Vox Machina 101: A Pre-Show Guide

So you heard about Critical Role.

Or more precisely, about the Amazon Prime “adult animation” that came out on Friday, September 28th (PS You’re invited to JenngaD’s Watch Party at 8pm EST on Fridays.)

Whether you love it, hate it, or give it massive side-eye, it’s hard impossible to ignore the impact that CR has had on nerdom since it first aired in 2014. Regardless of your beliefs surrounding the “Matthew Mercer Effect” (the title given to how voice actor and DM extraordinaire Matthew Mercer has had on gamers’ expectations from their own TTRPG games), you have CR to thank for the prevalence of “Live Play TTRPG” shows all around the interwebs. This article, however, isn’t for the haters.

This is a guide of where we’ve been for current Critters and a guide of where we’re going for beginners.

It is exceedingly rare that before a show even airs, you know its cliffhangers and plot twists. It is equally as rare that thousands of people get to see their shared theater of the mind come to animated life. In the case of Legend of VM, this seems to be the whole point for long time fans.

It gives us a way to relive our joint adventure without the hassle of scrolling through guides to find time stamps and etc. For those just getting to know the squad and hear their tale, this is also what makes it the perfect starting point.

As a devoted “Critter” (the CR fandom name) of almost a year who has now binge watched over 200+ episodes, I can attest to how hard it would be sans pandemic-induced free time to pick up.  Let me tell you the “sticker shock” upon seeing each episode’s 4 hour run time is real. The show’s saving grace in this respect for a while has been the approximately 2-hour long podcasts of each episode that distills the actual story out of rules clarifications and conversational tangents. By February 2021, however, there will be a new way to dive into the rich lore, organic characterizations, and satisfying plot lines that make CR such an enduring staple in nerdom’s growing entertainment industry.

Now is, beyond a doubt, the best time to tip a toe in the many waterways of Exandria.

For the best introduction to the world of Exandria, watch this YouTube video. It is fitting for a number of reasons that the Legend of Vox Machina begins with what we’ve dubbed the “Whitestone Arc.” It is an interesting case of life and art mirroring each other. This is the narrative that both established CR in streaming fame and its characters in adventuring fame. Like everything CR, the events that unfold are of a both intimately personal and decidedly epic scope.

Having not even watched the marketing materials (a habit of mine) I can guarantee that this show will deliver enthralling lore, organic characterization, and thrilling plotlines. Hopefully, the below guide will help to orient you and let you in on some basic knowledge beforehand. As for the inside jokes, you’ll just have to come join the Critter community to find them out.

Quick Facts

  1. Though animated, The Legend of Vox Machina is NOT for children. On top of the raunchy comedic elements, CR has always ventured into complex, if not borderline satirical plotlines.
  2. The entire twelve episode show will NOT be available the day it premiers. Instead the schedule is such:
    • 1-3: January 28th
    • 4-6: February 4th
    • 7-9: February 11th
    • 10-12: February 18th
  3. This is an adaptation, and not a 1 to 1 summary of the original web series. Even longtime Critters don’t know what’s going to happen.

The Plot

The following is my own summary of the events that kicked of the Whitstone/Briarwood arc in the original web series; written in the hope that the context will fill in some gaps. The show is set to pick up with never before seen content from before the cast’s home game became the worlds’ (IRL and Exandria) famous adventuring party.

Vox Machina, a band of adventurers with mild acclaim, return home to the of Emon, the Republic of Tal’Dorei’s capital city, from a grueling mission to the Underdark. They become immediately embroiled in city politics. The mysterious Briarwood couple who rules over the prosperous city state of Whitestone have entered into talks of a mutually beneficial bridge between the cities. Whitestone is famous for its reserves of a spell component called “residuum” which makes everything from spell casting to enchanting considerably easier.  The Tal’dorei government is enticed by their offer, but there’s just one problem:

The Briarwoods’ elicit past and mysterious plans.

VM member Percival Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III (but you can call him Percy) brings to light exactly how it is they’ve claimed their seats of power. Namely, the murder of his entire family, Whitestone’s former rulers. Queue the mobilization of everyone from VM to the ruling Tal’dorei Council to the goddess Serenrae herself to free Whitestone of its nefarious rulers.  

The Cast of Characters

Percival Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III / Taliesin Jaffe

Human Fighter (Gunslinger)

Pretentious know-it-all with a touch of class.

Personal Quest:  To address his inner demons and those who have overrun his home.

One-part brilliant inventor, one-part tortured soul, one-part trauma survivor, and one full on badass. For both logistical and narrative purposes (as Matt converted the campaign from Pathfinder to D&D 5e when they began the stream), Percy is the inventor of Exandria’s first personal firearms. The knowledge of what they could do, and probably are doing, in the wrong hands haunts him daily. Because he knows that his redemption will never come in the form of ridding the world of his invention, Percy focuses on fixing the world on a far more personal level. Namely, preventing the Briarwoods and their compatriots from reeking any more havoc. In fact, Percy does not actually believe himself to be redeemable, but as the rest of VM points out: his actions speak for themselves.

Keyleth of the Air Ashari / Marisha Ray

Half-Elf Druid

‘Green’ in every sense of the word.

Personal Quest: To complete her Aramante, a series of trials created to ensure that she is fit to lead her people.

The most crucial part of an Ashari’s Aramante is to push them out into the world. Like her mother before her, Keyleth quickly discovers that she cannot complete her journey without joining others’ on theirs. At this moment in time, Kiki (as VM affectionately calls her) is still unsure of herself and has thus put her entire confidence in her friends.  Of the lot, she is Percy’s best friend and closest confidant. On top of that, as a druid she is diametrically opposed to the Brairwoods’ penchant for necromancy.  Keyleth’s habit of casting before she thinks makes her dually lovable and frustrating at times but is also a symptom of her just starting to learn more about herself and the world.

Grog Strongjaw / Travis Willingham

Goliath Barbarian

Massive Biceps. Tiny Brain.

Personal Quest: To drink and whore his way through Tal’dorei until he is forced to face his ruthless uncle who now leads his former Herd.  

A simple Goliath with simple needs and simple motivations. Even though he is a hulking 8ft 7in tall and weighs upwards of 645 pounds, Grog Strongjaw has a certain boyish charm. As quickly as Grog will rage, he will also turn into a labradoodle; equal parts fiercely loyal and adorably dopey. He doesn’t care much about anything but taking care of his best buddies and will do anything to keep them safe. Having been raised first by the harshest of Goliaths then taken in by the sweetest of gnomes, Grog has a unique view of the world. While he may be the butt of many pranks and jokes, they prove that he has found his heart’s home and purpose among the ranks Exandria’s motliest heroes.

Pike Trickfoot / Ashley Johnson

Gnome Cleric

Healer. Damage Dealer.

Personal Quest: To shine Serenrae’s light into the darkest of places and at the darkest of moments.

Don’t let her size or her chosen career path fool you, Pike is an absolute force to be reckoned with. She is an absolute monstah who will first heal her companions then rip you a new one for injuring them. From time to time, her dedication to Serenrae (goddess of healing, redemption, and temperance) takes her away from Vox Machina but the pair always find a way to bamf in when they are most needed. (Sidenote: I look forward to seeing how she is wrapped into the Legend of Vox Machina, as Ashely was in and out of this arc due to her career obligations.)

Scanlan Shorthalt / Sam Riegel

Gnome Bard

The egotistical, yet lovable musician.

Personal Quest: To find a beret and lead the Whitestone rebellion… He’ll take it from there as long as he lives to sing, tell, and write the tale.

Clever, creative, and calculating, Scanlan is the DnD embodiment of “Treat Yo Self” day on repeat. While in his earliest character arcs he fell into the much overdone “I seduce it” trope, Scanlan’s time with Vox Machina (up to this point) has transformed him into a man with a cause. Granted, he is as quick to accept the rewards of fame and money as he is to take on the seemingly impossible tasks that cross his path. But hey, he earns it every time. Scanlan knows exactly how to diffuse situations that need diffusing and escalate those that need escalating. His quick thinking and truly inspired choices are the absolute pulse that keeps VM alive and kicking.  

Vax’ildan / Liam O’Brien

Half-Elf Rogue

Dreamy. Studly. Deadly.

Personal Quest: To protect his twin sister Vex’ahlia and be as opposite of the man their abusive father is as possible.

Either he stealthed because you’re an enemy and you’re about to be stabbed by three daggers or he stealthed because you’re a friend and you’re about to be pranked upon. Those, my friends, are the two sides of Vax’ildan. Or at least they were, until he found his bearings as part of Vox Machina. Where once he had only his sister to keep in mind (his own safety be damned), Vax develops a vested interest in each of his friends’ well-beings over the course of their journeying. You wouldn’t quite say he’s dependable in a traditional sense, but he has a way of coming through in the squeeziest, most painful of pinches.

Vex’ahlia / Laura Bailey

Half-Elf Ranger

Sometimes Reckless. Always Fabulous.

Personal Quest: To keep Vax from killing himself and prove to their abusive father that there’s more to life than being an elf.

Bringer of change, even though she hates it. Vex never asked for any of this, yet she bears the mantle of “party face” often and well. Though she was forced into a frivolously elven upbringing, everything about Vex’ahlia is rough and tumble. She’s got a chip on her shoulder and is in a grudge match with the world. The world worn exterior, however, is simply armor for a truly caring and noble young woman. Her warmth can be spotted when she is doting on her bear companion, Trinket. Villains beware, though, she’s got a grizzly side you don’t want to see.

Every NPC You’ll Fall in Love With Ever / Matthew Mercer

If you’re trying to shake “I always fall for NPC’s -itis,” then count CR as your “cheat day.” One of the aspects of CR that sets it apart from other media is Matt’s aptitude for improvising his NPC’s (even those the cast forces him to make up on the spot). One such “minor” NPC that should not be left out from the upcoming animation is Kynan Leore https://criticalrole.fandom.com/wiki/Kynan_Leore  whose interactions with Vox Machina add depth to their characterizations and storyline development. To say anything further would be spoilerific, but other critters will know exactly what I mean.

Tiberius Stormwind (In Absentia)

Dragonborn Sorcerer

The Critter community has a shared understanding that we don’t dwell on the tension surrounding the former cast member who played Tiberius from Episode 1-27. In short, some very unfortunate things were done and said that made the actor unwelcome in the CR environment. Unfortunately, this robbed the campaign of a brilliant, heartfelt, and relatable character.  While he may or may not be portrayed in the upcoming show, Tiberius was present for the initiation of the Whitestone Arc. If we do see him, which I don’t believe we will, it would probably be to briefly introduce Draconian society into the animated show’s universe. While, his home country of Draconia does not come into play in this particular arc it may in later seasons.

Tiberius Stormwind as portrayed in the
Vox Machina: Origins comic book series.

My Two Copper

Funded entirely by fans, The Legend of Vox Machina is a passion project in every sense of the word.

In an egotistical and “me” centered society, this show represents the sheer power of cooperative storytelling. That is, after all, what the best TTRPG experiences thrive on. Matt may control the overarching narrative points but he does not control the outcome. Additionally, the writers and creative team of everything Vox Machina since the campaign’s conclusion have always hit on the same mixture of deep emotion and pristine comedic timing as the cast. I expect nothing less when I finally get to watch the show.

To say that the thing I am most excited about is falling back in love with these characters would be an understatement.

Over the campaigns, it has been endlessly interesting to see how each actor’s playstyle has manifested itself in their characters. It will be even more intriguing to watch this concept transferred to their animated likenesses. It is every writer’s dream for this to come to fruition, but in this case there are eight original “writers” having their work transformed. To paraphrase Laura Bailey, she gets to see her creation come to life instead of bringing someone else’s creation to life. A goal that many in the TTRPG community are striving for every day and a goal that, I believe, we can only achieve because of the trail that CR has blazed.

On a personal note, Critical Role has been there for me when I’ve felt most alone. CR has filled in a part of my life that’s been missing for awhile. It has also surgically removed scars from my past traumas that I forgot I had. That is its enduring legacy in the hearts of countless fans, and precisely why many threw their money behind such a phenomenal group of people.

If any of the cast or crew ever read this:

Thank you.

I love you.

Is it Thursday yet?

Published by JenngaD

Educator. Gamer. Writer.

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