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Is Critical Role Scripted? These Campaign 2 Moments Might Tell Us

The popularity of tabletop roleplaying games like "Dungeons & Dragons" has been on the rise in recent years. That's due in no small part to the inclusion of "D&D" in popular shows like "Stranger Things," as well as online actual play series like "Critical Role." The latter title, which features a group of successful voice actors who come together on a weekly basis to play "Dungeons & Dragons," has been airing online since 2015 and has been steadily growing in popularity ever since.

Over the years, the "Critical Role" brand has expanded past the initial, long-running "D&D" campaign that started it all to encompass a number of spin-off campaigns, one-shots, talk shows, and two animated TV series. For that reason, some of the first questions new viewers usually ask involve the correct order to watch the "Critical Role" campaigns and whether or not the brand's central "D&D" campaigns are scripted. As a matter of fact, one Redditor even created a post asking that very question.

While this may come as a surprise to some viewers, too, "Critical Role" is definitely not scripted. In order to prove that point, some fans responded to their fellow Redditor's query with moments from the second main "Critical Role" campaign where the show's players made decisions that totally surprised their dungeon master, Matthew Mercer. Key among those moments was one instance in which Taliesin Jaffe famously used one spell to sidestep a naval battle that Mercer had pre-emptively created specific combat mechanics in order to pull off.

"I'm just gonna go ahead and get rid of that initiative order that's not going to do anything now," Mercer said in the wake of the moment in question.

Critical Role's cast has repeatedly derailed their DM's plans

The twist described above isn't the only time that the core cast of "Critical Role" has managed to outsmart even Matthew Mercer himself. One of the show's most famous moments came when Laura Bailey managed to deceive an evil hag that Mercer had built up to be a major opponent for his players. As u/foxscribbles wrote on Reddit, "[Matt] FULLY expected them to end up in combat with the hag. And he basically had to end the session because Laura just bypassed his entire plan for the end of that game AND the next one."

Bailey's move has been repeatedly clipped online, so one need only watch it to see Mercer try to deal in real-time with his plans being upended. In a special Q&A wrap-up for the second main "Critical Role" campaign, Mercer was also asked whether or not his players' decision to go to a region known as Xhorhas sooner than he'd expected forced him to similarly rework his plans for the campaign's overarching story. "I mean, yeah, but also that's why I love the game. My favorite moments are when I'm caught off-guard," he explained. "It completely shifted the direction of the campaign in a really cool way."

Together, all of these moments, as well as numerous others from all three main "Critical Role" campaigns, prove just how much of the show is improvised on the fly. Indeed, while certain "Critical Role" shows, like "The Legend of Vox Machina," are obviously scripted, it's clear that the brand's central campaigns never will be. That doesn't mean, however, that the "Critical Role" brand won't continue to grow in the years to come.

The Critical Role cast won't stop playing D&D anytime soon

Anyone who has been keeping up with "Critical Role" for a prolonged period of time will be able to attest to not only how much the show itself has grown over the course of its 8-year existence, but also the brand as a whole. It's clear that the future of "Critical Role" is on the minds of everyone involved in it, too. In recent years, the brand's creative team has released original board games, launched a number of supplementary, live actual play campaigns, released Seasons 1 and 2 of "The Legend of Vox Machina," and even partnered with Amazon to make another animated TV series titled "The Mighty Nein," which will be based on the second main "Critical Role" campaign.

Fortunately, it doesn't seem like fans need to worry that the company's ongoing growth will result in it abandoning any of the things that made it great in the first place. In a January interview with Polygon, Matthew Mercer even said, "I think what's interesting about actual play is you can only add so many bells and whistles, because the core of it is still just a very conversational, collaborative narrative." When asked to speculate about the future of "Critical Role," he added, "One thing I can say for certain is that we're still going to be playing 'D&D,' we'll still be doing our campaigns, still playing together."

It seems, in other words, safe to say that, while certain things will continue to change both in front of and behind the scenes at "Critical Role," some things are destined to remain the same. That includes, perhaps more importantly than anything else, the unscripted aspect that allows the show's cast to shock and derail their hard-working dungeon master.