The other Matt Mercer Effect.
Anyone who knows anything about Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition knows the awesome power of Critical Role and Dungeon Master, Matt Mercer. This Actual Play broadcast has brought thousands, maybe closer to a million new players into the D&D game for the first time. Kudos to Matt and his merry cast of voice actors. Love it.
Now, I am guilty of talking trash about Matt Mercer and the effect he is commonly associated with. I have nothing personal against Matt. (We share a birthday oddly enough.) The original Matt Mercer Effect is the notion that new DMs struggle to run a game that compares to Critical Role. New DMs don’t necessarily have a huge repertoire of accents, voices, NPCs, game knowledge, etc the same way Matt Mercer does.
Make no mistake- Matt Mercer is awesome at what he does both in-game and in real life. Aside from being a top notch DM, creating a lush campaign world, developing his own D&D content, starting his own company, and running a world renowned Actual Play, Matt Mercer is a major onboarding engine for the D&D 5E game. That is the other Matt Mercer Effect. He is a magnet for new D&D players.
I admire Matt Mercer and Critical Role.
As I discussed yesterday, many of us in the TTRPG hobby would love to work for a game company and make real money doing what we love. Matt Mercer is definitely living the dream. I admire that. He gets to write, create, and enjoy D&D on a regular basis. We should all be so lucky.
Arguably, Matt and Critical Role would not be where they are today without the Open Game License 1.0a and accompanying System Reference Document from Wizards of the Coast. There are more than one D&D 5E sourcebooks based on Critical Role. Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is a Wizards of the Coast D&D Sourcebook. Likewise, Call of the Netherdeep is a WotC sourcebook.
Here’s where the river of profits parts ways, maybe?
Tal’dorei Reborn, set in Mercer’s Exandria, is an OGL sourcebook, meaning it will be affected in all of the OGL drama that is currently gripping the community. WotC was even a sponsor of Critical Role up until Q3 of 2022. I have not found anything indicating a continued relationship between WotC and Critical Role at this time. I minimum presume Non Disclosure and Non Disparagement Agreements are still in place for Critical Role cast and crew. Such agreements are usually binding for many years. (I’m NOT a lawyer, but it’s my personal experience.)
Critical Role put out a statement in regards to the OGL debacle and the massive fan outrage at WotC. #DnDBeGone and former spokesperson Ginny Di led to a mass cancellation of D&D Beyond subscriptions. D&D Beyond was once the sponsor of Critical Role before everything started changing hands. Wizards of the Coast was the sponsor of Critical Role Season 3.
And now the Tinfoil Hat Society convenes.
Bear in mind I don’t know anyone inside WotC or Critical Role. Everything I say from here on out is speculation and/or conjecture. Please use your own discernment while I attempt to connect the dots.
Critical Role’s statement about the OGL was very neutral as one would expect from people behind NDAs. The language around supporting creators leans toward the fans. The language about diversity, etc leans toward OGL 1.2 a bit more. It’s hard to read, as it should be. Critical Role is trying to make nice with everybody right now. Yay money, right?
Everyone keeps asking if Critical Role is going to abandon D&D either as a result of the OGL turmoil or the (pending) release of One D&D. I think Critical Role is going to back WotC and the new digital platform to the hilt. Wizards of the Coast absolutely needs Matt Mercer and crew almost as much as Critical Role needs a huge corporate sponsor.
Wizards needs a miracle right now if they want to save D&D.
While it is true that Critical Role started out as a Pathfinder Actual Play, the show really caught on as D&D 5E. IF/F WotC wants to pull themselves out of the muck, they’re going to need something like Matt Mercer and/or Critical Role. The show is pretty much a massive endorsement for whatever game they’re playing. There’s no real denying it.
WotC’s image is hurting right now. Their Public Relations people know it. Hasbro’s stock drop showed it. #StoptheSub , #DnDBeGone have proven devastatingly effective. WotC needs a big, shiny, smiling win if they want One D&D and it’s overpriced Unreal Engine microtransactions to survive in 2024. What better way than with the crew that brought so many people into the game? Then again, WotC does seem pretty oblivious to the fans these days…
A LOT of things happened behind NDAs with the OGL 1.1 scandal.
I don’t want to paint Matt Mercer and Co in a bad light. I low key hope I’m wrong about all of this. I’m by no means trying to side with WotC on anything. But I’m looking at this whole situation and thinking, “What would I do if I were WotC?”
We know WotC approached several key content creators and told them what was going on, presumably with OGL 1.1, and asked them to sign NDAs in return for the information. Some went along with it. Others did not. Some of the creators that agreed are obviously still keeping quiet or even still quietly cheerleading for WotC. (Hey, I wouldn’t want to lose my gig being a DM in a castle, either. “Look at Dragonlance. Ain’t it cool?”)
We also know from Kickstarter coming forward after the NDA expired that WotC offered some sweetheart deals or negotiated better terms with some than others. Kinda scummy on WotC’s part, but not unexpected given the circumstances.
What if- Just WHAT IF WotC offered Critical Role one of those sweetheart deals? WotC is a big corporate sponsor offering a better percentage on royalties than they’re willing to give the little guys. All CR had to do was sign the deal with the proverbial devil.
Critical Role was already on board from 5E. Again, not saying anything bad about the CR crew or Matt Mercer. They’re running a business. What would be best for business? Signing on the dotted line or chancing it with some other game knowing full well everything OGL- including Tal’Dorei Reborn- was going to be under fire with the next license agreement? Think about it. What’s safest and most profitable for everyone?
The “new” news.
Obviously the Critical Role cast and crew can’t really come out in favor of another game unless they didn’t sign a deal with WotC or all deals were voided when WotC backed off OGL 1.1 in favor of the OGL 1.2 draft. We won’t know anything until either CR breaks their silence or One D&D goes live sometime in 2024. My guess is CR stayed with Wizards of the Coast.
However, Linda Codega has hinted at a big news drop sometime on 1/24 probably involving the OGL debacle. An interview with Matt Mercer or someone from Critical Role. Could this be the case?
Could CR have signed with WotC and kept it non-exclusive? I’d want to keep my options open in case being WotC’s poster child and veritable pariah in the #TTRPGCommunity didn’t work out. Maybe explore other game systems and back other companies until the company and the cast could get out from under the Reptilian Overlords at Hasbro. We’ve recently learned of Hasbro Initiative 2.0 or some such nonsense where the smelly megacorp is dumping some of their lower producing branches.
I hate to say it, but I guess we’ll see what happens. I wish Matt Mercer and Critical Role all the success in the world. It’s good to see one of us ttrpg nerds hit the big time.
Hey, I could be wrong about everything. It’s just a hypothesis, subject to testing. I’m just a small time blogger with a nose for TTRPGs and kooky conspiracies. Thanks for stopping by. More on this as things develop.