By Sean Cabot
“Critical Role” is a series of livestreamed games of “Dungeons & Dragons” played by a group of professional voice actors. Spawning from a series of sessions organized by Matthew Mercer for his friend Liam O’Brien’s birthday, the brand has since expanded to a shocking degree.
In 2019, Critical Role Productions began a Kickstarter for a 22-minute special which was launched with a goal of $750,000, only to receive over $11 million in funding. The result is a 12 episode Amazon Prime animated series – “The Legend of Vox Machina.”
Following the plot of “Critical Role’s” first campaign, the show follows the titular adventuring party Vox Machina – a group of eclectic, ill-behaved misfits such as the bloodthirsty goliath Grog (Travis Willingham) and the hypersexual gnome Scanlan (Sam Riegel).
There are decent people in the group, like Keyleth the druid (Marisha Ray) and Pike the cleric (Ashley Johnson). Though they’re ultimately about as eccentric as their allies.
The rest of the cast consists of the sardonic half-elf siblings Vex and Vax (Laura Bailey and O’Brien), and Percy (Taliesin Jaffe), a prickly deposed noble seeking revenge against his family’s killers. He’s also played by the kid with the blanket from “Mr. Mom.”
Together they stumble through perilous quests with incredible reluctance, learning all the valuable lessons a dysfunctional group of friends usually learns on a high-fantasy epic. Though, calling it an epic is a bit inaccurate.
There is a good chunk of worldbuilding in this season, but its scale is actually rather personal. The plot largely centers on Percy’s all-consuming quest for revenge, effectively making him the central character.
Thankfully, the rest of the party gets enough time devoted to each individual member to make it feel like a proper ensemble. This slightly lopsided juggling act does eventually result in a story that works well in spite of a few clichéd elements. However, some rather odd pacing precedes that result.
“Vox Machina” opens up on a two-parter adapting the events of the unstreamed sessions. From there, the show launches into a 10-episode adaptation of the second major arc of the original series, skipping past the first entirely and upending the status quo that the first two episodes seemed to set.
The awkwardness doesn’t end there however. The show is absurdly graphic and vulgar, with characters hacking off limbs and swearing like sailors constantly.
It’s all well performed – each member of the main cast is voiced by their original player, all talented actors in their own right. But it’s so excessive at times that it’s hard for me to believe that characters as libidinous as Scanlan were toned down from their original interpretations.
However, and I speak as someone who has neither watched much “Critical Role” nor participated in a full tabletop RPG campaign, that’s kind of the fun of it.
While the humor never ceases to surface at weird times and persists in being scatological, the show visibly gains its footing as it progresses. Percy goes through a satisfying arc and Scanlan ultimately proves his worth multiple times in spite of starting off as easily the most annoying character.
And being that the series is adapted from loose, improvised gaming sessions between a group of close friends, the vulgarity makes a certain degree of sense.
This looseness is even reflected in the show itself. While every other character in the show, even comedic relief, seems like part of this world, everyone in Vox Machina save for possibly Percy have a decidedly modern attitude and speech style.
All of this comes together to paint a picture of a group of role-players who start out with little ability to convincingly improvise, then gradually immerse themselves fully into this world.
In that respect, “The Legend of Vox Machina” is a perfect adaptation of both its source and the tabletop experience. It’s not perfect, but I can’t imagine any decent campaign is.
B+, a not-quite-natural 20