Turning a tabletop role-playing game (RPG) into a successful animated series isn’t something you hear about every day, but “Critical Role” achieved just that. It started as an attempt to create a single animated episode and turned into a full-fledged series with three seasons already. What makes The Legend of Vox Machina so enjoyable? And do you have to be a fan of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) to appreciate it?
Fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons
The fantasy genre has been around for some time. Some consider Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as one of the earliest fantasy books. However, if you delve further back, you’ll find that virtually all myths are, in essence, fantasy tales. Giants, talking animals, half-human/half-animal creatures – we’ve dreamt them all up for our entertainment. Dungeons & Dragons was conceived in the 1970s. By following a set of rules, players created characters who embarked on adventures within a story crafted by the Dungeon Master (DM). You roll some dice, and based on the outcomes, you determine whether an action succeeds or fails. That’s the simplified version. With enough imagination, it can become a captivating story.
This is precisely what happened when a group of people, led by DM Matthew Mercer, came together to play D&D. Their stories were so enthralling that they decided to turn them into a TV series. Each player (and voice actor/actor) brought their own character to life. The DM constructed the world and presented challenges to the characters. It would have been easy to make these characters overwhelmingly strong or exceptionally intelligent, but what makes it beautiful is that each character also has a weakness. Sometimes it’s comical, sometimes painful. For instance, Percy, who is highly intelligent but stumbles when explaining complex plans; either they’re not understood or it takes too long to execute.
What adds depth to the series is that these individual characters already have relationships among themselves. You have the twins Vex and Vax, two half-elves who are inseparable. There’s Grog and Pike, a towering barbarian and a small gnome, forging an endearing friendship between two vastly different characters. As the episodes progress, these relationships evolve, making it dynamic and more than just a group of troublemakers embarking on yet another adventure.
SPOILER ALERT: It’s not a children’s series. Definitely not. Not only is the language unsuitable for kids, but the themes are quite intense. Percy has lost his family, Vex and Vax have been disowned by their father, and the battles they engage in are fierce and bloody. This also reflects the essence of D&D: the DM’s statement, “Roll for initiative,” which marks the beginning of a combat encounter, sends shivers down many players’ spines. (Or is it just me?) Your character must then defend against dragons, giants, or zombies, and there’s no guarantee they’ll survive.
Vox Machina is Good Entertainment
But is Vox Machina only enjoyable if you’re a D&D player? Not at all. Non-players can still follow the series with ease. It’s not presented as a game session but rather as a story. So, if you appreciate adventurous fantasy and humor, it’s perfect Saturday morning entertainment. You have 25 episodes to relish! Who knows, it might even inspire you to dip your toes into the world of Dungeons & Dragons.
However, it’s important to understand that this isn’t a children’s series. It’s not something to watch with young kids, despite being an animated show. It’s explicitly designed for adults. You might find this unusual, but that’s precisely why you should consider watching an episode or two. Cartoons are just great for some laid-back relaxation. Bring on the zombies, dragons, and vampires!