Critical Role: This Is D&D

Playing a game like Dungeons & Dragons is, by its very nature, going to be a very different experience for everyone. Some people just want to murder hobo their way across the world, while others are looking for an immersive experience. Some just want to collect loot, while others want to experience an epic story line.

The game can easily accommodate all of those experiences, and many more, but not all at once. The DM, and the players, all have to be on board with what they want the experience to be, in order for everyone to get something out of it.

Personally, I don’t run either murder hobo campaigns, or all evil groups. The first because I get nothing out of it, and end up being bored to tears each session, as the players just straight up murder everyone they meet. As a DM, I do not have fun watching players just burn the earth in their wake.

As for evil campaigns, well, let’s just say that I have seen players do some really messed up shit in what always turns out to be a game of one uping each other over who can be the most evil. Enough so that I was, for a time, put off from playing the game at all, and have gotten pretty picky about who I do play with.

For me, as both a DM, and as a player, the thrill of the game is in forming a bond with my character. Getting invested in their life, and helping them try to achieve their goals. I’m not the kind who dresses up, or always speaks in character, but I do enjoy the role play aspect of the game a lot more than I do anything else. I want to be invested, not just in my character, but everyone elses, and in the story as a whole.

From a strictly DM point of view, I always try to engage the players, build a world they want to be a part of, give their characters story arcs that they want to see resolved, and help them have a fun experience, regardless of if they are fighting a Beholder, or getting drunk at a tavern.

This is what holds me, and why I love playing the game. It is, as I often harp on, all about the characters.

So, with us a week away now from the return of Critical Role, and meeting a new cast of characters for the same cast of actors, there was one moment that really stood out to me from the previous campaign, the tale of Vox Machina, that I felt really summed up what D&D can be. That captured the essence of the game, and what it is to play it with friends, and family, for years.

That moment, when Sam made a call, that caused him to break down and cry.

For those who did not follow along, Sam’s character, Scanlan, the Gnome Bard, had been saving his one and only ninth level spell slot, all through the fight with Vecna, a Lich ascended to Godhood. He was saving it for a reason. So he could cast his best ninth level spell, Wish, in order to save Vax, Liam’s character’s, from death.

See, Vax actually died in an earlier fight with Vecna. As a Paladin of the Raven Queen, the Goddess of Death, Vax got to return, but only until Vecna was defeated. Once Vecna was dealt with, Vax would return to the Raven Queen, as he was, technically, already dead.

But, with Wish, Scanlan could possibly undo that, and allow Vax to live, for a while at the very least. Long enough to have a life with Keyleth, the Druid he had fallen in love with. Long enough that his friends, his family, wouldn’t have to grieve his loss, for a while. He was basically trying to put off the inevitable, and with the Wish spell, he possibly could have.

On a more meta narrative, it was Liam who introduced Sam to playing D&D. Critical Role, as a whole, started with Liam wanting to get together with some friends, and play D&D, for his birthday. Everything blossomed out of that. So, with the final chapter of the campaign coming to a close, Sam was determined to find a way for Liam’s character to have a happy ending.

That, and Sam and Liam have been best friends for a long time. On a personal level, Sam wanted to save his best friend, whose character was his characters best friend.

All that went out the window, when Vecna, realizing he was going to loose this fight, attempted to teleport away. The only one who could stop him, was Scanlan, and all he had to give up, was his ninth level spell slot, and his best friends life.

What followed, was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve seen in D&D, and a tribute, not just to how much these guys care about each other, but how much this game, and their characters, mean to them. What began as a way of doing something other than working, has become an expression of their love for one another, and something that has defined them both, as people.

This is what D&D can be, and what it long has been, to me.

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