The Adventure Zone: Graduation Ep. 14 "Spirit Day"
May 14, 2020 7:31 AM - Subscribe

The Thundermen work with the Centaurs to find a solution to the apple issue. They encounter a spirit and make a bad first impression. Also, they eat some road snacks.A question gets resolved. The Firbolg makes a sacrifice. Nobody trusts the wizard. It's a pretty solid day of adventuring! That is, right up until the end...
posted by Tevin (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Rough stuff on Travis's Twitter today. I wish they could put Graduation on hold for awhile and just do a bunch of goofy one-offs or something. I don't want one of my favorite podcasts to be so bad for the mental health of its creators.
posted by beandip at 10:25 AM on May 15, 2020

To be clear, it's totally okay if you don't like something. And it's totally okay to say you don't like something. It's when someone continues consuming the thing they hate just so they can complain about it. At that point, let it go and do something you like!

He is 100% right about this! Graduation is a light, fun, funny little lark, which is I'm pretty sure just as intended, and I'm enjoying it. I really don't understand continuing to consume something you don't enjoy just to let everyone know it's continuing to not meet your standards.

There was so much great funny stuff in this one.
posted by bleep at 11:02 AM on May 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Griffin was right to get off twitter though.
posted by bleep at 11:24 AM on May 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also it's criminal that fans' responses to this sweet & funny endeavor have been this consistently toxic and stupid. Get your shit together.
posted by bleep at 2:11 PM on May 15, 2020

Mm, I was going to say "Being a DM and making a podcast is hard" but that's not really true. It's super easy to do either of those things. There's a million mediocre DMs, a million podcasts, even a million actual play podcasts.

What's hard is doing it well. I think Travis is doing a fine job. Some of these whiners need to go listen to those other podcasts and find out what truly bad sounds like. But ferreal, Travis needs to quit reading the comments. It's never good for you.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:50 PM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Twitter harassment was really terrible and that kind of bullshit needs to stop.

But there is a world of difference between someone constantly tweeting at Travis telling him how terrible he is (not OK) and the conversation around Graduation and its shortcomings (very OK).

Personally, I don't think that Travis is doing a very good job. The part of that tweet thread that bothered me also is "Just a reminder: If you don’t enjoy some form of media (book, movie, album, podcast, tv show, whatever) you can just stop consuming it. " While this is true it's also feels very dismissive of the audience that TAZ has built up over the years.

I do not like Graduation because I do not feel like it has any of the chaotic energy or dynamic PC interaction that defined Balance and Amnesty. I still want to like Graduation but Travis is deviating pretty hard from what has historically made the show something that is fun to listen to, that I have recommended to many people, and that I have posted about on Metafilter every other damn week for four or so years.

I mean, yes, I could just stop listening (and probably should!) but maybe he could actually try to take some feedback and incorporate it into the show and not constantly shit on all the valid criticism that people have given.

This week, for example, Justin (ever my own avatar within the show this season) comments that he doesn't think he's going to need his dice because they never get used and Travis responds with something along the lines of "roll for initiative, everyone is trying to kill you, is that what you want? Sometimes you need combat, sometimes you need character work and story development!" For weeks fans have been saying something they miss from Graduation are dice rolls because they are great opportunities for character development. Like when Audrey started feeling bad about her magic failing because of bad rolls in Amnesty or, like, 90% of the Rolls during The Suffering Game. Dice rolling is part of the magic of what makes Actual Play Podcasts fun and differentiates the genre from something like shared improv storytelling.

Another criticism about Graduation I have read and agree with is that the Travis doesn't give flavor to his descriptions or his NPC voices and that all his NPCs are bland. And again, this week, when he has to give a description of Calhain's tent he says it's "the most wizard shit" without offering any other description and voices Calhain like all of his other characters. Griffin, I believe, is the one who has to provide some the one bit of flavor that there are pewter statues and shit (which is pretty funny). The scene ends when Griffin complains about wasting time with the bad wizard and Calhain saying his criticism is valid and thanks for coming. It felt, to me, like a colossal waste of time. It would have been easy enough to give Calhain a unique voice, mannerism, something for the PCs to play off but it's just not there.

And so on. I'm not going to enumerate all my manifold issues with Graduation but I will say that I strongly dislike that Travis is telling me to stop listening to the show that I love because he's making it into something wholly different than what came before. I would also be OK if TAZ was going in a new direction if the quality was there but it's not. This world does not make any sense (the Hero/Villain conceit has no consistency), there are too many NPCs that are indistinguishable from one another, the PCs are barely engaged with the story, and there are no stakes for any of the PCs. If that's the direction the show is going to go, well, so be it but I won't say I'll be pleased to lose something that has meant a lot to me over the years, especially since the bones of what I loved are still there (still love Clint and the boys!) but nothing else works and could pretty easily remedied. I'm not saying that Travis needs to completely overhaul his world or his planned story or ax this or that PC.

I will continue to listen through the end of this mission with the apple but probably won't continue after that. I'm glad, truly, that other people continue to like the show! Hopefully Travis can find his own audience that is supportive and happy with what he's bringing to TAZ but I just don't think I'll be part of it.
posted by Tevin at 10:05 AM on May 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Griffin's and Justin's prodding of Travis for more context and information in the latest ep was kind of telling, as was Griffin's arguing down Travis's suggestion at one point that the party be split up to do a thing. It makes me suspect that the criticism Travis is getting is not solely coming from the audience.

He was hoping that his extensive and detailed worldbuilding was going to be his hallmark here but it's proving to work against him, as the Thundermen keep doing things he hadn't planned for. He tends to neuter the consequences of their actions when they don't fit with his plans, effectively favoring his own vision of the world over the shared vision.

Travis has a kind of roll-with-the-flow style that's worked well for his player characters, and I was hoping that as the adventurers roam the map in Graduation a roll-with-the-flow DM style would allow their adventures to make the world bigger and richer. But instead Travis has been treating their actions as coloring outside the lines he's drawn.

With that said, the latest episode was good. Not just as entertainment, but as D&D; for the first time it feels like something's actually at stake and the fantasy world will actually be modified by the actions of the players.

It sucks to learn by failing, and it really, really sucks to do so in public before a huge audience. Griffin had it easy inasmuch as nobody had any expectations during the Balance arc (and his flailing was more or less minimized by starting with a store-bought D&D module and basically by all the grabassing that sometimes overwhelmed the gameplay during the first handful of episodes), and by the Amnesty arc he had internalized a sense of what can work and what doesn't as improv theater + dice. Travis is starting from scratch (-ish) and he's working with a team of at this point veteran players who are ready to perform with a game rather than fuck around for laughs.

I dunno. Creation is hard. Criticism is easy, and pointing out what's wrong with a project is usually easier than being inside the project and trying to adjust the ongoing development of the project when one has a goal in mind which might be at odds against current public reception of it. Is the goal flawed, or is the audience misunderstanding why things are currently the way they are? Nobody can fucking tell, it's an esthetic quantum state. All we the audience can say at the moment is that we're feeling let down by what's going on, and all the creator can say is to hang in and try to get closer.
posted by ardgedee at 4:45 PM on May 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

I had to stop listening to TAZ when my frustration with Travis carried over to MBMBaM.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:36 PM on May 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is another quite good episode. Fun goofs and room to breathe.

You can tell just from the performances that the criticisms have been heard and that they have stung a little and provoked some defensiveness, but it feels like steps are being taken and the issues are being addressed. The Thundermen are being allowed to throw complete curveballs like going to interview the god directly and Travis is (with slightly visible effort) rolling with them and giving them useful information to advance the plot without forcing a choice or just shutting down the attempt. We only had one sit-down interview with a nice person who just wants to hear about the characters' personal feelings, and it was initiated by the characters with a plot-oriented goal in mind. An NPC *lied* to them, and Travis emoted the lie without making it obvious, and then the players uncovered it with dice rolls!

Everything's coming up roses as far as I'm concerned. If matters can continue improving like this, I think Graduation will turn out nicely enjoyable if a little awkward and weird. I think a lot of people are still struggling because the expectations were so high and after the disappointing start the consequent negative emotions were so strong that it's bleeding through even though Graduation is now a perfectly cromulent Actual Play D&D podcast (with the potential, given the known talents of those involved, to become great).

(For example, complaining about how Travis' NPCs all kind of sound the same is approaching Jerk Eating Crackers territory, for reals. Griffin's NPCs also all tend to talk a lot like Griffin, especially once he gets past his opening scripts for them. My NPCs all talk like me, I'm quite sure, despite all my efforts to the contrary. And criticizing Travis describing Calhain's tent as off-the-shelf "wizard stuff" is downright silly, given that *that was the whole point of the character*, that he was a sidekick pretending to be a "real" wizard with purchased props, even though he can in fact do magic just fine, reinforcing the toxic structure of the hero/villain/sidekick structure that is one of the structural thematic underpinnings of the whole damned setup *pant pant pant* okay i'm done i'm fine sorry i'm sorry everyone sorry.)
posted by Scattercat at 2:30 AM on May 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

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