The most recent season of Voltron: Legendary Defender features a surprising homage to the classic role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.
While episodes of Voltron often feature robotic space lions fighting against overwhelming alien forces, the sixth season episode "Monsters & Mana" has the paladins sit down for a relaxing tabletop role-playing game, with Coran serving as the game master. Swapping out sci-fi action for fantasy roleplay was a brilliant move, and many fans consider "Monsters & Mana" to be one of the best episodes of the season -- or even in the show in general.
ComicBook.com had a chance to speak with showrunners Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery before the season aired, and we got to the bottom of just how that episode came about.
"We're huge fans of RPG video games," Voltron: Legendary Defender co-showrunner Joaquim Dos Santos said when asked about the episode. "Our writer Mitch Iverson is still a current, up-to-date player of D&D. And I think beyond that just the massive fantasy influence that's come into our lives, or that's been in our lives since we've been watching animation, and watching shows. It was kind of a love letter. It was a big fun love letter to the genre."
The episode features plenty of references to both Dungeons & Dragons and video games. At one point, Pidge starts breaking vases, just like in The Legend of Zelda games, and there's also references to Skyrim and The Legend of Mana hidden in the episode.
"We knew we were going to have a pretty intense wrap up to the season happening," co-showrunner Lauren Montgomery added. "We had to take a little bit of a time out, a little bit of a breather. Just due to the circumstances of where the story was, how the Voltron Paladins weren't in a position where they were constantly being pursued by Zarkon, they could actually take the time out to have this ridiculous episode."
One of the striking things about the episode is that it gave viewers a chance to see how the Voltron Paladins see themselves. While the Paladins are all fearless space pilots and galactic heroes, the episode reminded fans that Hunk considers himself to be more of a healer than a warrior, and that Shiro really considers himself to be an archetypal hero. One running gag in the episode is that Shiro's characters keeps dying, but is continually replaced by an identical-looking paladin.
"I don’t know what’s more fulfilling than being a Paladin," Shiro says when asked why he doesn't change up his character. "But you're already a paladin in real life!" Coran exclaims in frustration. It seems that Shiro can't help but playing the self-sacrificing hero, even in a fantasy world.
"We thought that was a nice beautiful little touch," Dos Santos said when discussing Shiro's running gag throughout the episode.
While the episode had a much more lighthearted bent than other Volton: Legendary Defender episodes, it's clear that a lot of work went into the show. "Despite [the episode] emotionally being like a bit of a rest, our director Steve Ahn went above and beyond, and worked himself to the bone," Dos Santos said. "And everybody did really on the episode, to make sure it was firing on all cylinders. So while it might be an emotional rest, from a production standpoint, it was just as much hard work as doing a big epic space battle."
Voltron: Legendary Defender is available to stream on Netflix.