Five reasons to love the Legend of Vox Machina
First, what is the Legend of Vox Machina? It’s an adult animated series adapted from a long-running D&D game streamed on Twitch called Critical Role. The party of adventurers begin the series by battling a dragon and then shift into a vengeance quest for one of its members that leads them into the darker parts of their fantasy world.
Here’s a short backstory from Polygon:
Critical Role, the team behind Vox Machina, is a troupe of voice actors who have been playing Dungeons & Dragons together since 2014. Their weekly broadcasts on Twitch comprise one of the most popular “actual play” experiences in the world — that is, a performance devoted to actually playing D&D in real time. The first season of the animated show draws upon the events of the first campaign, and is engineered to be the perfect point of entry for newcomers to a sprawling multimedia adventure, and a jumping off point for never-before-seen adventures.
The DM and players are all voice actors, so they’re able to use their unique skills to really focus on immersion in their games – which also means that they’re uniquely placed to adapt their work into the animated realm, thanks to their connections in the animation industry and their skills as actors. The players play their own characters on the show, and Matt Mercer (the DM) plays a lot of secondary characters, including one of the main antagonists.
I’m a fan of Critical Role (really enjoying the third season’s new characters!) and I was really excited to see Legend of Vox Machina blow its Kickstarter goal out of the water and get the green light for two seasons! The series is bringing to life wonderful characters that only existed in the imaginations of the players and fans. The animation is beautiful and the score is so well-done that you want to leap out of your seat during some of the fight scenes and weep during the darkest moments.
Here are five reasons that I think you will love Legend of Vox Machina:
1. They didn’t bother to show the gang coming together, but there is still a ‘becoming a team’ moment. The two-part opening shows them as a party that’s down on their luck and looking for easy money. Their interactions are a delight to watch because the cast has such incredible chemistry, and the audience is immediately sucked into their dynamic. There is, however, a lack of cohesion and teamwork. They’re a party but they’re not working at their highest potential. That is resolved during an epic, climactic, and cathartic battle at the conclusion of the second episode. This battle is probably one of my favourites in the series because it showcases the party’s strengths and teamwork (plus, Grog’s extremely fun Saiyan-esque powerup!). Showing them as team working optimally makes certain that the audience has a baseline of how the team works best without conflict, so that later – when Percy’s backstory punches everyone in the face – they have a reference to understand what exactly has gone wrong.
2. The gameplay translates well. While the show is clearly separate from the D&D game, and it’s totally possible to watch it without any idea what D&D is, there’s a lot of nods to game mechanics in the show. The characters often mess up during combat and when they take different types of damage (like necrotic) it’s a physical reaction that seems separate and additional to the hits that dealt that damage. Very interesting from a viewer’s perspective. There’s also the fact that Vox Machina has never met a door that will open easily for them; Vax might be a rogue, but if he rolls poorly then he’ll still break his tools and cut Scanlan’s hand open, which is funny as hell for the viewers who see these characters acting like total badasses in combat. It’s a lot of fun to watch and try to guess what rolls could have led to what actions.
3. It doesn’t hide behind limiting fantasy tropes – mostly. There are some things that could seem tropey (like the horny bard and the dumb tank) but these are holdovers from the original game. Other fantasy tropes like the whitewashed world and low-tech society have gone out the window. The wider world has a lot of POC characters, including the King of Tal-Dorei, Uriel. There’s also guns! Some people complained about the guns. Those people are cowards and evolution will weed them out. Percy’s ability to build guns is clearly explained and justified in-world, and it gives the viewer something interesting to watch besides the swishy-swoosh of swords and arrows.
4. It’s funny. The humour is crass and rude, but that’s very D&D-table vibes. That being said, the humour doesn’t limit characters’ ability to be serious. Scanlan is mainly comic relief at first but – similarly to how Sam Riegal played him on the stream – he shows depth and strength that is surprising and even moving. Keyleth is a glass canon that has a lot of slapstick moments that help to show her growth in the short time that the series covers. Even Grog has moments that show there’s more going on behind his loveable-doofus personality. I know that they’re going to get a second season, so there will likely be plenty of time for the creators to explore that. I’m excited to see how much of the original characters’ backstories will be shown in between the joyous laughter.
5. It doesn’t trivialise horror and death. Characters witness tragedies, but instead of being treated as an opportunity for dark comedy, they’re treated as an opportunity to adapt the characters’ worldviews. Vax was ready to walk away from the dragon fight until he found the body of a young boy he’d befriended in the wreckage left behind by the monster. When they discover the bodies on the Suntree, the group is appropriately horrified and use it as motivation to finish the Briarwoods – it’s not just about Percy’s vengeance anymore, it’s about saving the town. The series doesn’t joke about the horrors. It fills the surrounding spaces of the series with entertaining character interactions and jokes, which builds an even sharper contract. It doesn’t make the horror crude or ineffective by laughing it off.
And there you have it. Five reasons I think you should watch this really excellent show. It’s only on Amazon Prime, but now that all the episodes have dropped you can get a free trial and watch the whole thing without putting more money on Jeff Bezos’s yacht. By the way, this is only my top five reasons – there are many others. The only way to know if it’s your jam is to check it out for yourself!
PS – I love writing and I love eating! If you want to help with the latter (and ONLY if you want) you can maybe buy me a coffee? 🙂