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.