Critical Role Why Critical Role is so successful...

Azuresun

Adventurer
This player had a knack for doing unexpected things with magic that forced me into situations where I was unprepared, beyond the example I just gave. As such I've spent about two months so far trying to anticipate and pre-plan as much as possible for the next campaign I want to run. One of the first things I did, for example, was create a five page document detailing the last ditch defenses and countermeasures the planned BBEG would use if the party somehow teleported right to her inner sanctum.

"Her private sanctum is covered by a permanent Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum"? ;)
 

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billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Critical Role is a successful streaming show. They've tried to optimize D&D for that - they have professional actors as players, and so on.

Then you must ask, what does being "successful" mean at your particular table? Probably not - you are not optimizing for a viewer, you are optimizing for the players you have.

You have Steve, who's your big roleplayer - he loves the drama. Jane is good at and interested in the small-unit tactical wargame, but can't really act her way out of a paper bag. Kevin is not too shabby at either, but his goals are really just to be at the table, have a beer or two, and hang out with his friends. And so on.

Yeah, they're professional actors, blahdi blah blah. But it's not just on the DM to optimize for the players they have, they also have a chance to develop their players into the players they want. If you, as a DM, want a more CR-like game, you can show them the way by emphasizing in-character, interpersonal interaction and exploration. One my early DMs did that and it vastly improved my DMing game (Thanks to Dave Werdin for that). And watching CR for tips can do so as well. The fact that the players are all professional voice actors raises the bar a bit out of reach on some of that... but far from all of it.
 

Yes a lot of us are. I agree with the push back on the exploration pillar sucking, but I don't think your argument needs to be a push back on providing more rules / guidelines / structure for exploration.
I want to dig in on this point because it is an interesting one. I find that 5e doesn’t really need additional rules to support the exploration pillar, but that unfortunately the DMG wasn’t very good at giving newer DMs guidance to run the exploration pillar better.
 

jgsugden

Legend
So is the belief that Mercer gets to spend 40 hours a week preparing for his game? Because that is not true. The man has two careers outside of planning for the game. One with his leadership role with Critical Role (which includes participating in a lot of other gaming events, etc...) , and the other with his voice acting career. He is likely as busy, if not busier, than most of us.

He does have additional resources that other DMs do not have, in the work of wikis for his world and a plethora of online summaries of his world. He has mentioned that he occasionally Googles to find out what he previously said in a game... And he has recordings of all of his streamed games to refer back to when he wants.

However, all of that is fairly irrelevant to what makes Mercer a great DM.

He loves his world, and knows it back and forth. When he adds something to the world, he cares about it and builds it up so that he can use it easily.

He understands story structure. He doesn't just drop a bad guy into the game - he builds the story around his bad guys. They have a reason to be there. They have goals. They have personality. They are actual characters.

He understands the role of the protagonists in a story. The story is about the achievements of his PCs, so he creates a world in which they can achieve. He puts hurdles in front of them that play to their strengths. He does not lament a high AC, a high damage capability … he celebrates it with the players. Vax was super fast - and he made a lot of opportunities for Vax to use that speed to great effect. He roots for them and creates opportunities for them to best the challenges that only they could face.

He is great on the fly. If you think preparation makes Mercer great, you are not watching him respond when the PCs do something unexpected. There are times when they pull the rug out from under him in ways he never expected. If you watch his face, you can see those moments of loss when, as a DM, a carefully laid plan and storyline is obliterated by a cupcake. You can see him create NPCs off the cuff when the PCs go someplace he only roughly fleshed out previously. You can see him make quick notes as he goes about the ideas that occur to him as he introduces a new NPC that - 4 seconds earlier - did not exist.

Does he do all of this perfectly - every time? No. There are times when human nature gets him and he gets frustrated that Caleb remembers everything, or that Beau stuns his bad guy before they do something. As a DM, when we take pride in a plan or a designed encounter and the PCs cut it short, it can be frustrating. However, he is really good most of the time and - in my book - is the best DM I've seen in 40 years of D&D.

If you think Critical Role is a waste and not worth watching, then you're missing out. You don't need to watch the entire series, and you don't need to emulate it, but if you think there is nothing you can learn from Mercer that would make your games better, you're not paying enough attention.
 

So is the belief that Mercer gets to spend 40 hours a week preparing for his game? Because that is not true. The man has two careers outside of planning for the game. One with his leadership role with Critical Role (which includes participating in a lot of other gaming events, etc...) , and the other with his voice acting career. He is likely as busy, if not busier, than most of us.

He does have additional resources that other DMs do not have, in the work of wikis for his world and a plethora of online summaries of his world. He has mentioned that he occasionally Googles to find out what he previously said in a game... And he has recordings of all of his streamed games to refer back to when he wants.

However, all of that is fairly irrelevant to what makes Mercer a great DM.

He loves his world, and knows it back and forth. When he adds something to the world, he cares about it and builds it up so that he can use it easily.

He understands story structure. He doesn't just drop a bad guy into the game - he builds the story around his bad guys. They have a reason to be there. They have goals. They have personality. They are actual characters.

He understands the role of the protagonists in a story. The story is about the achievements of his PCs, so he creates a world in which they can achieve. He puts hurdles in front of them that play to their strengths. He does not lament a high AC, a high damage capability … he celebrates it with the players. Vax was super fast - and he made a lot of opportunities for Vax to use that speed to great effect. He roots for them and creates opportunities for them to best the challenges that only they could face.

He is great on the fly. If you think preparation makes Mercer great, you are not watching him respond when the PCs do something unexpected. There are times when they pull the rug out from under him in ways he never expected. If you watch his face, you can see those moments of loss when, as a DM, a carefully laid plan and storyline is obliterated by a cupcake. You can see him create NPCs off the cuff when the PCs go someplace he only roughly fleshed out previously. You can see him make quick notes as he goes about the ideas that occur to him as he introduces a new NPC that - 4 seconds earlier - did not exist.

Does he do all of this perfectly - every time? No. There are times when human nature gets him and he gets frustrated that Caleb remembers everything, or that Beau stuns his bad guy before they do something. As a DM, when we take pride in a plan or a designed encounter and the PCs cut it short, it can be frustrating. However, he is really good most of the time and - in my book - is the best DM I've seen in 40 years of D&D.

If you think Critical Role is a waste and not worth watching, then you're missing out. You don't need to watch the entire series, and you don't need to emulate it, but if you think there is nothing you can learn from Mercer that would make your games better, you're not paying enough attention.

This^
I got into CR when Explorer's Guide to Wildemont came out. I had heard of it before, but hadn't really been interested. But I looked into EGtW (going to the bookstore and peeking at, then buying it). I actually watched the ending of C1 first, because I was investigating and doing research to see if this was something I actually wanted to get into--I have certain requirements when it comes to a setting lol--and I'm caught up on C2. Honestly, I love it. I haven't actually played D&D in years, though I've continued to immerse myself in the lore of Forgotten Realms. Perhaps I would feel pressure from the "Mercer effect" (though I am more likely to be a player, I would still probably try to get deep into the reolplay). I can understand how DMs and players would feel pressure by the "Mercer himself", but Mercer himself is an advocate for people playing D&D. He isn't saying "be like me", he's saying "play D&D". CR is watched by those who play D&D, and those who don't, so they must be doing something right.

And the cast is indeed very busy--I would argue that CR's success has made them even more busy.
 

I've tried getting into listening to Critical Role several times, most recently the past week while doing various chores. I read a summary of what's happened in campaign 2 and skipped ahead to the most recent episodes on Rumblecusp.

I got through episodes 101 and 102 alright, but my interest waned halfway through 103 and I ended up switching to another podcast. Unfortunately for the subject of this thread, I think it was because 101 and 102 focused a lot on the social pillar while 103 was (by the time I quit) focused on the exploration pillar.

In 101 the group arrived on Rumblecusp and talked to the villagers at Vo about the strange culture their "god" Vokodo had set up for them. In 102 the group encountered Vokodo himself and had a long, tense encounter with him. In the half of 103 I listened to the group mostly just wandered around aimlessly and chatted amongst themselves.

EDIT: I ended up going to the Critical Role wiki and read the Vokodo entry, which spoiled me on 104 and 105 (there was nothing mentioned on 103, so I guess nothing happened in the latter half after I stopped listening). The ending of 105 admittedly sounds really intriguing, enough so that I might just skip the rest of 103 and listen to 104 and 105.

Maybe I just need to figure out which episodes are "plot" episodes and which are "filler"?
 
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rgoodbb

Adventurer
Maybe I just need to figure out which episodes are "plot" episodes and which are "filler"?

Or maybe it might be better to commit to it all (if you can) so that you can better take in the holistic CR experience. Your take on Filler is as important to me and others as anything else in C.R. The glue that binds etc. It is the Filler that is the exploration and the social interparty play combined and is as important as the Plot or the Combat.

Please know I'm not having a go at you. It is just that the stuff you wish to throw away is what makes C.R. magical to me and others. If it get's you. It is truly a beautiful thing.

Hope you find it.
 

dave2008

Legend
I want to dig in on this point because it is an interesting one. I find that 5e doesn’t really need additional rules to support the exploration pillar, but that unfortunately the DMG wasn’t very good at giving newer DMs guidance to run the exploration pillar better.
While I agree - I do think it could be worthwhile to have some more structure that is player facing as well. A guideline structure that can act as training wheels for players and DMs to get to know exploration better. It has been a while since i checked it out, but I am pretty sure PF2e has something like this.
 

I want to dig in on this point because it is an interesting one. I find that 5e doesn’t really need additional rules to support the exploration pillar, but that unfortunately the DMG wasn’t very good at giving newer DMs guidance to run the exploration pillar better.
I think the hair being split here is a point made in the video - the difference between rules (restrictions) and structure (guidance on how to put things together.

Because even a moderately good dm will want to go outside the structure form time to time, although an inexperienced dm will benefit greatly form a structure to follow. But then again, rules are a kind of structure...
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I think the hair being split here is a point made in the video - the difference between rules (restrictions) and structure (guidance on how to put things together.

Because even a moderately good dm will want to go outside the structure form time to time, although an inexperienced dm will benefit greatly form a structure to follow. But then again, rules are a kind of structure...
I’d argue that this is exactly the purpose of the published adventures (though I think in reality they do more harm than good as they try to be clever/cute rather than helpful.) I would, for example, love there to be design notes in these adventures so DMs can see behind the scenes, but no we’re just left to try and divine some method to their madness!

Perhaps it‘s sign of a DM leveling up when they toss the published adventures to the curb (or just strip them for parts as many on this site recommend).? :D
 

I love the charisma of Critical Role, but their players are sooo bad it hurts. Just in the last few episodes a 12th level character only fired two eldritch blasts, the rogue forgot they had an elven cloak, the halfling forgot to reroll a natural 1, and the barbarian forgot they have reckless attack AND bonus radiant damage.

Only Liam has his ducks in a row.
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
Exploration is great, if the players are into it. If not, it can be a dud that needs to be hurried through.

This is a most vital point. Give Mercer my table, and I can guarantee that even him would fall flat. :p

With my group of deadfish eyed, casual pretzel crunchers, wine-all-over-their-damn-sheet-I'm-filling-and-printing-for-them maniacs, having them trying to do the same stuff as CR would be their death; no joke, I think at least two of them would die on the spot if it was revealed that I expect them to have initiative and engage with NPCs or their character goals.

I tried once designing a character-oriented sandbox, giving them more or less free reigns to explore and accomplish their characters goals and ambitions. Problem is, none of them had any (yes, even after I told them to find some). So the game fizzled out after one game of doing sweet nothing.

Their excuse: ''But we dont know where you want us to go!''

So on to the railroad with them! Move fast over exploration, have the NPC actively engage them instead of waiting for the PCs and focus on the action.

A little mind-numbing, if you ask me, but a fun relaxing evening with friends none the less.
 

rgoodbb

Adventurer
I love the charisma of Critical Role, but their players are sooo bad it hurts. Just in the last few episodes a 12th level character only fired two eldritch blasts, the rogue forgot they had an elven cloak, the halfling forgot to reroll a natural 1, and the barbarian forgot they have reckless attack AND bonus radiant damage.

Only Liam has his ducks in a row.

Agreed. So how is it still sooo darn good?

Because for them the mechanics (and combat) don't seem to matter anywhere near as much as the social and exploration pillars. It is the wonderous environments and emotion driven party where the PC's appear to care about each other. The 2 non-combat pillars make CR great, and agreed, with their charisma, make CR also great to watch.
 


There are definitely tricks you can pick up from CR, but your situation and goals are different than Mercer's, and so when doing analysis of what we can take, we must keep that in mind.

I think the point that they're actors would be stronger if it were some kind of scripted show or something edited, like Harmonquest. Sure, they're aware of the cameras and are ready to play a character but there really isn't anything conceptually or technically exceptional that they're doing that wouldn't translate to a home game. Yes, not every player in every game is interested in having a backstory or having a campaign that revolves around the characters' motives but there isn't an existential difference between an actor playing DnD for character development average Joe playing DnD for character development.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I think the point that they're actors would be stronger if it were some kind of scripted show or something edited, like Harmonquest. Sure, they're aware of the cameras and are ready to play a character but there really isn't anything conceptually or technically exceptional that they're doing that wouldn't translate to a home game. Yes, not every player in every game is interested in having a backstory or having a campaign that revolves around the characters' motives but there isn't an existential difference between an actor playing DnD for character development average Joe playing DnD for character development.
This is about the idea that your play sessions can be anything like CR if only the DM puts more inspiration into it.

Pushing back at such DM-blaming is only natural.

No need to move the goalposts.
 

This is about the idea that your play sessions can be anything like CR if only the DM puts more inspiration into it.

Pushing back at such DM-blaming is only natural.

No need to move the goalposts.

Unless you're conflating a point someone else was making with anything I have been saying, how did I move any goalposts?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Unless you're conflating a point someone else was making with anything I have been saying, how did I move any goalposts?
It appeared to me you needed to make Umbran's position to be about existential differences to be able to shoot down his argument, so I made a friendly non-committal comment to defuse that direction. Now you pushed back, and here we are.

Time to bury this axe and go back to the original discussion.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I've tried getting into listening to Critical Role several times, most recently the past week while doing various chores. I read a summary of what's happened in campaign 2 and skipped ahead to the most recent episodes on Rumblecusp...
I'd recommend starting at the beginning of campaign 2.

However, if you listen to episodes that are primarily their social and exploration elements, I'd recommend analyzing what Mercer is doing a bit. He demonstrates a lot of skills many DMs lack that make these pillars more intriguing for his players.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Saying, "My players are not interested in exploration" means your players have not been intrigued by your exploration.

It is like saying, "I don't like Sci-fi". I hear that all the time. Then, sometimes, you can get these people to watch a quality sci-fi show/movie and realize that what they did not like was poor quality sci-fi, and that an engaging and well told story, regardless of genre, is an engaging and well told story.

Mercer works hard to pull players in and give them something that interests them. He tells a good story. He isn't perfect, and there is some variety in the quality of storytelling, but there is a lot you can learn from him - as there is a lot we can all learn from each other.
 

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