Critical Role: The Story Thus Far
So you want to watch Critical Role live on stream tonight, but you aren't caught up? Let's get you up to speed. Even though there have only been 8 episodes of the second campaign, there are already over 25 hours of content to catch up on. There’s nothing quite like watching Critical Role live, but it takes so long to get caught up enough to watch the livestream.
My name is James Haeck, and in addition to being lead writer at D&D Beyond, I also co-wrote the Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting with Matthew Mercer. Today, I’m here to summarize the first 8 episodes of Critical Role’s second campaign so that you can jump instantly into tonight’s action and watch episode 9 live! Every week, I’ll also be creating a short recap of each week’s episode of Critical Role so that you can do the same every week, if needed, or to use as a quick reference if you need to recall what happened in an episode that aired ten weeks ago. Every Friday from here on out, I'll provide an article-length summary of last night's Critical Role episode to help you catch up in case you couldn't watch on Thursday night.
I can’t urge you strongly enough, however, to please go back and watch the Critical Role archives on YouTube or listen to it as a podcast once you’re caught up. There are so many hilarious and poignant character moments in the actual show that you’ll never get from a summary like this, no matter how detailed and lengthy these summaries get.
Our Valiant Heroes
Critical Role needs no introduction, but it does deserve one. Every Thursday, voice actor Matthew Mercer dons the mantle of Dungeon Master and runs a game of D&D for his friends and fellow voice actors, Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brien, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel, Travis Willingham, and Ashley Johnson (when she’s not in New York). They wrapped up their first campaign, set in Matt’s homebrew continent of Tal’Dorei and featuring the heroes known as Vox Machina, in Fall 2017, and have just begun a new campaign. Now we follow a new group of heroes, 20 years after the conclusion of the previous campaign, on their adventure through the grim continent of Wildemount.
Critical Role’s greatest strength has always been its rich characters, both in terms of the player characters and Matt’s NPCs (non-player characters). The characters’ official art was created by the campaign's main artist Ariana Orner (@ornerine).
From left to right, Mollymauk, Beauregard, Fjord, Caleb (with cat familiar Frumpkin), Nott, Jester, and Yasha, with the Dungeon Master’s omnipresent shadow looming over the party.
Mollymauk Tealeaf, or Molly for short, is a tieflingblood hunter played by Taliesin Jaffe. The peacock feather tattoo that winds up his neck is a perfect summary of his character; flamboyant, preening, and with a sinister darkness that hides beneath his pristine demeanor. He joined the carnival two years before the start of the campaign, and began traveling with the other characters after a brutal murder disbanded his carnival in the first mini-arc of the show.
His blood hunter order is the Order of the Ghostslayer. The blood hunter is a full twenty-level class designed by Matthew Mercer. It’s available on the Dungeon Masters Guild, and is also an option in the D&D Beyond character builder if you have Critical Role content enabled.
Beauregard, known better as Beau, is a human monk played by Marisha Ray. She loves her friends dearly, but shows no remorse when fighting her enemies. As a monk who follows the Way of the Cobalt Soul, she has a mysterious past with the monks of the Cobalt Reserve, worshippers of the Knowing Mistress and seekers and curators of knowledge across the world.
Beau’s subclass, the Way of the Cobalt Soul, is a new subclass by Matt Mercer. It isn’t on D&D Beyond (yet anyway!), but it is included in the Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting published by Green Ronin Publishing.
Fjord is a handsome half-orc hexblade warlock played by Travis Willingham. He used to be a sailor from the small town of Port Damali before he met the rest of the party. His pact weapon, a falchion, is covered in barnacles and has unnerving dreams about a massive yellow eye deep beneath the ocean speaking to him. This eye is likely his otherworldly patron, but otherwise little is known about this easy-going warlock. Oh, and his name is pronounced FORD, like the car.
The hexblade otherworldly patron is found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
Caleb Widogast is a human transmutation wizard and self-proclaimed “dirty hobo [that] reeks of yesterday’s garbage,” played by Liam O’Brien. He loves reading books and playing with his shapeshifting cat familiar Frumpkin. He travels with his closest friend, a disguised goblin girl named Nott, and the two of them often got into trouble with the law together before the start of the campaign. They have pulled a number of elaborate cons together, and Caleb considers Nott to be like his little sister.
Caleb had a post-traumatic stress reaction after he burned a man alive with his magic, hinting at an unknown past.
Nott is a goblin arcane trickster rogue played by Sam Riegel. She is constantly in disguise, even if her disguise isn’t very convincing. She’s only between six and nine years old, but that makes her an adult in goblin years. She knows that most goblins are killed on sight within the Dwendalian Empire, so she tries to hide her green skin and gigantic ears by wrapping herself up in bandages like a mummy, and wears a porcelain mask stolen from a china doll over her mouth. She is a complete kleptomaniac and her schemes with Caleb frequently got them into trouble before joining the party.
Jester is a tiefling trickery cleric played by Laura Bailey. Jester is the secret daughter of a famous courtesan known as the Ruby of the Sea, but was forced into exile after grievously offending a nobleman who sought her mother’s company. Jester loves sweets and treats the hard life of adventuring a game, evidenced by her using a giant lollipop as her spiritual weapon, carrying around a bag of sweets at all times, and generally committing small acts of mischief. She spends money freely and often writes to her mother for care packages while she is on the road.
Jester follows a mysterious deity called the Traveler, and talks to him when no one else is listening.
Yasha is an aasimar barbarian played by Ashley Johnson. She is friends with Mollymauk but is otherwise quiet and standoffish. She shows a certain affinity with Beau, who may have been flirting with her while they were at the Carnival of Curiosities together.
Yasha doesn’t like traveling with groups, and has only appeared in a few episodes so far. This is because Ashley is frequently absent due to her professional commitments in New York, such as filming the TV show Blindspot.
The Land of Wildemount
Wildemount is a sorrowful continent filled with bloodthirsty cults, tyrannical regimes, and ancient evil. Unlike the young nation of Tal’Dorei (in which most of the action of the first campaign took place), the continent of Wildemount is old. Its peoples have endured hardships that most of Exandria (the world of Critical Role) speak of only in legend. This ancient land is just as much a character as any of the player characters I’ve introduced so far. While Matt Mercer plays innumerable NPCs on this show, his performance as the land of Wildemount itself has cemented the setting as this campaign’s most important character.
Wildemount is home to many diverse cultures, though the party is currently traveling through the totalitarian Dwendalian Empire, which dominates most of the continent. In the Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting, Matt Mercer states that the empire’s culture and aesthetics were inspired by “15th century gothic eastern Europe and Russia.” The Dwendalian Empire’s mortal enemy, the smaller empire of Xhorhas, shares their eastern border and draws from the aesthetics 13th century Romania—drawing immediate comparisons to Castle Bran and the legends of Dracula.
Just as Ariana Orner created beautiful and expressive illustrations to help bring the player characters to life, renowned fantasy cartographer Deven Rue (@DevenRue) created a gorgeous physical map of the Dwendalian Empire that the players will get to keep with them during their games. She has released a digital copy on Twitter, as well as a cinematic “flyover” video.
If you like to follow along on the map as much as I do, the party's path has been as follows: the adventurers began in the rural hamlet of Trostenwald, passed through Alfield, and as of episode 8, have arrived at the great city of Zadash en route to Rexxentrum, the capital of the Dwendalian Empire.
The Story Thus Far
A lot happens in four hours of D&D. Since this recap aims to cover the story up until the end of episode eight, each episode’s recap will be focused entirely on major events and character moments. Future recaps that only cover a single episode will have more freedom to dwell on little character interactions and funny bits.
Episode 1: Curious Beginnings
The seven characters gathered in the farming village of Trostenwald, at the edge of Lake Ustaloch. Caleb and Nott awoke in an inn and overheard Jester, Fjord, and Beauregard talking over breakfast in the taproom. Mollymauk and Yasha also entered from outside, advertising the Carnival of Curiosities, and all seven characters were brought together by an invitation to the circus.
The carnival put on an incredible performance, which reached a climax as several circus performers hauled out a raging monster they call a “devil-toad,” supposedly a terrible creature from the empire of Xhorhas, east of the Dwendalian Empire. A young dwarf girl named Toya sang a supernaturally beautiful song that soothes the savage toad, and the audience applauded.
However, as the performance ended, an old man in the crowd began to convulse, and transformed into an undead abomination. The crowd fled, but the zombie attacked a running woman and transformed her into another undead creature. The party managed to destroy the two zombies, but the circus fell into a state of panic even as the Crownsguard, the peacekeepers of the Dwendalian Empire, arrived on the scene. The Crownsguard took control of the crime scene, now deemed a murder, and placed most of the party under house arrest in the Nestlenook Inn as suspects.
Episode 2: A Show of Scrutiny
Before this episode, Yasha ran off into the woods (as Ashley departed for New York).
The party tried their best to pass time in the Nestlenook Inn, but soon realized that nothing would get done in Trostenwald without their meddling. They devised a plan to adopt disguises and sneak out to investigate the circus and hopefully find information that would clear their names. However, upon arriving at the Carnival of Curiosities, they found that the Crownsguard who secured the carnival grounds had been transformed into zombies as well!
Episode 3: The Midnight Chase
The party chose to fight the hoard of undead, and each of the characters began to discover their role in the party. During the fight, the party saw certain members of the carnival trying to flee the scene, including Toya fleeing with the devil toad. They tracked the devil toad and discovered that it probably fled into the Ustaloch, a nearby lake.
Mollymauk related that the creature is a nergaliid (a fiend of Matt Mercer’s creation), and the party eventually pursued it to a haunted island in the middle of the Ustaloch. There they learned that the devil-toad and Toya were in league with one another, and managed to defeat them both in battle.
Fjord defeated the devil-toad and Beau knocked Toya out. They took the fiend’s head and Toya’s unconscious form back to town.
Episode 4: Disparate Pieces
Molly comforted a pained and confused Toya upon returning to town as the rest of the party hid the nergaliid’s head in the sand at the edge of the Ustaloch. The party tried to sneak back into the inn, but most of them were quickly discovered and captured by the Crownsguard and taken before Lawmaster Norda, the local constable. However, before they are taken to the stockade, the party was able to prove that the devil-toad was responsible for the deaths in the carnival and they are cleared of all charges.
The lingering mystery remains of why Toya and the nergaliid were working together, and why they infiltrated the carnival in the first place, but the party decided not to concern themselves with that detail.
Lawmaster Norda introduced Beau to Archivist Xenoth, a member of the Cobalt Soul currently in Trostenwald at her request. Beau chafed meeting a member of the Cobalt Soul, but he was able to convince her to meet his superior, an elf known named Dairon, an Expositor of the Cobalt Soul. Dairon sparred with Beau and convinced her to join the Cobalt Soul.
With their names cleared, the party took their leave of Trostenwald, acquiring a cart and horses and departing north along the Amber Road.
Episode 5: The Open Road
The party chose to make their way towards the city of Zadash. On the road, Caleb taught Nott a bit of magic, helping the goblin become an Arcane Trickster. Fjord had an unsettling dream. He felt as though he was drowning underwater, and spoke with his patron, a great yellow eye in the depths of the ocean. He awoke to find that his falchion could be summoned or dismissed at will, a sign of his newly sealed Pact of the Blade.
The next town along the road was called Alfield, and the party agreed to rest there when they reached it. However, they arrived to find Alfield in flames, under attack by gnolls. However, the manic gnolls were also accompanied by undead gnoll witherlings. Though the fight was chaotic, the party managed to rout the gnolls and met with Watchmaster Bryce Feelid, a genderfluid half-elf and captain of the Alfield Crownsguard. The party spoke with them and accepted a job to track the gnolls to their camp, save the prisoners that they took from Alfield and the surrounding towns, and eliminate the gnolls so that they can no longer pose a threat to the region.
Episode 6: The Howling Mines
The party spent time gathering information supplies in Alfield before sortying out against the gnolls. They stealthily crossed the grassy plains towards a mine that Bryce told them was the gnolls’ hideout. They infiltrated the trapped complex and discovered that the gnolls were being led by a human cultist dressed in gnoll skins. The cultist conducted a ritual that sacrificed human hearts to an unknown dark entity, which his gnoll followers then eagerly devoured.
After the cultist leaves, the party attacks the gnolls in the chamber and handily overcomes them and loots the room. A quick search reveals that the cultist was leading the gnolls in worship of Yeenoghu, patron of gnollkind and the demon prince of savagery. Before they could plan their next move, however, the party hears a shout from below: a woman crying “No! My baby!” They could do nothing but descend deeper into the mines…
Episode 7: Hush
Deep in the abandoned mine, the party met an unlikely ally (played by guest star Khary Payton) helping the captured humans fight off the bloodthirsty gnolls. This man, a spindly-yet-handsome tempest cleric named Shakäste, joined them on their quest to rout the gnolls. He and his black hummingbird, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (or Stacy for short), helped the party fight off gnolls, hyenas, and witherlings alike as they descended deeper into the mines.
Near the bottom of the mine, the party once again found the cultist dressed in gnoll skins. He stood beside a bound member of the Crownsguard and tossed him before a manticore. Beside the mother manticore was its small child, and the two monsters tore into their sacrifice with zeal. They attempted to free the prisoners stealthily, but were spotted by the manticore and the cultist of Yeenoghu. Battle ensued, but the party emerged victorious. Nott even slaughtered the manticore cub.
With the battle won, the party returned to Alfield as Shakäste departed into the night. The party took a much needed long rest.
Episode 8: The Gates of Zadash
Caleb identified a few magic items that the party found in the gnolls’ mine (a wand of smiles, a ring of water walking and a glove that could cast scorching ray). Jester blackmailed Starosta Kosh, a public servant of Alfield, into writing Fjord a letter of recommendation to the Soltryce Academy, a highly respected school of arcane study in the capital city of Rexxentrum. In their final meeting with Watchmaster Bryce, the group adopted a name: the Mighty Nein. This name was an in-joke based on Caleb’s German accent and the group’s unusual tendency to roll 9s. After settling loose ends in Alfield, the heroes returned to traveling north on the Amber Road towards Zadash.
Along the road, they encountered a group of bandits, but managed to incinerate their leader and subdue the survivors. Resting after the encounter, Jester told her friends about her life with her mother, a famous courtesan named the Ruby of the Sea. Soon after, the Mighty Nein arrived at Zadash and made their way to a local shop to sell unwanted items, and met its owner, a charming firbolg who called himself Enchanter Pumat Sol. The players, enamored with Pumat Sol, spent the rest of the session joking and haggling with him.
Episode 9 of Critical Role debuts at 7:00 pm PST on Geek & Sundry's Twitch channel , is hosted on the official Dungeons & Dragons Twitch channel (if you want a less frantic chat experience), and on Geek & Sundry's premium streaming service, Alpha. Check back tomorrow for our summary of Episode 9, and every Friday to get a recap of the latest episode of Critical Role.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, and writes as a freelancer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He loves watching Critical Role and wants everyone he knows to get into it, too. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his very own Frumpkins, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.