With more locations, deeper backstories, and inventive magical items; The Legend of Vox Machina season two is firmly grounded in its D&D origins.
For those who have been paying attention to the news, it hasn’t been a great few days for Wizards of the Coast (owners of Dungeons & Dragons). Ever since they were purchased by Hasbro in 1999, players have worried that the game would suffer, and last week seemed to bring that to a head. A leaked memo outlining changes to D&D’s OGL 1.1 caused outrage from players and creators. The OGL is what allows other properties to utilize D&D’s baseline framework for tabletop role-playing games, as well as the many digital resources that exist for the game. The OGL is what helped creators, DMs and players create their own homebrew worlds, items, and characters.
The Legend of Vox Machina
During the COVID pandemic, we saw an explosion of D&D Twitch streamers. The new OGL could change all that. Some of the most concerning changes include a new requirement for creators to report their projects and revenues to WoC. A new 25% tax on all creator sales – not profit – made over $750,000, giving WotC legal rights to reproduce and resell creators’ content without permission or compensation.
Thankfully, after several days of backlash, WoC said they would be rethinking those changes. Why do I bring this all up? Because if these types of restrictions previously existed, Critical Role might never have existed, and it’s animated spinoff. The Legend of Vox Machina, would cease to be. And that would be a tragedy. After one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time, season one was picked up by Amazon and one of the most fantastic animated fantasy shows was born. As much as I loved season one, season two takes the show to a new level. The characters might be at level seven, but this show is rocking at level 20 with all of its ability scores maxed out. It is a testament to what the creativity of D&D can produce and something that should be nurtured not hindered.
Roll for Initiative – Table to Screen Done Right
Season two picks up right where season one left off. Here a group of powerful dragons, known as the Croma Conclave, descends upon the Tal’Dorei’s capital city of Emon. Right out of the door, I was excited to see that. As with season one of the Critical Role campaign, the chromatic dragons were pulled right out of 5e. With fire, acid, and ice breath powers The dragons threaten to destroy all of Exandria. This causes the titular group of mercenaries to flee in search of powerful ancient artifacts. These artifacts are known as the Vestiges of Divergence, that have the power to destroy the dragons. This new storyline allows our merry band to travel to other areas of Tal’Dorei. Including the Fey Realm, much like an actual D&D campaign.
+5 to Charisma – Humor and Heart
For those who have a hard time keeping track, the group of adventurers includes half-elf ranger Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey) and her twin brother, the rogue Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien), half-elf druid Keyelth (Marisha Ray), gnome bard Scanlan (Sam Riegel), goliath barbarian Grog (Travis Willingham), human gunslinger Percy (Taliesin Jaffe); and gnome cleric Pike (Ashley Johnson). Episode one immediately sets the familiar tone for the season, heartfelt emotional moments with a hefty dose of bawdy humor. Some may be put off by the humor. But anyone who’s played D&D, knows that this is par for the course around the table. From Scanlan conjuring a magical butt to soften his fall to a human rectal suppository, the show encaptures the ridiculous shenanigans that often happen around the table. O’Brien jokes, “We lured people in with the slapstick humor and now they’re about to get hit with the feels hard.”
And boy oh boy are there feels in this season. The story arc isn’t just about defeating dragons, across the 12 episodes, we delve deeper into each character’s backstory. Every character has their own hero story. It was definitely a challenge for the cast to synthesize two years of information about their characters into 12, 30 minutes episodes. But it was one they all enjoyed. According to O’Brien, “Just trying to boil it down and get the essence of each character’s story and their relationship to each other and then get to animate that beautifully with our friends at Titmouse was a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Off the Rails – Telling Both Sides of the Story In The Legend of Vox Machina Season 2
In order to avoid spoilers, I’ll summarize – Vex and Vax are forced to confront their familial past and witness how their relationship grew so strong; Keyelth learns more about her Ashari roots and finally finds the strength and confidence needed to complete her Aramenté trials; Scanlan, still as raunchy as ever, has a shocking revelation that causes him to reexamine how he’s been living his life; and in one of my favorite reveals, we learn more about Grog and Pike’s unique relationship.
It was also wonderful to see Grog evolve beyond just the comic relief. This lets Willingham really flex his dramatic muscles. Johnson reflects, “When we (Willingham) first started playing at the table, it’s funny how naturally I feel like the two of us played similarly and had that same sort of personality. It just kind of worked. So Pike and Grog just became best buddies. And being able to show that weird funny little friendship, I’m so glad that we get to bring it to screen.”
In D&D, we’re used to just following the main party. One of the elements that we’re able to see in the animated series, is what is going on outside our core cast. According to Critical Role’s DM Matthew Mercer, creator of the world of Tal-Dorei (also the voice of numerous characters including the dragon Umbrasyl), “We get to go and see the machinations of the Conclave debating and plotting amongst themselves. We get to see other NPCs (non-playable characters) and parts of the world concurrently affected, dealing with these circumstances. It opens the possibilities of seeing these perspectives that previously we didn’t get a chance to.”
Crafting the Magical Items
Another intriguing element of season two is the introduction of several magical items that D&D players will instantly recognize. Grog has a hilarious struggle with the Sword of Vengeance and benefits from the side effects of the Belt of Giant Strength. Vex zips around on a Broom of Flying and the Vestiges of Divergence are a combination of several magical items. Also, When attempting to translate all the numerous magical items available in the game to the screen; Mercer said, “some of these abilities become very important to these characters, so being able to combine a few and merge them into one of the vestiges was a fun challenge but a cool way to make it unique.”
The Legend of Vox Machina is a perfect example of what makes a successful fantasy show – depth of lore, nuanced writing, stunning visuals, and spectacular acting (and some pretty badass music). Season three is already in development and I can’t wait to see where it takes us. The great thing about this show is that, unlike Game of Thrones, they will never run out of source material. With all of the creators involved in its development, the show is guaranteed to stay true to its roots. While at the same time having the freedom to evolve for a new medium.
The Legend of Vox Machina season 2 premieres on Prime Video on January 20th with three episodes dropping every week. Also, Make sure to follow us over at That Hashtag Show for more on The Legend of Vox Machina.