The "Mercer Effect"

There’s a reddit post floating around, written by a frustrated DM trying to deal with poor player expectations. These players absolutely love Critical Role. They constantly make reference to it in the group chat, they speak the dread incantation of “Matt does this thing this way”, etc. Matt Mercer himself actually responded to the comment, offering a pretty heartfelt response, tips on managing player expectations, and encouragement on maintaining your frame (great term from the manosphere) as a game master. I read this, then noticed Bleeding Fool (quality site btw) published an article as a…response? Solution? Not sure. Let’s go with “commentary”, to be charitable.

The author would like you to know that he’s rolling his eyes at Matt’s response, that there are things Matt just doesn’t get, doesn’t understand! Oh, our author is happy people are going out and buying the books, don’t get them wrong. There’s an issue with new people coming to the game; they have expectations, I’m told. They think everything is going to be like what they saw in last week’s episode of Critical Role! They’re not going to bother to read the campaign handouts, they’re going to brush you off and get upset when the blasphemous incantation of “you can’t do that” defiles their corporeal form.

Surely the end is upon us all.

The first dungeon Master I ever had (also named Matt, seems to be a lot of fantastic DMs named Matt) began his first game because of critical role. It was a huge inspiration to him, despite the fact his games were vastly different in style. Not only that, he turned us on to Critical Role as well! Our group really enjoyed the first season. We would talk about it often before, during, or after playing the game ourselves. In fact, we’d occasionally tease Matt with the quip “well Mercer does it this way”. The reason we all laughed in the first place was we understood it would be silly to expect the game to be identical to what we saw on Critical Role. It would be completely absurd to expect our DM to have a world as interesting and detailed as Exandria (though as far as I’m concerned, my friend Matt met and exceeded that goal), just as it would be silly of him to expect quality voice acting of us.

Now, apparently our author can manage the situation. He recommends we advertise our expectations as dungeon Masters to the people we are actually playing with. Then, if we find our players amicable enough, We should try to meet their expectations halfway. Players who have difficulty with this midsession should be spoken to in a respectful, but firm manner, so as to not further embarrass anyone or cause any kind of other disruption at the table.

This to me sounds eerily familiar! Almost as if Matt had mentioned doing exactly that in the reddit comment our author quoted.

Less eye rolling, Vince. More reading.

One last thing I wanted to point out is this bit on expectations. All new players, irrespective of whatever their knowledge of RPGs are, have expectations. Every single one of them. Some might be more subtle than others, may differ in focus (npc interaction vs combat), etc. All players come to the table with an idea, expressed or otherwise, of how things are going to go and how fun it would be. Those expectations may crumble during the first 5 minutes of play, or even before that reading your world doc (if you have such a thing). In any case, you will always need to explain what it is the game is about, and your expectations for player behavior. Critical Role didn’t cause this. It may have turned expectations into slightly less subtle expressions of what the players want out of the game, sure. That’s the reason for this discussion in the first place! Nevertheless Critical Role isn’t responsible, and given the vast interconnected networks of players, dungeon masters, designers, and everyone inbetween on social media? It seems silly to regard players having a more similar, vocal expectations of the game as some massive negative compared to the fact we can crowdsource the solution to these issues in part thanks to productions like Critical Role publicizing the hobby.