How 'Critical Role' Changed My Perception of Playing DND Characters

Embracing a Character's Weakness

It’s been years since I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons. I had many fond memories of playing with friends around the gaming table and helping my character progress in their abilities and power. I had a lot of fun playing in famous Forgotten Realms locales like Cormyr, Icewind Dale and the Sword Coast.

With Wizards announcing the new DND storyline location as Waterdeep, it brought back more fond memories of taking an army into Undermountain and finding riches.

I would love an opportunity to play a character and explore the City of Splendors like I had in years past, but this time I wouldn’t use the same method of playing characters as I had when I first played the game.

One of the shows I watch/listen to is Critical Role, where voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons. Each actor plays a different character in a motley crew of buddies who go on adventures. As a I began to get invested in the show, I noticed how players utilize different traits of characters - particularly Travis Willingham, who plays Grog Strongjaw.

Grog is a goliath fighter/barbarian and a part of the group Vox Machina. He is the group’s killing machine and he is good at what he does.

To borrow a phrase from Grog, his two loves in life are “fighting, drinking and women” - also ale.

A Tribute to Grog

You probably noticed how I listed Grog having four loves instead of two. Grog also has an intelligence of 6, which means he has a low intelligence.

But a low intelligence didn’t stop Willingham from making Grog one of the most entertaining and powerful characters in the group. Grog’s low intelligence made for some comedic moments in Critical Role’s first campaign - like when Grog pulled the final card from the Deck of Many Things, but Willingham didn’t play the goliath like a complete idiot that caused the group to fail.

Willingham isn’t the only player to make use of his character’s low ability score.

In Critical Role’s second campaign, Sam Riegel’s character, Nott the goblin, has a 5 charisma yet she makes use of Nott’s abilities to make up for her lack of charisma.

Willingham and Riegel made use of their characters’ low abilities scores to enhance the story in Critical Role. They didn’t make use of their own intelligence to influence their character’s choices.

Seeing how Willingham and Riegel, as well as the rest of the crew, play their characters, changed my perception of how to play a character and how having a low ability score can help your character more than hinder it.

In an interview with Geek and Sundry, Willingham had this to say about Grog's intelligence. 

“We like the cracks, we like the dirty, broken [characters],” said Travis. “When I got that [INT] 6, I was like, ‘That’s all I need to know [about Grog]. “If you do like RP and you have a group that loves it, lean into that low stat, because that’s where I think the funny comes from, and, sort of, the endearing parts of the character.”

During my days of DND, I would have been mortified to have an ability score below 10, let alone 6. I was more focused on playing DND like a video game where my character would have the best ability scores, coolest weapons and get the girl. I had friends who played like this as well. We were focused on beating the monster and winning the game rather than exploring our character’s abilities - or lack thereof - and seeing how they can help the group.

On the other hand, I had friends who told me that a low ability score isn’t a bad thing for a character, but I didn’t listen. I was focused on winning.

If I ever play Dungeons and Dragons, I will more and likely play a melee character like Grog, who has a low intelligence but a high strength, or a rogue with low strength and wisdom.

Regardless of what class I choose, I won’t let fear of a low ability score get in the way of an interesting character. 

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