Does Dungeons and Dragons have Critical Role to Thank for it’s Resurgence?

Time for another guest post, this time from the folks behind Skullsplitter Dice.  I figured they had something to say, so why not let them say it.  Please be aware my allowance for guest posts at the moment is based on need, and my own personal interest.

About the Author: Ted has been a gamer since 1992, and is Chief Adventurer at SkullSplitter Dice, a fine maker of RPG Dice Sets. He currently is playing a Vedalken Arcana Cleric who likes to “practice medicine”.

Hey, have you heard of Dungeons and Dragons? Unless you’re living under a rock, it’s likely you’ve heard about it, seen big time stars like Sofía Vergara post on Instagram about it, and even watched kids playing it in Netflix’s Stranger Things. What has driven D&D’s resurgence? A little thing called Twitch and a show called Critical Role have likely been instrumental in it’s resurgence.

Twitch is a live streaming video platform that makes it easy for anyone to live stream content; last year it had a record 1.1 million concurrent viewers on it’s platform. Critical Role is a show on Twitch that’s DM’d by the Magnificent Matt Mercer (who is a level 20 Dungeon Master if we’ve ever seen one) and a bunch of “nerdy ass voice actors”. While it certainly doesn’t represent everyone’s game experience, the fact is they make an amazing case for how D&D is played all over the world; a bunch of friends sitting around a table telling stories together. On any given Thursday night fifty thousand viewers will turn in live to watch this group of voice actors fight dragons and slay bad guys. To put that in perspective, that’s enough to fill some professional football stadiums. To watch Dungeons and Dragons. Live. Their YouTube replays racking up an impressive 387k+ views in just a week, and millions of views over a year. How many people have those 50,000+ viewers brought in to watch, and then play Dungeons and Dragons?

Sure, the argument can be made that 5e is more accessible than other editions were; heck, I was able to talk my wife who had never played a tabletop game before into playing it after she watched an episode of Critical Role. She’s stuck around for years because she has found that it has the goldilocks amount of complexity. Just the right amount to be interesting, but still accessible to people who don’t want to be bothered at the moment. It’s not just my wife though, there are tons of posts in Facebook groups and forums of people saying a similar story; “Watched Critical Role, now how do I find a group?”.  I did a quick post in the biggest Facebook group for Critical Role, as typical response were similar to this: “I’d always wanted to but never did until I became a critter and I’m currently dming for my friends” and this “Yup. I never understood what people meant by “group storytelling” until I watched a few episodes.”

Stories like that are why Critical Role has been hugely instrumental; it makes an accessible game seem more accessible; their mistakes, slipups and foibles let people know that it’s ok to not play perfectly because you can just end up having fun with your friends because of those mistakes. It lowers the barrier and lowers the fear that it’s some arcane game that’s unavailable to everyone. It’s not. If you haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons yet, or you haven’t watched Critical Role yet, you should. Soon you’ll be shouting at your dice and jumping on your couch during exciting moments too.