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Critical Role's Liam O'Brien and Laura Bailey tease the big secrets of Campaign 3
The D&D actual-play series Critical Role recently launched its third campaign, and nobody — not even the cast — really knows what to expect.
Starting a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign can be jarring, especially if you’re coming off of one you’ve been playing for years. The cast of Critical Role ended their second campaign as level-16 powerhouses whose exploits were known across the fantasy land of Wildemount. Now, in the third campaign that just started last month, they’re sitting at a measly level three — an entirely different bunch of characters whose journeys are just beginning. They’re not starting from scratch, exactly, but they’re pretty close.
So, does the cast miss the status and power of their old characters, now that they’re embarking on an all-new campaign? Not in the slightest.
“I love low-level stuff. I love being bad at things,” Liam O’Brien, who plays the halfling fighter Orym in Campaign 3, tells SYFY WIRE. He’s been at the top before, playing Vax'ildan the half-elf rogue in Campaign 1 and the gloomy human wizard Caleb Widowgast in Campaign 2. Orym — and Campaign 3 as a whole — will get to those heights again, in time. “I love seeing the road ahead, especially now, when we’ve been doing this together for so long. It’s so good just to let it slowly unfold.”
Orym is one member of the as-yet-unnamed adventuring party in Campaign 3, which is once more DMed by Matt Mercer. He’s joined by the human sorcerer Imogen (Laura Bailey), faun druid Fearne (Ashley Johnson), genasi barbarian Ashton (Taliesin Jaffe), aeormaton cleric Fresh Cut Grass (Sam Riegel), and seemingly undead warlock Laudna (Marisha Ray). Critical Role mainstay Travis Willingham is at the table too, though it looks like his character, a returning face from an old one-shot from the first campagin, just died, so it’s likely he’ll have a new, permanent character, soon. There’s also a new-ish face, as Robbie Daymond, whose genasi bard Dorian appeared alongside Orym and Fearne in the spin-off campaign Exandria Unlimited, has been playing with the usual crew for the first several sessions. Is he a permanent addition to the cast? What’s going on with Travis’ character? Will Campaign 3 be radically different than what fans are used to?
Well, just as Orym and his companions will level up in due time, so too will viewers discover what’s in store for Campaign 3.
“Marisha has been saying all bets are off this entire time, and that really is the case,” O’Brien says with a laugh. “Nothing is set in stone. Anything is possible.”
The cast isn’t spoiling anything, and it’s unclear if they even could. For the sake of gameplay, the story, and their own enjoyment, they try to stay as much in the dark as they can while playing. They don’t know much about each other’s characters before they sit down at the table for the first time, and their knowledge to the world they’re in only extends as far as what Mercer, the DM, has already decided their character would know. They’re serious about this. Speaking to SYFY WIRE, Bailey said she didn’t watch the spin-off campaign because her character, Imogen, certainly wasn’t firing up Twitch on Thursday nights.
“We knew that it was going to be Liam and Ashley and Robbie coming in from EXU, so I watched the first couple episodes of EXU and then stopped, because I didn’t want to learn too much about their characters,” Bailey explains. “I didn’t want to come at it from a place of knowledge that I wouldn’t have as Imogen. It’s all new to me too.”
If you as a viewer are confused about how, say, the homebrewed subclass Jaffe is using for Ashton works, so is everybody else except for Jaffe and Mercer. They’re going into these things kind of blind and are excited to learn what their party members can really do as the series organically progresses.
There is one exception, though. As a member of the Air Ashari, who guards the portal to the elemental plane of Air, Orym’s backstory has connections to Keyleth, the headmaster of the Air Ashari and Ray’s character from the first campaign.
“Marisha knows pretty much everything for my character, but that’s because I didn’t want to steamroll over any ideas she has about Kyleth from the past,” O’Brien says. “Orym has story connections to her, it’s not going to be overwhelming to his story, I don’t think, but I definitely wanted to stay in my lane so I checked a lot of stuff with her.”
Orym is a different sort of character than O’Brien’s two previous characters. Critical Role doesn’t really use alignment, officially, but O’Brien says Orym is probably the closest to “Lawful Good” he’s ever played. He’s the group’s straight man, seemingly poised to be a leader but he still views himself as more of a dutiful follower and protector. O’Brien says he’s been thinking of Orym as a potential character since at least the end of Campaign 1. This being D&D, there’s surely more to him than meets the eye, but at the star, O’Brien said it was a refreshing change of pace to have his character be something closer to a normal guy.
“In Campaign 2, the Caleb stuff was so involved that I wanted a character who wasn’t going to be deeply entrenched in hard stuff right from the get-go,” he says. “I’m sure we’re going to be facing gods or fate or justice or whatever it is, so great things will happen to him, but I wanted him to be really centered and in a good place when he started and see what would happen.
Imogen, Bailey’s character, is quite different from Jester, the quirky, lovably chaotic tiefling cleric she played in Campaign 2. (“Having to be reserved and thoughtful again is really difficult.”) She describes Imogen as “an attentive, small-town girl who is exploring her newfound capabilities and trying to find a way to overcome the overwhelming nature of those powers.”
Rules-wise, Imogen is an aberrant mind sorcerer, and though we’ve yet to learn the exact nature of her powers, they give her the ability to read peoples’ thoughts. Mechanically, Bailey and Mercer have actually homebrewed a way to build that into the game. She can use her powers and read many minds at once, but if she fails a wisdom saving throw, she’ll pay for it.
“I wanted her to have this constant barrage of peoples’ thoughts,” Bailey explains. “The way Matt has worked it out with me is that she has this ability all the time and she’s suppressing it. There’s the Detect Thoughts spell, but then there’s also her ability called Open Mind, where I’ll be able to try to take down that wall for a second and use the ability, but if it goes poorly, it all comes flooding in.”
It’s not too dissimilar from a mechanic O’Brien used with Caleb, his last character, who could suffer from PTSD after killing an enemy with a fire spell.
“I think all of us love, we all realize that good stories have people overcoming problems,” O’Brien says. “So, Caleb’s thing and now Imogen’s thing, which I loved the moment I saw it, is us liking to build stuff in so we can grow.”
Growth and potential really are ethos for the start of this campaign. It’ll take a few episodes before everybody at the table fully grows into their character and is comfortable with their fellow player’s characters — and it might take some time for fans to get used to Campaign 3. Both Bailey and O’Brien are confident, though, that as long as they’re having fun at the table, they’ll create something fans will love.
“For us, we’re really just trying to have fun and trying to explore and tell stories. That’s always been enough for us. It’s the mentality that, if we are enjoying ourselves and if we are telling a story that we find creative and rewarding, we hope people will like it,” O’Brien says. “And, so far, they have. We’re definitely not like ‘How can we focus test this and what will people like? Will they like tieflings? Will they like clerics?’ We’re just trying to relish the stories we’re telling and that’s served us really well.”
O’Brien ends the interview with one final tease for what to expect as Campaign 3 continues.
“I will say, the group is feeling punchy,” he says with a laugh. “It might be a little weirder. That’s just the vibe I get.”
New episodes of Critical Role air on Twitch on Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern, and are available on YouTube on the following Monday and as a podcast the following Thursday.