I started watching Critical Role because I couldn’t sleep.
To make a long story short, there was a period of time around Easter in 2016 where I honestly thought I was dying. Or at least seriously ill. Turned out to be a combination of extremely low iron levels – something that I’d never considered, given that I’d been diagnosed with hemochromatosis (high iron) when I was 18 – and anxiety that I didn’t know I had yet.
It was hard for me to sleep; I’d jolt myself wide awake feeling my heart race or the room spin. Lying in my bed trying to will my body to calm down and fall asleep didn’t work so great, so eventually I decided to try and take my mind off things (and stop Googling my symptoms at 3 a.m.) by watching old Rooster Teeth podcast episodes. Those podcasts were only about 90 minutes on average, so I quickly caught up and needed something else to calm me down in the middle of the night.
Then I remembered Critical Role.
Jenica had suggested I watch it a long time ago. She knew I was playing a Star Wars RPG and was interested in Dungeons & Dragons, and figured it would be right up my alley. I remember just searching critical role on YouTube and pulling up the Geek & Sundry playlist – and then immediately going NOPE.
The episodes were anywhere from 2 hours to almost 6 hours long, and there were just under 50 at the time. There was no way in hell that I would ever have enough free time on my hands to catch up.
Well, fast forward a couple months and I suddenly had another 8 hours to kill in every 24 hour period. So I figured I might as well give it a try.
Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Colonel Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist, Maka Albarn from Soul Eater, Jushiro Ukitake from Bleach, Ellie from The Last of Us – I hadn’t expected to encounter so many familiar voices (if not faces). Honestly, Sam Riegel was a big part of why I gave the show another chance – I’d been obsessed with the 2003 cartoon series of TMNT and I was excited to hear his voice again on a regular basis. Maybe he brought me back to being 11 years old again, carefree and innocent and discovering for the first time that I was nerdy as hell.
It was a bit confusing jumping into episode 1, Arrival at Kraghammer, even with the character introductions. I hadn’t realized that they’d been playing for a few years before the stream started. But I figured I was smart enough to get what was going on when I had enough context, and it didn’t take me long to decide that I was really gonna love this show. From Grog’s “I have an Intelligence of 6, I know what I’m doing” to Tiberius nearly blowing himself up trying to knock on a door to the celebration over Scanlan’s first kill ever, there were tons of moments in that first episode that had me holding my sides laughing. It was a welcome break from trying to convince myself I wasn’t having a heart attack in the middle of the night.
Matt Mercer’s talents as a DM, storyteller, and improvisor really impressed the writer in me. He gives each of his NPCs a distinct feel, whether they’re on screen for ten seconds or a recurring character. Of particular note is Victor the black powder merchant:
Instead of being afraid to try and sleep, I looked forward to making more progress in Critical Role. I was amazed at the long-form storytelling and the character arcs in each “chapter” of Vox Machina’s journey. I know these people are voice actors, but they make their characters feel real. I nearly cried in episode 25, Crimson Diplomacy, when Vax thought about his found family as he fell unconscious. I did cry in episode 69 during a character’s resurrection ritual. I have busted a gut laughing more times than I can count, given that the show is about to celebrate it’s 100th episode.
I’d heartily recommend giving the show a try, even if its length can be a little intimidating. If you’re ever in need of a laugh, give it a try (although it does go to some dark places occasionally – I’m looking at you, Sam Riegel). If you’re curious about D&D, give it a try. Or if you’re craving the equivalent of a 19 season TV show, give it a try.
Critical Role helped me get through a rather unpleasant time in my life, and for that I will be forever grateful.