The Adventure Zone: Ethersea – Prologue I: Our Wasted World
May 7, 2021 8:30 AM - Subscribe

Travelers from four war-torn kingdoms congregate at the edge of a fearsome storm, following a divine invitation emanating from deep within the Ethersea.Join us as we build our next campaign while playing The Quiet Year, a brilliant mapmaking game designed and written by Avery Alder. Learn more about The Quiet Year and purchase it for yourself here: the end-of-episode map here:

A new season begins to begin! The sea beckons pilgrims from four kingdoms flock to a makeshift settlement to prepare for their new lives underwater! Represented, we have:

•The Homonyne - Followers of the Vesrtige "Benevolence," who broke the oath taken by the many God-Like Entities to withhold magic from mortals, they forged a massive, magically-advanced empire or sorcerers.

•The Aynar - Plateau-dwelling worshippers of other Vestiges, who found a different path, cooperating with their spiritual benefactors.

•The Delmer - Descendants of Homonynians defectors who chose to make their way outside of Vestige influence, contructing their impressive structures by hand.

•The Southern Archipelago - Those who escaped the conflicts of the mainland to focus on a peaceful existence more centered on art and culture.

The four McElboys don't have characters yet, rather spending these prologue episodes building the world and its backstory through the mechanics of Avery Alder's "The Quiet Year." Prologue Episodes are expected to drop more frequently before the Story Proper returns them to their usual bi-weekly schedule.

Also, this is a Max Fun Drive episode.
posted by Navelgazer (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I bailed on Graduation relatively early, so it's nice to come back to this.

I'd seen The Quiet Year before, but hadn't spent a lot of time looking at it; I'd love to play a game.

Travis' "here's fresh water" and "here's magic ore" are a little sus. >.> Justin's spiral staircase immediately made me think of Annihilation. Trash geyser is pretty good.

I think I'm with Justin that the map is confusing.. are C and D currently existing in the world, or is that what things will look like post-collapse?
posted by curious nu at 3:06 PM on May 7, 2021

The moment I'm most curious about is Griffin laying down "contempt" on Travis's election project, which of course he then couldn't explain. As for the magic lake and ore... maybe they're sus, but this isn't the world they'll be playing in - they just need to lay down tracks to get through the year. I think I'm ok with it.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:09 PM on May 7, 2021

Definitely agree about the map reversal being weird. Love the trash hole. This has potential. The best parts of Balance were quick one-off gags like Graham the Juicy Wizard so hopefully a system like this keeps them from planning too much.

From a certain salty subreddit: I can't wait for Travis to take contempt every time any of the other players even touches his little corner of the map. Which… yeah I can see that.
posted by supercres at 6:02 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also, it’s been a long time since I listened to the Marielda TQY setup, but there were flashes of that weirdness here. (With all the patron god-figures Griffin was clearly leaning hard on Hieron.) Trash hole/geyser, teleporting sharks. I just hope we get something as awesome and eerie as the Weavers.
posted by supercres at 11:18 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Quiet Year is a terrific game. Using it, as Griffin is here, with some predetermined outcomes, is a tricky needle to thread. Yes, the game always ends when the Frost Shepherds arrive, but the game is in part a journey to find out what exactly the Frost Shepherds are.
posted by HeroZero at 5:10 AM on May 8, 2021

As someone with sort of a theoretical interest in D&D (played a little as a kid, played a few sessions of a campaign a few years ago but it was a big group and scheduling ~8 mid-30s adults was tough), this dissection, from two experienced DMs, of lessons that potential DMs can take from Graduation was really interesting to me.

Posting here because I think Griffin is on the ball enough to even improve over Balance and Amnesty, and see flashes of his worst tendencies (which of course aren’t that bad) in Grad. So it makes me hopeful for this season.

It’s also depressing as hell looking at the campaign zoomed out like this. What a waste of everyone’s time, an act of open antagonism towards the players. The enjoyable bits were 100% in spite of the campaign, not because of it.
posted by supercres at 10:37 PM on May 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

The critique was pretty spot-on when it didn't veer too much into armchair psychoanalysis - but the rant at the end about "playing D&D properly" left me cold - and not just because I'm pretty burnt out on playing D&D in particular.

Flawed DMing aside, do the McElroys ever call TAZ an "actual play"? A lot of people refer to it by that term, but it's the least "actual" of any actual play broadcast I've ever heard. More like improv with a light dice-based mechanical backing. (Though if you scratch deep enough into an RPG that's what you get)

Anyway: this is the first time I'd seen TQY in use, and I'm interested to find out how much of what they generate here ends up in the actual game.
posted by entity447b at 12:14 AM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

TAZ was one of the first actual plays around, and I doubt they used that term for it, but it was presented as a D&D game being played. They did say that they were inexperienced and not good with the rules pretty early on.

My understanding is that a lot of the frustration about them not actually playing D&D stems from the fact that there are better systems out there for the kind of thing they want to do, but D&D has more name recognition so they keep returning to it. (Apparently when they switched to a different system for Amnesty, they lost a lot of followers.) So people who like the system get frustrated by it being wrenched into doing something it's not particularly good at.
posted by PussKillian at 8:54 AM on May 11, 2021

I listened to that episode of Dungeon Master of None, which I found to be mainly boring surface-level critiques of the McElroys as a whole. One of the good points they did make is that D&D can absolutely be great for comedy, but it's best when it's the DM letting the players stunt off everything around them. The McElroys could easily lean on a bunch of super serious pre-made campaigns and turn them into great comedy because if there's one thing they're good at it's teasing out absurdity and spinning it into goofs. So I really don't get the argument that D&D isn't the right game for what the McElroys want to do.

Honestly I think the biggest way the McElroys fucked up was by accidentally making an epic story that really resonated with people. Balance has become an albatross now because they feel like every new season has to live up to it. Instead of sitting back and letting The Adventure Zone be a comedy podcast thinly disguised as a D&D Actual Play they're chasing the next story that they can turn into board games and graphic novels and cartoons and who knows what else. They really need to give up on making something to rival Balance and just go back to making week to week goofs punctuated by rolling dice. Let the epic storyline build organically, or better yet: Don't. Not every campaign needs to be about saving the universe.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:39 PM on May 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm a fair way into this episode and so far it's doing nothing for me, especially because I listed to it while I'm out for a walk and it's people describing a map I can't see. Is there going to be a story at some point, with characters and such? I don't know how this game works.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:14 PM on May 11, 2021

The corpse in the library, they've repeatedly said that they're using this to generate the world for their next campaign.

TAZ gets so much criticism by people who purport to like it; I have yet to hear any that doesn't have a background of "go back to how it used to be!".
posted by sagc at 3:35 PM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Balance has become an albatross

Absolutely this, 100%. They're completely misunderstanding how they got to the point of huge universe-saving arc-- by starting with the starter prewritten WotC campaign and.. stunting on it, for lack of a better way of putting it.

Back to prewritten campaigns as jumping off points please.
posted by supercres at 3:50 PM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

> The corpse in the library, they've repeatedly said that they're using this to generate the world for their next campaign.

Ah, good! Thanks, I missed that (I blame car traffic).
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:02 PM on May 11, 2021

I think it'd be best if we kept the discussion in this post to the episode/season specifically, and if we want to branch out into bigger TAZ discussion, maybe start a Fanfare Talk post (or something else). I'm thinking about future readers who may not want to wade through meta-fanfare discussion if they just want to chat about the episode itself.
posted by curious nu at 5:32 PM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

In retrospect, I suppose someone should have posted the The The Adventure Zone Zone episode which would have been a perfect place for this discussion.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:17 PM on May 12, 2021

they're chasing the next story that they can turn into board games and graphic novels and cartoons and who knows what else.

Listening to the McElroys with the belief that they're this cynical, when their fundamental distinguishing characteristic is their insistence that they're not, seems like what GMs sometimes call "premise rejection". I just don't understand why anyone would bother.
posted by howfar at 7:39 AM on May 13, 2021

The thing about this sort of success, is that you don't have to be cynically or even consciously chasing it to be chasing it.
posted by wotsac at 7:38 PM on May 13, 2021

This was a good start and I enjoyed it. Looking forward to more.

(I'm pretty sure Griffin took contempt on the elections project because the whole goal of this shantytown is for people from all four nations to join together in a new world, leaving the old behind. Travis' elections were about getting representatives from the four nations to bicker with each other, and thus perpetuating those conflicts.)
posted by Scattercat at 3:37 PM on May 16, 2021

> (I'm pretty sure Griffin took contempt on the elections project because...)

My guess (at the time) was he did it because he was afraid elections would sandbag the worldbuilding. Action, not discussion!
posted by ardgedee at 5:31 PM on August 7, 2021

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