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SYFY WIRE Dungeons & Dragons

Go inside Critical Role's new art book, The Chronicles of Exandria, with the Mighty Nein's Liam O'Brien

By Lisa Granshaw
Critical Role art book: The Chronicles of Exandria - The Mighty Nein

Over the course of two streaming Dungeons & Dragons campaigns and an increasing roster of original programming, Critical Role has earned a legion of dedicated fans known as Critters. These fans are inspired by the stories and characters created by a brand that’s grown from just a group of nerdy voice actors playing D&D at home to a company not only providing unique geeky shows but raising millions in a Kickstarter campaign to turn part of their game into an animated series — which was ultimately picked up by Amazon for two seasons — and regularly packing rooms at comic conventions around the world.

The creativity of the Critical Role fanbase is seen in the incredible fan works they create, including amazing cosplay and fan art. Critical Role acknowledges these fans and their work in many ways, from features on its talk show Talks Machina to galleries online to collecting art in beautiful bound books. Its latest book release will be published by Dark Horse next month: Critical Role: The Chronicles of Exandria — The Mighty Nein.

The Chronicles of Exandria — The Mighty Nein features more than 260 pages of artwork created by more than 130 Critters around the world, all inspired by Critical Role’s current D&D campaign. The campaign, which follows the exploits of an adventuring party known as the Mighty Nein, is still ongoing, but as cast member and actor Liam O’Brien (Star Wars Rebels, World of Warcraft) tells SYFY WIRE, their first campaign taught them that they need more than one art book to retell their stories. Once they felt the Mighty Nein’s first arc emerged, they started working on this book.

Critical Role’s first campaign inspired two art books, The Chronicles of Exandria, Vol. I: The Tale of Vox Machina and The Chronicles of Exandria Vol. II: The Legend of Vox Machina. The initial idea for a curated collection began with their own love for the work they were seeing fans create in the early days and how their ideas for creating things came from what they themselves wanted.

Critical Role art book: The Chronicles of Exandria - The Mighty Nein

“We were always charmed by the waves of art we saw every week, sharing things with each other as they popped up,” O’Brien tells SYFY WIRE in an email interview. “It seemed a shame to let so much amazing work be shared for a single moment online. I think we all wanted a way to remember some of it, and a big, beautiful tome of art was something we knew we all wanted to see on our bookshelves at home.”

Work began on this third installment last year with O’Brien focusing on the curation and design as fellow cast member and actor Taliesin Jaffe (Injustice 2, One Piece) led the way on writing with production coordinator Dani Carr heavily involved with writing as well. Thanks to Critical Role’s efforts to highlight the art from the community, O’Brien was able to keep in mind what he sees every week from fans when deciding what to include in the book.

“I’m the master librarian for the art that’s created every week," O’Brien says. "I am kind of always working on this, in the background of all my other duties at [Critical Role]. I collect a lot of what I see week to week and curate web galleries and a reel that plays during our episodes. While doing that, I will also slide pieces into an adjacent vault that I know we will then use down the road for the art book.

He continues: "I shared all selections with our wonderful book designer and curator, Lauryn Ipsum, who has an excellent eye and sifted through thousands of choices and crafted an initial skeleton based on the story beats we had mapped out. It’s always very much like assembling a puzzle.”

Critical Role art book: The Chronicles of Exandria - The Mighty Nein

The sheer growth of Critical Role though led to a major challenge with this book. For O’Brien, there’s so much art being created by talented fans that it’s now harder than ever to narrow down what to include. Still, the group was ultimately able to choose a great selection to illustrate the initial adventures of their characters in Wildemount, the fictional land in which their latest campaign is taking place. For fans who have picked up past art books though, they’ll find this one slightly different in its approach as it will be presented through the perspective of the Mighty Nein’s resident monk, Beauregard Lionett, played by actor Marisha Ray (Persona 4, Metal Gear: Survive).

“The book recounts the Mighty Nein’s early chapters through the ongoing correspondence between Beauregard and the archivists of the Cobalt Soul in Wildemount. So this is an extension of canon lore from our story, sharing Beau’s thoughts and opinions on their travels together,” O’Brien explains.

This will provide a unique perspective for fans as they read about the story and world alongside the stunning full-color art. A deluxe faux-leather, foil-stamped edition of the book in a decorative clamshell box will also be available and include items such as an annotated Dwendalian Empire cloth map by Deven Rue, a pamphlet about the Traveller, a triptych-style lithograph with exclusive art by Sam Hogg, and more.

Critical Role art book: The Chronicles of Exandria - The Mighty Nein

O’Brien is looking forward to fans digging into this packed book, which he calls "the best art book yet.”

It’s the next in what is sure to be more books to come, as they’ve become a core way in which Critical Role honors the breathtaking fan works the community creates.

“Art has become one of the threads of what we do at [Critical Role] and always will be, I think. We love making these books, bringing community artists on for things like our comics, Matt [Mercer]’s campaign guide, or other projects we do," O’Brien says. “The Critter artists share their passion with us every week. So finding ways to collaborate with some of them? It is such a lovely thing.”

Critical Role: The Chronicles of Exandria — The Mighty Nein will be available on June 2.