In my last post about learning by listening I explored the questions that popped into my head while listening to the Critical Role podcast as they played through a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. It was fun and interesting for me to listen in and learn how the DM and players react to different situations, how they use various roll checks, and the descriptive nature by which the DM handles the game. It has been a fun listen in. I am on episode 11 of season one and at a pretty interesting and exciting pivot point for the group – they just completed their main, specific mission they were on but aren’t quite out of the woods yet. The next step will be to see how the DM handles the end of a chapter or break in the excitement. There are still over 100 episodes left, all between 2 and 4 hours in length so there is a ton of content to enjoy. I already feel connections to all of the characters in different ways. It is even more fun and interesting as you start to understand the personality of the people who are playing the characters. It is a very interesting experiment.
I made the jump to pause on the first Campaign and start in on Campaign 2. The main reason is to be a bit more current – there are five episodes out currently so I can catch up easily. I can always go and revisit the first campaign when I am in a holding pattern for new material. The new campaign is with all new characters (but the same players) in a whole new setting so I am not missing out or skipping ahead in timeline. Campaign one will always be there but being a part of something as it happens has it’s own benefits as I can be a part of the conversation. I am also very curious how things have changed in the mood or style that they play by. There are some big changes and I have not been disappointed. I am going to share my experiences as spoiler free as possible with still getting my points across.
First off – the players are all role playing a lot heavier this time. They are using new voices and themes and have really dug deep behind the characters they are playing. Characters are doing things in this play through that are turning out to be bad decisions but being made for the right reasons – that it is most likely what their character would do in that situation. I respect that a lot but it also makes a lot of things happen that are unexecpected for the DM – which seems to be fine because Matthew Mercer is a very skilled and experienced one. I would have probably been thrown for a loop or two. The group can be a bit “joke heavy” at times in what they are saying and doing but that is who those characters are – and the DM is making modifiers based off of that. He made a character do a persuasion check, who rolled really high on it – but the words they used to persuade (the way it was presented) was very weak and he mentioned there is a modifier. That is fun and forces players to be sure about what they say and do. He also pressures them if they are taking too much time to make a decision if there is pressure on (in combat, for example) which forces players to think on their feet.
In this campaign the players do not all know each other and some have had side, introductory adventures to the city they are in – so there is reference and differnt understandings in the three different groups that currently exist. It is a challenge to get them to become a single cohesive group in a natural way. Part of the gameplay is very interesting and almost too open – a card game, for example, where both are attempting (and perception checks) against each other to cheat using sleight of hand. Each player knows the other player is attempting it but the characters don’t (as they both failed). This creates an interesting dynamic where the player knows that the character is cheating but the character doesn’t. How can you balance knowing you should mistrust someone but based on the in game rolls you can’t? There has also been a few times where there have been statements made by one player character to another and the recipient asks for a contested insight check to see if they are lying – and if the player loses the deception check has to admit to the player that they are lying, so the character doesn’t believe them as well. Again – it is just a layered dynamic that forces me to think how I would handle that.
The first episode starts slow as we are introduced to the different players and their small little groups, how they meet, and a central place they end up together where the action really heats up and sets the tone. I believe it was this event that should force them closer. However, the second episode is playing out really slow as the DM has given them a big sandbox to play in with little guidance or instruction and the actions the players are currently choosing is not moving the tale along in any obvious meaningful or tangible way. The DM seems to be really patient here forcing the players to sort through it to move the action along, and I am curious how long that will last before he gives them a big in game hint/nudge to support them. The way it is currently going I have a feeling it could be a lot of circles – but I don’t believe the DM will let it go that far. This episode (#2) has been a bit of a struggle for the players and you can feel it as a listener as well.
I will definitely sludge through this part and I am sure things will pick up. Regardless, it is a great listen and the new campaign is a good starting point for new listeners (or watchers if you prefer – it is broadcasted on Thursday nights and the podcast follows it up the following week). I still am very curious how the old campaign continues and for me it is like having The Walking Dead, and Fear the Walking Dead – two good, related shows, both at my finger tips. I just haven’t decided which is the better one yet – still too early to tell.