Critical Role broke the mold when it comes to what D&D podcasts can become, and now there are so many more stories that can be adapted into TV shows. Here are some campaigns that BELONG on TV!
On March 4, 2019, the people behind Critical Role, an extremely successful Dungeons & Dragons web series and podcast, launched a Kickstarter campaign so they could create an animated special for their first D&D campaign, “Vox Machina,” for their YouTube channel. The Kickstarter broke the record of the most funded TV or movie venture, raising over $5 million in four days. The fans (known as “Critters”) went above and beyond, and in the end, the campaign raised $11.3 million. This was enough for an entire ten episode series, but Amazon Prime Video offered them better. With the combined efforts of Critical Role Productions, Titmouse, Inc., and Amazon Prime, the animated adaptation of Critical Role’s first campaign, The Legend of Vox Machina, was born. The rise in Critical Role’s popularity gave way to other D&D related ventures, including CollegeHumor’s–now Dropout’s–Dimension 20, My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcasters, the McElroy’s, The Adventure Zone, even a D&D movie called Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, in which the Critical Role cast make cameo appearances. Nerds have truly taken over the world, and due to Critical Role’s success in bringing Vox Machina to television, here are some other campaigns (including other Critical Role ones) that can easily be made into TV shows and probably should be!
Dimension 20: The Unsleeping City
Dimension 20 is created and, for the most part, DMed (Dungeon Master’ed) by comedian and gamemaster Brennan Lee Mulligan. D20 is an anthology series, meaning every season (with some sequel exceptions) is a brand new campaign with the occasional recurring set of players called the Intrepid Heroes, consisting of Emily Axford, Brian K. Murphy, Ally Beardsley, Lou Wilson, Siobhan Thompson, and Zac Oyama. Born and raised in New York City, Brennan took his hometown and thought, “This needs more magic in it!” The Unsleeping City, the third season of D20, takes place in a fantastical NYC with the players acting as New York natives, from Ally’s Pete the Plug, a former drug dealer, to Emily’s Sofia Bicicleta, a Staten Island hairdresser, to Brian’s Kugrash, a literal sewer rat. The Unsleeping City is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking and possibly one of the most down-to-earth of D20’s campaigns. While many of D20’s seasons act as parodies of pop culture, such as A Crown of Candy which parodies Game of Thrones, this season is more the brainchild of a New York native, capturing the essence of his home city while providing it some much needed comedic jabbing. A truly original concept, with a sequel season to explore as well, The Unsleeping City would make an excellent urban fantasy show.
Critical Role – Campaign 2: The Mighty Nein
You can’t adapt Critical Role’s first campaign and not the second–especially since, unlike with Vox Machina, fans have been with the Mighty Nein since day one! To give a quick Critical Role history lesson, the web series began on the YouTube channel Geek & Sundry, starring a friend group of well-known voice actors who were bringing their home game online. The show is DMed by voice actor Matthew Mercer and played by Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel, Laura Bailey, and Taliesin Jaffe. The first episode of the vodcast starts with Vox Machina as an already formed and established group of mercenaries, the audience tuning in well into their journey. When the first campaign wrapped in October 2017, their second campaign began in January 2018, set 20 years after the events of the first one with brand new characters, starting on the day they all meet. Campaign 2 is the longest recorded campaign from Critical Role, and quite possibly their best, having learned hard lessons about roleplay and production from the previous one. Taking place on a new continent of Exandria, the fantasy world of Matthew’s invention, called Wildemount, this campaign is much more Neutral in alignment and explores themes of morality, grief, regret, and death. But don’t get it twisted; with Laura’s Jester Lavorre present, the show is never short of laughs! Holding interesting lore about ancient civilizations, political corruption, and gods starting cults, the Mighty Nein has some insane adventures that, if animated, would be stunning to watch. Critters are already anticipating an adaptation of Campaign 2 to go with Campaign 1, and it surely deserves it!
The Adventure Zone: The Balance Arc
The McElroy Family are no strangers to podcasting; their original podcast, My Brother, My Brother, and Me, starring brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy has an estimated 550,000 listeners. Initially a filler episode on MBMBaM, The Adventure Zone was meant as a one-shot adventure played by the brothers–Griffin as the DM–and their father, Clint McElroy, to cover for Justin’s paternity leave. Due to popular demand and personal interest, The Adventure Zone got its own podcast, where they began playing weekly. Their first campaign, or “arc,” Balance, is quite possibly their most popular. Starting as a Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure, the campaign quickly split off and told its own story following a trio of adventurers, Justin’s Taako, Travis’ Magnus, and Clint’s Merle, retrieving powerful relics for an organization called the Bureau of Balance, discovering along the way a reality-ending threat and the meaning of friendship. Justin McElroy once described the Balance Arc as “The story of four idiots that played D&D so hard that they made themselves cry,” which is an excellent way to describe it. Heartfelt, earnest, and episodic by nature, this campaign is their oldest and one of their most beloved. It has inspired comic books and fan-made animatics, and it’s needless to say that the story deserves its own show to tell the story to new and old audiences. Share the idiocy with the world, I say!
Not Another D&D Podcast (NADDPod) – Campaign 1: Bahumia
Comedy writer and performer Brian K. Murphy of Dimension 20 began his own D&D podcast in 2018 called Not Another D&D Podcast, nicknamed NADDPod. DMed by Brian and played by his wife and D20 co-star, Emily Axford, joined by Jake Hurwitz and Caldwell Tanner, NADDPod starts unlike any other podcast: after the heroes have already won. The first campaign, Bahumia, has players clean up messes left behind by The Legendary Heroes, who saved the realm but screwed it up in the process. With 15 chapters in the first campaign, this is one of the most beloved of NADDPod’s campaigns. With a cast of comedians, writers, and professional improvisers, it’s hard not to laugh out loud at the shenanigans of Beverly, Moonshine, and Hardwon (Caldwell, Emily, and Jake, respectively). That’s not to say the campaign isn’t free of hard-hitting moments and devastating consequences, considering the campaign is built off the consequences of heroes past. This cast is small but mighty, and the story packs a punch as a post-war, morally gray reality its players must try and navigate. It makes absolute sense as a TV show, with a band of unlikely allies addressing the messiness of a world supposedly saved. Come on, it’s written in the stars!
Dimension 20: Fantasy High
The first season of Dimension 20 and the establishment of the Intrepid Heroes, Fantasy High, is a must-have on this list. Set in the fantastical suburbs of Elmville, this campaign follows a Breakfast Club-esque group of student adventurers called The Bad Kids attending Arthur Ageufort’s Adventuring Academy. Exploring coming-of-age themes like family, self-discovery, religious trauma, and romance, this is the story that kicked off Dimension 20 as a classic D&D podcast and web series and has been revisited a couple of different times in the form of LIVE one-shot shows, a LIVE sequel season, Fantasy High: Sophomore Year, and a spin-off season called The Seven following the seven maidens taken prisoner in the first season. A fan favorite and the story that started it all, it would be absolutely amazing to see D20’s debut season as a TV show. Why? Well, why not? Coming-of-age tales are all the rage, and animating a comedic and heartfelt take on fantasy teens trying to save the world and also pass Barbarian class seems like a no-brainer.
Dungeons & Daddies – Season 1: Odyssey
To clarify: this is not a BDSM podcast! This is genuinely a podcast about four dads who were transported into the Forgotten Realms, desperately trying to rescue their sons after they were kidnapped by an unknown force. DMed by actor and writer Anthony Burch, the dads are played by Freddie Wong, Matt Arnold, Beth May, and Will Campos. Hilarious and great for people with no knowledge of D&D, this show is the perfect fish-out-of-water story to be adapted to TV. Not to mention, the story doesn’t end when Season 1 does because Season 2 delves into the lives of the dads’ grandkids as they must fix the world their grandparents screwed up–perfect spin-off material if I ever heard it. Filled to the brim with lessons of love, loss, fatherhood, and family, as well as so many dad jokes your head will spin, this underrated podcast deserves its time in the sun. Not to mention, the entire cast consists of TV writers. They’d do their show justice!
Critical Role – Exandria Unlimited: Calamity
To finish off this list, we can’t not mention EXU: Calamity. Exandria Unlimited is a spin-off series of Critical Role in which Matthew Mercer does not DM, but rather he hands the torch to other DMs to tell different, connected stories of Exandria with new and old cast members. EXU: Calamity is a four-episode prequel campaign DMed by Brennan Lee Mulligan, taking place thousands of years prior to Campaign 1 during the Age of Arcanum (an age where arcane magic was essentially at its peak) on the night that kickstarted the Calamity, a.k.a a catastrophic war between the Prime Deities and the Betrayer Gods, the pantheon of Exandria. Filled with Critical Role lore and themes of corruption, unrestricted ambition, and what it means to save a world that’s already doomed, this is possibly one of the best-recorded D&D campaigns of all time. A masterclass in roleplay starring some of the best D&D players in the world–Marisha Ray, Lou Wilson, Aabria Iyengar, Travis Willingham, and Luis Carazo–EXU: Calamity has the makings of a mini-series that can rip your heart out while filling it with hope. Should The Legend of Vox Machina go forth and be adapted to completion, The Legend of The Mighty Nein following in its wake, then the EXU adventures cannot be left out–especially not EXU: Calamity.
You can listen to all of these podcasts on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, and make sure to check to see if they have vodcasts on YouTube and Twitch!
(Note: some seasons of Dimension 20 are only available on Dropout, though not any that we have listed!)