Why You Need The Adventure Zone
I never thought I’d get emotional over a game of Dungeons and Dragons; certainly not over a game I wasn’t playing. But The Adventure Zone managed it. This podcast, produced by the McElroy Brothers (plus their father, Clint) is a fantastic example of how the collaborative storytelling of Dungeons and Dragons can make for groundbreaking entertainment. It’s hilarious, it’s well thought out, it’s diverse, and it’s just plain fun.
What began as a fun episode of another podcast – My Brother, My Brother and Me – where the siblings convinced their father to play Dungeons and Dragons has now become an epic tale spanning more than two years. Griffin McElroy, (your sweet baby brother) is the dungeon master, who has weaved a complex and diverse story that crosses multiple genres.
The earliest arcs revolve around a very typical fantasy based world, with things gradually bleeding into something more akin to science fiction. There’s a murder on the orient express adventure, a Mad-Max Fury Road arc, and even a journey to a mad scientist’s floating crystal laboratory. More recently, secrets and mysteries have been unravelling, revealing a back story that has both shocked and delighted listeners who have been hanging on to every word for the past two years.
Some of the arcs, like ‘Petals to the Metal’ and ‘The Eleventh Hour’ had me listening so intently and obsessively I had to take my headphones into my dayjob and surreptitiously catch up while nobody was looking. It’s very addictive like that.
What makes any show succeed or fail is primarily the characters. The McElroys provide some memorable figures to be sure (though with varying degrees of commitment to character voices). The trio – calling themselves Tres Horny Boys – join the Bureau of Balance, a secret organisation tracking down the most powerful objects in the world.
Played by Justin McElroy (your oldest brother), is a high elf wizard with a penchant for style and witty one-liners. Abraca-f**k-you being a particularly memorable one. Taako is a chaotic good character and he will probably save your life, but he’ll also steal your shoes if you die.
From styling around in a salmon skirt to going on a literal date with death himself, Taako – magic umbrella in hand – won many fans’ hearts instantly. Both as a wizard and as a travelling chef. He brings comedy and sometimes horrifying power to the table.
Played by Travis McElroy (your middlest brother), is the burly warrior (or ‘rough boy’) of the group. A protector, a folk hero, and just brimming with rustic hospitality, Magnus has his own loyal following amongst fans.
A lot of this is down to Travis’ own investment in the character – he was one of the few to outline his character’s backstory before they began playing. Recent revelations about his full tale were heartbreaking for many, and the fan artwork has been copious.
Played by Clint McElroy (your dad), is a dwarven cleric. When not casting Zone of Truth or forgetting to heal his friends, Merle is a pious dwarf. Sort of.
Played somewhere between a goofball and an evangelist, Merle brings a special dynamic to the group. Though often derided for not healing often enough, he still possessed unspeakable power. His relationship with the others can be strained at times (there was an insident with his arm). But Merle is a forgiving soul and trusts to the ways of Pan, and his Extreme Teen Bible.
Griffin has also put a lot of work into the non-player characters (the ones the players encounter on their adventure). Clearly having realised that they had something of a male dominated cast, the show has included a variety of female roles.
Killian (an orc woman encountered in the first adventure) and her girlfriend Carey Fangbattle (a dragonborn woman) have been staples of the show for a while. Along with the Director of the Bureau of Balance and NoEll (a robot with the soul of someone Tres Horny Boys may have inadvertently killed), things feel a lot more diverse than you might at first think. Whats more, there are other complex and nuanced relationships going on, such as Sloan and Hurley, a human woman and a halfling woman whose romance is both deep and tragic at times.
What adds to the experience of the Adventure Zone is certainly the original score, written and performed (mostly) by Griffin McElroy. The OST is on soundcloud and is well worth a listen even if you’ve never actually heard the show before. ‘Reunion Tour’ and ‘The Chalice’ are two favourites of mine. As well as ‘No Dogs on the Moon’ for a happier tone.
Used sparingly at first, it has become a staple that enhances the show, ups the drama, and engages the audience. It has also helped many fans create their own animatics and animations based on favourite scenes. It’s hard to talk about many of these without giving too much away, but once you’ve listened, do go looking for them.
There’s also a graphic novel coming soon!
If you want some fun, ridiculous, and emotional Dungeons and Dragons in your life, check out The Adventure Zone!
- The Podcast on iTunes
- Adventure Zone subreddit
- Twitter: @TheZoneCast
- Soundtrack on soundcloud