Critical Role Campaign 3 First Impressions

Tanner McEveety ‘22 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Spoilers Ahead. 

Morning dawns in the windswept spires of Jrusar, capital of the Oderan Wilds. High above the mist-shrouded jungle canopy, amidst bustling urban squares carved into mountainous spirals, a number of curious strangers are about to meet. 

Critical Role, an actual play Dungeons and Dragons web series streaming on Twitch and on YouTube, just began its third campaign. As of the time of writing this, the first two episodes have been released, but plenty of surprises and secrets remain unsprung and unrevealed. 

The momentous beginning of this new adventure, sure to be years long and to have the fans in tears by the end, is marked by a number of changes. Most notably, the cast are all sitting at the same table again, freed from COVID-19 protocols by vaccination, and it’s wonderful. Their interactions are no longer stifled by unnatural distance, allowing their excitement to shoot through each other like an electric current. 

There’s also the brand new set, referred to in its behind the scenes documentary as the “Tavern of Tales,” and it is absolutely magnificent. The dark, wooden arches and hanging, softly glowing lanterns set the tone of the atmosphere. The set is also now capable of on-the-fly lighting changes and projections, allowing Dungeon Master (DM) Matthew Mercer to immerse the cast in a glowing orange sunset or a moody blue dusk. The cast’s ecstatic reactions to this are to die for. 

But of course, the most exciting thing about a new campaign are the brand new characters that each member of the cast brings to the table. Laura Bailey holds the honor of being the first to introduce her character, a purple-haired human sorcerer named Imogen with a light southern drawl. Much about her and the errant voices that choke her thoughts remain a mystery, including the finer edges of her personality, but Bailey acts her to perfection. 

Next is Marisha Ray’s Laudna, a creepy, undead warlock with a bride-of-Frankenstein vibe. Her unsettling cheeriness is already loads of fun, but what’s most impressive about her is her voice. Judging only by her previous two characters, Ray doesn’t seem the type for complex accents, but her trans-Atlantic accent is distinctive, flavorful, and absolutely perfect for her character. 

Then comes Ashton, an Earth Genasi barbarian with a penchant for crime, booze, and swearing like a sailor, played by Taliesin Jaffe. Ashton’s raucous attitude pairs nicely with their punk rock aesthetic, and the strange, homebrewed abilities that they showcase on the battlefield have already spawned a wave of fan theories. Many believe that it’s related to the magic of Dunamancy, a concept introduced by Mercer during Campaign 2.  

Next, there’s Sam Riegel’s character, a small, golden automaton cleric that rolls around on a single wheel and offers free therapy at the drop of a hat. Their name? Fresh Cut Grass. Riegel made it clear before the campaign started that Liam O’Brien chose his class/race combination for him, but Fresh Cut Grass takes their base combination to an entirely different level. Riegel’s southern accent wanders much more than Bailey’s, but he’s always been the funniest member of the cast, and Fresh Cut Grass lives up to that expectation splendidly. 

The next four characters to be introduced are surprisingly familiar to long-time fans. Travis Willingham is playing a character from a previous, high-level one-shot, and O’Brien and Ashley Johnson arrived with their characters from Exandria Unlimited, the anthology series that ran between Campaign 2 and Campaign 3. Special guest Robbie Daymond, also playing his Exandria Unlimited character, came with them. It’s unclear how long Daymond will remain at the table, but he’s a welcome addition. 

Willingham’s character, Bertand Bell, is an older human fighter, who has actually de-leveled since he fought alongside Vox Machina, but who is still two levels ahead of the rest of the group. Given his skills, his powerful magic sword, the fact that he acted as the quest giver, and Mercer’s admission on Twitter that “Travis is a troll”, many theorize that Bell isn’t here to stay, and we’ll be meeting Willingham’s true character somewhere down the line. But for now, Bell’s self-aggrandizing, worldly attitude concealing cowardice and incompetence is as hilarious as ever. 

O’Brien’s character, Orym, is the most plain of the newly-formed group. Hailing from the Air Ashari of Campaign 1, the halfling fighter exudes lovable dad energy, and is the only calming influence in a group of eccentric misfits, but doesn’t seem to have too much going on as of right now. However, O’Brien seems to be having lots of fun playing him, and after his previous two characters were so involved, the change of pace is relaxing. 

Johnson’s Fearne is the complete opposite, a standout in every way. As a faun wildfire druid who hails from the Feywild, her personality is decidedly otherworldly. You really get the sense from the way Johnson is playing her that she comes from somewhere where morality is a bit skewed, but Fearne is still so evidently a sweet, loving person that she’s impossible not to like. 

Finally, there’s Daymond’s Air Genasi, Dorian, a suave and charming bard who’s still working on the suave and charming part and might occasionally get stage fright, but is still pretty good at what he does. His personality meshes perfectly with the rest of the group, and the sense of comradery between him and the other Exandria Unlimited characters is oddly touching. 

Beyond the realm of player characters, it’s practically a given at this point that Mercer’s worldbuilding and DM style. Even only having seen one city, Marquet thrums with vibrant imagery and rich detail. Every non-playable character (NPC) is brought to life with exceptional acting, and the narration of each twist and turn in the already mysterious overarching narrative would fit right in among the pages of a fantasy novel. The thought of what Mercer has planned next is endlessly enticing.

And so the Campaign begins. With epic adventure, stirring character development, and utter hilarity on the horizon, the wait for Thursday grows harder and harder every week.

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