How and where to start watching Critical Role
Critical Role is the big dog of RPG streams. It’s the Beatles of watching people play Dungeons and Dragons online, and it’s pretty dang entertaining to watch an assemblage of talented voice actors bring those acting chops to playing a role that involves dice rolls and random events. The fact that characters can die, or have unexpected interactions with their fellow players or characters acted out by the DM gives it a unique feeling. It’s not really surprising to me that it has had such a seismic effect on the way D&D streams have come to exist in the space.
Before we dive in to all the ways to get started with Critical Role I want to say you don’t necessarily have to get caught up at all. Knowing what happened in the previous campaigns will likely help you glean some extra enjoyment out of the series, but I know a lot of people who jumped on to Critical Role at the start of Campaign 2 and weren’t hindered at all. I had not even remotely caught up yet when Campaign 2 started myself and I did fine. But if you do want to get caught up, here are a few options.
Option #1: Just binge everything
This is the approach I took. It’s the most time consuming one — on average, an episode of Critical Role is between three and four hours long. You would literally just go back to Campaign 1, Episode 1, Arrival at Kraghammer, and start watching from there. When I did this, there weren’t nearly as many episodes to watch as there are now, and again, they tend to last quite a bit of time.
Also, unlike Campaign 2, Campaign 1 starts with the players already having been playing together for a couple of years, so there’s a bit of story you won’t immediately recognize because it’s not in any episode. You can catch up with that via this Story So Far video the cast made, but just be aware that you’re starting the movie around Act 2.
Pros: If you watch every episode, you will be complete caught up and will better understand many of the references made later in the run. There’s a lot of good stuff in there.
Cons: We’re talking about 115 episodes of Campaign 1, plus several one shots, and then another 141 episodes of Campaign 2. If we assume an average of 4 hours per episode, that’s one thousand and twenty four hours. I typed it all out in words to make sure that sinks in and you realize that’s a thousand plus hours of your time. If you did nothing but watch Critical Role episodes around the clock until you’d seen it all, that would take you 42 days.
If you plan on doing it this way, I recommend you do something more sustainable, like watch an episode a day. That will only take you most of a year, and you’ll enjoy a lot of good stuff without having to give up eating, sleeping or using the lavatory.
Option #2: Recaps and podcasts, oh my
A lot of people have longish commutes (even in the COVID era, not everyone can work from home) or extended lunch breaks which they can use to their advantage by listening to the various Critical Role campaigns in podcast form. Both Campaign 1 and Campaign 2 are fully available via podcast, and up to Episode 3 of Exandria Unlimited is also available as a podcast. Also, Dani Carr has been doing Critical Recap for a while now, originally in text form and then later in video form, which can very much help you get the gist of what’s going on without having to watch over a thousand hours of D&D.
Pros: Saves you time and lets you use commutes or other long stretches — riding a bike, treadmill, waiting for an appointment — to get caught up.
Cons: You won’t actually get to see all the cool action and using recaps in particular tends to compress everything down which is an unavoidable aspect of the format.
Option #3: Just pick a moment and go
In my opinion, the best arc to start a Critical Role Campaign 1 watchathon is after Episode 23 or 24, when the Briarwood Arc starts and we get a lot of in depth on Percy and his life story. I think this is when the campaign really distills itself down to its essence and sets up everything else that comes after — the Chroma Conclave, the Vecna arc — it all gets started here.
For Campaign 2, it’s harder — I personally think Episode 1 is a great beginning to the series and sets up the characters, but if you want to really wring some emotion out of the experience, start with Episode 25.
Pros: Gets right to the good stuff
Cons: Misses a lot of the setup for the good stuff
Option #4: Just start fresh
Waiting for the next campaign to start and jump in at that point is the easiest option. You’ll be on the ground floor with everyone else. You won’t really know any more or less than anyone because it’s all new — new characters, new setting, all of it.
Also you could just try starting with Exandria Unlimited. It’s run by Aabria Iyengar who is a really quick, exciting GM. There’s only four episodes and you’ll get to see Matt Mercer as a player before watching him as a DM. And I honestly don’t think you need to watch one hundred and fifty six episodes of this show to understand what’s happening at the start of a new campaign.
Pros: Easiest of the options
Cons: There’s a lot of really amazing moments you’ll be missing out on
That’s my take on how to get caught up on Critical Role — now I hope y’all have fun watching, however you decide to proceed.
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