The Legends of Vox Machina Portrays the Artistry of D&D


Screengrab from “The Legends of Vox Machina” official trailer.

Whenever I’m asked my thoughts on tabletop role playing games, I always cite Mabel Pine’s pitch perfect description for the Gravity Falls version of Dungeons and Dragons: “Ugh, this is like homework, the game!” 

As far as I’m concerned, that quote could be the tagline on a boxset. I’ve always struggled to understand the appeal of a hobby that required so much dedication and patience, especially without a visual aid. Combat alone requires more addition and subtraction than a high school math course. However, these role-playing games also provide unparalleled storytelling opportunities, giving you the chance to craft an adventure built around your own imagination. 

The game requires dungeon Masters to work together with their players and build a world uniquely tailored to their own creative sensibilities. It’s a kind of narrative collaboration impossible in any other medium, and one that can result in surprisingly rich stories. The Legends of Vox Machina is one of those stories. An adaptation of Executive Producer Matt Mercer’s D&D podcast, “Critical Role,” Vox Machina is an animated showcase for the powerful storytelling capabilities of these tabletop role-playing games. 

Taking place in the mystical land of Exandria, The Legend of Vox Machina is about the most dysfunctional fellowship in fantasy history. Grog (Travis Willingham), the muscle, is a slow-witted Goliath with a passion for booze and violence. He’s close with Pike (Ashley Johnson), a gnome cleric and the party’s moral center. Pike functions as the group’s resident healer, a responsibility she shares with Keyleth (Marisha Ray), a half-elf druid and marginally incompetent mage.

Percy (Taliesin Jaffe), a human gunslinger, credits himself as the most accomplished member of the party, frequently frustrated by Vox Machina’s light-hearted debauchery. Scanlan (Sam Riegel), the bard, proves especially aggravating, a shameless gnome flaunting a dirty mind and dirtier lyrics. Twin half-elves Vex (Laura Bailey) and Vax (Liam O’Brian) are effectively the leaders of the groups, though they are also likely to engage in drunken profligacy. Together they are Vox Machina, and they are, unfortunately, the protectors of the realm. Pitted against corrupt nobles, evil spirits, and avaricious dragons, this motley crew of screw-ups must prove themselves as more than court jesters and rise to the occasion as heroes worthy of legend. 

On paper, there’s nothing especially unique here. “A band of misfits unite to save their home from otherworldly forces” might as well be the tagline for an Avengers movie. It’s easy to write Vox Machina off as nothing more than a dime-dozen fantasy story, albeit one with a much more crude sense of humor. However, those willing to give the show a chance will quickly discover its secret weapon: the characters.   

Over the two seasons released thus far, The Legends of Vox Machina unfolds a narrative built entirely around the characters themselves. Avoiding the fantasy pitfalls of expository world-building, we learn about Exandria through Vox Machina themselves. Percy was a former royal before a violent coup, and his quest for vengeance is the driving narrative force behind the show’s initial story arc. Not only does his vendetta provide greater depth to his characterization, it allows the writers to expand Vox Machina’s world without losing sight of their protagonists. 

This trend continues well into the second season, broadening Exandria’s scope through strong character development. The party’s motivations are what push each of their storylines forward, revealing that there is far more to these rowdy mavericks than meets the eye. All of them grapple with authentic psychological issues, often in ways further exacerbated through the show’s own mythology. Vax’s codependent relationship with Vex leads him to adopt a deadly curse, while a dangerous artifact takes advantage of Grog’s penchant for bloodshed by manipulating his underlying insecurities. Grounding the show’s conflict with relatable themes helps provide this light-hearted fantasy romp with some depth, making the characters feel 3-dimensional and consistently engaging.     

Of course, a show this strongly tied to it’s characters would flounder without a strong voice cast to bring them to life. Thankfully, the stars of Vox Machina are more-than-up to the task. Reprising their roles from Matt Mercer’s Critical Role campaign, each member of this vocal ensemble proves to be in top form. They’ve all spent hours developing these characters over countless D&D sessions, resulting in nuanced, lived-in performances rarely seen in animation. For example, part of the reason Percy and Scanlan’s dynamic is so much fun to watch is the chemistry between Taliesin Jaffe and Sam Riegel. Their real-life friendship is evident in the breezy, synergized nature of their dialogue. Every cast member shares this kind of rapport, exchanging delightfully snarky banter in a way only friends could. 

Like any great adaptation, you do not require a pre-existing interest in Dungeons and Dragons to enjoy The Legends of Vox Machina. My own feeling towards these tabletop games could be described as indifferent at best before this show. However, I still found myself hooked on every episode, and it even encouraged me to give the game another try. These role-playing games are built upon creative storytelling, rich characterization, and friendship, all of which are painstakingly evident in this animation. So if you’re a diehard fan or simply in search of a great piece of fantasy entertainment, both seasons of The Legends of Vox Machina will prove to be a worthwhile investment.