There is something utterly heartwarming about meeting Critters in person. Interacting with actual people is nothing like the fly-by madness of Twitch chat, and conversation becomes so much kinder when real people can’t hide behind the anonymity of Reddit. Every conversation about the show and the new Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting during Gen Con filled by heart with joy and that feeling was multiplied a thousand fold at the live show. I felt happiness wash over me like a wave when I took my seat among over two hundred adoring Critters in the front rows of Indianapolis’s Old National Centre. We were gathered there two hours before the main live show for a special Q&A with the cast, and each and every person wanted nothing more than to see their heroes in person.
No online community is without its bad eggs, as any follower of the #criticalrole hashtag on Twitter or member of the Critical Role Fan Club Facebook group will tell you. For many, trolls on the internet are merely a fact of life. Yet, in the raucous, joyful throng of Critters in the Old National, I felt nothing but pride. Bereft of the anonymity of the internet, the trolls were nowhere to be found. Only the genuine joy and excitement of true fans filled the theater.
In the midst of this elated chaos, I gave thanks to the cast of Critical Role for make their community such a welcoming home for so many people. Dungeons & Dragons (and indeed all roleplaying games) are places of self-expression, and the cast knows it. RPGs give people freedom to create worlds and people that are different from the real world in empowering ways. Perhaps that’s why Critical Role has such a significant female and LGBTQ+ fanbase; because the characters and stories of Critical Role let them see themselves as heroes, not just a tragic props for a male hero, as is all too common in fantasy stories.
My reverie was broken when Brian Wayne Foster pranced on stage with frat-boyish glee, and the crowd went wild. People waved banners in the shape of Sam Riegal’s face (you know the one I’m talking about). Cosplayers filled the aisles, portraying everyone from Gilmore to Kima to Keyleth to Vecna. Even as the cast settled in their seats and the first few people raised their hands for questions, I could hear people complimenting each other on their costumes or laughing about their own D&D experiences. They cheered in support of their fellow Critters after nearly every question was asked. It was clear to me that it was not just the cast who deserved thanks for cultivating one of the best fandoms alive today. The actual members of the Critical Role community deserve the highest accolades for showing compassion to their fellow Critters, for self-policing their community and denouncing the trolls, and defending one another when internet villains arrive. Matt Mercer and his fellow cast members may lead by example, but the Critters transformed that example into an ethos.
The Q&A session passed with little fanfare. Questions were asked. Answers were given. It was clear that this Q&A, while exciting, was merely an aperitif. The entire audience was humming with anticipation for the actual live show. That nervous energy pervaded the theatre in the intervening hour as we milled about in our seats, got drinks and snacks, and watched, even more people enter the theatre. The line for the main show stretched completely around the outside of the theatre. Finally, a crowd of elated fans, some of whom had been waiting in line since 6 AM, filed into their seats.
Then Brian Wayne Foster returned. The cast returned. And at 9:00 PM in Indianapolis, the live show began with such fervor that I was nearly moved to tears. The wave of joyous energy that I had felt earlier swelled into a tsunami as over two thousand more Critters crammed into the rest of the seats and screamed as the cast of Critical Role strutted onto the stage. The Twitch VOD and the recording on Alpha cannot possibly compare to the sheer power of 2,500 super-fans packed like sardines into a theatre screaming themselves hoarse as their heroes appear before them in the flesh.
For all the grousing in Twitch chat about fans overpowering the casts’ microphones during gameplay, no recording could capture the sheer power of Critters mustered en masse. As for the gameplay, you’ve seen the broadcast. It’s a sterling example of the mix of hilarity and tragedy that makes Critical Role so special. No matter how powerful or magical Vox Machina becomes, they will still be the goobers who transformed into cows for an entire episode. No matter how many live shows at Gen Con they perform or how famous they become, the cast of Critical Role will always be our nerdy-ass voice actors. That’s how they’d like us to view them; as regular people who stumbled upon something big and shared it with incredible selflessness, joy, and grace.
Thank you, Critical Role. Thank you, Critters. To quote Vax, “Do not go far from us.”
Featured Image by Elaine Tipping (triaelf9.tumblr.com)
Image Credit: criticalrolesource.tumblr.com and the gif-making Critters on giphy.com