Critical Role, Party Conflict, and Why D&D is the Best Game Ever
Critical Role is a live-streamed show from Geek & Sundry where a bunch of self-proclaimed “nerdy ass voice actors” play Dungeons & Dragons. Most recently there was a bit of a kerfluffle in the fandom when two of the characters had a rather abrupt conflict during a tense moment.
There are spoilers for episodes 21 and 22 mentioned in this post
so if you aren’t caught up you have been warned.
Episode 21 titled The Stalker in the Swamp introduced the team to a guest character, Cali (played by Mark Hulmes), in search of a bowl used by a cult that worships the Scaled Tyrant. The Mighty Nein were already headed in the same direction to fulfill a mission bestowed upon them by the Gentleman so they decided to help her out. After narrowly escaping a troll and fighting some fish people the bowl was discovered, picked up without a trace by the party’s goblin rogue Nott.
Instead of turning the bowl over to the group she took it to Caleb to inspect in order to determine whether or not the bowl should be handed over. Eventually, he decided to give it to Cali but not without strings attached. Caleb positioned his fellow party members between him and Cali and tried to make a deal only to have the bowl yanked out of his hands by Beau, the party’s very forthright monk.
She laid into him then, insisting he didn’t get to decide the course of someone’s life. He had not been fair to Cali or the group and he needed to realize that. It was a wonderful moment for anyone who enjoys character development and interactions. For me, it was reminiscent of a few fights my own party went through as they were getting to know each other. A portion of the fandom, however, reacted poorly and Twitter exploded with criticism over the scene.
I found the negative reaction to party conflict rather confusing. Some fans tried to tear apart Beau’s logic. Others simply believed she had overreacted to the situation. What puzzles me, though, is this: so what? Marisha Ray who plays Beau made a choice to stay true to her character who is very young, very mistrusting, and has some key philosophies she lives by and which drive her actions. Beau is, in essence, a regular person.
Regular people aren’t always logical. Regular people sometimes overreact to situations. Remember that Beau is a 22(ish) year old human with a questionable, delinquent past who is trying to figure out who she is, who these people are that she has started working with, and what it all means. Whatever it was about Caleb’s actions that provoked the reaction might not have been logical, but it was certainly human, which is what ultimately made it such an interesting scene.
Had the game continued immediately after and not left off with that scene I think fans would probably have had less to complain about. That’s the hard part about the Critical Role crew sharing their Dungeons & Dragons game with the world week after week. These kinds of conflicts happen all the time around the table, but outsiders aren’t sitting around chomping at the bit to rip the interactions apart. Instead, they get played out in real time when the group gets together again.
I say that if the game had continued fans wouldn’t have complained because, in the very next episode, this piece of character development was resolved on both Beau and Caleb’s part. Beau’s actions gave Caleb some things to chew on and pushed him to reach out to Yasha during their watch. In turn, Beau’s reflection on her actions had her reaching out to Fjord again to try and get some advice about how to apologize.
That’s where we see the heart of this game. Yes, fighting is fun and plot lines are fun and no one tells a story quite like Matthew Mercer but the beauty of Dungeons & Dragons is in the relationships that play out. What I love about the Critical Role crew is that they don’t expect perfection from themselves or their characters. They play them like real people, flaws and all, and in doing so lead to the chance to play out scenes where healing occurs. Where characters grow and grow together.
Dungeons & Dragons is less about winning and more about the journey with all of its ups and downs. I think anyone who has sat around a table for a long-term campaign with friends knows that, and I hope that as Critical Role continues to flourish and grow that fans will begin to accept that too.
It comes down to something Marisha Ray said on Talks Machina about the episode: these stories teach us something about ourselves and when we find something in a story that provokes a feeling we should take a step back and explore it. That’s where growth happens and why games like Dungeons & Dragons remain timeless and well loved.
In the end, whatever happens on Critical Role and however you feel about it, don’t forget to keep loving each other.