Since the web series kicked off in 2012, actual-play phenomena Critical Role has expanded the world of Exandria, with each subsequent campaign taking place later on in the world’s history. But with Prime Video’s animated fantasy series, The Legend of Vox Machina, the voice actors return to where it all started, with their first group of misfit mercenaries from the very first campaign. This time, however, they had a chance to rewrite history and make some tweaks to the way it unfolded the first time around.
“[We’d] been playing as a group for two and a half years before we decided to take it to the stream,” says Marisha Ray, voice of half-elf druid Keyleth. “So there were a lot of character building and backstory moments that the audience never saw. So through flashbacks, and just really great cold opens, we’re able to see kind of a peek behind that curtain.”
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the first three episodes of The Legend of Vox Machina season 2]
“The scenes that I love are the moments that I didn’t get to be there in the actual campaign,” adds Ashley Johnson, who voices compassionate gnomish cleric Pike Trickfoot.
Due to real-life scheduling conflicts, Johnson was absent for some pivotal moments. Thanks to the animated series, the actors were able to rewrite history a bit and bring Pike into the fold for those scenes. This season’s third episode, for instance, “The Sunken Tomb” follows the plot points of one of the web series episodes that Johnson couldn’t attend; now when a trap triggers in the eerie underwater temple and kills half-elf ranger Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey), Pike rushes to her side to try and revive her — a moment notably absent from the original run.
The animated series not only gives the actors a chance to dive into more of their characters’ backstories and explore dynamics that weren’t present at the table, but it also takes the show outside the storytellers’ POV, allowing viewers to see the villains conniving and plotting their own schemes. Dungeon Master Matt Mercer was particularly excited to see that aspect of the show come to life, since, as Dungeon Master, he played all the dragons of the Chroma Conclave. In the show, though, while he does reprise the role of ancient dragon Umbrasyl, the other dragons are voiced by Cree Summers, Lance Reddick, and Liam O’Brien (who is also the player and voice behind half-elf rogue Vax’ildan). Now we get to see the dragons’ behind-the-scenes machinations, which make the epic battles all the more exciting. That’s not the only tweak that comes with showdowns.
“We get to make some elements of combat that sometimes the dice don’t get to make as cool at the table be that much more cinematic and dynamic and exciting for this series,” says Mercer.
When it comes to the actual web series, the cast now plays a new set of characters dealing with a new set of threats (though their OGs do make the occasional cameo appearance). Still, there is a special place in their hearts for the characters who started it all, even if recording in a booth with a script is different from improvising at the table.
“It’s like going home on vacation to visit your family,” explains Mercer. “There’s this facet of these characters that we love so much and lived with for many years, many years ago. And now we get to kind of slip back into those old comfortable outfits. We get to re-embrace where it all started for a lot of these friendships that have now become inseparable bonds and breathe new life to them, and pay homage and accurately represent what happened in a lot of ways and then surprise, even ourselves and others and hopefully the audience. This is kind of taking what was old and making it new again.”
While the first-ever session for Vox Machina was recorded in person, much of the recording for season one had to be done remotely due to the pandemic. When possible, the cast recorded in pairs or trios, able to feed off each other’s energy and try to replicate the experience of being at the table and making it all up the first time around. Going forward, recording together looks like it’s going to be more of a regular thing, but the actors say there will always be something really special about that first ever everyone-together recording session.
“It was a very pinch ourselves type of a moment,” says Sam Riegal, the voice of rakish gnome bard Scanlan. “We were all together in a booth recording a show that we created and helped write and get to do the voices for and get to help produce. And we were being voice directed by Mary McGlynn, one of our oldest friends. It was a real “Is this real?” type of a moment, that first time in the booth. But every time we get together to perform, whether it’s at the table, or behind some microphones, or on a convention stage, it’s great. It’s great to hang out with these guys. Even after being around them for years and years, we still manage to make each other laugh. It’s a rare friendship that we have. And I hope we get to keep doing it forever.”
New episodes of The Legend of Vox Machina drop on Prime Video on Fridays.