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.

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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


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billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I love it personally. The thing that strikes me about the whole thing - and many D&D streaming shows in general, is how it seems to be going against WotC's messaging and general sanitizing of D&D (for example removing references to brothels in the DMG, shying away from any sort of sexual content etc). It's a weird dichotomy that seems to exist where things like CR show the way D&D is actually played in many cases but WotC is trying so hard not to offend. Sorry for the rambling - I hope some of that made sense!
D&D is, in some ways, once again the victim of its own popularity and that's pushing WotC to pick certain controversies to avoid to keep their appeal as broad as possible. But I think that Critical Role's success shows that embracing some of them has done little to harm their success, maybe even helped fuel it. Their markets overlap but are not the same.
 

The biggest culprit is the tavern scene. I feel like it drives the majority of controversy. Just one single (extended) scene feels like 80% of the kerfuffle.

I think that's true - though to be fair, it's the first actual scene in the series that includes the main characters, and also it's very long for its significance to the wider plot. I don't think it's unreasonable to get the impression the scene existed to set the tone for the whole show - that's certainly how i understood it on first viewing.
 
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Scribe

Legend
It's a weird dichotomy that seems to exist where things like CR show the way D&D is actually played in many cases but WotC is trying so hard not to offend.
As long as its not Wizards making a declarative statement, they are more than happy to allow others to court any potentially negative press that they can then disavow, while also basking in any reflected glory if said 'others' (CR) take off and are well received by the majority.

Win Win. ;)
 

Greggy C

Hero
"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.
bro... lol don't confuse my beloved Tunnels and Trolls with that...

The Professor's take echoes mine completely, and I he brought up a point I never thought about, that they would have to avoid mentioning anything that was Dungeons and Dragons (e.g. character classes) due to Copyright.

 

Amrûnril

Adventurer
I think it's a mistake to try to draw direct 1:1 comparison between D&D mechanics and stuff that happens on this show. The can only use the SRD stuff. They're not even going to be able to use the name "goliath" for what Grog is.

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.

The general point stands, but WotC can't actually be trying to claim "goliath" as exclusive IP can they? If CR could use Wizards' specific portrayal of goliaths but couldn't describe them with a word that's been around longer than the English language, that would seem like the exact opposite of what intelectual property law is designed to do.


I think that's true - though to be fair, it's the first actual scene in the series that includes the main characters, and also it's very long for its significance to the wider plot. I don't think it's unreasonable to get the impression the scene existed to set the tone for the whole show - that's certainly how i understood it on first viewing.
I would guess it's less to establish the tone and more to establish a point of context for subsequent character growth. But yes, that's not necessarily going to be clear to a new viewer.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
The general point stands, but WotC can't actually be trying to claim "goliath" as exclusive IP can they? If CR could use Wizards' specific portrayal of goliaths but couldn't describe them with a word that's been around longer than the English language, that would seem like the exact opposite of what intelectual property law is designed to do.

Can and have. You don't see goliaths in Pathfinder, for example.
 

bedir than

Full Moon Storyteller
From a Reddit post on the CR Reddit which I replied to - basically WotC's messaging and direction seems to be going one way while CR, Rick & Morty D&D, Stranger Things, and just about every other live play streaming show are going another as far as content. Anyway - my reply to the Reddit thread sums up the way I feel and the fact that I am confused by what WotC is doing.

I love it personally. The thing that strikes me about the whole thing - and many D&D streaming shows in general, is how it seems to be going against WotC's messaging and general sanitizing of D&D (for example removing references to brothels in the DMG, shying away from any sort of sexual content etc). It's a weird dichotomy that seems to exist where things like CR show the way D&D is actually played in many cases but WotC is trying so hard not to offend. Sorry for the rambling - I hope some of that made sense!
This dichotomy is really just another example that the Base Game is not the only way to play the game. The Base Game doesn't need a Harlot Table, but any group can play that way. The Base Game doesn't need racial bioessentialism, but your group can play that way. The Base Game doesn't need to have all Drow/Goblins/Orcs as evil, but you can play it that way.

Just like the game can be played by people too young for PG-13 movies, my own table wouldn't have 11-year-olds at it.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Well, I've seen the three episodes, here are my thoughts;

- Episode 1 is not very good. But I don't think it could EVER be good, at least like this. It has to introduce the world, a big group of characters, conflict, tone... it's trying to do a ton of things all at once, too many, and has no chance. It's a speed bump. The better way to start this series would have been to have a couple episodes where the characters are separate, and telling how they came together. Without that, Keyleth's line of "Why are we together?" rings far too true.

- I am torn on the voice acting. The Critical Role main cast are all doing great (though Liam, Laura and Travis' stand out as the best), but the other VA actors are almost... too distinct? These are some heavy hitters here, but when I hear the King speak I hear Cyborg, or the dragon I hear Dr Who, or Kima I hear Officer Diaz... these are all great VAs, but when they play small roles here I imagine them less as characters and more like the VA. Exception to this is Grey Griffin as Delilah Briarwood, who is incredibly distinct but is the childhood female VA villain of my childhood, and therefore can do no wrong.

- Matt Mercer... weirdly the worst VA actor on the show? Of course he is extremely talented, but you know when he is speaking instead of a different VA, and the variances between the characters he's voicing is usually not enough to make them distinct. So I hear the coat's guy talking, then Sylas Briarwood, and reminded that they're voiced by the same person? It's a little weird.

- Episode 2 has a great fight that illustrates D&D extremely well. Rewatched it on YT, and the top comment broke down every action in D&D terms, and it's clear that's how the scene was devised. It's very faithful, and Travis does an exceptional "I want to RAGE." It's a good episode overall, much better than 1.

- Episode 3 is the best of the 3 episodes, as it actually illustrates what the show will be about (The Briarwoods) gives some actual character motivations (Percy's revenge) some moral conflict, an actual fight with stakes... the soundtrack really shines here too.

- Biggest strength of the show? IT'S SHORT. You can run through three episodes just as fast as a single episode of the Witcher. That's a strength that a lot of TV has abandoned, condensing story and action and character to episodes of 25 minutes. Clearly the CR cast is using that experience for helping in the writing and pacing, and it pays off for episodes 2 and 3.

Overall, it's a fun show. It doesn't reach the heights of truly exception animation in style or writing as Into the Spider-Verse or Arcane, but it still is very good in the context of western animation. It's fun, and it won't change your life but it will be a fun quick watch if you want something to fill time.
 


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