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Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m eager to reach the conclusion of Vox Machina’s first season, and perhaps even more eager to share my own campaign updates. After several sessions of going on various adventures in and around the city of Yhaunn, my party was invited to a royal ball at the castle, necessitating more prep work than I feel entirely comfortable acknowledging. I had to build out the relationships of the royal family, then sketch out roles and personalities for all of the city councilors, then sculpt the personalities of the two delegates from each of half a dozen different nearby regions, then figure out how to give this mass of new characters some narrative structure, lest my party be entirely lost in directionless decision paralysis.

And yet, it worked! It all worked! That session was one of our most successful so far, the party never seemed overwhelmed by the opportunities in front of them, and they even made some personal connections with several of the country’s attendant luminaries. Lightly guided by the attendees they’d met previously, my players made a successful dive into this campaign’s larger political reality, with Captain Chaos himself actually forging some of the strongest bonds with my new characters. It was a clear and profoundly encouraging demonstration of how much my group and I have grown into a functional campaign, with the story finally starting to feel like something they are truly interwoven with, as opposed to something that’s merely being forced upon them.

So yes, I am feeling pretty proud at the moment, and eager to make use of all these new connections the party has made. I might end up posting some design docs eventually if people are interested, but in the meantime, I’m also quite excited to see how Vox Machina’s first season comes to an end. We’re in full boss battle mode at the moment; Vex and Vax have reconciled, Cassandra has been rescued, and Keyleth… well, Keyleth’s in a bad spot, I admit. Having her leap in front of a blast meant for Vex was an exceedingly noble conclusion to their mini-arc, but also very stupid, given she’s now the group’s only healer. Please, druids and clerics, do not leap in front of your damage-dealers, that is partially what they are there for. Let’s see if Keyleth ever gets the chance to make use of that lesson, as we explore The Finale of Vox Machina!

Episode 12

We return to the ziggurat on the brink of that disaster, with that creepy black orb still crackling as Keyleth bleeds out

Vex offers Vax an elixir to try and save her. Though the external drama has been driven by Percy, Keyleth has actually received the most in-party development during this arc, establishing closer bonds with both of the twins, and also successfully inheriting a mantle of responsibility from Pike. It feels like her journey over this arc possibly mirrors her actual player’s journey: initially a little unsure about how to roleplay and engage with the group, but willing to try, and assisted along the way by threads of character drama offered by her more confident teammates

Apparently the orb is blocking all magic, so the party makes the sensible decision to move fifty or sixty feet away. Then Grog finds a spooky black sword!

“I need another elixir!” “There’s just… there’s no more!” Death as it’s framed in D&D is a tricky thing to translate to pure narrative drama. Characters end up on “the brink of death” pretty frequently, and that’s often solved through exceedingly mundane means like drinking a dang healing potion, but actually capturing that in traditional fiction leads to a sense that mortal danger isn’t actually a big deal. This isn’t really a problem in game design; players accept that they will see-saw between perfect health and near-death, because they are engaging in a collective attempt to create a series of exciting adventures. But to an external audience, such a trajectory undercuts any sense of genuine threat, meaning you have to make a clearer delineation between standard battle wear-and-tear (like Grog diving into that acid) and apparently more Lethal-lethal events like this Keyleth blast

In a flash of insight, Vax realizes he can use Keyleth’s own herbs to heal her. I’m imagining this “flash of insight” was more Keyleth’s own player saying “hey, use my herbs, dumbass” in the original tabletop rendition

Meanwhile, Percy’s sinking even further into demon mode, to the alarm of basically everyone

Great sequence of Vex attempting to reason with the demon-infected Percy. This sounds like a pile of fun for Percy’s player, as he actually gets to act out wrestling with an invading psychic force – another reward for being so willing to dramatically roleplay (and for co-plotting this arc with Mercer, presumably)

And so we journey into Percy’s mind, for a battle between his desire for revenge and ability to forgive! Another sequence that only a Percy-tier contributor could really pull off, and also a bit of an investment gamble for any less-committed parties. As I said many episodes go, the primacy of the party is one of D&D’s strictest narrative design limitations, and thus any extended sequence that prioritizes just one character is a loaded and potentially investment-sapping choice. Of course, this doesn’t mean “never isolate a character and focus on them,” it just means to use such a tool sparingly, like, say, for the climax of their character arc

Mercer’s actually handling this in a clever way that keeps everyone involved: Percy is doing battle with an illusion in his mind, while everyone else must deal with a rampaging Percy who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Demanding non-lethal containment of a hostile target seems like an interesting way to encourage new ways of approaching a battle; I’m always on the lookout for efficient, flavorful sources of unique battlefield dynamics

“He has to reload eventually, right?” I was sort of wondering that myself

Really loving the design of Percy’s apparently raven-themed demon. A nice gothic horror splash to give his curse a sense of individuality

Apparently it was actually this demon’s assistance that led to him successfully creating his weapon

“It’s all I have left.” We’re obviously going for a classic structure here: Percy learning to live with his family’s death, because he realizes he still has the party as a new family. Wrangling a D&D party into a coherent narrative is hard enough without worrying about themes and shit like that, but “the families we choose are as strong as any blood relations” is pretty much an ingrained takeaway of D&D’s party-based structure, so you don’t really have to do any extra work to emphasize it

The party unites to reach him, but their efforts fail! One of the awkward mechanical vagaries of such “you need to free a mind-controlled companion” conflicts; there’s no real indicators of progress towards victory, you just sort of have to keep trying until the author decides you’ve done enough to reach them

Then it works! He shoots his own dang hand, and the demon is dispelled

“You shot me!” “Yes. Well, thank you for not dying.” “You’re welcome!” Glad to immediately see Percy and Grog back to their usual dynamic

Then Delilah starts talking more shit about the cowardice of the deRolos and the rise of the Whispered One, and Cassandra just stabs her right in the throat. Good, well done, glad we got that taken care of

Scanlan very wisely tosses The Weapon into their convenient acid pit. Always good to have an acid pit handy for the disposal of cursed relics

The town greets Vox Machina as heroes as they reenter the main square. This is about the point where my own party would be clamoring about what loot they can extract from this destitute township, so I appreciate Vox Machina’s relative composure

And Percy deftly convinces his sister to take on the role of rebuilding Whitestone, freeing our boy up to keep going on wild adventures. Nicely done, Percy

And then Keyleth shoots Vax down, hard. Hard to say whether this is Keyleth or Keyleth’s player’s choice; she’s gained a lot of confidence roleplaying over this adventure, but actual romance in D&D is a whole other kettle of fish. I think that’s pretty much the holy grail of roleplaying confidence, requiring the greatest degree of separating yourself from your character, and thus an unlikely occurrence at most tables (unless you go hard the other direction, at a table with basically no roleplay, where romance is essentially just a mechanical concept)

We also get a neat bow tied on Vex and Vax’s mini-arc, with the two of them silently agreeing that they’re done running away

And then another tender moment between Vex and Keyleth, which surely isn’t precipitating some wildly messy love triangle drama down the line

Back at home, the King has a very generous speech prepared about how stupid he was, and about how right Vox Machina were about everything. Good on you, King

He even cedes his position to the council! BUT THEN, FOUR FUCKING DRAGONS ATTACK

And Done

Hahaha, good work Vox Machina, always gotta leave them wanting more. And indeed, this whole season has left me hungry for more, both in terms of my ravenous need for more exploration of narrative and gameplay’s crossroads, and also just more time spent with this charming cast of characters. Vox Machina’s heroes have all grown on me over the course of this adventure, while Mercer’s campaign writing has demonstrated a vast variety of tricks you can pull off with a suitably invested party. The subtle nesting of Percy, the twins, and Keyleth’s character arcs was some deft shit, leaving me eager to see who’s next for a major character journey. D&D is different for every party, an imperfect collision of mediums that’s pretty much destined to confound and surprise you, and it’s been a delight watching this group grapple and test and triumph over its puzzles in their own ways. I’m prepped and ready for the next season!

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

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