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When Did Tabletop Come Back?


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It’s all downhill from here.

An episode of Tabletop featured a pen and paper version of a favourite video game of mine, Dragon Age. After a few hundred rewatches, I went out and bought my own set, impulsive fervor driving me to want to play a pen and paper game at least once in my life.

Deciding to keep it simple and intimate, my partner opted to be our GM with the present campaign. My brother and I were willing participants. I can still remember the feeling of joy and anticipation while creating my character: What would they do? What kind of person would they be?

Let’s just say my brother hasn’t let me live down my arguing with a white dragon.

We’d only held about two sessions, as the campaign didn’t last long. Lives changed and eventually we couldn’t continue.Despite (and maybe even in spite) of my new lifestyle at the time, I’d sought out more episodes that followed the same vein as Tabletop, particularly during its hiatus. I ended up finding Table Flip, one of the Game Grump’s features on their channel, which featured occasional guests. Much like Tabletop, it featured a different board game each episode.

Watching show after show about tabletop games continued to fuel my interest to join a regular play group.

So much so that I even remember breaking out my old Portal Deck from Magic the Gathering, in my search for ways to get back into it. But I’d tasted that D&D adventure – and I wanted more. At this point, knowing about a handful of pop culture icons involved in tabletop gaming, I was curious over how many other actors and actresses dabbled. I discovered that apparently Dame Judi Dench DM’d a session after Vin Diesel introduced Dungeons & Dragons to her during production of Pitch Black.

As with most things you hear on the internet, I wanted to check the source on that.  In doing so, I found a clip on video titled DnDiesel (FYI: puns are a certain way for me to check out a video).

DnDiesel is a one-episode campaign involving Matt Mercer, Laura Bailey, the folks from Nerdist and the titular feature: Vin Diesel. Further clicking around the internet revealed that DnDiesel was there to help promote The Last Witchhunter.

The sheer immersion from listening to the way the DM (Mercer) described each encounter – both roleplay and combat – was riveting.

Then I discovered Critical Role.

I’d dragged my brother to watch it with me one lazy weekday afternoon. We started marathoning 40+ episodes at the time. And then we researched the players and the talented storyteller that was their Dungeon Master. Then we found out that some of the cast turned out to be very familiar voice actors, before going through each of their respective IMDBs yelling “aha!” whenever we found a role we recognised them from.

Laura Bailey? Fruits Basket.  Sam Riegel is Phoenix Wright.  Hold up – Liam O’Brien is Illidan Stormrage? Mori from Ouran? That’s Travis? Ashley Johnson is that waitress that fangirled about Ironman to Captain America!

Matt Mercer as FFVII’s Sephiroth a.k.a. Someone has a cosplay problem.

Critical Role now boasts over 70 episodes, airing every Thursday night (that’s Friday Noon, my side of the world).

Because of the inclusion of multi-talented voice actors, the stories they weave are in-depth. Since their DM has been doing this since before he cosplayed Escaflowne, their combat encounters are just as heavily involved.  It helps that the cast are all very close friends with each other. This naturally leads to some very hilarious Out of Character quips that tend to get very meta at times.

Their approach to fan-interaction is so open and welcoming.

Each Voice Actor gamely interacts with fans on their Twitter platforms. This was very much a polar opposite to my personal experience getting into D&D. There’s always art and theories and a lot of well-thought out discussions going on.

The cast of Critical Role.

So, if like me, it’s been a difficult time for you chasing up a D&D group, I suggest starting a good watch of Critical Role.  Understandably, 70+ episodes is a hefty amount of watch time. Critical Role‘s episodes average at about 4 hours long. This nifty guide on Reddit (yes) has a couple of recommended episodes to watch, but there are written synopses if you’re game for a read instead. If that’s daunting in-and-of itself, I suggest this video as a quick starter – it’s been highly regarded by both the fans and the cast.

If Critical Role isn’t your thing, there’s an advent of different D&D shows now, including Adventure Zone, High Rollers – even Rooster Teeth has Heroes and Halfwits.

Personally, I’m glad we can finally share Dungeons & Dragons like this.

Some folks may have qualms about digitizing content of such a high pedestal for RPGs; however in the end, it still brings in communities, both meta and gaming alike.  Heck, it’s the reason I started DMing for my own D&D group – a small group of friends from Western Australia, all the way to Poland.  All thanks to a Friday livestream and, even with all the program’s shortcomings, a 4-hour Skype call.

This resurgence is exactly what I’m thankful for, and maybe you’ll find your own group too.

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Lee Flores
I'm a diversity advocate, games artist and graphic designer-in-training based in Australia. Somewhere in between all of that, I claim to be a decent healer in World of Warcraft or Overwatch, but there's always room for improvement. Sometimes, I also play or even DM a DND homebrew or two.

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