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The case for Critical Role’s Dorian Storm: Can we please keep him?

Critical Role’s Exandria Unlimited: Kymal wrapped up on April 1 after a short two-episode run. The action-packed Dungeons & Dragons actual play featured a casino heist, a new player, and the triumphant return of most of the Crown Keepers — including Dorian Storm, played with a palpable amount of glee by voice actor Robbie Daymond.

The show and its predecessor, Exandria Unlimited, reflect a clear shift in Critical Role’s fairly entrenched long-form campaign format, opening up the floor for new creators. Exandria Unlimited seems like something that will, happily, be revisited, and Daymond seems to be staying in the fold of Critical Role. However, it’s sad to think that Dorian’s story is, for the moment, over.

At the start of Exandria Unlimited, Dorian was immediately endearing, displaying a kind of polite, awkward bravado that played well against more boisterous characters like Opal (Aimee Carrero) and Dariax (Matthew Mercer). “I wanted to play something kind of away from myself,” Daymond said in his recent appearance on 4-Sided Dive, the new talk show series for Critical Role. “I thrive when I’m around people, so I wanted to experience someone who’s not that.” He went on to discuss Dorian’s anxieties, asking, “Can you be charming while being insecure?”

Image: Hannah Friederichs/Critical Role

Fans certainly thought so. Dorian emerged as a fan favorite, featuring in fanart, cosplay, highlights on YouTube, and more. When Dorian reappeared on the Critical Role set for episode one of the third season, the Twitch chat went wild, delighted by Daymond’s entrance. Daymond went on to feature in Campaign 3 for fourteen consecutive episodes – the longest run of a guest cast member.

Daymond is a relative newcomer to Dungeons & Dragons, but you wouldn’t know it from his play style. Much like his time on Exandria Unlimited, he was a delightful part of the fabric of Campaign 3 from the jump. He participated in the cast’s goofy asides and reactions, but also left room for moments of gravitas and emotional exploration. Part of what makes his performance as Dorian such a joy to watch is the knowledge that he is new to the table, and fairly new to the hobby — his wins are even more engaging to witness, because they’re firsts several times over.

Dorian debuted in Campaign 3 as part of a set, including Fearne (Ashley Johnson) and Orym (Liam O’Brien). Immediately, Daymond seemed at home at the table — in character, he began to clap anxiously at the end of a tram ride, and quickly scolded Fearne when she stole an earring as they entered Jrusar: “I told you a story about someone picking my pocket thirty seconds ago, and then you pick someone’s pocket?!” He also formed unique relationships with the other characters, from his immediate, hilarious animosity with Chetney (Travis Willingham) to his initial fear of and eventual closeness with Launda (Marisha Ray).

Dorian also had a beautiful storyline of his own. “I love the noble who’s reluctant,” Daymond said, when asked in 4-Sided Dive about Dorian’s creation. His backstory unfolded over the course of his time on the show, pushed to the forefront with the surprise entrance of his brother, an NPC named Cyrus Wyvernwind. Dorian was clearly working hard to carve a path for himself, to experience the world outside of his family’s influence, and part of that path was the found family he gained in Bells Hells. At the end of his run in Campaign 3, Dorian noted, “I’ve always felt my entire life, always, like I was on the outside looking in. And you, you all have made me feel like I am part of something bigger.”

Daymond the fan

https://youtube.com/watch?v=JjkOxRgor_s%3Frel%3D0

Even more endearing is the fact that Daymond has participated in Critical Role as a fan. After his departure from Campaign 3, he recorded and released an original song, “The Ballad of Bertrand Bell.” In releasing the video, Daymond participated in his own version of fan art, adding depth and texture to the landscape of the series in a heartfelt way.

The main cast of Critical Role is extremely beloved, but the format of the core series makes departures like Daymond’s performance stand out, especially when he was so integral to the start of Campaign 3. In a season that has felt markedly different in terms of the revolving door nature of, for example, Travis Willingham’s characters, it was exciting to think that Daymond might join as a full cast member, as a way of shifting up the structure of Critical Role.

Filming schedules and individual actors’ responsibilities may have played a role, but Dorian’s departure was disappointing in the sense that it felt like a step backward – especially when Fearne and Orym got to stay. Fans lamented Daymond’s departure in the Twitch chat on the next episode that aired. In a recent interview for ComicBooks.com, Daymond expressed that, “one thing that Matt said to [him] from the beginning was ‘Let’s just play.’ So there was never a plan to have [him] there for a set number of episodes.”

Actual play, as a medium, has a very specific alchemy to it. There has been plenty of scholarship about the tenuous balance between production and play — the way that a story told between friends, and a game, transforms when an audience becomes involved, when there are filming concerns and monetizations to balance. The magical ingredient tends to be the people at the table. Critical Role struck gold almost immediately when they started out — they had some bumps, but they swiftly accelerated to dominate the space. The cast is a huge part of that. Their energy and connection drive the story and have given it staying power for seven years. That’s a long time, especially when you consider how little the actual play element of Critical Role’s programming has changed in format over that time.

Critical Role’s ubiquity grants the company a lot of autonomy, and it has been exciting to think that that autonomy could be wielded to expand the format and potentially change up how they’ve been doing things. The door was definitely opened with Exandria Unlimited, and especially with Dorian’s role in Campaign 3. It was exciting when Daymond, a newcomer to a very well established table, excelled. Not only did fans get to hang on to the core cast — they got to see a new player succeed in that space. It felt like a small shift toward new horizons for the core campaign, in the sense that nothing was lost for the entrance of a new player.

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If Daymond’s tenure on both the core campaign and Exandria Unlimited can be considered a playtest for long-term changes or format shifts, it’s a deft move, but it’s also one that seems to be rolling out in eddies rather than waves. While it seems like the door is open for Daymond’s return at some point down the line, his time with Critical Role illuminated something about the core series: New is good. Even if we can’t have Dorian back for the long haul, bringing more depth to the constantly shifting, already vast landscape of Critical Role with new faces — and the new stories, experiences, and joys that they can bring — is clearly something that works. And it’s something that would be amazing to see more of in the future, through further expansions of Exandria Unlimited, additions to the core campaign, and beyond.

Until then, we’ll miss the blue boy, and hope he’ll return down the road.

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