The Adventure Zone: Amnesty - Episode 4
February 1, 2018 11:40 AM - Subscribe

Our heroes learn the whole truth of Mama's endeavors while recovering from a strange evening, and begin planning their first hunt. Aubrey remembers a relic from her past. Duck gets a late night visit from Minerva. Ned gets stuck.
posted by Tevin (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I hope this setting is the one that's picked up, but I'm partial to cryptids and the like and I like Griffin's style.

That said, we need to talk about Travis. In MBMBaM, I enjoy his glossed over, corny jokes. They are like a tray of hors d'overs passing by at a party and you can reach out and take one if you like or not - they will be around again in fifteen minutes.

But in the last two mini-seasons? Woof. Maybe it's just Justin knocking it out of the park and Clint putting in the effort, but it feels like Travis is having problems keeping up. He's leaning into the quips and japes while the rest of the crew is keeping up the giving a shit momentum established in Balance.

So, Back in the Day, when I played many a RPG at the expense of my GPA, we posited the existence of a particular type of player. We played mainly World of Darkness games and termed this player the "Silly Malkie." In World of Darkness, the vampires had clans, clans helped determine traits, and one of those clans was the Malkavians, the vampires who went insane after joining the undead. So if you played Malkavian, you had to pick out some sort of dementation or tick or weirdness. This could produce frightening characters... or vampires who spoke through puppets. The Silly Malkie player would always play some sort of wacky type... Malkavian vampires, Ragabash werewolves, Pooka pooka pooka, etc... and the resulting games would be full of hard handbrake turns into silly town. So we'd have four players going "The Prince is mad! We need to figure out which Primogen is corrupting her and free her from their influence!" while the fifth is "President Puppetface wants a tea party! of Blood!" And then you have to stop and deal with a tea blood party.

Travis is wandering deeper into Silly Malkie territory. Dr Harris Bonkers is a symptom. The forced quips are another. I hesitate to throw out the Manic Pixie Dream Girl bit, but... we're getting there. We're also seeing some table behavior I remember from dealing with Silly Malkie players who could not be left out for whatever reason (has car, has way too many dining points so can summon pizza at whim, helped bury a body, etc) where players acknowledge then gloss over the antics to keep things moving and NPCs make sure to call out how special they are so they don't feel the need to act out to show it.

I recall that Magnus was the only one to have a vast backstory soon after the first season started. I wonder if this short test season stuff is serving Travis poorly as he's not going to pump out five pages of backstory for a short term PC?

Still, what do I know? I have enough time to game as much as once a year. Maybe this is just my envy leaking out. I need to remember that this is free (well, sorta, I'm on the monthly payment plan) and I should really just relax.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:56 PM on February 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Well, I don't know... The whole "let's not call them abominations" thing was hilarious, and it gave everyone a chance for some character development.
posted by meese at 8:19 PM on February 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

I love Dr. Harris Bonkers! I like that in a serious monster-of-the-week type game, Travis hasn't forgotten that this type of thing is at least a little based on Buffy, and that show could get downright ridiculous. I also really like that Duck Newton had to be talked into even formulating a plan, and that Ned has a gun. Because of *course* a former criminal settled in WV would have a gun! I also *really* hope that this is the unit that gets picked for a whole arc.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:52 PM on February 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Personally I think I'd be more worried if the Adventure Zone stopped being a "comedy podcast about roleplaying". There are lots of actual play podcasts out there, and I generally find them pretty difficult to listen to, even when they're very done. Not taking things too seriously, and being good at that, is something that has tended to set TAZ apart from its competition. Working out how to make that work, in context of what they've learnt from their work so far, is exactly what these experimental arcs are meant to be for.

I also don't think silliness, per se, is disruptive to play. I've had as many, or more, difficulties with players who are being serious as those who are being silly. It's just as common to see people failing to 'yes and' because they're caught up in their character's grimdark tragedy as it for someone to hold up play because they're dicking around.
posted by howfar at 6:03 AM on February 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

I was going to say the same thing. I will agree that playing a serious RPG with someone who insists on playing a wacky character can be a pain in the ass. If you're there to run a campaign and you spend most of every gaming session dealing with your kooky bard who keeps rolling dice to see how many tavern wenches he can bed, then yeah, fuck that. That said, I think the McElroys are better than that, and while they might make a kooky character (and the MPDG label for Aubrey seems uncomfortably apt) they know how to employ that kooky character to make a fun story that moves forward instead of a story about ho kooky they are.

I suspect most people don't come to The Adventure Zone for serious epic roleplaying. As it happens, I personally feel like things have gone too far in the OTHER direction, where it's become increasingly Griffin's Epic Adventure Hour where everyone agrees to let Griffin railroad them because it makes for good radio. It's stuff like Dr. Harris Bonkers that's on the front lines keeping The Adventure Zone from ending up like every other Actual Play podcast where everyone is committed and roleplays well and it's boring as shit to listen to.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:47 PM on February 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

"As it happens, I personally feel like things have gone too far in the OTHER direction, where it's become increasingly Griffin's Epic Adventure Hour where everyone agrees to let Griffin railroad them because it makes for good radio."


This episode basically felt like Clint/Travis/Justin were on a guided tour in a museum. Occasionally allowed to ask questions, and given enough room to walk around, but firmly planted on a singular forward path. There was one point where I felt like they could just as well be reading off a script and I wouldn't have felt surprised.
posted by Tevin at 1:25 PM on February 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I'm finding a couple of things getting in the way with this mini-arc that I really want to love:

1. Griffin needs to dial it back; there's too much monologue, too much railroading. I get that this is a balancing act between a tabletop RPG and a radio-play, and that is a difficult needle to thread. But part of the joy I find in the tabletop RPGs podcasts/liveplays that I follow is the level of improv brought to the table; I want to see what happens when Justin/Clint/Travis come up with something completely unexpected/bonkers and how it gets woven into things. The Balance arc had that in many places - Griffin responding to the players doing something unexpected and going with it. The four of them improv quite well together. The system they are using for this arc allows for more improv as well. Lean into it; Griffin needs to understand that the notion of "leaving spots on the map for the players to fill" doesn't just apply to the geographic map, but other spots too.

2. Travis. I feel like he's trying too hard. I appreciate the lighter tone he is trying to bring, I like the comedy, but I'm always left with the impression that he's spending his time trying to set up the next gag/bit rather than just going with what is in front of him; the Balance arc had moments of high comedy (Magic Brian still makes me laugh when I think about it) and moments of deep, serious roleplaying. Travis was actually at the forefront of both of those elements; at the outset, he brought the character with the most depth to the table. Now, I think it's fair to say that at the outset of the Balance arc, Clint and Justin were more invested in the gag than the story, so maybe this will come around; but right from the outset of this mini-arc I felt like Travis was a little out of step with everyone else, and it's not coming together for me yet.

As much as I like this one, I'm really intrigued to see what Justin and Travis are going to do for their mini-arcs. I think Travis was exploring the idea of something Western-themed, and not sure about Justin. I'm most intrigued for Justin's.
posted by nubs at 3:22 PM on February 2, 2018

I'm not looking for TAZ to turn into Serious Roleplaying or whatever, I like that it is a comedy roleplaying podcast. It just feels like Travis' past two PCs are falling into the realm of schtick, like everyone else is doing 30 Rock humor while he's doing The Girlie Show. Previously he was the guy who showed up to the table with a vast backstory and was actually ahead of the game when it came to playing a three dimensional character. If this is a symptom of playing these shorter experiments, then I'm even more eager for them to end.

I agree that Griffin is railroading, but then again, you sort of have to when doing a tutorial level.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:24 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think sometimes it may feel more planned out than it really is. Note that the other ranger showed up, just because Duck called for back up. And Duck decided to go home, even though it clearly would help the plot for him to go with Mama at that time.

Of course, there isn't much room for Duck to say, "No, actually. I'm not doing this. I'm going to move to Ohio and take up oil painting. You all have fun out there, with your bom bom." But that's not Griffin's fault.
posted by meese at 3:56 PM on February 2, 2018

I think that the disparate points of discomfort being expressed may come down to a single issue, which is that the McElroys don't have any experience of running a one-off adventure with new characters. I think that, fundamentally, the snag with the experimental arcs hasn't been how they've been playing, but rather what they've been playing. They've been playing (or at least trying to play) campaign structures in the length of about 2 standard game sessions. I should make clear that I'm not having a go at them; if only I had been as good at GMing as either Griffin or Clint on my first go!

That said, if I had two sessions to run a game, with new characters, in a system I'd never run before, I wouldn't start their story when they discover that the Mi-go are living in the Alps, or as they plan their journey to catch them, or even when they get on the plane; I'd start the session as the plane is crashing into Mont Blanc (I'm pretty sure that Ken Hite gave that advice, or something like it, at some point). You need to get the players and their characters doing something right from the jump. If you don't your story will feel either rushed or directionless; sometimes it will conspire to feel both at once.

It seems possible that people are finding certain elements of the show difficult because the boys are simply trying to pack far more than is sensible into each episode: character development, world building, joke telling, combat, dramatic roleplay and so on. So, despite the fact that all the ingredients are good, it all ends up feeling slightly forced.

But, despite these difficulties, experimenting really is the only way to grok some of the basic nature of a game, learn new approaches, and to work out which ones work for you. So, given the value of carrying out that kind of experiment, I don't object, too much, to some of the plot feeling a little bit predetermined and some of the gags feeling a little bit squeezed in. It's still an entertaining listen, and I'm confident that the show will continue to be a generally fun and relaxing hour's listen.
posted by howfar at 4:48 PM on February 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

That's a very good point, and reminds me of superhero movies that insist on laying out the origin story over and over again. Superhero sequels are so often better because they can skip the tedious introductions.

They would do better to run these mini-arcs in a "We're already a team and there's already a problem" mode rather than setting up and organically meeting each time. I like the episode where they discuss their character and the setting and the system they're using, they just need to skip directly into the action afterwards. I mean, if we recall Balance started with the three of them already going on a mission, we didn't need to see them going about their separate lives prior to heading for Phandolin. It also gives more opportunities for backstory and flashbacks, and when they decide what their next major arc can be, maybe then circle around and do a soft reboot.

I don't fault them for any of this, they're clearly anxious about these experiments and bumping up the speed at which episodes arrive is just going to further tax their ability to make a quality product. Despite my complaints I don't actually mind the amount of railroading and squeezed gags, they're doing the best they can and it's still really great. I can nitpick Griffin telling everyone else what their characters are doing but I can't deny that he brings in some great results. I do hope that whatever they settle on has a freer and more collaborative pace, though. I'd like to see an Adventure Zone where they have to go find the adventure instead of repeatedly finding themselves in an organization that arranges for their adventures.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:08 PM on February 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

I do hope that whatever they settle on has a freer and more collaborative pace, though.

Yes, this, absolutely. I've heard some PbtA type games on other podcasts*, and it's FAR more collaborative. If I remember right, a roll of 10-12 should mean the player describes what happens, because it's an absolute success, but what we've had is the player reporting their score and Griffin doing the describing. Now, he's very good at it, but I'd love to see where they went if they were really equally determining the outcomes. I appreciate that Griffin is a writer and a planner, and perhaps doesn't have quite the improv background his brothers and dad do, but I'd love to hear more spontaneous play.

* When I say "other podcasts" I basically mean stuff on the One Shot Network. One Shot itself is very good at running a short term game - basically 1-2 long sessions that edit down into 3-5 episodes. They have had games that are one longer episode, and ones that run as many as 5 episodes, but I think that's as long as it gets. They also have a podcast called Campaign that is, as the name implies, a campaign, and is set in the Star Wars universe. It is a brilliant example of how to stay funny while accommodating more serious moments, and is so incredibly collaborative. The dice mechanic is pretty cool, and I love that the players will happily make their characters' lives more difficult to tell a better story. Campaign does have the advantage that all 3 players are trained and active improvisers, but still... it has its moments of going off the rails, or taking forever to get on with it, but they're usually still entertaining as well. Campaign is definitely worth a listen if you're a TAZ fan, and probably One Shot as well, if only to hear the range of games out there.
posted by booksherpa at 7:58 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

They would do better to run these mini-arcs in a "We're already a team and there's already a problem" mode rather than setting up and organically meeting each time.
Yeah really. This arc was FOUR episodes of exposition with occasional chime-ins and we're gonna get one episode of actually something happening. I can't blame Travis for trying to do his thing and keep it light cause somebody had to, even if I agree it wasn't working. Their thing works when they're all on the same page and it's just delightful but it was kind of a bummer to hear Justin and Griffin constantly putting down Travis and Clint, even if I would have done the same if I was there. When they aren't all on the same page their thing doesn't work and that's kind of what the last few episodes felt like especially this one.
posted by bleep at 10:40 PM on February 2, 2018

Travis has been a bummer in the two mini arcs. Feels like he’s deliberately trying to play against his own character and ends up embodying a parody of a misanthropic woman and cutesy woman, respectively. Balance had the serious disadvantage of being very cis male from the three player characters, but with the advantage of them *knowing that role*. Representation is awesome when it doesn’t feel tokeny. Griffin does awesome representation with NPCs; Travis is not so great. It feels like he’s built up way too much backstory and Whedon-ish whimsy to feel natural. (At least he’s stopped explicitly mentioning Buffy.)

I’m relistening to Balance, and Justin the seriously the MVP PC. His understated, natural Duck Newton carries that forward. Everything contrasts with Travis’s style and just works so well.
posted by supercres at 6:14 PM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Absolutely agree on Justin being the breakout star player in these. Travis has been a little suboptimal, yeah.

The narrative railroading, I can kind of forgive here, because it’s meant to serve as a pilot episode. I think the bigger mistake is in taking that approach in the first place, but if they don’t have experience doing one-offs (as they clearly don’t) then it seems like a natural mistake one might make, to be honest.

I’m really digging this one so far, personally. Clint and Justin and killing it
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:31 PM on February 3, 2018

A four hour long pilot plus the setup episode?
posted by bleep at 10:33 PM on February 3, 2018

Kind of, at least. They’re taking a “first episode of a tv show” approach overall
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:53 PM on February 3, 2018

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