Critical Role’s Travis Willingham: I’m gonna rearrange your fa–ooh shiny!

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This week, we’re going to peek into the mind of everyone’s favorite goliath, Travis “Grog” Willingham. His credits include Thor in Avengers Assemble, Frederic 104 in Halo 5 Guardians, and Hirgon in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Turns out, Travis and Grog have more in common than you might think.

Let’s do this! Tell us a little bit about yourself and who you play?

I’m Travis Willingham, a voice-actor for animation and video games, and I play Grog Strongjaw, a goliath barbarian. He has an intelligence of six, and likes to fight, drink, and “interact” with the opposite sex. He also likes shiny things.

Why did you decide to play a goliath barbarian?

I think out of our entire group, it was a toss-up for least prepared between Sam Riegel and myself. We knew next to nothing about the game, or what to to do to prepare for it. When I would catch Mercer at VO sessions during the work week, I would pick his brain about how the game is supposed to work, and what to expect, but that’s like telling someone what the Matrix is. You can’t, you can only see it for yourself.

Basically, I chose a goliath because it was the largest race I could play. I’m 6’4″ – so I tend to see the world a little differently. Airline seats, hotel showers, even simple doorways or ceiling fans are not always built with taller folk in mind. (I know, cry me a river, right?) But in my time of being a larger guy, I thought addressing a world of fantasy from a too-big-for-this-world perspective might be interesting to me. And along those same lines, I chose a barbarian because, to me, it seemed like the class I could most relate to. “That thing moved. I want to go smash it.” I’m a very impulsive, reactionary person, so a barbarian seemed like an appropriate fit, with hopefully the least amount of math required. The idea of playing a wizard, warlock, or any of kind of magic-user and keeping track of all of those spells and stats… HA! No thank you. I’m good. I can barely remember to add a Rage bonus to my damage when Grog gets angry, which is pretty damn often.

Photo credit: Liam O’Brien

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

No joke–Liam’s “birthday” D&D game was the first time I ever played any sort of pen & paper, dice-rolling RPG. Again, Sam and I were the last to arrive. Myself about 45 minutes after everyone else, and Sam about an hour after that. When I arrived, everyone was wearing these shit-eating grins and talking in ridiculous accents about “checking for traps.” I started to question my decision to show up. Little did I know, pretty much everyone had experienced the same sort of acclimation process. Being actors, everyone just appeared to be comfortable in what they were saying and doing. I was so flabbergasted that when Mercer asked me what my character’s name was. I realized I hadn’t thought of one and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Luckily, I loved Monkey Island back in the day, and that name was “Grog.”

What’s your favorite moment from before the show started?

I’d have to go with my first ever NPC character interaction with Mercer and Laura alone. When we played our first games, there would be times where he would separate us from the rest of the group to interact one-on-one. Or in this case, one-on-two. Vex and Grog had followed a cloaked individual up to his room, and upon being discovered following him, confronted him in his quarters. Mercer asked what we wanted to do. I asked, “We can do whatever we want?” To which he replied, “You can certainly try.” And with that, Grog grabbed the man around the throat and lifted him up against the wall while Vex did the talking. And that was our first intimidation check ever.

What’s the greatest move you think you’ve made in the game?

Head-butting the giant was pretty great – and a natural 20 no less. I was really conflicted about putting the party’s plans in jeopardy, but the thing about Mercer is that he KNOWS what will get your character riled up. And he KNEW Grog values his Cask of Ale above almost all else. He crushed it on PURPOSE. You could see it on his face.

Why is it always Grog who gets kidnapped/mind controlled/killed?

Sweet little Grog has an intelligence of six. And while that doesn’t make him a complete liability, it can lead to him barreling ahead to fight something just because it drew his eye. He gets bored fairly easily, which I can relate to, so things like communication and diplomacy can be lost on him. But over time the team members have communicated the need for him to “count to 10,” which was quickly amended to a number closer to a 1000 since his knowledge of numbers takes relatively the same amount of time to find his way to either number. Grog is also the “tank” of the group, and really good at absorbing some damage that might be directed elsewhere in the party. Trouble is, sometimes he enjoys absorbing it a little too much.

Image credit: Liam O’Brien

What’s up with the beard-growing thing? And why is Vax always trying to mess with it?

The beard growing thing was just a random occurrence thanks to the brilliance of Mercer’s game design. The Belt of Dwarvenkind was just a random item found by the group during one our outings, and it seemed like Grog was the only one with any interest. Beards don’t really suit Tiberius, or any of the ladies for that matter. And I think Grog has a love for anything alpha male, including a glorious beard. Which, without the belt, would be impossible for his race to grow. I pretend that Grog views his possible facial hair as his own little fantasy Chia Pet, “watch it magically grow!” Also, the number of dudes shaving half-beards in solidarity for Grog’s beard checks is amazing.

As far as Vax goes, he’s just a dick. No, I kid. Grog and Vax’s little rivalry/prank war goes back to the very beginning of our game, before anyone was watching. I think it began with a simple trip in a grass field as I was discovering that you can attempt almost anything that pops into your head at any time. And with Vax being so super stealthy, he seemed the natural target for a good tripping. It succeeded. Later that night, while Grog slept around a campfire, Vax wrote the word “DORK” on Grog’s forehead, only to have Grog wake up, see the reflection in his goblet and ask why “KROD” was written on his face. The prank wars had begun.

Grog is known for his love of ale and women. Describe his… dream date.

Strangely, I imagine Grog’s perfect date going somewhere along the lines of Klingon mating rituals. Lots of fighting, drinking, and breaking of things, all in the name of love. But who knows? Maybe Grog has a softer side?

You and Grog seem to have a few similar personality traits, such as your dislike for math. How are you and Grog totally different?

I have just never been great at math, so I might as well own it. When everyone else is adding up simple numbers, Grog’s gonna need a second, ok?!

Besides that, I’m also not a goliath, and I’m not a barbarian (although Laura might tell you different). The thing I love about the game is that Grog acts on his impulses, and that’s not something normal people should usually do. He tends to find himself in situations that he hasn’t spent a ton of time thinking about beforehand. Which is a pretty fair example of me in my younger years. I can hopefully say that I’ve made progress on that.

Image credit: Brandi York

How do you hope to inspire other tabletop RPG fans?

Y’know, one thing I hated in high school was “cliques.” Little groups of people who have decided who they are, and who they are not. Or even worse, who is not allowed. For me, I always loved muddying the waters of various cliques. Being the football player that also loved musical theater. Being the swimmer that also loved comics. I say screw boundaries people create for you and be who you are. I’m a jock that does CrossFit, loves musicals, and plays D&D because I like it.

Never be ashamed of your creativity, talent, and imagination. I mean honestly, those three qualities are responsible for bringing about some of the biggest and most important changes in our lives. And no matter what avenue you may choose to express yourself–sports, art, music, writing, engineering, WHATEVER–never be afraid of what your passions are and how they may mix with others. (Exits soap box.)

Tune in to Critical Role tonight at 7pm PST on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch Channel, or catch it on our website next Monday.

Feature image credit: Geek & Sundry

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