Critical Role is Geek & Sundry’s live Dungeons & Dragons show, featuring Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer and his troupe of fellow voice actors. Catch them every Thursday night at 7:00 PM PT on the Geek & Sundry Twitch channel and on Alpha.
Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins is a digital-first comic book series from Geek & Sundry and Dark Horse Comics following the early adventures of our favorite adventurers. In the first three issues, we’ve seen most of our favorite Dungeons & Dragons players encounter each other for the first time as a deadly mystery brings them together.
Writer Matt Colville took a break from writing to answer reader questions submitted through social media. Find out about the process writing Vox Machina Origins, the involvement of the cast of Critical Role, and much more in this Q&A.
Mild spoilers for Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins follow.
Q: When can we buy these in print?
A: Yes, these first six issues will be collected in print. We don’t know when, but no earlier than March 2018. As soon as we get any preorder info, we’ll pass it along.
On a personal note, I know a lot of folks have a romantic attraction to print comics, but I switched to digital years ago and never looked back. It is so much better an experience reading comics on a tablet, I think it’s reason enough to get a tablet. And mind you, you don’t need a new tablet. Digital comics look just as amazing on a tablet from a couple generations ago.
Sure, buy the collected trades for something physical, add to your library, I do that. But If you try out digital comics even just for this one series, I think you’ll be hooked. You’ll find yourself reading more, and more different, comics than ever!
Q: How far into the Critical Role campaign do you hope to explore? (Jamison Burton, Twitter)
A: I have no information on what will happen with the comic after these first six issues, but I don’t see any reason we couldn’t go right up to the final episode! In fact, I think the comic can do things the show can’t. We can show you stuff, other characters scheming, foreshadowing, dramatic cuts to other, related events, that we never saw on the show.
In fact, not only can we do that, I think we have to, to make it its own story, rather than just a storyboard of what happened on the stream.
Q: Is the process of writing this comic at all like putting an adventure together that you are DMing? (Elliot Shindel)
A: In some senses, yes! You have to think of the reader like a player. It may be fun to have the characters sitting around jawing, but sooner or later we need some action. So just like at the table, if I find things in the comic are slowing down, some bad guys have to attack! Why? Well, we’ll figure that out later. First, the stabbing.
But unlike an adventure, I don’t have to worry at all about the characters doing something I never thought of, or failing to follow the plot. They have to do whatever I write! Muahahah! Ahem.
Q: Who is the most challenging character for you to write? (Bulldoggo-17 on Reddit)
A: This may sound like a cop-out, but so far with only Keyleth, the twins, Tiberius, Grog and Scanlan, all of them are easy and fun to write. It’s tricky sometimes giving the reader what they expect.
Some readers love Grog most and while I think latter issues, after these first six, might give us the chance to focus on any given character, including Grog, right now I’ve got this story to tell in six issues—and Grog doesn’t talk that much! He doesn’t talk that much on the show.
So I feel bad for folks who gravitate toward a less plot-critical character, but I have to console myself with the hope that future issues will give us more opportunity to do whatever we want, including spending a whole issue with only one character.
Q: Aside from continuity errors, has not-evil Matt shot anything down? (FormerlyKnownAsBTG on Reddit)
A: He’s Good Matt! Just call him Good Matt!
There was a point in an earlier version of the story where Matt (and Marisha!) said, “This plot is crazy complex!”
Well, they were right. So it was my job then to collapse some of the different plot threads down into one and streamline everything. Other than that, I can’t think of anything I wanted to do that Matt wasn’t down with.
Q: How much input from the cast did you get when you were trying to get a feel for the way their characters would act? (Aegis_of_Ages on Reddit)
A: Really only Matt and Liam read the script. And Matt’s feedback is mostly world stuff and sometimes reminding me about how certain spells and monsters work. It would probably be impossible to get any script approved by eight different people, especially when they each have real ownership over these characters.
Liam dives deep into how the different characters would have behaved. In issue 2, I had Tiberius thoughtlessly take a drink off a tray from a serving girl as she walked past. Because he’s noble born and treats the tavern like a party to which he is a guest, of course, he can have this drink. Why else would the girl be walking around with them on a tray?
Liam pointed out that, at that point in the game, Tiberius was strictly teetotal. So, it might have been a good character moment, but it had to go.
Liam sometimes asks the players, “Hey, would Vex use this curse-word?” (answer: Laura would, but Vex would not) or “Hey, did we know about Thordak back before the stream?”
We spent a lot of time talking about the difference between the characters at the table, back at 3rd level, and the characters the audience on the stream eventually got to know. These aren’t either of those characters; these are those characters before the game even started.
So we have a gag in issue 3 where Scanlan finally thinks of a comeback for Vax: “Why don’t you go paint your room black, you emo ballbag!”
Liam was worried that this was ahistorical. No one, including Liam, thought of Vax as being “emo” until well into the stream. I was taking later character development and deploying it too early.
Liam was right! But by the time I came up with a better joke, the issue had been sent off to Dark Horse. Sorry, Liam.
Q: Would you say you approach writing these stories, and watching Critical Role in general, as “a D&D story featuring a particular group of characters (Vox Machina)” or “a Vox Machina story that happens to take place in a D&D world?” (WelcomeToTheCrit on Reddit)
A: I think of it as “a pulp fantasy story.” D&D only really enters into it when I have to solve some problem. For instance, I need Tiberius and Keyleth to be able to find the alchemist brewing the poison afflicting the muck. I’m halfway through writing the scene and I think, “Okay, who can solve this?”
I think about what a druid and sorcerer can do and instantly hit on Wildshape. Of course, she can turn into a doggo and track a scent! Problem solved.
Now, did Marisha ever do that? I have no idea. Maybe not. Can druids assume wolf-shape and track like a ranger? I actually don’t know, but I figured that wasn’t important. What was important was the audience believing it, which I think they did.
Writing action means inventing reversals. We need to see each side, at different points in the battle, with the upper hand. That creates drama. So I need “Ah-HAH!” moments for that.
Wow, is D&D great for that! Tons of spells and magic items to pull from. But I don’t start with those rules, I start with the need; “I need Iselda to neutralize Grog,” and then I think for a minute and exclaim, “Bead of force! Perfect!”
Q: When you got the writing gig for the comic, did you watch every episode, or did you compensate through dialogue with Mercer? (EkorrenHJ on reddit)
A: I think fans of the show are largely unaware of how little Critical Role you need to watch to get a good sense of the characters. They are incredibly well-realized at the table. The cast did like 90% of my work, and I think you could watch 30 minutes of almost any episode and get a really good idea who these characters are.
Please note that issue #4 of Vox Machina Origins will be released in January 2018. We’re taking a bit of a break for the holidays, but we’ll be back in the new year! We hope that you enjoy Vox Machina Origins as much as we have!
WANT MORE CRITICAL ROLE?
- Pick the perfect gift for the Critter in your life.
- Learn more about the art book that’s now available, The Chronicles of Exandria.
- Start (or re-start) the adventures from the very beginning with the Critical Role podcast.
All Images: Geek & Sundry / Dark Horse Comics