The new season of Critical Role is fully underway and more people than ever before are tuning in to watch Dungeon Master extraordinaire Matthew Mercer run his cast of “Nerdy-ass voice actors” through the world of Dungeons & Dragons.
The new campaign is set some years after the conclusion of the Vox Machina storyline and the crew all play brand new level 2 characters who are just beginning to find their way in the world. This week GeekDad caught up with veteran voice-actor Liam O’Brien, who plays wizard Caleb Widogast in the new campaign, and asked him what it felt like to be playing D&D in front of over 100,000 people.
GeekDad: How does the fact that you’re playing for an audience affect the focus of your characterization? Did you ever image that over 100,000 people would watch a live D&D game?
Liam: Oh man, never in a million years did I guess that so many people would connect with the stories we tell. Back in the day, we definitely found each other entertaining as hell, but for all I knew, we were a niche audience of eight.
As far as the influence of the audience while we play, it’s maybe less than you’d expect. I think we were all having some stomach butterflies our very first game of the new campaign, but only because we were trying on a new skin for the first time. Normally though, it’s pretty easy to just look across the table and riff with my closest friends. It still feels very intimate, and the live audience gives us just a dash of that edge-of-your-seat feeling.
GD: Knowing the size of the audience, would you have done anything differently in the first campaign?
Liam: I can’t think of anything I would change, even the stuff that blew up in my character’s face. All we can really do is make decisions that feel right in the moment. And watch the story unfold, along with the audience.
GD: Are there any themes / locations / settings that you think are underutilized in D&D and would like to see in the new campaign?
Liam: I don’t know about in D&D overall, but I personally loved our short stint in the Underdark, and hope there is a reason for us to go spelunking again. We’re also starting in a much colder climate, and I love the idea of traveling further north and braving the tundra.
GD: How do you feel the recent board game and tabletop renaissance has affected Critical Role?
Liam: Video games have taken so much of the spotlight over the last couple decades, I think we’d all forgotten how much fun it is to simply sit down with our friends around a dining room table and laugh over a game together. Tabletop games coming back in vogue in recent years reawakened that spirit in a larger crowd, and really opened people up to storytelling told without coding or film.
GD: What aspects of the game are you most looking forward to in the new campaign? Seeing how the characters develop? Building relationships? New NPCs? Villains? Special guests?
Liam: Oh man, reorganizing our brains and learning who these new characters really are, as well as how we will now relate to each other. As dear as Vox Machina is to us all, I am fascinated with NOT-Vox Machina. Also, as someone who never really takes the “renegade” path in my video game playing, I’m extremely curious about doing something a little off that track in this campaign.
GD: How do you think Vox Machina would react to the new party? Would there be any rivalries?
Liam: If we’re talking late game VM, then they would probably see them as amusing, but ultimately a cluster of yutzes. But, like every D&D party, you go from zero to hero. So in their humbler days, they could definitely hang.
GD: What effect does having DMed one-shot games over the campaign break have on the way you play your new characters?
Liam: I don’t know that it did have effect on our new characters, but it certainly makes us all appreciate what Matt does from week to week even more than we already did.
GD: If you could play any NPC from campaign 1 who would it be? And why?
Liam: Hm. The idea of piloting Delilah Briarwood through her earlier days would be pretty awesome. Matt created such a wonderful character with her. The most relatable intentions leading to the darkest of choices. Although part of me thinks I should take on the Nothic Vax iced at the end of the campaign, as penance.
A massive thank you to Liam O’Brien for taking the time to answer my questions. Later in the week we’ll have more from the cast. In the meantime, don’t forget you can catch Liam and the rest of the Critical Role crew every Thursday night at 7:00 PM PT on the Geek & Sundry Twitch channel and on Alpha.