The Adventure Zone; Stronger Together

(rant incoming)

And then the camera pans up and we see this world’s final protectors amassed at the city’s gates. Lup, Barry, Carey, Killian, Angus, and Lucas stand at the forefront of this army, and they’re surveying this fighting force’s unconventional makeup. The survivors of Neverwinter stand armed and at the ready with Klaarg and his family and the whole Battlefest crew preparing for the attack.

At the centre of the crowd is the wagon housing the citizens of Refuge. Ren and Cassidy are perched on top of the wagon, the former armed with her rod, the latter with a crate of industrial-strength blasting caps. A dust storm rages in from the west, and emerging from it is a fleet of battlewagon racers, with Hurley and Sloane’s car leading the pack. They brake-slide in perfect unison to the flanks of the army and start revving their engines. Near the back of the crowd, a squad of Tom Bodetts from Rockport are in the rear battalion, carrying chains and hammers and wrenches and any number of other industrial tools.

Weaving through that crowd are the Hogsbottom Three: Tanzer, Lucian, and Scales, who are carousing and leading the Toms in a battle hymn, getting the whole unit psyched up for the battle at hand. – Episode 68, The Adventure Zone: Balance.

Have you ever cried over a podcast? Because I have. I do – regularly.

The Adventure Zone is, according to its wikipedia page, “a biweekly comedy and adventure actual play podcast based loosely upon the popular Dungeons & Dragons game series, along with other role-playing games… hosted by brothers JustinTravis, and Griffin McElroy, and father Clint McElroy.”

The series has had two seasons so far: Balance and Amnesty, which are games that Griffin runs as Game Master while the rest of the family plays through the scenarios he provides. They just started their third season, Graduation, which Travis is running.

The Adventure Zone – or TAZ, as I’m going to call it in this post – is a goddam beautiful story.

I didn’t think I would be saying that when I first listened to it, because the boys started their first episode by complaining that killing made them horny.

The podcast gave me the giggles but I didn’t think I’d be wiping tears away several years later, re-listening to their finales over and over again and thinking about the nature of humanity as it is reflected in a cavalcade of strange and wonderful characters.

Each season has different characters and different approaches to playing the game. Balance and Amnesty, however, end the same way: with the whole world coming together to fight the final boss.

In the quote above, Griffin McElroy explains that every character we’ve met over entire Balance season – almost three years of podcasting, listening to four men come together to laugh and joke and think deeply about the world that they’re creating – prepare to brace themselves against a storm that they might not survive. Almost two years later, the Amnesty season ends in a similar way:

“For three quarters of one second, a veil is lifted. Minerva, the scion, far from home, swings her blade through the air and six gateways to another world are torn throughout the fabric of Kepler, West Virginia. The citizens manning the outposts around town prepare themselves for whatever lies beyond these rifts… and then the town is overtaken by storm and fury…” Episode 34, The Adventure Zone: Amnesty

This rallying moment is the moment that brings tears to my eyes no matter what season I’m listening to.

This is the moment that the entire world looks up at the worst of what is coming for it, digs in its heels, and collectively refuses to go down without a fight.

As I’ve talked about elsewhere, the McElroys seem to have a knack for creating hope in the face of a shitstorm, but what I love about TAZ is that both series end a story that has spanned several years by reminding the listeners how many different threads and different characters – some of whom might have actively despised and attacked our protagonists in the past – put aside the bullshit because there’s bigger fish to fry.

And then they do it. They win. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of media with such a faith in the power of people coming together.

Between the dick jokes and goofs that are apparently unavoidable when the McElroys get together to tell a story, there is a final boss telling these characters – this world – to give up and die, and the entire world looks right back and says “No.”


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