For even the most loyal of fans, it might be hard to describe what exactly Critical Role is. At its core, it’s a multi-platform web series wherein a group of friends plays Dungeons & Dragons together. However, with over half a million viewers every week and various works including a novel, art books, a comic series, campaign setting books, and collectibles found on the shelves of hobby stores, it’s a little more complicated than that. As such, newcomers curious to find out just what Critical Role is all about might find themselves confused or even intimidated to jump into the proceedings.
Critical Role started in early 2015, with the show beginning part-way through the cast’s first campaign, which then ended in late 2017. Since then, campaign two started and ended and the cast’s third campaign began in late 2021, with various one-shots and limited series airing between the campaigns. There are over three hundred episodes of Critical Role to date, spanning eight years, so it’s easy for newcomers to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of content that they have on their hands.
Updated by Noelle Warner on December 22, 2023: As the years go on, Critical Role remains at the peak of actual play popularity and has even gone on to get an animated adaptation on Amazon Prime Video. The show has thousands of hours of content, which can be intimidating for new viewers — this feature has been updated to discuss even more ways to jump into Critical Role‘s extensive catalog of content, as well as to adhere to CBR’s most recent editorial standards.
Critical Role’s Iconic Vox Machina Campaign Is Adored By Fans
Vox Machina Launched a Franchise
Percival de Rolo
Keyleth of the Air Ashari
Druid (Circle of the Moon)
Scanlan Shorthalt/Taryon Darrington
Bard (College of Lore) – Scanlan, (Artificer: Alchemist) – Taryon)
Barbarian (Path of the Berserker), Fighter (Great Weapon Master) multiclass
The preeminent Dungeon Master within the world of Dungeons & Dragons, Matthew Mercer is considered to be one of the best DMs ever.
Often, the easiest place to start with a franchise is at the very beginning — in this case, that would be Critical Role‘s Episode 1 of Campaign 1, “Arrival at Kraghammer.” While some viewers will greatly enjoy diving into the series at its inception, there are a few downsides to the show’s earliest content, such as jumping into the middle of a campaign that started as a home game, so it will take players a bit of time to get used to the characters and the world.
What’s more, viewers are also joining the story in the middle of an arc, so it’s a bit unclear what’s going on and what the stakes are. The first 27 episodes of Critical Role also include a player named Orion Acaba, who plays the bumbling draconic sorcerer Tiberius Stormwind, but Acaba left the show due to health reasons. Some viewers find his time at the table a bit unpleasant to watch, as he would often go off on his own adventures or argue with others at the table, so many would suggest skipping his appearance on the show altogether. The earliest episodes also struggled a lot with audio or other technical issues, which can make viewing a less-than-pleasant experience some of the time.
Despite some of the less convenient characteristics of campaign one, it is deeply beloved by fans. Some of the show’s best and most iconic storylines come from Vox Machina’s adventures, particularly the Briarwood or Chroma Conclave arcs (both of which make great entry points into the show, in episodes 24 and 39, respectively). The first campaign also has an earnestness to it that the rest of the franchise has yet to tap into — things might get a bit messy as the players try to figure out who their characters are, but a lack of over-produced narrative planning led to some of the show’s most genuine, emotional moments to date.
Critical Role’s Subsequent Campaigns Are Great Choices Too
Campaign 2: The Mighty Nein
Campaign 3: Bell’s Hells
Caleb, Jester, Molly, Fjord, Nott/Veth, Beau, Yasha, Caduceus
FCG, Imogen, Ashton, Bertrand Bell, Chetney, Fearne, Orm, Laudna
Across all of its campaigns, Critical Role is known for its outstanding lore and worldbuilding, written by none other than DM Matthew Mercer.
Since each campaign features the same cast playing new characters, campaigns two and three are equally excellent places to start. Most fans will recommend starting Critical Role with campaign two. It’s probably the most popular campaign, with many noting that it’s engaging and fun from start to finish. Campaign three might be a little slower-paced at the beginning, but the characters are incredible, and it’s also well worth it. Campaign three does contain a few references to campaign one since they take place in the same evolving world, but that shouldn’t really throw new audiences off.
What makes campaign three such a great place to start with is the fact that it’s the currently ongoing campaign. It’s more approachable, with only around fifty episodes or so thus far. After watching these, newcomers will be up-to-date, so they can jump into the weekly shows. Doing this will allow them to keep up with weekly discourse and feel like they are part of the fan community. With all of this in mind, the best way to approach Critical Role might be to first watch The Legend of Vox Machina to get a taste of what Critical Role is all about, get up-to-date with the third campaign, and then start the second campaign while keeping up with new episodes.
Critical Role’s Spin-Off Series Are Excellent Introductions
Critical Role has thousands of hours of content across its many campaigns, making it an intimidating endeavor to jump into. Here’s where to start.
Critical Role has had a number of successful limited series known as Exandria Unlimited that are spin-offs of the main campaigns, still set in the world of Tal’Dorei, but in vastly different time periods to the full story. For example, the most recent ExU series, Calamity, takes place 1,500 years before the events of Critical Role. Despite varying so widely in their subject matter, the three ExU series are well crafted and highly polished adventures in the world of CR‘s canon. Some have even gone on to say that Exandria Unlimited is the best Critical Role content out there, period. They’re certainly ideal for viewers who don’t want a big time commitment on their hands while trying the franchise out for the first time. The ExU series also introduced new player characters and DMs to the world of Critical Role, including Robbie Daymond, Aimee Carrero, Anjali Bhimani, Aabria Iyengar, Lou Wilson, and Brennan Lee Mulligan.
For an even lower-commitment option, Critical Role has also produced a number of one-shots over the years, including delves back into campaigns one and two, battle royales between cast members, holiday specials, and more. While these episodes won’t give new viewers much of a feeling for the overall storylines, they will introduce them to the cast members, the various DMs’ styles, and the general cadence of the show.
The Animated Series Is A Condensed Form of Vox Machina’s Story
Critical Role has evolved a lot over the years, growing from a small stream of friends to a multi-media empire. Here’s everything you need to know.
For those who are interested in learning more about Critical Role‘s first adventuring party, Vox Machina, but don’t want to sit through 400 hours of actual play content, the animated adaptation of campaign one known as The Legend of Vox Machina on Amazon Prime Video is absolutely the way to go. To date, the series consists of two seasons made up of 12 episodes each and has been renewed for a third season as well. The Legend of Vox Machina starts off its first two episodes with a story that took place during the home game prior to the actual play streams, and the rest of season one goes on to adapt the fan-favorite Briarwood arc. Season two then tackles the first part of the Chroma Conclave, a storyline in which a group of dragons are terrorizing the continent of Tal’Dorei.
Although in a significantly smaller package for the same story, The Legend of Vox Machina does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Critical Role‘s first campaign. Seeing as much of the actual gameplay on the show consists of lengthy conversations and planning sessions that don’t end up mattering in the long run anyway, there is merit to cutting the story down to its most essential pieces. In addition, the series does a phenomenal job of capturing Vox Machina’s most memorable moments, even going so far as to take exact moments or lines of dialogue from the original show. As the animated show continues to adapt campaign one — and with an animated series based on campaign two confirmed to be on the way as well — it proves to be an excellent option for new viewers to dive into the world of Critical Role for the first time.
- Release Date
- March 12, 2015
- Matthew Mercer , Liam O’Brien , marisha ray , Laura Bailey
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