What Does Critical Role’s Record-Breaking $11 Million Kickstarter Mean for D&D?

At midnight on April 19th, 2019, the record-breaking Kickstarter campaign for the Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina Animated Special concluded with an astounding $11,385,449 pledged by 88,887 backers. This campaign, which exceeded its original goal of $750,000 by over ten million dollars, was a shock to not just its creators, but to the entire D&D media landscape. Fans of Critical Role and D&D fans longing for a new D&D animated series banded together to make this campaign the fifth most-backed campaign in Kickstarter history, as well as the fifth most-funded.

The cast and crew of Critical Role gathered on their “bar set” last night to count down the final 30 minutes of the campaign, and were joined by Joel Hodgson, best known for his performance on the original Mystery Science Theater 3000, who was until recently the record holder for most-funded Kickstarter campaign in the “Film & Video” category, for his revival of MST3K which raised $5.7 million in 2015. Hodgson (and the DM for his private home D&D game!) were greeted like old friends and celebrated the end of Critical Role’s Kickstarter campaign with drinks and a passing of a comically oversized, WWE-style championship belt.

Critical Role cast member Sam Riegel proudly displaying the championship belt as the cast cheers

At the celebration, Critical Role Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better family to be growing around this insanity. I’m so proud. […] It’s unlike anything I ever thought possible. And at the same time, we very much understand…the responsibility of making good on all this good faith you guys continuously show in our direction.”

Critical Role cast member and community “Art Dad” Liam O’Brien said, “We are grateful for all of your help, and we don’t take one inch of it for granted. Thank you.”

The unprecedented success of this fundraising effort means that, in addition to providing a wide assortment of merchandise to high-level backers, Critical Role Productions will be able to partner with Titmouse Animation to create a full 10-episode animated series, initially covering a two-episode original story set before their D&D game began streaming, followed by an eight-episode animated adaptation of one of Critical Role’s most popular chapters, known as the “Briarwoods Arc.” The animated series will debut with full red-carpet regalia at a private screening in Los Angeles in 2020.

As this series goes into production and Critical Role shifts into blistering high gear to produce not only their current fusillade of livestreamed shows but also a full animated series, the question lingering in the community’s mind is: what does this mean for D&D? Though Legends of Vox Machina will not officially bear the D&D logo, it is the first attempt to adapt a D&D-inspired property into animation since the middling, direct-to-video Dragons of Autumn Twilight film in 2008, and many see it as the first “true” animated D&D adaptation since the beloved 1983 Dungeons & Dragons animated TV series.

Notably, Legends of Vox Machina will be geared towards a much older audience than the ’83 animated series, in keeping with the irreverent and occasionally bawdy tone of the improvised, livestreamed series. While it seems unlikely that Game of Thrones-level mature content will feature prominently in this show, Matthew Mercer’s gruesome and visceral descriptions of fantasy combat and the cast’s charmingly blue dialogue in the livestream will influence the content of the animated series.

Critical Role Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer joyfully embracing Critical Role Chief Operating Officer Ed Lopez

Critical Role's success is just another jewel in the crown of D&D's pop culture dominance, as a recent article in the Washington Post suggests, even if this animated series isn't officially affiliated with Dungeons & Dragons. In this instance, Critical Role’s distance from the official D&D brand may be a boon for everyone involved; with their animated series aptly filling the adult-oriented fantasy niche, D&D has been handed a prime opportunity to create or commission a more family-focused D&D series in the vein of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power or Voltron: Legendary Defender, both Netflix original series. Critical Role’s success also heralds potential interest in the enigmatic 2021 “Dungeons & Dragons” movie, produced by Paramount.

Images in this article are sourced from Critical Role's Twitch channel. 

What does the success of Critical Role’s Kickstarter campaign mean to you? Are you excited? What would you want in an official “Dungeons & Dragons” animated series? Let us know in the comments!

James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of  Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He loves watching Critical Role and wants everyone he knows to get into it, too. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his very own Frumpkins, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.


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