Inside Critical Role: The Making of 'Legend of Vox Machina' for Amazon

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Popular on Variety On the evening of March 12, 2015, Critical Role had its first public showing. In a livestreamed event from a dimly lit studio in Burbank, eight players sat at a table immersed in a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game for nearly three hours — their first foray in a form of storytelling […]
On the evening of March 12, 2015, Critical Role had its first public showing. In a livestreamed event from a dimly lit studio in Burbank, eight players sat at a table immersed in a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game for nearly three hours — their first foray in a form of storytelling that would bloom into an indie media empire, complete with an upcoming Amazon show.

Before C.R. began streaming shows on Twitch and YouTube, it started as a group of friends who knew each other from voice-over gigs in animation and video games playing D&D together. The first two sessions were at the L.A. apartment of Matthew Mercer, Critical Role's long-standing dungeon master, and Marisha Ray, who is now the company's creative director; they then moved to the house of Travis Willingham (now CEO) and Laura Bailey (who handles C.R.'s merchandise business). "It was an excuse to hang out together," says cast member Liam O'Brien of the original D&D gathering. "It was just going to be one night of dumb fun, but we kept doing it."

When they decided to turn Critical Role into a livestreamed show, Mercer says, "We thought nobody would care. And we thought, 'Is that a good idea to put something we love online for the internet to tear apart?'"

The risk has paid off. Six years later, the core of Critical Role's appeal hasn't really changed, although the studio sets have gotten a serious upgrade since those early days. The show's team has produced more than 1,000 hours of improvisational gameplay over 251 episodes across two D&D campaigns — and it's gearing up to launch the yearslong Campaign 3, which premieres Oct. 21 with an episode that will be simulcast at 30 Cinemark theaters nationwide.

Next year, Critical Role will hit a new milestone with the release of its first animated series on Amazon Prime Video: "The Legend of Vox Machina," based on its first campaign and set to premiere worldwide on Feb. 4. It follows a band of misfit adventurers who, in order to pay off their mounting bar…
Todd Spangler
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