The Adventure Zone
Hosted by Griffin, Travis, Justin, and Clint McElroy
http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/adventure-zone

The Adventure Zone Flat_7

When I originally reviewed The Adventure Zone in January of 2015, it was still in the midst of its first arc. Having just finished the first campaign of the show 69 episodes later, I wanted to go back and give it a second look. The show went from a enjoyably funny Dungeons & Dragons podcast to something altogether different, and I think there’s a lot to talk about here.
Serial storytelling is a thing always in motion. TV shows change show-runners. Comics change creative teams. Target audiences drift. Even when the artists stay consistent, real-world events swirl around them. Tastes are fickle. Long-running concepts have to be adaptable. The Doctor regenerates. Batman shifts from swinging sixties Caped-Crusaider to Frank Miller’s gritty vigilante and back again. Podcasts are no less susceptible to these changes. But I never expected four goofballs sitting around a microphone and joking about role playing to make me cry.
The Adventure Zone’s first campaign was a train that constantly picked up speed. The McElroys are comedians at heart. The podcast started as a goof, and it was entirely in their oeuvre. It was a lot of fun, but one of the characters was named Taako, and his quest was to invent the taco. This was a big part of the early episodes. But something happened along the way. Often, when something becomes popular, it is considered the downfall of the enterprise. It gets too big, expands beyond the original concept, or the creators get overwhelmed or carried away. But that isn’t what happened to “The Adventure Zone.”
Fans loved the podcast. They made fanart, they wrote letters, they tweeted, and crated animatics from the audio. And in showing how much they loved these silly adventures, the McElroys worked harder. They gave their creation depth and emotional resonance that it didn’t have for them, because they knew that it was there for the fans of the show. It’s a bit of a trite statement to say that a media property is ‘for the fans,’ but it’s rare that something is so beautifully communicated between creators and an audience.
The Adventure Zone didn’t abandon the goofy aesthetic so much as it became more sincere in it. Seeing the reaction fans had to the show, the McElroys put in the work. Production got better. Griffin produced an intricate plot that slotted in seamlessly to the pre-made adventure they started out with. He also composed entire soundtracks, and sculpted lush sound environments. The players carefully weighed their decisions, because, they realized, the characters were no longer just theirs. The Adventure Zone became something better than its beginnings because the creators and the audience respected one another in a way that’s rare in our media sphere. The results are remarkable, and worth listening to even if you’ve never opened iTunes or rolled up a character sheet.
The Adventure Zone recently finished it’s first campaign, “Balance,” with episode 69. If you haven’t listened to it, I recommend going back and starting from the beginning. It’s a long road, but the transformation along the way is truly special. Art isn’t created in a vacuum, and sometimes, it sneaks up on you from the most unlikely of places. Just like three goofy heroes who wind up saving the world.

Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, please share it. You can also support me on Patreon for fiction, podcasts, and other goodies!

Advertisements