Today’s comic is not about anime. It’s about Matt Mercer. Bear with me on this one.

Role-playing games are one whole hell of a lot more visible than they used to be. With the rise of podcasts like The Glass Cannon, Adventure Zone, and  Acquisitions Incorporated, it’s possible to experience an entire campaign without ever picking up a d20. This is, by and large, a good thing. Watching game masters like Chris Perkins pilot a group of murderhobos through the lands of adventure is instructive. For that matter, watching anybody run a game is instructive. Acquiring the good habits and innovative techniques of other gamers is one of the fastest ways to improve your own. However, there is one thing you should not do (and here comes THE POINT, kids!). You should not expect the rest of the world to be Matt Mercer.

When you’ve got billboards in LA and over 100K people tuning in to your season premier, you know that you’ve got somethings special. Critical Role is a hugely influential show. An entire generation of gamers is streaming on Twitch, listening and watching and picking up the style. The professional voice actors that make up the cast are genuinely entertaining people, improvising lyrics for bardic inspiration and maintaining convincing accents from start to finish. Mercer’s willingness to bend game rules at the service of story is an important example for any starting GM, and the worldbuilding at play is some of the most impressive I’ve seen on any tabletop. These are good things to watch and emulate. However, they should not be the standard you apply to all of your own games.

Lately, I’ve begun to see a disturbing litany of complaints on message boards across the web. My GM won’t give me my bardic inspiration dice because I didn’t make up a song like Scanlan. One of my fellow PCs is ripping off the Tyberius Stormwind voice, and now I’m getting shit on for not doing an accent. My players expect me to have a fully fleshed out fantasy world “more like Matt’s.” This is my first campaign! As a longtime gamer I’ll find myself sitting there and shaking my head in dismay. The fact is that it’s not fair to watch professional entertainers and then compare your buddies. You aren’t going to get the New York Yankees at the local sandlot. Your student film is probably not going to be Infinity War. 

It goes deeper than that though. Different GMs have different styles, and there are plenty of good games out there that look nothing like Mercer’s. Sandbox play, zero level character funnels, adventure paths, and West Marches style games can all be a blast. If you hold them all to the standard of “it ought to be just like my favorite podcast,” you wind up missing out on cool experiences. While there’s nothing wrong with having preferences, I also think there’s such a thing as unrealistic expectations.

What about the rest of you guys? Have you encountered this issue out in the wild? Have you ever met a gamer that wanted your campaign to look more like a favorite podcast? What about complaints that your game wasn’t quite like another GM’s? Let’s hear it in the comments!

UPDATE: The Handbook is heading out for Free Comic Book Day!

We’ve got a table at our FLGS, Olympus Games and Comics in Cheyenne! Both the writer & illustrator of this here Handbook of Heroes will be there on Saturday, May 5th from 10 AM – 5 PM. We’re always down to talk shop in person, and we’d love to meet any and all of you guys out there in meat space.

So come on down! Win some free merch! We’ll sign your favorite d20!