He's known for 'trolling' fellow players and viewers, but Critical Role's Sam Riegel says it's not what he sets out to do

Sam Riegel is known for surprising cast members and viewers but admits it's not what he sets out to do.
PHOTO: Instagram/Sam Riegel

For the avid fans of Critical Role, or even those who have watched an episode or two, cast member Sam Riegel is usually the one to keep an eye on and has endeared himself to the Critters (a term to describe Critical Role fans) with his wits and antics.

Over the course of seven years and two Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaigns (with a third currently underway), the 45-year-old American voice actor has become known for pulling the rug out from under his fellow players and the audience.

In the first campaign (a series of continuing storylines and adventures which players journey through with the same character), his gnome bard Scanlan was initially created to be somewhat of a joke character only to turn into an indispensable member of the adventuring party.

He then abruptly left the group only to be replaced by a bumbling rich kid. Don't worry, though, Scanlan eventually comes back.

For his second campaign, he played a goblin rogue, Nott the Brave, who was revealed to be under a curse which changed her physical form and is also a mother and wife. But, here's the actual kicker — Nott the Brave turned out to be an anagram for the character's original name Veth Brenatto.

However, Sam insists that he doesn't set out to surprise or 'troll' with each character that he creates.

In an interview with AsiaOne for Critical Role's spin-off series Exandria Unlimited: Calamity, the Emmy Award-winning director explained: "I genuinely don't set out to create characters with a twist or surprise. My main focus is creating characters that have a journey to go on, especially one that I, Sam Riegel, am unfamiliar with.

"That way the discoveries my characters make will be new to me, too. Of course, I do enjoy surprising my castmates — a little bit of trolling the folks at the table is always fun."

PHOTO: Anna Azarov

Critical Role started out as a roleplaying game between friends and professional voice actors Matthew Mercer (Overwatch), Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us), Marisha Ray (Final Fantasy XV), Taliesin Jaffe (Final Fantasy XIV), Travis Willingham (Marvel's Avengers), Laura Bailey (The Last of Us: Part II), Liam O'Brien (Star Wars: The Bad Batch) and Sam (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

After they started streaming their games on Twitch in 2015, they shot to fame and have evolved into a multimedia empire. It was also revealed in October last year, through a hack on Twitch, that they were the top-earning channel.

Their campaigns are set in the fictional world of Exandria and the spin-off, Exandria Unlimited: Calamity, is a four-part mini series that tells a self-contained story.

While the games are usually led by game master Matt Mercer, this time, Brennan Lee Mulligan (who runs the D&D show Dimension 20) will take the reins.

He will be joined by Critical Role founders Sam, Travis and Marisha, along with Aabria Iyengar (Exandria Unlimited, Dimension 20), Lou Wilson (Jimmy Kimmel Live, Dimension 20), and Luis Carazo (NCIS: Los Angeles, S.W.A.T.).

Most game masters might balk at the idea of taking the seat once occupied by the legendary Matt Mercer, but Brennan was up to the challenge.

Brennan Lee Mulligan is the game master for Exandria Unlimited: Calamity. PHOTO: Michael Schmidt

Matt is regarded among the D&D community as the gold benchmark for game masters, which has caused some unrealistic expectations of game masters and D&D games in general — also known as the Mercer effect.

But clearly that isn't enough to give Brennan pause as he told AsiaOne that there was no hesitation whatsoever to come on the show.

"It was an honour to come and play at that table! The response in the affirmative was as immediate as it was enthusiastic," he said.

Brennan (foreground) with the cast of Exandria Unlimited. From left: Lou, Marisha, Luis, Sam, Aabria and Travis. PHOTO: Michael Schmidt

However, Brennan also revealed that he did a "tremendous amount" of preparation and research before he felt ready to step up to the task. He went through the campaigns, the published lore and the video essays, and sought assistance from Matt himself, along with Dani Carr (lore keeper for Critical Role) and Kyle Shire (producer of Exandria Unlimited: Calamity).

When asked what he was excited to bring to the table as a game master, Brennan said: "The thing I'm most excited to explore is telling a type of story that we don't often get to see in fantasy. For the most part, in myth and legend, the mortals with magic and their eyes on the prize get to win, and this is not that type of story."

Playing one-half of a divorced couple

As for Sam, after playing two complex characters for about nine years collectively — each campaign can take years to complete — what else does he wish to explore in Exandria Unlimited: Calamity?

He replied: "When the cast was talking about Calamity, I tossed out the idea that I've always wanted to play a character whose ex-spouse was in the same adventuring party. And to my delight, Aabria instantly shouted, 'I want to be her!'

"Exploring a divorced couple relationship isn't something you get to see a lot of in fantasy, and I'm excited to see what we can squeeze out of it."

And if you've watched the first two episodes of the series, their chemistry is off the charts.

Sam with Aabria (middle) and Travis. PHOTO: Michael Schmidt

Exandria Unlimited: Calamity airs Thursday evenings at 7pm Pacific Time (Friday mornings at 10am Singapore Time) on Twitch and YouTube.

bryanlim@asiaone.com