Here’s what it’s like to have a nerd world dream job: building games for the Critical Role empire

3 weeks ago
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There are plenty of fun gigs in nerd world. But if you’re a Critical Role fan, building games for their gaming empire probably ranks right up there in your list of dream jobs.The people with these jobs are Spenser Starke and Rowan Hall, who help craft the worlds and games in which Critical Role’s famous faces play and make magic.Starke and Hall are credited as lead game designers and writers on the 211-page “Candela Obscura” core rulebook. Released by Critical Role’s publishing arm, Darrington Press, this is the handbook for anyone who wants to get into Critical Role’s gothic horror game.For those who wonder how it’s possible to make a living from making board games, Starke and Hall’s skills have a valuable niche at Critical Role. The company, co-founded by the eight main cast members of the “Dungeons & Dragons” live show of the same name, is a growing gaming empire in its own right — one that Amazon bet on after a record-breaking $11.3 million Kickstarter run.Hall and Starke also work on Daggerheart, another Critical Role game currently in open beta.Outside CR, Starke is an award-winning game-maker whose work has been optioned by Paramount Studios, while Hall hosts a history and mythology podcast.Starke and Hall worked on “Candela Obscura” for around 11 months, conceptualizing the mechanics, writing lore, and testing it extensively.Building on the Illuminated Worlds System, a six-sided, dice-based gaming system developed for CR, the duo fleshed out a game where investigators seek out dark secrets while navigating the horrors of a turn-of-the-century, war-ravaged society called the Fairelands.Starke said Hall joined him several months into the project to help write the lore while he focused on getting the game mechanics to a point where they “could be solid for the show.””I came in the first day with this stack of mythology textbooks. I was ready to go,” Hall told BI. “Every day, we just worked together and bounced back and forth.”Starke told BI that the rulebook released in November 2023 might be more than 200 pages long, but it is intended to be easy to grasp. Game masters can use the mechanics as a scaffold for inventive games in one’s own play space instead of memorizing lore about an entire metropolis.Through the game development process, both designers also worked with the cofounders — all professional voice actors who’ve played “D&D” on Twitch for nearly a decade — to play test and break the game.To add to the pressure, they had the unique experience of having a Critical Role live play version of “Candela Obscura” — run by cofounder and the show’s regular game master Matthew Mercer — air while they were still working out the mechanics.Starke later got his turn in the game master chair for the second season of “Candela Obscura,” which aired in August 2023.”The first season was airing while we were still writing the game,” Starke told BI. “And so Matt rolled with a lot of punches as we were like, ‘OK, this mechanic changed three minutes ago.’ So we were testing the game as we were playing it.'”BI was speaking to Hall and Starke while the “Circle of the Crimson Mirror” — main cast member Liam O’Brien’s turn at being game master — was dropping on Twitch.”Liam’s the best. I teased him the other day, saying, ‘You’re the best student ever.’ Because he came in and knew this book back to front, he had all of these intense, engaging, and fun questions, and I got to be his lore keeper while he was researching,” Hall said.While people might not see that much of Starke or Hall on Critical Role’s shows or the company’s Beacon streaming platform, that may soon change.Starke is the game master for Critical Role’s first “Candela Obscura” live show, which will be held on May 25 at The United Theater on Broadway in Los Angeles.”I miss being able to walk around the table when we used to play at home,” Mercer said during a May 21 fireside chat on Beacon. “And I think this game of Candela, this live show, I will be able to do that with the rest of the players — which will be kind of exciting,”…Read more by Cheryl Teh

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