Fans of Dungeons & Dragons will want to be at the Rio Theatre on April 26.
That’s when the Critical Hit Show, which has been running intermittently at the Rio for over a decade now, will have its next show, combining table-top role playing games (TTRPGs) with improv to make for a truly magical night.
Eric Fell, the show’s creator, game master, and spokesperson, said in a phone interview with the Straight that it all got started when he walked by a gaming store in Surrey back in 2011. He had been flipping through a Dungeon Master’s book when he saw a page that spoke to the improv aspect of the game.
“I thought, ‘Oh, hang on. I bet that's gonna make a good comedy show.’” So he ended up getting the people at the gaming store to teach him how to play, wrangled a few comedy friends together, and “next thing we know, we're at the Rio Theatre doing what we thought was one show and one show only.” That was nearly 12 years ago.
Fell takes an episodic approach to his game in order for the same characters and world to be able to exist for so long. He doesn’t level up the characters, and there’s an ongoing bit where the wizard is constantly trying to get some character development, to no avail.
They don’t, actually, even play D&D. Instead, they use a variant called 13th Age, which was created after a few designers of D&D’s third and fourth editions got together to make something a little different. Fell says that the rules work better for the kind of game he plays.
“It requires, I would say, less of a learning curve. It is a lot of fun. But, you're still rolling your dice, you're killing your monsters.”
The lower learning curve is important, because there are occasions during the Critical Hit Show where audience members—be they TTRPG gods or complete amateurs—are pulled up onto the stage to participate. One of the Critical Hit Show’s core members, Ellen MacNevin, started off as an audience member. She eventually became the party’s unpaid intern, and worked her way up to being a full party member.
“I literally met her on stage. And, you know, now I'm like, Ellen, come to my wedding. So that's actually how we found a cast member,” says Fell. “That wasn't meant to be the case, but that's absolutely hilarious that she started off as an unpaid intern, and then landed the job.”
It helps, too, that the fans of the Critical Hit Show are what Fell describes as the best in Vancouver.
“The hill that I will die on is that the Critical Hit Show has the best audience in the city. They’re just so nice. Sometimes I’ll show up with bags and boxes and things, and the people lined up out the door will ask ‘do you need a hand with that?’ or they’ll give us [fan] art of us. One year, a bunch of people dressed up as us for Halloween,” he says, baffled. “There is someone dressed as me for Halloween, and she even dyed her hair.”
Fell notes that the collaborative aspect of the game is likely where much of the magic lies, why the audience is so onboard with the shenanigans that the party finds itself in on the Rio stage year after year, and what makes games like 13th Age and D&D so special.
“It's an excuse for people to hang out with their friends and laugh. It's a sort of communal storytelling activity where we’re all in. We're literally sitting around a table, and taking turns to say ‘and this happens next. And this happens next, this happens next.’ And you're all building something cool, hopefully, together. And I think that is a big part of it.”
The Critical Hit Show’s next show will be at the Rio Theatre on Wednesday, April 26.