At New York Comic-Con 2021, the first footage of Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina got its grand animated debut. Based on the web series where voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons, the cartoon quickly took shape after a record-breaking Kickstarter, and Amazon later picked it up for two seasons. As with everything they do, the cast of the show made it clear that this only happened because of their massive fanbase. “This is our show, in every sense of the word,” said Travis Willingham (voice of goliath brute Grog Strongjaw) on the NYCC panel.
It’s an interesting sensation for the cast, who’ve all spent their careers as characters from other properties. Laura Bailey and Willingham have spent years as Marvel characters Black Widow and Thor, you’ve heard Matthew Mercer as Overwatch’s cowboy McCree, and gamers are intimately familiar with Ashley Johnson as Last of Us’ zombie killer Ellie. So the chance to adapt their own material was something of a culture shock, for sure. “None of us at any point have taken this for granted,” said Johnson (gnome cleric Pike). Liam O’Brien (half-elf rogue Vax’ildan) added that there’s a special amount of investment in being his own man. “You can’t really beat digging your fingers into your own character, and I feel more invested than I’ve been in anything I’ve been a part of.”
Fans of Critical Role will be delighted that the series is starting off with the Briarwood arc of the first campaign, regarded as when the show finds its footing. In it, the adventuring party known as Vox Machina helps their inventor Percy (voiced by Talisen Jaffe) hunt down the vampires who slaughtered his family and quickly get in over their heads. (Hot vampires, as the cast was quick to point out upon seeing a picture of Silas Briarwood, voiced by Dungeon Master Mercer.) “When we got to the Briarwood arc,” explained Sam Riegel (gnome bard Scanlan), “it clicked for all of us that we’re telling a real story here... At least for me, it’s the first time that it felt like art.” Bailey (half-elf archer Vex’ahlia) felt that the Briarwood arc is where character relationships truly took shape beyond the cast messing around and laughing at their own idiocy.
Adapting anything is tricky, but Critical Role is a whole different beast. The Vox campaign is hundreds of hours of content, and since the campaign ended in 2017, the cast has been sporadically voicing their heroes off and on for one-shots. Choosing what moments to bring in the campaign wasn’t easy; Bailey explained that the cast was asked about favorite moments they wanted to transition to animation. Or as Marisha Ray (druid Keyleth) tells it: “The first day in the writers’ room was basically the writers interviewing us as our characters...It was just us trying to explain our characters.” But the transition, according to Jaffe, was “better than I imagined.” If you’re a fan of the Vox campaign, you likely know what he’s talking about.
Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina hits Amazon on February 4, 2022.