• Gaming and Tech

Reviving Dungeons & Dragons

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

How internet sensation Critical Role brought the fantasy game to a new generation


By Amy Smith

Photo courtesy of Alex Chambers via Unsplash



First published in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game that lets players create their own characters and embark on an endless number of journeys, as far as your imagination will take you. It gained enormous traction in the 70s and 80s and defined the RPG medium as we know it today. However, with the rise of video games and a preconceived idea of a negative ‘nerd’ culture around D&D, the popularity of the tabletop game died down for some time.


But D&D is being revived for a new generation, thanks in part to internet phenomenon Critical Role, a company that focuses on providing D&D-related content to their millions of supporters. Started in 2015, the Critical Role web series stars eight voice actors, whose work include The Last of Us, Overwatch, and Naruto, who come together once a week to re-enter the world of Exandria and get lost in storytelling.


In case you are not aware of the impact Critical Role has made on the internet, let's quickly run down some of their stats. They are the highest-earning Twitch channel over the past two years and have over 828,000 followers on the platform, as well as an additional 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube.


Of course, it is easy to see these numbers and realise how much impact their fresh perspective brought to D&D audiences. Not only was Critical Role sponsored by D&D Beyond (the official digital toolset and game companion of the official D&D fifth edition), but the two companies have also worked together to create two campaign-setting books and are in the midst of creating an official campaign book.


Out of every D&D streamer out there—and there are plenty of them—what is it about Critical Role that has brought them so much love and support from everyone? Firstly, the voice actors have brought so much life to the campaigns they run. The cast, including Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, and Sam Riegel, add personality to their characters and their work helps bring each one to life. The Dungeon Master, Matthew Mercer, created a world that is easy to get lost in, with numerous campaigns running through the timeline and more lore with each addition; indeed, the world has become so expansive that there is a role in the company with the sole purpose of keeping track of it all.


In a world where millions of dollars are being spent on television and film productions bringing fantastical stories to life on the big screen, things can get overwhelming. In a digital age where anyone can make content and go viral, there is a sense of relatability when it comes to Critical Role. Whilst they do spend a lot of money as a company designing their set and adding value to each campaign that they run, at the core of the channel is eight people meeting up weekly and playing a game of D&D. With each stream lasting four hours and only one short break taken during each one to give viewers and the players a chance to top up their drinks and re-energise, it becomes easy to immerse yourself into the stories and to follow along easily. After seeing how much fun it is to watch a game of D&D, it is clear to see why many viewers would want to create their own games afterwards.


Despite the enormous commercial success of the project, Critical Role have managed to maintain a real sense of community and continually use the platform they have earned to put good out into the world. In the opening of every episode, the cast talks about charities that they work with, having recently launched the Critical Role Foundation in September 2020. These precious minutes of streaming time could be used to push for more sales into their company, but instead they recognise the good that their fans can do and encourage them to do just that. Additionally, members of the crew frequently interact with their fans and have them participate in the campaign, either by hosting giveaways or featuring fan art of the characters throughout each episode.


It can seem scary to jump straight into a game like D&D and have no idea where to begin, but watching something like Critical Role can help not only by establishing the rules and structure but by showing how fun and creative it can be. Whilst it may just be eight famous voice actors bringing this world to life, it is also eight friends playing a game and bouncing off each other, creating something that millions tune in for every single week. What might have once seemed old-fashioned now has a new following in this technological generation. Here’s to many more years of Dungeons & Dragons.