The tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons is more recognizable than ever thanks to its passionate players. Thousands of nerds, young and old, joined the tabletop fandom thanks to popular “actual play” Dungeons and Dragons livestreams. One pioneer of the role-playing podcast, “Critical Role,” is so influential it’s getting its very own animated series on Amazon based on their game — a show titled “Critical Role: The Legends of Vox Machina.”
“Critical Role” is a Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying podcast airing live on Twitch.tv or YouTube every Thursday (they are now in their second campaign with brand new characters). One of the more alluring qualities of the show is the cast, composed of a bunch of professional voice actors for both television and video games. But at the show’s core, it’s just about a group of friends playing games and crafting stories together, like any other Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
“Critical Role: The Legends of Vox Machina” will be set during the events prior to the livestreamed portion of their first campaign. The show will focus on how the team banded together and will tell of their various adventures as the heroes protect their kingdom.
The cast members include the dungeon master, Matthew Mercer, and players Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, Taliesin Jaffe, Liam O’Brien, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel and Ashley Johnson, all reprising their roles as their Dungeons and Dragons characters. Even if you do not recognize their names there is a good chance you have heard some of their voices in popular games like “Spider-Man: PS4” and “The Last of Us: Part 2” as well as a variety of television shows.
“Critical Role: The Legends of Vox Machina” will be a Prime Video exclusive, and is already signed on for a second season. The television series was originally a Kickstarter promising a 20-minute animated special with a pledged goal of $750,000, which it surpassed within the first hour of donating. The Kickstarter eventually made over $11 million and became the most donated-to animated project, film or television show on the Kickstarter platform.
The show was picked up by the “Geek and Sundry” YouTube channel in March 2015 as a continuation of the player’s first campaign, originally a one-shot adventure for cast member O’Brien. News spread of the voice actors’ game through both word-of-mouth and a few hilarious Vines that gave a sneak peek of what the group was up to. Eventually the show garnered so much attention that it grew a fandom all on its own. Critical Role left their parent company to take advantage of its own brand, now a shining example of role-playing, web-based content.
Critical Role paved the way for other role-playing podcasts and Dungeons and Dragons livestreams, with hundreds of new tabletop experiences entering the podcast scene, each one of them unique. Because of this, Critical Role’s success remains currently unmatched. Until this point, a television series based on anyone’s home game of Dungeons and Dragons seemed unthinkable; perhaps, however, an animated series was a long time coming.
This actually wasn’t the only time Dungeons and Dragons made its way into new forms of media. There was a brief run of a Saturday morning cartoon “Dungeons and Dragons” that aired from 1983 to 1985, with its fans growing up to be writers and filmmakers today. And some fans will pick up on the subtle nods toward the game in popular shows like “Futurama” and “Adventure Time,” with some Easter eggs a little more on the nose than others.
Other roleplaying podcasts have recently developed new ways to tell their favorite stories. Actual play podcast “The Adventure Zone” released their third graphic novel adaptation of their show in July, and Critical Role has been selling “Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins” comics produced by Dark Horse Comics since 2017.
Where there is a fandom, there is money, and it’s no small wonder why Amazon is stepping ahead in the game by making “Critical Role: The Legends of Vox Machina” a Prime Video exclusive.
Many fans of role-playing podcasts fantasize about their favorite characters and voices being implemented in animated form. It encourages so many talented fans and animators to produce animatics and express their love for their favorite shows. It’s only fitting Critical Role is adapted in this way.
Animation allows a lot of wiggle room when telling stories featuring unnatural physical beasts and wizardry. A polished animation style will really bring these characters to life without having to bring the characters, setting and effects into a live-action environment. In addition, animation will allow for the Critical Role world to be drawn more in line with how characters and the setting were described during actual play.
Not to mention, the original cast, who all have credits in the professional world of voice acting, can fittingly reprise their roles without fear of not looking the part or portraying the physique of their character accurately. And it would not be the same if the original cast could not voice the characters they played for so long.
Unsurprisingly, the cast of “Critical Role: The Legends of Vox Machina” will also be its producers. This way they can make sure that writers and designers effectively adapt these characters and stories to television while staying true to the characters beloved by so many “critters” (an affectionate name for their fan base).
Like I said, there are hundreds of other entertaining role-playing podcasts and other web-based content out there. A lot of them are just as entertaining, but in their own way. With Critical Role being on top, hopefully this gives the opportunity for other aspiring creators in the tabletop role-playing space to make larger productions of their own. At the very least, creators can set a goal to dream of and work toward.
A television series based on one’s own Dungeons and Dragons game is a dream of any Dungeon Master or player, and that is surely the same for “Critical Role: The Legends of Vox Machina.” With the release of the Prime Video exclusive, more and more new players will check out the game for themselves and tell stories of their own. That increases the number of friends playing games together, the number of memories made and the possibility for more adventures on the horizon. That is a beautiful thing, and I for one am impatiently waiting to see how Critical Role’s animated series turns out. Fingers crossed.