My Brother, My Brother and Me: Road Trip Mysteries

[Happy Friday the 13th. I was trying to think about something spooky to cover today, but I wrote about Requiem yesterday which was spooky enough. This is tangential to the spooky supernatural but a little fun and funny too.]

MBMBAM Road Trip Mysteries is a fan-created comic about the three McElroy brothers of the My Brother, My Brother and Me podcast. As the site itself says, it started as a goof on the MBMBAM Appreciation Group (which I personally recommend for fans on Facebook) but the project grew and became something bigger. Twenty-Serpentine (or 20🐍 as most of us referred to it) was the MBMBAM motto for 2017. It was about doing something new, or different than usual. The creators took that to heart when creating MBMBAM Road Trip Mysteries.

The comic, written by Tim Hely & illustrated by Kayla Mitchell with a cover from Chris House, is free on the website roadtrip.axolstudio.com. Although there is a Patreon for Axol Studio, if you’d like to support them further. At the moment there’s just one issue of 24 pages, but I really hope they make more.

In Road Trip Mysteries, we see a comic version of brothers Justin, Griffin & Travis on a cross-country road trip in their own version of the Mysteries Machine, The MBMBAM Van. Griffin spots a theme park called Six Pennants out the window and demands they stop for a visit. Those good, good boys spend all day in the park and then settle in for a tiny break to rest when a mysterious sound gets their attention.

From there, we see the three brothers making their way through the park again, but this time after dark and with a mystery afoot. This story plays on goofs from the podcast, but I don’t think it’s necessary to have listened to the podcast to enjoy what the comic is doing. I think it’s pretty adorable and I also find great appreciation in things that are created out of love spawned by a podcast.

As I mentioned in my post the other day about the MaxFun drive, I get a lot of enjoyment out of the McElroy brothers bevy of work, specifically podcasts like MBMBAM and The Adventure Zone. And it’s awesome to see how their works inspire others in unexpected ways.

A whole lotta love for the Maximum Fun podcasts

I’ve mentioned my love for podcasts, The Adventure Zone and My Brother, My Brother and Me before. Those two podcasts plus the other host of McElroy family of podcasts (like Wonderful! — another favorite of mine) are part of the Maximum Fun network. Last week and this one is the Maximum Fun pledge drive where the podcasts on their network as listeners to help support their work. The pledges go directly to the podcasts you listen to and help support the creators continue making good work. Not all of these podcasters do their podcasts for a living, but some do and personally I like knowing that I can help support that.

I don’t often contribute to these things, or like even patreons for people I don’t know. But in the past few years that I’ve been listening to these shows I’ve come to appreciate how much joy listening to these shows give me. For instance, Episode #400 of MBMBAM which was last Monday’s episode at the beginning of the pledge drive, kept me in stitches. I listened to it while at the gym Tuesday night and I barely noticed my time on the treadmill because I was laughing so hard. I’ve laughed about it in the week since and continued to feel connected to this random group of dudes because it feels like we’ve shared an experience… even though I’m just listening from home, work or the gym.

I’ve consumed a lot of their episodes. Over half of the 400 episodes of MBMBAM all ~90 of The Adventure Zone, most of the new episodes of Wonderful! and a handful of others. I pay good money for things like Netflix or Hulu and honestly, I often get way more enjoyment and bang for my buck from the McElroy podcasts than I do from the shows on those networks.

So last year I promised $10 a month to the MaxFun drive. It got me a cool MBMBAM pin and access to a proverbial shit load of free content dedicated to the pledge subscribers… stuff I didn’t know existed before. This year, I’m planning to increase that donation. Not because I feel pressured to… at least not by these creators. But by my own want to support these creators who give me so much of themselves in each episode.

One of the coolest things to happen so far this year is based on their 2018 motto of “Stronger Together”, Collabor18. I started a MBMBAM Discord channel specifically for fans who write or wanted to get into writing. The channel has over 100 members, is active daily, and we’re in the process of building an anthology of written works about collaboration, any proceeds of which will go to charity. And that’s only one small thing that’s happened from a giant community of fans. (I’ve got plans to post more about this anthology sometime soon.)

If you listen to MaxFun shows, I suggest you think about how much you’ve laughed and enjoyed these shows. And maybe do the same.

Champions of the Earth! a podcast

Recently I started listening to a new actual play podcast called Champions of the Earth.

I’ve tried several actual play podcasts that aren’t Critical Role or The Adventure Zone and had a lot of trouble getting into them. Many of them explain too much or take themselves way too seriously or just have too much bro-ness about them that make them uninteresting or just boring. Champions of the Earth  was a recommendation through twitter because one of the members is Gina DeVivo, who’s on a few different Geek & Sundry / ProjectAlpha shows… not all of which I watch. That’s a long way of say that she was my way into this podcast.

The GM for Champions of the Earth, Collin Kelly, is a big fan of The Adventure Zone and I think that shows strongly in the way he tells the story. But in just a few episodes I’ve found that I really enjoy how he backs out of the story when the characters are having moments among themselves. He lets them direct some of the action, let’s them have character moments that aren’t necessarily plot related by have an impact on how the characters will interact when the plot resurfaces. It’s a good mix of storytelling and actual play. They use a modified version of D&D rules to play which makes the game play familiar enough for people that know 5th ed. rules and they explain character changes and rule updates quickly as they come into play, but don’t belabor the rules too much.

What’s different about Champions of the Earth is that it’s not a medieval-esque fantasy world though. It’s a modern day story of high school students thrust into a world of zombies, aliens and giant mecha knights. It’s a little Power Rangers and a little Twilight. It’s great.

It’s also really great that the episodes are about an hour like The Adventure Zone instead of 3-4 like Critical Role. If you start now, you’ll catch up to today’s episode 8 in no time. I think episode 8 also has my favorite moment of the show so far — a scene in which one of the characters is about to get into a fight with a creature, but pauses zen-like to take a sip of Fresca before it happens. It’s perfect.

You can find Champions of the Earth on iTunes and Google Play and wherever fine podcasts are sold. #ChampionsCast

Podcast: LeVar Burton Reads

If you were a young reader, like me. Or a faithful PBS kid, like me. You’ll be familiar with the charm and whimsy of Reading Rainbow. It was one of my absolute favorite shows growing up. I was an avid and annoying reader, I spent long hours at the library when I could and always brought home at bag full of books from every trip. Nearly thirty years later and I can still sing the whole theme song, because that’s the kind of memory trap our tiny brains create with music.

Reading Rainbow has seen a bit of a revival on the internet in the past few years thanks to LeVar’s efforts and the generosity of people on KickStarter. Although as adults, simplicity outweighs much of it’s charm. Though I find the books read by LeVar and the children each episode to still be quite a lovely experience.

Enter, then, LeVar’s more recent foray into the world of stories and reading with his own titular podcast: LeVar Burton Reads. Each week, LeVar hand picks a short story to read aloud, with a few comments about the author and why he picked this particular story. Most of the stories have a slight sci-fi or fantasy element to them, of which if you’re a fan, many of the author’s names might be recognizable to you. Each of them are read in his very unique voice, with voices when he can or inflection when he cannot. He’s stopping every few podcasts for Q&A weeks with a specific author to talk about the story he read, as well as their experiences and inspirations.

Best of all I think, is the moment just before LeVar transfers from announcer voice, to narrator voice. There’s a moment when he asks you, we the audience, to take a deep breath. He invites you to come with him to the story with that pause, that breath, encouraging you to make yourself open to the story you’re about to hear. Or at least that’s how it feels to me, each and every time. If these were episodes of Reading Rainbow, this is the moment when the cover of the book flips open and you prepare to see the images that accompany the story.

I listen to a lot of audio books, and several story-based podcasts. And honestly, I think all of them could do with a bit more moments like that one. The one that transitions you from passive listener, to an active one.

If you like stories (and I hope you do), I hope you’ll check out LeVar Burton Reads.
It’s pretty special.

This week’s short story is “The Truth About Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar, a short story author I have come to enjoy very much. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her twice now and she’s amazingly sweet and as enthusiastic fan about the things she enjoys as anyone I’ve met. Enjoy. 

TAZ: Podcast — Amnesty arc

Aside from Critical Role, The Adventure Zone is the one actual play D&D series I’ve been able to get into. Maybe I enjoyed it so much from the beginning because I was already a huge fan of the McElroys. I enjoy Griffin & Justin’s work at Polygon and I’ve been listening to the three of them on MBMBAM for a long time now. They started sort of at the right place, right time for me.

I’d been watching Tabletop on Geek & Sundry for a couple seasons, I’d started getting into Critical Role and looking into story-like podcasts that were something other than Welcome to Nightvale. And then the McEl-bros started The Adventure Zone.
And as I mentioned in yesterday’s post… they just sort of started. There was no long lengthy introduction to their characters, there was no overly detailed explanation of anything. Griffin just started narrating and they just ran with it. As much as I love Critical Role (and that’s a lot) something about the tight time of the TAZ podcast and the extreme humor they pack into those hour-ish long episodes really connected with me. Plus, Griffin’s storytelling is pretty amazing. He started with that first Phandalin adventure that a lot of D&D 5th edition groups start with and then… he made the whole thing his own. Which is EXACTLY what you should do as a DM. Just start. And then figure out the story you want to tell. That doesn’t always come before the players are around the table for the first time. At least, not the whole thing.
Anyhow. I say all that to say this, TAZ is one of my favorite things going. It’s one of my favorite podcasts and fans of McEl-content, TAZ specifically are really, pretty great. The McElroy brothers have gone out of their way to try and make listeners comfortable with the stories their telling in the best way they know how. They don’t always get it right, but the effort is always apparent.
With the ending of the TAZ: Balance arc, they guys have been working on shorter story arcs. Clint, their dad, ran one recently using the FATE system. Griffin is picking up a short arc using the Monster of the Week rules. Travis is working on his currently and cards are in the air on what if anything Justin will run before they pick up with a longer arc again. 
The first mini-story arc, Commitment, wasn’t my favorite. The 100 years arc in Balance that solidified how the end of the bigger story would play out was a low point for me as a listener. I’m not crazy about monster-of-the-week shows in general but I bided my time for the story to finally come full-circle. It did and when the whole story paid off, I bawled my eyes out in the final episode.
Commitment though, I felt disconnected from almost completely. I didn’t listen to all of their set-up episode, I gave introductions about 15 minutes and moved on. The story was alright, the humor was present but really, I got through those episodes because the brothers are still themselves at the end of the day and know how to make jokes deliver. While it didn’t resonate with me on a story or rpg level completely, it was worth it to listen to Clint stretch his storytelling abilities and Griffin take a turn as a player. 
Now in our second arc, with Amnesty, I did make it through all of the setup episode although it was a near thing. The episode released Friday 1/12 though, that was something. And honestly, I wish this is the episode they used as their “set-up” episode. I didn’t need to listen to them describe the game play and their characters for an hour. This hour long episode where each character Duck, Lady Flame & Edmund get a tiny adventure for themselves that we can assume is building to all three characters getting off on their adventure together. 
So, yes, one of the things that helps ties things together better here is that Griffin’s had three years of GM experience with the Balance arc. Whether or not all of the pieces in that story were successful is up to listener interpretation, but most fans can agree that the story pays off in the end.
For this first real episode of Amnesty, Griffin spoke into existence a story… and everyone just yes and-ed the hell out of what he provided them with. I really wish the previous episode had just been skipped. We’ll get just as much knowledge of your character from context clues and in-game interaction through the course of this arc as you gave us in that one set-up episode. I find that makes that build up unnecessary. 
This is a bit of a rambling through process about how games and stories begin and what I think is successful. Sorry about that. But I wanted to post about TAZ today because I really did enjoy this episode. It was a good salve for being strangely…. caught up… on Critical Role. 
I’m looking forward to what this new arc brings us (Bigfoot? *fingers crossed*), aside from the banging new intro Griffin wrote for it. But two days, two good beginnings on stories for my two favorite actual play games? 
Yeah, I’m good here.

GCF: Podcast — I am a C. I am a C.H.

A little while back I discovered the podcast, Good Christian Fun.

According to their website:

Good Christian Fun is a podcast delving into the strange upside-down world of Christian pop culture. Hosts Kevin T. Porter and Caroline Ely are your tour guides through the weird and hilarious world of faith-based entertainment. GCF is a show for skeptics and believers alike, all are welcome. 

Don’t worry, we won’t make you go to church 😉 

Let’s have some good Christian fun!

Typically, I tend to stay away from all things church-based, but I’m also a bit of a masochist, so I thought it might be worth a try, given their description. Plus, while I didn’t listen to the Gilmore Guys podcast Kevin Porter previously hosted, I never heard anything but good things about it.

Cue: Me laughing out loud at work, dying at the memories this podcast has dredged up that I would’ve previously been loathe to relive. Instead, Kevin and Caroline do hold up their end of the bargain. What they provide is a good time and lots of laughs about the weird and often absurd world of Christian entertainment. Even for me, who went to a church too strict to enjoy many of the things they address in the current 18 episodes, there’s been something in everything I can relate to in all of them.

In fact, I spent the better part of last week remembering the awful, but catchy, kiddie Christian songs that they taught us little kids in Sunday School. The absurdity of them is laughable now, but what’s even more hilarious (and perhaps troubling from an atheist’s perspective) is how universal and resilient these songs are. They’re the eternal earworm. Not only did I remember them, but I remembered all the words and often the hand movements or “dances” (we didn’t dance, but the few movements could barely be called a dance) that went with them.

I brought up one of them at work and all but one person on my team was able to remember the song word for word. (The last one gets a pass because she didn’t grow up in the States.) And it wasn’t just one song it was more than a handful of songs that we memorized at Sunday School or V.B.S or Church Camp.

It only took me an episode to realize that this was a podcast I was going to turn to every week for an hour an a half or more of laughs and maybe a more fun spin on subjects that aren’t particularly happy memories for me. It definitely puts them in a different light, and lets me enjoy them in some way. For that, I’m grateful.

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