Friday, 14 June 2019

Latest Love // The Adventure Zone

Latest Love is a series of posts where I talk about a recent obsession. This could be a bookish obsession or otherwise - anything that has been making me happy recently that I feel like sharing. The important thing about this feature is that it isn't a review. This is just a way of me expressing a few reasons why I like something, and maybe find some more people to talk about it with. 😊

My love of podcasts...

Do you ever discover something that you love with the entirety of your whole heart? It could be a book or a series or a musician or anything - something that you develop an attachment to that some people might consider ridiculous or childish and is definitely obsessive? That is me with The Adventure Zone.

It's no secret that I'm a bit of a podcast addict. The internet is awash with podcasts that cover history, culture and advice-giving, but my personal favourite shows are the ones that are based in fiction. I've already written about my undying love for Welcome to Night Vale and The Bright Sessions, two of my all-time favourite shows. However, I have yet to talk about the podcast that has consumed my whole life for the last eight months.

The Adventure Zone

The Adventure Zone is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast hosted by the McElroy family: Griffin, Travis, Justin, and their dad Clint. The first arc, later referred to as the Balance arc, revolves around the loveably reckless human fighter Magnus Burnsides, the nature-loving dwarven cleric Merle Highchurch, and the aloof yet witty elven wizard Taako. The game is hosted by their Dungeon Master, Griffin, who leads the characters on various quests in an attempt to retrieve magical artefacts and prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

The series starts off as a goofy high-fantasy inspired comedy series about three not-so-heroic heroes who keep messing up in the most magnificent of ways. They are disastrous to the point that they end up killing the people that they are trying to save, and are repeatedly rescued by the far more competent female characters. Even when Griffin begins to steer the story into a darker direction, the characters continue to crack hilarious jokes that lighten the situation. However, as the stakes rise, more and more mysteries are uncovered about lost memories and cosmic threats. Watch out - the story will sucker-punch you when you least expect it.

I didn't know a single thing about D&D when I started this podcast. Now that I've finished it, I still have no idea. You don't need to know how the game works to appreciate the art of collaborative storytelling. Griffin crafts a beautifully detailed world with a mass of loveable side characters, but what Travis, Justin, and Clint do with it is up to them. The game allows for a kind of narrative that is simultaneously plot and character driven, taking turns you won't always expect.

At its heart, this is a show about family. The story is told by a real-life family and focuses on characters finding a chosen family. The friendships that the protagonists form with one another and characters outside of their party are absolutely beautiful. Plus, of the few romances in the show, all of them are with LGBT characters. The McElroys are super respectful in how they represent different identities. Even though the show does fall into a couple of negative tropes, stick with it because they do resolve them in a way that is narratively satisfying.

This show provided me with so much joy in a time that I really needed it. I've listened to the series twice already (an unhealthy amount of podcast listening considering I started eight months ago, I know, I know), and I can't wait to see artist Carey Pietsch continue to bring the characters to life in the graphic novel series which I already adore. The Adventure Zone is hilarious and addicting, featuring some of the best storytelling I've ever encountered. Filled with magic! Battles! Villains! Queer characters! Secret societies! Kid detectives! Dick jokes! And more! You'll start the show crying with laughter. You'll end it emotionally destroyed - but in the best way possible.

Other arcs

You probably thought I was done here, but I have a lot of feelings about TAZ, okay? The Balance arc ran from 2014-2017, ending at episode 69 (you bet there were plenty of jokes made about that), but the boys have since continued telling stories with other role-playing games. In late 2017, the McElroys ran a series of mini-arcs using different RPGs. Of course, I still have no idea how any of them work, but they're still excellent. Clint runs a superhero story that is a lot of fun, and Travis does an old-west inspired murder mystery which I was obsessed with and really hope is continued at some point.

Finally, of course, there is season 2: The Adventure Zone: Amnesty. Griffin takes the role of Game Master once again with this season, and I instantly fell in love with the characters. This story, like the mini-arcs, is totally separate from the first season, Balance, and is inspired by monster-of-the-week type shows like Buffy and Supernatural. The setting of Kepler, West Virginia, is absolutely gorgeous, and the protagonists are just as lovable as the ones before. The characters include Ned Chicane, a tourist-trap owning conman who doesn't believe in the supernatural, Aubrey Little, a bisexual fire-wielding magician with ADHD, and forest ranger Duck Newton, a 'Chosen One' who is trying desperately to avoid his destiny. These three very different characters join the Pine Gaurd, a group working to defeat monsters whilst keeping the magical otherworld of Sylvain a secret.

Amnesty isn't like Balance, but I never wanted it to be. It's set in the real(ish) world so the stakes are different for the characters but still just as high. It took me a couple of episodes to get invested in the story, but it is so. freaking. worth. it. Amnesty has made me cry just as much as Balance did, and it's not even over yet. I'm incredibly invested in these characters and I'm not ready for it to end.

Are you a fan of podcasts? What are some of your favourites? Are you a fan of The Adventure Zone too? Who are your favourite characters? What is your favourite arc? Come and scream with me!

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