Why Critical Role Works So Well
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
*This article is spoiler free!*
Streaming a story told via a D&D campaign is a storytelling method that has a surprising amount of potential. Nobody would think that airing a group’s D&D game would be that interesting to watch, until you’ve watched one yourself that is. What makes this method of storytelling so unique is that there’s absolutely no scripts, and nobody is really certain of what’s going to happen from each episode to the next.
Critical Role is comprised of a cast of talented actors; Matthew Mercer, Marisha Ray (it’s her), Ashley Johnson, Taliesin Jaffe, Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien, Laura Bailey and Travis Willingham, who began to stream their D&D game every week through Geek & Sundry back in 2015. Since then, they have begun their own multimedia production company and gained over 16 Million views and 500,000 subscribers. Fans love their chaotic antics, close relationships and meaningful stories, and this is why Critical Role have a loyal following that continues to grow. Their most recent Kickstarter campaign for an animated series of their first Campaign broke Kickstarter’s record, raising over 11 million dollars, after the original goal of $750,000 was surpassed within 45 minutes of the Kickstarter going live. With over 370 hours of content in their first campaign, their original one episode special was able to be extended into two seasons.
The nature of D&D allows every episode and character choice to be unexpected for everyone involved. The cast and Dungeon Master’s genuine excitement of the game and the close bond between them all shows everyone is truly invested in the show and the twists and turns of each episode. Having every character being completely unique to the actor, rather than a room of writers allows every single story and character arc to be completely unique and realistic. Each character has their own unique personality and backstory, and the DM Matthew Mercer brings all of this together with his incredible worldbuilding and storytelling.
Critical Role becoming its own independent company run by the cast itself gave them free reign over everything to do with their content and community. It makes total sense since their main show 'Critical Role' is completely theirs, so their audience is well acquainted with their content, sense of humour and branding. Every advert they create is completely ridiculous and hilarious - and only really understood by their audience. Fans of the show understand every inside joke and the personality of every cast member, so seeing Taliesin Jaffe suddenly stroll into shot completely black and white sipping a cup of tea would make perfect sense. It didn’t really hit me until recently when I was showing a friend of mine some of their ads, and it occurred to me that they’d have no idea what was going on and why everything was so chaotic if they aren’t familiar with the Critical Role brand. For their viewers, their ads are a hit.
Their sponsor ads before the show often rarely even relate to their sponsors, Sam Riegel even ran a spoof presidential campaign for D&D Beyond. The companies and viewers alike all love the chaos of Critical Role’s content, they don’t take themselves too seriously and every crazy moment is extremely memorable. Giving a company such a personality is a rare thing to see, and Critical Role has shown how the relationship between the audience and the company is the most important thing for a successful business. I mean, I’ve never seen another company obliterate a Kickstarter campaign the way Critical Role’s audience did for their animated series.
Being a group of wonderful human beings, Critical Role also sets out to put as much kindness into the world as possible, with their recently launched Critical Role Foundation to raise money for various charities, as they’ve been doing for a while now. They also have pride merchandise in their shops to raise money for OutRight Action International. The show itself features several LGBTQ+ and POC characters, and Matthew Mercer makes sure to include as much representation in his worlds as possible.
The cast’s expertise in the entertainment industry, paired with a great working relationship has allowed them to turn a weekly Twitch show into an entire multimedia platform for a variety of shows relating to D&D, the cast and general nerdiness. On top of all of that, they are great actors and comedians, so they bring hilarity and entertainment to everything they do. Critical Role has the freedom to create shows out of every crazy idea that the company has, giving the audience wonderfully unique and chaotic entertainment.
You can watch Critical Role as well as their other shows on their Youtube channel and live on their Twitch channel here:
Donate to the Critical Role Foundation here:
Check out their pride merchandise here: