Critical Role is a lot of things: uplifting, inspiring, chaotic, humorous, entertaining, and emotional. However, the number one thing the show and cast have always wanted to do is show love. A love for others, for oneself, and everything around us. ‘Don’t forget to love each other,’ is a phrase said by Matthew Mercer at the end of nearly every episode of the live-streamed Dungeons and Dragons show. That idea has spawned a gathering of fans to go out and do just that. By spreading their love, fans create breathtaking works of art, stunning cosplay, and passionate projects devoted to Critical Role.
One such fan’s, or Critter as followers are dubbed, created project is an entire soundtrack surrounding Critical Role. Scored by composer Hunter Rogerson, Scoring Wildemount Vol. 1 features 14 tracks inspired by events that took place in the second campaign. We got to speak with him about his creative process and his plans for future tracks following the Mighty Nein.
I will attempt to avoid any major spoilers for Critical Role campaign two but some of the track titles could be seen as minor ones.
Let’s get one thing out in the open, the soundtrack is incredible. It stands up there with video game OSTs like the Witcher, Pillars of Eternity, and The Legend of Zelda and feels right at home as a backdrop to any D&D game.
Rogerson says the idea for the soundtrack began after hearing dungeon master Matthew Mercer describe two specific scenes in the show. Without giving too much away, one of the characters, Fjord, is having a nightmare while Mercer describes the sounds and sights surrounding him.
In the first, Matt describes the sound of an organic war horn the size of a canyon, and I think that got some subconscious gears turning. The second dream where, spoilers, Fjord swallows the falchion, was where I definitively realized that I’d want to write music that portrays that arc of events.”
Those key parts led to the first track on the album titled Consume; a word uttered by a massive quasi water god locked away by powerful magic. The track uses heavy strings and horns to convey a message of power from this beast. It’s eerie and ghostly flow feels fluid and rhythmic like the waves this creature haunts.
Rogerson says while growing up, it was the songs playing in the background of games such as Donkey Kong and Star Fox that pushed him to become a composer.
David Wise is a masterclass in buttery melodies and fostered my love for cloudy chord movement. Gustav Mahler showed me how subtly balanced an orchestra can be and how to write string lines that feel like they weigh 5,000 pounds. There are heaps more influence, but I’d say that David Wise’s music was having a consistent impact on me long before I even knew his name. I was spellbound by DK Country/Land and, later, Starfox Adventures. Before I knew about OST’s being ripped to YouTube, I would find a safe spot in the level I wanted to hear, sit there, and get lost in it.”
It’s that feeling of getting lost in something that makes Critical Role such an inspirational show for fans. There aren’t any special effects or animations, just actors and actresses living a role for four to five hours each week. Their characters entertain and provide an escape for the community every Thursday night while the players get to share their passion and joy of acting and playing D&D.
The cast are pros and they’re unreasonably creative. The way they react, deliver certain lines, or the way Matt describes a setting all contributes to how those situations look in our mind’s eye. Every one of us watching the show has almost zero visual cues that match what we end up ‘seeing’ and remembering from the episodes. We’re constantly generating our own imagery, lighting, the way the characters move, maybe even ‘camera’ angles at times. I think that’s why the people who like this show love this show; it gets real personal real fast because your brain is one of the main characters. It’s certainly part of why I’m writing this music.”
As for creating each individual piece of music, Rogerson says it’s like putting together a puzzle you don’t have the pieces to. It’s the cast’s acting and incredible storytelling that allows him to create each track.
Sometimes a scene already feels like music, so the act of ‘decoding’ it into an actual piece is the first reward. Like I’m dusting off a relic or power washing a stone wall watching eagerly as the engravings I expected to see are being revealed.” Rogerson said, “The next stage, perhaps the most important bit, is where I can finally hand it off to someone else! Someone other than me, who loves this show like I do, can now also hear this song I found hidden in between the lines of the episode we watched a little while ago. I cherish the sharing portion of the creative process.”
While writing a theme for the Burning Lodge/Cinderrest Sanctum, I found out that @DevenRue and @CriticalRole were master instrument craftsman.#CriticalRoleArt #criticalrolefanart pic.twitter.com/T6krpwO69u
— Hunter Rogerson (@rogersonmusic) August 29, 2019
Now, 14 tracks for one person is a huge accomplishment but Rogerson says he isn’t finished yet.
Depending on what events take place, you might hear previous themes carefully woven into Volume II where they make narrative sense. We’ll have to see what the Nein get up to!”
Critical Role has shared countless hours, well not if you’re CritRoleStats, of their time, energy, and creative process with fans over the years. From their home game, the internet, and now their own company, Critical Role is by far one of the most inspirational pieces of media out there and fans will continue to push the envelope with their creativity in cosplay, fanart, and music.