How a scrappy Dungeons & Dragons game night evolved into an R-rated animated series
Nine years ago, a group of friends gathered one night to play Dungeons & Dragons. That game would change their lives. It sounds like some opening line a theatrical narrator might use to kick off a thrilling, high-stakes epic. It also happens to be how the story behind The Legend of Vox Machina begins.
This game night in question was meant to be something fun Liam O'Brien, the voice of Gollum in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, wanted to do for his birthday. Matt Mercer, recognized as the voice of Leon S. Kennedy in Resident Evil 6, already had a reputation in the industry for throwing some pretty wild D&D campaigns, and he agreed to fill the role of Dungeon Master. They just needed more players. Luckily, they had a lot of friends in the voice acting community.
"We were all on different levels. Some of us were very close friends, some of us were work friends, and some of us were acquaintances," O'Brien tells EW. "And then over the period of 10 years, we've just sort of fused into one hive mind."
That hive mind is Critical Role, the name for this troupe of actors who have since used pieces of that first D&D campaign as springboards to create role-playing stories across livestreamed events, a podcast, and now an adult, R-rated animated series on Amazon called The Legend of Vox Machina.
The crew — which now also includes Marisha Ray (Far Cry New Dawn, Metal Gear Survive), Laura Bailey (Marvel's Avengers, Uncharted 4), Travis Willingham (Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order), Sam Riegel (Star Wars: The Bad Batch, DuckTales), Taliesin Jaffe (Tales of Arise, Injustice 2), and Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us, The Last of Us: Part II) — sat down virtually with Entertainment Weekly to discuss their remarkable journey.
"We created the characters on a lark, as just this fun thing, but as you live and breathe them for 10 years, you find out so many things about them that we didn't think about in the first game," Bailey says. "All of that backstory and the character traits and everything, those come out as you're playing. And I think that's the fun thing about it. You get to discover the characters as you embody them — and nobody else gets to tell you you're wrong! Nobody else is giving you that input. It's coming from you."
The Legend of Vox Machina is based on the characters and story the Critical Role gang used for their first livestreamed tabletop role-playing game, set in the fantastical medieval world of Exandria. They are now, for the first time, brought to life through animation from Titmouse and character designer Phil Bourassa.
A band of misfits on a mission to fund their drinking habits — gunslinger Percival de Rolo III (Jaffe), gnome cleric Pike Trickfoot (Johnson), barbarian Grog Strongjaw (Willingham), gnome bard Scanlan Shorthalt (Riegel), half-elf druid Keyleth (Ray), half-elf rogue Vax'ildan (O'Brien), and half-elf ranger Vex'ahlia (Bailey) — accept a dangerous quest to save the entire realm. Shenanigans ensue.
Part of the show's season 1 arc includes the Briarwoods, cruel and merciless characters with deep roots in Percival's origin story.
"It sets up in success — and hopefully if we're able to make as many seasons of the show as we want — the entire story of Vox Machina," Willingham explains. "It has ramifications not just in the first season, but in the second and any more that would follow after that."
Listen to the full roundtable interview with cast above. The Legend of Vox Machina premieres on Amazon Prime Video this Friday.