Posts Tagged ‘RPG’

critical-role-castI’m only 65 episodes behind the curve, but I’m a fast learner when it comes to the fun, entertaining, and surprisingly heartfelt Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) web series, Critical Role. A live broadcast and weekly peek into a world beset with ancient dragons, barbarian hoards, and some rather unconventional gnomes, Critical Role follows the exploits of Vox Machina, a group of mostly heroic adventurers as they traverse the fictional land of Tal’Dorei. The intrepid band of misfits, however, are brought to life by an equally, and mostly, heroic group of dice-slinging voice actors, all of whom have been playing their characters for three years; two on the live stream and one year prior to the inception of the show. The characters and their actors are as follows:

  • Vax’ildan “Vax” (Liam O’Brien) – a half-elf rogue/paladin and twin brother to Vex’ahlia
  • Vex’ahlia “Vex” (Laura Bailey) – a half-elf ranger/rogue and twin sister to Vax’ildan who also has a pet bear named Trinket
  • Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham) – a goliath barbarian
  • Keyleth (Marisha Ray) – a half-elf druid
  • Percival de Rolo “Percy” (Taliesin Jaffe) – also known as Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, a human gunslinger
  • Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel) – a gnome bard
  • Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson) – a gnome cleric

And guiding our heroes in their exploits is the world-building powerhouse of a Dungeon Master (DM) that is Matthew Mercer. Pulling some impressive double-duty, Mercer not only crafts the realm of Tal’Dorei but he also effortlessly voices all of the non-playable characters (NPC), running the gamut of high-born ladies, lowly orcs, and a thoroughly confused bear.

I’ve only played D&D, and some other tabletop games, a few times in my life with varying degrees of DM and party performance, but I can say wholeheartedly that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve ever wanted to get back into gaming. Hell, this is the first time in a long time I’ve wanted to join somebody else’s game just to experience the energy and absolute fun they have for roughly three hours every Thursday night. The camaraderie of the players and the DM is infectious because they’re just as invested in the welfare of their characters, just as shocked when a plot twist occurs, and just as devastated when events go horribly, horribly wrong. To put it another way, they love their characters and it shows to the point where even a husk of human emotions like myself can get a little teary-eyed.

So, really, this is just an overblown, non-ranked list of reasons why I’m now obsessed with Critical Role. Trust me, it doesn’t disappoint.

Oh, and SPOILERS for the series. Just in case.

 

The Gameplay

 

This seems like a no-brainer, but a significant portion of what makes Critical Role such a success comes from how the players, and by extension the characters, interact with their fictional environment. Setting aside the little character moments and exploratory missions (we’ll get to them in a bit), when Mercer tells the party to roll initiative to battle some greater foe, they’re in it. No one slouches, everyone pulls their weight to support the success of the group in destroying beasts and baddies alike. The physicality of the players speaks louder and louder as the battle rages: eyes wide, mouths agape, everyone fidgeting with nervous energy at each role of the die. Full sessions have been devoted to taking down one enemy (to be fair, it was a dragon) until Mercer asks, “How do you wanna do this?” and the whole group explodes with excitement knowing that the killing blow is just moments away. I’d be lying if I said my own erratic movements didn’t mimic theirs. Even smaller, more desperate, moments are rife with tension as the characters struggle against mind control or frantically try to resurrect one of their own.reaction

There are a couple of episodes that stand out in particular regarding moments of triumph and potential tragedy. In the case of the former, I’d recommend episode 52, “The Kill Box,” wherein Grog, unable to defeat his uncle, leader of the barbarian herd, in single combat, calls upon his friends for help. There are plenty of moments where each character shines but the best bit of teamwork comes when Vex flies in on her broom (long story) and sucks a badly beaten Grog into her necklace (just go with it) to get him somewhat out of harms way. She then releases Grog from high up in the air, giving him the advantage needed to deliver the deathblow to his uncle. It’s definitely an engaging three hours of fictionalized combat and by the end even the players look exhausted. In the case of the latter, it would have to be episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” that finds the party searching for enchanted armor beneath the city of Vasselheim. Neglectful in the wake of defeating a Beholder, Percy accidentally sets off a trap that kills Vex, but the party, joined by some guest adventurers, springs into action to bring her back. It’s really more about Laura Bailey’s reactions as well as the other players. The second she realizes what negative hit points means there’s this gutted look on her face as the others search for spells to resurrect Vex. Everyone’s practically in tears until Mercer informs them that she’s alive again.

 

Character Moments

 

It would either be awfully dull or too stressful to watch a group in a constant state of combat. Luckily, the players are actors and they act the shit out of these characters. While some episodes are combat heavy, there are others where the most action that happens is the group goes shopping and some epic haggling ensues. The breathers are needed, though. It gives the party time to rest and recuperate and it gives us, the audience, a few moments alone (so to speak) with the characters, all of whom have their own little story arcs, wants and desires, that tend to overlap with the main story. There are too many character moments to name, and all of them have landed some fantastic one-liners or shared some tears, so here are a few favorites:tumblr_nl9tzk10pe1r201t0o2_1280

  • Vex and Vax – pretty much every episode has a nice moment or two between the twins, Episode 40 has a brutally emotional scene as Vax pleads with Vex not to stray too far from his side in the wake of a dragon attack, but one of my favorites involves some boots, ghostly servants, water and flour, and some brother/sister heckling (Episode 56, “Hope”).
  • Grog and Pike – after Grog purchases a new, badass hat, Pike decides to try it on and takes it for a run (Episode 57, “Duskmeadow”).
  • Keyleth – I’m pretty partial to the druid princess’s awkward high fives after some kind of emotional admission (Episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” and Episode 65, “The Streets of Ank’Harel”)
  • Scanlan – any time Scanlan sings to inspire. Anytime (All episodes) Also…Spice? You spice? (Episode 65)
  • Percy – there are a lot of very sweet moments where Percy waxes poetic or wallows a bit, but it’s really when he’s acting like a spoiled rich kid that he shines. His attempt to get Scanlan’s daughter out of prison is a particular favorite (Episode 39, “Omens”)
  • Group Effort – that time opening a wooden door was a nearly impossible task (Episode 29, “Whispers”)

 

Matthew Mercer is Amazing!

 

This can’t be effectively described in words. You have to see and experience just how great of a DM Mercer is. Just know that his character work, as well as his world-building, is phenomenal.

Charity

 

The cast and crew of Critical Role have been supporters of the charity 826LA since the beginning, encouraging fans to donate during the broadcast on Geek & Sundry and thanking those who do on air. However, due to the overwhelming generosity and creativity of their fans that made for some sweet Critmas day unwrapping, the players each chose a charity for fans to support in lieu of the money going to smaller items like dice bags or gigantic bear statues that take up space and are hard to store.

D&D For The Good of All

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We’ve definitely come a long way from the days of Mazes and Monsters, but there are still certain stigmas associated with gaming and gamers that keep people who might find RPGs to be a pleasant experience. Currently, we’re in a bit of a cultural upswing in regards to D&D-style role-playing. I don’t know what, if any, influence Critical Role has had where the bigger picture is concerned, but it’s certainly at the forefront of the pro-gaming change to the status quo. Not only do we have Critical Role, but Matt Mercer and Ashley Johnson are part of the Force Grey filmed RPG show for Nerdist. There’s also Dan Harmon’s Harmon Quest on Seeso that mixes live role-playing with animation and one of the best shows on Netflix, Stranger Things, features the main characters playing D&D as bookends to the series. Small steps, yes, but important nonetheless.

So those are the reasons why I’m currently obsessed with Critical Role. Maybe this encouraged you to check it out or maybe you’re already a fan. Either way, what are your thoughts on the show? What are your favorite moments? Characters? I’m eager to know.

Oh, and…Is it Thursday yet?

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If I was the meteorologist of Palisade, I’d definitely start rethinking my career options. A rainstorm is one thing, but giant tentacled elder gods? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that isn’t in the job description. Or maybe it is; this is Palisade after all. More importantly, this is Rat Queens.RatQueens_07-1

After finding the missing Bernadette wandering the streets with her still scary as all hell eyes, Hannah takes her back to the Rat Queens’ home to figure out what happened to her despite the fact that she’s still a complete bitch and tried to have the Queens killed. At Casa de Rat Queens, Dee and her husband, Mezikiah, awkwardly catchup. Though he’s glad to see that she’s thriving in Palisade with her friends, there’s a measure of expectation from Kiah that Dee will figure things out and return to their religious community. Because it definitely isn’t a cult. It’s totally a cult. However, Kiah’s visit is two-fold. It seems as though their people were visited by Gerrig Lake who stole an important artifact, the Haruspex Requiem – a death mask containing all the knowledge of every high priest of Dee and Kiah’s people. His reasons for taking the mask? Revenge, of course. Revenge on Palisade and on Sawyer in particular.

The past, it seems, is creeping up on everyone in Rat Queens. Prior to reaching out a helping hand to Bernadette, Hannah and Tizzie get into a fairly heated argument that speaks to a darker past for the rockabilly mage; she’s the only one in Palisade capable of using darker magic, her parents are necromancers, and she’s still using Necrius as part of her spell-casting. We’ve already seen Hannah tap into her darker side during the battle with the trolls and Betty’s concern for how scary it was to see her so full of rage, so it’s very possible we could be seeing a heel-turn from Hannah if she goes completely to the Dark Side. Sawyer and Dee’s pasts tangentially cross paths through the involvement of Gerrig Lake, but only because Sawyer’s past as an assassin caused the death of Gerrig’s wife, the only bright spot in his life in Palisade.

Dee’s religious background, however, has become integral to the plot as all hell breaks loose. Kurtis J. Wiebe has repeatedly stated that Dee’s backstory reflects his own upbringing in a small, religious town and through Dee he explores the complicated relationship people have with religion. Dee left her home and family to find herself separate from the religious community. Kiah, in his own way, tempts her with letters from her mother, but he also points out that Dee wears the markings of their religion, which she didn’t have when she left. If Dee is so skeptical of the tenets of her people and the purpose of their religious practices, then why did she willingly take on the markings of N’Rygoth?

As a lapsed Catholic, I can say that I understand the contradictions inherent in separating yourself from religion yet still finding pieces of it to latch on to. When our lives, our families, are tied up in a specific belief system, and we break away, there’s still a part of us that remains attached. I may not go to church anymore, and I question A LOT of things about religion in general, but I still have my rosary, I remember the prayers, I have tattoos featuring crosses, and sometimes I even try to stick to things like Lent. Like it or not, my religious background isn’t something I can entirely separate myself from. Dee, as far as I know, is in a similar position, and she’s also quick to point out tumblr_n7qv3hNd381rz6qqno5_1280to Kiah that their religion is now being used to torture and maim. But Kiah counters with the fact that their gods are neutral and it’s the actions of mortals that manifests evil. In this case, evil literally manifests in the form of a tentacled creature from the abyss. We have our gods, they have theirs, but it’s nice to know that Wiebe doesn’t blame religion so much as he blames the people who corrupt and abuse it for their own purposes.

On the lighter side of things, Betty is high as fuck and it is glorious! Just that look in her eyes as she hallucinates her candy dream date is hilarious and it provides a welcome interlude in a pretty dark portion of the story, though I expect it to get darker. It’s one of the aspects of Rat Queens that I truly love. The characters and the story aren’t fighting each other. There’s equally as much time devoted to progressing the plot as there is making sure the characters react in their own way. Cracking jokes, eating candy people, it all fits regardless of the looming danger.

And because there’s no way to fit this into the flow of the review organically, just know that Lola’s fight scene is all kinds of awesome. Girl has some skills, I tell ya. Very nice, Roc Upchurch. Very nice!

Rating – 10/10

Final Thoughts: The forecast for Palisade is rain, wind, and a tentacled elder god bent on destruction. Remember to bring an umbrella.

ratqueens03_coverThis was previously posted at Word of the Nerd on November 28th.

If you want to kill the Rat Queens, you’d better be sure to get it right the first time otherwise there’s no stopping them from uncovering your fiendish plot. Like any good quest, even an insular one, there’s a process of discovery. What starts as something as simple as killing a bunch of trolls quickly turns into a secondary quest to find out why the trolls were there in the first place, leading the adventuring party further and further down the rabbit hole until the true plot comes to light. Rat Queens #3 manages to solve the mystery but does so in a way that is organic and true to its cast of kickass female characters.

Imprisoned, albeit briefly, for impersonating Sawyer in an attempt to implicate Mayor Kane in the murders of several adventuring parties in Palisade, Hannah and the real Sawyer spend some time comparing notes on the subject. While Hannah is ready to put all the blame on Kane, Sawyer did some digging of his own and reports that the Merchant’s Guild was responsible for purchasing the quests that got the other parties killed and nearly killed the Rat Queens. With this new information, the Queens send Betty and Dee to get a read on the leader of the Merchant’s Guild, Mr. Lake, but Betty finds, in a very Sherlockian way, that while the man himself may not be behind the purchase of the quests meant to kill them, he might have some information worth stealing that could shed more light on the mystery. Breaking into Lake’s office, Betty finds a number of scrolls, one of which is a loan from Old Lady Bernadette for damages caused by the Queens. Resolved to make right an apologize to the woman they’ve treated poorly in the course of their drunken evenings of revelry and brawling, Betty discovers that there’s more to Old Lady Bernadette than the Queens thought. For one thing, she’s only thirty-nine!

Filling in the spaces in between the main story, though it’s hardly filler, Kurtis J. Wiebe devotes a lot of this issue to fleshing out the personal lives of the Queens. Hannah and Sawyer’s talk while she’s imprisoned is an opportunity to ground Hannah a bit more, humanizing her through the obviously failed relationship with Sawyer and the complications that come with working around someone she obviously cared about and who obviously cared, and still cares, about her. Sawyer plainly states that Hannah’s presence in Palisade keeps it from being paradise, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Betty tries to rekindle the love connection she had just prior to the beginning of the book, bringing flowers and an apology to the girl who Hannah punched over a joke taken too far. Unfortunately, Betty’s former lover is just that. She’s unwilling to take Betty back because of the friends she associates with, specifically Hannah, but leaves the door open should Betty decide to leave her friends Hannah and Sawyerbehind. Violet, during a vigorous training session, gets a visit from her twin brother, Barrie Blackforge, who believes it’s time she ended her little journey of self-discovery. Violet responds appropriately by sending him home with his broken sword between his legs. Also, apparently Violet had a beard. All of this continues to be rendered beautifully by Roc Upchurch’s art. Wiebe and Upchurch seem to feed off each other with Wiebe’s humor and excellent storytelling fueling the hilarious and heart-breaking situations of all four Queens.

The only one with very little character development is Dee, which is a shame because all of the moments I previously described served to highlight the complicated lives of our heroines. This is hardly your garden variety fantasy story. The characters function as real people and Wiebe does a remarkable job of highlighting their unique personalities while simultaneously uniting them through a shared sense of wit and humor. Hopefully Dee will get some more backstory, but we are treated to a nice blurb about her former life as an elder god’s acolyte. The thoroughfare in the narrative is that the Queens are a team and, more importantly, friends. They’re willing to stick together even if it costs them severed relationships with friends, family, and lovers. Unfortunately, their friendship might have caused something a bit more high stakes to occur as well.

Final Thoughts: Old Lady Bernadette is such a B. I mean, really. You have no idea.