Critical Role is back again for a whole new campaign of Dungeons & Dragons shenanigans.
Critical Role, for those unfamiliar, is a popular Geek and Sundry show that features voice actors playing through a Dungeons & Dragons campaign designed by Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer. The show started off as a house game, but quickly morphed into an irreplaceable part of D&D culture that's spawned countless pieces of fan art, merchandise, and even a comic series.
The show's first campaign featured the misadventures of Vox Machina, a ragtag group of adventurers that fought monsters on the fictional continent of Tal'Dorei. After two years of on-screen adventures, Vox Machina's story ended and the cast began a new campaign featuring a new set of characters set on the continent of Wildemount.
So what does this new season entail? We spoke with Critical Role cast members Matthew Mercer, Travis Willingham, and Ashley Johnson about the new campaign and tried to unveil as many secrets as we could.
A Brand New "Cast" of Characters
Although Critical Role's cast hasn't changed from last season, they created a brand new group of characters for their new campaign.
While Vox Machina largely stuck to traditional D&D roles, the new characters of Critical Role are a bit more complex and non-traditional. There's Caleb Widogast, a ruggedly handsome but dirty Transmutation Wizard played by Liam O'Brien. Caleb travels with two companions: a cat familiar named Frumpkin and a female goblin rogue named Nott the Brave (played by Sam Riegel). Nott and Caleb have a strange sort of father/daughter relationship, and Caleb seems to be very forgiving of Nott's penchant for stealing.
Then there's Fjord, a half-orc warlock played by Travis Willingham. In the first campaign, Willingham played a dim-witted barbarian, so it's fascinating to watch him play the most even-keeled member of the group so far. "I was determined to do something that put in some distance from what I did with Grog," Willingham told ComicBook.com when asked about how he created his new character. "I was sure I wanted to have magic, and I knew I wanted to be intelligent -- but that still left a multitude of options that had to be slowly whittled away, and even then, I found myself flip-flopping numerous times between classes."
One key clue to the source of Fjord's magic is his falchion, a weapon that seems to have some oceanic connection when he uses certain spells. Willingham wouldn't reveal much about what secrets Fjord was hiding, but he did point to his character's weapon. "However, that Falchion," Willingham teased, "a mighty interesting weapon if you ask me…"
Fjord's two traveling companions are Jester, a tiefling cleric played by Laura Bailey, and Beauregard, a human monk played by Marisha Ray. Jester has emerged as an early fan-favorite, in part because she's playing a "trickster" cleric that specializes in illusion magic.
"Jester's a crack up," Mercer said. "It's kind of fun to see Laura completely, for lack of a better term, unhinged, when it comes to her character's personality."
Another big change in characters is Ashley Johnson's Yasha, an aasimar barbarian. Johnson's last character was a resolute cleric, so seeing her bloody up enemies is fascinating to watch.
"From day one of planning the new character, I knew I wanted to be a barbarian," Johnson said when asked about her new character. "I wanted to switch it up and be able to do a little more damage this time around."
Rounding out the cast is Mollymauk, a tiefling blood hunter played by Talesin Jaffe. Mollymauk is especially interesting as the blood hunter class was homebrewed by Mercer for a one-off D&D session with Vin Diesel. Mercer specifically designed the class as a "Witch Hunter" based on Diesel's character in The Last Witch Hunter, but he tweaked it and released it for widespread use in late 2015.
More Complicated Pasts
Mercer noted that this group's characters have much messier pasts than the last campaign. "They all, for the most part, have very interesting stories I'm excited to explore," he said. "A lot more tangled, comparatively, to Vox Machina's background."
"The first campaign was, for a lot of them, their first experience with D&D," Mercer added, "and their backstories were much more simple, and much more 'And this is who I am! Cool, let's go.' This time around, I think they all wanted to get a little more interesting with it."
One big twist in this new campaign is that none of the cast knows the other characters' backstories, which adds a bit of extra intrigue to the new game. "I feel like in the quiet moments before the show starts, you can steal a glance around our table at each one of us and you will see an enormous list of secrets, ambitions, and goals that is being carefully hidden from the audience and from each other," Willingham said. "Unconsciously, I feel like a small game of 'my backstory was revealed last' is being played."
The new secrets makes for great television and adds some unscripted surprise to the show.
"We all realize how valuable a good backstory, secret, and potential character twist is to the story and to the allure of the characters," Willingham said. "Not only to our fans, but to ourselves as well!"
"We all have secrets," Johnson noted. "None of us really know each other’s backstories or how we came to be. Matt is the only one who knows[,] and that’s equal parts exciting and terrifying."
A Brave New World
Critical Role fans will probably be somewhat familiar with Wildemount, the continent that neighbors Tal'dorei. Vox Machina briefly visited the former during their first adventure, but didn't have much of a chance to explore as they were dealing with an angry cadre of dragons. "Tal'Dorei was a very much younger society compared to the other places in the world [of Exandria]," Mercer said of the differences between the two continents. "It was the more America like, where it's fresh and freedom and people ruled by council."
However, the group is now in the Dwendalian Empire, which seems much more imposing than Tal'Dorei. "It is very much a classic, Prussian Empire in a lot of ways," Mercer said. "If they continue to push through things in that Empire and go north, towards the capital, they'll definitely see a much more politically imposing atmosphere...than what they're used to in Tal'Dorei."
There are other possible regions that the group could also explore in the coming months. The Menagerie Coast is a bit of a wilder area of Wildemount controlled by an alliance of city-states called the Clovis Concord. Mercer described the area as "a little less controlled, socially and politically" than the Dwendalian Empire. There's also the mysterious country of Xhorhas, which is overrun with monsters and terrors from an ancient calamity. Even further north is the Greying Wildlands, a lawless land unconquered by humans due to an unknown curse.
Ties to the Past
For longtime fans of Critical Role, the big question is whether we'll see any cameos by old characters in the new campaign. Wildemount and Tal'Dorei exist in the same world, and the new campaign is set 30 years after the end of Vox Machina's adventures, which means that many of the characters seen on Tal'Dorei would still be alive.
Mercer told ComicBook.com that the new campaign is supposed to stand alone from Vox Machina's adventures, although the first campaign would have an impact on the new story. "I want there to be some elements of the choices, the things that they did in the last campaign to have a distant effect on some elements of this campaign," Mercer said.
Mercer is also cognizant of the shared universe he created. "As far as them interacting with any of the characters, that's definitely something I've kept in mind," he said. "I want to do it sparingly, if ever it does happen, and I don't feel like, unfortunately, I can answer that question, without maybe giving away any possible cameos that I might get myself convinced to do."
Both Willingham and Johnson also had mixed feelings about possibly returning to old stomping grounds. "Of course, I would love to venture back to Tal'Dorei only to discover that Pike is teaching at a nearby school, that Grog is the crossing-guard and evening public librarian, and that Scanlan is a stay-at-home Dad," Willingham said. "Nothing would please me more - but it's honestly more of an after-thought, especially venturing into these entirely new countries in this expanding world of Mercer's."
"I go back and forth with this," Johnson told us. "That first campaign was such a huge part of our lives, way before the idea of streaming even came into the picture. Sitting in Travis and Laura’s living room, having the time of our lives and never thinking that anyone else would ever hear these stories."
"There’s a huge part of me that wants to go back and see how our characters are still doing," Johnson said. "I realize they’re not real people, but some of those experiences and emotions we all shared in game, were very, very real. I will always be curious as to what happened to them. At the same time, I’m excited for us to forge a new path and taking on the challenge of creating a whole new world again."
Critical Role airs on Alpha and Twitch on Thursdays at 10 PM ET. Episodes can be viewed afterwards on Geek and Sundry's Twitch channel with a subscription or for free when Geek and Sundry posts the episodes to YouTube on Mondays.