Hello friends, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m looking forward to getting back to The Legend of Vox Machina, and maybe picking up another tip or two to look back on my own tabletop misadventures. To be honest, things have been moving pretty well in my campaign; We made it to my made-up capital city a few sessions ago, and since then players have had a blast exploring this playground of Colosseum rewards, quests, and challenges I’ve created for them. I’m too narrative and too bad an improv guy to provide a truly open sandbox, but I think we’ve struck a good compromise between freedom and guide rails, and my individual encounter design sensibilities are improving everything. time.
As for the hapless members of Vox Machina, the last time we stayed was a moment of shocking betrayal, when Cassandra sided with the Briarwoods over her long-lost brother. It seems beyond doubt that this is, in part, the result of the Briarwoods’ dirty tricks, but nonetheless, it’s a bold move by Mercer. Within the list of Possible Complications given in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, “party is betrayed by former ally” is the only entry supplemented with “(use this sparingly)”, and for good reason: if the group begins to believe that they cannot trust any of the characters around them, or that established characterization could be reversed on a whim, their investment in the world will drop precipitously. Obviously, that’s not going to be a problem with a committed group like this, but it’s an example of a conceit where exploiting it simply to increase dramatic volume could actually have the opposite effect. Players’ investment in non-player characters is hard-earned, so think twice before betraying that trust!
Alright, that’s more than enough narrative design preamble. Let’s get back to action!
“Whispers in the Ziggurat” hell yeah I love a good ziggurat
We open with a generous and eerily lit establishing shot of our titular ziggurat. Perhaps Vox Machina’s biggest aesthetic problem is that the show is too dark most of the time; there’s too narrow a darkened spectrum of lighting in most of his night shots, hurting not only the overall impact and beauty of his compositions, but also the audience’s ability to simply analyze what’s going on. Hopefully this spooky green light will keep things reasonably well lit for the conflict to come.
Delilah mentions that “the celestial alignment is almost complete”. Celestial alignments are useful timers for dungeon masters; Not only is the party unable to do absolutely anything to stop its realization, but they are also not tied to any cycle that the party can actively recognize, such as the waxing moon or the time of day. As such, there is little risk of the party, for example, accidentally sleeping or being imprisoned while the ritual begins (unless the DM wishes it to be), because the alignment can be triggered at any time the DM thinks is most likely. dramatically appropriate.
The ziggurat is imbued with glowing magical energy! Even better Turning on!
Seeing the ziggurat, Scanlan has a key flash of insight, connecting Delilah’s tome to star charts and “The Whispered One.” This is basically the opposite situation: a DM has very little bit control over players organically connecting the dots of their story, requiring the interweaving of increasingly clear and undeniable pieces of evidence. For all that, the surest way to ensure your party solves a mystery is to have a member of that party actually get into the mystery, so a game like this is very party-dependent and requires specific player interests to work. . My own group has basically trampled every “narrative clue” I’ve left looking for more monsters to fight, so I’ve had to adjust my storytelling methods accordingly.
I love this. I suppose this was played out as a series of religion and nature checks on the board, but it seems very organic that Pike could provide the identity of the Whispered undead, while Keyleth would understand that this ritual is making use of the solstice. Playing with his intellectual specialties, not just his physical ones.
The Briarwoods are a very efficient pair of villains: clearly, they’re deeply in love with each other, which gives them a motivation that’s very human and understandable, but still unsympathetic. They are not bad for the sake of evil or unnecessarily complicated
And Ripley escapes, leading to serious disagreements between Percy and his evil spirit. Even in moments like this, Percy demonstrates a commitment to storytelling and role-playing that puts him at the other end of player involvement from someone like Grog. A Percy on your table is something rare and valuable.
Ooh, some nice animation effects for Delilah shooting black bolts.
Meanwhile, Vex confronts his mind-controlled brother. The twins have always been two of the most trusted RPGs out of this bunch, and this seems like a really fun reward for that investment, letting them play the unique RPG/mech challenge of smashing their abilities and personalities into each other.
Yes, the animation, fight choreography, and storyboarding of this matchup is a huge step up from the show’s usual standard. Happy to see the show end on a strong note, and really realizing in motion the unique dynamic of something like a vampire and druid trading blows.
At its best, this show’s fight choreography is wonderfully expressive in demonstrating how mismatched opponents can cross swords. Watching Pike dance around a target three times her size, dodging what he can and riding momentum where he can’t, is a delight.
Also delighted to see that the show simply refuses to use CG models for its main characters. Such stand-ins almost always look atrocious, and I almost universally prefer the lack of an action sequence over one that relies on lame CG.
“You abandoned me, but the Whispered will not!” Mercer is pulling an interesting line here with Cassandra; rather than having her completely mentally controlled, he leans toward the more emotionally interesting idea of the Briarwoods simply giving him a mental nudge, so he can tap into the natural feelings of rejection and resentment she already possesses. That’s much more interesting in a character sense than total mind control.
Even a great comedy character acting as Scanlan dodges Delilah’s lightning bolts! This is an extremely generous episode.
The following action sequence demonstrates precisely what CG actually it is good at, as Pike and Sylas trade blows all over the ziggurat, their CG form allows the camera to dodge and dash alongside the characters. With the close-up combatants drawing the audience’s attention, the visual limitations of the CG are much less obvious, while its effectiveness in freeing the camera’s eye makes the sequence significantly more dynamic.
Percy’s cries of pain awaken Cassandra’s memories of their time together. I love this composition when Percy falls, with his wandering glasses forming a circular frame around Silas as the action pans towards him. Just excellent storyboarding throughout this episode.
With the party on the verge of defeat, Keyleth realizes that here, in these depths, she can connect directly to the roots of the Sun Tree. Another moment where I’m curious as to how it was realized in-game; “the party is rescued by a new development just in time” is a classic narrative, but in the game, it can be parsed as “all those difficult battles you were fighting were actually irrelevant, since you were always going to be saved by gods”. ex machine.” It’s a tricky thing, balancing a sense of genuine menace, narrative surprise, and mechanical player agency.
It’s actually handled quite gracefully here, with Keyleth simply offering the group a moment to get their bearings, rather than solving their fights for them.
In an oddly charming moment, Vex literally brings his brother back to his senses.
And finally, Pike’s counter breaks Delilah’s concentration, removing her Silence effect on Scanlan. That must have been an annoying set of twists for him!
While other characters are paired up in battle according to their emotional journeys, Grog settles for a rematch with Silas. A good way to give him some semblance of a “destined fight” despite his lack of emotional ties to this situation.
And just like with the Pike-Sylas battle, it’s delightful to see the stark contrasts in the way they approach their opponents. Grog is simply too wide in his movement to land a hit on Sylas.
“If I don’t know where I’m swinging, you won’t either!” An incredible deduction from Grog, which leads to a meaty punch right to Sylas’ stomach.
And Sylas is completely obliterated by Keyleth’s sunbeam. Awesome effects animation every time.
So we quickly move to the second phase of this classic-style action climax: having defeated the summoners of some terrible evil, we must face the evil that they unearthed in their dying breaths. Another fun way to play this is to have that terrible evil consume his summoners nearly defeated, demonstrating the much greater threat he poses
And once again, the fate of the world rests on Vax’s ability to pick a lock. funny how that works
Keyleth lands a killing blow meant for Vex, completing his arc of earning Vex’s trust!
Hot Dammit It was a generous episode! This show tends to be something in between in terms of its animation, but it was a party from start to finish, unerringly exemplifying Vox Machina’s weighted movements and thoughtful choreography at its visual best. Heck, this episode’s peaks pretty easily dwarfed everything outside of the show’s opening, with sequences like Pike and Sylas’s fight demonstrating a fantastic combination of storyboarding, CG implementation, and traditional animation. In terms of gameplay design, this episode also did an impressive job of presenting each member of Vox Machina with their own character-specific challenges and proficiency, making it feel like a genuine victory for the ensemble while also spotlighting our current focus characters. Vox Machina has never looked better, and I can’t wait to see what the finale has in store!
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