Dungeons & Dragons is a game meant to be played, not watched. But something magical happened when a band of video game and cartoon voice actors came together and started streaming their role-playing sessions live online.
A group of men and women with a knack for unusual voices and stellar senses of humor and timing propelled their regular slaying of demons and trolls into a fantasy cultural juggernaut known as Critical Role. The hourslong game sessions, first launched in 2015, are broadcast weekly on Twitch TV and then uploaded to YouTube. Matthew Mercer (Jesse McCree's famous drawl in the video game Overwatch) serves as the dungeon master, pushing the adventure along as his friends and fellow actors portray raging barbarians, erudite mages, wily rogues, and the occasional trickster priestess who fights foes using giant magical lollipops and who draws penises on everything.
Critical Role blends some of the familiar concepts of the fantasy role-playing sessions that gamers know well, with the bonus of feeling like you've stumbled across the most entertainingly witty gang to hang out with vicariously. The fandom is massive (more than 400,000 YouTube subscribers), which paid off in March after the show launched a Kickstarter to raise $750,000 to make a single animated special. Fans threw more than $8 million at them in just a month, leading to a 10-episode plan.