It’s Pietsch, though, who gets at the root of the show’s appeal. Something she enjoyed about the early storylines, she says, is that “you could really hear the players… getting comfortable with their characters, each other, the format…” Rather than rapidly evolving the cast into their most confident selves, she was careful to depict this evolving dynamic while adapting the story with the McElroys. Another common refrain when it comes to actual play is that a show “gets better” after a certain number of episodes, or that starting several episodes in is recommended. But Pietsch understood that “the teamwork that it took… to get to that place where [the cast] are all comfortable with each other” is the actual play secret ingredient. Rather than accuracy of content, pacing is what makes or breaks the story.
Time is a powerful storytelling tool. Magical girl shows like “Sailor Moon” utilize repetition and year-long runtimes to depict the cast’s slow maturation from girls into young women. Fantasy series like “The Wheel of Time” engender deep attachment in their readers, even when the text itself is so threadbare it barely holds up to scrutiny without reader buy-in. Similarly, actual play captures over many hours the process by which ordinary people become increasingly confident in their shared roles. Series like “Critical Role” could be said to represent the final evolution of the fantasy genre, following in the footsteps of novels like “Dragonlance” and “Record of Lodoss War” derived from tabletop campaigns. After all, says Dia Lacina in her review of the video game “Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth,” “the adaptation of an adaptation of a transcript built of poorly veiled stolen IP is the beating heart of ALL fantasy.”