Critical Role The Legend of Vox Machina: Bawdy, Bloody, and Funny

With The Legend of Vox Machina, Critical Role comes full circle from being voice actors playing D&D (first in a private game, then streaming on Geek & Sundry) to an $11 million Kickstarter for an animated special. That success attracted streaming network interest, which then morphed into a 24-episode animated series where they're voicing their own characters.

With The Legend of Vox Machina, Critical Role comes full circle from being voice actors playing D&D (first in a private game, then streaming on Geek & Sundry) to an $11 million Kickstarter for an animated special. That success attracted streaming network interest, which then morphed into a 24-episode animated series where they're voicing their own characters.

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If you've never watched Critical Role Season 1 or read any of the stories, TLoVM the animated series is easy to jump into. Instead of being exposition heavy or thrusting viewers into a lot of world building, it starts with some classic fantasy – especially fantasy RPG – tropes like a drunken bar brawl and mercenaries being killed (a TPK) by a mysterious force. Those scenes are delivered with hefty dose of humor, a bit of blood, and some nudity.

This isn't the '80s Saturday morning Dungeons & Dragons cartoon for kids. While there is gore, it's less than an episode of Invincible and far less than that show's season 1 finale. Similarly, TLoVM has nudity and a bit of sex in the first few episodes, but far less than Game of Thrones.

Vox Machina is an established group at the start of the series, but one that needs money and has a less than stellar reputation. The land of Emon is being ravaged by a mysterious threat. A bit of desperation on both sides leads to the bickering heroes taking the job.

TLoVM is bawdy, bloody, and funny, but it also has heart. The first two episodes tell a complete story with an obvious hook at the end that leads into the rest of the episodes – and a stinger hinting at new threats.

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The animation style has clean lines with some anime influence, but nothing excessively intricate or artsy. At the same, the art direction has style, like a scene that adds interest to the characters walking by showing it through a spider's web dotted with raindrops.

The first episode establishes the eight members of Vox Machina quickly with the following episodes building nicely upon each character's traits. Matthew Mercer voices several of the supporting characters, but in this format he doesn't have to cover all of the NPCs. The guest star talent includes David Tennant, Stephanie Beatriz, Tony Hale. Felica Day is the voice of a bandit.

And if they don't sell a stuffed toy bear version of Trinket at some point, Critical Role is missing out on a merchandise opportunity. TLoVM hits the perfect sweet spot between making Vex's companion bear fierce in battle, amusing when waiting, and adorable the rest of the time.

No critic has been given advance access to the entire first season, let alone all 24 episodes, so it's impossible to say how well the entire story arc plays out, but the first few episodes are entertaining and well made.

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You don't have to be a fan of Critical Role to enjoy The Legend of Vox Machina, but if you're a fan of fantasy adventure, TLoVM might turn you into Critter. The Legend of Vox Machina debuts on Amazon Prime on Friday, January 28, with the first three episodes. Critical Role will be holding watch parties on their Twitch channel at 7pm Tuesdays.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

mewzard

Explorer
I watched two episodes. I liked it better than I thought I would but not enough to keep with it, I think.

I think I'd like it better if the D&D stuff was more obvious. What classes are these characters? What spells are they casting or abilities? For example, what is that "plant shield" spell the druid(?) keeps casting? What's a saving throw for half damage look like? Etc. . .

I know I am probably in the minority about this, and it would likely make no sense for the non-playing audience they also want to reach, but if I am absorbing D&D content, I want it to be obviously D&D. 🤷‍♀️🤷‍♂️
It is worth noting episode 3 is where it really starts picking up and is the start of a longer arc, one that was quite solid in the campaign itself.

As for the classes, they're all there with some context clues. The guy using the lute while singing out magic? (Bard) The girl using nature magic and turning into animals? (Druid) The guy picking locks and throwing knifes? (Rogue) The girl with a bow and a bear whose focus is on a particular enemy, the Dragon? (Ranger, specifically Beastmaster) The guy running around shirtless and screaming with an axe, one who specifically mentioned Rage? (Barbarian) The girl clutching a symbol of a named god and healing? (Cleric) The guy using a gun in all his combat? (Gunslinger. Well, was a Gunslinger in Pathfinder, in 5e, they shifted him into a Fighter with a custom Gunslinger archetype).

They can't legally use D&D terminology, that's why the Cleric talks about "The Everlight" instead of Serenrae. That's why Scanlan sings "Scanlan's Hand", instead of Bigby's Hand, that's why Grog gets referred to with some Giant terminology vs being a Goliath.

But you do see rolls in action, even if you don't see dice. See Percy's gun jamming, or most of the team failing to open a locked door with their separate methods until Vax is able to pick the lock (Vox Machina has a history with...difficult doors). Some of that D&D goodness survives in our heroes' successes and failures.
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I can talk about what I feel is harmful to the D&D brand. I really don't care what happens to CR outside of its affiliation with D&D through the fact it is based on the D&D game.
if the branding for D&D is so generic that it can be devalued by a cartoon which does not use the brand anywhere, it’s a pretty weak brand! They spend a lot of money promoting the brand specifically to distinguish it from others; that’s literally the one job of a brand. It has no other purpose.
 

It was a Changeling. From looking it up, apparently the Tavern Keeper was the result of both an initial poll and a followup livestream that solicited suggestions from the audience.
Non-Binary Changeling Bard! You can see instruments on the wall of the tavern. There was supposed to be a kazoo on a plaque, but I didn't see it anywhere. I did see the plaque though.

The daughter had a similar skin tone, so she might have also been a changeling. Or just inherited it.
 


TheSword

Legend
if the branding for D&D is so generic that it can be devalued by a cartoon which does not use the brand anywhere, it’s a pretty weak brand! They spend a lot of money promoting the brand specifically to distinguish it from others; that’s literally the one job of a brand. It has no other purpose.
If the brand is supposed to be differentiated, they’re doing a lousy job of it. You also don’t need to include logos in you materials if everyone else refers to it as such.

As I said, I don’t dislike the show, I just had some mild criticism of some aspects of it. I just can’t get on board with the idea that CR isn’t D&D when it boils down to it. Apparently neither can the reviewers.

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TheSword

Legend
Say it with me one more time, folks: D&D-inspired, not D&D affiliated.

Criticism should be based on reality.
Reality should take into account the full circumstances not a narrow legalistic reading.

If every Vox Machina blurb relates it to D&D then Vox Machina reflects on D&D. The fact that VM producers don’t mention it, is irrelevant if everyone else does.
 


I like the show, but really, do you think that, if the show does poorly or receives negative press, that wouldn't reflect on D&D at all? Now that's a fantasy!
"Not reflect at all" isn't the same as "doesn't have a significant impact."

There's been several DnD movies, especially if we count unofficial ones. Most have been poorly received, and Tunnels and Trolls Mazes and Monsters (thanks, @S'mon) was explicitly trying to harm the brand. Yet here we are, talking about DnD.

No matter how good or bad the show is, I suspect DnD will continue.
 
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