Critical Role and the Rise of D&D

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  • It's certainly possible that I'm wrong and everything will be fine. But all of the history of mass media is screaming at you to "look out!" So we will see.
  • It's certainly possible that I'm wrong and everything will be fine. But all of the history of mass media is screaming at you to "look out!" So we will see.
    Thinking about it more, I think the problem is that you are equating "streaming" with "money"; Right now, streaming isn't really providing all that much cash to people and it may not end up being a brilliant monetization option. For example, if you look at video games, streaming hasn't changed them that much. LOOTBOXES on the other hand...
  • I don't think it's really a question of how much money streamers are making, but how much money WotC is making indirectly off of streamers doing the work of growing their brand for them.
  • I assumed the dollars in question were the dollars Google can charge advertisers to put ads on pages that get millions of views rather than just a few views.
  • Right. Or Patreon or whatever social media monetization scheme is translating interest into data for sale. Ultimately it's that money that matters, not the streamers'. Again, the stream is just interior design - filling the space between the ads. It's the money that holds the roof up.

    Anyway, I didn't mean to derail, go on with discussing the "content". Just...ya know...keep an eye out. And run for the door if you need to.
  • I think it all falls down there; If it's really as "all about the money" in the sense of "We want the thing that commands the most eyeballs and clicks" then RPGs ARE NOT IT and RPGs are going to die a digital death because it's worth way more money to Google to have an Overwatch stream on there.
  • @Airk Well but it's not as if, say, Adam Koebel's stream of D&D is taking up the space an Overwatch stream might otherwise have. Doesn't Google basically have limitless bandwidth? And there are eyeballs that don't want to watch Overwatch but do want to watch D&D.

    Sure, Overwatch will get more views. But if you don't have D&D you're leaving eyeballs (money) on the table.
  • Yeah, I don't think adding D&D content hurts anything else. And it seems pretty likely to me that there is money involved in the streaming content I'm seeing (for instance, Adam Koebel doesn't seem like the sort of gamer to me who would be running the latest 5th Edition WotC modules exactly by the book as his preferred form of spending his time. I could be wrong, but... it's a pretty strong hunch.

    Meanwhile:

    I'm still curious if anyone reading this has followed Critical Role enough to talk about how it has changed over time, especially from the first campaign into the second? Are any of these changes significant for gaming and D&D overall, or streaming gaming, more specifically?

    How does that relate to the business of the whole thing, and how that may change what we do going forward?

    The game itself doesn't seem to be particularly heavy-handed about selling things, but even in the relatively early sessions I've seen, there's a lot of plugging content, events, fundraisers, and selling merchandise (easily 10-15 minutes, at least, per episode). I can only imagine that this would grow over time.
  • Paul,

    I've essentially watched every episode of Critical Role and would be happy to address how it has changed, things I really like about the show, and my criticisms of it as well. Unfortunately, I'm at work right now so will have to wait for a more opportune time to do so. Are you mostly interested in the monetizing aspect or does the fictional stuff interest you at all?
  • edited December 2018
    I've been watching some of the show lately, again, and enjoying some of the developments - there's some great stuff in the Briarwoods adventure/arc, which I'm really enjoying.

    I'm more interested in the fictional aspect and the gameplay, personally. I'm sure if you have thoughts to share about the monetization (and particularly if and whether it has affected the gameplay), lots of others will be interested to hear about that, however!

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
  • Bit of context...

    I drive over an hour to and from work every day. I have for the last several months listened to the Critical Roles podcast during the commute. I have watched some of the videos but the majority of my "viewing" has actually been listening. Much of the time I miss seeing the cool terrain that they build for the battles or their facial expressions when they are role-playing. I know these things are there but I don't see a lot of them.

    My own experience with RPGs is quite varied. I started 30 years ago with AD&D and played a lot of stuff over the years. I like many of the more story oriented games. Capes is a favorite. The Shadow of Yesterday is very nice. Dogs in the Vineyard is great. However, in recent years I've sort of come back to my roots and run mostly OSR type stuff. My current long term game uses Castles and Crusades and I quite like the system.

    I say all that to say that while I like Critical Role quite a bit (500+ hours is a lot of time), it probably wouldn't be my cup of tea to play in long term. I listen to the show for the entertainment value but I also listen with a GM's ear that is a bit more critical. So, for any fanboys or girls of the show who read the critical stuff, remember, I LIKE the show. It just has some flaws. Everything does.

    I'll list my thoughts in very short points. There's a lot of them and this post would be horrendously long if I went into detail. If you want to discuss any of them more, just let me know. I'm happy to unpack some of them.

    Things the show does well...

    Obviously the quality of the acting and characterization is quite good. These guys are professionals. This might have grown from their private game but they didn't just put aside all that training when playing for fun. It's like watching a pick up game of flag football by NFL players. They are still skilled.

    Production values started okay but have grown to be seriously good. The show must be making some money and they've used it to improve and grow the show.

    These guys understand character arcs and growth. The ones that I think are the most noticeable and I enjoyed seeing where Vax and Scanlan. The characters started the game with some serious issues and over the course of 115 episodes they grew and changed as characters. They might have still been imperfect at the end but they had resolved their core character conflicts. It was good storytelling.

    Matt does a great job at preparing individual story arcs for each of the characters. Interspersed with the overall story of their group he injects arcs from each character's background and ties it to the big picture. He's good at this.

    On a more micro scale, the players are excellent about sharing and passing around spotlight time. They genuinely like to watch each other take center stage. Everyone is engaged even when they aren't the center of attention.

    The players know how to deal with failure. While they are always trying to succeed, I think they have just as much fun when the dice come up crap as they do with critical success. They enjoy it when failure from the dice gets their characters in trouble. This is something a lot of role-players could learn.

    Things that are problematic (at least for me)...

    Some of the humor is a bit juvenile. Brothel scenes and lightning bolts from the crotch are quick examples. This is toned down as the game goes on but doesn't ever completely go away. I'm 47 years old and not a teenager. This doesn't appeal to me at all.

    The setting is a style of fantasy I don't care for. It's gone the way of all the later versions of D&D. Everything is gonzo but nothing is fantastic or otherworldly. I find the setting very meh.

    This next one is a nitpick. I admit it but it bugs me. Matt is horrible are scale and measurements. If you actually think about the measurements he gives cities and other large objects, they make no sense. While this doesn't bother a lot of people, it would really get in the way of me being able to stay in the imagined space.

    I absolutely hate how every little action requires a die roll. Example, on the way to work this morning I was listening and one of the characters while looking around a shop had to make an Investigation check just to see what was on the shelves. Really? Why not just tell the players what's on the shelves? This is a shop. Presumably the shop owner isn't hiding things on the shelves. They want to sell stuff, after all. This happens a lot in the game and creates really stupid situations.

    Several of the players are as terrible at the game part of the show as they are great at the acting part. After 100+ sessions how can anyone still not know how to use their most basic powers without screwing it up? My 7 year old can do this.

    There's other things but this is getting long. I'll leave the other stuff to future discussion if it comes up.

  • edited December 2018
    Gaerik,

    I agree with all those observations. I think my favourite part of the show/game is seeing the fictional content Matt comes up with (often very evocative, colourful, and dramatic, despite the somewhat lackluster "kitchen sink" D&Disms the setting is based on - his material rises above that line consistently, which is impressive), the character arcs he and the players both play into so nicely, and the tremendous focus and attention the players bring: they're always "on" and they always share the spotlight and the energy all around.

    I think that's a huge part of the reason the game is so watchable: whether it's because they all know they're on camera or not, they're very good at staying "in the game". (I always think of how many of the players will sometimes make even rules questions entertaining to watch by asking them "in character"!)

    This is a game with high standards for performance: a player who delivered dialogue in the wrong accent or not in their "character voice" would be called out on it immediately.

    But it's also a game where the players have such strong and sincere reactions to everything that happens: they are never jaded or bored - they boo and hiss and cheer at every turn, which makes watching or listening much more captivating as a listener.

    They also clearly like each other and the game, and share the love all around, which makes them enjoyable to watch - the sheer enthusiasm is powerful.

    I also agree with your nitpicks - I am also surprised how a hundred sessions into a weekly game players don't remember how critical hits work, for instance. And I've seen a brief side conversation with an NPC require 6-8 rolls, despite not being of any importance to the game.

    I was really hoping, though, that you might have some observations about the long-term focus and development of play:

    As someone who's watched the whole thing, or most of it, how do you see the game developing and changing?

    Has the GM's - or the players' - approach to playing this thing changed over time? Is the second campaign different in style or mood, or technique?

    Do you have any sense of whether the participants' prep is changing over time? (Goes for the players, too, whether it's backstory or characterization or character optimization or whatever else we might consider.)

    Is the storyline more controlled or less controlled, as time goes on?

    Are the encounters, NPCs, themes, etc, being used in the game developing and changing over time, or are they being celebrated over and over? (For an example of what I mean, are villains growing more nuanced, or, instead, increasing in their obviously evil, hateful natures?)

    What lessons are being learned, if any?

    And, do you see any of these things as being related to the commercial success of the show? If so, how?

    Thank you for the insightful post!
  • Ah, I see what you were looking for now.

    Speaking to story control, I *think* the game is fairly bog standard Participationist. Granted, very well done. I haven't seen this change at all over the course of the game. It seems to me that Matt runs the game kinda like driving a car in the dark of night with the headlights on. He gives the players some choices about what to pursue and then based on where they want to go he preps an adventure that is pretty much Plot Point A to Plot Point Z in a kind of all points lead to Rome manner. I don't think he knows the entire arc of the campaign but he plans extensively what he can see in the headlights immediately in front of him. After the adventure the players get a freer choice in where to go from there and the cycle repeats. That seems to be a constant in the show. I qualified my statement above with "think" because I don't know how it would be viewed by Matt or the other players if someone pushed at jumping the rails of the storyline. The players are very good at choosing a direction and then jumping onto the plot rails from there. It would be really interesting to see one or more of the players decide to do something really unexpected and see how that develops. I don't think it will happen though.

    I have noticed in campaign 2 that most of the players are better at learning the abilities of their characters. That has changed a bit, so player prep might be said to have gone up some. They still struggle sometimes with new powers but that's not really uncommon in games in my experience. I don't think I've heard anyone in campaign 2 ask how critical hits are calculated or whatnot. Some of the players are better at this than others. Sam is still the worst at it.

    In terms of style and technique, campaign 2 is more of campaign 1. The characters are starting as a bunch of weird, fairly amoral asshats. They're selfish, broken, and kind of jerks. They're entertaining as hell but they certainly aren't heroes in any real sense of the word. As the campaign runs along they are dealing with their failings and morphing into something more heroic. That's the way the 1st campaign ran and it seems to be the way campaign 2 is going as well.

    One thing that has changed is that the characters got weirder. Season 1 had 3 half-elves, 2 gnomes, 1 goliath, and 1 human. Season 2 has 2 tieflings, 1 goblin, 1 half-orc, 1 aasimar, and 2 humans. There's 1 more human in the 2nd season but I find tieflings and goblins to be stranger than half-elves and gnomes. The characters in Season 2 really are a collection of misfit toys.

    As weird as the characters sound though, it really makes no difference. All the non-human characters are just humans with funny physical features and some special abilities. That goes pretty much for all the NPC's as well. This particular criticism isn't unique to Critical Role but given their acting ability I was kind of hoping that these players would be able to actually portray the non-humans as well... different. Your character has DEMON blood in him or her. It ought to mean something in terms of who and what you are and not just be ornamental. Gnomes should be more than short humans. You get the idea.

    As good as Matt's characterizations are (and they are fantastic) he's not good at nuanced villains. I think the closest he's come to a morally ambiguous antagonist was Ridley (I think that was her name), Percy's gunslinging counterpart from the Briarwood story arc. She was pro-human and wanted to increase humanity's knowledge and power in order to free it from dependence on the gods and other races. Not a completely terrible thing. However, she was completely willing to kill anyone and anything that got in her way which knocked her right back down into the Evil Asshole category. There wasn't any moral ambiguity about opposing her or hunting her down. It'd be really interesting if there were some antagonists that weren't obviously evil asshats. As a side point, there's a development in Season 2 that might result in a more nuanced villain but I don't know yet how that will turn out. It might just turn out that the character turn either into a "good" guy that is on the party's side or they might turn into a "bad" guy eventually and become another evil asshat. I'm waiting to see about this.

    Frankly, I see the commercial success of the show to be about the acting acumen of the players (Matt included). They are just entertaining to listen to and watch. I've tried other actual play podcasts and some of them might have better story value and be deeper in terms of theme and setting but I can't get into them because the players just aren't as entertaining to watch. In fact, while I'd probably rather play with some of these other groups long term, I can't really get into just watching them.

    Does that hit some of the things you're interested in?
  • That's a perfect answer, and exactly the kind of thing I was curious to hear about from a committed listener.

    Thank you! Lots of excellent observations and food for thought. You just made my day! Cheers.
  • Thinking further, I think you're exactly right about the structure of play and many of the elements you list work in service of that. For example, a very black and white villain works great for a group that is interested in clear and distinctive characterization and a fairly linear plot that you can prepare for in advance. For a game like D&D, that seems like a great choice, and Mercer's villains are terrifying delightful to hate.

    For people who are listening to the game, rather than watching, you're missing some other cues, as well. For instance, a lot of Mercer's descriptions are written and being read off a sheet (so, presumably prepared beforehand).

    These occasionally include things like an enemy's death or other events that aren't, in theory, guaranteed.

    I wonder if that means he's ridiculously well prepared for every eventuality, or If he's just been doing this long enough that pretty much knows how things are going to go.
  • It really would be interesting to see Matt's notes and prep. I have a feeling he preps quite a lot, especially since the game has become an income stream. I think he trusts his players to pick up on the subtle hooks he throws out there though. Given that they seem to have a social contract that pretty much guarantees they'll play along with those hooks it probably doesn't take a genius to have a good idea of what major events are going to happen.

    ***Spoiler***

    At the end of the Chroma Conclave arc, the ancient green dragon, Raishan, nearly kills the party and escapes. I've often wondered about this event. The fight with Raishan appeared to only happen because Vax turned on her when Thordak died. I've wondered if Matt was going to have Raishan pull the double cross and was okay with Vax pulling the trigger first or did he plan on having the party honor their deal with the dragon and planned on having her reappear later. In this case he needed her to survive. Would he have let her die if the party had rolled well enough to kill her? I would love to have a bit of insight on that. It'd answer some questions about how illusionist vs participationist the game is.

    ***End Spoiler***

    I'm pretty certain Matt has paid minions who build the battle terrain now. I mean, the other session he had 3 separate battle spaces pulled out. I'd have a hard time doing that and prepping for a full game session every week. I'm willing to bet he has an assistant or two that do some of the work for him. I have no proof of this. It's just a suspicion.
  • Great observations and questions, Gaerik. I'm with you on all of the above!

    (As well as the potty humour - I watched a bit of a combat yesterday where Scanlan announced he was using his movement action to pee, and then they played out the remainder of the combat with descriptions of him with his pants around his knees. (The funniest part is Matt Mercer accepting that and playing into it while maintaining a very grim and serious countenance throughout.)
  • (The funniest part is Matt Mercer accepting that and playing into it while maintaining a very grim and serious countenance throughout.)
    LOL, now i have to check that out. Dont tease my dirty pleasure tummy please!

  • One thing to consider about streamed games is that people tune in for the players as much as for the characters and the story. They love the silly antics of the players, as long as they're being true to themselves (at least some audience folks love the silly stuff).
  • Yeah, I think the personal charm is a larger draw than the overall quality of the game, in many ways. People find themselves rooting for the players and the characters, both!
  • Thanks, @Gaerik ! That was a very helpful summary.

    Do you have any sense of where the character arcs are coming from, procedurally?

    Do the players come up with seeds for such things during character creation (backstory, what matters to the character, what the player finds most interesting about the character, etc.), and then Matt refers to those seeds whenever he feels like the time is right?

    Or does Matt just get to know the characters as they have their silly adventures, and then draw inspiration for ways they could grow, and just introduce those opportunities as he sees fit?

    Has a player ever reacted to an opportunity for this sort of character exploration and growth with resistance based on their own character vision, like, "No, my guy wouldn't engage with that at this time"? Or do they always jump eagerly like, "Ah, this looks like a chance for my guy to learn a lesson! Okay, cool, let's have him learn a lesson!"?

    Or do the players initiate their own arcs in a way I haven't guessed?

    Thanks!
  • From what I've seen, it's mostly clever writing from Mercer's part (the GM), although part of what makes it so good is that it's all based on the PCs' prewritten backstories.

    I've yet to see a player push back against any of these developments: it helps that they are all so in genre and black and white morally that it's not hard to play along.

    I'm excited to hear Gaerik's take on this, though!
  • I don't actually have much prior reference when it comes to weird, amoral, selfish jerks becoming heroes through fantasy adventure missions. I don't know what "in genre" means, there.

    "Prewritten backstories" might be the answer to my initial question, though... at least, if the players are instructed to write good starting points for redemption arcs or some such.
  • (The main thing I note is that many/most of the NPCs and monsters are very clearly good guys or bad guys, so it's pretty clear that, for instance, even if they make you tempting offer, you might perhaps *pretend* to agree, but ultimately you're going to take them down for the greater good.)
  • I don't actually have much prior reference when it comes to weird, amoral, selfish jerks becoming heroes through fantasy adventure missions. I don't know what "in genre" means, there.
    I would say it is the standard midschool era in reality. There was an infamous AD&D campaign writeup somewhere on the interwebs, I forgot its title. It had cool, murderhobo PCs, tanks(!), whatnot.


  • Do you have any sense of where the character arcs are coming from, procedurally?

    Do the players come up with seeds for such things during character creation (backstory, what matters to the character, what the player finds most interesting about the character, etc.), and then Matt refers to those seeds whenever he feels like the time is right?
    To my knowledge this varies somewhat. In the first campaign there were characters with greater in-depth backstories that Matt worked into the campaign. I think Vax, Vex, and Keyleth fall into the category. However, I know from an interview with Taliesin that he only had the very basic, minimal background when they started the campaign. The whole Briarwood arc was a complete surprise to his player apparently. Also, Travis showed up to the first session with only a race and a class prepared. He hadn't even come up with a name for Grog at that point. I think his backstory was more emergent than planned.

    The second campaign seems far more in depth in terms of the characters and their histories. This makes some sense. All the players have experience now. They know how the game works and what kinds of things are helpful in making interesting character arcs.

    Procedurally, it seems like Matt takes the character histories (or whatever hints are given by the players) and plans a story arc around this. Then he'll attach those arcs in some way to the overall campaign arc. He's very good at working these things in. He'll do a campaign arc like the Kraghammer story and then move to a character arc like the Briarwoods then he's back to a campaign arc like the Chroma Conclave (which is actually 4 separate arcs). Then back to Keyleth's Aramente. You get it. It's like how running TV series work.

  • Has a player ever reacted to an opportunity for this sort of character exploration and growth with resistance based on their own character vision, like, "No, my guy wouldn't engage with that at this time"? Or do they always jump eagerly like, "Ah, this looks like a chance for my guy to learn a lesson! Okay, cool, let's have him learn a lesson!"?

    Or do the players initiate their own arcs in a way I haven't guessed?
    The answer to both of these *seems* to be no. I don't know what goes on off camera so I can't speak to that. No one has ever balked at the table though. In fact, I've not seen any player be anything other than completely enthusiastic about developments to their characters.

    I think this is a trust thing. I think the players trust that anything Matt does is going to be cool and make their characters awesome. If you aren't afraid of the GM nerfing your character mechanically or thematically, then you're generally fine with jumping onto anything the GM comes up with. If you trust that the GM is in fact going to help enhance your character, you'll even be enthusiastic with your support. This trust is one of the main things that makes Critical Role work.

  • One thing to consider about streamed games is that people tune in for the players as much as for the characters and the story. They love the silly antics of the players, as long as they're being true to themselves (at least some audience folks love the silly stuff).
    This right here is absolutely true. I've listened to other podcasts with the same level of silly antics and found it impossibly annoying. Something about this group of players makes the worst of it bearable and most of it amusing.

    I think part of it is that even when being silly they don't abandon the serious themes that surround the game and their characters. It's like the difference between Sean of the Dead and Zombieland to me. I hated the first movie but loved the second.
  • Indeed.

    For me, a big part of it is that, no matter how silly things get, they always stay "in the game", and react to everything that is happening with very genuine emotion. They fear the villains, cheer for each other, and just seem to be hanging on every development Mercer throws at them. It's delightful and contagious.

    Thank you for that analysis, Gaerik. It matches what I've seen so far very well!
  • edited December 2018
    Thanks, Gaerik! It sounds like a very familiar player/GM division, but with a way higher than normal degree of player buy-in. I wonder if that's because some of the traditional emphasis on effective play has been replaced by an emphasis on performance.

    Critical Role players don't spend much mental effort on tactics or how best to solve problems, right?

    And Matt doesn't introduce situations which reward optimized problem-solving?

    And Matt doesn't punish, or allow the rules to punish, bad or failed gambles with any outcomes that are truly unwelcome to the players (like character death)?
  • Thanks, Gaerik! It sounds like a very familiar player/GM division, but with a way higher than normal degree of player buy-in. I wonder if that's because some of the traditional emphasis on effective play has been replaced by an emphasis on performance.

    Critical Role players don't spend much mental effort on tactics or how best to solve problems, right?

    And Matt doesn't introduce situations which reward optimized problem-solving?

    And Matt doesn't punish, or allow the rules to punish, bad or failed gambles with any outcomes that are truly unwelcome to the players (like character death)?
    Yes and no. The characters are powerful but not optimized, I would say. Some of the players are fairly good tacticians but tactics play a back seat to being cool and staying in character. Some of the players are just terrible at tactics.

    Matt let's the dice determine outcomes, even character death. He's also played opponents intelligently enough that they've gone out of the way to kill characters that are unconscious. This didn't mean as much in the 1st Season where the characters were high enough level to raise their dead companions. It's happened once in Season 2 where a character died and is gone. The player rolled up a new character and was worked back into the party.

    *** Spoilers ***

    Interestingly, one of the big story arcs from Season 1 came out of a character death and a rather random one at that. Vex was checking out a sarcophagus after a big fight and a trap killed her outright. During the ritual to bring her back Vax (her twin brother) made a deal with The Raven Queen to serve her if she'd relent to allow Vex to return. Vax multi-classed to Paladin and one of the best examples of character development was watching Vax move from shiftless and unsatisfied rogue to a character with purpose and meaning. Of note, he's the one character that died in the last episode and returned to The Raven Queen's side.

    It is neat that this came out of a rather random event. Matt didn't predict what was going to happen here. He and Liam (Vax's player) just rolled with it and turned it into a great story development.

    *** End Spoilers ***

    Thanks for the discussion, guys. I've found that while Critters are nice folks and fun to follow, they haven't been terribly open to frank discussions about the game that include criticism. I like the show and the game but I also want to be able to talk about it critically (not necessarily negative criticism) and it's nice to have a place where that can happen.

  • edited December 2018
    Huh! Not what I expected. Now I'm a bit surprised about how smoothly this apparently runs.

    In my experience, the sort of player-GM arrangement we see in Critical Role tends to break down when the players try to apply their effort in order to produce good outcomes and avoid bad outcomes, only to find that their control over such things is nebulous, inconsistent, or requires a lot of work that isn't fun.

    So I was guessing that the Critical Role players simply weren't applying that effort in the first place. No effort = no frustration.

    But I guess I was wrong.

    Are they simply doing their best to whatever extent remains fun, not worrying about how it's all arbitrated, and then gamely rolling with whatever outcome arrives? I am not sure I have ever witnessed that combo of investment, equanimity and agreeableness in the wild.
  • Having watched maybe 12 hours of it, I think "that combo of investment, equanimity and agreeableness" is there and comes from two pressures:

    1. They are actors and there's an audience watching, and that means they are putting on a show.

    2. Mercer is a damned fine DM and runs a hella entertaining game. They are having fun.
  • I agree with Adam.

    The players seem equally willing to put in *some* effort and sincerely care about outcomes and also be very accepting of however it turns out.

    For example, they try to do their best to win fights, but they don't generally try very hard to strategize so as to tilt those fights in their advantage. They'll use opportunities to do that if they come up but don't go out of their way to look for them. Standing up to evil as heroic figures takes precedence over trying to be smart about winning, I would say.

    Some combination of trusting Mercer to make it fun no matter what and the pressures of being a good sport on camera seem to be a magic formula.

    (Notably, one of the players left the show in the first campaign, and some of the viewers say that it's because he was starting to try too hard to win, create advantages for himself, optimize his character and his odds, and so on, instead of just accepting whatever was happening. It was seen as disruptive. I don't know if that's true or not, but it definitely is a common attitude/opinion among the viewers. That's telling, I think.)

    Gaerik, would you say that Mercer coming up with a reason to easily reverse that accidental death is a form of slick/clever manipulation ("I don't want to fudge the dice or their outcome, but I still can't have this character dying just now... let's contrive a reason why they don't die just yet"), or was it more organic than that?

    Let me also echo what you said: I'm really glad this thread seems to have reached the point where we can discuss both positives and negatives without people feeling like they have to "take sides" in battle formation. :)

    That was my hope from the start!

  • Gaerik, would you say that Mercer coming up with a reason to easily reverse that accidental death is a form of slick/clever manipulation ("I don't want to fudge the dice or their outcome, but I still can't have this character dying just now... let's contrive a reason why they don't die just yet"), or was it more organic than that?
    Mercer didn't have to come up with a reason, the characters were high enough level to cast the requisite spells to raise the dead party member. However, he does run Raise Dead a bit differently than the rules require. The rules for the spell say that the character is returned to life if he/she is willing and at liberty to return. It doesn't give any rolls that are required. Mercer requires a roll at the end of the hour long ritual. However, 3 people (generally party members) can take part in the ritual and add something to convince both the dead character and The Raven Queen to allow the character to come back. It's actually quite a brilliant way to make the Raise Dead spell more than just a vending machine. If you follow the show and are invested the ritual is actually quite poignant. The party members provide mementos that represent their character's relationship to the dead and then say/do something to make their appeal. I've stolen this from Critical Role and will be doing something similar in my games from here on out.

    In the end, even after the roll is made the player of the character can decide not to come back.

    In any event, Mercer didn't have to come up with anything. During the ritual Vax traded his freedom in servitude to the Raven Queen for his sister's life. Basically the player handed the DM a reasonable excuse to bring the character back and a wonderful plot hook. This kind of thing happens a lot. The players don't mind embroiling themselves into trouble or complication in order to make the game better.
  • That sounds really great! Thanks for the detailed description.

    For readers, it's a perfect example of what makes Critical Role so good: the creativity of Matt Mercer and the way the players buy into each development with such genuine feeling makes for some really great play and some great stories.
  • Agreed. I recall a later example when Sam Reigel's character Scanlan cast a "false memory" spell (can't recall the name of the spell) on Taliesen Jaffe's character Percy. What struck me was Taliesen's enthusiasm and, indeed, excitement, at the prospect of getting jerked around by another player in an entertaining way - even before he found out what the false memory was going to be.
  • Indeed; Taliesin, in particular, looks downright gleeful when bad things happen to his character (I saw a clip of his character being likely to die, and the other players start to make fun of him for the huge grin he has on his face as he rolls a failure on the death save).
  • edited December 2018
    Players accepting adversity with a smile is nothing new to me. It's only the context in which they're doing it -- a D&D game where they are also trying to apply their wits and character abilities to succeed, with genuine stakes for failure -- that makes it surprising to me.

    If Matt consistently makes failure still fun, then that should counter some of the usual problems. But I've seen GMs do that and players still take issue with how player efforts feed into outcomes.

    I'm guessing that the final ingredient here, performing for an audience, really does make a difference. I'm wondering if there's any way to capture that for similar games which don't have audiences. I wonder if simply pointing a camera at the table and asking everyone to imagine that it'll be viewed later would elevate play...
  • edited December 2018
    I'd have to see the episode to judge better, and I'm not qualified to psychoanalyze strangers on the internet, but I suspect Taliesin Jaffe's personality is the "laugh at pain" type.
  • I can totally see how the players would be less like little bitches if they had an audience. Ever more so if it was a big audience and there was money riding on a good performance. Makes sense to me [grin].

    The opportunity doesn't always arise, but sometimes you can play a group against itself a bit regarding social censure: if the members of the group realize that they are effectively performing for each other, that can motivate the players to simply "be better" than they would otherwise be, simply because they become self-conscious and want to give off a good impression instead of being their horrible everyday selves. For instance, asking an experienced player to "show how it's done" usually improves their performance simply because they now construe the other players as an audience that is paying attention to their behavior.
  • edited December 2018
    The opportunity doesn't always arise, but sometimes you can play a group against itself a bit regarding social censure: if the members of the group realize that they are effectively performing for each other, that can motivate the players to simply "be better" than they would otherwise be, simply because they become self-conscious and want to give off a good impression instead of being their horrible everyday selves. For instance, asking an experienced player to "show how it's done" usually improves their performance simply because they now construe the other players as an audience that is paying attention to their behavior.
    I've seen this happen a couple of times in my online oneshots. Even when there was no recording at all, but the players realized that they are playing for each other.

  • I'm guessing that the final ingredient here, performing for an audience, really does make a difference.
    Isn't this a fundamental element of role-playing game play already?
  • edited December 2018
    Yes, but I think the idea that this is a professional performance matters (remember what I said about the money being the real danger here). As with all other folk art, although aesthetics are valued in the home campaign, they are not valued for their mainstream appeal or for their commercial success. In a stream, you're performing not for yourself or for your fellow collaborators, but for the streaming audience. There's a tension to that which the regular "gang of pals around the table" doesn't re-create.

    (And don't forget: what you're performing is the gathering of advertising data and your audience is the advertiser.)
  • edited December 2018
    You're right, Jason - I was being a bit purposefully obtuse with my question, since the difference between performing for your friends and performing for an audience who will turn you off as soon as you get boring is obvious. What I was trying to prod at is the notion that pretending we're doing this professionally would make for better play than just, you know, trying your best to play in a way that is fun and enjoyable for your friends as well as yourself.

    That is, I'm pushing back at the notion that the money pressure is what's making the Critical Role game good (maybe it's what makes it good for an audience, but is it what makes it good for the players? Maybe. Although that's depressing).
  • edited December 2018
    Wouldn't positive feedback from the viewing audience be a motivator for actors and screenwriters anyway? No money pressure needed? Even more so when the whole thing is your creation, not your interpretation of someone else's creation?
  • Right. Imagine taking your home group and putting them on a stage at your local convention, and filling a theater with people watching. Of course it would be a more high-energy affair! Of course people would perform "bigger"! Of course professionals would put on a better show than amateurs! Of course it could be improved by judiciously editing die rolls, practicing specific lines and using professionally made props and backdrops!
  • I mean money pressure as the primary pressure that creates the secondary pressure of even having a platform and audience in the first place. But I agree with both of you.
  • For those following this, but not so closely that you hear all the news, here's another development:

    Geek & Sundry, the channel that has been airing Critical Role, is launching a new series. It looks like this one is being GMed by a well-known actress, will have costumes and custom set design, claims to deliver "a magical tale that's unlike anything you've ever seen", and will be made available exclusively to paying customers.

    https://nerdist.com/deborah-ann-woll-dungeons-dragons-series-relics-rarities/

    Interesting business!
  • Deborah Woll is somewhat new to gaming, but she is all in, like totally a fanatic in the best way. She's played in a bunch of streamed games and she DMed a couple. She's been running D&D games in a setting of her own design for a while now, on and mostly off camera. I'm excited to see what she's doing with Relics & Rarities, which seems to be a multimedia thing beyond the tabletop.

    She was Jessica (the young vampire created by Bill) in True Blood, Karen Page (the main love interest) in Marvel's Daredevil (and Punisher and Defenders). I've always liked all the acting work she's done.
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