How The Lodoss Anime Setting Foreshadowed Critical Role

Before shows like Critical Role existed to bolster the popularity of D&D, Japanese transcriptions of gaming sessions helped launch the Lodoss anime.

Without a doubt the current growth of Dungeons & Dragons can be at least partially credited to shows and podcasts like critical rolebut the Lodoss anime setting tapped into a similar format and did so decades earlier. Veteran anime fans may recall Record of Lodoss Warto classic d&d-style series that went on to spawn a sequel series, Chronicles of the Heroic Knightas well as spinoffs like Legend of Crystal and rune-soldier. Lodoss and its related stories all take place within Forcelia, a fantasy world created by Ryo Mizuno. Mizono’s creation began as a Dungeons & Dragons campaign which became popular in Japan due to the sale of “Replays.” These Replays were transcripts of d&d sessions initially, and dated back to the late 1980s, well before the recorded gaming sessions of critical role and its ilk became a sweeping trend in the West.

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the Lodoss setting was recently revisited in the video game Deedlit in Wonder Labyrintha game that traded the RPG format for the Metroivania genre, leaning more towards Castlevania: SOTN in their stylings. critical role has meanwhile expanded from a show to a printed campaign setting of its own, as well as the recent animated adaptation The Legend of Vox Machina. in many ways critical role is following the pattern set by Lodoss, and the modern trend of tabletop RPG campaigns formatted as shows and podcasts mimics the Replays that have been sold in Japan for more than 30 years. Following the publication of Lodoss Replays the setting formed the basis for the first edition of the Sword World RPG, which has never been officially released outside of Japan. Tabletop RPGs, or “Table Talk RPGs” as they are known in Japan, remain a niche hobby, but Sword World has maintained steady popularity in its country of origin.


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critical role has not yet distanced itself from d&d with its own rule set, like Lodoss did with Sword World. Ardent fans note Dungeon Master Matt Mercer’s 5e d&d house rules critical role uses, but the show remains tied with Wizards of the Coast’s ruleset, thereby supporting the d&d brand. There are many other popular examples of tabletop campaigns presented as serialized storytelling in the West. These follow a similar pattern to the long tradition of Replays in Japan, where the most popular ones, like Lodoss, might receive animated adaptations, campaign setting guides, and develop their own fandoms independent from the TTRPG hobby. Products like Replays never caught on in English territories, with the closest thing being novels that borrowed elements from the authors’ tabletop RPG campaigns, like the original dragonlance trilogy. This makes the various d&d shows and podcasts essentially the Replays of the digital age, where they have finally found an audience in the West.


Lodoss Replays Relied On The Campaign Itself, Not The Charisma Of The Players


D&D How The Lodoss Anime Setting Foreshadowed Critical Role - Record of Lodoss War

There is every indication more Critical Role d&d campaign books will be released in the future, given the popularity of the world of Exandria. The success of critical role certainly echoes the decades-earlier growth of Lodoss, albeit with the key difference in format. As written campaign session transcripts, Replays of games set in Forcelia had to rely on the content of those sessions, and the strength of the campaign itself, to establish their popularity in Japan. The uniqueness of a specific player or Dungeon Master’s style can still come across in written form, but critical role added a more direct connection to the individuals involved. By featuring mostly established voice actors as the players, critical role contains a built-in element of theatricality and professional presentation. While there are certainly fans who become thickened in the plot of the campaign and the world-building of Exandria, a significant appeal of the show comes from the talent and wit of its “cast members.”


This forms the biggest rift between Japan’s replays and Western podcasts, and between media like Lodoss and productions like critical role. Replays were essentially in competition with novels and comics for their reader’s time and interest, but critical role and other similar shows compete with movies and TV series. One appeal of Legends of Vox Machina that sets it apart from other d&d adaptations is its ability to capture the spirit of collaborative storytelling. Though altered for its animated series format, the core of the story comes from a Dungeon Master’s campaign and the roleplaying done by the players. This is true in part for Lodoss, and other settings spawned from Japanese Replays, but the element of celebrity and “star power” is unique to the modern podcast and show format. For every fan immersed in Exandria’s lore and the campaign’s emerging stories, there are just as many if not more who simply enjoy the humor and charisma of the show’s stars.


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Dungeons & Dragons has seen some of its most successful years ever as of late, with increased growth and visibility for a previously niche hobby. The popularity of RPG-adapted podcasts and shows is clearly a part of that growth. The dozens of novels produced over the years taking place in d&d settings like Forgotten Realms and Eberron may have been a gateway for some players to try tabletop RPGs. The audiovisual element and human connection of critical role and similar shows appear to have drawn far more players to take up the strange, polyhedral dice. Humor is a major factor as well, given that fans might discuss how to adapt Critical Role’s Conan O’Brien lich into a campaign, among other farcical elements. The history of Japan’s Replays confirms that d&d Campaigns can form enjoyable narratives, even for those were not part of the campaign, and have been doing so since the 1980s. These transcripts of Table Talk RPG sessions had to leverage the content of the game and the setting to a larger degree, absent the appeal of professional voice actors joking around at the table.


History Comes Full Circle As Podcasts Benefit RPG Growth Like Lodoss Replays


D&D How The Lodoss Anime Setting Foreshadowed Critical Role - Lodoss heroes

Later editions of Japan’s Sword World RPG traded the setting of Lodoss for an original campaign world, but the connection between Replays and Table Talk RPGs remains as rooted in Japan as the link between podcasts and Tabletop RPGs is today in the West. The tabletop RPG is a uniquely demanding hobby, requiring more than a video game or a board game. Aside from scheduling issues to dedicate time to a session, there is the demand of attentiveness and participation for players and preparation and flexibility for Dungeon Masters. critical role led to many new players trying d&djust like that Lodoss Replays impacted the TTRPG scene in Japan. There are many ongoing d&d campaign podcasts and livestreams in 2022. These productions certainly exhibit the act of playing and running a campaign more clearly than a written transcript could, letting shows like critical role benefit Dungeons & Dragons in the same way that Replays have for Japanese Table Talk RPGs for decades.

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