You’ve probably been hearing a lot about Dungeons & Dragons and Critical Role lately, and with good reason: We’re currently in a sort of renaissance for tabletop RPGs, with live stream shows leading the charge to make these games feel accessible and exciting. Critical Role has blazed a trail over the last seven years, adapting their live stream home game into everything from a podcast to graphic novels to a new animated version of their first campaign, The Legend of Vox Machina, premiering January 28th on Amazon Prime. If you’re new to live-watching D&D games (or to D&D in general), then welcome! You have so much awesome content awaiting you…
Critical Role isn’t the only game in town, though it’s quite possibly the biggest. There is a flourishing world of tabletop RPG games that you can join in and follow, and tonally they run the gamut from slapstick comedy to tense drama and terrifying horror. Plus, if you’re new to tabletop RPGs and D&D in general, watching a live stream is a great way to start learning the rules so you can start a campaign of your very own. What better way to learn the ropes than watching some of the best DMs out there–folks like Matt Mercer, Johnny Chiodini, Brennan Lee Mulligan, and Aabria Iyengar?
Personally, watching tabletop RPG live streams has helped keep me going over the past few years, and I’ve watched hundreds of hours of Critical Role and other shows. They’re not solely a visual medium, so you can have them playing in the background or treat them like podcasts or audiobooks. The stories tend to be unique and engaging, with each DM acting as master storyteller guiding a group of passionate players, all ready to embody their characters as fully as they can. Many of the people involved in these shows come from voice acting backgrounds, so the vocal performances are always top-notch. The experience is so much different than watching a television series–nothing is scripted, and huge, life-or-death decisions come down to a roll of the dice.
So, if you’re all caught up on Critical Role and ready to give a different show a try, or simply curious about live streams, but aren’t sure where to start, then you’re in luck! Roll for initiative, read on, and prepare to be ensorcelled by these other D&D live stream shows and podcasts!
The Oxventure Guild
This D&D game was started by two video game review channels, OutsideXbox and OutsideXtra. Their DM, the absolutely incredible Johnny Chiodini, suggested they branch out from playing video games and try a tabletop RPG instead. That initial idea has blossomed into one of the most charming and hilarious D&D live stream shows out there right now. The Oxventurers play fast and loose with the rules, intent on telling the funniest and most absurd story they can, with a cast of characters that will live in your head rent-free long even after you’re done watching. How can you go wrong with a shameless pirate rogue, a delightfully dim half-orc bard who plays a double necked ukulele, or a well-meaning wood-elf druid who accidentally creates something called “Merilwen’s Meatgrider”? If you love Critical Role, The Oxventure Guild should be the next show on your list. It’s one of my personal favorites.
Where to find: Youtube
This live stream channel is home to multiple unrelated campaigns, so there’s something for everyone. There’s the hilarious Fantasy High campaign where the players are magical teenagers, Escape from the Bloodkeep, a Lord of the Rings parody where everyone plays as orcs and demons, and A Crown of Candy, which takes place in a Candyland-esque world. The single best campaign, in my opinion, is The Unsleeping City. It’s a D&D campaign that takes place in modern-day New York City, using D&D game mechanics to explain everything from weird bodegas and bizarre Broadway plays to the nefarious background of SantaCon. The players include everything from a NYC firefighter and a Staten Island hairdresser to a literal subway rat. It’s an incredibly well-done and heartfelt love letter to New York City. The plot is wildly inventive and the DM, Brennan Lee Mulligan, is an unhinged delight to watch. If dragons and elves aren’t necessarily your thing, then The Unsleeping City should be right up your alley.
Where to find: Youtube and the Dropout streaming service (formerly CollegeHumor)
The Adventure Zone
The Adventure Zone podcast (known simply as TAZ to it’s loyal fan base) is the brainchild of those loveable scamps the McElroy brothers (and their Dad). What started as an experiment on their incredibly successful My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast has now become a juggernaut in its own right, with four campaigns under its belt already. I suggest starting at the beginning, with the beloved Balance Arc. It sets the tone for the whole show and features Griffin McElroy playing the long-suffering DM enduring his brothers’ nonsense. The Balance Arc is an irreverent, fast-paced campaign that treats the classic D&D rules as more of a suggestion, but makes up for it with heart and humor. It also stars what are possibly their most memorable characters; Merle Highchurch, Magnus Burnsides, and the frankly iconic Taako. What began as kind of a joke quickly turned into an epic adventure that might move you to tears even while you’re laughing your head off. It’s an unmissable show, and well worth a listen.
Where to find: Wherever you get your podcasts
The Black Dice Society
Comedy is all well and good, but maybe you’re in the mood for something a little more creepy? Have I got just the live stream for you! The Black Dice Society is a campaign that takes place in the gothic Ravenloft campaign setting. It’s dark, spooky, and horrifying. Ravenloft is the D&D realm dedicated to the eerie and monstrous, home to vampires, werewolves, and mad scientists. The campaign is helmed by the fantastic B. Dave Walters, who leads the terrifying proceedings with a level of gravitas that wouldn’t be out of place in a Shakesperian production. The cast features a rogues’ gallery of hunted, haunted, cursed, and mysterious characters just trying to make it out alive (or at least, still undead). If you like your D&D dark and scary, then break out the garlic and wooden stakes before you tune in to this wonderfully dread-drenched show.
Where to find: Youtube
What If D&D Isn’t Your Thing?
Live streaming tabletop RPGs aren’t limited to D&D only–there are lots of great shows that use other game systems! L.A. By Night is a dramatic, gothic live stream using Vampire: The Masquerade as its rule set. It’s a dark, bloody affair that pits vampires against each other as they try to survive and thrive in a weird, nighttime version of Los Angeles. If science fiction is more your scene, there is the wonderful Into The Mother Lands, with a story that is part Star Trek and part Black Panther, created by people of color, both in terms of its designers and cast. It’s a fabulous Afrofuturist adventure, and it’s honestly one of the coolest RPG systems I’ve seen in a long time, as well. If you like watching old favorites try new things, the lovely Oxventurer Guild has a fantastic Blades in the Dark side campaign that’s basically just a Victorian crime simulator. The team must battle ghosts and rival gangs if they have any hope of not ending up in prison (or worse). Critical Role itself has even dabbled in Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands, and Honey Heist games. Tabletop RPG live streaming is a small world, and if you find yourself really enjoying a specific actor or DM, a quick Google search often brings up other awesome shows they’ve been involved with.
You can’t go wrong with any of the shows above, and I hope you find a new favorite somewhere in the mix. And if watching some live streams motivates you to grab a Player’s Handbook and try the game out for yourself, even better! May the dice roll ever in your favor, and may your favorite character survive until the end of the campaign!
Meghan Ball is a writer, editor, and goth disaster. She enjoys playing guitar, doing cross stitch, and spending way too much time on Twitter. You can find her there at @EldritchGirl. Her work has appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Tor Nightfire, and the 3,2,1… Action! series of roleplaying games. She currently lives in a weird part of New Jersey.