is true. But while that Olympic level wrestling may look different from that high school gymnasium or mom's basement may well be very different, it is still all wrestling.

They hyperfocus on performance, to me, feels like comparing the wrestling matches we had in gym class* to WWE wrestling. I understand that is probably not the intent or meaning, but it is the message perceived.

P.S. I feel sorry for anyone in the public eye that actually cares what anonymous randos have to say about them. Especially for a stream that goes out of it's way to feel inclusive.

*I really hope they don't do that any more, or that at the least it's not compulsory.
 


TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
This whole experience has taught me one valuable lesson- I might have the utmost respect for the amazing talents of the people who make Critical Role, but ... boy, fans suck. So hard. So very very hard.
I don't consider myself a fan.

"People seem much more interested in taking analogies apart, identifying what doesn’t work, and discarding them rather than — more generously and constructively IMO — using them as the author intended to better understand the subject matter. The perfect metaphor doesn’t exist because then it wouldn’t be a metaphor."

To the extent people keep ascribing positions to me that I do not hold, such as "You are forever barred from learning anything from Critical Role," I will simply point out that this is both annoying and frustrating.
You seem to be taking my post much more negatively than it is. I said that I agreed with most of what you've written.

You've used an analogy, which is not wrong, but it doesn't describe my experience. I did not take your analogy apart, I simply stated it doesn't reflect my experience. I'm offering you one in return to help you understand where I'm coming from.

And I never said that you said that someone couldn't learn anything. But it seems obvious that we have different views when it comes to the degree or type of learning that one can experience while watching it. I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm telling you how my experience was different.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
And I never said that you said that someone couldn't learn anything. But it seems obvious that we have different views when it comes to the degree or type of learning that one can experience while watching it. I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm telling you how my experience was different.

That's not quite it, either. Let me quote the end of my OP, and elaborate given the direction of the thread-

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I will say this- I am not Matt Mercer. I cannot do what he does. I could not run this game; I do not have the time, and I do not have the group. As far as I am concerned, Critical Role might as well be magic. It is amazing improv entertainment built off of D&D, but it is as similar to my home game as my making breakfast at home is to a dinner at Major Domo in Las Vegas.

First, the reference to "might as well be magic" is a specific allusion to a Mithcell & Webb skit previously discussed. But to unpack this-

Imagine you're eating at Majordomo (either LA or Las Vegas- but we'll David Chang's take on a modern steak house in Vegas). There are a lot of things you could learn there-
Maybe you try a wine that you like.
Or you never had chili with crab, and you'd like to make that at home.
Or perhaps, for whatever reason, you've never had gochuang, and after tasting it on rice, you go and buy some to make your dishes, well, palatable.

In other words, you can enjoy the experience and you can also learn! Maybe you even get some of his recipes and cookbooks and try making some stuff at home.

...and yet, you will be unlikely to recreate that full experience. Because it is an experience. You likely don't have the cooking chops of the amazing people working in the kitchen (sorry, it's not David Chang). You likely don't have a full team to prepare the meal. You likely don't have all the bells and whistles to increase the ambiance. Heck, you might not even have the necessary things in your kitchen. It's not that you can't pick up tips and things to try, but it's a much healthier attitude to remember that ... there's a lot going on.

Same here. That's all. There is a lot of work that goes into making things look effortless. And not everything you see could, or should, be used in your homegame.

All of that said, I think it might be an interesting discussion to determine the ways in which streaming D&D as entertainment would cause certain playstyles and aspects to be emphasized over others simply because they are more entertaining to audiences ...

But after all of this? I have approximately the same desire to approach that topic as I would an Elon Musk fan website. I wouldn't touch that with someone else's 10' pole.
 

If we're still doing analogies...

I think CR (or video streams of gaming in general) is kinda the fashion magazine of D&D. For people who don't know much about fashion, picking up a few issues and reading the articles is a good introduction to learn more about it. For people who are into fashion, reading magazines occasionally is a good way to keep up to date with current trends in the industry. And there's nothing wrong with picking up a few ideas, brand recommendations, or style tips from a fashion magazine. But it's dangerous to pick up a fashion magazine and start trying to look exactly like the models inside. That starts off with drastically overspending on accessories, and in extreme cases can culminate in body dysmorphia (aka The Real Life Mercer Effect). Read/watch responsibly.

And on a personal note, while I understand the appeal of fashion magazines and will occasionally flip through one when they're available, I just can't find it in myself to read a whole one cover to cover.
 

jgsugden

Legend
This thread just makes me sad that so many people don't believe you can have an immersive game at home. That is all most of us are saying when we say we have games similar to Critical Role at home - that people are really role playing and into the story aspects of the game.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This thread just makes me sad that so many people don't believe you can have an immersive game at home.
I don’t think anyone here believes that.
That is all most of us are saying when we say we have games similar to Critical Role at home - that people are really role playing and into the story aspects of the game.
If that’s all you’re saying, you should have no objection to the statement that what the Critical Role cast does is impacted by the fact that they have an audience.
 

Iry

Hero
Does it make a difference if the way they behave, while being watched, is similar to the way your own table behaves, while not being watched?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Does it make a difference if the way they behave, while being watched, is similar to the way your own table behaves, while not being watched?
Similar to =/= the same as. And, again, these are people who went to grad school to learn to put on an entertaining performance while making it look natural. Saying what they do while performing is significantly similar to what you do while not performing is... Well it's a bit like believing the stage magician actually just pulled a rabbit out of his hat. It sure does look like he did.
 


wicked cool

Adventurer
the great thing about critical role is that its not hard to imagine any of us being at that game table. You cant compare that to the indy 500, the soccer match or even the world tour of poker. Many of us know the rules better than some of them.

Now critical role isnt the only stream and what i have seen is some guest appearances by non voice actors on the show (chris Perkins is one that comes to mind) and some of these guest speakers have been on other streams as well (Realmsmith is a growing channel)

Covid has allowed me to watch this show and some of these players are very good at actually playing the game. Marisha has played a monk and druid better than ive seen others play it and the audience is truly impacted by character deaths.

What many of them do really well is roleplay and i think that frustrates some here. I've seen people (myself included) come to gaming night . They have got their dice and their character etc but then when it comes to interacting with the party/npc its a little tough. Many of us are social introverts so the conversation with the npc at the tavern is in some cases not as polished as Sam's is . their conversations come of as real conversations instead of my character asks the bartender for an ale while Sam has more polish "Veth throws down 2 coppers and says give me the ale from that dirty mug your holding " or something like that
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Similar to =/= the same as. And, again, these are people who went to grad school to learn to put on an entertaining performance while making it look natural. Saying what they do while performing is significantly similar to what you do while not performing is... Well it's a bit like believing the stage magician actually just pulled a rabbit out of his hat. It sure does look like he did.

No two games are alike. If I won a contest and got dwarven forge bits for life, it would not change my game significantly. It doesn't matter if I play in my friend's bedroom, the kitchen table or Buckingham Palace. They are amazing voice actors, but the voices any DM does (or does not do) doesn't really change the content of the game it just changes the cosmetics.

What you seem to imply is that CR is to home games is the same as WWE is to "amateur" wrestling. That even though a big part of the fun for me is getting reactions or making other players laugh by performing my character, my roleplaying is inferior. I don't think it is. I think it's just called playing an immersive game.

They have more bling, more charisma. But to say that just because is very, very good at DMing Matt is unique puts him up on a pedestal. A pedestal he does not want, and one that says to other DMs "don't even bother trying to be this good".

It also implies that they have predetermined beats and story arcs that they have planning sessions for and discussions about. They claim they do not. The one interview show I watched had Travis say that a critical turning point for his PC was done in the moment because it's what Fjord would do.

Yes, they have an audience. I'm sure it feels a bit different. Just like it feels a bit different to play at my kitchen table versus playing in our living room (sadly, we've never gotten an invitation to the palace). I can only imagine what it would feel like ... but for me? I would just be performing and roleplaying for my fellow players like I always have. Maybe I make minor adjustments now and then .... just like I do now.

But I know this is pointless and the response will just be "Actors!" "Paid!" "Audience!". Because somehow that makes it totally different.

P.S. I don't know about the entire cast, but Marisha at least has no formal acting education. She did [EDIT: I said this wrong. My point was that she didn't go past training while in high school; my understanding is that she went from high school to street performer. Or maybe I'm just not awake and people don't literally mean "Graduate Degree".] high school level theater and had jobs like street performer.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
P.S. I don't know about the entire cast, but Marisha at least has no formal acting education. She did high school level theater and had jobs like street performer.

One last time- do you have any idea how denigrating that can be to someone's talents?

She's not a real actor? A real performer? Really?

"Really though, I have always been a fan of discovering characters through body and movement. I have a strong dance background, and was performing at the Actors Theater of Lousiville by the time I was twelve" Source

Her official bio states that she "got her start in theater on the east coast, working and training at companies such as the Actors Theatre of Louisville, American Academy of the Dramatic Arts, Point Park University Conservatory of Performing Arts, and the Governor’s School for the Arts." Source.

That's ... kind of a thing. More than just "high school theater."

She's not an actor? She's not a professional performer? The fact that she was busking for audiences for a while on Hollywood Blvd. makes her less of a professional performer? That she was supporting herself by performing while trying to break into the industry makes her less of a performer? This is weird to me.

"I started dabbling with producing more in college, and when I first moved to LA. I really enjoy writing, and the building process, and decided I didn't want to loose that. The summer of 2008 is when I moved to LA... right in the thick of the writer's strike. After a frustrating few years of barely any auditions, I realized that it didn't have to stop me from creating. However, acting was always a focus." Source.

She has imdb credits dating back to 2004. Source. Maybe not the most expansive of any performer out there, but she's clearly been plugging away for a long time. Like a lot of people in the Business.

I will keep reiterating this- it is bizarre to me that people keep tearing down these talented people.

If this was so easy, then everyone would be doing Critical Role. The fact that Critical Role is so special and beloved means that ... they might just be doing things better than other people can (in terms of D&D as streamed performance).
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
One last time- do you have any idea how denigrating that can be to someone's talents?

She's not a real actor? A real performer? Really?

"Really though, I have always been a fan of discovering characters through body and movement. I have a strong dance background, and was performing at the Actors Theater of Lousiville by the time I was twelve" Source

Her official bio states that she "got her start in theater on the east coast, working and training at companies such as the Actors Theatre of Louisville, American Academy of the Dramatic Arts, Point Park University Conservatory of Performing Arts, and the Governor’s School for the Arts." Source.

That's ... kind of a thing. More than just "high school theater."

She's not an actor? She's not a professional performer? The fact that she was busking for audiences for a while on Hollywood Blvd. makes her less of a professional performer?

"I started dabbling with producing more in college, and when I first moved to LA. I really enjoy writing, and the building process, and decided I didn't want to loose that. The summer of 2008 is when I moved to LA... right in the thick of the writer's strike. After a frustrating few years of barely any auditions, I realized that it didn't have to stop me from creating. However, acting was always a focus." Source.

She has imdb credits dating back to 2004. Source. Maybe not the most expansive of any performer out there, but she's clearly been plugging away for a long time. Like a lot of people in the Business.

I will keep reiterating this- it is bizarre to me that people keep tearing down these talented people.

If this was so easy, then everyone would be doing Critical Role. The fact that Critical Role is so special and beloved means that ... they might just be doing things better than other people can (in terms of D&D as streamed performance).
It says nothing about her talents. From everything I've heard she's incredibly hard working and driven. The fact that she is where she is is not denigrating, it's a testament to her drive and savvy.

I never said what they do is easy. There's a ton of work outside of the game itself that makes CR what it is. That has never, ever, been the issue I have.
 

Iry

Hero
Similar to =/= the same as. And, again, these are people who went to grad school to learn to put on an entertaining performance while making it look natural. Saying what they do while performing is significantly similar to what you do while not performing is... Well it's a bit like believing the stage magician actually just pulled a rabbit out of his hat. It sure does look like he did.
I genuinely don't see them on a pedestal. Certainly they are charismatic people, leveraging their professional skills to improve the performances they put on. But outside of Matt doing Michael Winslow level stuff, and a huge Dwarven Forge budget, I see most of the other players as... definitely above average but not astounding? Liam is the only one I would rate as astounding.

So they are 8/10s for me. And when someone says other players can't be like them, I think back to all the outstanding players I've had the honor of knowing. In some ways, I like the CR team more because they are fallible. They are not godly roleplayers. They are just like the friends I hang out with every week.
 

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