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Critical Role’s ‘Vox Machina’ Introduces a Brand-New Audience to the Wonders of TTRPGs

Critical Role’s ‘Vox Machina’ Introduces a Brand-New Audience to the Wonders of TTRPGs

Some 40 years ago, the very mention of TTRPGs, or tabletop roleplaying games, would instantly create an image of a small group of friends enjoying this niche hobby in some poorly lit basement or garage in their parents’ house. And that image was, for the most part of the early 1970s, quite accurate. Sure, some have played in their rooms, others have played them in their dorms, and so on, but one thing couldn’t be denied — tabletops, along with their fans, weren’t the trending hot topic.

However, in recent years, TTRPGs have seen a resurgence in popularity, with more and more people getting involved in the tabletop gaming community. One of the major driving forces behind this rise of one of the staples of geek culture and its transition into pop culture is Critical Role, an American web series in which a group of professional voice actors plays Dungeons & Dragons. Led by the talented Matt Mercer, Critical Role quickly began streaming partway through the cast’s first campaign.

Critical Role gained a massive following during the first campaign, and fans were tuning in every week to watch the cast’s adventures as the characters of Vox Machina. Vox Machina ended in 2017 after 115 episodes; Campaign 2 lasted from January 2018 through June 2021 after 141 episodes, and the third campaign premiered on October 21, 2021. However, during the days of Vox Machina, even at the very beginning of streaming, it was clear that the streams would become very popular.

And whoever predicted it wasn’t wrong. Vox Machina, as the first campaign is now called, became one of Twitch’s most popular streams, with millions of fans tuning in to watch the group’s adventures. Since then, the team has released a wealth of content across different media formats, including a podcast, solo books, and merchandise — which made Critical Role Productions LLC, incorporated in 2015, into a $14 million business.

However, the group’s most significant achievement is that Critical Role, its first campaign Vox Machina, and the subsequent animated adaptation have introduced a whole new audience to the joys of tabletop roleplaying games. As stated at the beginning of our discussion, not many people knew what Dungeons & Dragons was, and of those that knew, not a lot of them played or even knew how to start to play the tabletop roleplaying game — Don’t Get Angry doesn’t count.

The main reason for the success of the Vox Machina campaign and Critical Role as a series are the charismatic personalities of the series’ cast, as well as engaging storytelling. The massive rise in popularity exposed more and more people to the joys of rolling the polyhedral dice and immersing themselves in the fantasy world. But Vox Machina and subsequent Mighty Nein (the group’s second campaign) streams weren’t the only way Critical Role influenced people into taking an interest in TTRPGs.

Critical Role didn’t just introduce new audiences to the world of tabletop roleplaying games through their streams. A lot of it can be contributed to the animated series adaption of Vox Machina, called The Legend of Vox Machina, for which the cast members reprised their roles from the original campaign. The animated show premiered in 2020, following the adventures of the Vox Machina group as they journey through the fictional world of Exandria. Needless to say, the animated series continues to be a massive success.

The Legend of Vox Machina did a wonderful job of introducing the characters and the world of Critical Role to a whole new audience. Most of that audience didn’t even know what Critical Role is or that it even exists. For many, watching The Legend of Vox Machina has been their first introduction to Critical Role, and by extension, to the world of tabletop roleplaying games.

Many audience members who had previously never heard of Dungeons & Dragons or had heard of it but never taken an interest were now intrigued by the world presented by Critical Role and the Vox Machina adaptation. Naturally, just as Netflix’s The Witcher has boosted the sales of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by 554% in December 2019, Critical Role and The Legend of Vox Machina led to the rise of interest in TTRPGs. This resulted in more and more people buying Dungeons & Dragons starter sets and creating their own RPG characters.

Critical Role did something that the gaming industry has sought to do for decades — make tabletops popular. The series, and the group of friends behind it, have inspired others to create their own tabletop RPG content, games, and characters. The overwhelming success of the web series and the Vox Machina adaptation attests to the fact that there’s a massive appetite for well-thought-out and engaging stories and characters in the world of TTRPGs.

And while this boosted the interest of the crowds in tabletops, it also led to an increase in new tabletop games being made, with game makers experimenting with new mechanics and storylines. Ultimately, it’s undeniable that both Critical Role and The Legend of Vox Machina helped break down stereotypes associated with the hobby and have shown that TTRPGs aren’t just the domain of basement-dwelling nerds but interactive narratives that can be enjoyed by anyone loving a good story.

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