The Matt Mercer Effect Explained

Hey everyone! Long-time no see I had to take a little bit of time to work on some of the background things going on here at GMSays. As you may have seen, we released a free map for everyone to download, and we should have the accompanying adventure up on our store soon. Details are here!

With all that said let’s talk about today’s topic, one I’ve been thinking about for a while, The Matt Mercer Effect. Now if you’ve been playing D&D and read anything in the greater D&D community, I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard of Mr. Matt Mercer, he’s a pretty big name in the scene. However, there is a phenomenon that surrounds him and D&D in general, that is being dubbed, The Matt Mercer Effect.

So let’s discuss!

The Matt Mercer Effect

So let’s begin with an introduction as to who Mr. Mercer is. He’s a pretty prominent voice actor for video games and anime, but in the last few years, he has become a household name for D&D nerds. He, along with a regular cast of cohorts, Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, and Ashely Johnson, all play D&D live on a show they all created together, called Critical Role. Now, this show has taken the D&D world by storm, it boomed in popularity extremely quickly, probably (at least in my opinion) becoming the most popular live D&D show on the internet.

Now, what does that have to do with this “effect” I’ve mentioned a few times? Well, let me explain. Basically, most, if not all of the cast of Critical Role are all actors in their own right, as well as good friends. This lends perfect conditions for them to really show off the RP aspect of D&D. The very talented cast created characters that felt extremely genuine inside the world of Exandria that Matt created.

Okay, okay, I know I’ve still not explained the effect yet, but I have to set the scene in order for you to grasp the concept. So we have a very talented and dedicated cast of players, but I’ve not said much about Matt himself. Matt is the GM of this game. He creates a world that felt like a living breathing world. It was filled with amazing NPCs that were pretty much always on point. Due to his talents as a voice actor, he is really able to inject so much personality into these characters. You love the NPC allies of the party and you love to hate the NPC enemies of the party. Matt demonstrates his sheer experience with D&D and running games in nearly every episode of the show. Combining him and the rest of the cast of Critical Role has made the show surpass anything that has come before it, or since.

Right, let’s actually explain the effect. So with all these elements combined, the dedicated cast, the ultra-experienced GM, the fact that they are genuinely all close friends outside of the show has made this particular show something special. However, because of the boom in popularity of the show, some newer people to D&D get false impressions of what D&D is like. A lot of people got into D&D via the show, and if there are any negatives to the show, it’s that because of the high standard of the show itself, newer people to the hobby think that every game is going of the same caliber as Critical Role. That is the Matt Mercer effect, at least in general.

How to Combat the Effect

Okay, so, we now know what the effect is, it’s a combination of having a very dedicated cast of players, who are able to pour a lot of time into their characters to make them truly feel alive, and a very dedicated GM who is able to craft a world that feels real that is ever spinning, even in places where the players are not present. Now I’ve seen a lot of GM’s state that the effect the show has had on D&D is actually negative, that it colors new player’s perceptions of the game, which leads to disappointment when that player’s GM is not able to pull out well-crafted voices as well as finely tuned storylines. Now in my opinion, this is unfair, the only thing that is likely to be non-achievable for most GMs is the array of voices that Matt can pull from. Everything else, is very achievable with a little bit of work from both the players and the GM, without both side’s participation, players will be left disappointed, and GMs will be left feeling unfulfilled.

Now I really want to drive this point home, because it’s probably the most important aspect of obtaining a game that is fulfilling for all parties involved. It requires a decent level of commitment from both the GM and the players. Not only that, but it really requires both sides to be on the same page as to what type of game is going to be played. Now we’ll get into the types of D&D games in another post, as that’s a whole other conversation, so for now, let’s just assume both sides want to try and replicate some of the magic that can be seen on screen with Critical Role.

First off, the GM must speak with everyone as a group and explain the type of game they want to run. Critical role runs a lot of RP, as well as really encouraging the inter-party RP, especially in moments of downtime, like long rests, and times spent in safe harbors. However, Matt also runs pretty close to the RAW (Rules as Written), which means that things work how the books say they work. So combat scenarios work very much like they would at any table. As a side note, I think one of the big things that keeps the show interesting is the players really know what their characters are capable of in combat, they plan their turns ahead, this is SUPER important to keep the game moving.

Once the players have been primed on the type of game that’s being run, they need to know the gist of the world they’ll be creating characters for, and the rough starting scenario which is used to bind the party together. Once this is known, the players can then go and create their characters. Make sure as the GM, you make yourself available for questions and assistance during this process, and that you give the players adequate time to create both the mechanical aspects of their character, but also a backstory that you as the GM are also happy to have in your world. However, let them be creative with it. When I do this, hand over some of the “narrative power” to the players, and allow them to inject things into the world via their backstories that I may not have considered. This allows them to feel they have some sort of stake in the world itself. Be that a new city that didn’t exist prior to that backstory, a faction, or people. My rule is that they must come up with at least a few characters (that are alive) that their character has feelings about, be it love or hate or anything in-between.  This gives you as the GM strings to affect that character down the line.

Finally, once that is all in place, all that’s left to do is play the game, and adjust as necessary. The GM must make it clear to the players that they want feedback, the things the players liked, things they didn’t. It’s the ABC of DMing, Always Be Communicating! Okay, I just made that up, but it’s still pretty true!


Well, that’s the Matt Mercer effect explained in a bit of a long-winded way, but I hope you gained something from it, some kind of insight that you can apply to your games.  The biggest thing to remember is that not every GM is going to have a style you vibe with, and that’s okay. So just remember to temper your expectations, and try to make sure you and your GM are on the same page with how you both want to play the game and remember at the end of the day, the game is there to have fun with.

So thanks for taking the time to have a read through this post and until next time, may your day be a critical success!


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