Critical Role does PbtA?

I find the phenomenon of streaming roleplaying games in the public media absolutely fascinating. As someone who grew up in a time where one didn’t even admit to playing RPGs lest you get beat up after school, the “popular kids playing D&D” phenomenon is nothing short of head-scratching. What a time!

Given the popularity of PbtA based games on this forum, I thought people might be curious to know that the Critical Role cast will soon be playing a game of Monsterhearts. This is an interesting development, and I wonder how they will handle it, since much of the PbtA philosophy and design is somewhat at odds with their usual playstyle. It will be fun to see the results!

What are your thoughts on this topic?


Regardless of how accurately they play the game to any one person’s personal interpretation, it will be phenomenal exposure to people that games other than DnD exist. My prediction is that a lot of media exists around watching plays of DnD because of the (mostly accurate) perception that learning the game is not worth the effort; and thus showcasing a much easier system to learn will bring a lot of new players into the hobby.


Critical Role has a (somewhat small) history of dabbling in other systems and Mercer especially is (relatively) vocal about systems outside of D&D. That’s just where they bring in the big bucks.
I would honestly be shocked if they butchered the system. Given their backgrounds as voice actors, they’ll likely shine with a PbtA system since their roleplaying (Mercer included) is really the strength of Critical Role.


Well put, @Radmad. I agree with that! Excellent points. Especially about the perception of D&D (whether justly or unjustly; I fall into the “justly” camp, myself, being an experienced gamer with a good ability to understand and learn rules, and still finding it rather heavy/intense - struggling to play 5th Edition).

@darren, I agree with that, too! I’m just curious if they will play the game in a different style, or do their usual thing with it. A lot of groups don’t adjust their playstyle at all for different games, and I’m curious to see to what extent this lot will or will not do so. I will definitely watch!


This is a really exciting announcement! Critical role really exploded D&D.

Just last week. I walked by coworkers at lunch in my company talking about D&D. In 20 years, my only talks about rpgs at work were in quiet tones with no more than 2 guys. Here was middle aged nurses and accountants and study managers talking about D&D with nothing but curiosity!
If they knew the kinds of game that are out there!

I think Critical Role could really break through again. I love to think of them showing that there are simpler rpgs that help the story rather than slow it down!


They’ve played quite a few other games that are not D&D, and they have a particular love for “Honey Heist”, so I don’t think the fact that they like 5e will be a major problem. Lots of people like trad games AND other things, for sure.


The video is now up on Twitch (which I don’t have access to). I hope they will eventually upload it to YouTube, as they do with the Critical Role campaign. If anyone does have a Twitch membership and watches it, let us know what you think!

Meanwhile, they made a nice little intro video explaining the game:

I twitched a little when he referred to the rolls as “skill checks”, but, other than that, it’s a fantastic introduction to the Monsterhearts rules. I like that they cover Conditions (and with great examples!) but don’t talk about Harm, for example. (Although it’s interesting that they don’t touch on the Sex Moves* at all.)

*: I still feel this is a terrible name for this rule, and a poor decision. For someone not familiar with PbtA games and terminology, saying “this game has Sex Moves” immediately turns them off and sounds creepy, to the point they will never want to go anywhere near Monsterhearts (I’ve seen this several times in conversations!). Vincent Baker did NOT use that term in Apocalypse World, where the “sex move” is called the character’s “SPECIAL”, which is far better (while also leaving room to create SPECIAL intimacy moves which are about things other than sex, if that’s what the game, a hack, or a new playbook needs).


They will add it! Sometime next week. I watched it live and it…isn’t bad lol You can definitely see the hiccups of moving from D&D5e to PbtA happening. Engaging characters, though, and I laughed a lot.

I disagree about naming the moves sex moves. Monsterhearts is concerned with a sensationalized version of adolescence and coming of age. Like the skins are not just monster templates, but traumas interpreted as monstrosities that can inhabit people and teens (have to) discover. Pairing that with discovering and expressing sexuality — which is an important part of adolescence — heightens the narrative to that high drama the game is emulating. The mechanics support all of this by mechanizing social power, so sex takes on two meanings (which we see in teen dramas): a high point in the drama and a mundane method of control. It also directly calls out the importance of sex, both actually in the world for teens and as a trope in the teen drama.
Super importantly, though, 2e (I don’t think the first edition has this) has a section on asexuality and how that impacts the rules for your character.

I think that’s still a fair warning, though, if someone doesn’t want to deal with sex in a game. But if you’re coming to the table to play Monsterhearts, you should be ready to deal with sex and sexuality and having Sex Moves marks how important that is in the narrative.


@darren, I’m glad to hear that! I’m curious to check it out, and even more curious to see how they attempt to adapt their playstyle to this very different game. Any particular hiccups you think might be worth discussing?

As for “sex moves”, I have no objection to the word “sex”, but I do object to the word “moves”.

My experience has been that people who are familiar with the meaning of “moves” in the PbtA sense - special rules which apply to fictional situations - understand this intuitively, and it’s no trouble.

But whenever people who are NOT familiar with this hear the term “sex moves”, they assume that it’s… well, what you would think. (Just try saying that to your mother or your boss or whatever other “muggle” of your choice…)

It sounds like the game has special rules for “stuff you do while you’re having sex”, which, particularly in the RPG world, doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation. To a normal person, it’s “Yeah, dude, then I totally did my sex move on her!”, which doesn’t exactly sound appealing to most grownups (although, to be fair, it might be totally fitting for a horny teenager!), and to a gamer it recalls FATAL or a game like that, which has rules and mechanics for all kinds of disturbing bedroom stuff (e.g.

Neither of these is exactly a selling point.

In every single case I’ve ever seen, as soon as that term comes up (again, to someone with no context for the very specific use of the word “move” in PbtA games), the person scrunches up their nose and says, “Ew! Well, I’m never playing THAT game.”

And I can’t blame them.

But Monsterhearts is one of my favourite RPGs of all time, so this makes me sad.


I’m looking forward to them introducing safety tools to the table, especially if they invoke the sex/intimacy moves in the game.


Mercer gives has a spot in the beginning talking about an open table that people can walk from (basically), but I don’t remember him invoking any specific tools, so no X card, etc. Can’t remember totally clearly, though.

I missed the last hour, but by that point the plot had developed so much that I doubt any sex moves triggered at the end. There was one moment that definitely could have triggered one of the PC’s sex move, but Mercer didn’t cal for it.


Avery Alder wrote a “response” on twitter, and was quite pleased with how it went! I loved her notes and suggestions at the end of her thread.


Good stuff, @NoahTheDuke! It’s great to see her comments, and they are very much the kinds of things I might have expected to see in this one-shot (although I haven’t had time to watch it all yet).

Avery and I corresponded a fair bit at one point during the development of M<3s, and I remember once I suggested that, perhaps, instead of “What do you do?”, the MC should also consider it a move to ask, “How does that make you feel?”

Although that never made it into the book, perhaps it did sink in somewhat. I’m happy to see this!


It’s so great to see Avery getting this level of recognition! And I love that her constructive criticism gets right to the heart of things while praising the efforts of Mercer et al.


I was grateful for Avery’s thread, because some of the “criticism” on Twitter was actually quite cruel. I’m always appreciative of her ability to discuss complex topics in a way that is gentle and straightforward while honoring and highlighting the complexity.