Actual Play D&D and why it matters to me

This might be cheating if I want to talk about a favorite “tv show,” like my writing challenge prompts, because Critical Role is an online streaming show and not on the TV (even though the animated show does air on Amazon). But… it’s a serialized show that tells a story over time with the same cast. And I don’t care anyway. Because it’s truly amazing and has been life changing for me.

What is Critical Role?

Helped fund the Critical Role Kickstarter that became “The Legend of Vox Machina” that now airs on Amazon Prime Video! (Go Critters for making that shit happen!!)

I used to say, “you’ve probably never heard of it.” But, to my overflowing joy, it has become so well-known and popular over the years since I began watching it that I might actually be wrong.

But… what is it?

Critical Role is a weekly live-play D&D game, streamed on Twitch and posted afterward on YouTube. It is created and played by a group of nerdy ass voice actors who go by the names Matthew Mercer, Marisha Ray, Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Liam O’Brien, and Sam Riegel.

Right now, CR is still only close to the beginning of their third season. Each season (otherwise known as campaigns) follows the story of different adventuring parties.

Their first campaign (Vox Machina) went for 115 episodes.

Second (The Mighty Nein) was 141.

For campaign 3 (Bells Hells), episode 36 aired just a couple days ago.

Have I mentioned that each episode runs anywhere from 3-6 hours? Usually around 4, though.

It’s a time commitment. But, oh so very very worth it.

Why do I love watching a group of people play make-believe on camera using (recently, thanks to the switch to using DND Beyond) iPads and a bunch of dice? (Also, the truly badass battle maps Matt makes.)


I wrote before that vulnerability is what allows us to connect with each other. And, the folks of Critical Role forget about the cameras and the however many people are watching and they let themselves be vulnerable.

They let themselves not just rejoice in the victories and laugh themselves stupid because they’re having so much fun – but they let themselves feel. And they let themselves show those emotions and share them.

Critical Role is an example of being unafraid to show the people you’re with (and the world in general) what you feel and the connections that are built from that. It’s an example of connection building community.

Every Thursday night (they play out of LA, so I am a very tired Lori on Friday mornings after staying up til past 2 in the morning to watch Critical Role) I join legions of Critters on Twitter to share in the experience of watching the story play out. I get to join in the ‘collective hallucination’ that is playing (or watching) Dungeons & Dragons. I get to share in the love we all have for this game and this show and for each other.

But, how has this been life changing?

Don’t watch this video unless you want to get spoiled for the end of Critical Role’s “Exandria Unlimited – Calamity.”
Do watch it for an example of genius storytelling.

“Why do we tell stories? To try to make sense of a world that can be terrifying and enormous.”

– Brennan Lee Mulligan

Critical Role might be a group of people playing make-believe with some dice, but it’s also real. Because, we tell stories for a reason.

As a person who has trouble with my demons in a brain that is fucked up and messy and hard to live in sometimes… telling stories helps me make sense of it.

Critical Role’s stories bring us messages of good triumphing over evil. Of that being fucked up and messy along the way. Of people having to step up and face their demons (in D&D, that is frequently literal, but it’s also frequently not), because while the world is sometimes scary, we as people must keep moving forward.

Because of that, Critical Role reminds me that hope does exist.

And to end this, Critical Role tells us every week, “Don’t forget to love each other.”

They aren’t wrong. It helps.


Side note here at the bottom: Critical Role’s Exandria Unlimited is a series of short adventures (two so far, but there will for sure be more!) that have joined the canon of Critical Role. Each series has been run by different GMs, and the cast is a mash-up of Critical Role regulars and new players.

EXU: Calamity, the four part series that aired last summer, is probably my favorite 18-ish hours of visual storytelling I’ve ever watched in my life.

Published by loribarett

Coffee addicted charismatic geek with a penchant for tattoos, books, and listening to people tell their stories.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: