Above: Photo via mcelroyshows.com.
By Arts Editor Brendan Barlow
If I told you there was a podcast during which three brothers and their father played Dungeons & Dragons together, would you jump on board right away? You might if you’re a fan of D&D, or if that premise aroused just enough interest in you to check it out, but somehow I feel that you might just roll your eyes and give it a pass. The idea of listening to people playing a game is almost less appealing than the idea of watching someone else playing a game, and yet The Adventure Zone manages to stand alone as one of the funniest, most entertaining dramatic podcasts I’ve come across in a while, and features some of the best writing I’ve heard in any media across the board.
A big part of what works about The Adventure Zone is the chemistry between players. It’s easy to say that being family might help with that, but not every family has this much chemistry, and works this well together. Travis, Justin, and Griffin McElroy are brothers who collectively host more than six other podcasts, and produce content for polygon.com. Their father, Clint McElroy, has a long history in radio, adding a great presence to the show, and the family dynamic between the four of them is unique and interesting.
The show is led by Griffin McElroy, the dungeon master (and babiest brother), who conducts the game better than you could reasonably expect someone to produce a game of D&D. While my hands-on experience is limited, in listening to other podcasts that attempt the same formula, I’ve learned that there is something truly unique and special in the way Griffin writes his adventures. While he, of course, leaves room for the players to interact, he manages to create compelling stories and characters that I find myself getting attached to way more often than I would expect; especially considering they are just Griffin doing different voices.
A game of D&D would be nothing without players, and Justin, Travis, and Clint take on those roles as Taako, Magnus, and Merle respectively. The characters are well defined, and it’s clear even before you learn their histories that they are already fully fleshed out people with stories and struggles leading up to their introduction to the audience in the first episode. It also helps that the people portraying them have a sense of humor, and are clearly extremely creative people.
The story of The Adventure Zone follows Taako, Magnus, and Merle as they attempt to reclaim dangerous relics on behalf of an organization wishing to see the relics destroyed before they can be used to destroy the world. They battle gerblins, solve murder mysteries on trains, engage in Mad Max style death-races, and even find time to shop at FantasyCostco (where all your dreams come true). Through all of this, the show provides hilarious jokes, compelling drama, frustratingly tense cliffhangers, and as the show progresses it begins to feel more and more like a radio-drama than a game of D&D. More than once I’ve found myself feeling genuine shock and surprise at the twists and turns Griffin throws into the game, and laughing in public at the gang’s antics.
All in all, this is so much more than just a show about people playing a game that people don’t like to admit they play. It’s a demonstration of extremely high-quality story telling, and something you all need to hunt down and listen to. New episodes are released every two weeks, and episode 52 was released not that long ago. It’s a good time to start catching up, as Griffin and his wife are expecting a baby, and so some time away from D&D is expected. Find this show, and others from this podcasting dynasty at <mcelroyshows.com>.
Brendan is a horror-loving, left-leaning, feminist presently studying at Vancouver Island University in the Bachelor of Social Work Program. He has been a lover of all things arts and entertainment for as long as he can remember, with a particular fondness for horror films and other spooky media. He lives in Nanaimo with his partner Melissa, and their cat Adler.