Podcast Spotlight: The Adventure Zone

Yup, it’s time for another McElroy show. Already? Yes. As much as I want to avoid falling into the “good, good boys” fanboy trap, these—uh… These… These boys are just that good (good).

The Adventure Zone is a bi-weekly, “actual play” Dungeons & Dragons podcast, which basically means it’s not scripted. (Or, well, it a D&D podcast. Now I suppose it’s just a more general role-playing podcast, since the newest mini-arc has moved onto a new system, but I’ll explain that later.)

For those unfamiliar with the concept of D&D (I imagine there are very few of you reading this, since D&D podcasts are pretty common nowadays), it’s a tabletop game in which one person acts as the “Dungeon Master” (DM). This person makes up story scenarios for 1+ other players, who can approach the scenarios with the tools given to them by the game’s system.

For example, a DM might say “The three of you are walking down a path. Suddenly, 10 goblins jump out of the bushes and demand you hand over your weapons. What do you do?”

Then the players can choose to respond however they wish: “I draw my sword and ready myself to attack,” or “I act like I’m going to hand my knife over, but at the last second I draw back and attack one of the goblins,” or even “I try to reason with them using my impressive interpretive dance skills.”

Then, so see if the players succeed, they roll a 20-sided die. If they roll a number higher than the one the DM has decided they need to beat, they succeed. If not, they fail. It’s sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but the choices and outcomes aren’t pre-determined.

The reason D&D podcasts are so common right now is that this system allows for spontaneous storytelling that’s easier to produce than scripted narrative. It also leaves room for out-of-character comedic elements and narrative commentary, which makes it much more palatable than heavy-handed amateur radio dramas.

The first 69 episodes of The Adventure Zone collectively tell what the McElroys have dubbed “Balance,” the story of three adventurers discovering the secrets of the mysterious “Grand Relics” and of their own pasts.

The “Balance” campaign began in December 2014 and wrapped up this August, and the almost three years of storytelling paid off. What began as a one-off bonus MBMBaM episode turned into a masterfully crafted, truly epic tale. It’s certainly a commitment to binge the whole show, but it’s so worth it.

Speaking of “Commitment,” that’s the name of the show’s latest campaign. Since the end of “Balance,” the McElroys have decided to start experimenting with short, “experimental arcs” to see what kind of story they (and their fans) want the show to focus on in the future.

The first experimental arc, “Commitment,” tells the story of a group of superheroes called the Do-Good Fellowship. This time, the McElroy’s father, Clint McElroy, is running the game. With the first episode having just debuted on Thursday, Clint’s story is shaping up to be an interesting one.

So far, his DM-ing skills certainly aren’t on the same level as Griffin’s, but that of course can’t be expected, since Griffin’s been doing it since 2014.

As far as recommendations go, I’d say your best option is to just marathon the whole show. But if you need some more convincing, I’d definitely recommend checking out the “Murder on the Rockport Limited” arc. It’s a great example of one of my favorite, hyper-specific story premises—train-based murder mysteries—and it has some really great humor and fun story twists.

Come back next weekend for another podcast spotlight. ALSO, stay tuned to my Twitter account (@CCJ1997) for some exciting, D&D podcast-related news. I should have some fun developments to share with you shortly.