The Adventure Zone: Ep. 60. The Stolen Century - Chapter One
April 13, 2017 10:10 AM - Subscribe

We're nearly at our journey's end -- but before we can understand what lies ahead, we must first return to this story's true beginning. What brought our heroes together to the crisis they face today? What happened to the memories of their dear, forgotten friends? And just how long have they been running away? Taako learns a new language. Merle eats some beans. Magnus trains under an unlikely teacher.
posted by Tevin (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Now I want the next campaign to follow Clomp Hoofman and the intrepid reporting staff of Minotaur Monthly.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:20 AM on April 13 [5 favorites]


Boy that was...quite a detour. I much prefer the play system (which is used in FATT I believe but I feel like this kills the momentum of the story a little bit. Still enjoyable and I'll still listen, but I really just want to get back to the THBs exploits in the present.
posted by Tevin at 4:17 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I'm still deeply butthurt that I have to rename the Light of Creation in my own fictional universe because of this.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:41 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Looking forward to the Judge John Hodgman crossover ep where Taako and Lup argue over whether to get magically tested to see whether they're monozygotic twins.
posted by yomimono at 7:22 AM on April 14 [6 favorites]


My headcanon Lucretia is real. That is all.
posted by epersonae at 10:06 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I know a lot of people are pretty ambivalent about this flashback concept. I think it's great, and here's why:

Griffin has said that he developed this basic story concept by the end of the first arc. And back then, the main characters were just barely becoming actual [i]characters[/i] - they were vehicles for Griffin's family to make goofs. So Griffin thought "ooh you know what would be cool? If these guys were secretly mind-wiped scientists from an alternate dimension," and I kind of doubt it even crossed his mind to consider the personal emotional implications of that choice on Magnus, Merle, and Taako. Why would he? Their characters didn't have that kind of weight behind them - and when they launched this game, they weren't attempting to develop characters with that kind of weight behind them.

That aspect of the show developed slowly over time, and then the guys grew into their characters and their backstories got fleshed out and they all started to actually genuinely care about it all, and they saw how genuinely invested their fans were getting and it made them get MORE invested, and now Magnus Merle and Taako and a boatload of Griffin's NPCs are genuinely beloved characters and millions of people are dying to find out what happens to them. And even more than that, Travis, Justin, and Clint have themselves become obviously emotionally attached to their characters.

And then Griffin found himself in a situation where the entire, pre-existing narrative foundation of the show, which was developed for his brothers and dad to make boner jokes in while pretending to be adventurers, now hinged on totally rewriting the backstories of fully realized and beloved characters who were essentially 'written' by other people without any knowledge of that backstory. And he was going to have a drop a bomb on all three of them and the entire audience and say "...um, actually, the versions of Magnus Merle and Taako you have fallen in love with are not the actual Magnus Merle and Taako, so now you all have to start playing them as essentially different people with different skills, life histories, relationships, knowledge, etc."

I mean, jesus, can you even imagine? Once it became clear that the show had evolved beyond the initial concept and Griffin realized all this, he must have started absolutely scrambling for some way to avoid essentially overwriting and erasing all of the main characters. If the show today was still the show it had been back in Gerblins, I think Travis, Justin, and Clint would have been like "woo, awesome, we're space explorers now, what a fun surprise!" But now it's like, "what impact does this reveal have on the way that my lonely childhood created a foundation for my fundamental distrust of others?" There is no way Griffin could have predicted that this would happen, really.

And so he came up with this flashback arc. And I am 100% on board with it, because I personally think it's a great way of threading the needle and giving Travis, Justin, and Clint the agency over their characters which the IPRE reveal would otherwise have taken away. Griffin couldn't have just told them "you lived out this 100-year journey and now you remember all of it" at this point - he had to actually find a way to allow them to live it out themselves, and to have their actions during that time actually matter in some way for the story going forward, in the most efficient way he possibly could. And I have enough confidence in him at this point to believe him when he says that the outcomes of this flashback stuff will actually affect the final showdown.

Of the three of them, I think Travis grasped the purpose of all this the most quickly, because he immediately turned himself into a recognizably less mature version of Magnus, in a deliberate contrast to his recent character development. To me that shows that he's embracing the idea that these flashback episodes aren't just exposition dumps - they're a chance for the players to form their own 'memories' rather than having them foisted on them by Griffin.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:54 PM on April 14 [19 favorites]


I think you're right! The gameplay was a little clunky because changing mechanics is always a little clunky. "I just got good at D&D" "That's...debatable"

But this arc and its quirky custom mechanic are a good bridge to the final showdown. I'm very much into it.
posted by epersonae at 3:57 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I understand why Griffin is changing up the formula, and I think letting the gang write their own backstories in flashback form is a great idea. Personally I think there's a good middle ground between rules-heavy D&D and rules-light Dungeon World that makes for an interesting show. For instance, I don't like how abstracted the things you gain become, it's way cooler for a character to use a novel magic item to solve a puzzle than say, use magic boots to befriend some mongooses like Griffin suggested.

I was wondering how exactly our gang spends 100 years wandering, which was answered by the mysterious Reset Button Drive. I dunno how I feel about it, but I get why it exists since we can't have our boys creating any time paradoxes. I do kinda dig the idea of a ship that fundamentally alters the way the universe works in more ways than just going faster than light or going between worlds. Reminds me of the Infinite Improbability Engine. I guess I will just wait and see how it plays out. Also, it's gonna be a huge bummer if every Universe they visit gets eaten by the Hunger. At some point you either want to stop putting universes in danger or start prepping the natives to fight back the moment they land.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:47 PM on April 14


Some good Tumblr meta!

So… After the light of creation lands on a new plane, the hunger flashes in the sky when it locates it. So the reason why they were able to stay in this world for I’m assuming 10+ years when they couldn’t last 1 in others is because of the relics. Separating them did in fact keep the hunger from finding the light of creation. And the moment they got a couple of them together, the hunger spotted them. That’s what the carnival chaos interlude was, the hunger found them. Oh fuck as I’m writing this I realize its been exactly a year since that lmao.

Anyways this all means they were all genuinely safe because they split the relics, but in doing that they damned the world in a different way bc then it became the light of creation that was destroying everything bit by bit. And its perfectly reasonable why lucretia couldn’t let that slide. They were all perfectly safe from the hunger until they brought a relic in.

posted by showbiz_liz at 1:34 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I definitely understand the rationale behind this detour but I still don't think it's necessary. One option at the top of my head: they are the same characters they've been this whole arc but they now remember their previous lives. Done and dusted.

I think I'm just ready for these THBs to wrap up their story so the gang can move onto something new and this hop into the past is filler until we get there.
posted by Tevin at 1:47 PM on April 16


One option at the top of my head: they are the same characters they've been this whole arc but they now remember their previous lives. Done and dusted.

That just wouldn't ring true for me at all. Just for one example - imagine any future scenes where they interact with the Director. Without knowing who she was before, and what kind of relationship they each had with her, how could they possibly move forward in a way that felt authentic or even made any sense?
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:57 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


Like - ok, I'm trying to imagine it like this - say my memories of college were totally erased, and I was under the impression that I'd met my college friends for the first time at some point after that. I'd still know them, and even though I didn't remember college I'd still be basically the same sort of person that my experiences there had shaped me to be... but then, if I all of a sudden remembered all of it again, it wouldn't be like "oh ok I actually went to college and that's where we all met, now let's get on with whatever it is we're doing." All of that time we spent together, all of the stuff we experienced, all of the other people we knew - that stuff is really fundamental to our relationships with each other.

From a narrative perspective, it would be like Griffin saying "ok, now your entire lives and experiences and relationships have been fundamentally rewritten, but don't worry about how that affects anything about your personalities or the ways you relate to each other or the things that you know." I would find that super cheap.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:16 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Another key bit would be that their ideas for how they spent that time might be at odds with each other. I'm remembering an early ep where Merle says "we met in prison" and Travis says "whoa, that's a whole lot of character choices you just made for me!" This way they will be going into the end game on the same page. And I'm enjoying Lup a lot, GREG GRIMALDIS.

I like the dice mechanic so far; I think it works well with the way they tell stories. I don't like the "artifact can be whatever you want it to be" mechanic, though. Part of the delight in the show has been when they pull weird spells or items out that they've been waiting to use.

Also, while I've really enjoyed the storytelling of the last few eps and the way things are coming together, I kind of miss the time when their aim was to be funny and not to win RPGs. I'm interested to see what happens but am really starting to look forward to a new game.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:12 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I don't like the "artifact can be whatever you want it to be" mechanic, though. Part of the delight in the show has been when they pull weird spells or items out that they've been waiting to use.

Yeah, I think that particular rule only works in this very particular kind of setting where large gaps of time are elided, so you can justify it as "at some point you could have obtained this item" but it's definitely the part of the system I like least.

I kinda want them to do a Deadlands campaign for the next one, I think Travis and Clint especially would have a blast and the playing card magic system is great.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:56 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think that particular rule only works in this very particular kind of setting where large gaps of time are elided, so you can justify it as "at some point you could have obtained this item" but it's definitely the part of the system I like least.

Yeah, I assume that's why they're doing it that way - it seems like it's a kind of shorthand. Hopefully there are some controls in place or else we're gonna wind up with another flaming raging poisoning situation.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:10 AM on April 17


I mean, jesus, can you even imagine? Once it became clear that the show had evolved beyond the initial concept and Griffin realized all this, he must have started absolutely scrambling for some way to avoid essentially overwriting and erasing all of the main characters.

There was a way, and it was junking his whole half-assed mind-wiped space scientists back story, because no one else knew or gave a flying etc. about it. The story as it developed outgrew this idea, and rather than accept that and move on, he's trying to put his darling on life support. There were some fun bits in this episode, but for me what makes this an enjoyable listen is its collaborative nature and capacity for surprise, the way everyone is forced to roll with the punches and adapt to the choices the others make. The more Griffin needs to chivvy the rest along to adhere to a pre-determined narrative arc, the less room there is for that, and I feel this flashback structure puts them all on far too tight a leash. Because the thing is, after all this, we're going to....know a bit more about characters we already care about. Or at least, that's the best outcome; if their personalities as depicted in the flashbacks truly break from what we know of them already, it undermines the emotional weight of the whole rest of the story. If they can't break, there's no real capacity for surprise. It's a plot cul de sac which brings the narrative to a screeching halt to little purpose.


Just for one example - imagine any future scenes where they interact with the Director. Without knowing who she was before, and what kind of relationship they each had with her, how could they possibly move forward in a way that felt authentic or even made any sense?

In the present, they're on a collapsing space station during the Apocalypse/The Last Battle/Ragnorak, etc. They're either going to save the world or die trying in about the next half hour or so. Any future scene the boys may have with the director should not feature a couple's massage and a long brunch where they really have a chance to like, reconnect. There is no future, there is only climax and epilogue. They're all going to be new characters in the next arc.
posted by Diablevert at 6:16 PM on April 18


I personally am glad I found out what he's been slowly dropping hints about for the last two years though, and I don't think he could have satisfyingly retconned all of those prophecies and clues into some totally different story - and if they hadn't wound up adding up to anything at all, I would have felt cheated, because I've been thinking and speculating about what it all means for so long and now it's coming together, and unlike a lot of drawn-out mysteries in other media, it actually all fits.

And moreover- I didn't mean to imply in that post that I think this arc is a necessary evil. I think it's a neat, inventive way of letting the characters 'remember' the things they ought to remember, in a way that mimics the way it would feel to actually suddenly remember all those things, and to let us have the memory of those things too when we finally see them fight the Hunger alongside these people who are suddenly their old friends again. I'm personally glad Griffin is letting the guys experience their past rather than skipping over it or retconning the overarching mystery, and I think the way they're doing it is a good solution for how to do it. I know the last ep was kinda awkward, but I liked it despite its flaws and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of their history as they remember it.

But! But but! I know that not everyone is invested in the same things about the show that I am, and I also don't have a 'this whole concept is lame' reaction like I know some people are having, which is a totally valid reaction to have. I get thinking that this flashback stuff is draggy and an annoying break in the action just when shit is finally about to go down. I'm not saying you're wrong. I'm just saying I like it.

Plus this means more episodes before the end of the show, and I don't wanna say goodbye to these guys just yet...
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:16 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]


I feel bad for harshing your mellow, man. And I agree that it would have been unsatisfying for the mystery he had created go unresolved --- it's a good thing that all his clues were leading somewhere. It just feels like a shame to me that he might derail his ending by making the kind of rookie mistake that a lot of fantasy writers are prone to, where the commitment to derailed world-building supplants the story. There were a lot of ways to introduce enough exposition to solve the mystery while still providing room for character choice and conflict. {shrug} It's possible it may still end up some place interesting, and I hope it does; the last arc had a decently satisfying climax after getting super-draggy and repetitive in the middle for a bit.
posted by Diablevert at 11:27 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]


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