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Hugh Likes Podcasts: The Adventure Zone, Revisited

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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!

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: The Shared Desk

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The Shared Desk
Hosted by Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine
http://www.theshareddesk.com/

I can’t believe I haven’t covered this one before. Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine are the husband-and-wife team of authors behind The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. They are also long-experienced solo writers and podcasters, so obviously they have a writing podcast together in which they discuss the craft of writing and collaborating as a couple.
I will confess that Pip and Tee are dear personal friends and fellow Smoky Writers. One of the things I love about them is that they have an amazing energy as a couple, and that totally comes through on the podcast. They are a joy to listen to.
When they began the podcast, they were both working together on their Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk novels, now that the series has wound its way down, they have split off to their own projects again, but still gather to discuss the events of their lives, interact with their active fanbase, and opine on writerly discourse of the day. While the show began as a look at the shared creative process, it has morphed into a writing podcast focusing on work/life balance, how to comport yourself as a writer, particularly online, and of course, lengthy diversions into nerdery, video games, and beer, all topics near and dear to my heart.
One of the things I really like about it is the balance between work and play The Shared Desk has. Tee is never far from his soundboard of drop-ins, and they’ve had beer tastings, chatted with special guests, dissected tv shows and movies for writing craft, and even divvied up Loot Crate boxes on-mic.
Writing is usually a lonely business, but “The Shared Desk” revels in the parts of the job that aren’t, and the fun and friends you make along the way. Check it out at www.theshareddesk.com, in iTunes, or your podcatcher of choice.

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: The Monster Society of Comics

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The Monster Society of Comics
Hosted by Elle Collins and Kieran Shiach
goodeggpodcasts.com

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You belong in the Monster Society of Comics. That is the central tenet of this new podcast, hosted by veteran podcasters and former Comics Alliance writers Kieran Shiach and Elle Collins. Once a month, the hosts and two guests each present their top comics pick from the last month. It doesn’t have to be a comic that was published in the last month, just their favorite thing they read. Each comic is carefully considered by the panel. They also discuss comics news and read listener submissions of favorite comics for the month.
Two episodes in, The Monster Society of Comics is off to a great start. Unfortunately, it is plagued by audio issues that I hope are resolved in further installments. The most glaring of these is the recording levels of the participants. Elle’s audio in particular is very loud, while Kieran’s is often too low. Leveling a podcast recorded over VoIP is always a challenge, but the podcast needed almost constant adjustment.
That issue aside, The Monster Society of Comics is shaping up to be a great forum for positive and intelligent criticism, which is something that the internet sorely needs in the wake of Comics Alliance shutting down. You can find it online at GoodeggPodcasts.com and in the podcatcher of your choice.

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: Six Stories Told at Night

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Six Stories Told At Night
Produced by K. T. Bryski
Performed by Blythe Haynes
KTBryski.com
sixstories_album
“Six Stories Told at Night” is masterfully written and produced Canadian meta-fiction.  It is the story of Sam and Joelle, two college-age friends in Toronto.  Joelle is an artist and folklorist who suddenly disappears.  Concerned, Sam goes to her apartment and finds a note.  Joelle claims to have left for Fairyland, the place all stories come from.  Sam struggles to find her, using Joelle’s notes and their own personal history as a map.  But getting to Fairyland isn’t the same as getting in, and Joelle has already told her all the stories she knows.
The product of a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, the podcast examines some famous Canadian folktales and the nature of storytelling.  Each episode tells a different Canadian folktale, and also follows Sam as she searches for Joelle and recounts a little bit of their history.  It is effectively and subtly done, always connecting the historical tale to modern characters in a way that doesn’t feel moralistic.
The audio is well-mastered, with editing by Bryski and original music by composer Alex White.  Blythe Hayne’s performances are both fantastical and evocative as she switches between anxious, clipped Ontarian Sam and the languid, artistic Joelle, and between the present, and the past.  Haynes’ voice is as subtle and varied as the story, and the two are an excellent match.  “Six Stories” is a creation perfectly tailored for audio podcast, and it shows in the way that Haynes’ and Bryski’s work mesh so seamlessly.
The tales themselves are a collection of chilling ghost stories and supernatural encounters.  They are a perfect treat for a chilly autumn night.  You can subscribe or listen online to “Six Stories Told at Night” at KTBryski.com.  I highly recommend it.

Thank you for reading this article.  If you enjoyed it, please share it.  You can also support me on Patreon for more writing and podcasts.

Hugh Likes Podcasts: Hello From The Magic Tavern

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Hello From the Magic Tavern
Produced by Arnie Niekamp, Evan Jacover, and Ryan DiGiorgi
Hosted by Arnie Niekamp, Adal Rifai, and Matt Young
hellofromthemagictavern.com
magictavern1
Hello From the Magic Tavern is a difficult podcast to explain.  It’s kind of like The Lord of the Rings with less wandering and more poop jokes.  Half improv, half interview show, the podcast is hosted by Arnie Niekamp, playing himself.  The premise is that he fell through a magical portal behind a Chicago Burger King and landed in the magical land of Foon.  He still gets wifi through the portal, and hosts a podcast interviewing locals along with his co-hosts, a talking badger/shape-shifter named Chunt, and Usidore, a wizard of less than legendary talents.
The interviews with guests are improvised, but each one becomes canon for the podcast, and episodes build to form a larger story.  It’s a neat premise, that has resulted in a lot of pop culture jokes and references becoming ongoing bits.
The producers are also a part of the creative team at Jackbox Games, who create indie party video games like “You Don’t Know Jack” and “Fibbage.”  The signature humor of those games is on display here as well, so fans of their video game work will be well at home with “Hello From the Magic Tavern.”  The ongoing story line, which involves Arnie’s fervent wish to return home, but utter lack of action, and the land of Foon being menaced by a Dark Lord simply referred to as “The Dark Lord,” get stranger and more complex with every episode, but it is one heck of a trip.
You can stream Hello From the Magic Tavern online, or find it in iTunes or your favorite podcatcher.

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: Gosh Darn Fiasco

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HLP-Gosh-Darn Fiasco
Hosted by: Angela Webber, Richard Malena and guests
Goshdarnfiasco.simplecast.FM
GDF Podcast.jpg
Gosh-Darn Fiasco is a live-play role playing game podcast hosted by musician Angela Webber.  But where most of these kind of gaming shows feel like audio dramas, this one is more like improv.  The difference lies partly in the source material, and partly in the rotating team of talent that comes to play.
“Fiasco” is a GM-less roleplaying game in the style of classic caper movies.  Written by Jason Morningstar and published by Bully Pulpit Games, it is a storytelling RPG.  This means the goal of the game is to play out a scenario, rather than winning a battle.  As the name implies, the fun isn’t in winning, it is in snowballing the story from a small problem into a huge catastrophe.
Each episode, Weber and her guests play through one single play Fiasco game from beginning to end.  There are a variety of settings, or ‘Playsets’ that they have gone through, from a Colonial Salem to McMurdo Station to a heist at the Jim Henson Workshop.  Each episode takes the Cohen Brothers aesthetic of the game and turns it even more towards the comically ridiculous.
Frequent guest such as Lucia Fasano and Kevin M. Arnold add improv chops to the game, making it a lighthearted, gonzo joy to listen.  Gosh-Darn Fiasco is a monthly podcast that runs about 90 minutes per episode.  It’s not something you’re going to get through in a single commute, but it is a heck of a lot of fun.  Find it at Website, in iTunes, or in your preferred podcatcher.

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: Alice Isn’t Dead

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Alice Isn’t Dead
Joseph Fink/Jasika Nicole/Disparition
nightvalepresents.com
Print
America can be a weird, lonesome place.  This is something the creators of ‘Welcome to Night Vale,’ no strangers to weirdness themselves, learned firsthand while touring with a live version of the hit podcast.  Co-writer Joseph Fink was inspired to write a new show based in part on his experience of traveling across the country.  But like the original, ‘Alice Isn’t Dead,’ takes place in a world much stranger and scarier than our own.
While ‘Night Vale’ uses its off-kilter atmosphere for humor, Alice is a straight-up horror story, with a fair bit of mystery thrown in.  The podcast follows a truck driver, played by Jasika Nicole, as she travels the country in search of her missing wife.  Along the way, she tells her story into her CB radio as though it were a letter or a diary.  At first she just wants answers, but she quickly becomes embroiled in an inexplicable conspiracy, and attracts the attention of The Thistle Man, a supernatural impossible serial killer.  From there, things only get worse.
Produced by Disparition, each episode is a rich soundscape.  I expected the CB chirps and engine hum that provide the basic sound floor to take me out of the story, but they are expertly mixed, and rather than distract, they provide a sense of realism and tension to the performance.  Set on the lonely highways and the weird nowhere towns of the American imagination, “Alice Isn’t Dead” is a creepy mystery that proves that the Night Vale creative team have real chops behind their satire.  You can find the show in iTunes, or at nightvalepresents.com.

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