As with the first season, Prime Video will release Season 2 of the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired show in three-episode weekly batches, culminating in 12 episodes total. In the new series, the Vox Machina heroes/antiheroes face off against a powerful foursome of dragons called the Chroma Conclave, which spew ice and acid, have nearly impenetrable armor and threaten to destroy the world of Exandria.
For Season 1 of “Vox Machina,” the eight principal Critical Role members (who each also serve as executive producers) needed to provide a healthy dose of exposition. That was in large part to bring viewers unfamiliar with the motley band of adventurers — based on Critical Role’s original D&D campaign, which dates back to 2015 — up to speed.
The second season of “Vox Machina” let the group “get more into the nitty-gritty of the characters… Now we can get into their interpersonal relationships, their backstories,” said Ashley Johnson (who voices gnome cleric Pike Trickfoot).
“This season almost feels in some ways closer to the game,” Johnson added. “I feel like it’s sillier and it’s darker — and it’s bigger and badder. I feel like everything is just turned to 11.”
Without revealing any spoilers, “The Legend of Vox Machina” Season 2 features some serious conflict within the squad. “We see this new family tested in the face of insurmountable odds… and what they do to hold each other up,” said Liam O’Brien (who plays half-elf thief Vax’ildan).
The humor is again bountifully bawdy: There are more than a couple of butt jokes, for example. In battling the Chroma Conclave, at one point gnome bard Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel) and Vax’ildan must enter one of the dragons through… its anus. “And through its intestinal tract,” Riegel added. “The people want what they want, and we’re not going to stand in the way of that.” According to O’Brien, the scene has a couple of jump cuts, “but you get the meat of what you’re looking for.”
Matt Mercer, who serves as CR’s dungeon master, put it this way: “I’m very proud of the fact we, as swords-and-sorcery, high-fantasy genre storytelling, can graciously grasp world-ending cataclysms and the true drama of friendship lost and the consequences of one’s terrible actions — and in the next scene, have dragon-butt stuff.”
Amazon last fall renewed “The Legend of Vox Machina” for a third season, for which the Critical Role team says production is well underway, with animatics and scripts completed. The group is cagey on the Season 3 storyline, but Travis Willingham (who provides the voice of Vox Machina goliath Grog Strongjaw) said the forthcoming season will among other things conclude the Chroma Conclave storyline and individual character story arcs. “Seasons 2 and 3 are setting up some of those endgame elements and start to reveal what the consequences of certain character choices will be within the story,” he said.
Riegel said there’s “a lot more story to tell” for the Vox Machina crew: “We could go for five seasons — or more.”
Willingham, who also serves as Critical Role’s CEO, said the addition of the dragons in Season 2 presented a much heavier technical burden on their animation studio partner, Titmouse, compared with S1. In some scenes, the presence of the dragons required fewer characters in any given frame to reduce the processing crunch on the animators. Titmouse put together a “souped-up GG team” that “really upgraded the ability to show these dragons in a way that aren’t just hulking beasts,” Willingham said. “They are intelligent, they have personas… they deliver really, really good dialog.”
While Season 2 is based on the hundreds of hours of D&D role-playing from the Vox Machina campaign, it in some cases deviates from the original material. “With the Critter [fan] community, it’s been fun throwing them curveballs — so they’re like, ‘Man, here it comes,’ but it’s not quite what they’re expecting,” O’Brien said.
There is also more music in Season 2. In addition to Riegel’s Scanlan Shorthalt, other Vox Machina members get songs including Grog (Willingham) and Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey). In addition, a long list of guest stars lend their voices to the show, including Henry Winkler, Lance Reddick, Cheech Marin, Will Friedle, Billy Boyd, Cree Summer, Alanna Ubach, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Troy Baker, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Ralph Ineson.
The Critical Role team had expected that “The Legend of Vox Machina” on Prime Video would grow the Critter fanbase. Willingham said that’s definitely happened. Critical Role has seen increased interest in the original Vox Machina campaign, as people went back and watched the archived livestream shows. “Those episode counts started to climb,” Willingham said. CR’s newest fans then found their way to Campaign 2 (featuring the Mighty Nein band) and the current Campaign 3 (Bells Hells).
“That’s what we want: a reduced barrier to entry,” Willingham said.
Meanwhile, Critical Role is currently reaching a climactic pitch in the heart of Campaign 3. Marisha Ray (Keyleth in “Vox Machina”) said the team sees Bells Hells continuing for at least another year and “maybe more, we’ll see. Kind of depends on what’s going on in Matt Mercer’s brain.” She added: “One day, maybe, we won’t feel like we’re building the railroad as we’re on the moving train.”
Critical Role’s founders are L.A. voice actors and friends who started hanging out together and playing D&D back in 2012. “This has been a 10-year trust fall,” said O’Brien. They began livestreaming their first campaign in 2015. Critical Role in 2019 launched a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign to create an animated show based on the Vox Machina gang, before Amazon Studios swooped in with a two-season order for the series.
Critical Role also produces podcasts, merchandise and collectibles, books, graphic novels, tabletop and role-playing games, and the company has launched a nonprofit philanthropic foundation.
Pictured above (l. to r.): “The Legend of Vox Machina” characters Percy de Rolo (Taliesin Jaffe), Keyleth (Marisha Ray), Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel), Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson), Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham), Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien), Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey)