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Vox Machina pose on a precipice. They look oddly sober. Image: Prime Video via YouTube

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Critical Role’s Vox Machina animated series is a hit, so go back to where it all started

Your guide to The Legend of Vox Machina actual play series

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The Legend of Vox Machina, the highly anticipated adult animated series based on Critical Role, is finally available on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service. Episodes are currently dropping each Friday throughout February. That gives fans new and old a great excuse to catch up on the original material — dozens of hours of gameplay available both on YouTube and as a podcast.

Critical Role, the team behind Vox Machina, is a troupe of voice actors who have been playing Dungeons & Dragons together since 2014. Their weekly broadcasts on Twitch comprise one of the most popular “actual play” experiences in the world — that is, a performance devoted to actually playing D&D in real time. The first season of the animated show draws upon the events of the first campaign, and is engineered to be the perfect point of entry for newcomers to a sprawling multimedia adventure, and a jumping off point for never-before-seen adventures.

For those who want to go in blind, know that the series has been specifically tailored to appeal to new viewers, kicking off on this new medium with a comparatively bite-sized story. But, as with building a character for D&D, sometimes it pays to spend some time fleshing out the details and digging into the backstory.

Where does the series take place?

The Legend of Vox Machina refers to the group of adventurers known as Vox Machina. It takes place on a planet called Exandria, specifically on the continent of Tal’Dorei. Exandria — home to gods, monsters and remarkably difficult doors — is Matthew Mercer’s own campaign setting, and represents a shared universe where all Critical Role campaigns take place. If you want to learn more about Exandria’s history, there’s even a handy video that explains its origin story.

Elements of Exandria will feel familiar to D&D veterans who have hosted campaigns in the Forgotten Realms — including having deities similar to the gods of Faerûn, and the presence of races like elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings, in addition to humans. Similarly, Exandria is connected to various planes of existence that might resonate for longtime players, including the Feywild, the Shadowfell, the Astral Plane, and the Elemental Planes.

The animated series starts out in the city of Emon, the capital of Tal’Dorei. Emon is an industrial hub, situated on Tal’Dorei’s western shore — the first campaign highlights Tal’Dorei as being on the cusp of technological innovation. Skyships are available for overseas travel from Emon to other Exandrian continents like Issylra and Marquet, as magic and technology come together to create marvels. Emon is also home to landmarks like Gilmore’s Glorious Goods, the Alabaster Lyceum, the Ivory Tower and the Palace of the Sovereign, which is the seat of Uriel Tal’Dorei and the Tal’Dorei Council, the ruling parties of the Republic of Tal’Dorei.

What should I know about the characters going in?

The heart of Critical Role has always been the bonds between its characters. Vox Machina has seven core members — eight, if you include Trinket the armored bear. Trinket is the companion of Vex’ahlia “Vex” Vessar (Laura Bailey), an imperious, frugal ranger who is twin to Vax’ildan “Vax” Vessar (Liam O’Brien), a cunning, sardonic rogue. Vex and Vax are inseparable, having been pulled away from their human mother at a young age by their haughty elven father. If you want to learn more about the twins’ origin story specifically, you can also check out Critical Role: Vox Machina — Kith and Kin, the novelized version of their tale by Marieke Nijkamp. Polygon even has an exclusive excerpt, which naturally includes audio narration by the original cast.

While they’re not twins, or even siblings, Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson) and Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham) also share a close bond, having been raised together by Pike’s great-great-grandfather, Wilhand Trickfoot. Pike is a gnomish cleric of the Everlight, the Exandrian deity of redemption and healing, while Grog is a goliath barbarian who loves ale above all other things. Pike was not available for several episodes of the streamed campaign, as Ashley Johnson had filming conflicts at the time — that’s partly why Pike often drops into big moments in the story by way of astral projection.

Keyleth of the Air Ashari (Marisha Ray), Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel) and Percival “Percy” Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III (Taliesin Jaffe) round out the rest of the group. Keyleth, a shapeshifting druid, is perhaps the most powerful member of the party, though her awkwardness and uncertainty often prevent her from being aware of it. Scanlan is Keyleth’s polar opposite where self-confidence is concerned — as a bard, he spends a lot of time performing, singing songs, and generally trying to charm the pants off of anyone that looks his way. Percy is the brooding, aristocratic gunslinger of the group, with a mysterious past that will unravel as the series progresses.

Matthew Mercer is scattered across the various Critical Role episodes as the voice of many of the NPCs. He crops up everywhere, from barkeeps to brawlers, populating the story’s landscape.

Vox Machina are, in many ways, unlikely heroes. The group initially came together as mercenaries, and spends most of the time in the Vox Machina Origins comic series hunting down jobs. They’re uncouth, unorganized, and pretty noticeably unwelcome in polite society over the course of the first campaign. You can get a taste of their unique brand of heroism in this live-read of a scene from the series at New York Comic Con, where they get drunk, make a mess, and end up in a bar brawl.

What episodes of the filmed campaign or podcast should I check out ahead of the series, if any?

The Legend of Vox Machina begins with never-before-seen adventures, as we mentioned. After the first two episodes, the animated series delves into the Briarwood arc of the first campaign, which places Percy’s storyline at the forefront and explores his relationship with his hitherto shrouded past in Whitestone.

The Briarwood arc refers to the couple of the same name: Silas and Delilah Briarwood (Matthew Mercer voices Silas). In a virtual panel for New York Comic Con 2021, Marisha Ray described the Briarwood arc as the “obvious jumping off point” for the series, with Sam Riegel adding that it was “the first time it kind of felt like art.” The Briarwood arc has lasting ripples across the first campaign — which are also echoed in the events of the troupe’s current campaign, one that’s set many, many years after the first.

To supplement the animated series, we recommend the following episodes of Critical Role, most of which correspond to the Briarwood arc of the streamed campaign. Note that all episodes after episode 24 of the first campaign follow directly along with the Briarwood arc, and may contain spoilers for the Briarwood-centered events of the first season of The Legend of Vox Machina. We’ve also included a few additional episodes that will set up the long-running dynamics between the NPCs and the party.

  • Campaign 1, episode 14: “Shopping and Shipping” — YouTube and Spotify
  • Campaign 1, episode 16: “Enter Vasselheim” — YouTube and Spotify
  • Campaign 1, episode 17: “Hubris” — YouTube and Spotify
  • Campaign 1, episode 23: “The Rematch” — YouTube and Spotify
  • Campaign 1, episode 24: “The Feast” — YouTube and Spotify
  • Campaign 1, episode 25: “Crimson Diplomacy” — YouTube and Spotify
  • Campaign 1, episode 26: “Consequences and Cows” — YouTube and Spotify
  • Campaign 1, episode 27: “The Path to Whitestone” — YouTube and Spotify

If you want to know more about the making of the series, and the voice actors behind the central characters, you can also follow along with the “The Legend of The Legend of Vox Machinavideo series.

The Legend of Vox Machina, much like Critical Role itself, is and will be somewhat unique in its relationship to its viewers. Whether you’re starting without having consumed any Critical Role before or you’ve been hanging around since that time Vox Machina became cows, it’s likely you’ll be able to find something new.