Me/D&D — A Love Letter to Critical Role

Dungeons and Dragons can be played a myriad of ways. I’ve read someone describe it as “being the main characters in a fantasy novel”, but it’s even more open-ended than that. It can literally be anything you and your friends want it to be, it just so happens that most people value simplicity over anything else, and so they more or less stick to the rulebook (which, as Barbossa would say, are more like guidelines—especially the Dungeon Master’s Guide). I came to a realization about Critical Role today, and I thought I would share that realization with all of you in the form of a love letter… Buckle up, this one is going to be a long one.

268x0wCritical Role, a weekly livestream of D&D I’ve already dedicated one full post to, does just that. They play with the rules that they’re given, and only on rare occasion does the dungeon master, Matthew Mercer, ever cook up a new monster or a new character class/subclass. I would go so far as to say that they play a very vanilla version of D&D, and the only thing crazy about it is how gifted the players are at pacing out story beats and telling the tale of a group of people rather than getting from Point A to Point B. Of all the D&D streams I’ve watched in the past, that’s the #2 reason to watch the show.

What’s #1 you ask? Well, before I get to that, I want to step back and talk about why I personally love it so much. Not as the critical observer as I often am whenever I’m consuming media, but as the fan. As Kollin.

I’ve been watching the show since it aired 3 years ago now, and this only dawned on me today. Critical Role encompasses every aspect of my personality, and encapsulates everything I want to have and be. (If you’re lazy, just skim the paragraphs ahead—the bullet points are in bold.)

For starters: storytelling. Obviously, I love stories. I’ve fancied myself a writer for nearly a decade now, and I specifically love epic fantasy. I grew up with World of WarcraftLord of the RingsDragon QuestOblivion, etc. The romanticism of picking up your sword and shield and going on an epic quest is something so inexplicably baked into my being that I literally cannot describe why I love it so much. It’s simple, easy to understand, yet its breadth is endless. In order to tell a complex story in such a world, you first have to start simple and show the audience this new world—explain its rules—and seeing a world where our impossible becomes their mundane is always fascinating to me.


That ties into the concept of what Dungeons & Dragons is. It is a literal, mechanical fulfillment of the Hero’s Journey. You kill monsters, you level up, you achieve goals, and so on. I love watching or being somebody who has nothing inevitably challenge literal embodiments of evil. By then, you’ve really learned about and grown with the character, and in many ways you’ve watched their life go by. What I like about D&D is that victory is not guaranteed. If I had my way, I would even go so so far as to say that it is less likely than defeat, for how can victory feel empowering if you feel it was given away? (Now, a Hero’s Journey and storytelling clearly go hand in hand here, but I think the distinction is important. Not all D&D needs to be a journey, and not all storytelling is D&D.)

116curiousbeginningsAs for aspects specific to Critical Role, and to explain why it holds a special place in my heart over any other D&D show, the first component to this is the cast of the show itself. Every player in the game is a notable and respected voice actor, and I knew over half of them when I first tuned in (by the sound of their voice if not their name and appearance itself). These people have all had a hand in creating the games and shows I’ve dedicated so much of my life to (the aforementioned World of Warcraft is certainly pretty high on that list). So because I recognized their voices, I was already familiar with them. I already know these people, and this is an opportunity to know them better.

But even more than that, they’re all actors. I’ve been a part of the theatre world for six years now (which is crazy to me), and it literally changed my life. I tell people I was the kid that sat in the back of class reading and hoping nobody would talk to me. They’re always surprised to hear that because I’m so outspoken (they don’t realize that all that’s changed is that I now sit in the front of the class hoping somebody will talk to me). It didn’t necessarily make me more confident—I’m lucky enough to have pretty much always had that—but it did teach me to have fun by not caring about looking cool, stoic, and professional. I’ve found that people will hold a lot of respect for those than can throw caution to the wind. It’s a skill not many have. So watching the cast put on silly voices and make dumb jokes really speaks to me. Not because I’m an audience member admiring their skills, but because I’m a fellow performer that appreciates their techniques and the obscure theatre-related jokes they sometimes toss out at each other.

Lastly, and by far the most important reason that this show is the best—these people are all best friends. It’s really heartwarming to watch a group of people have a blast with each other. To share in the absurd humor as well as the very real tears that have happened over the years. You see people who so overtly love each other and the community they’ve created, and watch as they empower each other every week, and it maxresdefaultreally has an effect on you. It’s really difficult not to feel like part of the reason that they do this show is for you—and not in that “we do this for the fans” sort of way, but in a genuine way. They show fanart on stream and have hired fans to be part of the tech and have quite literally built a community founded on love and respect for one another as much as D&D. Sure, not everyone is as loving or respectable as the cast, but the vast majority of voices I’ve seen in the YouTube comments or on Reddit have been supportive and, in general, awesome.

I have a lot of dreams for the future. Some of them I know I will never achieve, simply because it’s not what life has in store for me. But if I have one goal, it’s to be happy. And every week when I get home from work or school to watch Critical Role while relaxing with a cup of tea, I can’t help but think.

One day I’ll have that sort of life. I don’t envy them for having it, because I’m grateful that they’re willing to share it with the world. And one day I’ll surround myself with people who bring me nothing but joy and we’ll share tears of both joy and pain. I may not be there yet, but if they can do it, I can do.

Review — Brief Cases

Finally, a new Dresden book! …kind of. I think that I started reading The Dresden Files about five years ago, around the time Cold Days came out. By the time I was just about caught up, Skin Game was published. Up until that point, the books were being churned out practically once a year, and well, that was three years ago now. I picked the wrong time to get caught up!

Thankfully, a new short story anthology was released, and boy was it nice to get some more Dresden. I recently started listening to audiobooks at work, an with me working full time, I’m getting through them pretty fast. So I am simultaneously ecstatic and depressed that I’ve already finished.

But before I get started let me add a qualifier. The thing that sucks about this review is that it’s more pointless than most reviews. The people that know Dresden will buy it automatically and love it, because it’s the Dresden we all know and love, but the people that don’t know Dresden shouldn’t get it, because like his other short story anthology, there are lots of time skips and even more spoilers. (The last two short stories take place after Skin Game). So instead of me framing it into the vein of “is this worth reading”, I’ll speak plainly in terms of what I liked and didn’t like. That said, this review is not spoiler free. I won’t be discussing many spoilers by virtue of the fact that my opinions tend to paint broad strokes, but I don’t see much point in writing a review that’s half spoiler-free and half not. So let’s jump in.

I’ll start with what I didn’t like just to get over it. The first is that a lot of these stories have sexual contexts I don’t much care for. I mean, I’m not surprised, that’s always been a Dresden thing. But after taking a break from the series and reading so many other things, I’ve noticed how just how much Jim Butcher tends to describe women based on how insanely hot they are, and how naked they tend to get because “the world of vampires and the fey are very sexual realms”. Logical, sure, but I think it would be fair for me to say that the story could redistribute the sex into more polarizing zones. Take it out where it isn’t necessary and emphasize it where it is rather than just putting a little bit pretty much everywhere. (Side note: I am willing to concede that maybe I’m just being dramatic and prude, but at the same time I don’t think the Dresden series would lose much of anything if there was less sex-but-not-actual-sex, you know?)

My second critique is even more whiny than the first: I didn’t really get to see anything I wanted to see. None of my favorite characters, and nothing awesome really happening. Now, obviously he can’t write about important people doing important things in a short story collection—you can’t force your entire reader-base to buy something that’s supposed to be a side adventure—but still. I wanted to see more stuff that had… meaning. “Zoo Day” is probably the best example of this, and it was definitely my favorite story. We see a potentially bad news character introduced, but it was done in a way that doesn’t take away from the main plot when they inevitably return. I also wasn’t a fan of the same plot structure of “retelling a story” used in two of the twelve stories here, though Butcher isn’t much to blame, because a lot of these stories were written at various times over the years and put together, not written for this book.

But the stories in and of themselves are great. I loved everything about the Bigfoot stories, especially the fact that they all dealt with different issues while (unconsciously) foreshadowing future ones. “Zoo Day” is a masterpiece, too. A long scene told in three different perspectives dealing with three different conflicts is great, and Mouse being the narrator to a story was a lot of fun. Top notch.

I love where the series is going, especially considering the scope and the perspective strength of some of the characters, but it’s also nice to take a break and see characters deal with more mundane issues—it puts the huge ones in the main series in a better perspective.

But also I’m mad that Butcher introduced the Lovecraftian mythos in a single short story and we’re probably not going to see much else from the Old Gods for a long time, if at all.

Review — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I’m not quite sure what the general consensus for this movie has been, or if it’s one of those “love it or hate it” situations, but overall I would say this is probably the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s weakest movie to date. That said, I did enjoy it, I just think they could have done a lot better with it. Since this is a new movie, no plot-relevant spoilers ahead, though I will be talking about the first few scenes.

As far as “movie adaptations” go, I think as a general rule it’s okay for a movie to diverge from whatever the original story is, regardless of the medium it’s derived from. I’m not upset when things don’t happen in the movies the same way they happened in the comics, primarily because I’m not very familiar with the comics, but also, there will always be too many different factors at play. You can never translate anything perfectly to film, there will always be things that are different. This is indisputable by virtue of the fact that many of those mediums require imagination, and movies take that aspect away, and you can’t stay true to everyone’s imagination in any circumstance.

So I’m not upset when this movie is different from the comics. I don’t know the comics, this is the only time I’ve seen these characters. I am upset when the plot rides the back seat to let jokes steer the wheel, however. I think the first Guardians of the Galaxy had lots of humor in it, and everybody loved it, so this time around they made the movie about the humor. Now, I’m okay with comedy movies, but I wouldn’t have even put this movie and it’s predecessor in the same genre, and that’s what the problem is here. We’re sacrificing character development and story telling to let sex jokes and obscure references take the forefront, and that isn’t what I signed up for. I think anyone that is told this upfront before seeing the movie will enjoy it a lot more.

The part that I liked the most was the first scene. The team fighting that horrible beastie while Baby Groot dances to a song is I think holds true to the original movie, and I loved it (especially when Gamora yells at Groot, and then smiles and waves cause she’s talking to a baby). But when they finish that scene and get to Sovereign, we’re immediately thrown into an info dump that has no immediate relevance to the plot. We’re given a ton of backstory that didn’t even fit the conversation, let alone the scene, and that was really confusing. Any time you describe a process to your audience just to teach them how things works, you’re doing something wrong. You have to at least make it make sense with the scene!

I did enjoy seeing more of the less important characters from the first movie. We get more interaction from Yondu and Nebula, and I do like what they added to the development of things. Their character arcs were very predictable, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Overall, the thing that I hated the most were the jokes. It wasn’t that there were too many, it’s that the execution on several of them were so poor. There were lines that didn’t fit with their character and jokes that grabbed the low hanging fruit, as Howard Taylor might say. Much of the humor in this movie was pretty low brow, and I don’t think it was suited to the plot at all.

All that said, I would still give it an overall positive score. I’m still excited to see more of these characters, I just think this could have been a lot better than it was. I suppose Marvel proved that it wasn’t infallible with this movie. Okay, it already proved that with the Iron Man sequels and a few others, but I still thoroughly enjoyed those!

Prompt — A Long Life’s Work

Three, sharp knocks on the door. Brian, spooked, took a deep, careful exhale as he paused his work. He climbed down from his precarious seating atop the cupboards, down to the living room floor, and tiptoed over to greet the unexpected guest. When he pulled the door open, a stern man in a black uniform stood on the other side. He had a blue patch on one shoulder. Not a normal cop, then. A census regulator.

“Mr. Brian Fisher?” the officer stated.

“Yes, that’s me. Not so loud, please!” he replied in a respectful but hushed tone.

The officer’s brow furrowed as he glanced behind Brian to see what the cause for concern was.

“My name is Officer Morris,” he continued, voice only a hint quieter now. “Are you aware that your termination date was yesterday? You failed to report to the office.”

Brian gulped, heart rate rising. “What? No, that can’t be right! My termination isn’t supposed to be until sometime next week!”

“Boy, never heard that one before.”

“No, really! I’m completely serious. Look, I’ll get my papers. Why don’t you come in?” He held the door open wide enough for the officer. As he stepped in, Brian held a hand out, suddenly frantic. “Oh, wait, you have shoes on. Give me one second. Delicate matters, you see.”

Brian paced back into the room, looking for anything lose somebody might step on if they weren’t careful. There was nothing, as expected, but it didn’t hurt to be cautious.

“Okay,” Brian said, returning to the front door. “You can come in, just please tread lightly. And if you go upstairs, you have to take your shoes off and be extra careful. No sudden movements of any kind. I’m sure it’s quite unconventional for you, but my house, my rules.”

The officer gave him a raised eyebrow at that, but he just shrugged in response. He stepped into the house, and was finally able to see what Brian was so worked up about.

Throughout the entire room, and branching off down the hallway and up the stairs, was an enormous card castle that took up the majority of the living space, even floor to ceiling.

“Whoa,” Officer Morris breathed.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? My life’s work. This last project has taken me over forty years, you know. If I go according to schedule, I’ll finally reclaim my title as the world record holder for the largest single playing card structure. That’s why I can’t die today, you see. I’m not quite finished.”

The officer had by now regained his composure. “You do all of this by yourself?”

Brian nodded. “Had to. If it’s a group project that’s an entirely different world record. Me and Jeremy Settle, some guy in Germany have been having a competition these past few hundred years over who can build the biggest castle. He’s held the record these last twenty five years after my old castle broke, but his termination date was two years ago, so I’ll have the last laugh! You know, this castle has over two million individual cards so far. It even goes out onto the backyard patio! I have it screened so the wind can’t affect it, you see. You’ll probably be the last one to see it unfinished, actually. I could give you a tour if you’re–”

“Sir,” the officer interrupted. “This is quite impressive, but I must inform you that my papers say your termination was due yesterday.”

“Oh!” Brian jumped. “That’s right. I almost forgot. My papers are upstairs. Wait here.” Without any hesitation, he bolted up the stairs, careful to avoid the trail of stacked cards that led up one side of them.

The officer took the time to examine the castle. There were no couches in the living room. In fact, the furniture it was built around and on top of all had flat surfaces. It was stacked atop the cupboards, into the kitchen, and was complete with towers and elaborate sculptures. The living room had the largest stack. It nearly reached the ceiling, and the cards in the center were surrounded by more cards. You couldn’t reach them now, meaning they had to be placed first. Officer Morris wondered how old those cards were.

As he looked at the cards at the base of the stairs, he noticed irregular markings on them. He leaned in to inspect one and noticed it was a number. Upon further investigation, every card seemed to have numbers, and most of the nearby ones were seven digits long. In a world where death was so hard to achieve it had to be enforced, he couldn’t blame people for finding odd ways to spend their lives. He had once met somebody that collected every scent of candle imaginable. She had them organized and everything. Her house, not surprisingly, smelled terrible.

Brian came down the stairs with a stack of papers in his hands, frowning. He looked up to notice the officer leaning in close to the cards and his eyes went wide in a panic.

“What are you doing! That’s too close! You might have to sneeze or breathe or–” In his frenzy to rush down the stairs, he tripped. Falling face first, he tumbled down the remaining steps, crashing into both the officer and the cards he had been inspecting.

Without so much as a thought of concern for either person, Brian immediately stood to check the damage.

And watched as, like dominoes, the card castle toppled down, flowing over itself and the furniture like a torrent of water cascading into an empty valley. It crashed to the floor, but the chaos continued it sought the other rooms in the house.

Brian’s despair was all but tangible. The officer couldn’t help but pity the man.

But then, forgotten on the floor, he saw his termination papers, and at the top was one big, bolded date.


“Well,” Brian said. “I guess there’s no point in even trying to plead for more time. I have nothing left to live for.”


Prompt: In a world where all diseases have been eliminated and it’s nearly impossible to die, everyone is allotted the same amount of time on earth. Your time is almost up, but you just need one more day…

Prompt — The AI Directive

Collect, organize, understand, and correct. Collect, organize, understand, and correct.

Clark, considered the world’s first true AI for his ability to adapt ‘organically’, had a simple yet firm directive. With access to unlimited knowledge and unrestricted use of international intelligence, he was to put all the data together and, upon thorough analysis of millions of trial-error and posited solutions, discern the best possible solution for every problem and fix the world step by step.

The engineers that programmed the AI postulated (and in some cases placed bets) on the things Clark would decide to solve first. Would he derive the best possible way to solve global warming? Would he devise a perfect government that would allow for democratic rule whilst placing the power in the hands that could best use it? Would he, instead, hyper-accelerate the advancement of technology and push the human race into a genuine space age?

There was, of course, the hypothesis that Clark would deem humanity too unstable or too detrimental for its own good, going crazy and exterminating the populace with a ruthless efficiency only a machine could enact, as Hollywood would claim is virtually the only thing an AI would do.

The team working on Clark didn’t think that this would be a concern, but just in case they decided it would be best if the only output he can enact into the world around him is purely suggestive. He would have no power to change things on his own, and would require an approval by a human to make the changes he suggested.

This was still met with some backlash, however. “What if he tries to manipulate our minds?” Somebody offered. “An artificial intelligence with access to all of human psychology could potentially end up destroying the world through our own hands!” There was no telling what limitless knowledge could do if it was given that sort of power, even if it required direct positive feedback by those reviewing it.

And so the developers took away it’s free thinking. Whereas before it could take knowledge and express the best possible solution to any problem after accumulating all the data, it was restricted to only answering questions asked by human input. One could, for instance, ask it “What is the most efficient means of mass transit?” and it would provide an answer and explain why, taking into consideration the economic cost, the resource it requires, the accessibility, etc. If such a system was not yet in place, Clark would thoroughly describe how to go about implementing it.

But again, people expressed their grave concerns about being subtly manipulated by such an intelligent being, even if it was made from human hands.

The only thing that would quell the fears of the public was if Clark did not have the ability to implant ideas into the minds of those it communicated with. This meant completely removing it’s ability to interact autonomously, and strictly limiting the sort of feedback it provided.

After years of development, research, and testing, Clark eventually saved humanity by placing red, jagged lines under any misspelled words, allowing them to correct their mistakes.


Prompt: “The world’s first AI, rather than going crazy, decides to ghost through the internet and help people subtly.”