Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time to write today, so I thought I would do something brief but close to my heart and give you a recommendation. I was recently replaying an old video game that I loved as a child, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. It is a ludicrous RPG (role-playing game) where Mario of the Mario series explores a world made of paper and must save the world by finding mysterious Crystal Stars. What I love about the game is that it balances its tremendous goofiness with a shockingly serious plot. Although the story is serious, the characters and events are hilarious to the audience. I found myself about two thirds into the game and reflecting sadly to myself that I can never find something quite like it. Then a friend recommended The Adventure Zone.
The Adventure Zone is a podcast starring the eminently popular McElroy brothers of the hit My Brother My Brother and Me. While their main show is an advice podcast where the three brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin dole out remarkably questionable advice, The Adventure Zone is something different. On a lark the three of them decided to try to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons with their father, Clint McElroy. The result is something truly special.
The youngest brother Griffin serves as the Dungeon Master and creates that situations and enemies that they face. His world is ridiculous and hilarious, but also has touches of earnestness to it. In the course of their first adventure the trio of heroes meet a shockingly affectionate monster called a bugbear, (Klaarg the Hugbear) and also manage to level an entire town and kill all of its inhabitants. The story is grand in scope, with the weight of the world on the adventurers’ shoulders, but also flexible enough to allow for one of the characters to embark upon a recurring side quest to discover the taco.
It is this flexibility that makes the story so entertaining, because while the game has rules there is a sense that anything could happen. Author John Green has spoken in the past about how one of the benefits to his anxiety is that he can imagine immediately what the worst scenario will be in any situation. This helps him to create stories that are gripping because there is a constant chance that things will spiral out of control. The Adventure Zone has something even more unique in that events occur due to true randomness. In Dungeons and Dragons, the players roll dice to see if their character will succeed in any number of different endeavors. This means that at any moment our heroes could roll a one and critically fail at their task, or roll a twenty and succeed in impressive fashion.
The inherent randomness is one of the things that make The Adventure Zone so entertaining. It does not hurt that the four players have at least 50 cumulative years of podcasting and radio knowledge between them, and are all incredibly creative and engaging. Perhaps nothing has made me laugh harder than the aforementioned character, also named Taako, breaking down and repeatedly telling another character very seriously, “Listen it’s not all goof-goof… I’m a person!”