|Date(s):||March 15, 2015 - current|
|Country of Origin:||US, worldwide|
|External Links:||Official website|
Official Critical Role Campaign 1 playlist on YouTube
Official Critical Role Campaign 2 playlist on Youtube
Official Critical Role Campaign 3 playlist on Youtube
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Critical Role is an actual-play web series primarily streamed on Twitch.tv, with episodes posted on YouTube and formerly on the official Geek & Sundry website, as well as posted as podcasts. As of June 2018 Critical Role is an independent studio that streams on its own Twitch channel and Youtube channel. New episodes also appear on its own website as of episode 52 of campaign 2. It stars a "bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors playing Dungeons and Dragons" with Matthew Mercer acting as the DM.
The first campaign of Critical Role tells a story of Vox Machina, a group of adventurers who travel the world of Tal'Dorei and fight powerful opponents. From vampires to ancient chromatic dragons to God-like villains. Campaign 1 takes place over 114 episodes, which amount to 373 hours of game play.
The second campaign tells the tale of The Mighty Nein, a group of miscreant adventurers who travel making money, fixing problems, and not getting arrested (usually), at least until they get pulled into the middle of a war between two large nations.
The third campaign, currently being streamed every Thursday, revolves around Bells Hells, who come together to solve governmental conspiracies and find out What The Fuck Is Up With the moons.
- For details on who's appearing on the show visit the List of Critical Role Characters
Critical Role, as a company, also runs several one shots and mini-series TTRPG games in different scenarios that are largely separate from the main Critical Role campaigns. They also produced a number of non-RPG content.
Critical Role fandom is very involved and passionate. The fandom nickname for fans of the show is Critters. In the early days of the stream, fans who interacted with the Twitch mods and each other in the Twitch chatroom used to send the cast food and snacks during the games, and as time progressed, gifts as well. That resulted in Critmas (which according to a joke made by Sam Riegel was founded by Jesus Crit) being instituted during which (usually at the end of an episode) the cast would open all the gifts on stream.
During those early days, when the Geek & Sundry Twitch channel was still building and actively encouraging subscriptions (which helped pay for the content produced) Critical Role fans were rewarded for subscriptions with frequent giveaways as well as additional rewards (like then-channel manager Zac dressing up in various costumes). Some sub challenges were imposed by the fans themselves, like when during episode 17, channel subscriber and a BNF CR fan Negihama promised to buy and ship to the studio an 8 ft tall teddy bear that would represent Vex'ahlia's bear companion Trinket if the channel reached 5000 subscribers by the end of the episode. Critters also bought some of the equipment from the Geek & Sundry wishlist that allowed the crew to upgrade their set up and improve the quality of the stream.
Fandom itself is diversified, and in a way divided, due to many different platforms the fans interact on. The most notable divide can be seen between fans on Reddit and fans on Tumblr. Tumblr Critters look at Critical Role as a story, treating the source material very much like they would a book or an actual TV show, focusing on the narrative aspects and not caring much about the mechanics of the game. The Reddit part of fandom seems to hold the D&D aspect of Critical Role in higher esteem, concentrating on the rules and technical aspects. This divide mimics the split between "transformational" and "curative" fandom that has been identified across many fandoms, with transformational or transformative fandom behaviour attributed to Tumblr and curative fandom behaviour attributed to Reddit.
Due to the sheer amount of content, it's widely acknowledged that Critical Role has a very high barrier to entry and it may be difficult for new fans to get into the show. To somewhat ease that initial experience, there have been primers created and shared online, especially popular this presentation for Campaign 1. Many new fans began watching with the launch of Campaign 2 after hearing about Critical Role late into Campaign 1. A significant amount did not go back to watch Campaign 1.
Shipping isn't a practice present in the entire fandom. The majority of it takes place on Tumblr and in YouTube comments. The concept of endgame didn't play a big role in fandom shipping until Liam O'Brien started pursuing a romance for Vax'ildan and both cast and fans realized that romance was in fact an option in game.
Poly ships are also present in the fandom, though do not have a huge popularity. Such ships include Keyleth/Vax/Gilmore, Vex/Percy/Vax and Poly Machina which is a polyamorous ship that includes all members of the Vox Machina - a concept that resulted from Vox Machina's joke comments when the party was traveling in the Feywild. Polynein also has a minor presence, but not as established.
The entire cast of Critical Role is active on Twitter, often chatting with the fans.
The entire cast often likes, favorites and retweets fanart of the show. Every week, Geek & Sundry's website shares a post showcasing fanart the cast saw and liked, and the fanart is also showed before and after the weekly broadcast. Liam O'Brien especially has expressed love for the fanart Critters make; he commissioned art from a fan artist for a birthday present for Sam Riegel. A regular segments showcasing fans' creativity have also been added to the companion talk show Talks Machina that included "Fan Art of the Week," "Gif of the Week," and "Cosplay of the Week." Every week a new set of fanart is featured on the official CritRole website.
After being informed by a fandom statistics blog that he failed to wear an original shirt in every episode, Sam Riegel decided to wear 4 different shirts (that he changed on camera during stream) during episode 74 to make up the numbers. He offered no explanation to his cast mates during the episode, making it almost an inside joke between himself and the fans.
Partly because the cast attends a lot of conventions, there is a lot of cosplay going on in the fandom, especially because the cast actively encourages and shows their excitement every time they see someone cosplaying as their character. There was also an official cosplay contest #CriticalCostumes where the cast picked their favorite cosplays. Later, once they worked out the legal kinks, cast of Critical Role also started running a contest during Talks Machina called Cosplay of the Week, celebrating cosplayers in the US and Canada (excluding Quebec).
Critical Role can be consumed as audio, which has led to a number of animatics and animations of the casts adventures and funny moments. Here's a compilation of animatics assembled by CorvusTheFeatherbrain.
After the split from Geek and Sundry, the cast announced a fundraiser for a 20-minute animation, with the popular Briarwood arc included as stretch goals. The campaign asked for $750,000 but reached $1 million within an hour, ending with a record-breaking $11.3 million in donations. For more, see The Legend of Vox Machina.
Controversies and Issues
Though largely positive, the Critical Role fandom still struggles with certain issues and controversies; though not all of them negative.
Approach to criticism
Due to the nature of the show, some fans within the fandom have a problem when it comes to criticism directed at characters, pairings or plot points within the show, as they perceive any and all criticism as an attack on the actors and/or the DM, even in situations when such attack was not intended. One fan even commented:
CR is such a unique thing that criticism easily can be interpreted as an attack on the players. I can rant about a fictional relationship in books and films, but when actual people make joint decisions for their own characters, it becomes different.
This approach often results in fans hesitating before posting what might be an Unpopular Opinion or simply not post it at all.
At the same time, there are some fans who accuse the cast of pandering to the shippers and that the relationships are forced for the sake of popularity, to a point that the cast felt the need to address the issue.
The very strict Twitch chat policy that the G&S Twitch team enforces might also be contributing to the hesitation fans feel before commenting/criticizing the show, the characters and/or cast.
A different side of this shows up when gaming focused fans of the show criticize the suboptimal gameplays and decisions the players/characters make on the show, either because they use the wrong (in the fans' opinions) spells or do something "stupid".
Critical Role has a decent LGBT representation when it comes to their PCs and NPCs. Both the twins (Vex and Vax) have been confirmed as canonically bisexual by their players, as has Caleb in Campaign 2, entering a relationship with Essek post-canon, while also possibly being polyamorous. Zahra is also heavily implied as bisexual.
Matt Mercer has confirmed several NPCs as transgender on Twitter, noting he's aware that social media statements aren't the best means of representation, but being nervous about choosing a natural moment to bring it up or explicitly state so.
There have been PCs and NPCs established as nonbinary, with cast making sure they used proper pronouns. Most notably Bryce in Campaign 2, and Ashton, FCG and Milo in Campaign 3. Before that, there were instances when Mercer referred to a creature/character as "it" to avoid gender-specific pronouns; a fan asked him on Twitter to use "they" next time, as it was more respectful towards queer and non-binary genders.
The show's queer representation doesn't come without issues. For a more detailed account see: LGBT Issues in Critical Role
Feminist portrayals and fandom misogyny
While not without its problems, which are not unexpected when you have a live improv show, the vast majority of Critical Role could be described as feminist. With three female players in the core cast, the main female characters are complex. A number of fans have expressed joy that while strong, none of the female characters on Critical Role are a stereotypical strong female character.
During one of the Underdark episodes, Scanlan Shorthalt made a sexist joke, deciding to use female pronouns when referring to a monster they were fighting. Both Laura Bailey and Ashley Johnson had a particularly negative reaction to those statements, which resulted in now-famous demand from Ashley: "disadvantage on his rolls!" One of the male players at the table laughed at Sam, reminding him that this was not the table for jokes like that.
During the early days of the Vaxleth romance, Vax'ildan was leaving Keyleth with a lot of agency, never putting his own desires before her own. While in the Feywild, Vox Machina was creeped out by the villain's sexually/romantically charged offer to Vex'ahlia and has not once blamed Vex for not agreeing to the offer and initiating a fight.
Despite these largely positive portrayals, Critical Role fandom still has a serious misogyny problem, with female cast members receiving a disproportionate amount of fan criticism for their in-game actions. Marisha Ray was especially targeted during campaign 1 for her portrayal of Keyleth, as well as often forgetting spell effects.
Critical Role has been a Yuletide fandom; it received 1 story in 2015 and 17 in 2016, split between the main collection and the Yuletide Madness sub-collection. The Critical Role tag on AO3 has over 13,000 fanworks.
- the mist upon the hill by BucketofWater - Mollymauk/Caleb Soulmate AU - Caleb is a mottled canvas of thin, white lacerations so many that Nott can hardly begin to count them all, she wouldn’t even know where to begin. Or, the soulmate au where some soulmates share injuries and Caleb is very tired and very sore.
- Careful Steps by chaya - Essek/Caleb - Shadowhand Essik pursues his interests in the most culturally respectful way possible.
- A Civilized Discussion by CurrieBelle - Percy/Vex - Percy and Trinket, and a very polite discussion about their beloved Vex'ahlia, circa episode 59. Initially posted to Tumblr.
- face it! you're never gonna make it! by robinauts - Beauregard/Yasha High School AU - Beau's got the worst crush ever on her annoying older sibling's super cool best friend. An afternoon spent pining.
- Thread by Crewe - Fjord/Caleb - Fjord and Caleb develop a routine at night, Caleb reading his books and Fjord mending his and his friends' clothes. Or: In which Caleb greatly resembles his familiar, and Fjord understands the virtues of patience, quiet, and boundaries.
- the way i feel will remain the same by nighimpossible - Gilmore/Vax (with background Vax/Keyleth) - This, this is torture. This is Vax cracking him open and Shaun letting him. And it’s sick, truly, because Shaun would rather have Vax here, in his bedroom, unattainable and heart wrenching, than anywhere else in the world. At least here, Vax is safe. At least here, the only person getting hurt is Shaun. They’ll have to see how long he can survive like this.
- someone as lost as you by invoked_duplicity - Beauregard/Jester - Jester asks Beau about her first kiss. The conversation leads to a question Beau didn't expect.
- Travels Across Exandria* (*airship not included) by Rogue_Bard - bodyswap between Vox Machina and The Mighty Nein - The Mighty Nein are looking forward to a few days downtime after speaking to King Dwendal. Vox Machina has gathered at Whitestone, to discuss a message they received from Allura that the war across the sea may be more than it seems. Everyone goes to sleep. And that is clearly their first mistake.
- Shine Bright, Circus Man - painting of Molly by abd-illustrates, April 2019
- Critical Role Fanart: 1 Year Anniversary of The Mighty Nein by Sam Ma
- Dressed to impress The Mighty Nein fanart by Lap Pun Cheung
- Mighty Nein by Laura Spreitzer
- My Mighty Nein group portrait fanart by EmpathyMonster
- Critical Role Mighty Nein Fan Art by TheRealRobearto
- Vox Machina Critical Role Fanart by pretzel-lectern
- Vox Machina by Lap Pun Cheung
- Vox Machina by guykiddart
- What is Critical Role? introductory vid by BrooklynnCalifornia
- entering the critical role fandom like humor vid by ColeyDoesThings illustrating the different kind of CR fans
- Can't Stop The Feeling by Cleo
- Just Wanna Hang Out With You CR cast fanvid by Cleo
- Critical Demons by Lovisa Johansson
- Legacy Vox Machina MV by ceylonntea
- Fall On Me - Critter Valentine's Project
- Critical Role Animated - Vox Machina by kiframe
- What Your Favorite Critical Role Ship Says About You by Eldena Doubleca5t
- The City a short film directed by Ellie C. Bright
- Raven's Slumber a short film directed by Ellie C. Bright
- What is Critical Role and how to cosplay it by WeLoveColors
- Why you should watch Critical Role, Archived version
- There’s something to be said about recurring imagery here, I think., Archived version by luxonbeacon (Campaign 2 meta)
- What truly gets to me is what each offer represented and boiled down to., Archived version - Meta about The Mighty Nein character choices
- The Four Deals, Archived version
- ok so hey here’s a super long meta about all the little details in the new costumes!, Archived version
- Parallels between characters in Vox Machina and The Mighty Nein, Archived version
- Comparison between Vox Machina and The Mighty Nein, Archived version - Vox Machina always fights for something. The Nein don’t really do anything because it’s the right thing to do. The Mighty Nein only really fight for one thing: each other.
- Meta about the war between the Empire and the Dynasty, Archived version
- Official introduction used at the beginning of each episode by Matt Mercer
- Stats assembled by CritRoleStats, spreadsheet accessed 28 September 2020.
- LordByronic comments on Tumblr-bashing -why? (Or why not?), Archived version
- tweet from Feb 2016 where Liam O'Brien commented on a Vax drawing.
- Twitter conversation between fans and Sam Riegel, November 2016
- 'Dungeons and Dragons' Kickstarter Breaks Records with 11.3 Million Campaign
- A Tumblr comment quoted with permission, from a fan who wishes to remain anonymous.
- Tumblr post quoting Matt Mercer's Reddit post, accessed November 08, 2016
- Liam O'Brian's Tweet talking about his thoughts on Caleb's orientation
- Taliesin Jaffe's tweet confirming Caduceus is aromantic
- Matt Mercer's Tweet confirming the specific trans characters
- Matt Mercer's tweet confirming correct pronouns for a character, accessed November 8, 2016