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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Critical Role: Episode 1 - Arrival at Kraghammer

I decided to check out Critical Role, a streaming D&D game played by voice actors. It's on Geek and Sundry. Just like with Dice, Camera, Action, I'm going to recap the show, give timestamps to my favorite moments and then weigh in on my overall thoughts.

You can watch this here on Geek & Sundry or here on Youtube.

We start off with a quick intro by the DM, Matt. He tells us that we are jumping in on a campaign in progress. From what the group said during the show, this campaign has been going on for two years.

They originally used Pathfinder rules but they switched to 5e. Matt warns us that there's a lot of house rules and that they aren't a "rules-y" kind of group. Fine with me!

The audio goes haywire in two instances on this episode, but it only lasts for about a minute each. You can still hear what's going on. It sounds like you're hearing robots.

We get some intro videos on each character:
  • Grog: A Goliath who likes combat, women and ale. He used to travel with a violent barbarian clan, but that ended when he stopped them from killing a gnome. The clan turned on him, beat him and left him for dead. Grog was healed by a relative of the gnome, a fellow named Pike. Pike is part of the group, but Pike's player couldn't make the game this week.
  • Keyleth: A druid loves nature and elemental magic. She is on a quest to discover herself.
  • Percy: Nobles overtook his family's castle Percy and his sister fled, but his sister was apparently killed by archers. He wandered for two years. He had a vision and got to work creating.. a gun. Perscy is a Pathfinder gunslinger.
  • Scanlan: A gnome bard who is searching for a true gnome to fall in love with. He's an entertainer who makes the females swoon.
  • Tiberius Stormwind: A red dragonborn. He spent a lot of time in a library and made a list of artifacts. He told his people he was going on a mission of peace and diplomacy. but really he's hunting for the artifacts. He's a little scatterbrained.
  • Vax'Ildan: A half-elf thief with a twin sister, Vex'ahlia. They left their father's elven settlement and wandered for a few years. When they came back, the place had been destroyed by a dragon.
  • Vex'ahlia: A half-elf ranger. The sister of Vax. Neither twin was accepted by the elf community that they lived in with their father. She has a bear companion named Trinket.
The Party 

(Travis) Grog - Goliath Barbarian
(Laura) Vex'ahlia - Half-elf Ranger
(Liam) Vax'ildan - Half-Elf Thief
(Taliesin) Percy - Human Gunslinger
(Marisha) Keyleth - Half-Elf Druid
(Orion) Tiberius - Dragonborn Sorcerer
(Sam) Scanlan - Gnome Bard

Last Time: The group had saved the capital city of a human kingdom by thwarting a demonic insurrection. The group is asked to go find Lady Kima, a paladin who has run into some trouble at the dwarven city of Kraghammer.

OK, here we go. The players are really excited to do this and it is very charming.

The group are in the underground dwarven city of Kraghammer. They go to a bar and Vax buys everyone a round. The heroes ask around and learn that there are goblins causing problems in the Greyspine Quarry. The adventurers apparently will need to meet with Nostoc Greyspine.

The group talks with a tough dwarf named Balgus (aka Bulbous, aka Ballsack). He wants to sell the heroes ale to use as a gift for Nostoc Greyspine. The group offers him the blood of a dragon as trade. Apparently the group killed a dragon in a past adventure and they took as many pieces of its body as possible. The trade is made.

The players go off on a tangent and reminisce about past shenanigans. Apparently the heroes once put an ox in their bag of holding. They also cut off and kept a troll's dick.

Grog checks out the whorehouse, which mostly is staffed by dwarves. He hires an elf lady. Scanlan gets himself a "whoredwarf" and she mops the floor with him, metaphorically speaking.

As the half-elves explore the city, some guards get freaked out by Vex'ahlia's bear. She talks her way out of it by having her bear, Trinket, do tricks.

Tiberius tries to check out House Thunderbrand, home of a family that wields great magic. It's protected by runes. He is foiled by the runes and then guards come to apprehend him. Tiberius intimidates them, doing a great bellowing voice in real life. The guards back off.

The heroes regroup at their room in the tavern. The dwarves are trying to get Vexalia's bear to fight Balgus. Vex'ahlia runs into the ring and it ends up where Vex'ahlia and the bear are going to fight Balgus.

Keyleth casts a fog spell, runs up and polymorphs Trinket into a squirrel. Then she turns herself into a bear. She's swapping places with Trinket. What a fantastic idea!

Vax uses the fog to creep up and backstab Balgus. I wish he would have let them fight. That would have been fun to watch.

Balgus takes 26 damage and it doesn't even faze him somehow. Vax runs.

Keyleth, in bear form, decides to do a dance to calm the dwarves down. Scanlan plays some music. Keyleth rolls... a natural 20! The whole tavern bursts into laughter and they forget about fighting the bear.

The game pauses - the group takes about a 10 minute break.  

The next day, the heroes head to Greyspine Manor. Tiberius is magically disguised as a dwarf. The dwarven guards of the city of Kraghammer ask the mysterious dwarf his name. He introduces himself as "Tiberius Kraghammer" which sends the entire group into hysterics. These people really enjoy the game and it is very fun to watch.

Vax'ahlia show the guards the wine they traded the dragon's blood for. She's going to give it to Nostoc Greyspine. It turns out Nostoc isn't home. He's at the mines. 

We hear robots again at about the 2 hour mark, but it's fixed in a minute or so.

Scanlan creeps around the manor. One player suggests that he takes a poop somewhere. He doesn't find anything, so he rejoins the group and tells them people were farting in there.

The group goes to the mine and there's piles of talking and room descriptions. Basically, Nostoc says that Lady Kima went into the mines. The heroes get permission to go get her.

A bell rings and Nostoc tells the group to "shove off." The heroes try to con Nostroc out of some of the expensive wine but Nostroc is having none of it.

The bell is some kind of alarm. There are creatures 'coming through' down in the mines. The guards are happy to have the adventurers go with them.

Ten goblins emerge from the darkness. A dwarf guard is swarmed by goblins.

Tiberius drops a fireball and kills two dwarf guards with it as well.

Two ogres lumber out from some vine-choked area. It's time to roll initiative. The group freaks out in excitement. They are very fun people.

Heyy we get an overhead map. Awesome.

Percy shoots an ogre in the shoulder for 27 points. Vax'ahlia kills one ogre with a lightning arrow.

Grog notices more goblins, and they're running away. Not from the heroes, but from something bigger.

Here it comes.. a massive naga. It has five other heads (of different nagas) stitched to its' body! The group starts pummeling it.

Then the naga goes and it rolls multiple critical hits! Keyleth is bit by the naga, is poisoned and takes 31 poison damage. Looks like that head is a spirit naga.

Vax does a huge pile of damage with thrown daggers, injuring the naga greatly. Scanlan finishes it off with a lightning bolt and the group freaks out in excitement. Matt lets the player narrate its death throes. Scanlan carves an "S" into it's hide with his lightning. What a fun group.

  • (26:29) Vax buys dwarves some alcohol
  • (42:44) The heroes flirt with Balgus
  • (1:15:55) Trinket the Bear's brief pit-fighting career
  • (1:46:06) Tiberius tries to pass himself off as a citizen of the city of Kraghammer
  • (2:24:55) The group is a little excited to roll initiative

The World: The campaign setting is really deep and it is extremely impressive. Matt is a very creative guy. Every character has a rich backstory and from what I can tell, the backstories all tie into the events of the campaign.

Roleplayers: It's kind of mind-boggling to watch voice actors play D&D. I've never seen such a theatrical group. It's fun to watch. Most groups I see out in the wild are of the number-crunching variety. The Critical Role people are pure roleplayers. In most roleplaying groups you hear really bad accents and overall you have a sort of clumsy back-and-forth with the players who don't want to roleplay. This is a really nice example for people to base their playing style on, and I bet it will improve people's overall D&D experience immensely.

Gateway Drug: I can just imagine people watching this and deciding to go play D&D. Particularly people who have never played before. I get worried that people will fall into one of the many traps of assembling a group but, hey, at least they are jumping in.

Pacing: This is probably just me, but I think this session ran too slow. The group spends over an hour sort of goofing around in the dwarven city. The show is three hours long and we got precious little done here. That said, it was this allowance to let the group wander that led to the whole bear fight thing, which was one of the highlights of the whole session. Also, nobody stopped to look up a rule one single time, which I greatly appreciate.

Big Group: Seven players is normally too many, but they are able to make it work. They let each other talk and they all pay attention.

Enthusiasm: The group is super-into the game. They pay attention, they have fun ideas and when combat rolls around, they freak out. I really believe that thousands of people watched this and decided they wanted to play D&D. What can be better than that?


Geoff N. said...

I keep trying to get into this show, but keep struggling. While I really appreciate the theatricality you mention and the storytelling, I just can't find three hours at a chunk to sit down and dedicate to it. The meandering pacing you mention makes it all the more difficult, and the fact that every episode dedicates more than 10 minutes to the character intro only exacerbates the issue.

Lastly, Twitch dashboards really drive me nuts. If I'm watching a show, I prefer to see the show, not the running commentary by Bob Internets. I really wish they would distill the Twitch stream into more digestible chunks for viewing on YouTube, because then I would be all over it even with the Twitch dashboard nonsense. Quill18 does a pretty nice job with Twitch to YouTube D&D in his Sunday Morning Heroes series.

Andrew Morris said...

They do tighten up the episodes a bit as things progress. They stop doing character intro vids every ... single ... episode, and they turn off the Twitch chat as well, replacing that area instead with character sheets and a battle map camera.

stitch-lipped said...

I'm in the same boat as you. I recently tried to get into this and while I do enjoy the show it runs a little long and is paced a little slow to make me truly excited about picking up each new episode. Two things I tried are: watching an hour at a time (which helped), putting it on in the background and just listening. This later works pretty well until the combats roll round (and even during combat unless it's a particularly confusing one where the map helps) because you really don't need visuals to know what's going on.

Jason Raabis said...

These sessions have value as an example of play for those that are new to the game or those that need to see what role playing is all about. I'd certainly direct my new players to have a peek at these episodes.

Like some of the others, I'm not willing to allot the kind of time needed to watch these in their entirety. I consume a lot of RPG material, including blogs, YouTube, podcasts, etc. I have learned to economize on my time and select the biggest bang for the buck so to speak. I love recaps and reports from real sessions such as what you post on your blog. They are near perfect in terms of providing rich detail, yet cutting out all the "dead air" that one doesn't really notice when directly involved in the game, but that a third party viewer would get tired of. So bravo on your blog; I'll be hitting this up before I get into many more actual play real time vids :)

Sean said...

Geoff: I think that they should try making an edited version that just shows all of the good stuff. I'm with you, this would be a hard show to keep up with. 3 hours a week.. that's a lot.

Andrew Morris: That sounds cool. It's a good show and I can see why people like it. I hope that the popularity of D&D streams sticks around for years and years.

Stitch-lipped: Listening to the show while doing something else seems like the best solution. You don't really need to see what is going much, you can follow it well just by listening.

Jason Raabis: Yeah this episode is perfect for brand new players to watch. The group has so much fun... they really sell you on the idea that D&D is an awesome hobby. Thanks for the kind words! I'll be reviewing at least a few more, and I might try to watch this meltdown thing on June 1st.

Jason Raabis said...

Hey Sean-- sorry for the confusion, but I was referring to the recap sessions of your own games as opposed to your write-ups of other sessions out there. :)

Sean said...

Jason Raabis: Ah cool, thank you! I'm going to do a few more reviews of different shows but man, these things are long.

Luciano Petersen said...

Hey Sean, I'm glad to see you took my advice and watched Critical Role! It's a hell of a gateway drug, yes, and thankfully when I started watching I had a lot of time and hadn't any games to play or run yet.

Sean said...

Luciano Petersen: It is a great show. Thanks for helping me out! This show seems like it is helping D&D enormously, so I hope it flourishes for a long time. I get a little worried that this whole D&D stream thing will be a fad, but from what I've seen, video game streams have been around for quite a few years now and they just get bigger and bigger. Hopefully that will be true for D&D streams as well.