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.

Learning! — Are You Creative?

A while back I wrote about what creativity is. I have a different way of looking at it because my improv experience has taught me that most people think of creativity as the ability to pull things out of thin air, but it’s just not. You’ll have to read that post to hear my full thoughts on that, because today I’m going to talk about something slightly different.

I would say a lot of people also think of personality traits as sliding scales on a Sims game. (I really hope that’s how Sims games work or else I’m going to look real dumb here.) You have 2/10 laziness, 7/10 attractiveness, 5/10 intelligence, etc. Creativity is no different, right?

I actually think it is very different.

All my life, I’ve had things swimming around in my head. Dragons single-handedly fighting off armies of thousands. Powerful spell casters throwing hurricanes and tidal waves at each other, sundering the landscape around them. An evil king increasing the gravity in his throne room to literally force those around him to kneel.

There is always. Always. Something like this in my head—even if I don’t have the willpower to put it to paper, like right now.

This is just part of the way that my brain works, so I was a little surprised when I found out that not everyone thinks like this. To be honest, it still seems a little strange sometimes. But maybe that’s just it.

Maybe having a creative mind isn’t something you put a scale to. Maybe you either have it or you don’t. This is only an inkling of a theory, so I could be way off base, but perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in here somewhere. Hear me out.

If you split it this way, turning it into a dichotomy, it becomes easy to differentiate the sort of people around you. It’s easy for me to split everyone in my writer’s group between creative and non-creative people.

Now, being creative doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with scenes of a book. Maybe it’s hearing new melodies or seeing magic in poetry. Whatever it is, it’s breathing life into something new.

It is important to note that when I say non-creative, it isn’t an insult, merely a descriptor of how our brains function. In fact, some of the best writers in my writer’s group were far more technically inclined. They weren’t creative at all.

You may or may not agree with me, but thinking of people in this way has helped me better accommodate for the strengths and weaknesses of those around me. Putting creative people in technical fields can yield interesting results, and the opposite holds true as well.

You could probably immediately tell me whether or not you’re a creative person with my definition, and if you start thinking about your friends and family, you might be surprised to discover that their profession is something contrary to their personality. Well, you might think it’s contrary, but in actuality they’re just bringing different things to the table.

Just because it’s unconventional doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Review — Hello Internet

Hello Internet has been a podcast that’s been on my radar for a long time, but the infrequency of post, lack of concrete topic, and length of each episode has made it a very low priority. Since I’ve had more free time to listen to audiobooks and podcasts, though I’ve been perusing them.

To sum up what the podcast is, it’s simply two guys, Brady Haran and CGP Grey talk about a myriad of topics, be it a piece of news that happened, a book they’ve both read, or a funny story one of them has to share. There’s little consistency from episode to episode, though each consecutive podcast touches on stuff that happened on the previous episode to follow up on community feedback or updates on the story.

Really, the only reason to listen to this podcast is for their personalities. They are pretty interesting people, which makes that prerequisite fine. Brady is what one might consider to be the “typical” person. He is pretty smart, but for the purposes of the podcast he serves mostly as a foil for Grey. Grey, however, is obviously different. I would describe him as a robot. He doesn’t like decorations in his house, because they serve no purpose, he doesn’t like attention (on the podcast, Brady calls him Grey, his internet persona) despite his being a public figure, and he is very careful about the things he says and the way he lives his life.

CGP Grey makes some awesome educational YouTube videos that are very informative, but I’ve found that they offer little insight to who he is as a person.

On one of the most recent episodes, he mentions that he has a whole alias for Starbucks. An entire second identity that he knows so well he can instinctively respond to this fake name, just to obfuscate any unnecessary attention he might receive. It sort of serves as a filter to the outside world. (I’ll admit, I definitely identify more closely with Grey than Brady. Part of me seriously considered making an alias for spam purposes.)

So, if you have time on your hands and you’re looking for stuff to listen to just for the personalities, I’d recommend Hello Internet. The two of them work very well together because they obviously know each other very well and like each other a lot, but their personalities are so different it’s an interesting dynamic to experience.

It’s worth noting too that they talk about some interesting things. They talk about controversial news stories and then add their own thoughts, so it’s not simply a reiteration of something we’ve already heard, and they’re introspective with themselves so they can often explain their own reasonings to their logic.

I would go so far as to say that this podcast would be the closest one resembling a podcast I would make, if that ever did happen. Just me and another person/other people talking about stuff. It’s a hard sell—the litmus test to see if you like this really is just “do you like the people”. I’d recommend watching some CGP Grey videos and if you think the topics he covers are interesting, that’s a good start.

Me — Family Dynamic

My family, like everyone else’s, is unique. I’m the youngest of six, and I’m very lucky in that, for the most part, we’ve all always gotten along. (Childhood was a different story, but once I was around 10, arguments over silly things like who gets the computer and whatnot stopped happening.) Basically, fights were very rarely ever constructed on a personal level. Especially today, things we argue about are both lighthearted and either opinion based or circumstantial (such as how X was “back then”). I would consider my brothers some of my best friends simply because they’re the people I spend the majority of my free time with, if I’m spending it with anybody. We’re a gaming team, and one day we may actually end up producing games as well as playing them. Who knows.

So generally speaking my family is pretty close. But I think that came with a cost, because we’re all very private people, and we keep to ourselves much more than other people, at least for each other. I don’t mean to imply that getting along and keeping personal stuff private are two mutually exclusive things, or that they are inversely related, but it does seem to be the case with my family in particular, and I do think there is some sort of correlation. We’re just not open with each other.

I think this is pretty much why when I make strong friendships (which happens rarely), I’m very open and very personal within a month. I like to get to the “where do you want to live when you grow up and why”s, the “what sort of traits do you look for in a long term partner”s, and the “what would you want to change about your childhoods” as fast as possible. Part of that is probably because I want to share my own answers to those questions, but the concept of having a conversation like that with my siblings is… actually very weird to me. Plus, I use those deep questions as a means of getting to know the other person, so I wouldn’t really need to know the answer to those questions with my family, because I know them at a more subconscious level.

For perspective, I’ve written things on this blog I have never told my family. It’s not that I want to keep it from them—posting sensitive information on the internet would be an interesting method of keeping a secret, after all—just that having any level of personal conversation with my family would by its very nature be forced and inorganic.

I’ve written before about in high school I fell in love with a girl that never had any feelings towards me, and we were good friends for five years. I’m sure you can imagine how many situations and stories that circumstance would foster. But I don’t have any idea how much my siblings know about it, or even my parents, because the only time I would ever share anything would be on a need-to-know basis in regards to venting and my own personal sanity, which over the course of those five years probably only happened two or three times. And I’m the vocal one.

I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing. For me personally, I think I handle myself relatively well, so I rarely need somebody to talk to. But it does leave this gap in what should really be basic knowledge. It’s as though I’ve been practicing fetching water from a well a mile away when there’s one a hundred feet away. I’ve been doing it the long way for so long that the knowledge of the closer well doesn’t even bother me.

Note: That analogy is awful because it implies that I’m being illogical and inefficient, which is very much not me. However, I will do the efficient thing in this circumstance and not waste time thinking of a better one. So there.


Me — Why I Want to Be a Writer

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. And I don’t mean surface level stuff of “I want to be famous and published worldwide and pretty much the next J. K. Rowling”. First off, I really don’t want that. I don’t want to me “famous”. Ideally, I want to be known well enough that the average person may or may not have heard of my book series, but probably can’t think of my name off the top of their head, and especially doesn’t know what I look like.  Christopher Paolini is a good example. Most people know what Eragon is, but far fewer know the writer or anything about him. I want to be there, but maybe even a rung or too less successful. I want enough money to live comfortably, but I definitely am not aiming for the stars here.

But that’s not why I want to be a writer. Minor amounts of fame and comfortable lives can be achieved through hundreds of different professions. Hundreds of different creative-based professions, even. So why a writer?

Until recently, I’d have told you I want to tell stories about things that can’t happen in the real world. I don’t have an awe inspiring message I need to tell the masses, I just want to tell cool stories.

I think that’s part of it, but in the end that pretty much only explains why I write sci-fi/fantasy, not why I write as a whole.

I’m going to backtrack a minute, because I’m going to tell this story how it happened chronologically in my head. I had been wrestling with those ideas for a while, and at some point I came to something I considered a tangent. A footnote to this entire idea.

When I was in junior and senior year of high school, I was struggling with a lot of negative emotions. All day I would imagine a grim reaper following me around and getting revenge on people I didn’t like. I fantasized about this powerful being of death that could let me use my anger and frustration to get back at people. This was a person. A character. Her name was Cyntheras, and while she lived in my head, she was just visiting, because her true home was my first original universe, Nacre Then.

I would doodle tiny drawings of her (because if I work small it’s easier not to hate the art), in lots of classes, depicting her in powerful poses, and always with a giant scythe, which was her weapon of choice.

To me, she was just a neat idea for a character. I intended her to be an antagonist in one of the books in the Sorik series I never actually got further than a chapter or two in. She wasn’t mean, exactly, but she was a sadist, and she loved nothing more than to serve her dark god. Usually, that meant violence. And she was so good at it, that where she came from her name was synonymous with death.

Then, years after high school, I wrote a short story told in her perspective: “A Day of Reckoning“. It was the first time she had ever come to life outside of tiny drawings and short conversations with friends. I got to be ruthless. I got to revel in the power at my command. But most of all, I got to hurt people in my own harmless little way.

I liked the story. It came out well because of how dark it is. To this day it’s probably my most brutal piece. And in a way, it was my way of ending Cyntheras’ vacation in my head and returning her to where she belonged. I loved being evil, and now I don’t feel the need to think that way anymore.

It was in this thought that I realized. Once I wrote her story, she left my head. Left my thoughts. I realized that, at any given point in time, there’s almost always a person renting a space in my head. they invade my thoughts and my personality. Sometimes it’s a good thing. Other times, it’s not. Writing about them is just my way of evicting them.

My characters are different versions of me. Some are more me than others, but in writing their stories, I stop being me for a while. I get to explore possibilities and manifest things that are either not socially acceptable or not physically possible. I simply enjoy becoming different people for a while, which sort of explains why I find characters most like me harder to enjoy writing about.

This also explains why I like acting, and Dungeons & Dragons. I love just taking time to not be me. Cyntheras isn’t like me. She thrives on hurting people and lives only to serve her god. But I could fulfill myself in that through her, I could take action without fear of consequence. Maelys isn’t like me. He doesn’t take the time to question what’s happening around him, he just lets things happen unless he’s forced to react. But through him, I could explore, experience wonder, and adventure without having to worry about responsibilities. Lisa Stenton isn’t like me. She’s sassy and insecure and doesn’t even know what she should be doing with her life. But her stories allow me to have fun despite roadblocks and hardships.

None of my characters are me. But, in a way, they’re all me. I always jump at the opportunity to step out of my own shoes for a while, so with that in mind I suppose it was only a matter of time before I got into acting and broke out of my shell. I’m still introverted yes, but it doesn’t stop me from taking vacations from my own head.

That said, Cyntheras’ mind is a very different place. It can be fun for a while, but I don’t recommend staying there for long. For one, it’s crowded. I guess that sort of happens when you hear voices.

Also, I don’t want to be a writer. I am a writer. But I’m not a writer because of the prestige that the title may or may not get me. I’m just a writer because it’s the easiest way to write evictions for the many people that come and go from the very cramped space that is my head.

Me — Kindness Towards Strangers

I was driving around the other day. One of the two days we had rain in the last several months. I had just gotten gas, and was on my way to a friend’s house when I noticed a girl using her backpack as an umbrella as she walked down the street. The high school had just gotten out of class, and I imagine she was probably walking home.

This situation upset me a bit, because as a person, I’d have liked to stop and give her a ride home. I wasn’t in a hurry, and her walk seemed rather unpleasant. But society has taught both me and that girl that that is inappropriate. I could not be kind simply because it would have put me in a position of power, and were I a worse person, something bad could have happened. There was nothing I would have been able to do to help her outside of driving to the store, buying her an umbrella, and bringing it to her.

The worst part is, if I had pulled over and managed to convince her I was trustworthy, the conclusion to draw from that would be that she is too trusting a person. Sure, I would have just driven her home (or wherever she was going) and been about my way, but wouldn’t that give her the impression that the world is a better place than it actually is? If the person pulling over to help her was anyone other than me, whom I would claim to know somewhat well, I would advise against getting in the car. So if I had helped her, and everything went well, I would only teach her that it’s okay to do that, when it’s not, because any time you put yourself at the mercy of a stranger is an extremely dangerous risk.

I think the takeaway here that our society (at least where I live) is very distrusting of strangers, and in some ways that’s a good thing. But in this case, it means that kindness cannot take the simplest, most direct route. It’s a shame, but it’s probably better this way. I imagine any times and places where this situation would be innocuous would also end up getting a lot of people hurt.

Obviously, I’ll say that kindness is something our world could use more of, but I think that statement will always be applicable. We simply have to find appropriate ways of doing it that don’t teach strangers the wrong lessons. Also, another thing people don’t seem to realize about helping strangers is that it makes one feel better about oneself. This is another can of worms, but I don’t believe in altruism. I think people do selfless acts because it allows them to feel better about themselves. At least, I know that’s why I do nice things.

So maybe helping people shouldn’t primarily be about forcing other people to trust you in order to prove your intentions are virtuous. Maybe we should focus on doing little things that allow both parties to walk away happier.

Me — Being Overly Critical

One of my biggest strengths and weaknesses is that I’m always critical of everything. I have to look at everything and understand everything about it, and it frustrates me when there’s something I don’t know and can’t even guess. When I’m watching a movie or TV show, I’m actively listening to the soundtrack. I’m imagining the script being written and the actors saying these lines and whether or not I think things were executed as well as they could have been. If there’s something I don’t like about the movie, I point to the clear flaws and try to find a general, concluding statement as to what was ‘bad’ about the movie.

Now, I actually really like this about me. It helps me understand a lot about things and lets me look at things on a deeper level than just mindlessly doing something because its fun. But the worst part about it is that I can’t turn this off, even when I try. When I see a flaw in a videogame I’m playing, I can’t help but notice it more and more, and in some situations it inevitably makes me enjoy whatever the thing is less. I’ve recently developed a nasty habit of talking during movies and stuff to make quips or point out certain things. I used to only do that if everybody had already seen the movie, so it worries me a little that I have such a strong desire to be funny around other people that I can’t keep my mouth shut when I should.

Unfortunately, this feature/flaw also applies to people. I could count on one hand the number of voluntary friendships I’ve had that lasted longer than three years. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying a deeper or simpler issue here, but I largely blame it on the fact that after a certain amount of time (ranging from a few weeks to about two years) of being around somebody, I start to pick out things that I don’t like about them, even if its personality traits that they can’t help, like somebody’s laugh, or their sense of humor, or their tendency to bring up certain topics too often. Many of the friendships that have lasted over a longer period of time have been the lucky few whom I’ve never found flaws for or whose flaws I’ve fortunately learned to accept.

It is entirely unfair to dislike somebody simply because of how they laugh, which has lead me to this love/hate relationship I have with this particular quirk. Once I find this flaw I can’t help but notice it more often, and it can unconsciously make me want to spend less and less time with them.

I am thankful that many of the people I’m closest to tend to grow an immunity to this effect. It’s only people that are in the ‘friend to close friend’ zone that are in danger.

In the end, though, I do consider this part of my personality to be a virtue. I just hope I can learn to reign it back as time goes on.

P.S. This is also something I don’t like telling people. When I do, the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is “What’s my flaw?” or “What’s X person’s flaw?” and it is never a good idea to answer that question. Could you imagine telling somebody you hate the way they laugh and making them insecure about it the rest of their life? With self-esteem as fragile as it is, it’s often best not to touch it unless you’re building it up.