How Watching Critical Role Made Me Better At D&D

I used to think I was pretty good at this role-playing thing. Run into a dragon, initiative, Hunters Mark, lob a few arrows and deal some decent damage, but oh how wrong I was, and that reality hit when I started listening to the Critical Role Podcast and watching the archived episodes from the very beginning.

(If you’re unfamiliarCritical Role Geek & Sundry’s Dungeons & Dragons RPG show where every week a group of talented voice actors embarks on a D&D adventure set in a campaign setting designed by voice actor and GM Matt Mercer.)

I dove in headlong into learning about Dungeons & Dragons when I first started, but a lot of booksmarts did very little to help me understand the nuances of the game until I heard and saw it done in action through the speakers of my phone. From giving your character a detailed background, to even giving them a voice different than your own, my perspective on how to play the game of Dungeons & Dragons changed drastically when I realized just how creative you could get while also kicking some serious baddie butt. These were the top 5 lessons learned from listening to Critical Role and implementing in my gaming life.

1: Think about the different ways you can use your spells


Can you use Grasping Vine as a swing rope? Can you scry first to see a tree so you can teleport via plants right after? A spell is typically written vague enough that you don’t have to worry about specific limitations unless you’re trying to stretch them. When in doubt, explain to the DM what you want to do and see if they’d be game. Want to level up your spell game? Learn to creatively customize and roleplay your spells – after all, if magic is part of your character, the way you wield it will show how you put the effort into building that character and making it very clear how you intend to use the role going forward.

2: Create an interesting back story

An interesting backstory can mean a fun arc for you and the DM to create: Did your character come from a broken political home? Were you responsible for the death of your family? It’s not always about what your stat block says, but you need to relate to your character and build the depth of the being you’re expressing. Spend some time thinking about how you want to portray your character, from the voice to the mannerisms, and it’ll make the game much more fun for you and the rest of the party around you. And if you need help, we’ve got an article (or two) to help you create compelling backstories for your characters.

3: Asking DM will not get you killed, unless you sass the DM

The Dungeon/Game Master is there, not only to run the game, but also to help aid you through the adventure. Don’t know how your spell works or how many times you can use a certain feat per round, simply ask!

Bonus tip: You also want to get into the habit of asking what time it is in-game. The last thing you want is a surprise point of exhaustion.


4: Think about the broader picture

Think beyond the obvious (“I’m looking for magical items”) to something more specific (“Is there anything unusual about those statues lining the room?”) and you’ll get much more information out of the DM. Obtuse questions often lead to obtuse answers.  However, if you rolled poorly for your perception check, the old man on the corner may just be an old man on the corner to you.  This is when fate can be your friend or foe: ask a specific question, but you’ve got to have the roll to back up your request.

5: Go with your gut

If you feel like the dragonborn is hiding something, don’t be afraid to say you want to insight check them. It’s what your character would do, after all! You are an extension of your character, so if you feel like you’re not OK with a situation and you don’t feel like your character would be compliant with the rest of the crew, then speak up and you may have just saved your party from a TPK (total party kill)!

D&D is more than just swinging a sword or casting a spell, and I found that observing and listening to more seasoned characters offered a multitude of changes to my own character development and allowed me to grow as a player. So the next time you’re thinking of picking up your dice and creating a new character, take a few extra minutes to get acquainted with this new person in your life. You never know, they may just change your D&D experience for the better.

What roleplaying tips have you picked up from Critical Role? Share them in the comments below! And don’t forget to tune into Critical Role every week starting at 7PM PT every Thursday on Twitch and Alpha.

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Feature image credit: Ariana Orner

Image Credits: Wizards of the Coast,