Curmudgeon's Corner: So, what's the deal with Critical Role?

Maestrino

Explorer
My concern is Mercer has the opposite effect. I started DMing when I was 11 because DMing in 1981 meant drawing a dungeon on graph paper, populating it with monsters and treasure, and running my friends through it the next day. That was an easy on-ramp to being a DM. And that ease of entry is the reason why millions of kids under the age of 15 played D&D in the 80s.

Today, the expectations of what a DM should bring to the table is so much higher in terms of preparation, system mastery, story, roleplaying, etc. Prospective new DMs seem extremely intimidated at taking on the task.
That's an interesting take (to me) both as a fan of Critical Role and as a person who relatively recently dove into GMing with very little pre-meditation. In the groups I've played in it has almost exclusively been the older gamers (mid-40s and up) who dislike theater of the mind and prefer having the Dwarven Forge-esque dungeon tiles and pre-fabs and minis and spell effect markers and what-have-you. The younger players seem fine with "OK so there's a grid to judge distances and we have some chess pieces or extra dice or cheetos or candy or whatever to stand in for the monsters. Cool."
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In the groups I've played in it has almost exclusively been the older gamers (mid-40s and up) who dislike theater of the mind and prefer having the Dwarven Forge-esque dungeon tiles and pre-fabs and minis and spell effect markers and what-have-you.
Note, it is the older players who have the disposable income for things like dungeon tiles. If you are poor, you work with graph paper, or go home.
 

Maestrino

Explorer
Note, it is the older players who have the disposable income for things like dungeon tiles. If you are poor, you work with graph paper, or go home.
That's a valid point. But it has always come across as "oh, god, no, attacking a chess piece on a reusable mat is so uninspiring..." rather than being presented as "hey, I splurged because I thought these would be fun."

EDIT - I suppose I should add that I'm nearly 40 and I don't really have a strong opinion about it either way. My wife (same age) actively hates using minis and thinks they're dumb.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That's a valid point. But it has always come across as "oh, god, no, attacking a chess piece on a reusable mat is so uninspiring..." rather than being presented as "hey, I splurged because I thought these would be fun."
Dude, have you never seen a middle-aged man work to justify his mid-life-crisis spending? :p
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
That's an interesting take (to me) both as a fan of Critical Role and as a person who relatively recently dove into GMing with very little pre-meditation. In the groups I've played in it has almost exclusively been the older gamers (mid-40s and up) who dislike theater of the mind and prefer having the Dwarven Forge-esque dungeon tiles and pre-fabs and minis and spell effect markers and what-have-you. The younger players seem fine with "OK so there's a grid to judge distances and we have some chess pieces or extra dice or cheetos or candy or whatever to stand in for the monsters. Cool."
Not on topic so basically ignore the following:
I really don’t like playing on modeled terrain. I think it looks amazing and I like minis in general but when you enter a dungeon and you can baaaysically figure out what’s where right away... it irks me.

To each their own.
 

pogre

Adventurer
Not on topic so basically ignore the following:
I really don’t like playing on modeled terrain. I think it looks amazing and I like minis in general but when you enter a dungeon and you can baaaysically figure out what’s where right away... it irks me.

To each their own.
It may not work for you, but I assemble the scenes as the PCs encounter them. If it is a dungeon the rooms and passages are laid out as the PCs move. Wilderness and city scenes are laid out as they happen. Now, I have the luxury of an expansive game room with lots of china cabinets where everything is within quick reach, but generally I can lay out a dungeon room or wilderness scene as fast as most can draw those on a vinyl mat.

That said, I definitely understand our style is not for everyone and absolutely see the merits of TotM.
 

Hussar

Legend
I feel attacked! ;)
I think it's closer to resembling the remark. :D

I'm an outlier in that I've been playing on Virtual Tabletop for so long. The notion of gaming without a battlemap and visual aids is just something that I haven't even come close to approaching in a lot of years. I take a great deal of pleasure in a beautiful battlemap and using just the right image for that bad guy.

It's why the recent WotC modules with Dyson Logos maps are such a disappointment to me. Look, I get why they are popular and all that, and, from a pure play POV, they are great maps (and do what great adventure maps are supposed to do) but, man they are about as interesting to look at as white rice.

I really hope that the VTT versions of WotC modules in the future will come bundled with prettier maps. I know that Dragon Heist was, when it came out for Fantasy Grounds, although, again, you could tell these were banged out in a hurry using CC3 . Not the prettiest maps in the world, but, still considerably prettier than what came with the adventure. :(

Anyway, sorry, I guess I'm meandering.
 

DrunkonDuty

Adventurer
I have a job that requires a great deal of visual focus and leaves my brain fairly untaxed. So I listen to all manner of podcasts on the job. Sometimes these podcasts are Critical Role.

I think these things fit a niche that different individuals have at different times. They are just entertaining enough to kill time but not so entertaining that they actually distract you from other things.
 

MichaelSomething

Adventurer
I suspect you'll find that a physicist that's American, Japanese, or German will be viewed a bit more positively than one from, say Argentina. nationality comes with preconcieved notions about educational background from the country in question.

And like Dennis Leary says... "Irish... cuisine?"
In Heaven:
the cooks are French,
the policemen are English,
the mechanics are German,
the lovers are Italian
and
the bankers are Swiss.

In Hell:
the cooks are English,
the policemen are German,
the mechanics are French,
the lovers are Swiss
and
the bankers are Italian.
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
It was an "alternative ingredient" week. They were challenged to make a dessert using dairy-free ice cream. One of the contestants decided to use the flavors of peanut butter and (grape) jelly. To which Paul's reaction is basically... "Peanut butter and jelly? Is that a flavor combination that's going to go well together?"

To be clear to Brits - Peanut butter and jelly is a staple kid's lunch, and can gnerally be considered a "comfort food" for many Americans.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream??

I like Peanut Butter (Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are one of my favorites).

I like Ice Cream...

But the combination of the two sounds very...not tasty to my ears.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream??
It was for a rolled cake (like a jelly roll). IIRC, she made chocolate cake, spread with peanut butter non-dairy ice cream, rolled around a grape jelly core. It was declared by the judges to physically be a mess, but apparently tasted good.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
It was an "alternative ingredient" week. They were challenged to make a dessert using dairy-free ice cream. One of the contestants decided to use the flavors of peanut butter and (grape) jelly. To which Paul's reaction is basically... "Peanut butter and jelly? Is that a flavor combination that's going to go well together?"

To be clear to Brits - Peanut butter and jelly is a staple kid's lunch, and can gnerally be considered a "comfort food" for many Americans.
Sometimes even without the bread. Many a student has had PB&J burritos, BP&J on bread, PB&J on crackers... PB and ce

But it's also becoming a problem in schools. The number of children with severe peanut allergies has rendered it a "Not at school" and even a "Not for breakfast, even" situation. Student A had eaten PB&J for breakfast. Student B came in, and, sitting next to him, in fairly short order (within 10 minutes), was taking epinephrine and heading for the nurse, visibly breaking out in hives and wheezing badly. Student A was sent home with a note informing his parents he may not eat peanut anything within 3 hours of school. (Not my class but one in the same pod.)
And jelly is jam in your language, right? It sounds pretty horrid to me. But yes, I have heard that Americans eat that.
Jam has fruit chunks left in, jelly is strained before setting. Jelly is usually fruit, pectin, and sugar, boiled, strained, and allowed to cool. Jam skips the straining, Preserves tend to be larger chunks, but again, same stuff goes in.
Yes, in that sense CR fits in with a whole genre of Youtube videos. I wonder if the popularity of this genre is related to the dramatic decline in the amount of face-to-face socialization teens and young adults today experience. So the videos are a kind of ersatz 'hanging out with friends' for people who have trouble hanging out with friends IRL.
Part of that has to do with the change in socially acceptable introduction and invitation. The scary video that local community college students have to watch basically labels "a second invitation to a social activity after the first was rejected" as sexual harassment. (Also, unsolicited comments upon appearance, smell, or body shape also qualify.) It explicitly stated that a second request for a date is not allowed if the first was responded to with a "No."
It's a pretty unsustainable situation.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream??

I like Peanut Butter (Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are one of my favorites).

I like Ice Cream...

But the combination of the two sounds very...not tasty to my ears.
I've made (and enjoyed) far weirder... Smoked Salmon Ice Cream, for one. JAL requested 10 gallons for a party, while I was working at Alaska Deluxe Company. 4 lbs wet-packed smoked king salmon (ocean caught) 1 large crate of low-sugar mix (cream, milk, sugar, a couple stabilizers)at around 10 gallons, churned into 18 gallons of ice cream, of which 12 were delivered to the client. The rest were made available to walk-in customers and staff. We all got to try some.
 

overgeeked

Explorer
TL;DR: Yeah, you can object to the amateur vs professional argument all you want, but that's basically what's happening. It's like wondering why people prefer Broadway produced-plays more than an elementary school play. But yeah, Critical Role saved my group.

#

I was in basically the same position a few months ago. I just didn't understand why anyone would watch someone else play a game you could play. Everyone in my D&D group watched / listened to Critical Role and said I'd love it, but I just couldn't. The same applies to video games. Just don't get why you would watch someone play WoW when you could just load up the game and play yourself...outside of world first raid kills or boss tutorials...or beta access videos. But as a thing to do for entertainment, nope.

Then the CR crew put out their Call of Cthulhu one-shot. I waited for that because I wanted to see what they would do with a game closer to my heart. I love me some D&D, it got me into the hobby, but it's so much just a repetitious rehash game after game, module after module. Find a fight, easily win, kill the monsters, loot their bodies, rest up as an after thought...lather, rinse, repeat. It was boring. Something that's supposed to be fantastic had become mundane...

So CR does Call of Cthulhu. It was great. The adventure was interesting, the Keeper was great (even if he flubbed a few rules), the players were great (even if some of them clearly had never looked at any rules for the game before sitting down at the table). It was kind of an event. Like what a group of theater kids with time and money would do. The costumes were great. The sets were incredibly well designed. The props were fantastic. If ever there was a produced version of a RPG session, that's exactly what you'd want it to be. Everything you'd want it to be. It was like watching well-produced improv theater with a game system. It was amazing. (They're doing much the same thing with Deadlands currently, but that's beside the point.)

So I decided to give the proper Critical Role a shot. It was nowhere near as well produced, the players showed up in their street clothes. The set was a generic tavern with some lights. They spent a few minutes talking about their cool new table...then launched into about 20 minutes of announcements and ads...after about 5 minutes of that I was ready to turn it off. I tuned it out instead. Letting it play in the background as I did something else. Then they started playing...

I know you're dismissive of the amateurs vs professionals argument. But it's true. It's the difference between watching an elementary school play vs a Broadway production. Sure, you can make scrambled eggs at home on your stove, but if you've ever had scrambled eggs at a Michelin-star restaurant, you know the difference between home cooking and professional chefs. And it's way more than "mystique".

Matt and Co are professional actors who spend a lot of time on character and story instead of combat and looting. It's character-driven D&D run and played by professional voice actors. They get into character, use voice acting techniques, do more than just fight endlessly, and Matt's a vocal chameleon. He is the man with a thousand voices. They take their time and don't skip over roleplaying opportunities.

I don't know about your experience with D&D, but mine has been 30+ years of nearly endless combat, looting, dungeon crawls, with basically zero character development or larger plot / theme beyond getting to the next room, kicking in the door, and murdering whatever happens to be there.

Critical Role was literally everything I'd want a D&D game to be. The literal opposite of what we'd been playing. But, the people in my group were all fans. They loved CR. Yet they played D&D as an endless brawl. None of us have an ounce of acting or voice talent, but the character-driven game play is what all of us are craving after decades of dungeon crawl and endless brawling.

I can't speak for the rest of the group, but I was ready to quit before I started watching Critical Role. D&D had become a bad version of a video game. Railroad from start to finish, no real character development other than an endless treadmill of loot. Only we had to drive for 30 minutes to deal with a house full of loud people goofing off and not giving a shit about the game, talking over each other, not engaging with the game and generally not caring. It was just something we did at that point instead of something really fun and entertaining.

Then we paused, took stock, talked about things and realized we all wanted basically the same thing. A more engaging and character-driven game with more than endless brawls. We basically had Critical Role to thank for something to shoot for and for saving our group. We've played together (on-and-off) for over 30+ years. Would have been a damned shame for that to fall apart.

It's not that we're trying to emulate the show, no one's trying to do voices. There's no negative Mercer Effect of thinking he's perfect and should be emulated or he's the gold standard for DMing...but we are trying more. Giving a shit more. Engaging and being present and staying in-character more. Metagaming less. Trying to get something like a story out of the game instead of endless brawls and a loot treadmill.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
When I coach soccer to youth, one thing that I notice is that immigrant kids have an advantage over typical American kids in as much as the immigrant kid is likely to have seen soccer played at a high level. This gives them some sort of mental template for what soccer looked like when played well.

For myself, I had the advantage as a young 12 year old budding DM of having a friend's college age cousin run several games for me, and the way he played the game was so much better than the way I had been playing the game that it was eye opening. It was like, "Oh... you can do that? That's amazing! I want to do that too." I've since come to realize that he was an exceptionally good player/GM, and played the game at above the level I've seen most adults play it and so I count myself really lucky to have at such an early age gotten such a good model to strive toward.

I've watched 'Critical Role', and to me it's not that big of deal because I've seen the game played this way for more than 30 years. Granted, to find that many really good players is amazing and I've only had as good of a group once, but the general way Matt Mercer is playing the game is the way I've pretty much always felt the game should be played.

My real hope with CR is that Mercer is out there being a role-model, leading young GMs to strive to play at a higher level, more literary, more artistic, more immersive, and ultimately just more fun. Because ultimately, the hobby isn't about editions or systems, but about GMs being inspired to make things, and groups of friends having a good time.
I agree, and I’m also glad that other DMs who are on his level but play with a different mindset are out there with oodles of viewers, like Jerry Holkins of the C Team, Griffin MacElroy of The Adventure Zone, and Victoria Rogers of The Broadswords, and others.

I am definitely a better GM and game designer because of them.

Oh and Deborah Ann Woll! Holy shark she is a great DM! I’d say she’s at least on Matt’s level, of not even better at it than he is!
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
When I coach soccer to youth, one thing that I notice is that immigrant kids have an advantage over typical American kids in as much as the immigrant kid is likely to have seen soccer played at a high level. This gives them some sort of mental template for what soccer looked like when played well.

For myself, I had the advantage as a young 12 year old budding DM of having a friend's college age cousin run several games for me, and the way he played the game was so much better than the way I had been playing the game that it was eye opening. It was like, "Oh... you can do that? That's amazing! I want to do that too." I've since come to realize that he was an exceptionally good player/GM, and played the game at above the level I've seen most adults play it and so I count myself really lucky to have at such an early age gotten such a good model to strive toward.

I've watched 'Critical Role', and to me it's not that big of deal because I've seen the game played this way for more than 30 years. Granted, to find that many really good players is amazing and I've only had as good of a group once, but the general way Matt Mercer is playing the game is the way I've pretty much always felt the game should be played.

My real hope with CR is that Mercer is out there being a role-model, leading young GMs to strive to play at a higher level, more literary, more artistic, more immersive, and ultimately just more fun. Because ultimately, the hobby isn't about editions or systems, but about GMs being inspired to make things, and groups of friends having a good time.
I agree, and I’m also glad that other DMs who are on his level but play with a different mindset are out there with oodles of viewers, like Jerry Holkins of the C Team, Griffin MacElroy of The Adventure Zone, and Victoria Rogers of The Broadswords, and others.

I am definitely a better GM and game designer because of them.

Oh and Deborah Ann Woll. She is at least as good as Mercer.
My concern is Mercer has the opposite effect. I started DMing when I was 11 because DMing in 1981 meant drawing a dungeon on graph paper, populating it with monsters and treasure, and running my friends through it the next day. That was an easy on-ramp to being a DM. And that ease of entry is the reason why millions of kids under the age of 15 played D&D in the 80s.

Today, the expectations of what a DM should bring to the table is so much higher in terms of preparation, system mastery, story, roleplaying, etc. Prospective new DMs seem extremely intimidated at taking on the task.

Should those who DM long-term strive to master a host of skills associated with the role? Sure (though I don't think Matt Mercer's approach suits every table). But in my experience the hobby doesn't face a problem of DM laziness or lack of skill - it faces a problem of finding people willing to take on the job in the first place.

TLDR: more people will step up to the plate and DM if we set modest expectations for what DMing requires, rather than pointing to Matt Mercer and saying "do that."
I can’t even imagine how one could disagree more strongly than I disagree with this.

Having role models in the hobby who set a high bar absolutely does not stop people from filling the same role as that person even a tiny fraction as much as it inspires folks to fill that role.

It’s true in sports, in acting, in pretty much every facet of life. People who set a high bar inspire others to try and do the same.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Yes, in that sense CR fits in with a whole genre of Youtube videos. I wonder if the popularity of this genre is related to the dramatic decline in the amount of face-to-face socialization teens and young adults today experience. So the videos are a kind of ersatz 'hanging out with friends' for people who have trouble hanging out with friends IRL.
Part of that has to do with the change in socially acceptable introduction and invitation. The scary video that local community college students have to watch basically labels "a second invitation to a social activity after the first was rejected" as sexual harassment. (Also, unsolicited comments upon appearance, smell, or body shape also qualify.) It explicitly stated that a second request for a date is not allowed if the first was responded to with a "No."
It's a pretty unsustainable situation.
That’s a...wild theory.

I mean, firstly, asking for a date after the first request is rejected is creepy, and should be discouraged.

Second, inviting people to hang out for a group activity isn’t the same thing at all, and better awareness of sexual harassment is absolutely not decreasing the amount of time youths spend hanging out with friends.
 

Bohandas

Explorer
Part of that has to do with the change in socially acceptable introduction and invitation. The scary video that local community college students have to watch basically labels "a second invitation to a social activity after the first was rejected" as sexual harassment. (Also, unsolicited comments upon appearance, smell, or body shape also qualify.) It explicitly stated that a second request for a date is not allowed if the first was responded to with a "No."
It's a pretty unsustainable situation.
I find it troubling that they're trying to define it. That leads people into a false sense of security. ANYTHING could be sexual harassment if you hire a sleazy enough attorney (or get on a sleazy enough talkshow).
 

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