After three years in the works, Critical Role’s animated “The Legend of Vox Machina” finally lit up streaming screens on Prime Video last month — delighting fans with a raucous, foul-mouthed spree of action and adventure.
The show, based on Critical Role’s first Dungeons & Dragons campaign, is currently No. 3 on Prime Video’s Top 10 ranking in the U.S. (after action-thriller series “Reacher” and rom-com “I Want You Back”). It also has an impressive 100% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 93% audience score.
The first nine episodes of “Vox Machina” were released in three-episode batches over the past three weeks. The final three episodes in Season 1 drop Thursday (Feb. 17), leading into a 12-episode second season, whose premiere date is TBA.
So what’s next for the Critical Role crew? Right now, they’re in the midst of the Campaign 3 livestream, and they are in discussions with partners about a video game adaptation.
And the company’s founding cast members tell Variety they would be very much on board for a live-action movie or TV adaptation. “As you’ve heard from us before, there’s a chance for anything to happen,” said Sam Riegel, who plays diminutive gnome bard Scanlan Shorthalt, a fan favorite. “And in success, which we’re hoping for [with ‘Vox Machina’], we would be open to taking these characters to live action as well.”
Travis Willingham, Critical Role’s CEO and the voice of goliath barbarian Grog Strongjaw, quipped that there is a live-action project in the works — “but Sam will be playing all the characters.”
For the group’s current third campaign, they’re not thinking ahead to how the storyline might play as a show or movie, said Matt Mercer, Critical Role’s longtime gamemaster who voices multiple characters in “Vox Machina.”
“If we were smart, we would be doing that… We probably should be, but we’re certainly not because we’re not that organized,” Mercer said. “We’ll just kind of play in the game for all of its bumps and weird knots. Which means if we ever get to that point down the road, it’s gonna be a fun process of adapting [Campaign 3] in the same way that ‘Vox Machina’ was.”
“In terms of us just being a bunch of slapdicks just slapdicking around, that’s pretty much still the same,” said Marisha Ray (voice of Keyleth, a half-elf druid).
Screenwriter Brandon Auman, who serves as showrunner on “The Legend of Vox Machina,” acknowledged the daunting task of adapting a role-playing game with a massive amount of source material and boiling that down into a half-hour episodic series.
“It took a lot to try and figure out, like, what we’re going to keep what’s going to go,” Auman said. There were some new elements the team had to invent, like showing the villains’ point of view, which was not in the original campaign. Mercer noted that with “The Legend of Vox Machina,” “We got to shore up a few NPCs [nonplayable characters] to be a little more prominent or a little different in the animated series to better fit the narrative.”
Laura Bailey (half-elf ranger/rogue Vex’ahlia) pointed out, “Obviously, we had hundreds of hours of gameplay that had to be condensed. So story elements do have to change in order for the threads to still make sense.”
There were scenes for “Vox Machina” that were scripted, storyboarded and recorded but that “we just couldn’t get in, for time,” Riegel said. “Some of those were real funny and cute. But, you know, other than us, no one will ever know that they’re missing. And who knows, maybe we’ll do a retrospective one day — a director’s cut!”
Throughout the process of developing and producing the show, the Critical Role cast members were involved in all the creative decisions and served as executive producers. They’re all professional voice actors by background, so they know their way around a sound booth. But being a part of “Vox Machina” was a different experience, said Liam O’Brien (Vax’ildan).
“It’s great to embody a character in a play or a movie or a game, but we created this story. We steer the ship every step of the way,” O’Brien said. “This series is really created and controlled entirely by artists and creators. And to have that level of investment and control of it is unparalleled.”
With the launch of “Vox Machina” on Prime Video amid Critical Role’s Campaign 3, “There’s a little bit of multiple voices in our heads these days,” O’Brien said. “We’re very much living with ‘Vox Machina’ and we’re very much living with this new squad and the new campaign. But I mean, it’s what we got into this line of work for — we love it. It’s not an onus.”
Ashley Johnson (gnome cleric Pike Trickfoot) agreed it’s been something of a juggling act. But, she said, “we’ve played these characters for so long that I think once all of us sort of get in the room together — or, you know, during the pandemic, in the closets of our own homes — and just hear each other and hear the voices, it’s easy to dip back in.”
As far the biggest surprises for Willingham in turning “The Legend of Vox Machina” into the animated series, he called out landing Emmy-winning artist Phil Bourassa as the lead character designer. “Actually seeing the characters come to life… it did just really ring true finally,” he said. Willingham also praised composer Neal Acree (“Overwatch,” “World of Warcraft,” “Stargate SG-1”). Acree “sent us a pitch of what a full orchestral version of the Critical Role theme could sound like and just blew us away,” said Willingham. “Working with him has been eye-opening for me, if nothing else, just the genius that he exudes when he crafts this stuff.”
For Taliesin Jaffe, who voices Percival “Percy” de Rolo in “Vox Machina,” the biggest surprise was seeing the full glory of Percy’s hometown of Whitestone. “The first time that I saw one of the big panoramic visuals of that city and what it was going to look like in the animated series — I was stunned, genuinely, to see this thing, which had been in my head, as one massive, unified vision.”
Meanwhile: What about a Critical Role theme park?
“You know, we’ve joked about that,” Mercer said. “But the scary thing is, oftentimes we make these jokes and then they happen. So it’s a scary like ‘Monkey’s Paw’ manifestation power that we have to be careful of.”
Pictured above (l. to r.): Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien, Marisha Ray, Laura Bailey, Matthew Mercer, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham