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Critical Role's Matthew Mercer isn't worried about the RPG actual play bubble bursting

“I could see it push further into the mainstream.”

Image credit: Critical Role

The creator of Critical Role, Matthew Mercer, is not worried about the RPG actual play bubble potentially bursting.

Mercer is the Dungeon Master for Critical Role, a Dungeons & Dragons actual play series that originated from a campaign the actor ran for his friends. The series began in 2015, with the first season focusing on the characters of Vox Machina and their adventures across Tal'Dorei, an original fictional universe created by Mercer.

Alongside Mercer, the cast for Critical Role consists of actors Laura Bailey (The Last of Us Part II), Travis Willingham, Marisha Ray, Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us Part I and II), Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien and Taliesin Jaffe.

The actual play series is currently in its third season, which stars the adventuring party known as Bells Hells. As well as the main series, Critical Role has featured many spin-off series, such as Exandria Unlimited, and episodes wherein the cast return to their characters from previous seasons. Critical Role recently held its very first live show in the UK, which took place in a sold-out Ovo Arena in Wembley – a venue that has a capacity of 12,500 people.

Image credit: Critical Role

Critical Role has also been adapted into an animated television series by Amazon Studios called The Legend of Vox Machina. A third season of The Legend of Vox Machina has since been announced, as well as the reveal that the second season of Critical Role – which centered on The Mighty Nein’s journeys through Wildemount – will also been receiving an animated adaptation sometime in the future.

During an interview with Dicebreaker, Mercer was asked whether he thought that the actual play bubble was going to burst anytime soon – especially considering the arrival of many tabletop RPG actual other series in the last decade such as Dimension 20, Oxventure and High Rollers.

“I do think it has definitely mellowed since the “gold rush” days of the late 2010s,” commented Mercer, “it is inherently a very long-form time commitment to engage with just one actual play series, let alone multiple.” The actor also mentioned the affect the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns may have had on the popularity of actual play series: “the pandemic also led to a massive swell in actual play engagement, which has also balanced with the re-opening of the world.”

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However, Mercer stated that he could only see the bubble bursting for “those who attempt to throw unsustainable budgets towards what is a still slow-growing field.” Otherwise, the Critical Role DM believes that actual play series’ popularity has the potential to grow even more than they have.

“I could see it push further in the mainstream […] there is still a growing interest with much more room to grow,” Mercer said, “but the adaptation needs care, authenticity and the right timing […] part of what makes this whole space magical is the authenticity […] that can’t be built in a lab, where there have been a number of failed attempts to do so.”

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Alex Meehan avatar
Alex Meehan: After writing for Kotaku UK, Waypoint and Official Xbox Magazine, Alex became a member of the Dicebreaker editorial family. Having been producing news, features, previews and opinion pieces for Dicebreaker for the past three years, Alex has had plenty of opportunity to indulge in her love of meaty strategy board games and gothic RPGS. Besides writing, Alex appears in Dicebreaker’s D&D actual play series Storybreakers and haunts the occasional stream on the Dicebreaker YouTube channel.
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