Critical Role EXU: Calamity Discussion (Spoilers)

OB1

Jedi Master
While this thread will contain spoilers for EXU: Calamity and other seasons of Critical Role, this first post is purposefully light on details, and more of a general review of the first episode.

When Steven Spielberg and George Lucas combined forces to make Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, the two fathers of the summer blockbuster created one of the best adventure movies of all time. With EXU: Calamity, Mathew Mercer has taken on the George Lucas role of creating the world and executive producing a live play D&D event, with Brennan Lee Mulligan taking on the Steven Spielberg director role as the DM, along with a cast pulled from both of their regular live streams. The result, from the first episode, is perhaps the best 4 hours of D&D I've ever seen. Everyone involved is at the top of their game, and this episode could very well become an entry point for a new wave of D&D enthusiasts. While having watched Critical Role previously will add depth to the story, I don't believe anyone will have needed to see a single moment of Critical Role, and perhaps even a moment of D&D (either in person or on another live stream) to enjoy the story that is being told.

Set in Mercer's home-brew world of Exandria at the height of the long past Age of Arcanum, a time when mortals had pushed the boundaries of magic to heights nearly rivaling the gods, the story follows a group of six level 14 adventurers as the floating city they call home is preparing to rejoin it's terrestrial sister city for a once every seven year Replenishment. Starting with an intense dream sequence with one of the players, we are introduced one by one over the course of two hours to each of the six PCs in vignettes that quickly establish their characters ideals, bonds and flaws while also introducing the audience to the setting and hinting at a nefarious plot by the forces of evil in the background. The group then comes together at a gala event the evening before the city lands, and the cast does an amazing job selling the fact that these PCs have a long history together. As they begin to put their individual pieces together they and the audience begin to see the danger coming for the city.

Excited to discuss the series with my fellow EnWorlders! If there are those of you out there who've never tried Critical Role specifically or live-play D&D streaming in general, you won't regret spending four hours watching this episode. From Brennan's expert adjudication of skill checks and scene setting, to the players investment in their characters, the world and each other, I'm hooked, and can't wait for the next episode. My only complaint is that there will only be three more.
 

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jgsugden

Legend
...My only complaint is that there will only be three more.
I have not finished the first episode, but I was surprised he took 2 hours to introduce us to the PCs. That is a lot of time when we'll get a total of about 16 hours with them. I would be interested to watch BLM run a campaign in Exandria with campaign guidance by Mercer - but I'd rather they shortened that opening sequences to about 5 minutes a piece and went further into the combined story. The first Exandria Unlimited suffered because there was a lack of recognition of how little time the group had and some things were rushed to fit them in.... I would hate for us to get to that same place here.

I also don't really feel like this is a game of D&D, so much as it is using D&D mechanics to deliver a predetermined story. In essence, I have the same criticism here that I have of adventure paths that are highly railroaded. I feel like Critical Role has certain 'goal posts' to hit - some set by players, some set by Matt - that everyone at the table understands heading into a session (either through statement, as I believe was the case when Vox Machina found Tiberius, or through attention to the story unfolding (as they are respectful and give time for their fellow players to take spotlight for a bit). Here, however, I felt like there was a tighter 'script' (so far) with player knowledge of where things were going at a high level.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
I have not finished the first episode, but I was surprised he took 2 hours to introduce us to the PCs. That is a lot of time when we'll get a total of about 16 hours with them. I would be interested to watch BLM run a campaign in Exandria with campaign guidance by Mercer - but I'd rather they shortened that opening sequences to about 5 minutes a piece and went further into the combined story. The first Exandria Unlimited suffered because there was a lack of recognition of how little time the group had and some things were rushed to fit them in.... I would hate for us to get to that same place here.

I also don't really feel like this is a game of D&D, so much as it is using D&D mechanics to deliver a predetermined story. In essence, I have the same criticism here that I have of adventure paths that are highly railroaded. I feel like Critical Role has certain 'goal posts' to hit - some set by players, some set by Matt - that everyone at the table understands heading into a session (either through statement, as I believe was the case when Vox Machina found Tiberius, or through attention to the story unfolding (as they are respectful and give time for their fellow players to take spotlight for a bit). Here, however, I felt like there was a tighter 'script' (so far) with player knowledge of where things were going at a high level.
Given that the whole story will likely take place over one night, I think Brennan's pacing is on point. And for this story, it's so crucial to get invested in the PCs so that the tragedy of what is to come will hit home, I think the time spent on introductions was completely necessary.

Hoping this thread doesn't (ahem) derail into a discussion of Railroading, and the story here definitely has an AP feel rather than a sandbox, which is the nature of the story being told. That said, by the end of the first episode, I think it is very clear that the choices the PCs make are having an effect on how the story is unfolding for the PCs. This isn't a story about stopping the apocalypse, it's a story about how one group of adventurers specifically react to it. Will any of them survive? Can they save family members in the city below? Will they betray their own bonds to save themselves? This is a story about these characters. To me, that's definitely playing D&D. In a way, it's similar to the new Obi-Wan series. We know where the story is going, but it's riveting because there are real stakes for the characters outside of the over-plot of the series.
 

BRayne

Adventurer
Given that the whole story will likely take place over one night, I think Brennan's pacing is on point. And for this story, it's so crucial to get invested in the PCs so that the tragedy of what is to come will hit home, I think the time spent on introductions was completely necessary.

Hoping this thread doesn't (ahem) derail into a discussion of Railroading, and the story here definitely has an AP feel rather than a sandbox, which is the nature of the story being told. That said, by the end of the first episode, I think it is very clear that the choices the PCs make are having an effect on how the story is unfolding for the PCs. This isn't a story about stopping the apocalypse, it's a story about how one group of adventurers specifically react to it. Will any of them survive? Can they save family members in the city below? Will they betray their own bonds to save themselves? This is a story about these characters. To me, that's definitely playing D&D. In a way, it's similar to the new Obi-Wan series. We know where the story is going, but it's riveting because there are real stakes for the characters outside of the over-plot of the series.

I'd argue it's less an adventure path and more something like "D&D with the expectations of Ten Candles"
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
BLM definitely has a handle on hard framing scenes and making sure things are kept moving. It’s the polar opposite of Matt’s more meandering and loose style. I enjoyed the parts that I watched. But I’m not sure this limited series will be some great gateway to D&D. Far too linear, far too much railroading, it’s clearly got a pre-planned ending, and I’d guess this is likely a scripted live play. Those are not great things to teach new players coming in. That’s basically the opposite of what you want new players thinking the hobby is. At a guess, this is designed specifically in four parts to better model movie act structure so it can more easily be adapted to other media.
 
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I watched it live the other night and have some thoughts:
  • I'd only ever seen bits of Brennan Lee Mulligan's game mastering where he was running games of a more comedic tone, so it was nice to see in the first few minutes that he's more than capable of going dark.
  • Lots of fantasy settings have a golden age that fell, but actually seeing life in that golden age from the perspective of player characters who lived then is very interesting, especially considering this is a very high magic setting to the point that at times it is more reminiscient of science fiction.
  • Making the player characters essentially a cabal of the city's movers and shakers with both great personal and political power is an interesting choice.
  • I'm always a sucker for more setting lore, and it's interesting to see these PCs living in a nearly mythical age 1000 years before the present talking about events and legends that are as ancient to them as their civilization is to the modern people of the world.
  • Even if the events of the mini-series are presumably a foregone conclusion, getting a more detailed version of how things went down through the player characters' actions instead of just through lore in a setting book or details in a novel is fascinating to see.
 
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OB1

Jedi Master
BLM definitely has a handle on hard framing scenes and making sure things are kept moving. It’s the polar opposite of Matt’s more meandering and loose style. I enjoyed the parts that I watched. But I’m not sure this limited series will be some great gateway to D&D. Far too linear, far too much railroading, it’s clearly got a pre-planned ending, and I’d guess this is likely a scripted live play. Those are not great things to teach new players coming in. That’s basically the opposite of what you want new players thinking the hobby is. At a guess, this is designed specifically in four parts to better model movie act structure so it can more easily be adapted to other media.
What makes you think this is scripted? I clearly see the normal game flow of DM describes a scene, PCs describe what they do, DM narrates the results (sometimes asking for a die roll if the outcome is uncertain). I mean, we first saw each PC interacting with other NPCs in the course of a day, then the PCs got together and expanded on some of the threads from earlier, while reacting to events at a party. Who and how the party reacted to the arrival of Pervon, for example, is just classic D&D. And while certain world shaking events may be pre-planned, how these PCs interact with those events and how their story unfolds I don't get the sense is pre-planned at all (as it shouldn't be).

I think you're right that there is a 3 act structure at play here (with act 2 being roughly twice the length of act 1 or 3), but I'm not sure how that's a bad thing, especially in an adventure that is basically a long one-shot. How act 3 plays out, I would bet, will be highly dependent on the successes and failures in act 2, as well as the personal motivations of the characters. For example, will some or all of the PCs survive? Can they save their families on the ground? Can the city itself be saved, or at least be given a temporary reprive? Sure, the Calamity is coming, but that's not the plot here, the plot is what happens to these characters in this city when it does.

Add in the way that the players remain engaged even while not in the spotlight, and for me, this is an excellent introduction to new players finding out what D&D is all about.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
What makes you think this is scripted?
Apparently a poor choice of words on my part. Meaning there are obvious rails and the players are expected to follow them. They have incredibly limited, if any real agency. That sense of scripted. Not as in they're actors with prewritten lines.
And while certain world shaking events may be pre-planned, how these PCs interact with those events and how their story unfolds I don't get the sense is pre-planned at all (as it shouldn't be).
Right. Heavily railroaded adventure. Pre-planned story. The only choices the players get is the words they say and actions they take...that will not likely dramatically effect the events as they unfold. There's no chance they'll avert disaster. They get to passively react to the story as it's handed to them...and the ending is preordained. So they get no meaningful choices. Literally the opposite of what new gamers should learn. To me, agency is the cornerstone of RPGs. It's literally why we play. Without agency, real actual agency, you might as well read a book. The style of play where the DM runs the players through the DM's story is not what I want out of gaming.
I think you're right that there is a 3 act structure at play here (with act 2 being roughly twice the length of act 1 or 3), but I'm not sure how that's a bad thing, especially in an adventure that is basically a long one-shot. How act 3 plays out, I would bet, will be highly dependent on the successes and failures in act 2, as well as the personal motivations of the characters.

For example, will some or all of the PCs survive? Can they save their families on the ground? Can the city itself be saved, or at least be given a temporary reprive? Sure, the Calamity is coming, but that's not the plot here, the plot is what happens to these characters in this city when it does.
I highly, highly doubt that. We already know the end. It's established lore from thousands of years in Exandria's past. The hubris of the mages causes their downfall. This is going to be a tragedy. Some will-they, won't-they reconciliation, get together, and how they face death...but they're not going to prevent the Calamity. This is at best a small personal story about these characters and how they deal with the Calamity rather than averting it...though signs point to (some of) them likely causing it, or failing to prevent it.

Unless they're using this to go buck wild and open up Exandria to alternate timelines and such. Which would be cool. But I really doubt that's going to happen.
Add in the way that the players remain engaged even while not in the spotlight, and for me, this is an excellent introduction to new players finding out what D&D is all about.
Really heavy-handed railroading isn't the gold standard for new players. It's literally the opposite of what new players should be learning is the heart of D&D and RPGs. To stay engaged and pay attention when you're not in the spotlight is good and more people should learn that. The rest of it, not so much.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Wait, Brenan Lee Mulligan is DMing Critical Role - and high level Critical Role at that?




curiosity meme.jpg
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Apparently a poor choice of words on my part. Meaning there are obvious rails and the players are expected to follow them. They have incredibly limited, if any real agency. That sense of scripted. Not as in they're actors with prewritten lines.

Right. Heavily railroaded adventure. Pre-planned story. The only choices the players get is the words they say and actions they take...that will not likely dramatically effect the events as they unfold. There's no chance they'll avert disaster. They get to passively react to the story as it's handed to them...and the ending is preordained. So they get no meaningful choices. Literally the opposite of what new gamers should learn. To me, agency is the cornerstone of RPGs. It's literally why we play. Without agency, real actual agency, you might as well read a book. The style of play where the DM runs the players through the DM's story is not what I want out of gaming.

I highly, highly doubt that. We already know the end. It's established lore from thousands of years in Exandria's past. The hubris of the mages causes their downfall. This is going to be a tragedy. Some will-they, won't-they reconciliation, get together, and how they face death...but they're not going to prevent the Calamity. This is at best a small personal story about these characters and how they deal with the Calamity rather than averting it...though signs point to (some of) them likely causing it, or failing to prevent it.

Unless they're using this to go buck wild and open up Exandria to alternate timelines and such. Which would be cool. But I really doubt that's going to happen.

Really heavy-handed railroading isn't the gold standard for new players. It's literally the opposite of what new players should be learning is the heart of D&D and RPGs. To stay engaged and pay attention when you're not in the spotlight is good and more people should learn that. The rest of it, not so much.
Okay, a lot to unpack here. To start with your final statement, that feels an awful lot like one-true-wayism mixed with a dose of badwrongfun. But even that builds off some pretty big assumptions given that we've only seen the opening act of this story. I'll admit that not having seen the rest of the series, this could devolve into a highly railroaded adventure where there was ever only one set of events that happens, but my feeling from the first episode is that we are going to see a story of what a group of local heroes does when the crap hits the fan.

1. What is player agency other than players making choices about the words they say and the actions they take? There are plenty of real things that the PCs care about (their families for example) that they may have interest in trying to help. Why do they have to stop the calamity to have agency?

2, If I start an adventure with a zombie apocalypse or an ancient dragon killing the Queen and destroying the capital city of a realm, and the PCs have no way to stop it, is that a heavily railroaded adventure? Or just a call to adventure?

3. The Calamity is a decades long event that started when Vespin Chloris released the betrayer gods from their inprisionment. That appears to have already happened in this story (ie it's the triggering event for what we are seeing happen now). The other details we know about is that the betrayer gods attack Vaselheim, and fail, then establish a base of operations in Ghor Dranas, leading to a decades long war between the prime deities and betrayers that wrecks havoc on the land. Great champions are given vestiges of divergence to help battle the gods during this time, before the prime deities finally seal both the betrayers and themselves behind the divine gate, forever separating themselves from their creations. Seems to me like a prime setting for countless adventure of mighty heroes facing deadly perils.

4. There is nothing in the lore about this floating city (that I'm aware of) giving ample opportunity for the specifics of this adventure to follow it's own path. Was the city destroyed in the initial release of the betrayers? Did the mages of this city screw up and destroy the city on it's own? Was this city around even when Aeor fell decades later? Is the city still in-tact? Joined with it's sister city and put into hiding because of the events? Could these heroes still be alive, in-stasis, waiting to reveal to the new age some piece of ancient history?

5. At the very most, I'd think this adventure may be set up like a Call of Cthulu type story, where it is highly likely that most if not all of the PCs will meet their demise, and the forces they fight against will end stronger at the end than the beginning. Those types of stories are specifically about what the characters say and do in the face of impending doom. Is that style not appropriate for a D&D adventure in your mind?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Okay, a lot to unpack here. To start with your final statement, that feels an awful lot like one-true-wayism mixed with a dose of badwrongfun.
The more I see people throw this out the more I think they simply mean "this goes against my preferences". Both phrases seem to be utterly meaningless at this point. If you have a point to make, make it without throwing out phrases meant to evoke knee-jerk reactions.
But even that builds off some pretty big assumptions given that we've only seen the opening act of this story. I'll admit that not having seen the rest of the series, this could devolve into a highly railroaded adventure where there was ever only one set of events that happens, but my feeling from the first episode is that we are going to see a story of what a group of local heroes does when the crap hits the fan.
Right. And I get the feeling we're seeing a story unfold with a predetermined ending. Nothing the PCs do matters and whatever they do, the end will be the same. It's like Titanic. Sure, the movie is about the relationship between Jack and Rose, which is...interesting...I guess...but at no point does anyone think they have a chance of averting the sinking of the Titanic. At best Calamity will be the story of how these characters deal with the fallout. There's no chance they'll avert it as it's already started. There's no chance they'll win because it's already a historical footnote in the setting. So what meaningful choices to the players get? How they face death? Gee, awesome.
1. What is player agency other than players making choices about the words they say and the actions they take? There are plenty of real things that the PCs care about (their families for example) that they may have interest in trying to help. Why do they have to stop the calamity to have agency?
Player agency is having the freedom to choose and having those choices matter. If they can't choose, they have no agency. If they can choose, but their choices don't matter, they have no agency. Why do they have to even potentially be able to stop the Calamity? Because it's epic fantasy.

Can the players decide to go left when the DM wants them to go right (i.e. no bumpers) and that choice matters (i.e. no quantum ogres)? If not, then the players don't have agency. Can the players come up with a wild plan that short-circuits the DM's plans and the DM will roll with it? If not, then the players don't have agency.

The DM saying your characters go here and do these things and stay in this tiny box...oh, but I guess you get to say whatever you want and attack whoever you want during the combats...sorry, no. That's not agency. Not in any real or meaningful sense.
2, If I start an adventure with a zombie apocalypse or an ancient dragon killing the Queen and destroying the capital city of a realm, and the PCs have no way to stop it, is that a heavily railroaded adventure? Or just a call to adventure?
Can the players later kill the dragon, resurrect the queen, and restore the capital city? Can the players later stop new zombies from raising...undo the magic that's causing it? If not, then no, they don't have agency. That's the point about agency. If you can't do X, then X is the limit of your agency. You have agency...except X. The more things you pile into the "you can't" category, the less agency the players have. If everything is in the "you can't" category except "dialogue" and "picking targets"...that's not agency in any real or meaningful sense of the word. Can the characters build and destroy parts of the world? That's agency. Can the players kill the big bad before you want them to? That's agency. Can the players decide to leave the tiny box you have pre-determined will be where your story unfolds? That's agency. If the players can't go where they want and do what they want, they don't really have agency.

To me, the whole point of RPGs is player agency. Video games have better graphics and have infinitely better writing than modules and whatever improv dialogue the DM can get out. Film, TV, novels, and short stories have infinitely better writing and story than adventure modules or whatever the DM can cobble together. Trying to emulate those other art forms is a fool's errand. RPGs are not any of those, they are unique. They have strengths. Lean into those strengths. One of those strengths is the ability to go anywhere and do anything. To limit that, to tear that out so you can badly ape some other art form is certainly a choice a lot of people seem to make, but it's a tragically limiting one.
3. The Calamity is a decades long event that started when Vespin Chloris released the betrayer gods from their inprisionment. That appears to have already happened in this story (ie it's the triggering event for what we are seeing happen now). The other details we know about is that the betrayer gods attack Vaselheim, and fail, then establish a base of operations in Ghor Dranas, leading to a decades long war between the prime deities and betrayers that wrecks havoc on the land. Great champions are given vestiges of divergence to help battle the gods during this time, before the prime deities finally seal both the betrayers and themselves behind the divine gate, forever separating themselves from their creations. Seems to me like a prime setting for countless adventure of mighty heroes facing deadly perils.
Right. So we already know all the broad strokes of this story. The only thing we can possibly get from this show is 1) minor characters (the PC) RPing how they face the Calamity, or; 2) an alternate reality where the Calamity is averted.

To me, 1 is just about pointless while 2 is infinitely more interesting, though there's about a 0% chance that's where they'll go with it.

RPGs with pre-determined endings are boring. They're the DM reading a story to the players. That's a waste of everyone's time.
4. There is nothing in the lore about this floating city (that I'm aware of) giving ample opportunity for the specifics of this adventure to follow it's own path. Was the city destroyed in the initial release of the betrayers? Did the mages of this city screw up and destroy the city on it's own? Was this city around even when Aeor fell decades later? Is the city still in-tact? Joined with it's sister city and put into hiding because of the events? Could these heroes still be alive, in-stasis, waiting to reveal to the new age some piece of ancient history?
RPGs are not stories. They're not fiction. They're games. They're meant to be played as a collaborative effort. Input from everyone. And no, "pick your dialogue" and "pick your targets" is not sufficient input to waste everyone's time getting together to "play" a game. The stuff you're saying absolutely would be interesting...as a story to read. As a comic to read. Because they can make for good stories. RPGs are not stories. The DM is not a storyteller in the same sense that Stephen King is a storyteller. In an RPG the players have agency and self-determination they get to control something the DM does not, the PCs. If King wants a character to run into a burning house, he writes it that way. The DM cannot do the same for the PCs. Not without violating the social contract and the literal reason the players are there in the first place.
5. At the very most, I'd think this adventure may be set up like a Call of Cthulu type story, where it is highly likely that most if not all of the PCs will meet their demise, and the forces they fight against will end stronger at the end than the beginning. Those types of stories are specifically about what the characters say and do in the face of impending doom.
Then I'd suggest you play more Call of Cthulhu, then. Because that's not generally how those things go down. Your typical CoC adventure is some form of murder-mystery-horror thing where the PCs are sucked into events beyond their comprehension and they must quickly piece things together to survive...most often don't...and as they gain knowledge they lose sanity...and in the end they more than likely stop whatever small, local evil is going on...at great cost to themselves...or they die at the local evil's hands. It's rare to non-existant that the local Arkham, MA cult has already summoned all the Great Old Ones a few weeks back and now the PCs must deal with it.
Is that style not appropriate for a D&D adventure in your mind?
Is nihilistic horror not an appropriate style for epic fantasy? Kinda diametrically opposed genres. You'd be far better served playing Call of Cthulhu. D&D will fight you every step of the way...as will the majority of players who are specifically not playing CoC but instead playing D&D...you know, the epic fantasy game of heroes and superheroes saving the day and slaughtering their foes.

And we're back to the problem of using D&D for everything and thinking every problem is a nail because you refuse to use any tool other than a hammer.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
The more I see people throw this out the more I think they simply mean "this goes against my preferences". Both phrases seem to be utterly meaningless at this point. If you have a point to make, make it without throwing out phrases meant to evoke knee-jerk reactions.

Right. And I get the feeling we're seeing a story unfold with a predetermined ending. Nothing the PCs do matters and whatever they do, the end will be the same. It's like Titanic. Sure, the movie is about the relationship between Jack and Rose, which is...interesting...I guess...but at no point does anyone think they have a chance of averting the sinking of the Titanic. At best Calamity will be the story of how these characters deal with the fallout. There's no chance they'll avert it as it's already started. There's no chance they'll win because it's already a historical footnote in the setting. So what meaningful choices to the players get? How they face death? Gee, awesome.

Player agency is having the freedom to choose and having those choices matter. If they can't choose, they have no agency. If they can choose, but their choices don't matter, they have no agency. Why do they have to even potentially be able to stop the Calamity? Because it's epic fantasy.

Can the players decide to go left when the DM wants them to go right (i.e. no bumpers) and that choice matters (i.e. no quantum ogres)? If not, then the players don't have agency. Can the players come up with a wild plan that short-circuits the DM's plans and the DM will roll with it? If not, then the players don't have agency.

The DM saying your characters go here and do these things and stay in this tiny box...oh, but I guess you get to say whatever you want and attack whoever you want during the combats...sorry, no. That's not agency. Not in any real or meaningful sense.

Can the players later kill the dragon, resurrect the queen, and restore the capital city? Can the players later stop new zombies from raising...undo the magic that's causing it? If not, then no, they don't have agency. That's the point about agency. If you can't do X, then X is the limit of your agency. You have agency...except X. The more things you pile into the "you can't" category, the less agency the players have. If everything is in the "you can't" category except "dialogue" and "picking targets"...that's not agency in any real or meaningful sense of the word. Can the characters build and destroy parts of the world? That's agency. Can the players kill the big bad before you want them to? That's agency. Can the players decide to leave the tiny box you have pre-determined will be where your story unfolds? That's agency. If the players can't go where they want and do what they want, they don't really have agency.

To me, the whole point of RPGs is player agency. Video games have better graphics and have infinitely better writing than modules and whatever improv dialogue the DM can get out. Film, TV, novels, and short stories have infinitely better writing and story than adventure modules or whatever the DM can cobble together. Trying to emulate those other art forms is a fool's errand. RPGs are not any of those, they are unique. They have strengths. Lean into those strengths. One of those strengths is the ability to go anywhere and do anything. To limit that, to tear that out so you can badly ape some other art form is certainly a choice a lot of people seem to make, but it's a tragically limiting one.

Right. So we already know all the broad strokes of this story. The only thing we can possibly get from this show is 1) minor characters (the PC) RPing how they face the Calamity, or; 2) an alternate reality where the Calamity is averted.

To me, 1 is just about pointless while 2 is infinitely more interesting, though there's about a 0% chance that's where they'll go with it.

RPGs with pre-determined endings are boring. They're the DM reading a story to the players. That's a waste of everyone's time.

RPGs are not stories. They're not fiction. They're games. They're meant to be played as a collaborative effort. Input from everyone. And no, "pick your dialogue" and "pick your targets" is not sufficient input to waste everyone's time getting together to "play" a game. The stuff you're saying absolutely would be interesting...as a story to read. As a comic to read. Because they can make for good stories. RPGs are not stories. The DM is not a storyteller in the same sense that Stephen King is a storyteller. In an RPG the players have agency and self-determination they get to control something the DM does not, the PCs. If King wants a character to run into a burning house, he writes it that way. The DM cannot do the same for the PCs. Not without violating the social contract and the literal reason the players are there in the first place.

Then I'd suggest you play more Call of Cthulhu, then. Because that's not generally how those things go down. Your typical CoC adventure is some form of murder-mystery-horror thing where the PCs are sucked into events beyond their comprehension and they must quickly piece things together to survive...most often don't...and as they gain knowledge they lose sanity...and in the end they more than likely stop whatever small, local evil is going on...at great cost to themselves...or they die at the local evil's hands. It's rare to non-existant that the local Arkham, MA cult has already summoned all the Great Old Ones a few weeks back and now the PCs must deal with it.

Is nihilistic horror not an appropriate style for epic fantasy? Kinda diametrically opposed genres. You'd be far better served playing Call of Cthulhu. D&D will fight you every step of the way...as will the majority of players who are specifically not playing CoC but instead playing D&D...you know, the epic fantasy game of heroes and superheroes saving the day and slaughtering their foes.

And we're back to the problem of using D&D for everything and thinking every problem is a nail because you refuse to use any tool other than a hammer.

I think you're being a bit harsh.

First, Brenan has already said - this is the prelude to a tragedy - so you have to watch/play with that in mind. If that's not your thing, plenty of other choices out there.

Second, choices can be small. As long as the characters can affect SOMETHING and there are still win conditions - agency can be retained.

It's a prequel, so likely (or at least hopefully) the conversation went something like "look, you guys are NOT going to prevent the Calamity, but you can make lots of meaningful choices that will change things on the small scale. Your choices WILL matter...."
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
On a different note,

The first episode was quite the slow burn. But looks like things will escalate pretty quickly from here.

Though the group made Brennan's job annoying by splitting up in multiple different directions (as he commented)!
 

OB1

Jedi Master
@overgeeked just want to say that I think we agree quite a bit on railroading in general, and the need for player agency in the game. Where I think we disagree is on what constitutes 'heavy-handed' railroading, and whether some players enjoy some amount of railroading in their game to help facilitate an epic story.

In the case of Calamity, I don't feel from what I've seen so far, that the DM is railroading the party (to my definition of it). They may, for example, attempt to try and stop what is happening, and discover that they are unable to do so given their current power level. If this were the start of a long running campaign, they should absolutely have the chance to stop or change what happens in the Calamity. But that's not the story here. This is a one-shot, where the PCs will have to decide on what's important to them and what they can do try and accomplish what is most important to them.

From the PHB introduction, "Together, the DM and the players create an exciting story of bold adventurers who confront deadly perils." Exactly what is happening in Calamity.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
On a different note,

The first episode was quite the slow burn. But looks like things will escalate pretty quickly from here.

Though the group made Brennan's job annoying by splitting up in multiple different directions (as he commented)!
Yeah, I felt the slow burn was necessary to help get the audience (and the players) invested in the personal stories so that the rest of the episodes have a real impact. I mean, I'm already worried about if Xerses will be able to save his son, or if Abria's character is going to be able to move the whole city to another plane to protect it. Can't wait to see how it all plays out.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
@overgeeked just want to say that I think we agree quite a bit on railroading in general, and the need for player agency in the game. Where I think we disagree is on what constitutes 'heavy-handed' railroading, and whether some players enjoy some amount of railroading in their game to help facilitate an epic story.

In the case of Calamity, I don't feel from what I've seen so far, that the DM is railroading the party (to my definition of it). They may, for example, attempt to try and stop what is happening, and discover that they are unable to do so given their current power level. If this were the start of a long running campaign, they should absolutely have the chance to stop or change what happens in the Calamity. But that's not the story here. This is a one-shot, where the PCs will have to decide on what's important to them and what they can do try and accomplish what is most important to them.

From the PHB introduction, "Together, the DM and the players create an exciting story of bold adventurers who confront deadly perils." Exactly what is happening in Calamity.

Also, it's best to keep in mind this is a stream meant for an audience.

The group is "gaming" but there are also performative elements that just don't fit for a home game, but work fine for a stream.

For example, the approx 20 minute intro for each character, while the others just sit around silently? Works here, but would be terrible for a home game (where such a thing should be handled in individual sessions or even over email).

The railroady elements? Again, this is gaming coupled with a performance - so I think that's a bit relaxed here (though hopefully not too much, it's not a play).
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
@overgeeked just want to say that I think we agree quite a bit on railroading in general, and the need for player agency in the game. Where I think we disagree is on what constitutes 'heavy-handed' railroading, and whether some players enjoy some amount of railroading in their game to help facilitate an epic story.
Yes, some players want to be spoon-fed a story rather than have agency and make choices. Why on Earth they would, I have no idea. That's what every other form of passive entertainment is for. RPGs are meant to be active. The players are meant to have agency. Agency and railroading are like matter and anti-matter.
In the case of Calamity, I don't feel from what I've seen so far, that the DM is railroading the party (to my definition of it). They may, for example, attempt to try and stop what is happening, and discover that they are unable to do so given their current power level. If this were the start of a long running campaign, they should absolutely have the chance to stop or change what happens in the Calamity.
Right. But again, either they have that chance...which would result in an alternate reality, or they don't have that chance, and it's a railroad. The end is predetermined and nothing the players do will effect the outcome in any way. I can't think of a more explicit definition of a railroad than that.
But that's not the story here.
The "story" should be whatever the PCs do. Not what's predetermined by the DM. By definition we're dealing with events that are predetermined...by a different DM...years and years ago.
From the PHB introduction, "Together, the DM and the players create an exciting story of bold adventurers who confront deadly perils." Exactly what is happening in Calamity.
There's no "together" if the players don't have agency. It's the DM spoon-feeding the players a pre-written story where the players have no meaningful choices to make.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Also, it's best to keep in mind this is a stream meant for an audience.

The group is "gaming" but there are also performative elements that just don't fit for a home game, but work fine for a stream.

For example, the approx 20 minute intro for each character, while the others just sit around silently? Works here, but would be terrible for a home game (where such a thing should be handled in individual sessions or even over email).

The railroady elements? Again, this is gaming coupled with a performance - so I think that's a bit relaxed here (though hopefully not too much, it's not a play).
I think an interesting analogy here is a metal band that starts out in their garage and then starts playing for a larger and larger audience. The best ones keep playing for themselves as well as the audience after that transition and then inspire others to start up their own band in their own garages. Sure, you're never going to emulate what Metalica does on stage, but there are still things you can gain from emulating them and then figuring out your own path from there, focusing on what you love about playing.
 

There's always the chance that whatever the characters do in EXU: Calamity, even if they can't actually stop the Calamity itself, could have repercussions that might show up somewhere. So far particularly major events of Critical Role's campaigns have been noted in sourcebooks published afterwards (Explorer's Guide to Wildemount mentions an island called Rumblecusp, and Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn makes brief mention of an event late in campaign 2 of Critical Role that occurred at Rumblecusp). Regarding EXU itself, the DM for the first mini-series created an entirely new civilization hidden in the jungles of southern Tal'Dorei which was then incorporated into Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn.

Besides, D&D itself has the adventure "The Apocalypse Stone" wherein the PCs unknowingly trigger an unstoppable end to their world.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I think it will be interesting to contrast this 4 part series, when it is done, with VECNA LIVES (at least the early part)! So far, I think we're on a track of the 'inevitable' to be handled better here, but I think that will be an interesting evaluation.

One thing I have considered is that there is a chance that the PCs might save Avalir from the Calamity. They might be destined for a tragedy - but they may end up with a choice of tragedies.

There were attempts to save the people of Aeor that failed. What if they succeed here? What if they send Avalir to another plane using Threshold Stones, move it forward in time with Dunamancy, or otherwise keep it intact so that the city, in all of its glory, can return to the modern Exandria?

The thing that had me start thinking in this direction was the name of the city: Avalir. Does it remind you of anything? It reminds me of Avalon, from Arthurian Mythos. If that was an inspiration for the name, it could have huge significance. Some of those Arthurian legends feature a wounded King Arthur being taken to Avalon to recover ... and waiting there to return to save Britain in the future.

The modern days of Critical Role have featured a world approaching the greatness of the Age of Arcanum. Draconia had flying cities. The secrets of Aeor, and other ruins of the Age of Arcanum, are being mined for knowledge. We've see a part of that age nearly return at the end of Campaign 2. Would it be that much of a stretch to see one of the Age of Arcnum cities return as a result of this storytelling? If so, could it be the first step in bringing the setting to ... a Second Calamity? I think Matt is aware of the 'Marvel Storytelling' that features decades of storylines and he may just be thinking of a long game here. I'm not saying this is it, but it could be.
 

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