Critical Representation: The LGBTQ+ Legend of Vox Machina

Critical Representation: The LGBTQ+ Legend of Vox Machina

“Do you want to watch Critical Role?”

My wife (the D&D nerdy one) asked me (the slightly less D&D nerdy one) that one Thursday night. I’d noticed her watching it before, on the times I was home in the day. This was a Thursday evening, though. I declined and watched my sports ball. A few months later, though, baseball was over and I asked if she wanted to watch the big TV instead of her laptop? I didn’t really mind it, but I liked being with her. As episodes went on and on, I slowly looked up from my book and to the show.

These people were being paid to be the nerdy idiots like we were around a table? How bizarre!

And then I asked “Wait, who’s Mollymauk?” And my wife went into the whole history (no spoilers!) and I interrupted her. “Hang on … how many episodes?” I asked.

“You’re only 50 episodes back. But there are over 100 from campaign one.”

There was a lot to watch.

To be clear, I’m still not caught up with campaign one. We just got to the fire plane where they’ve gotten armour for Pike. I have watched all of campaign two, however. I was dithering about watching campaign one until those crazy nutters over at Critical Role did the impossible. They kickstarted a TV series.

What is Critical Role?

Critical Role is a weekly streamed tabletop game. It was born from a home-brew/Pathfinder game a group of friends played and was teleported to Geek & Sundry’s network. Since then, it’s become a phenomenon, for D&D geeks at least, with over 200 episodes of dice rolling goodness. It has romance and love, death (real death, some characters die forever), fighting impossible odds, and of course rolling dice to decide one’s fate.

They’ve gone from a kitchen table brunch to a small shared studio to their own production company that currently pre-tapes an COVID-safe show that you can watch every Thursday night at 7pm Pacific. This is why I’m perpetually sleepy on Friday mornings. In their own words:

What began in 2012 as a bunch of friends playing RPGs in each other’s living rooms has evolved into a multi-platform entertainment sensation, attracting over half million viewers every week. Now in its second campaign storyline, the show features seven popular voiceover actors diving into epic adventures, led by veteran game master Matthew Mercer.

From Tabletop to Amazon

On March 4, 2019, they started a Kickstarter to make an animated special. They’ve already successfully made a comic book series with Dark Horse, gotten official D&D supplement books for their world printed, made art books, and more. The next, logical, leap is to go from Geek Chic to Mainstream with something everyone can watch.

It took about 40 minutes for them to raise the money to make the bare minimum. It was an hour to make $1 million (yes million). They quickly hit stretch goal after stretch goal and were making not just a single special but a series. By the end they crested $11 million dollars and got backing from Amazon to double the number of seasons being made!

That means my Thursday Date Night (look, don’t judge me) has moved from “Mika watches an unscripted show she can’t add to LezWatch” to “Mika is studying so she can properly cover a massively queer friendly series for LezWatch!”

Oh yes. It’s queer friendly.

Space for Everyone at the Table

I don’t want to spoil people about things, but I want it to be known that there are queers all over this damn series. Two of my favourite characters in campaign one (Shaun Gilmore and Allura Vysoren) are queer. There’s even more than one main character who’s queer. When you get to campaign two, there are queers everywhere, from out and out lesbians to non-binary and everything else.

While I know some people are upset about the representation (two of the bisexuals end up with opposite gendered partners), I want to stress that these are relationships that evolved by players. It’s not like writers sat down and chickened out, it’s people who played a game and let their characters foil off each other, and let the story take them to a place they wanted to be. If it’s not clear, I refuse to hold a tabletop game that started as friends getting drunk on mimosas to the same level I would hold a series written for network television.

After all, Network TV would never have a the courage to make a ruler of a land non-binary (as well as being– well … spoilers):

And with that in mind, I was absolutely delighted with the representation in campaign two. The Mighty Nein (not nine, nein) have queers aboard. Do they make some bad gay jokes? Yes. They do. And since it’s a live game, you see people making terrible jokes that fall flat and sometimes are offensive. But we’re not going to see that on the animated series.

Don’t Forget to Love Each Other

Matt ends every game with his tagline “Is it Thursday yet?” And every Pride month, Matt also says “Don’t forget to love each other.” These are people who do not condone bullying (yes, I’m aware of the recent Critter community drama), and they do their best to keep that the norm. There are missteps, because they’re humans. But I believe their heart is in the right place.

Closeup of the t-shirt with D20s for many pride flags, and the quote "Don't forget to love each other"

My point being. They try. Hard. They work hard. They love us, and I may tease some characters for being my disaster gays, I feel pretty gosh darn seen when I watch the show and these nerdy ass voice actors aren’t being told to remember me, they just do it naturally.

Quick FAQ!

How queer is this show going to be?

Moderately. Gilmore is all gay all the time in all the ways, and there are two bisexual main characters (I’ll let you figure out who when you watch) plus a lesbian and bisexual recurring character. I have no reason to think those recurring characters won’t be in the show, given how important they are.

Who are the characters?

The main ones you need to know:

  • Pike Trickfoot (gnome cleric, Ashley Johnson)
  • Keyleth (half-elf druid, Marisha Ray)
  • Percival “Percy” Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III (human gunslinger, Taliesin Jaffe)
  • Grog Strongjaw (goliath barbarian, Travis Willingham)
  • Scanlan Shorthalt (gnome bard, Sam Riegel)
  • Vex’ahlia (half-elf ranger, Laura Bailey)
  • Vax’ildan (half-elf rogue, Liam O’Brien)

Vax and Vex are twins. Laura and Liam share a birthday. It’s fun.

Do I have to watch all 115 episodes (373 hours) of campaign one to understand the show!?

No! Please don’t panic. I’m doing it because I’ve become a critter and I’m fascinated by the show. There are plots of the game that will be in the show, so you’ll be watching what many of us have seen played out. It’s an adaptation.

Do I have to know D&D?

Not at all! There will be no dice rolling on the show.

It’s a cartoon. Is it good for kids?

One of the characters likes to cast his lightning spell from his groin region, calling it ‘dick lightning.’ So. Maybe? Depends on your kids. There’s actual death in the show, though, so I would call this “aimed at young adults and up.”

When is the show coming to air?

It was supposed to happen Fall 2020. It’s running late thanks to COVID.

Where can I watch the cartoon?

It’ll be on Amazon Prime.

If I did want to watch the whole campaign, do you have any advice?

First, it’s 300+ hours, so while I think it’s perfect for two or three a week in lieu of TV (thanks COVID), be prepared to have a long haul. I’m not even to the 80s yet! Also, in my experience, the first part of the show is hard to watch due to low production values. It’s all closed captioned, which helps a lot. Around episode 30 or so of the first campaign, things really start to gel properly.

Also remember you’re going to watch the first campaign in animated form, so if you really want to, you can cheat and jump to campaign two. It’s “only” 102 episodes to catch up to where we are on live airings.

Finally … it’s okay if you just jump in and watch. Seriously. No one will judge you.

Where can I get the super cool “Don’t Forget to Love Each Other” shirts?

From the CritRole store! They also have one for the UK and a mug for Australia.

Still Interested?

Check out the behind-the-scenes

Now…

WHO IS ON THE TAL’DOREI COUNCIL!?

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.
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