7 Lessons About Playing D&D I Learned From Critical Role

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For many viewers across the world, Critical Role, the weekly streamed show where a talented cast plays D&D is the first time they’ve seen Dungeons & Dragons actually played. The show, packed with emotion and action in each episode, leaves an undeniable impression on anyone who watches it. Beginners to roleplaying and Dungeons & Dragons can even learn a thing or two from watching those nerdy voice actors week after week.

While there’s nothing typical about the game the cast of Critical Role plays, seeing the game mechanics and compelling storytelling firsthand can certainly teach viewers—whether they’ve played D&D before or not—a lot about a game they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience.

Here are just a few things that we’ve learned from watching the adventures of Vox Machina over the years that go beyond the simple rules of Dungeons & Dragons.

Slight spoilers for Critical Role follow.

Roleplay like no one is watching.

If you’re naturally shy about role-playing in front of others (as I am), it may seem impossible to let go and just become your character. But if the members of Vox Machina can do it in front of multiple cameras and thousands of viewers, perhaps there’s hope for us yet.

If you don’t like a d20, pick a new one.

I’m now a believer in the luck of specific dice thanks to Laura Bailey. “Before every show, I just roll a bunch of them. I go through my whole bag and I roll them,” she said in the first episode of Talks Machina. “And whichever ones roll the highest, and I feel like I like them that night, then they get put in the Wyrmwood box.”

The truth of the matter is that the dice gods are fickle. Sometimes, dice are hot, sometimes dice are cold. Having a pile to sift through can give you some options, particularly when one or two dice belong in the corner because they’re not playing nice.

Embrace your character’s weaknesses.

Travis Willingham has talked on several occasions about using his character’s lowest stat as something to welcome, not bemoan. It can make a character interesting in ways you might not have otherwise explored.

“If you do like RP and you have a group that loves it, lean into that low stat,” Travis said on Talks Machina, “because that’s where I think the funny comes from, and, sort of, the endearing parts of the character.”

Keep a journal.

Time and time again, checking the notes taken during the campaign have helped Vox Machina spark a memory about a character they met along the way or something they need to do. When the DM makes eye contact and says a new name very deliberately, make sure to write it down!

No matter how well you plan, things will go off the rails.

After watching just one episode of Critical Role, you learn that, just as in real life, hours of planning can go out the window immediately—for both the players and for Dungeon Master Matt Mercer. But just embrace it; the most interesting stories come from hardship and conflict.

“[Things going] horribly wrong is the best part of D&D,” said Taliesin Jaffe in an interview with Todd Kenreck. “Nobody likes anybody who wins all the time.”

D&D isn’t just about following the rules.

Be willing to sometimes bend the rules to make a great game for the players, or, as Matt calls it, the Rule of Cool. “[It’s] a willing suspension of disbelief for the sake of a cool moment… In RPGs, this refers to occasionally allowing the chance for some ridiculous stunts or unique interpretations of some of the rules.”

And, as a player, even if you mess up a rule during a session and discover it later, it isn’t the end of the world. What’s most important is having fun while playing. (D&D is a game, after all!) Or, as the !mercer command in the Geek & Sundry Twitch chat puts it, “Part of playing the game is messing up… It’s all just part of the fun!”

Your game will extend beyond the table.

In the Talks Machina episode about the battle with Vecna, Marisha Ray talked about a book she’d read that explained that memories of stories can be just as strong and meaningful as memories of actual events. That means that the memory you’ll have of sobbing on the sofa during Percy’s resurrection is just as strong and emotional as your first kiss.

The experiences you’ll have in your own game playing D&D will stay with you just as powerfully and affect everyone at the table for years to come. You’ll make memories and strengthen friendships, just as the cast of Critical Role does every Thursday night.

Are you new to roleplaying and D&D? We have more lessons for new gamers on our new show, Starter Kit! Host Jason Charles Miller is joined by special guests each week to help build up your Starter Kit and begin your own adventure. Watch it weekly only on Alpha, with new episodes going live every Thursday. (Hint: it’s a perfect show to watch right before rolling into Critical Role!)

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Image Credits: Geek & Sundry

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