The biggest channel on Twitch isn’t a hot tub streamer or professional gamer, it’s the Dungeons and Dragons series Critical Role.
While Dungeons and Dragons has been around for decades, the game has reached new heights in the 2020s. As part of that, a number of social media channels and podcasts were created that featured personalities playing the game. Foremost among them is Critical Role.
Critical Role enjoys the largest audience of any DnD show and has close partnerships with Wizards of the Coast and many prominent entities in the TTRPG space. With the show continuing to grow, it’s worth looking over its history and the personalities that define it.
What is Critical Role?
Critical Role is a web series themed around the popular tabletop RPG Dungeons and Dragons. The show features a cast of professional voice actors who act out their characters in a homemade campaign.
The show launched in 2015 as part of the YouTube network Geek & Sundry when it was partway through its first campaign. The campaign continued until 2018, which was followed by a second campaign. This saw the same players return playing different characters in the same world, 23 years after the conclusion of the original campaign. During the second campaign, Critical Role split from Geek & Sundry and became independent.
Critical Role is highly regarded among fans for the intensity of its role-playing and high production values, including a full studio set and the elaborate battle maps used for combat. The show’s popularity has allowed the team to launch their own products including a merch store, campaign setting sourcebooks, an original TTRPG, and an animated series.
How to watch Critical Role
Critical Role can be seen on Twitch or YouTube for free. Episodes are typically broadcasted on the first three Thursdays of the month starting at 10 p.m. ET or 7 p.m. PT. New episodes were broadcasted live for a long while, but pre-recorded episodes became standard in 2020. VODs are available on YouTube immediately following the broadcast, while VODs become available on Twitch on the following Monday for non-subscribers or immediately for subscribers.
Alongside the main campaign, Critical Role has a monthly Q&A show entitled Four-Sided Dive. There are also occasional one-shots and mini-series that can land on other days.
Who is in Critical Role?
The Critical Role cast includes eight voice actors, with Matt Mercer as the dungeon master. The campaigns have all featured guest characters, and there have also been several one-shots and mini-series that shuffle together guests and the main cast in different ways. Here are each of the main cast members:
Matt Mercer serves as the chief creative officer of Critical Role. On-screen that plays out with him being the dungeon master, but behind the scenes he has served as a game designer for the different Critical Role-themed sourcebooks and modules, writer on graphic novel adaptations, and more.
This is all on top of his work as a voice actor. Even those who don’t watch Critical Role have likely heard Mercer’s work at one point, voicing Cole Cassidy in Overwatch, Jotaro Kujo in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Levi Ackerman in Attack on Titan, Ganondorf in Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and many more.
Laura Bailey enjoyed a fast rise in voice acting, with her first notable role being a long-term stint as the child version of Trunks in Dragon Ball. This was followed by a number of prominent voice roles, including Black Widow in a variety of Marvel Comics-themed series, Rise in the Persona series, and Lust in FullMetal Alchemist.
Arguably her most notable voiceover role to date came in 2020, where she voiced Abby in The Last of Us Part 2. Bailey won the Best Performance award at the 2020 Video Game Awards, topping several other competitors including one of her castmates.
While the Critical Role cast is primarily known for their voice acting, Ashley Johnson has juggled on-camera and voiceover roles throughout her entire life. She was a prolific child actor, first appearing as Chrissy on the family comedy Growing Pains when she was just six years old. This was followed by a number of major roles in sitcoms across the 1990s in shows such as Phenom and All-American Girl.
Johnson’s work as a voice actor began eclipsing her on-camera roles in the mid-90s as she took starring roles in Jumanji and Recess. She took on a number of smaller roles into the 2000s until becoming the voice of Gwen in the Ben 10 series.
Her most notable work for Critical Role fans is likely her time on the crime drama Blindspot, which required her to take repeated breaks from the game. Though she is enjoying fame through Critical Role, she has also seen a boost in popularity through her role as Ellie in The Last of Us video games. The games were smash hits in their own right, but are even more popular after the wildly popular HBO series that they inspired.
Marisha Ray moved to Los Angeles at 19 to take the plunge into the entertainment industry. For years, her work was primarily seen in web series, indie projects, and minor roles on television. Her first notable role as a voiceover artist came in 2014 when she became the voice of Margaret in the various Persona 4 spin-off games.
After Critical Role launched, she began appearing across the Geek & Sundry network by serving as a creative director for the network and host on other programs. In 2018 she stepped down from the position in order to focus on new endeavors related to Critical Role. When Critical Role split off from Geek & Sundry in 2019, she became the creative director of Critical Role Productions. She has been married to Matt Mercer since 2017.
Taliesin Jaffe comes from an acting family and got into the business at a very young age, taking on a number of roles in both television and films before he was 10 years old. He also got into voice acting when anime was still relatively obscure in the west, taking on his first role in 1991 for the VHS release of 3×3 Eyes.
His work was more sporadic throughout the 1990s but he began taking on regular voiceover roles in the early 2000s, including as World of Warcraft’s Highlord Darion Mograine who he voiced for 20 years. Though his acting work has mostly been sporadic, he has worked as a writer and voice director for a number of major anime and video game releases including the Hellsing Ultimate anime and Capcom fighting games such as Street Fighter x Tekken, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Street Fighter 5. Unfortunately, he will not be returning to that position for Street Fighter 6 with Jonathan Klein serving as the game’s voice director.
Before Critical Role, Sam Riegal was an exceptionally busy voice actor who worked parts big and small for a long list of cartoons, anime, and games. His most notable performances include Teddie in the Persona series, Phoenix Wright, and Shirou Emiya in Fate/stay night. He’s still in the booth quite often but primarily does video games and western cartoons.
In Critical Role his characters typically serve as comic relief, including the spoony bard Scanlan and quirky android Fresh Cut Grass. This isn’t just a part of the game, as he also has a running gag during sessions where he drinks out of increasingly unwieldy vessels, including an enormous flask and a gas can.
Liam O’Brien did theatre before pivoting to voiceover work in the early 2000s. He took on a variety of roles from 2001 to 2006 before becoming the voice of Gaara in the Naruto series as well as the original voice of Akihiko in Persona 3. He voiced the character across each of the Naruto anime series and the many games it spawned. From there, he juggled these roles with directorial and writing positions on a number of major video game releases including Resident Evil 6, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and Mafia 3.
O’Brien is best known for playing villainous or unhinged characters and this plays out to some degree in Critical Role. His characters typically have a dark backstory or edginess to them, adding heaviness to the campaigns.
Travis Willingham worked a number of minor gigs and in several B-movies throughout the early 2000s before landing with FullMetal Alchemist in 2004. Playing the role of Roy Mustang, he instantly became one of the most recognizable voices in anime. From there he scored big roles in a number of other animes, while also becoming the go-to voice of Thor for Marvel Comics animated series, and Knuckles in Sonic games and cartoons.
Following the launch of Critical Role Productions, Willingham was installed as the company’s CEO. He has been married to Laura Bailey since 2011. They had their first child in 2018.
List of Critical Role player characters by campaign
Though the same cast returns for each campaign of Critical Role, they play different characters each time. To this point, no player has reprised one of their characters across multiple campaigns, but player characters from previous campaigns have appeared as NPCs. Here are all the main characters in each Critical Role campaign, and who played them.
Campaign One: Vox Machina
- Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson)
- Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham)
- Keyleth of the Air Ashari (Marisha Ray)
- Vex’ahlia de Rolo (Laura Bailey)
- Vax’ildan Vessar (Liam O’Brien)
- Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III (Taliesin Jaffe)
- Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel)
- Taryon Darrington (Sam Riegel)
- Tiberius Stormwind (Orion Acaba)
There were two notable changes that occurred during season one that impacted the cast. Orion Acaba was originally part of the main cast playing Tiberius Stormwind, a dragonborn sorcerer. Acaba was a part of the series through the first 27 episodes, with Acaba’s departure from the show being announced ahead of the 30th episode. Matt Mercer controlled Tiberius following his departure, with the character being written off the show in episode 37.
The exact reason for Acaba leaving Critical Role is unknown, but multiple individuals that were not a part of the show accused him of various misdeeds. Foremost among them were allegations of abuse by an ex-girlfriend. Acaba later acknowledged having substance abuse issues.
Later in the series, Sam Riegel changed characters from the gnome bard Scanlan to human artificer Taryon. In the story, this stemmed from disputes within the party but there wasn’t any apparent issue between the players. This campaign was later adapted into an animated series entitled The Legend of Vox Machina, with the cast reprising their roles outside of Acaba.
Campaign Two: Mighty Nein
- Yasha Nydoorin (Ashley Johnson)
- Jester Lavorre (Laura Bailey)
- Caleb Widogast (Liam O’Brien)
- Mollymauk Tealeaf (Taliesin Jaffe)
- Caduceus Clay (Taliesin Jaffe)
- Beauregard Lionett (Marisha Ray)
- Fjord Stone (Travis Willingham)
- Nott the Brave (Sam Riegel)
The main cast of Mighty Nein remains steady, with one major exception. Early on in the series, Taliesin Jaffe’s Mollymauk Tealeaf died in battle, which was the first permanent death of a player character and to this point the only unplanned player character death in Critical Role history.
After sitting out of the game for a short time, Jaffe returned as the new character Caduceus Clay. Despite this, Mollymauk loomed over the story and became an increasingly large presence as the campaign continued.
Campaign Three: Bells Hells
- Bertrand Bell (Travis Willingham)
- Chetney Pock O’Pea (Travis Willingham)
- Orym of the Air Ashari (Liam O’Brien)
- Ashton Greymoore (Taliesin Jaffe)
- Fresh Cut Grass (Sam Riegel)
- Imogen Temult (Laura Bailey)
- Laudna (Marisha Ray)
- Fearne Calloway (Ashley Johnson)
While campaign two was largely distanced from the events and characters of campaign one, campaign three features many callbacks to the past. Travis Willingham begins the campaign as Bertrand Bell, a character he played in a one-shot sequel to Vox Machina centered around saving Grog. Bertrand is killed early on to set up Willingham’s main character for the campaign, Chetney Pock O’Pea.
Alongside this, multiple player characters have direct ties to player characters and major villains from previous campaigns. The series also features a greater number of guest players, which was established right as the start with Robbie Daymond being presented as a main cast member in early episodes. This proved to be a running theme in the season as there was a rolling cast that changed regularly, bringing in individuals that appeared as guests or in one-shot episodes as major characters.