In The Legend of Vox Machina, Critical Role Faces the Challenge of Turning D&D into TV

The animated heroes of Vox Machina stand ready for battle with their weapons out.

Vox Machina are ready to roll.
Screenshot: Amazon Studios

With The Legend of Vox Machina, the voice actors behind Critical Role are attempting to break new ground as a tabletop roleplaying series turned into an animated TV show. Since the same actors are voicing their characters, and have been guiding hands in the show’s development, fans haven’t been very concerned with whether Vox Machina would stay faithful to the original campaign, but rather just how much of it could be included in Amazon’s adaptation. On its own, the “Vox Machina” campaign spans nearly 400 hours across 115 episodes. With only two 12-episode seasons currently planned of the animated show, obviously only a small portion of the campaign can make the final cut.

Condensing all that story was a “fascinating challenge,” according to Liam O’Brien, voice of the half elf rogue Vax’ildan. Speaking to io9 ahead of Vox Machina’s premiere, O’Brien discussed how the cast spent extensive time with the writers shifting story elements around and locking down what to bring over for the show, comparing it to a game of Tetris. He used the first two episodes as an example, calling it a “nexus point’’ for the series since it fuses beats from the cast’s pre-stream home games into the story.

Taliesin Jaffe, the voice actor for the gun-wielding Percy, described how each change or tweak always had to make “narrative sense,” and that the actors were careful in their choices with the writing team. “It was never a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” he said. “It was always ‘how.’”

Vox Machina’s adaptation is mostly faithful to its source material, but one way it differs is in how the characters relate to one another. When Campaign One began, the party had all known each other for some time and had become established adventurers in the region of Exandria. The show takes a different angle on the group, with their partnership still being new, and it shows in the ways they haven’t come together as a team. At the beginning of the first episode, they’re something of a mess, and have garnered a reputation as such in the city of Emon. And while they’re all capable fighters, they’re not the powerhouses they appeared to be when the live show began.

The “narrative nerfing,” if you could call it that, is all for the sake of building character, at least to Grog’s voice actor, Travis Willingham. Percy may be the primary character of the Briarwood arc, but Willingham believed that it could still function as a strong ensemble piece for the whole party. “Vox Machina [the party] are pulling at the boundaries of each other to come up with the best solution,” said Willingham. “Each individual character gets their own moments and reactions, and you’re learning about them as they react to the circumstances as they’re unfolding.”

When asked about being not quite as put together as in the campaign proper, the actors admitted they found some old fun in the new chaos. Marisha Ray, voice of the druid Keyleth, admitted they used to be “pretty hot messes” during the home games, and DM Matt Mercer emphatically agreed, recalling the group’s bloodlust dating all the way back to their very first game.

Laura Bailey, who voices half-elf Vex’ahlia, found it to be a fun trip down memory lane. “A lot of us enjoyed those earlier levels when we were playing together, and it’s been nice to jump back into those broken little shoes,” she recalled. “There’s beauty in failure.”

In talking to the Critical Role cast, it’s clear how much thought went into ensuring their characters, and that the things that made viewers fall in love with them, were successfully brought over to Vox Machina. But one of the things that’s made the streams worth watching is seeing the characters evolve over time. As fun as it is to see the party screw up and bicker, it’ll be more interesting to watch them grow as saviors of the world… who still have trouble with doors.

Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina’s first three episodes are out now on Prime Video.


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