Anxiety Game Gauntlet

"4-Sided Dive: Anxiety Game Gauntlet"
4-Sided Dive episode
Thumbnail from "4-Sided Dive: Anxiety Game Gauntlet" (4SDx18).[art 1]
Episode no.Episode 18
AirdateNovember 7, 2023 19:00 PT
Running time2:10:43
Links and related articles
Episode chronology
"4-Sided Dive: Night of the Living Bits" (4SDx17)
"4-Sided Dive: Shard Candy" (4SDx19)
List of 4-Sided Dive episodes

"4-Sided Dive: Anxiety Game Gauntlet" (4SDx18) is the 18th episode of 4-Sided Dive, discussing up to "A Gathering of Heroes" (3x76) with Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Matthew Mercer, and Travis Willingham. Taliesin was the host, and the guests played through the Anxiety Game Gauntlet.

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

Cold open[edit | edit source]

Taliesin is the Tavern Keeper. No roll this time—and that's all for explanation.

What the fuck is up with that?[edit | edit source]

On the Great Tree: Travis, Taliesin, and Ashley talk about all the different ways they spelled Evontra'vir before seeing the actual spelling - Ashley got the closest with "Evon Travere." Matt clarifies that Evontra'vir is the only portion of his original name that the tree actually remembers.

Everyone loves the Shattered Teeth. Travis says it served as the perfect appetizer to leave the group wanting more before they had to leave, and everyone agrees they want to come back and explore more ("floss the Teeth," as Taliesin put it). Matt says that he has a loose outline of things in the Shattered Teeth that he will focus on and refine based on what the group decides to look into.

Travis then brings up the divine trees that the group has encountered in Exandria so far - the Sun Tree and the Arbor Exemplar - and says that Evontra'vir made him think more of the Calamity, which led into...

On the Calamity and its influence: Matt says Evontra'vir was developed in part during the collaboration with Brennan for Exandria Unlimited: Calamity. The tree initially started out as an unspecified entity that represented the regret and loss of the Calamity, then details were fleshed out after developing the history of the Gau Drashari. He then talks about the use of trees as symbols, typically representing ling life and the vitality of nature, and the shift in expectations that comes with hearing about a tree known as the Tree of Atrophy.

Taliesin mentions that he enjoys finding pockets of pre-Calamity cultures scattered throughout the world, and Matt goes on a brief tangent to talk about what inspired him to create the Calamity: wanting to create a world where the gods' influence is present but they themselves are not, so that the world has to rely on heroes and adventurers to solve problems instead of going to the gods directly. He finishes by saying that Exandria, being a post-apocalyptic world full of information to uncover, is a lot of fun to keep developing.

Travis says he isn't sure that anyone in all of the campaigns has really learned much about which parts of the world got hit hardest during the Calamity. He brings up Whitestone opening its borders to Calamity refugees, and Matt says that the battle between the combined forces of Pelor and Ioun against Tharizdun took place in the area in which the city now stands, which destroyed much of the surrounding life until the Sun Tree was planted.

On Ashton and the Pipe of Remembrance: Ashley wants to know why Taliesin thought to offer the pipe to the tree, and he says that Ashton has a thought process of "befriend everything that seems like it shouldn't be befriended and piss off everything that seems like it should be taken care of."[1] Ashton thought the tree was cool and felt a kinship with it, and they wanted to see something that maybe even he didn't remember. Travis asks if this attitude is new for Ashton, and Taliesin says that their old attitude was more of resigned acceptance to always be dealt a bad hand in life, but that has changed since becoming a hero and getting a few wins.

Lava! Travis loves the red-button-pushing attitude of just diving straight in. Ashley said that her decision to have Fearne jump in after Ashton was caused by panic over how much damage he was taking, though she admits that a part of her was wondering if Ashton was actually supposed to die in the lava in order to retrieve the shard. Taliesin felt like jumping in was the right thing to do, and Matt adds that that situation was a perfect example of creating a challenge for the players without having a set solution in mind. Ashley is glad to know that there wasn't a "right answer" that she could've ruined by having Fearne jump in. She also says that there have been a lot of moments previously where she regretted not doing something, so this time she chose to take action. Matt, Taliesin, and Travis compliment Ashley on the chaotic choices she's been making and the interesting scenarios they create.

On the fight with "Ludinus": Matt didn't want to create an encounter where the goal was to do the most damage, but instead to mess up the party's escape plans. Taliesin was impressed at how well the team worked together despite being low or even completely out of resources and abilities. Travis describes how perfectly all the elements of the fight worked together to make it fun - interesting location, large obstacle, no clear exits, elements of a puzzle, and a powerful enemy with allies - and how the party's teamwork was able to emerge organically despite the situation and the inability to coordinate tactics.

Matt describes the process of playing in a campaign as going from learning your own character's strengths to learning other characters' strengths to learning how to combine your own strengths with everyone else, and says that he has a lot of fun watching fights where the team is able to contribute all their individual strengths in smooth, organic ways. It also helps when he rolls poorly as the enemy.

This fight was the most offense Ludinus had directed at the party, as Matt explains that he wasn't even paying attention to them at the Malleus Key due to everything else going on. Taliesin says that he had hoped the group made it out unnoticed after killing any witnesses, but clearly that didn't work. Travis had thought the fight was too easy until the simulacrum melted, but Matt says it was a good test. Ashley jokes that the party could use the power of friendship to try to change his mind, and Taliesin mentions that that strategy has worked before. He adds the caveat that the current group isn't as loveable, and Dani brings up the fact that Essek Thelyss already warned Ludinus about the power of love.

On the elemental shards: The group has a shard now (two technically)! Matt asks what the shards do, and the rest of the group says he's not allowed to play coy with information like that. Taliesin and Ashley are excited to figure out what the shards do, but they decide to talk about it later. Matt asks the group what they think will happen, and nobody really knows since they only have one in hand and the other in Ashton. Ashley still wonders if Ashton is supposed to keep both of the shards, and Taliesin thinks he's supposed to do whatever he wants with them. Travis reminds him of the warning that holding both shards could destroy Ashton, and Taliesin questions whether anyone has actually tried it to know whether that would happen for sure.

Ashley is on board with putting everything into Ashton and still isn't sure that the second shard should go to Fearne. Taliesin says that the ultimate decision on where the shard goes lies with Ashton and Fearne, and she gets a say in it because everyone else on the team is too distracted or damaged while she really isn't. The conversation derails into a talk about how much grief Orym is going through and how much pressure he's under.

On Scrying: Dani intended this section to be when the party found out someone was Scrying on them at Evontra'vir, but the conversation instead focuses on the "you don't roll for Scrying" moment. Travis appreciates all the subtle facial expressions Matt made during that scene, and Matt says that the best lesson he could give after providing the mechanics for eight years was one that would leave a mark. However, he understands that everyone has brain farts at some point.

A party of NPCs: Ashley appreciates the chaotic energy of the current party and the commitment to just doing whatever, and Taliesin follows up by comparing all of the main campaign parties against each other. He describes Vox Machina as classically heroic, the Mighty Nein as classically villainous with a sharp turn to be more like the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Bells Hells as like the X-men but everyone is a sidekick. Dani describes everyone in Bells Hells as a backstory NPC, including Imogen as Liliana's backstory NPC daughter she had to leave behind.

Taliesin says Ashton is like a video game mid-level hired villain, Fearne is a secondary Batman villain, and Chetney is a low-level mafia member. Matt jokes that the party is like the NPCs from the first two campaigns decided they wanted to be player characters, and Taliesin realizes that the party is the Exandrian equivalent of "Lower Decks." Matt says that in the first campaign, Vox Machina was stepping up to become leaders while in the second campaign, a lot of the leadership was antagonistic and farther removed, and now the current campaign has the party working as the B-team for the leaders from the first game because those leaders are now too high profile and tied into the world's issues.

"Shadowy hole": Evontra'vir lives in a big shadowy hole, and the group's reaction to it was a testament to eight years of professional tabletop roleplaying. Taliesin decides not to make the conversation weirder, and instead says that part of relearning how to play barbarian is messing with anything that looks stupid and accepting the physical damage that comes with it.

Ashley asks what would've happened if the group had jumped without making any preparations first, to which Matt replies that they would have hit the tree branches and roll to see how much damage they took. Travis remembers Vox Machina taking a staircase to the Abyss and suffering several casualties, remarking on how much more reasonable Bells Hells' approach to dangerous drops are.

On the topic of dangerous drops, Ashley mentions how stressful it was to crawl through the cave and Matt says he brought inspiration to the scene from spelunking videos he and Marisha watch together. The group then derails the conversation to talk about the horrors of spelunking and premium haunted house experiences.

The Tower of Inquiry: Round 1[edit | edit source]

sqwgglz: Describe your character's dream holiday if money was no limit? — pulled by Travis, 41:41

  • Travis: An all-inclusive nudist resort on the beach (though he amends the answer to be in the northern snow after a joke from Taliesin), surrounded by redwood trees that Chetney can chop down and use for woodcarving material every night
  • Ashley: Was going to say a nudist colony. Instead said something like Coachella, Burning Man, or the original Woodstock for the sake of having a different answer
  • Taliesin: Somewhere with a big night scene, an art community, and a lot of smoking. Agreed on Rexxentrum after recommendations from Matt and Dani
    • The traditional punk answer Taliesin hears most - settling down somewhere calm and comfortable - didn't quite seem to fit
  • Matt: Captain Novos would go to Dalen's Closet

Ragazaga: What are some of your top tips you have on improvisation when role-playing? — pulled by Matt, 48:27

  • Matt: Listen. Don't get too caught up in your head with your own ideas, but listen and pay attention to what other people are doing. Let yourself be inspired by what happens and run with those collaborative ideas
  • Taliesin: Don't worry about talking too much or too little. If you feel like you're falling behind the others, let the other players know you're having trouble hopping in and find someone who will open up a space for you.
  • Travis: Listening is the most important. For a dumb tip, stop looking at people when they talk if you feel stuck or like you're not saying enough (his experience is that only hearing people and not watching them frees up his brain to do more planning). Finally, make an ass of yourself - don't worry about sounding cool, do something silly to get over the embarrassment.
  • Ashley: "Yes-and." Matt expands on this with the idea of not shutting down a conversation even if you disagree, but redirecting and building on the idea so that you're still working and collaborating with the other person instead of completely denying them.

The Deep Dive[edit | edit source]

Matt: What spell was Ludinus going to cast on the group and what would it have done to them?53:01

Weird. If successful, it draws upon the target's worst fears. All the targets would be frightened and would have to succeed a Wisdom saving throw each turn or else take 4d10 psychic damage. If the casting had been successful, Matt would have asked each person what their character's deepest fear is.

Ashley: What does Fearne think about all these potential connections she has been making with various other entities? She is the granddaughter of a hag [Morri], has a connection to a champion of the Hells [Teven Klask], a boon from a ghost pirate [Urlu Novos], and the potential of a primordial shard [of Rau'shan].55:28

She's in the mode of saying yes to everything.

  • Matt says that if Fearne survives the campaign, Fearne has the potential to become a lore character who knows someone for any situation. The conversation continues to imagine her future as a favor broker.

Travis: You are always so delighted to get a new map. What is it about the maps that appeal to you?58:13

They are wonderful! The first part of it is an appreciation for the effort and energy that goes into making them (different textures, different materials, different stains), and the second part is the map itself. Sometimes the maps are very detailed, sometimes they're rough, sometimes they have different names for things. The Aeor map was the peak map because of the question marks and the puzzle with the Tombtakers. On whether the excitement comes from the maps or just having something tactile to work with, he said it's a bit of both, saying that he always feels like there's an answer in them even if he doesn't know the question yet.

Taliesin: There is a profound difference between how Ashton interacts with Percy and with Allura. What is his opinion on this arcanist ally and how does she compare to Lord de Rolo in their esteem?1:01:15

Ashton and Percy didn't get along because they are very similar people - family trauma, ego, personal grievance, emotional issues they haven't dealt with, and a tendency to think they're each the only adult in the room. Percy also has a lot of money and privilege, while Ashton doesn't and in fact detests them. The similarities bother Ashton, but also give them a sense of being able to be rude towards a different version of themself. Allura on the other hand seems like someone who deserves authority and respect because she gets things done.

Matt: This is the third campaign that Allura has showed up in to be an ally to the main party. What is it like to bring her in once more? Do you still think of her as your own avatar within the world?1:04:06

Yes! Matt has brought her into each campaign intentionally because she is his avatar in the world of Exandria. She was the first NPC he put a lot of time into, was the first powerful NPC that really connected with Vox Machina, and was the first NPC that he really felt a connection with in terms of what he would want to be in this world. So she became his sort of self-insert through line that allows him to play as himself in the world with the rest of the players each campaign. He also enjoys seeing everyone's faces when she makes an appearance.

Ashley: Fearne was used as a hostage by Ludinus. How did she feel being in this position? What was going through your mind while talking to Ludinus one on one?1:06:24

There was a moment where she almost agreed to go with him in order to keep him from hurting the others, but she didn't because Matt might've actually accepted the offer and she didn't want to leave everyone. Fearne is scared of Ludinus, but she's still curious about him and wants to find out what his deal is so she can fix him.

Travis: Grog is one of the few VM members to not have made an appearance yet. What do you think Grog is up to right now?1:09:05

He could be doing normal, everyday things like picking fights or being in jail. He's probably gone looking for love but hasn't found it. He also could have been duped into shady business under the guise of doing good deeds.

Taliesin: How does Ashton feel about fate taking notice of him after all this time?1:11:37

It feels less like fate and more like history. Ashton will never really grasp onto the idea of fate because of the complications that comes with it, but the idea of following a path to reclaim something that's rightfully theirs is a much more romantic notion. For the first time in their life, they have something that matters to them and people who won't abandon them, and his original belief that he would be dead and forgotten in a few years no longer stands.

Matt: The war room scene was quite impressive in terms of talking to yourself. How was that for you as a DM?1:14:14

Nerve-wracking. It's a challenge to create a scene where a lot of NPCs are talking because he doesn't want to make it uninteresting for the players who just have to sit and watch the people talk, but he also wants to make sure he conveys all the information he needs to in the way each NPC would communicate it.

Ashley: How does Fearne feel about possibly taking on the shard? Does she even want to wield its power? How does she feel about her fire abilities coming up in this way?1:15:35

There are complicated feelings about the shard, because in Exandria Unlimited Fearne saw a version of herself that had followed a bad path in life and she's not sure where in her timeline that other Fearne was from. The idea of taking on new powers is complicated because she doesn't know which decisions she makes would lead her down the path of becoming the bad version of herself.

Travis: Chetney has now received two visions from the Matron of Ravens , Does this goddess appeal to him in any way or does this feel more like a sign that his time is soon up, especially with how close the long rest d100 rolls have been?1:17:30

The Matron doesn't appeal to him in terms of a deity, but more in terms of her being the first being from beyond the Material Plane to reach out to him and show him something. With his ego, Chetney thinks she's checking him out. Travis isn't worried at all about hitting triple zeroes.

Taliesin: What is it like for you to explore Whitestone as a different character? How does it feel getting to meet Percy's children?1:19:33

He loves it so much. Gwen is his favorite of the de Rolo children, and he is certain that she will grow up to be Percy except both better and worse somehow. He also hopes at some point that they get to experience some spookiness in the city because it's the perfect place to have something spooky happen. He also briefly mentions wanting to explore more of the de Rolo ancestors, particularly Wolfe and Melanie de Rolo and her cousin Ivan von Musel.

The Tower of Inquiry: Round 2[edit | edit source]

Brodie Heath: If you were an old wizard's familiar, what type of familiar would you be? — pulled by Ashley, 1:22:17

  • Ashley: Golden retriever, doofy with a nice smile.
  • Travis: Ferret or otter, since familiars are smaller animals. When told not necessarily, a Kodiak bear.
  • Taliesin: Armadillo. Dani points out that armadillos are in the Bela Lugosi Dracula.
  • Matt: Platypus.
  • Dani: Some kind of bird that can't fly long distances but can type or write.

Anxiety Game Gauntlet[edit | edit source]

The guests play through three anxiety-inducing kids' games slightly altered to be Critical Role themed. The first game is Don't Wake Daddy, or Don't Wake Liam.

Travis: How did you enjoy sailing on the ghost ship? What was Chetney's favorite part?1:37:14

Loved it! Also loved people trying to hook up with the captain. The group was considering a mutiny, but seduction became more interesting. He didn't really mind losing the sword to the captain.

Matt: Talk to us about Evontra'vir. What was the inspiration for the Great Tree of Atrophy and how does he relate to the Matron of Ravens?1:38:11

The inspiration was that the gods are only one set of powers that influence the world, but there are other powers that came before them and others that have appeared since them, and Evontra'vir was an example of a great power outside of the gods that still influences Exandria. With regard to the Matron, the two exist in similar, overlapping spaces. Between them there have been alliances, frustration, and respect throughout history, but who knows where they stand now. The Matron works on a larger scale as the one who holds and weaves the Skein of Destiny, but the tree sits between the threads and can perceive through them.

Ashley: How did Fearne feel about Evontra'vir? Since her own grandmother is known as the Fate-Stitcher.1:40:04

There were a lot of questions she wanted to ask, and she still wants to go back and ask them, but she knows from Nana Morri how fate can be. She does have the instinct to mess with fate, but seeing Morri pull the threads has shown her that things can be bent a little.

Taliesin: Ashton seems to be embracing their designation as a member of the Hishari. What do they think of the cult after learning more about it, particularly from the Ashari and now Evontra'vir?1:41:51

They're biased and are ignoring a lot of the more problematic issues. Taliesin wasn't expecting things to go in this direction, and he likes that there is a lot of controversy around it.

Travis, Taliesin, and Matt: Travis and Taliesin, what did you think of the vision you received from the Matron? Matt, what is your goal with visions like that in regards to character and story?1:45:53

  • Taliesin loves getting shoved in different directions by the gods. The Matron is the only deity that Ashton respects because she always keeps her promises, so that makes them more likely to listen to what she says.
  • Travis did not answer.
  • Matt appreciates the opportunities that come when the players start getting involved with the pantheon. The visions depend on who is involved and what their perspectives are - sometimes the visions are what the god thinks the person needs to see, sometimes they're more about trying to draw in whoever would be useful in the moment, and the gods all have their own plans and ideas that they're working towards. The Matron is fun to do because her ascendency from mortaldom gives her a different perspective than the rest of the pantheon, who all keep a bit of distance from her.

Eventually, Ashley wins Don't Wake Liam, and the guests move on to Crocodile Dentist, or Croco-Riegel Dentist.

Travis: Chetney gave away Deanna's ring for some new shoes. Are you afraid of Aabria's / Deanna's wrath?1:55:22

He thought it was a good trade, it keeps things lively, and he loves incurring wrath.

Matt: How are you doing? Are you having fun (DMing Critical Role)?1:57:04

It's his favorite thing and he looks forward to it every week.

They quickly move on to Perfection or Marisha's Calendar. They're all vocal about how much they hate this game. Matt completes a board, and Travis nearly does with 19. Ashley, who scored poorly, wants to try again and also scores 19. She's starting to like this game.

Travis: Was was it like using the harness [Quintessence Array]?2:06:41

It was cool! Better to start with the silverware than something bigger, and the fact that Chetney absorbed metal into himself didn't even occur to him.

Outro[edit | edit source]

When Broomie comes out, Ashley wonders why he's dressed in Nordverse gear. Dani is not sure because that's not lore that she tracks. While Taliesin dances with Broomie and cleans the set, Ashley starts another game of Perfection. Taliesin holds Broomie just above her head behind her while she's hunched over. The music ends, and all audio cuts out except the game's rattling. Taliesin waits with the broom. The episode ends before the timer does.

Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • The drink special on the chalkboard during the Twitch countdown was "Ludinus' Tears (on the rocks)".
  • Today's secret word is "nametag".
  • This episode was initially erroneously labeled as episode 17 on YouTube.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Anxiety Game Gauntlet" (4SDx18) at 11:17.


  1. Thumbnail from "4-Sided Dive: Anxiety Game Gauntlet" (4SDx18). This file is a copyrighted work. Its use in this article is asserted to qualify as fair use of the material under United States copyright law.