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"Talks Machina #7: 'Thordak'" (TMx07) is the seventh episode of Talks Machina and the first one to feature the Alpha-exclusive "Talks Machina: After Dark" session.

Liam O'Brien, Matthew Mercer, and Travis Willingham discuss "Thordak" (1x79) with Brian Wayne Foster.


Did you do anything special to mark the end of 2016?

  • Liam jokes that he made progress in his underground bunker, adding two feet to make a total of three feet. This leads to a brief but playful mention about the show "Doomsday Preppers". Matt reveals he stayed off the internet for the holiday and it was nice break, though coming back to his email inbox was scary.

Is Travis a part of any Fantasy Football leagues, and if so, how did you do this season?

  • His answer: 2 won 2. He mentions that Laura was the second worst team in their family league, however she is a former champion with her team The Stinky Unicorns. The logo for The Stinky Unicorns is a unicorn farting rainbows. Travis's team, The Moose Knuckles, won the Super Bowl. Matt and Liam were lost with that sort of talk.

How much do you want a body switching episode now?

  • Liam expresses that he would gladly take a pub crawl, in or out of game, over whatever is waiting for them for this coming Thursday in game. Matt mentions that it's been requested before by the community many times, and if it worked for the narrative, sure. It could be a fun, lighthearted episode that could be appropriate once the current arc finally closes.

Was the Thordak fight or the Dallas Cowboys in the Playoffs more stressful for Travis?

  • Travis expresses that he's more worried for the Cowboys because he has faith in the party's ability, as they did well against Thordak, though he is slightly worried about jumping right into a fight with Raishan.

What were Liam and Travis's first reactions when the gigantic model of Thordak was pulled out?

  • Liam: I thought there was no place to hide, that he could reach every corner of the map. So it almost didn't matter where you were.
  • Travis: Yeah, I asked if it was to scale, I was like, 'That's obviously an exaggerated figure, not meant to be relative to our minis that are the size of his toe.'
  • Liam, pointing to the Thordak statue on the table: You can fit two minis in his mouth.

What do you listen to during game prep? To Matt, did Thordak have a theme song?

  • Matt expresses that Thordak does have a theme song. In his prep, he listens to video game soundtracks. In preparation for Thordak, he listened to a bunch of Firelands music (World of Warcraft), which he actually got to incorporate in the battle with Thordak. Travis asks Matt if he's a headphone or open speaker kind of guy, to which Matt confirms that he's an open speaker person.
  • Matt: I like to force my tastes on everyone around me.

How excited was Matt to roll initiative for Thordak?

  • Matt: So excited. It's interesting, like this is a battle that's been kind of built up for a long time, and it's been essentially a year of Vox Machina preparing for this encounter. On one hand, it's like, you know, it's a powerful creature, but as the heroes, who have spent their entire time bending their will towards being prepared for this fight, I kind of designed it to be as balanced as I could in that regard too. Just to get to that moment, to have the battlefield set up, to have their reactions, to put that on the field, and to start out after all that many years of planning, technically, was pretty cool, I was really excited.
  • Liam: It really felt like the end of a road.

Could the party have encountered Thordak in the Fire Plane if they hadn't hid well?

  • Yes, it would have been an encounter to run from. Maybe to get some intel. They hid well enough. Liam noted they tried poking the dragons in Emon.

The showdown was a very emotional moment, how much of the HDYWTDT was Vax and how much was Liam?

  • It felt like time stopped, I was thinking about so many things in that five seconds. I thought about every conversation that Laura and I had had sort of building the story, I thought about how that story initially was supposed to be like 'Our mom died in a car wreck, or mom died--a dragon killed our mom.' And I thought about how you [Matt] made it so much more than that...I'm not gonna delve here, but I had a hard year and I thought about my own mother. Absolutely. So, um. DnD's cheaper than therapy. You know, half the time this game is a total fuck-about, and hilarious, but this guy [Matt] manages to weave our real lives in subtle ways, and it was extremely meaningful.

Was the red dragon that slew Vax/Vex's mother a convenient connection or pre-planned?

  • Matt explains that when Laura and Liam developed their background at the beginning of the game, he hadn't developed the Conclave. What he does as a DM is take what his players have given him for their characters and weave that into the game to let the player be more invested and connected to the story. He'd always wanted to have large scale dragon combat, and when the time came, he remembered that piece of the character's story.
  • Liam mentions that when he and Laura came up with that point for their characters, it was never meant to be something they dwelled on, but that is obviously different now, and it's been fascinating to see the evolution.

How did Vax feel being the one to deal the final blow?

  • Liam: I didn't feel like I was going to get it, or that I deserved it. That's why I threw in the line at one point that 'my friends are going to kill you', because I just thought, mathematically, at some point someone else is gonna do it. So, again, it was the same sort of answer.
  • Matt didn't expect it either, outlining that there was going to be a point where Thordak backed into his lair once he reached a certain hit point threshold to bring him into a domain where he had more control. But once Thordak had hit that threshold, there was still so much to that round left and the players were getting criticals and so much damage that he wasn't sure Thordak was even going to survive to get to that moment. Matt thought he had a moment for Thordak to get a bit of distance from the party, but he'd forgotten about the 'hasted, flying, little incensed rogue.'
  • Liam was happy that Vex shattered the rock on his chest, making it feel like the twins did it together.

How did Matt balance the additional creatures being added in the Thordak fight, to balance challenge and safety?

  • Comes with experience with party's challenge level. For this, the preset of the assembled army gave a precedent for the creatures, though other encounters were bypassed, causing Vox Machina to arrive with more health. Matt had a preset for arrivals in each combat round. No mathematical number, was felt out via time working with party.
  • After Travis expresses that he's always wondered what triggers those sorts of things, Matt goes on to explain that is can depend on what the party has done and that he'll changed encounters based on what they've done leading up to it. He gives the example that if Vox Machina had arrived at the city after the army started attacking and decided to attack with the army, Thordak would've been alerted to their presence, and would've begun fire strafing the city; they saved many lives by arriving early.

Was there ever a point where Travis and Liam thought they should run?

  • They both express that they never did for the Thordak fight, as both of their characters were ready to throw themselves into the fight. Liam adds that going into the next fight, he (not Vax), wants to 'GTFO'. Matt got many notes from players about what should happen if they had died.

Will Vax's slaying of Thordak give him a spark of optimism?

  • Ask me next week.

Gif of the Week: Sam's self-referential shirts

How would Matt have handled large numbers of enemies in another version of the battle?

  • He would have done a progressive skill challenge with narrative elements about how the army battles went.

How did it feel to roll so terribly for Gilmore vs the fire breath?

  • Matt: That sucked. He, uh, well, they only got four potions of fire resistance, and they took them all for themselves, those greedy sons of bitches. No, but I mean, that's kind of just how it works, you know. An ancient red dragon on that scale, um, does a lot of damage. Everyone's kind of arrived clustered and everyone's trying to get away, it just made sense for Thordak to line it up the way he did. And it was a rough going for Gilmore. He got some licks in, but he's also, comparative to Vox Machina, you guys are basically beginning to out power the powerful NPCs that have guided you through your journeys at this point. Gilmore is technically lower level than you guys.

What were Liam and Travis thinking as Scanlan chose not to use the flute during the battle?

  • Travis lets out a series of pained grunts. Liam didn't necessarily care, he wasn't really thinking about it until Laura's hands were miming it in his face. They agree that it's a good 'get out of jail free' card.

Matt, have you ever had a guest player villain?

  • In his previous Ravenloft campaign, he had two friends play a session as seeming allies that turned out to be vampires who attacked the party.

Given that Vax has slain his target for vengeance, will Vax have an easier or harder time with his oath?

  • Liam and Matt haven't discussed it just yet. However, Vax is just 'winging it' with no communication from the Raven Queen, and operating more of a place of doing right in the world as opposed to vengeance. He thinks that at some point, the Raven Queen is going to start giving him a "to-do" list. Matt adds she's one of the few deities who would prefer to choose an unsuspecting person as her champion.

Were there abilities that Thordak didn't get to use (like Kevdak in that fight)?

  • There were circumstantial things he didn't get to use. His mild regenerative abilities stopped when the crystal in his chest was destroyed, and the heat damage from being in proximity to him didn't come into play much. Every battle is a lesson, and Matt's considering adding more legendary actions in the future to a creature that powerful.

Vax, any thoughts about changing Paladin oaths now that Thordak is no longer a threat and your mother avenged?

  • No.

From Raishan @DiseaseDeceiver: Do we really think following me into the lair was a good idea? No one will be left to save Whitestone.

  • Travis wants to know when Raishan has time to use Twitter.

Fan Art of the Week: Tita Tolvanan[spelling?] @ytotia_'s art of the battle against Thordak.

Technical question: The Meteor Swarm wasn't a surprise round, was it?

  • Raishan took advantage to cast it while she hadn't yet been spotted, so technically, yes, a mid-combat surprise round. There's a reason she had a hella high stealth roll. Vax did an insight check on Assum before the reveal it was Raishan in disguise and got a whisper that he checked out, so now he doesn't trust ANYthing about Raishan. Matt reminds them that green dragons are good at many skills.

Why would Raishan waste Meteor Swarm on three people?

  • Because those were three people she really wanted dead. It was a show of power.

Any chance there's a power word death scroll laying around in that cave?

  • We'll find out.

How do you plan huge council meetings, taking into account what player characters might say?

  • Matt builds out what information each participant has and what topics they want to discuss, but mostly it's improvisation. They love D&D because you have heartbreaking moments 6 inches away from fart jokes.

Travis, what surprised you the most about the Thordak battle?

  • The amount of the fire damage. And the size of the "mini".

This concludes the main portion of the show, but Alpha subscribers moved on to "After Dark". Before the switch, Brian compliments Liam's German, and Liam demonstrates some.

After Dark[]

Beginning with this episode, Alpha subscribers got access to additional content.

Travis, what was the ride home with Laura like after Vax shaved off half of Grog's beard?

  • Travis actually loved that moment as the next escalation of the prank war, but before that he hadn't realized how impossible it was to actually get your hands on Vax. If he ever CAN, Vax is dead.

Matt, you've inspired a lot of new and veteran DMs (including me). Who inspires you (D&D or otherwise)?

Matt, we know you make awesome maps. Would love to see your version of some NPCs. Do you draw?

  • He used to. In high school he was planning to become an artist, but changed his mind at the last minute, and if you don't use it, you lose it.

Matt, how does pregnancy work in the game? Are there checks or rolls after characters sleep with each other?

  • There is actually a book that exists about this with actual rules, but Matt leaves it up to the players.

Matt and Liam, does DM planning get easier over time? As a new DM, I spend crazy amounts of time on it.

  • Yes. You learn your players and what they want, and tailor the story to them. Liam doesn't know how Matt does it every week.

Travis, what would a Grog-run one-shot look like? Would you ever run a one-shot?

  • Sure. Well, Travis would let Grog run it. Matt thinks that would be amazing (he was right!).

VM have faced some pretty big threats. Are there any the players are still terrified of facing?

  • Liam is terrified of facing Raishan, and the whole last five minutes he was thinking, "This is a terrible thing you're doing! This is going to end badly!" In terms of resource management, it's bad. Raishan is "capital E" Evil.

What film are you most looking forward to in 2017?

If Vox Machina eventually become gods and goddesses, what would each member be the ruler over?

D&D is a great cathartic release for me and acts like therapy. Is it the same for you, and if so, how does it help your mental health?

  • Liam: Absolutely, before and after streaming.
  • Travis: Now that they've been playing years, they're automatically in character.
  • Matt: From a DM standpoint, it's not the same experience and he's a bit jealous, but loves creating the world they get to play in. Liam points out he gets to both romance and hate Matt, depending on who he is that day. Matt says it's interesting having his fiancée in the party, but he doesn't want to push too much into their story.

Travis: Are Grog, Kima, and Pike gym buddies when they're in Whitestone?

  • He hopes so! By the way, Matt explains that loot is sometimes randomly rolled, and Holy Avenger was a random roll for the Vorugal hoard. So Kima was happy.

Are there any game mechanics that you preferred in Pathfinder that didn't transfer to 5e?

  • Travis liked "cleave", and Liam doesn't remember Pathfinder at all. Travis points out that in the first three months of Critical Role, they played more than they had in their whole Pathfinder home game. Liam enjoyed being able to concentrate more on the story than the mechanics. Matt thinks Pathfinder is great for mechanics-oriented experienced players and smaller parties, while 5e works better for new players and narrative-driven tables.

Travis, do you often get frustrated playing a low intelligence character, like when you come up with an idea but can't say it because it's too smart for Grog?

  • That happens rarely and he often blurts it out anyway. Liam says Travis is who you want to be trapped with in the apocalypse. Matt points out Grog was capable of strategizing for, for instance, the encounter with the Herd.

Does Travis miss Craven Edge?

  • Yes, terribly. He thinks Grog genuinely cared about Craven Edge.

Thanks everyone for watching on Alpha.