What could be more entertaining than playing Dungeons & Dragons? Watching people play the role-playing game with CRITICAL ROLE.
The web series, from Geek & Sundry, streams a group of friends (mainly voice actors) on a weekly game ran by the show’s Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer.
The series is broadcast live on Thursdays on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch.tv channel and the episodes made available on its official web site and YouTube channel.
The group is comprised of Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brien, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, Travis Willingham and Orion Acaba.
LRM had an exclusive phone interview with actress Ashley Johnson to discuss her participation in the game while filming the TV show BLINDSPOT.
Read the full transcript below.
LRM: I’m curious. How did you got started with CRITICAL ROLE in the first place?
Ashley Johnson: We all sort of knew each other prior to the game. They already played their first game. Once the second game came around, they asked me to jump in. I was very nervous, but more so curious than nervous. [Laughter] I just decided to try it out and started to put together a character at the last minute. I just jumped into the game.
I think Liam said, “We have a game if you wanted to hop in.” So I put together the character overnight. The rest is history as we say. And that was over three years ago at this point.
LRM: Have you ever heard of Dungeons & Dragons before?
Ashley Johnson: Of course! I’ve never played before. I definitely heard of it. My brother played [the game] and I would listen in while he played with his friends. I never played it before growing up and I wished I had. I really didn’t know anybody that played besides my brother. He wasn’t going to let me play with him and his friends. [Laughter]
LRM: For a lot of people, usually it’s hard to convince them to play D&D. How did your group of friends even tried to convince you to even try this out?
Ashley Johnson: I don’t feel like there was a lot of convincing. I was always a little bit curious. They were always talking about how fun the first game was. For me, I thought, “Man! I think this is something I would love to try.” I think it’s just about the courage to roleplay a character and to commit to it the whole time. It’s also about not to be nervous to take chances and to take risks. It’s just so much fun and to be in this fantasy world. You can use [your imagination] with your friends. It’s just magical.
LRM: After three years, what do you think is the best part of playing a role-playing game like this?
Ashley Johnson: There are so amazing parts to it. The way that the group has involved and our characters has evolved around each other. There are all those personalities, the stories and the character arcs. It’s just one of my favorite things I’ve ever been a part of. The bonus, which probably is the best part, is to spend four hours a week with my best friends in this fantasy world.
LRM: I was gonna say—with your busy career—how do you manage to find the time? Or do you just make time for friends?
Ashley Johnson: You definitely have to make the time. It’s a little harder since I’ve started the show in New York, so I do miss a lot of games. That is very hard, because anything that you love is hard to find the time for it. I try to Skype in as much as I can or I try to fly in if I have the time off of work.
No, we could make it work. I definitely not playing as much as I would like to, which is every week. [Laughter] I would love to be playing every week. I know with my schedule, it’s not realistic.
Matt is such an incredible DM—he would figure out if I’m able to drop in on a game. Sometimes I would give notice on that day and say, “Hey! I have the rest of the day off. Can I jump in on a game?” He says, “We’ll make it work!” He is so amazing with presenting this world and giving up some leeway. He also goes along with the stupid decisions that we make. He’s just unbelievable. He’s an incredible storyteller. Most of the time, I just like playing the game by sitting there and listen to him to tell a story. [Laughter]
LRM: You mentioned that you Skype in sometimes to play a game. I’ve never done that myself. Is that actually a good experience?
Ashley Johnson: It’s not the best. A bunch of the game is the interaction with everybody and everybody who you are playing with. You can whisper next to each other with, “Should we try this one thing?” You do miss a lot of that. You do miss a lot of interaction with everybody.
I rather do that rather than the alternative than not playing at all. There are still some amazing moments that happen on Skype that I’ve been so glad to be a part of. Of course, I would rather be there in person.
LRM: Absolutely. Could you tell me more about the character you play on this game?
Ashley Johnson: Yeah, I’m the group’s cleric. Pike is a gnome. He grew up with Travis’s character, Grogg Stonejaw. They sort of lived in the same town. They grew up together. She’s the group cleric. There’s a part of her who always want to help and to care for everybody. She is also a little rough and tumble character who likes to get into fights with a little bit of mischief. She’s just been so fun to play. She has evolved over the years and it’s just so much fun.
LRM: So you play a cleric. Obviously, they do need you every week.
Ashley Johnson: [Laughter] Which is tough. I’m not there. Not only I’m bummed out about not missing out, I’m also nervous cause I don’t know what they’re getting into. If one of the characters die and I wasn’t there to help or to do a healing spell or a resurrection. I would have a very hard time with that. If I’m there, at least I can keep watch.
LRM: Most of your friends are voice actors. Do you feel challenged to roleplay with the different tones and voices along with them?
Ashley Johnson: They are such talented voice actors. Any of the voice acting I’ve done is just my voice. I can’t just do all the different voices like they can, but I just love the characters that Matt is creating. Everybody just commits to their role so much, it’s just so fun to watch sometimes. Sometimes I would just sit back and stare at everybody and think, “Man! This is amazing!” [Laughter]
LRM: Have you ever thought about playing other RPGs in the future?
Ashley Johnson: I did played one with Matt, which turned into a Web series. That was the first time that I’ve ever played another character. It was a half-orc cleric. Some of the things I’m already familiar with since it was still a cleric and it was with Matt again.
I would love to play [other games]. I live in Brooklyn right now. There’s a place around the corner from me, which is a hobby shop/gaming place. It’s called The Brooklyn Strategist. They have D&D Encounters there. I’m always like, “Man, if I’m in town. I want to pop in for a game.”
LRM: You should absolutely do that! They’re just single four-hour games.
Ashley Johnson: Yeah! I keep trying and then I have to work. [Laughter] One of these days I’m going to go in there when I don’t have to work.
LRM: Let me start wrapping things up with you. Could you talk about any other future projects? And how is the show Blindspot going for you?
Ashley Johnson: The show is going great! That’s the only thing I’m working on right now. Monday thru Fridays, we’re just shooting here in New York. It’s been so fun. It’s a great show to be a part of and to work on. Yeah, that’s pretty much it for me right now.
LRM: One last question—would you ever consider DMing yourself? And how can I join in? [Laughter]
Ashley Johnson: [Laughter] I feel like I don’t know enough yet to DM a game. I would love to come up with a world and a story. I would still probably will still give it to Matt. [Laughter] There’s just so many rules to this game. I feel like after three and half to four years, I’m still learning.
There are games when we were playing and he was “Aww, you can’t do that!” It’s just so much to know for a DM. I’m not even close for that yet.
But, I would love to come up with a story for someone else to DM.
LRM: Alright! Thank you very much for this conversation. I really appreciate it.
Ashley Johnson: No, thank you!
CRITICAL ROLE is currently being played on YouTube. New episodes are launched weekly every Thursday.