Ahead of his Storytime Keynote Address at PAX Unplugged 2023, we got a chance to speak with the legend himself, Matthew Mercer, about a wide range of gaming topics. Matthew Mercer is a storied voice actor with work in anime like Dragon Ball Super and Attack on Titan, and VO credits on games like Resident Evil 6 and Tears of the Kingdom.
Tabletop gaming fans the world over best know him for his role as GM on Critical Role, and as Creative Advisor for Darrington Press, among many other endeavors and accolades.
Read on to hear his thoughts on conventions, GM'ing on a global stage, and some simple tips you can implement to make your home games shine in our Matthew Mercer Interview.
What's In Store For PAX Unplugged Attendees?
I started our conversation by asking him what fans can expect from his "Storytime with Matthew Mercer" opening remarks to kick off PAX Unplugged. "Ha! Well, this is my first time doing one, and I largely have no idea what I am doing, soooo… hopefully some fun conversation," Mercer joked.
"In all seriousness, I want to touch on the themes of community in games and conventions, how they’ve changed my life, and how they can change yours (if that haven’t already). PAX U is a perfect example of the opportunity to engage with transformative community."
The Power of Conventions
Next, I wanted to hear from Mercer his thoughts on big conventions, and how he would spend his time if he could go through a convention incognito. "I’ve been going to conventions since 1997, and they’ve been a huge part of my life ever since. What I enjoy is the sheer volume of passionate people all sharing in those communal passions! It’s like a cheat code to friendship on a grand scale, let alone welcome access to creators and companies that hope you can connect with their creations!"
For myself… incognito is the only way I really can get around
When asked how he would spend his time if he could go unnoticed, Mercer confirmed he does go to conventions incognito. "For myself… incognito is the only way I really can get around, but when I do, I love to see all the new, cool things across the dealer’s hall, watch others play in all manner of games and RPGs, and kinda relive some of my earlier days through it."
GM'ing on a Global Stage
Next, I wanted to hear Mercer's thoughts on the biggest difference between running a game at home and running a game for an audience. What's lost in translation, and what's gained?
"There can be many differences depending on how you wish to run it! For myself, I try my best to keep as much of the experience unscathed as possible, and having crafted all of this with a group of dear friends has helped that tremendously. We do now get to play with a few more toys in lights, sound, etc. That’s exciting, and something I’ve dreamed of since High School."
There is less table-talk and downtime when running a game with a window for an audience... and that is actually a pretty cool bonus for overall player investment.
"There is less table-talk and downtime when running a game with a window for an audience, whether discussed or naturally through awareness, and that is actually a pretty cool bonus for overall player investment. That being said, we are still a bunch of slapdicks who joke, tease, and mess with each other among many serious “thespian” moments, and we love that."
"I will say the sheer volume of expectation can be very daunting. That, and the level of world building and narrative instincts needs to now attempt to hold up to the scrutiny of millions, instead of just 7 people in your living room. THAT is a big change."
"As far as lost? I’m sure a few fringe edges as well, but we genuinely want our game to remain as pure for our own enjoyment as we can and just let others in. It’s likely not the most optimal method for cutting edge media, but it’s what we want."
Upping Your Game at the Table
We hear a lot about how players can make their gaming experience better, but I wanted to hear from a master GM how other GM's can make their gaming experience feel more robust.
"It all varies based on the table, but for my mind? Simple mood lighting and atmospheric music playlists can transform a space into an immersive experience so easily. Taking just that little bit of extra time to decorate or alter your gaming area goes a long way."
Your preparation in advance of a game session really is intended to give you the comfort to let it go when the moment calls for an unexpected shift
"Also, embracing that your preparation in advance of a game session really is intended to give you the comfort to let it go when the moment calls for an unexpected shift. Player choice and inspiration will drive the game into unique directions, and you should try your best to not fight it when it does. Instead, step back, break what you prepared, and find where you can fit the pieces back in down the road!"
With the recent announcement of a brand new RPG from Darrington Press, Daggerheart, I had to know what Mercer and the team have in store for us. What goals did Mercer and the team at Darrington Press have when designing Daggerheart? Were there current elements of TTRPGs that they were hoping to expand upon, or a niche they hope to fill?
Sometimes you find yourself having to get creative in SPITE of the rules
"Daggerheart really stems from our love of fantasy RPGs and having refined the kind of gaming experience we truly love at the table that not all systems are fully supportive of. Sometimes you find yourself having to get creative in SPITE of the rules, or find the older logic of legacy systems show their age and rust in narrative-forward gameplay."
"Through this, and the brilliant inspiration that Spenser Starke (the lead designer of Daggerheart) had around it, we wanted to see if we could take a crack at developing another great way to engage with our kind of Roleplaying styles, and many others, alongside the other great systems that we love. More options for gaming only makes the industry, and the community, stronger!"
What Does 2024 Hold For Matthew Mercer?
And finally, I had to know what Mercer's most excited for in 2024. From his voice acting work to upcoming gaming projects, there's a lot on the table!
"Oh my goodness, soooooo many things," Mercer begins. "Voiceover-wise, FF7 Rebirth is a huge thing for my inner Final Fantasy teenager. I’m supremely excited for the Legend of Vox Machina Season 3 to hit, as it is AMAZING."
"Further developing the Mighty Nein series, which is already such a unique and mindblowing project right alongside the Legend of Vox Machina… no idea when that will officially land, but this next year of continuing to make it the best it can be excites me to no end. A number of wonderful charity endeavors to come with the Critical Role Foundation have me stoked! Beyond that… a number of other things I can’t yet discuss, but I will say that 2024 and beyond are looking quite bright!"
Thanks so much to Matthew Mercer for taking the time to chat with me, and here's to a thrilling 2024!