Heroes Comic Con Stockholm – Critical Sunday
As I arrived at the convention on Sunday morning, the commotion around Matthew Mercer’s autograph line was still going strong. A long queue had already formed, and attendees had taken it upon themselves to use an honorary number system, akin to how most venues organize queues for concerts. As a Critter myself, I completely understood the hype. As we all waited for the doors to open, the crowd sang both “Your Turn to Roll,” the Critical Role-intro, as well as the DnDBeyond jingle that plays at every break on the show. It seemed like everyone was in high spirits, however anxious they were to make sure they got to meet Mercer.
The first panel of the day was another Q&A with Matt Mercer. Just like the day before, the stands were packed well before the panel started, and the crowd welcomed Matt to equally thunderous applause this time around. There were a few more people in the crowd who did not know just quite what they were in for this time around, so Matt introduced himself once again, with the promise that things would only get weirder, and then went straight to the questions to get in as many as possible.
On the topic of inclusivity, Mercer said that he was raised in an environment that was very open, loving and inclusive, and he always just assumed that was how the world worked. Then he grew up and realized that wasn’t how the world was, but that marginalized people go through so many trials. He found that to be very frustrating. Exandria, a world in Critical Role, is almost a reflection of the world that he would like to see. He also said that there’s always room to grow, and that he learns new things day in and day out about how to be better and be more inclusive himself. It can also strange to try and represent perspectives that aren’t necessarily his own, because then you open yourself up to the risk of telling a tale without having full understanding. Then, you listen to the people that do, and take their input and learn from them. Mercer said he thinks it is a wonderful thing to be able to learn from so many people, and have that reflect on the story they’re telling, as well as promoting community, safety, and a place where everybody is welcome.
Mercer also said that sometimes the gender identities he decides on for NPCs (non-player characters) come naturally, and sometimes, it’s intentional. What he finds most challenging is how to convey these things without it feeling forced. There have been numerous characters who are trans in the campaigns, but bringing it up in a conversation without shoehorning it or it feeling tropey or like you’re doing it for “woke points” is something he’s still figuring out.
Mercer shared some insights about backstories for PCs, and how to work them into your campaigns. He said that communication with your players is the key to any successful game. Some players have given him 10 pages of backstory, and others just a few sentences. There are players that want their backstory to be something that comes up during the game, but also players who want their backstory to be just that: the backstory; something that just explains where the character comes from, but doesn’t come up during the game. You should never force your players to come up with a backstory, but it never hurts to give them some incentive to turn one in. You could reward the players that turn in a backstory with extra experience or an extra magical item or something similar. Express to the players that any kind of background information they can give is an extra way that the DM (Dungeon Master) can tie the character into the story and give them a stake in the world they play in. Without that, they might not feel as woven into the story as the others. Mercer said that when it comes to balancing the amounts of backstories that come up in game, you can ask yourself, “Do you want them to focus on something that is universal to all of them, or do you want them to help each other deal with something that is specific to them to make it more of a personal story?” Mercer prefers to leave little threads in the world that the players can pursue that can lead them to their backstories. In turn, the players can choose whether or not to go after it.
One fan asked what Mercer had learned during campaign one of Critical Role that he used for campaign two. Mercer said he has learned that he needs to engineer more ways for characters to have some downtime and not always have to be on the go, despite the world ending around them. Campaign one was also very black and white when it came to good and evil, and that is something he says he is playing around with for campaign two. However, it can be frustrating to the players, so it is important to check in with everyone and make sure they are enjoying the game. The uncertainty of the players not knowing who is good and who is bad makes for a very interesting game.
Mercer touched on certain moments that had moved him during the campaigns. He mentioned Scanlan’s departure during campaign one, since even he had no clue it would come about in the way it did. He had helped Sam develop Taryon, but they way Sam dropped the bombshell of Scanlan leaving the party surprised even him. He also mentioned any moments concerning the Raven Queen as being especially emotional. So far in campaign two, he has really enjoyed seeing the arc with Fjord play out, which was extra enjoyable for him since Travis created Grog for campaign one to be a character that didn’t really have much of a backstory. Now, Travis is playing a character with a deep and mysterious backstory that has a lot for Mercer to sink his teeth into, and seeing that play out and watch Travis blossom as a player has been some of his favorite parts of campaign two so far.
Another fan asked Mercer about his favorite spells, and he shared that he thinks there’s just something classic about a Fireball. He also enjoys spells that have a lot of imaginative utilities, like Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion and Leomund’s Tiny Hut, which might seem like unnecessary spells to some players, but a really creative player can find some really cool uses for them. Spells like Awaken can bring things with life and intelligence into life, basically making them an NPC. That is too much power in a player’s hand, and that’s why he loves it. Mercer also thinks illusions are great, because they have huge utility and are mostly only limited by the player’s imagination.
There was a lot of interest in the spells that Mercer himself has come up with, and the topic of Dunamancy — the school of magic Mercer introduced in Xhorhas — came up. Mercer explained that he came up with the concept while he was worldbuilding as they were going into campaign two. He wanted to get rid of all the old tropes surrounding the Drow, because what’s the use of having a Drow as a playable character if you’re only ever going to have a hard time doing anything with one? He wanted to create a Drow culture that wasn’t steeped in the old tropes and the idea of them being evil. He created Dunamancy as a unique part of their religion, society, and capabilities. Mercer brought more of an aspect of quantum physics, astrophysics, time, space, gravity, and density into the idea of magic as it exists. Some spells toy with those aspects a bit already, like Reverse Gravity and Levitation. Not many beyond that do, so he got to making his own spells. A lot of the spells are inside jokes for physics; he has one that’s called Cascade of Quandry that is basically a Schrodinger’s Cat spell.
Mercer also discussed the idea of sharing your game with others via podcast or other media. Mercer’s first recommendation was to not put your game out there as a competition. He pointed out that there are a lot of stories out there, and that’s wonderful, but it’s very unhealthy to try and go at it with the attitude of being better than others. Be thankful for the people that do engage, promote other people, and see if they’re interested in cross-promotion. He also reminded the audience that a high tide raises all ships, and the world would be a much better place if we all focused on raising each other up instead of tearing each other down.
It wouldn’t be a Dungeon Master Q&A without questions about his NPCs. Mercer admitted that he has different favorites, depending on what he is trying to do. For example, Senokir from campaign one is excellent for creeping his players out — something Mercer finds extra funny since Senokir was entirely improvised. In general, he really enjoys stepping into both Pumat Sol and Gilmore. He described Pumat as stepping into an old pair of comfortable shoes, and remarked that the timber of the voice he does as Pumat just puts him in a good mood. Mercer sees Gilmore as a reflection of himself that he doesn’t get to express very often. He wants to be more like Gilmore, so he loves getting to play him whenever he gets the chance.
Just like the day before, the panel ended with a standing ovation from the appreciative fans that had gathered from all over Europe.
Later that afternoon, it was time for Tom Felton’s second panel for the weekend. The room filled quickly, and the audience was prepared for a treat when one of the emcees announced that not only would Tom be answering questions, he would also be treating us to some of his music!
During the Q&A, Felton was asked how the characters he’s played have affected him. With Draco, he pointed out that he certainly learned to appreciate his own family, and he got some insights into bullies. Draco bullies others because his father bullies him, and it turns into a vicious cycle. Felton also shared that while he doesn’t regret any roles he has done, besides some of the bad movies he made himself as a child, he sees every experience as a chance to learn. Starting out on Harry Potter has put almost everything else in the shadows, since most his other projects have had similar budgets, equipment, or time.
Another fan asked him to name his favorite character in The Flash and Harry Potter, with the exception of his own characters. Felton admitted that he loves Grant Gustin from The Flash, and mentioned how Grant tried to teach him how to dance, unsuccessfully. He also named Gilderoy Lockhart as his favorite from Harry Potter, stating that he is such a buffoon that he can’t help but enjoy him.
Felton also told the story of how his grandfather taught him to do the now-famous Malfoy sneer. His grandfather chaperoned him for the first couple movies, and they practiced doing the face in the mirror, because there are several parts of the books and movies that call for Draco to sneer.
On the topic of music, he listed The Beatles and Ed Sheeran as two of his biggest inspirations, but he listens to a lot of different music.
When a fan asked Felton what his favorite spell was, he shot back that it is either Expelliarmus, because of how it rolls off the tongue, or Wingardium Leviosa, since that was the first spell they ever learned from Professor Flitwick. He also remarked that a lot of people say Avada Kedavra is their favorite, but said he doesn’t really understand why.
Keeping up with the theme of favorites, another fan wanted to know what his favorite Malfoy line. Felton said that the most common line people ask him to say is “Scared, Potter?” but he really likes the line where Draco tells Goyle “I didn’t know you could read” in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He mentioned that their lines were never something they reflected on while they were saying them, because at the time, they didn’t realize they would be such a huge part of their lives. They could never have imagined that in 20 years time, they would still be asked about lines they said two or three times while they were filming.
During the quick fire round, Felton shared the best advice he’s ever received: treat everyone like you want to be treated, and be kind to animals in particular. He doesn’t have a particular spell he would want to work in real life. He would just be pleased to have a working wand, or something practical like an invisibility cloak or a Nimbus broomstick. He said that he hangs out with this old cast mates. Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) live close to him. He sees Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) when he can, but they are usually in different places. Felton also said that “Rupert [Grint, Ron Weasley] is always Rupert,” and that he is a funny guy to be around. He thinks Lauren Lopez, who plays Draco in A Very Potter Musical, should have played Draco instead of him in the movies. His favorite villain in the Harry Potter movies is Lucius Malfoy.
After the lightning round, there was a very short break to set up Felton’s mic stand and guitar for his performance. Anyone who follows him on Instagram knows that he is a very talented guitarist, and his voice brings a special sound to his songs. He started out with a slightly modified version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” from the Toy Story soundtrack, which had the audience clapping along. From there, he went into a few of his own original songs, “I Don’t Mind Loving You,” “Original Loster,” “Dreamer,” “Take Me Away,” and more. I really enjoyed his music and performance. I think the entire audience is with me when I say that I can’t wait until Felton decides to release an album!
The last program point I caught on the main stage was the rescheduled “Heroes Talk” with Matt Mercer. The talk was originally planned for a much smaller stage, but through the course of the weekend, the organizers realized the small stage would not be able to handle the amount of people who would be turning up to watch. The panel was not a Q&A, but a 30-minute interview. Everyone got to sit back and enjoy without standing in line for questions.
During the interview, Mercer and the interviewer talked about how crazy the journey has been for Critical Role, but how Thursday nights have become a sort of fixed point for the cast. Mercer said that no matter how crazy their lives get outside Critical Role, on Thursdays they can sit down at a table with their friends, and have the genuine connection that seems very rare in a lot of modern media.
They also talked about the experience of turning the beginnings of their game into the comic book being released, titled Vox Machina: Origins Volume II. Mercer stated it was a unique challenge going back through his old notes, which he called “mad man scrawlings.” A lot of the process meant he had to go through all of them, recall certain moments, and then checking in with the players to make sure he remembered the moments correctly. The process also helped lead to the upcoming animated show The Legend of Vox Machina. They recently finished the story summit, and Mercer was very excited about it. The whole process is going well, and he can’t wait until they can show everything to us.
Next, the topic changed to curve balls in the campaigns. Mercer mentioned how the Mighty Nein stealing a ship and becoming pirates was something that completely threw him off. He said he usually has some sort of vague idea of where the players might be going with something, but this time it came out of the blue. He was also thrown when Vox Machina decided to go to the City of Brass much earlier than Mercer thought they would. Having a player that can transport the entire group to pretty much anywhere does become a problem, because you can never quite be sure where they will be going next. This time, however, it meant that Mercer had to improvise the entire first part of their stay in the City of Brass.
Mercer shared some of his best DM tips. For more in-depth tips, he recommended the series he did called “GM tips” that he started, and Satine Phoenix later took over. On top of that, Mercer pointed out that communication will always be the key to the best experience. Talking with everyone and being on the same page with what everyone in the group wants out of the game is important in order for everyone to have fun at the table. People can be good friends and still not have the same play style, and that’s okay. It is important to have a “session 0” to talk things through with everyone, and keeping up the communication throughout the game.
Dungeons and Dragons helped Mercer figure out who he was. It helped him gain confidence with public speaking. While it didn’t erase all his insecurities, playing the game made everything far better than it could have been. It was through the game that he realized there was a spark or performance he hadn’t known was there before he started playing. That, in turn, lead to him starting theater, which led to voice acting years later. Everything lead back to rolling up his character and deciding who he wanted to be at the table.
After the Heroes talk, I took one last walk around the main floor before joining the last queue for Mercer’s autographs. The queue had been going strong for the entire day. People were settling down and playing Dungeons and Dragons, and generally socializing while they waited for their chance to meet Mercer. At this point, the organizers could not guarantee that everyone in the queue would get to meet Mercer, but said they would do their best to make it happen. Mercer had already extended several of his sessions during the day, and this one would be no differently.
I left the convention center after meeting Mercer 15 minutes after the convention officially closed. There were still people behind me in line! Mercer had taken it upon himself to meet everyone that waited, and still took his time to properly talk to every single person, giving them all of his attention.
All in all, I had a good time at Heroes Comic Con Stockholm. While it definitely felt overcrowded at times, you never had to look far to see a friendly face. It did feel like the organizers underestimated what has become known as the “Critter death hug,” considering there were constant lines to meet Mercer. Hopefully they consider that for next year. I have been to a few multi-fandom conventions like this before, but I have never seen such a high concentration come for one guest in particular. I definitely hope they invite Matt Mercer back again (and maybe more of the Critical Role cast?), and I am very excited to see what they have planned for next year.