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Studio head of Critical Role publisher, Darrington Press, talks Uk’otoa and “artist dad Liam O’Brien”

“The first [Darrington Press] product was important, it needed to be familiar to fans.”
Ivan Van Norman headshot
Image: Ivan Van Norman

Darrington Press, the freshly-formed publishing company with connections to the popular actual play podcast Critical Role, has just released its debut tabletop title - Uk’otoa - onto store shelves. Featuring a major antagonist from campaign two of the D&D show and pitting players against one another as teams of sailors attempting to escape a sinking ship, Uk’otoa is the first in a line of several titles set in the world of Critical Role.

Somewhere deep in my vault I have a French version of the Uk'otoa sea shanty.

To find out more about the game’s development and the creators behind it, Dicebreaker spoke with actor and Darrington Press studio head, Ivan Van Norman, about the making of Uk’otoa, the team responsible for its creation and what else the publisher might have in store for the land of Wildemount.


Was Uk'otoa always going to be the first game Darrington Press had planned to release? What makes it a great debut title?

When I was brought on board to run Darrington Press, we spent quite a while going over what our first release slate was going to be before even getting started with development. The first product was important, it needed to be familiar to fans, a lightweight title to provide a lot of accessibility, but still heavy enough to earn some credibility in the board game space.

Uk’otoa I believe fits the bill for all of those items, hence making it a perfect first game for us to release.

Obviously Taliesin was involved in writing the sea shanty for Uk'otoa, but did the other CR cast members have any hand in its creation?

There are also lots of products out there featuring Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein as characters, so why not feature something unique?

Not any other cast members, no, but our Lore Master Dani Carr was hugely instrumental in the writing. Taliesin and Dani were a powerhouse team who put it all together amazingly fast and well thought out. The Sea Shanty video is a different matter (you can hear quite a few Critical Role founders in the chorus).

I do want to give some special credit to someone else though. We had to get the rules translated into French for testing purposes in Canada, and I was extremely impressed with Claire Boussard, our French translator, and their ability and patience with us. So yeah. Somewhere deep in my vault I have a French version of the shanty.

The cast of Critical Role.

How does Uk'otoa capture the world of Critical Role? Why make something indirectly attached to the story instead of something more direct?

Uk’otoa is a familiar deity to the fans of Critical Role, but it’s also just relatable enough (Giant Sea Serpent) to make it not too intimidating to a general audience. There are also lots of products out there featuring Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein as characters, so why not feature something unique that makes the world rich and interesting? In addition, choosing an element of the world design that wasn’t quite as explored gave us the ability to tread into some uncharted territory when it comes to look and design.

Also, I like villains.

Uko'toa board
A game of Uk'otoa.

Why Jeb Havens, Hannah Friederichs and Gabriel Hicks for Uk'otoa? What made them a good team for making the game?

Jeb was easy, this was his original game design. Before Uk’otoa was Uk’otoa, it was an unpublished prototype, and before then he was playtesting it in his game group and was calling it Tentacular!, which featured a squid. His core design was expanded upon by Gabriel Hicks, who knows the world of Critical Role and has a great taste for interactivity. Gabriel was the frosting to what was already a very tasty cupcake.

I reached out to resident art dad Liam O’Brien in order to find some artists who I was hoping could tackle the ‘Pyrates’ theme.

Hannah was a delightful discovery. A diamond in the rough. When considering artists, I reached out to resident art dad Liam O’Brien in order to find some artists who I was hoping could tackle the ‘Pyrates’ theme I was hoping to capture, while still making it familiar to Critters. Liam showed me a bunch of work, including Hannah’s fan art, and her mosaic piece of Molly caught my eye.

I reached out and asked her about interest and availability and we had a great initial kickoff call - she was very professional, honest, and it was very clear we were on the same page from the start. Once some of her sketches started to roll in, it was immediately apparent I didn’t need multiple artists, I needed ONE artist, and that was Hannah.

Mollymauk artwork by Hannah Friederichs
Artwork by Hannah Friederichs.

Is Uk'otoa the first in a series of games set in the world of Wildemount?

You ask if a thing is true,

And may never truly know,

The world is filled with choices,

As our curiosity grows

To tell you such secrets,

I’d have to take your eyes

Seek Treasure? Find Glory?

Beware of what may rise.


Alex Meehan avatar

Alex Meehan

Staff Writer

Alex’s journey to Dicebreaker began with writing insightful video game coverage for outlets such as Kotaku, Waypoint and PC Gamer. Her unique approach to analysing pop culture and knack for witty storytelling finally secured her a forever home producing news, features and reviews with the Dicebreaker team. She’s also obsessed with playing Vampire: The Masquerade, and won’t stop talking about it.

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