A couple years ago, I discovered that people play Dungeons & Dragons online, and stream it to the world. I was first introduced to this by Twitch streamer ItmeJP, and his show, Rollplay. I quickly became obsessed with a couple of the campaigns he had going, and soon I was on the hunt for more streams, more D&D, to watch.
One of my favorite YouTube channels, Geek & Sundry, had quietly started their own D&D broadcast called Critical Role that I wasn’t aware of until I began my hunt for more shows. I was hesitant at first, as I was used to the style of presentation and roleplaying from JP’s shows, so I made a deal with myself to watch the first episode. If I didn’t like it, I’d go find something else to watch.
I began at episode one, and I found myself immediately drawn to the striking redhead with the huge smile and great laugh. After fawning for the first half an hour (ok, it was the whole first episode), I began to pay closer attention to the character interactions. They were not the same as they were on Rollplay, not taking anything from the quality of RP from those players, of course. This show was far more intense, smoother, and seemed almost like an improv play.
I fell in love immediately. I binged every episode there was at the time until I caught up with the live show, around episode 55. I could not stop. And the more I watched, the more I realized that the striking redhead and her character were affecting me far more than I realized.
That redhead is Marisha Ray, a talented voice actor, producer, and currently the creative director for Geek & Sundry. And her character was Keyleth, an awkward half-elf druid with social anxiety and a general naivete about the world.
To understand my kinship with Keyleth, one must know her general backstory. She was the prodigal daughter of the leader of the Air Ashari, destined to become The Voice of the Tempest and lead her people. Sheltered from the outside world for most of her life, Keyleth left her tribe to fulfill her Aramente, the trials and tribulations that would prepare her to become a leader. While on this journey, she met the rest of the crew of Vox Machina, and the rest is history.
Marisha beautifully played Keyleth as the optimistic, yet naive, voice of positivity and reason for the first part of the campaign. Over the course of time, however, Keyleth had to face the fact that the world was far more cruel than anyone ever told her, and spent a great deal of the middle part of the campaign angry at the world, questioning whether saving it was worth the effort. As the campaign drew to a close, Keyleth came to the realization that even though the world was shit, there were still reasons to keep it around. Her personal journey from awkward prodigy to seasoned and wise leader was the result of this enlightenment.
The reasons why Keyleth resonated with me more than the other members of the group was that her journey often reminded me of my own. I grew up the oldest child of three, anointed “the future doctor” by my mother, and grew up to be exactly not that. My parents did the best they could, but because of a rowdy younger brother, I was often left to my own devices, charged with learning things on my own.
I lived a generally sheltered life until my late teens. I never had a car nor a license until I was 19. My first job at 16 was at the grocery store my mom frequented. I never really went places with my friends because it was always embarrassing to rely on my parents for rides.
All of this changed in my late teens. My parents separated, and I lived with my dad while my mom moved out of state. Then the worst possible thing occurred: my father was killed in a car accident. Suddenly, at 19, I was thrust into an adult world I really had no preparation for. My childhood optimism was quickly replaced by anger, frustration, and loneliness. I went into a deep depression, and found myself seeking the safety of my mother’s home. I moved to Florida with her to get some sense of order back into my life.
I figured my depression and anger would subside now that I had my mom around again. However, a seemingly normal Tuesday morning in September found me, my mother, and my aunt watching planes slam into the World Trade Center. Witnessing such a thing only fueled my rage for the world around me even more. I treated my rage and depression by drinking a lot and trying to be anywhere but home, in hopes of getting some much needed life experience.
However, my social anxiety started creeping up around this time. While I did make friends, I had very little in terms of romantic relationships. I drank to have fun, to forget I lived in a horrible world, and to find some semblance of courage to talk to other humans.
At 27, I began to accept the person I was. My anger had led me to atheism, but the more I learned about it, as well as humanism, the more I started to feel again. My dark outlook on life was slowly lifting, and by 30, I had come to accept that the world was screwed up on the whole, but there were parts that need preservation.
I’m now 36. My mind has been opened to so many things. I find fascination in people again, I love to learn, and now thanks to Critical Role, I’ve found a passion for roleplaying and storytelling that I never knew I could have. And seeing one of the characters go through similar things I did helps to get over the anger and despair. I’m still working on it, but each day is brighter than the last.
I will miss Keyleth dearly. She is my spirit animal, no matter what beast shape she may take. Marisha will always have my support in everything she does. I appreciate her emotional, authentic portrayal of the struggles with anger, pessimism, and cynicism about our world. She made me see that there is a world worth saving, and that the effort to make the world better is necessary and effective.
Thanks, Marisha. I can’t wait for the new campaign.