Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Year I Met Critical Role; or: How I Fell in Love with D&D and Why My TBR Hated Me In 2017.

So I haven't properly reviewed anything in a loooong time.  2017 was *not* a great reading year for me, and here's why.

Last February, I discovered something that absolutely decimated my 2017 TBR before it even got off the ground. It's a "little bitty" web series in which a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons...and I spent the rest of February through early October binging 115+ episodes averaging about 3 and a half hours in length...and loving every minute of it.

(Fair warning. This post will be completely full of CR and other nerdy gifs. I'm sorry not sorry in advance).

Since this group has been streaming their game for about 3 years now, I had a LOT to catch up on.  But this also means that I watched over 400 hours of a group of people I don't know playing D&D in less than a year, which not only cemented my eternal love for and undying loyalty to the fandom and community, but also made me want to play ALL OF THE DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS.

I sometimes feel awkward with certain aspects of my geekery.  For the most part I let my nerd flag fly and often, but secretly I've held in my heart a desire for more, and always considered D&D to be one of those *super* geeky things that only the *REALLY* hard-core peeps go in for, but also one of those things that I always kind of wanted to learn how to play (MtG being another, and also LARP. I WANT TO FREAKING LARP, OK?!).  

So when I clicked on Episode 82 of Critical Role when it popped up on my YouTube subscription list one night when I had run out of videos on my "Watch Later" playlist, I didn't really know what to expect.  I think that the typical person's expectation of Dungeons and Dragons is the stereotypical Stranger Things-style scene: basement-inhabiting pre-pubescent boys who are so socially awkward that they choose to pretend they're in another world fighting monsters instead of going to the Snow Ball.

This wasn't like that at all. This was grown-ass ADULTS (in my age range and older) letting the world see what they had so far only been doing at home--imagining and acting out existence in another world, fighting monsters and becoming heroes.  I mean, they were (spoilers) FIGHTING A FREAKING DRAGON (end spoilers) for goodness' sake!  There were miniatures, and little stands to show depth (because some of the characters were FLYING),  and players who not only clearly loved their characters but were passionate about the story (and are some pretty amazing actors, to boot).  I realized about an hour and a half in that it had started 82 episodes ago, and I 100% needed to stop watching this episode RIGHT NOW and go right back to the beginning.

Now, to those who aren't into things like this, the idea of D&D (and rpgs in general) may seem a little strange or escapist, but for a reader like me who intakes approximately 85% fantasy literature (and let's be honest here, it's probably closer to 95%), this was like taking my favorite books one huge step further.

Have you ever read a book and wanted to be a character in the world or story? (I know for a fact if you're into Harry Potter, you TOTALLY want this. The Wizarding World? Your Hogwarts House, wand core, and Patronus? I mean, COME ON, RIGHT!?)  DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS CAN DO THAT FOR YOU, MAN.  I literally just straight-up ripped off the character Elora Danan from the 80's movie Willow, and created a character based on what I think she would have been like grown up (Human Warlock with a Fae Pact, just like in the movie, amiright?)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Critical Role looks a little like this:

When I tried to explain to my befuddled sister what I was watching, I described it like this: Critical Role is like a really amazing and detailed audiobook that comes with a different voice for every character and also real-time reactions of those involved in the story.  Basically, if you combined an audio book and a live-action movie, just with fewer visual sets and more going on in your imagination.  From the outside, it's watching people sitting at a table, occasionally using props and minis, but mostly just talking.  From the outside, it seems like it could be fairly boring if you just walked by someone else watching. But oh, man.  It really is so much better than that. It makes me feel ALL OF THE FEELS--everything ranging from stress and sadness (so much sadness) to hilarity and elation (so much hilarity--both in story and out).  

So for me, the natural progression here (which I reached about halfway through my year-long binge) was to try and find some way--ANY way, really--to play D&D myself.  When searching through some online venues led to nothing I felt super comfortable with as a new player, I enlisted my sister and some friends who seemed willing to play.  Since I had the most "experience" with the game, it sort of fell to me to step into the roll of DM (dungeon master, or dungeon mistress, if you want, I guess). We play Sunday evenings and after a few different random one-off adventures, I think we're ready to start an actual campaign (which I am STOKED about!).  

But seriously, after watching the amazing adventures of the Vox Machina crew, how could I not want to play? I mean, there's:



Pretty much all girl could ever want, basically.

As of January 8th, they've started a new campaign, with all new characters (which I adore so far), a new setting, and new intriguing storyline created by Matt Mercer, who is probably one of the world's most fantastic DMs.

In the meantime, while I was going on an adventure or two, my 2017 Goodreads goal--initially at a low-for-me 80 books, had to be pared down to 60, which I only *just* managed to squeeze in right before the ball dropped on New Year's Eve.

The good news is that since I'm now caught up to the livestreamed episodes, I can take my viewing time down to 1 episode a week, and catch up on all of the books I *haven't* been reading, and all the reviews I most definitely have NOT been writing.  

That being said, I am going to try to make it my goal to write at least one review a week.  This may not work out super well, as I tend to read at pretty erratic paces (for example: I had read 3 books by the 7th of January and then have been reading the book I started after that for WEEKS now), and so I may not have a book newly finished to review, but I will certainly try to stay consistent with posting.

*That* being said, 

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