Critical Role’s Sam Riegel: From Noob to Gnome Hero

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Discovering tabletop gaming almost always happens in the same way: through a friend. Some of the friends we make playing RPGs are the ones we stay close with for life; there’s something about risking imaginary life and limb that creates a bonding experience. For Critical Role‘s Sam “Scanlan” Riegel, the discovery just happened to come a bit later in life.

Geek & Sundry: Tell us a little bit about yourself and who you play?

Sam Riegel: I’m Sam Riegel – Scanlan Shorthalt on Critical Role. I’m the group’s gnome bard, a little fella with a big ego who’s always quick with a song. When I’m not playing D&D, I’m a professional voice actor as well as a voice director for several high-profile television cartoon series, including Sofia The First, Wander Over Yonder, Sanjay & Craig, and Pickle & Peanut.

G&S: How and when were you first introduced to D&D/tabletop games?

SR: This is my first game ever. I was aware of D&D as a kid, but I never played or really even knew anyone who played. As a child actor, most of my free time was spent rehearsing or performing, so music and theater were my outlets. When this group started playing 2-3 years ago, I assumed it would be a one-time thing, but now I’m a fully converted D&D enthusiast.

G&S: How did you develop Scanlan’s backstory?

SR: My character was loosely based on Eminem. Seriously. Scanlan didn’t really have a father, had some mommy issues, met a guy named “Dr. Dranzen” who discovered him and made him famous, is always trying to prove himself worthy by projecting a big ego and surrounding himself with ladies… It’s just pretty much Eminem.

G&S: Why did choose to play a gnome bard? Did you have the character idea first, or did you build Scanlan around your chosen class?

SR: I was a newbie to D&D when we started playing, so I asked fellow CritRole player Liam O’Brien what the least cool character class was, and he said gnome bard. So that’s what I went with. It seemed perfect for me. I like to sing and I’m generally more silly than imposing, and at the time I thought the whole thing sounded ridiculous, so why not be a ridiculous character? Little did I know it would be one of the most fun, rewarding experiences of my life.

Scanlan is in many ways very much like me. I rely on charm over skill in many aspects of my life – more than I should probably admit to. And I’ve been performing since I was 4 years old – just like Scanlan. Everyone’s characters reflects a bit of their actual personality, and the group dynamic in the game isn’t far off from our group dynamic in real life. Everything is just pushed a little bit. Okay, a lot.

G&S: Do you think Critical Role is interesting to watch because you’re all actors?

SR: The fact that we’re professional performers certainly helps the show, but I don’t think that’s why people tune in. The Critters (Critical Role fans) watch the show for the same reason anyone watches anything – to get lost in a compelling story. Most of the credit has to go to our chief storyteller, Matt Mercer. He singlehandedly makes the show captivating to follow. The rest of us are just filling in the details and coloring the world. He’s the artist – we’re just crayons.

G&S: How would you say your bond with the other players has grown?

SR: My relationship with Orion/Tiberius has been exciting to track. We’ve been good friends for a long time, but our characters like to bicker and snipe at each other constantly. That’s a pretty strange development – friends off camera and frenemies on camera. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

G&S: Aside from your own, which player character is your favorite and why?

SR: Grog is such a well-defined character, and is hilarious to watch. Travis does a great job playing a dumb guy in a really smart way. He’s one of my favorites on the show, in terms of entertainment and also reliability. Everyone has some “rage” in their lives – and to see that rage come to life as a drunken goliath is really cathartic.

G&S: Who’s your favorite NPC or enemy you’ve encountered?

SR: I’m continually blown away by the NPC’s Matt throws at us. They have unique accents, dialects, rich backstories, individual goals – it must take him DAYS to come up with this stuff. One of my favorites with the black powder salesman in the last episode. I mean come on, that guy was legitimately insane.

G&S: What is your favorite in-game mishap?

SR: Keyleth seems to make a lot of boneheaded mistakes. She’s been arrested/captured multiple times. It’s adorable. So far we’ve managed to get her out of every pickle, but it’s certainly something we have to be ready for. Honestly, one of my favorite aspects of the entire game is when the groups FAILS at something. It would be so boring if we just killed every bad-guy with ease. To me, the best parts of the game and show are when we completely blow it and have to think fast to get out of a situation.

G&S: What’s the greatest move you think you’ve made in the game?

SR: As a character, Scanlan always prides himself on planning ahead. Like a chess player, he tries to think several moves past his opponent. So my proudest moments are when a long-term plan actually pays off. For instance, it took Scanlan (and Percy) six months to design and build a saddle-bomb. When I finally got to use it, that was very rewarding. One of my finest examples of this was when Scanlan paid a forgery artist to make an “official-looking badge” for him… Then, weeks later, I used the badge to pass our team off as customs agents to get us out of a dangerous situation. However, the move I am most proud of was when Grog and Scanlan intimidated a bunch of wizards by chopping the head off a pony. That move was just plain weird. It shouldn’t have worked – but it did.

G&S: Scanlan does a lot of improv singing. Do you do it off the cuff, or do you plan it in your head as you wait your turn?

SR: Most of the songs I sing are purely in the moment. But yes, as I sit and wait for my turn I am definitely going through a mental playlist of music to pick the perfect song for the moment. Luckily, my 3 year old son listens to a lot of music, so I’ve usually got something fresh stuck in my head.

G&S: Does Scanlan have any…secrets?

SR: Scanlan has more secrets than he has hairs on his head. His backstory hasn’t really come out much yet. Maybe it will…? That’s really up to Matt Mercer. Let’s just say that he traveled for many years and encountered many types of people before meeting up with Vox Machina.

Tune in to our Twitch Channel to catch Critical Role on Thursdays at 7pm PST to see more of Sam and the rest of the Critical Role crew. Thanks Sam!

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