When you open up Amazon Prime, one of the shows they are heavily promoting right now is an animated show called The Legend of Vox Machina. It features folks with pointy ears, magic, and medieval/Renaissance weaponry fighting a bunch of purple tentacles. One guy is gray, one lady has antlers. What the heck is going on?
It’s a Dungeons & Dragons Thing
Yeah, the same Dungeons & Dragons that was super popular in the ’70s and ’80s. The one that whenever a show wants you to know a character is into more nerdy/geeky hobbies, they’ll show them playing D&D.
Attempts at making a D&D show/movie have failed multiple times, but this time is different. Previously, the attempt was to recreate the feel of a game of D&D, while sticking to modern television sensibilities. However, this time the goal wasn’t to recreate the feel of a game, it was to recreate the game itself.
This story is actually from an actual game of D&D on a Webshow (Twitch stream) called Critical Role, hosted by Geek & Sundry, a media company by Felicia Day and occasionally featuring Wil Wheaton. Critical Role was a game of professional voice actors living in LA, who thought their performance abilities could help the hobby, which was beginning to rise in popularity.
The characters in the show are the actual characters, played by their own voice actors/players, and going on the actual adventures that they did in their game. Many of the background characters are voiced by Matt Mercer, the Dungeon Master, who ran the game. It’s all very Meta, but that’s why it works.
For the first time, no one is trying to simulate the experience of playing D&D, and especially not by a cast and crew that don’t fully understand it. They are merely recreating it in a different format.
The show gained enough popularity that it was seen as the epitome of a D&D game, which was perfect timing. The next year, Stranger Things became a hit show on Netflix, wherein the main characters played D&D and talked about the mystery and monsters they faced in terms of a D&D game, such as the Upside Down and the Demogorgon. This brought a new wave of people interested in the hobby, and they were able to find a professionally produced and well acted show on Twitch, called Critical Role. Between these two, not only did the show explode, but so did the current edition of D&D.
The show became so popular, that they decided to make a Kickstarter to make it into a 22-minute animated special, with a budget of $750,000. Well, in the end there were 88,887 backers who pledged a total of $11,385,449. So instead of a single 22-minute special, Amazon bought the rights, and they made a 12 episode first season, streaming now, and have already approved a second season.
What Should I Know Before I Watch?
Well, the first thing to know is about the setting. Basically, like most D&D settings, it’s a custom built highly fantasized version of Medieval Europe. There are kings of countries, dragons ravaging the countryside, and gold from said king for killing said dragon.
Unlike fantasy Medieval Europe, but like most D&D settings, it’s not guaranteed that our heroes are humans. In fact, very few adventurers are. Some of them are Elves, Dwarves, or Hobbits (Halflings) like in The Lord of the Rings, but then there are even wackier options, like Half-Elf (the other Half is Human), Gnomes (like magical Hobbits), or Goliath (big strong ogre-type, but good).
In fact, let’s just look at our group of heroes from left to right:
- Vex – Female Half-Elf Ranger (bow-and-arrow nature type)
- Vax – Male Half-Elf Rogue (thief/assassin type), Vex’s twin.
- Keyleth – Female Half-Elf Druid (magic of nature type)
- Scanlan – Male Gnome Bard (Music is Magic)
- Grog – Male Goliath Barbarian (Hulk Smash type)
- Pike – Female Gnome Cleric (Magical Priestess)
- Percy – Male Human Gunslinger (has a revolver-type gun)
What do they do? Well, basically they take on odd jobs for money. It might be something like “Infiltrate the tower of an Archmage,” or collecting dangerous magical items from dangerous places, and keeping it safe from dangerous people. The first episode opens with a job of killing a dragon that is destroying villages.
Why is it called Vox Machina? Well, that’s the name of their adventuring group. It’s a pun on the phrase Deus Ex Machina, which is Latin for “God out of the Machine”, and basically means unsolvable problems are suddenly resolved, seemingly by the will of the gods, but the Ex is Vox, which is Latin for Voice, because they are voice actors. Deus Ex Machina, Vox Machina.
Overall the show knows that it is going to reach people that have never played D&D, so it doesn’t require a lot of knowledge going in. As long as you can go along for the ride, it is a fun show, the characters are distinct and unique, even if they are a little bizarre, and it’s a good adventure show with magic. Just have fun, and if you really like it, maybe ask your friends if they know anyone that plays D&D, and join in for a single night of gaming, called a “One Shot.”