Matt Mercer on His New ‘Critical Role’ D&D Book ‘Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount’

   2020-03-25 16:03

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Whether you know him from his hundreds of titles as a voice actor, his fan-favorite role as Dungeon Master on Critical Role, or just for being an all-around “Charismatic Bastard”, there’s a great chance you’re familiar with contemporary pop culture icon Matt Mercer. What you may not know is that Mercer can now add “Published Author” to his business card thanks to his collaboration with Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast for an all-new campaign guide.

We chatted with veteran voice actor and D&D DM Mercer about all things Critical Role, the long-running, live-action, livestreaming RPG featured on Twitch, specifically the opportunity he had to bring his unique and imaginative world to life through “Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount”, a 304-page campaign guide that lets gamers everywhere join in to create their own unique adventures. (Find it at your local game store / bookshop here!)

While we geeked out about all things D&D, Dunamancy, and the Mighty Nein, Mercer also brought us up to speed on the team’s production process behind the scenes, from how the coronavirus has affected their timeline to an update on their upcoming animated adaptation, Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina. Listen in, or read along below, for all that and much more!

Image via Critical Role, Wizards of the Coast

First of all, thank you so much for taking time out of your what I’m sure is a crazy busy schedule to chat with me today. Before we talk about the exciting new project that you have available for all sorts of D&D players out there, I just wanted to check in to see how you personally, and your Critical Role team, are doing as we all are currently weathering this pandemic and figuring out what life looks like in this current state. So how are you guys doing?

Matt Mercer: We’re hanging in. We are hanging in. This grew very quickly as it did for everybody and right now we’re primarily focused on making sure that us and our fellow company folk are taken care of. We’re doing all the work from home and keeping on top of things and just making sure everyone’s taken care of. So it’s been a lot of just reshuffling… The workload hasn’t changed, it’s just the location, the means of accomplishing it has drastically become its own whirlwind of chaos. So hanging in. Hanging in.

I definitely hear that. Has the quarantine really affected how you and the team produce your shows at all? Have there been any big changes?

Matt Mercer: Yeah. We’re not producing any streaming content. We went dark, partially because in the moments the required shift in infrastructure and technology required to stream it, amongst all of us … by the time it would’ve taken us to figure that out, all the updates from the governor and everything in LA basically shutting down most like very specific media-based and news-based outlets came through and it just became too much of a dangerous liability with the number of crew that we required to get in there, so the whole thing would have been a mess. So for the purposes of just keeping everyone safe, everyone cool and kind of riding this out we’ve gone dark as far as most new content and we’re currently in the process of figuring out what to do in the interim while the length of this remains indeterminate. So we’re developing as we speak what the next stage is.

Well, on the bright side of this, a lot of people are staying home, people have a lot of free time on their hands and they’re actually looking for new content. So for folks out there who may not be familiar with Critical Role or the D&D campaigns that you and your cast put together, how would you explain that to a newcomer who’s seeing it for the first time?

Matt Mercer: Definitely. Well, first of all it’s a great time to start because you’re not falling behind. So it’s me and a bunch of my friends, we’re all professional voice actors in cartoons, video games and other such media and we started playing D&D about seven years ago and about five years ago we began streaming online. It became a bigger thing than we ever expected.

So it’s just every week we play live on Twitch, barring the current darkness from the COVID scenario but it’s just us playing Dungeons & Dragons and it’s improvised storytelling, it’s actors diving into the narrative deeply, it’s me fleshing out the world and providing challenges and interesting scenarios and it’s storytelling improvised at the table with the dice sometimes telling how things are going to go and it’s kind of that wonderful risk of not really knowing what’s going to happen moment to moment and that’s what we do. Epic fantasy stories with friends at the table.

And it’s fantastic. For folks out there who maybe are listening because they know you from your hundreds of animated titles or video games or just kind of pop culture zeitgeist in general, I highly recommend checking it out, definitely from the beginning. This brings us to Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.

So that is a brand new campaign guide that you created along with the talented folks from both Critical Role and Wizards of the Coast, publishers of Dungeons & Dragons. Before we get into the guide itself, how are you feeling now that the guide is actually available for people to physically get their hands on?

Matt Mercer: It’s still sinking in, really. It’s a wild scenario. I think the change from then to now is, I’m excited to see people excited about it. You know, previously we were excited at the prospect but now it’s actually getting into people’s hands and I’m starting to see people who are partially into reading it or finished reading it or developing campaigns based on it and… You know, there’s always that worry when you’re putting so much of yourself into something that it’s not going to resonate and people aren’t going to enjoy it as much as you hoped they would and that anxiety definitely has faded a bit seeing how many people are enjoying it. So still stinking in and it’s still a wild reality that I don’t quite understand how I ended up here with this happening, but I’m right now just enjoying the fact that so many people are enjoying it, especially in a time as anxious as right now.

Image via Critical Role

It’s interesting that you have what it looks like on the outside super successful career. Obviously, this side project that turned into something so much more; we can talk about the Kickstarter campaign for the animated series that raised well over $11 million, which is just kind of mind-blowing in and of itself but … I guess it’s more of an existential question, but how do you stay humble, but then also how do you stay hungry to continue creating, to continue to whatever the next level is?

Matt Mercer: That’s a good question. From a humility standpoint, I don’t know, self-loathing helps a lot. I mean it’s hard to pinpoint. I don’t know, I’m very thankful for the things that I have in my life. You know, I didn’t grow up with a whole lot and the fact that we’ve been able to turn something into a success kind of based purely out of the people that we love and our chosen family, playing games, having fun together is surreal and that’s also the core of why I think it has resonated with people. So all of us going into business together and making sure that the main tenet is that we still care about each other and that we’re friends before business and so, to me a lot of it is just making sure that what we’re doing, we believe in it and that we’re doing it right and we’re doing right by everyone we work with. That has been a big thing.

The responsibility that’s there as well for the people that do engage in our content, especially when the world is chaotic as it is in recent times. You know, wanting to make sure that we continue to be that light for people out there that need it and I think from my personal standpoint, I don’t know, I’m just a huge nerd. Have been my whole life. I grew up with geek culture as my culture and to be a part of it, I’m just extremely appreciative and also understand that at any given point to get all just go away. So just appreciating every moment that it’s there and try and do the best with whatever platform I have for the time that I have it.

That’s kind of the, I guess, fancier humility question. As far as keeping hungry on it, I don’t know what else to do. If I wasn’t doing this professionally, I’d be doing it as a hobby anyway. You know I love role playing games, I love performing arts. I love writing and telling stories and playing games and friends and now it’s just become a means of sharing that joy with so many more people across the world. The responsibility of it is definitely greater and the stakes are above higher because we have employees and healthcare and all the things that kind of rely on those elements of storytelling now but yeah, I’d be doing it anyway. So it’s not so much that I’m worried about losing the hunger. It’s about making sure that I don’t overwork myself and to ever take away the joy that I inherently get out of it anyway.

That’s a great answer. You guys have put these campaigns together, but they were also based on existing D&D lore to begin with and rules for the campaigns and rules for the games that have been around for decades now. Now you get to create this tome that people all around the world can check out and create their own versions of this world, too. So it’s kind of this really interesting creative cycle that feeds back in on it.

What’s the high-level view of this book, especially for someone who’s never played a D&D campaign or they haven’t seen an episode of Critical Role? Is it still accessible for them?

Matt Mercer: If you’ve never played D&D, it is still accessible. If you’re a fan of the show and want to learn about the lore and the history of the world, details of the locations and various factions and societies that exist there. Even if you have no idea what D&D is and you just want to kind of look at a fantasy world structure from a societal and geographic standpoint and kind of get immersed in a place that you’re unfamiliar with, it is a little more fantastical and different from what you’re used to, then it definitely serves that purpose as well.

I’ve been very careful to present it not as like an instructional college study book by any means, more of a informational but still with a narrative flair and written to tell its own story within the information that it gets across. If you are a fan of Critical Role but not necessarily a D&D player, this is a great place for you to get immersed in all that detail lore and find out more information about the world as you’ve already kind of followed along with the campaign, the characters and the religions and the Pantheon and the various societies and all the various secrets and possible hidden locations and places that will never be seen in our campaign because it’s far more expansive than just the story that we’re playing right now. You have all that at your fingertips, which is really, really cool.

If you are a D&D player and not a fan of Critical Role or don’t know about it, all this still exists as an invitation to take anything from this world you want to and use for your own campaigns to take inspiration from, pull apart and take your favorite pieces of inspiration from the tome and incorporate it into your own sessions. Not to mention it has a bunch of new character options and a whole new slew of spells, a new kind of, I almost want to say, a quantum physics or astrophysical affair type designed to them. New creatures, new natural items. Got plenty of things for anyone to pull from whether or not they’re familiar with Critical Role, and if you’re familiar with Critical Role and Dungeons, I mean, this book was definitely made for you.

Image via Critical Role

At the opposite end of that spectrum, there’s got to be a ton of content that’s going to delight fans of yours and D&D, but also stuff that’s going to surprise people, too. You mentioned different types of spells and a whole new kind of approach to magic, you just mentioned gravity effects and time effects. Can you elaborate on that?

Matt Mercer: Correct. Yeah. So I grew up with a fascination with quantum and astrophysics, just being a hobbyist reader growing up. So for me that was an aspect of magic that I wanted to kind of explore a little bit more and give it its own unique flavor and so I developed a kind of an umbrella of all sorts of magic called Dunamancy based on this energy Dunamis and it is the magic of potentiality and actuality. It is the potential power of things before a choice is made, before the effect actually takes the world around it and utilizing that potential energy to mess with and tailor the base fundamental elements of the universe.

And so a lot of the magic is based in manipulation of gravity and density. A lot of it is based in the manipulation of localized time and its passage. Some of it deals with probability and adjusting timelines to better suit a vision that you may have in the future as opposed to letting the world take it and then can take it into your own hands a little bit. So it gives a little more in those esoteric realms. So there are spells that deal with, you know, at the higher levels like localized black holes, things that manipulate the battlefield through adjusting the pull of gravity from different directions, or crushing them with infinite density, or locking an object in place so it is unaffected by gravity movement or density.

There are spells that deal with adjusting a creature’s place in time and shunting them to another moment within a few seconds unaware of what has happened in the interim, the ability to grant players the capability of adjusting their fate in a moment of time, whether it is an individual or many. So it’s a little less the classic elemental fireballs or lightning bolts and a little more strange and spacey, I guess you could say.

To get super-nerdy on that point then, manipulating time and spacial reality and gravitational pull and density … that seems kind of OP. So how did you go about balancing these powers?

Matt Mercer: It was both just kind of learning through years of trying out homebrew character capabilities and spell design and using comparisons to existing spell levels and making sure that nothing overshadows equal spell level capabilities. So for instance, like the Graviturgist, which is one of the wizards subclasses that focuses on gravity. They’re not summoning black holes at the top of the character progression. Their low-level abilities include adjusting localized gravity where all of a sudden a group of enemies in a 10 foot radius might have… Gravity might double for a short time so their movement is slowed and they take a little bit of crushing damage from just the intense heavy weight at that moment. They have abilities that they can adjust the density of a target, whether it be a creature, an object, could be half its weight or twice its weight. So if something is too heavy to grab now it’s twice as easy to lift or if one of your friends needs to get somewhere quickly, you could lower the density by half and they actually can get somewhere quicker because they weigh less.

So it’s kind of like utility, small scale stuff but as they get more powerful down the road, they can eventually… Like if they see a friend attacking an enemy, they can increase the gravitational pull of that weapon toward the enemy that’s doing additional damage for the hits and the force, or if an enemy falls they can cause them to fall for more damage as you pull them even harder towards the ground they slam into, eventually being able to become their own kind of event horizon where a radius around the wizard becomes crushing gravitational energy. So like the abilities do scale from a low level small manipulation of elements of the world around them, it’s even greater and like time magic is always a bit, pardon the reference, wibbly-wobbly and dangerous if it’s not well tended to.

The idea here isn’t being able to jump back in time. That’s always where things get messy. Time manipulation, it’s not so much about being able to go back in time more than adjusting the flow of it, adjusting a person place in it. So for instance like the  Chronurgist wizard has abilities where like they can put an enemy into temporal stasis. You can lock them in a moment of time for a round where they are unaware of any passage of time, they don’t do anything, their turn is lost, and if nobody damages or touches them, for them, it’s like nothing had passed but all of you have been able to continue on for a short period of time.

Abilities where they can cast the spell and the moment the spell has been released, they can lock that spell into a small mote of energy and then hand it to somebody else. So at some point later can activate it to release the spell from the moment it was cast at a much later point in time. Then eventually they do have the ability to very, very briefly and very localized period of time kind of rewind a moment in fate to give it a possible better outcome where they can kind of choose one of multiple timelines and then take the one that seems best to their benefit and then choose that one to the timeline that continued. So once again, it scales up as it progresses and the effect on time and time manipulation is localized enough and controlled enough to the point where it doesn’t become so powerful that it completely derails or messes up a campaign, like is very possible if you’re not careful.

Image via Critical Role, Wizards of the Coast

It’s one thing to put this all together with your friends; it’s another thing to be able to put a guide in somebody’s hand and then hope that they can make sense out of it. So how much of that did you have to tweak in play-testing?

Matt Mercer: A little bit of tweaking, not too terribly much. Thankfully a lot of that is on the shoulders of the publishing partner, Wizards of the Coast. They have a much larger pool of testers and processes in place for them, which I do not have access to. So a lot of this would be me fleshing out a design and collaborating with a designer at Wizards to kind of fine tune or tweak anything where it seems like, “This is a pretty solid version of this. Now let’s go ahead and release it,” into the very controlled wild that is there play test group, all under non-disclosure agreements, and then they take it for a month or two and heavily, rigorously put it through its paces, give all of their notes and feedback on it and then from there we make adjustments accordingly and from their balance of it like Jeremy Crawford and then Dan Dillon and people there that are the kind of the masters of the game mechanics, and they all work together with me to get it as tight as possible, with all preexisting rules as if it was in the world without breaking it. And that was pretty much the process in a nutshell right there.

That’s so crazy, but it sounds like a dream come true, for years to just like read those guides and then put your own campaigns together, but to now actually be creating one and be the demigod of your own world… I don’t know, it just blows my mind from this side of the conversation.

Matt Mercer: Mine, too. Continuously. I mean the moment they sent me the physical book in the mail about a month ago and I got to look at it in my hands, it was deeply emotional and very surreal. Like I was kind of having a brief out-of-body experience at moment. Kind of flashing back to my 15 year old self where the tabletop ride really began and it’s like I said earlier, still processing. It’s going to be a while.

They’re going to be on like seventh edition of D&D by the time it kind of like sinks in. Like, “Yeah, this was my thing.”

Matt Mercer: Yeah, seriously. You’re not wrong.

Now speaking of some of the nuts and bolts of this guide, too. This thing comes in at over 300 pages. You’ve got four starting adventures for people out there. You’ve got three new sub-classes you’ve introduced, a new style of magic that you talked about, 20-some new creatures, and then you’ve also got a big breakdown of all the kind of history and lore of the world. So it sounds like you pretty much went all-in. Did everything go into this project or are you holding something back for the future?

Matt Mercer: Everything went in for this particular setting. Wildemount is but one of multiple continents in Exandria and I definitely have other places in mind for other campaigns down the road. As to whether or not they’ll ever become a book? I don’t know, but for this I don’t feel like I expelled everything in the tank. Definitely all-in though.

And, what I’m happy about is the structure that we kind of developed in the process of creating this book definitely, if anything, left me more inspired to develop aspects and details but… And it’s left me inspired for future campaign development for games with that kind of elements and details that I now… that kind of the process for writing it that previously was just kind of madman scrawlings and scattered word documents on my computer lost in the ether.

It’s the difference between a professional and somebody who’s under investigation for who knows what with all the crazy whiteboard scrawling and it’s like, “What’s going on here?”

Matt Mercer: One of these days that might confuse a detective really heavily.

Exactly. Just like, “No, no, I’m… It’s D&D, it’s fine. Have you seen Stranger Things?”

Matt Mercer: Perfect.

Have there been discussions about future expansions to this particular guide or story campaigns set in other areas of Exandria, other areas of the continent in the world, anything like that that you can talk about?

Matt Mercer: I don’t know yet. This is just a big endeavor to get it out of the door and on top of the book, working on the animated series pre-production, on all the other things we’re doing at Critical Role as a company. It’s very much having to make sure that I delegate my attention to just the right amount of things that I don’t go crazy. So I don’t know what’s in the future with regards to that, but I think when we see the numbers come through and if free time has emerged in the future and you know, Wizards is interested in doing another book, and I’m at a time and place in my life that I am raring to go on another tome, then I’ll happily do that, it was a great experience but nothing confirmed at the moment.

Got you. Well in case people are wondering how they could actually get into this and are not sure if they want to check out the full guide yet, there is one free adventure that’s available both from Critical Role from the virtual tabletop platform role 20 and also Dungeons and Dragons and Wizards. So what can you tell us about that mini-campaign that is an entry point for people who want to check this out?

Matt Mercer: Right. So for the Roll 20 campaign… So the most I can tell you without any spoiler is, each of the adventures that we have of the four is designated to one of the major regions in the continent. So you have a variety of starting places and each adventure is designed to take a group between levels one all the way up to three. So it’s like an early, beginning your campaign type of adventure to kick off a campaign, is the idea.

So the “Frozen Sick” adventure takes place in what’s called the Biting North, it’s the far kind of icy north of Wildemount and it begins north of the dwarven / elven diarchy Uthodurn in a small village called Palebank, which is a northern ice-fishing village, far outside of main society and the front lines of the main conflict between nations that a lot of the book is based around. So it’s a lot of little more isolation-based, a little more in the wilds away from society.

And I would just say that discovering a strange mystery regarding a disease that seems to be spreading, weirdly timely–didn’t expect that to coincide–but a magical disease that seems to have taken hold and the mystery is about what its source is, if it can be handled, and the kind of mysterious individuals and narrative nature surrounding how to deal with this and the people involved. This adventure is much more about the darker mystery, being away from the prying eyes of the law and what that means, good and bad, and the mysterious unknown of a place that is vastly uncharted and still being discovered by the main societies of Wildemount.

As much as that description makes me want to just immediately just jump into that with my friends, I’m curious, because we’ve only really seen you as Dungeon Master, what sort of characters do you tend to gravitate towards when you’re actually playing a campaign and not leading one?

Matt Mercer: Oh good question. I always tend to be the player that picks my character last, because I’d like to fill whatever role the party doesn’t have. I don’t tend to be the person who’s like, “I’ve always wanted to play this character and I’ll play this character, you just have to deal with it.” Which is fine, too, but for me, I like playing the support. I like being whatever fits best in the group based on what everyone else chooses.

If that’s not a scenario, and I can just pick, I tend to lean towards things that have some element of spellcasting. I like the utility of having spells at my disposal and if I’m going to pick via fifth edition classrooms, I think my favorite class is the Bard. I love the idea of having access to a fair amount of really interesting and fun utility spells, and capabilities to inspire and help your teammates, and just generally being a charismatic bastard who can walk into social situations and for better or for worse make them dynamic.

That sounds spot-on. I definitely want to talk a little bit about Critical Role animated series, The Legend of Vox Machina. You’ve not only been able to bring all your adventures to life through streaming on Twitch with your friends, you’ve now been able to put those rules and tools in people’s hands with Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.

Now, we’re also going to see the first kind of campaign that you guys put together in animated form. As a longtime viewer of this series, people have been waiting for an animated version for a very long time. So what can you tease about this? I mean, the last we heard, you had a very successful Kickstarter campaign, Titmouse is on board as the animation studio, Amazon Prime has an order of 24 episodes, and you guys have a fantastic writers room assembled. So anything new that’s happened since then or are you stuck in a pause like all other productions right now?

Matt Mercer: Well, production is still going. The good thing about animation is a lot of people can still work from home. So we’re doing a lot of video meetings. It’s between everyone. This will be like approvals, design approvals and stuff. So the show goes on as far as that’s concerned but right now, I mean, it’s going great. It’s still a weird thing, as a person that grew up loving cartoons and initially was wanting to go into animation as an artist when I was much younger, to now be involved in animation from a different side is wholly crazy.

But the entire team is so talented. Everyone we have involved is so good. And I think my favorite thing is that it’s perpetual Christmas when we do approval meetings, so I get to see all these incredible artists designing and creatively coming up with visuals for places that I made up and have them take them and bring them to life in ways that are so much more grand and beautiful and interesting than even I could have possibly done. It is an incredible part of the collaboration.

But we’re going ahead, we’re cruising through on season one, which follows the… There’s two episodes beginning that are a whole new story. Kind of a unique tale that nobody’s seen on our stream at least, and then we have the Birarwood arc that progresses for the rest of the season one, which was kind of the first major like narrative arc that kicked in when we started streaming way back in 2015, but it’s going great. We’re finally getting casting tuned up, we’re getting production animatics back and it’s awesome.

What’s the kind of behind the scenes with that? Because you’re the DM for the show, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you a showrunner. So what is the creative process behind the scenes of how you decided which stories to tackle and who gets to write up new ones?

Matt Mercer: I’ll give you a little bit. I mean, creatively a lot of that is our choice, meaning the eight of us. Me and my players, we’re all creative partners in this company. So we get together and we work with Brandon [Auman], who’s our showrunner, to figure out what’s the best way to tell these stories and then we work with the writers room to then beat out the season, episode by episode, and character arc by character arc in the classic animation writers room sense, but all of us are present to, one, guide the story to make sure that beats that are important to each of us as players and as creators are within there, and to help the adaptation process. And it is an adaptation process because we have hundreds of hours of gameplay that we have to condense into, for  season one at least, 12 episodes between 22 and 25 minutes. That’s a lot of condensing you have to do.

So part of the adaptation process is working with these writers. That part of it is being present to help guide the story, being present to answer questions about world lore and being present to push for and help define what parts of the story are the most important in the core and the heart of the things we have to convey. What things can be changed without really undercutting or diluting the narrative and the core of the story. What things absolutely cannot be changed and working with everybody to get it to a place where it’s something that still is very much the tale of Vox Machina that everyone who watched along knows but also is unique in its own right, has a couple of surprises, and any changes that we made are only changes that make the story better for this medium.

So that’s been a large part of what I’ve done as far as like the writers room is concerned in crafting the story. And then from there it’s being present for all design approvals whether it be like character designs, location and background designs. Anything that’s cultural in the world. It’s been kind of like being the lore-master and the world expert on it, which I guess I am because I made it up. That’s weird. And then also script approvals. All of us, the entire cast go through every single script as they come in and give notes on dialogue to ensure that it is natural and is as keyed into that character’s personality as possible. It’s a very, very collaborative process and it’s kind of cool that all of us get to be as involved in every step of this to ensure that it’s something that we all are confident about and really excited about and it’s been that way every step.

That’s a great breakdown and a great tease, and I’m sure fans, myself included, are looking forward to seeing anything and everything we can get as we get closer to the release date.

Matt Mercer: Can’t wait to show you.

Yeah, absolutely. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you a chance to talk about the massive community and fans of Critical Role who actually had a chance to submit some of their own artwork to this guide. I think you said half of the artwork is actually from the fan community. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Matt Mercer: Correct. Yeah. I mean the main thing about Critical Role is, it’s fun, it’s great and I’m really proud of everything we’ve done, but it wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for the incredible community that’s come around it and supported us and supported each other. If I’m proud of anything that Critical Role has done, I’m proud of the community that we’ve created and the people that have become a part of that.

So any opportunity we have to lift others up, to work with members of the community to try and kind of share in that opportunity with people who’ve been there with us, we’re going to do our best to do so and as part of that, as soon as we had this conversation with Wizards about the book, that was a big important part of it. I said, “We had so many of these really talented artists out there that we’ve seen in the community, can we please involve them in the book?”

And so Wizards said, “Alright, give me a list of examples and links.” So I made an extensive list of community artists that have submitted to our galleries that we’ve just seen their work online, they may have worked with our art books and other things. I sent them off to Wizards and they picked from that list and we managed to, at the end of the day, have close to if not more than half of the artists in this book are directly from our community and a lot of them have continued to work with Wizards on other books thereafter. So I’m extremely happy to be able to bring people the opportunity to work directly with Wizards and looks like carve out another aspect of their career in continuing to work with them.

That is so cool. I love seeing things like that where fan fiction, fan art is rewarded and legitimized, which I think is a big thing especially with fanfic that some people still look down on it, or fan art, similarly. So I love that it’s kind of legitimized and then brought into a professional sense and you’re getting to give back to those fans who gave so much to you guys, as well. I just wanted to make sure to highlight that.

Matt Mercer: Yeah, no worries. It’s something I’m really proud of and some we are going to continue to try and do every chance we have. We’re thankful that we have the opportunities to possibly lift others up. I’m a fan of all this stuff as much as any of they are. You know, I grew up going to conventions and waiting in line to meet voice actors and people that I admired. I grew up doing my own fan art and things that I was inspired by and so if anything is the cycle coming back to be on the other side of it now and have that chance. Hell yeah I’m going to take it.

Definitely.

What do you want both new and longtime fans of yours professionally and of Critical Role to get out of this new guide, ‘The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount’?

Matt Mercer: I think primarily I want to, in this very moment, I want it to be a source of escapism and a place where you can immerse yourself and lose yourself in a world of unique and different and varied and beautiful people and challenges and mystery and magic and just be a place of solace and inspiration that might inspire you if you’re an artist to create something driven by that world or if you’re a writer take something from there and run with it or if you’re even just a general consumer to take some inspiration from that and maybe incorporate it into your life.

I know I grew up inspired by a lot of the books and fiction that I read. I mean, for example, Nightcrawler from the X-Men, a lot of who I am today, I owe because of the example of being just a good person in the face of adversity that he was. So, in a same way, if anything that I’ve written, any of these characters, any of these stories can inspire folks to strive to be a better person in a world where that can be challenging and that’s the most I could hope for.

That’s been a very high-minded answer to your question. On a more subtle level, I hope people have the opportunity to grab this book, enjoy it, and if they haven’t gotten up the courage to run a D&D before, if they’re a fan of the show and they can see the familiar faces they’ve already spent a lot of time with, this would be the book to get you started to run a game for your friends.

Absolutely. I know as somebody who didn’t play a lot of D&D growing up, but I was in a home-brewed Gundam RPG with friends of mine that I still have a super-fond memories of, have you ever dabbled in other genres for RPGs? Maybe like a horror tinged one-off or a sci-fi focus, or do you stick with fantasy?

Matt Mercer: My main Critical Role campaign has been fantasy since that’s where it started. I’ve been playing RPGs for well over 25 years now and I’ve played in many genres. I’ve played hard sci-fi games before, like Diaspora was one of them, I think, Stars Without Number. I played a Traveller, which is kind of a little more sci-fi but looser, more fantasy/sci-fi. I’ve played Rift campaigns in the past which are their own cluster muck of everything. Like let’s just jam every genre in there and see what happens. The kitchen sink.

So yeah, I’ve played many genres and I enjoy all of them for their own reason. Fantasy’s just kind of where my heart lies as a Lord of the Rings kid growing up, that was the one that really kind of drew me in. But I thoroughly enjoy sci-fi. We just run a one-shot in association with Bethesda and id Software for the DOOM Eternal release where I got to run a demonic sci-fi one-shot where my players got to be demons attacking a futuristic military base and, you know, any chance we have to mix and mess with the genres is always a nice little breath of fresh air and a difference to the usual swords and sorcery that we enjoy so much.

Absolutely, and that leads into unfortunately my last question for you today: Are there any other projects on the horizon that you’re currently working on that you would like to, or are able to, give a signal boost to?

Matt Mercer: Oh man. Everything I’ve got on my plate right now it’s pretty much consuming all my time. I mean, to signal boost, honestly, I would say because a lot of conventions and a lot of events are being canceled throughout the year, a lot of companies and a lot of creators that rely on convention and dealers hall set-ups to make their money are really hardly hit by the Covid scenario. So if you have the opportunity, there’s a lot of people online. I’ve been boosting on my Twitter as well. A lot of these creators are putting up streams to show off what they create, their products, and if you have the opportunity and you’re interested at all, I would recommend checking them out and supporting those you can in this tenuous time.

I love it. That’s a perfect response. Thank you so much for all of your time today. I want to wish you best of luck with continued success for Critical Role, for the animated series that’s coming out, and for the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount that is now available for fans out there to pick up and get started on your campaign. So sir, thank you once again.

Matt Mercer: Well, I appreciate it so much. It’s great talking with you man.


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