I have to admit I haven’t really followed the discussions surrounding the Critical Role Kickstarter project. Heck, I haven’t even checked out the project itself until recently. So what is all the fuzz about? Matthew Mercer and his motley crew of voice-acting friends, famous for their D&D actual play series Critical Role, are raising funds for the production of a animated TV series called “The Legend of Vox Machina”. In no time, they reached the set goal of about 666.000€ and at the time of this writing they have raised over 6 million euros. This is HUGE! I don’t think any roleplaying-related fundraiser had ever raised that much money.
Quickly criticism was raised (Check out this article on Kotaku). At first people from the industry were obviously miffed that streamers like Critical Role make more money off of RPGs than the people actually designing those games. In a way I can understand the frustration. Making money in the RPG business is extremely hard. There are only a few designers out there who can live off RPGs alone.
But in that case it’s IMHO an apples versus oranges situation. Critical Role is raising money for an animated TV series. A lot of the people interested in this series might not even be roleplaying game fans themselves. I have watched a couple of episodes of both seasons of Critical Role and I can see the appeal of taking part in their adventures as a spectator. It is possible that some of the backers have never played a roleplaying game in their lives. Perhaps they heard from friends about the show, or they know Vox Machina from their cameos in the Pillars of Eternity 2 video game. Will some of the people backing Critical Role now eventually throw money towards roleplaying game creators? Possible. My point is that the show might have a larger appeal than just people playing D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder at the moment. In the long run the success of Critical Role will probably lead to more sales in the RPG industry.
The second criticism raised is about diversity. While this particularly group of friends is not entirely male, like way too many roleplaying game groups, the lack of persons of color is noticeable. We all know that representation is important. Critical Role has become a kind of ambassador for the roleplaying hobby, and so it would be great if their cast included persons of color.
But things are not that easy. Before Critical Role was a hit show on Twitch and YouTube, the members of the group were just friends enjoying the game. There have been several guest players on the show and perhaps they might actually add a non-white person to the cast. Since the show evolved from a fun past time to something greater, calling for more diversity and more representation of minorities on the show might not be unreasonable, but it’s not something we can force. Change is slow. But I think we are on the right track.
With their popular and financial success comes a certain responsibility. The future will show if they use their power to do good for the whole community or if they are more interested in increasing revenue for themselves. From what I’ve heard so far, Matt Mercer and crew are good people. They’ll hopefully do the right things. And if not, we – as fans and fellow roleplayers – can nudge them into the right direction again. It’s the same in live as it is in roleplaying games: It’s not only one person’s job to ensure everyone is having a good time. This responsibility falls to all of us.
What are your thoughts on the criticism regarding the Critical Role KS? Please share your thoughts below!
Without a doubt, Matthew Mercer and the rest of the Critical Role team has had a huge impact on how many people perceive roleplaying games in general and Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Their show is wildly popular, watching others play D&D has suddenly become more mainstream, something a lot of people enjoy tremendously. What sets Critical Role apart from many other groups posting their actual play sessions to the internet is that they are all professional voice actors who have played together for many years now. Their particular skills and their particular gaming style help to make their game sessions interesting to watch.
People are obviously inspired by the show and try to emulate what they are seeing. There’s nothing wrong about that and even veteran GMs like me might be tempted to go that route. My attempt to take a few pages out of the Matthew Mercer handbook pretty much ended in disaster but that was not their fault but rather me biting off more than I could chew at that moment. I also realized that while D&D 5th Edition is a game I enjoy playing, it’s not a game I am comfortable running at the moment. But I digress.
Things become complicated if people think that Critical Role’s style is the only way to go. There are as many gaming styles as there are gaming groups and no way to play D&D is the wrong one. Some groups focus on player interactions, others revel in tactical combat, others are suckers for a good mystery. For some sandboxing is the way to go, while others prefer a more GM-guided experience (what some might call railroading). But I understand if players or GMs feel threatened that they might be forced to emulate a professional voice actor and GM of 20+ years and his merry band of players which are also professional voice actors. (Check out this post by a Reddit user asking for help to beat the “Mercer effect”)
The most important goal of any game, D&D or not, should be to have fun. You can have a lot of fun even if your game doesn’t meet the standard set by Mercer et al. On the other hand, if that particular gaming style is your thing, it’s definitely achievable. I have personally played in games which were definitely as epic and as intense as any episode of Critical Role.
Without any doubt, shows like Critical Role which expose our hobby to a wider audience are a boon to our hobby and the RPG industry. But we have to make sure that people don’t get the impression that the only fun roleplaying game is D&D 5th Edition or that Matt’s style is the only valid one. What are your thoughts on the Mercer Effect? Please share your thoughts below!
A while ago I read about the new Endless Quest books by Candlewick Press. They have been written by Matt Forbeck, are set into the Forgotten Realms, and in each book you can follow the adventures of a wizard, fighter, rogue, and cleric respectively in a “choose your own adventure” style. The reviews I’ve read are mostly positive.
But there’s one aspect that utterly surprised me: Endless Quest doesn’t use any random elements like combat, dice rolling, etc. but everything that happens is based on your choices. This might make it easier to tell a great story, but it is – at least in my opinion – a missed opportunity.
These books would have been perfect to introduce new players to D&D. Sure, they can already do that, since they are based on currently available D&D campaigns, but wouldn’t it be better, if they also introduced interested readers in a couple of D&D’s basic concepts? I could easily see a gamebook using a simplified version of the D&D mechanics. Adding random elements would perhaps also add to the replayability (or is it rereadability in this case?) of the books.
But aside from this minor gripe I am glad that this kind of adventure game books is making a comeback. I enjoyed them tremendously back in the day. I still have fond memories of playing the classics like Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series, or Steve Jackson’s Starship Traveller. Recently I acquired a copy of the first book in the Fabled Lands series which I have heard good things about.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Have you actually read one of these new books and how did you like them? Did you miss random elements or do you think it’s great as it is? Please share your comments below!
A Roleplaying Games blog
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