i've been puzzled by Critical Role for such a long time like i know it's a bunch of people playing D&D but how does it WORK??? and how can you binge it?? i checked an episode at random and it wAS 4 HOURS LONG HOW ???
Oh man, I honestly had these same exact questions/concerns before I started watching. It literally took me 8 months to finally decide to give the show a try and I just cannot express how glad I am I did. It seems so massive and overwhelming, but I’m gonna legit answer these questions
and only hijack your ask to gush about the show a little to tempt you in.
how does it WORK???
I knew veryyyy little about the mechanics of D&D going in. I’d never played any tabletop RPG (though I’d been interested in trying one for a long time), and pretty much my understanding was the really general ‘it’s whatever you can imagine/you do whatever you want to do and you roll dice to see if you’re successful’ etc., and the Community episodes where they play D&D. I was not quite sure how this was going to logistically be something you watch long term (as a non-participant) nor if I was going to be interested in/connect with characters that I can’t really see—I’m a pretty visual person. The idea of D&D made sense to me logically before I watched Critical Role, but I didn’t really get it until I started watching. So, tbh the best way to understand how it works is to give it a shot. (If you’re like me you won’t understand everything immediately—you pick it up as you go, and what you don’t understand of the mechanics really doesn’t matter because you can still understand the story they’re telling.)
Logistically speaking, everyone is visible on screen at the same time: 7-8 players on one half of the screen, and the Dungeon Master (DM), Matt, on the other side. Matt basically describes where the characters are (physically and narratively), and presents them with a catalyst (e.g., a character asking them for help, a villain attacking, etc.) that starts the action and the players decide how to respond. Really, the three core aspects in my opinion are 1) collaborative storytelling, 2) improvisational theatre, and 3) logic puzzles.
and how can you binge it??
Oh man. I mean this literally: I was watching/listening to Critical Role every single chance I got. I devoured it. Minimum of three episodes a day, and forcing myself to go to sleep and leave it. There are a lot of reasons I could binge it:
- The storytelling. It’s so damn good. One of the most narratively rewarding stories I’ve watched or read in years. The world-building is fantastic and has no loose ends (while feeling MASSIVE and open and real). The plot is interesting, well-planned, and character-driven; everything feels meaningful in one way or another. The NPCs Matt introduces are all rich and compelling and unique. And—something I value immensely in story that I rarely get—there are consequences. Honest-to-god consequences for everything, and it always feels appropriate for the action, and well-timed (things don’t always bite you immediately! But also sometimes they do!).
- The players. They make such ridiculous, amazing choices that keep the story unpredictable but realistic. All of them have stellar comedic timing, but can also make me cry at the drop of a hat. They care so deeply about the characters and invest everything into the game/their interactions, and it just feels rewarding to invest my time in them and their world. Not a single issue connecting to the characters—they sell them 100%, but they do feel separate from the actors in a good way.
- Found family. The chemistry of this group is amazing—it’s a group of real life best friends and it feels like it, constantly—and it comes through in both the players’ relationships and the characters’. It’s just fun, and warm, and comforting to see people (real and fictional) who care as much about each other as these guys do. It’s just a good time. I see my friends in them, and I see friends I would like to have.
- You can have it on in the background. Logistically speaking, this is how you can binge it. While it can be something you sit and watch—trust me—it’s also essentially a filmed podcast, so you have have it in the background, or listen to it without video like I did while I was doing my dumb data entry job. (Bless my boss for letting me listen to stuff.) And, as much as the completist in me hates to say this, it’s likely you’ll tune out occasionally; the long fights can become number-crunching heavy/repetitive, and they do have some circuitous conversations when they’re planning what to do.
- You’ll wanna go into the tag. If you don’t care about spoilers this won’t mean as much to you, but I was dying to dip into tumblr to find fanart and headcanons and gifs and stuff, but I didn’t want to spoil myself. So there was that kind of urgent push for me to catch up AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE!!! so I could go looking. Plus, because there is a new episode every single week, there’s none of that pesky urge to put off watching something until a hiatus, you know?
i checked an episode at random and it wAS 4 HOURS LONG HOW ???
And sometimes more than that! They do SO MUCH STUFF each week (plot and character development and fighting and relationship progression and they don’t rush ANYTHING), they have to make so many decisions, and they just burn through those 3+ hours. (And they usually end up stepping in it somehow and having to make a detour to clean up their own mess, lbr.) Honestly, these episodes look fucking long, and they are, really. But the time stamps are a bit off at a quick glance; about the first half of the series has inflated run times—fans started sending in gifts they would open at the end, they did Q&As, they had subscriber milestone awards, etc.—so some of that is skip-able. It’s fun, but definitely stuff you can go back and watch once you’re caught up and out of content. There are also a few one-shot episodes here and there that you can also skip until you catch up. (Definitely worth watching though, later!)
So, it is a little less than it looks like. But truthfully, it just goes by really fast. You get sucked in. The action goes fast. You’re dying to see what happens next. The biggest issue I had with this series was starting it, so honestly for anyone interested in this series I recommend just watching the first episode. Don’t worry about reading up on what happened before they started streaming the show, don’t worry about knowing who the characters are, or what it’s going to look like. It won’t make full sense until you just dive in. (That being said, if you want a reference theargentumlupine’s primer is fantastic and was very comforting to have going in.) It seems unthinkable when you’re looking at 2384975987295 hours of canon, but as early as episode ~40 I started worrying about being out of episodes ❤