I listen to a lot of podcasts. Like, a lot. I practically have an addiction to them. I listen to them whenever I’m not doing something that requires me to read or write, unless I’m listening to music. When I was in highschool, I listened to the 1up.com podcasts exclusively; shows like 1up Yours, 1up FM, Retronauts, and GFW Radio. Eventually, a lot of the people I liked either left or were laid off by that site, and I started broadening my horizons. I could list every single podcast I’ve been a fan of, and give a rough estimate of the time in my life I listened to them, but that’s not what this post is about. Maybe someday.
What this post is about is a podcast I’m hooked on right now. It’s called The Adventure Zone, and it’s an actual-play D&D podcast featuring the internet-famous McElroy brothers (My Brother, My Brother and Me, their other show, recently got a 6-episode television series on Seeso, which is great, by the way) and their dad. It follows the adventures of characters created by Travis, Justin, and their dad Clint, while Griffin plays the role of Dungeon Master, weaving a story for these characters to experience.
I think the show is brilliant. It’s ostensibly a comedy podcast, and there are a lot of moments that feel like really good improv scenes. Watch this clip for an example of that.
While that humor would be enough to carry me through the podcast on its own, The Adventure Zone is so much more than that. Once the group finds their footing, the hosts fall in love with their characters. It’s always fun to see the process of someone getting attached to something, and the way the family’s role-playing shifts over the course of the series is incredibly fun to listen to. They go from flippantly making their characters do the most absurd things they can think of to acting how they think their characters would actually act in any given moment. There are still incredibly absurd things that happen, and frequently, too. But they all feel, well, earned.
With this attachment came a level of sincerity that I did not expect. The story changes, starting as a simple setting only existing to give the trio a place to be funny in, but quickly becoming an intricate plot with… with real emotional beats. I believe I’ve mentioned before, in my posts on FLCL, that moments of clarity amid insanity are often much more impactful than beautiful moments surrounded by other beautiful moments. The Adventure Zone embodies this storytelling style perfectly.
At the end of the second story arc, Griffin, the DM and editor of the podcast, started writing a score for the episodes. His music plays over atmospheric descriptions of locations, or during dramatic fight scenes, or powerful emotional moments. It’s good music, and it fits the story exceptionally well. This, above all other things, has made The Adventure Zone special. Griffin’s expert hand at editing the podcast has lead to moments where I legitimately cried.
The Adventure Zone is a podcast that has made me believe in the power of improvisational storytelling. I think this thing is art. It makes me laugh and makes me cry, sometimes cutting between the two emotional states so perfectly that it’s hard to explain how I feel after a particularly great episode. I can not recommend it enough.