The Adventure Zone: Ep. 56. The Suffering Game - Chapter Six
February 9, 2017 12:25 PM - Subscribe

Our heroes are forced to square off against their deadliest former foes -- but their real challenge comes in the form of a danger the likes of which they've never experienced. Taako gets primal. Merle gets disconnected. Magnus gets a couple of helping hands.
posted by Tevin (61 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
That was a doozy. I think Magnus really could have died.

Also: Griffin described a Boss Rush as something that happens in the final level of Mega Man. We keep assuming that there's going to be another chapter after this but ... what if The Suffering Game is really the end?
posted by Tevin at 1:09 PM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'M VERY WORRIED ABOUT KRAVITZ
Also that whole deal PLUS Pan not being there in an ambiguous sense makes me nervous about what the outside world looks like. Sounds like something might be up with all the gods.
posted by clarinet at 3:12 PM on February 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


"I grow bored with this fight."
posted by nubs at 4:07 PM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Sounds like something might be up with all the gods.

I kind of assumed it was Wonderland was shutting out the divine mojo, but Merle's powers have been on the fritz since they were in the Felicity Wilds. If the Echthroi the Nothing the Black Cloud is consuming the Astral Plane (Kravitz's hood), then it's probably made inroads on the Celestial Plane (Pan's territory) as well.
posted by Iridic at 4:44 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


what if The Suffering Game is really the end?

The liches have no connection to the greater story of the War and the Voidfish and the Black Cloud—we're nowhere close to resolving all of that. Griffin has promised one more arc, and I believe we're going to get it.
posted by Iridic at 5:06 PM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


The change in tone and feel between this episode and the last is amazing; the boys have their narrative freedom back and it's really nice to have their creativity back at the table.
posted by nubs at 5:11 PM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


The liches have no connection to the greater story of the War and the Voidfish and the Black Cloud—we're nowhere close to resolving all of that. Griffin has promised one more arc, and I believe we're going to get it.

Well, plus we know there's one more grand relic out there. Ooo, let's get googling.

So far we know of six, and according to something Griffin said near the beginning of the show, they're all from different schools of magic. So we've already had (via the wiki): evocation, illusion, conjuration, transmutation, divination, and whatever the animus bell is which has pretty much gotta be necromancy, right? So of the D&D schools of magic that are left over, there are two left that the final relic could be (assuming that this theory about them being all different schools is correct): enchantment or abjuration. Let’s see what the D&D wiki says because I have no idea what these do:

“Enchantment spells affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior.” The list of spells they can do is pretty fucked up actually! We’re talking words like dominate, enslave, command, modify memory, insanity, etc. Charm Person and Zone of Truth and Calm Emotions are in this school.

“Abjurations are protective spells. They create physical or magical barriers, negate magical or physical abilities, harm trespassers, or even banish the subject of the spell to another plane of existence.” This has stuff along the lines of dispel or repel evil or chaos etc, protection, sanctuary, immunity, freedom. (It can also do evilish stuff like 'dispel good' and 'unholy aura,' but most of the spells aren't like that.) Shield of Faith and Dispel Magic are in this school.

I mean, it definitely sounds like an abjuration relic, if it exists, would be the solution to the whole Hunger situation. It also sounds like an enchantment relic would be potentially the one with the most potential for evil.

My immediate thought is "what if there are actually eight relics and the Umbrastaff is the eighth one and has abjuration magic" but who even knows at this point? I'll hafta check out the Cryptic Shit Masterpost and see if it jumpstarts any other ideas though.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:53 PM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


I kinda wonder how open they are to alternate systems once TAZ Season 1 is over -- I've been listening to a lot of Friends at the Table and I think it's definitely worth considering swapping to something more rules-light and much more open to action and narration like what FatT used for their first season.
posted by flatluigi at 7:05 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]


Oh man... it just occurred to me that the guys could potentially use the bell, once they (presumably) have it, to give all of the people trapped in Wonderland their sacrifices back. Now that'd be a decision they might genuinely struggle with.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:28 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


Here to also register my concern about Kravitz. And Pan. The Nothing is never a fun thing to fight, especially once the inevitable(?) betrayal and Magnus's Red Robe life all come to a head.

At least there should be one more trip to the Fantasy Costco (where all your dreams come true/got a deal for you™)!
posted by minsies at 6:47 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


I need another visit with Garfield the Deals Warlock.
posted by nubs at 7:43 PM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


At least there should be one more trip to the Fantasy Costco (where all your dreams come true/got a deal for you™)!

Maybe not though. I mean Magnus kinda kidnapped and then indirectly killed two BoB employees, and also he knows that something super shady is going on with the Director. And he's been taking help from the Red Robe. I feel like when they get back to the base, it's gonna pop off.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:59 PM on February 10, 2017 [5 favorites]


That's a real good point about the Animus Bell having the power to restore everyone who has suffered at the hands of Wonderland, as well as the idea that taking it away will kill folks such as Cam who are being kept alive as suffering machines. That's way more tempting than any selfishness could be, especially when you consider some victims of Wonderland entered not knowing what they were getting into.

Griffin has admitted in the past that the Grand Relics don't strictly adhere to the schools of Magic, since he had incomplete knowledge of such things when he first came up with the idea, so making predictions about the final relic is a perilous business.

I feel a little bad about assuming Merle's clerical issues were as a result of being a shitty follower of Pan, but honestly there's a price you pay to get your spells and that's to toe your deity's line.

Still, if there's an existential crisis coming to wipe out this multiverse and it's already hit the celestial plane and taken out the gods, and the Redrobes who know it best have only ever been able to flee, well, I'm curious to see how all this turns out. If I were playing I wouldn't even bother to go back to the moon base, that ship has probably sailed. It's time to get some real answers from their red robed "friend".
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:30 PM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]


The Deals Warlock will find a way! There's no fighting in Fantasy Costco!

(Griffin hasn't mentioned submissions for FC, though, so you're probably right.)

I think they will have to go back to the BoB for the showdown at some point - but if not for that, then for the Voidfish's very likely death scene.
posted by minsies at 5:41 AM on February 11, 2017


I feel a little bad about assuming Merle's clerical issues were as a result of being a shitty follower of Pan, but honestly there's a price you pay to get your spells and that's to toe your deity's line.

Yeah, that's what I assumed, and I think he is going to have to establish a new connection to Istus (sp?)
posted by Rock Steady at 8:43 AM on February 11, 2017


Does the Cauldron from the Flophouse episode count as a relic?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:29 AM on February 11, 2017


Maybe not though. I mean Magnus kinda kidnapped and then indirectly killed two BoB employees, and also he knows that something super shady is going on with the Director. And he's been taking help from the Red Robe. I feel like when they get back to the base, it's gonna pop off.

If that's the case, bear in mind Tres Horny Boys will arrive back at the base in possession of the Animus Bell. Whole lotta shit could pop off at that point.
posted by nubs at 8:24 PM on February 11, 2017


Does the Cauldron from the Flophouse episode count as a relic?

They've said (I think on Facebook?) that it doesn't.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:33 PM on February 11, 2017


I was taken aback by how incurious Merle seemed about his healing being on the fritz in early episodes of this arc. I wonder what Clint thought was happening there? I guess I'm used to our boys displaying a bit more genre savviness.
posted by yomimono at 7:18 PM on February 12, 2017


Well, they did specifically set it up as 'there's no healing in Wonderland' rather than 'you specifically can't heal.'
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:57 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


But even before "there's no healing in Wonderland", Merle loses some points off a heal, and he's just like "huh". I think it was when they were fresh off (or maybe in?) the chimera fight.
posted by yomimono at 11:23 PM on February 12, 2017


Somebody faved an old comment about that prophecy of "the Twins, the Lover, the Protector, the Lonely Journal-Keeper, the Peacemaker, and the Wordless One" flying from the Hunger. I wonder if the Twins could be these liches.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:01 PM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


Holy god, can we get some applause for Clint pulling a Taako-leave ingenious move to save them at the end there? In my head, this was basically a repeat of the Goonies bit in the elevator at Goldciff trust, but with Magnus at the end barely hanging on this time. It really made Merle's redemption story work, too. Hot damn this episode worked for me.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:40 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


(To be clearer: that's not what Planar Ally does, except going by an awesomely creative reading of the flavor description. So after two years of Clint struggling to get this and wondering how to be an effective Cleric, this was a VERY proper pay-off. You can even hear the moment he gets the idea -it's when Taako is deciding which Magnus to go after - and it's awesome.)
posted by Navelgazer at 2:14 PM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


Hey you know what I just noticed on re-listen that probably isn't significant but is a neat detail that I missed before? In Crystal Kingdom, they see that vision of the planar system being swallowed up, and it comes out of the black opal disk which Lucas insisted was inert and not connected to any other plane.

Well, in Eleventh Hour, the crystal teardrop that the scary prophecy about there being a future terrible choice between two options, but there's always a third option? It came out of a crystal that Griffin described as being pitch black with a lot of different colors flashing inside of it, which is exactly what black opal looks like.

And then - one of the two 'terrible options' in the vision was an ocean of tar with something moving around underneath it, under a black sky. That's exactly what the astral plane looked like in this episode!

Goddamn it I can't wait to learn what all this actually means, but also I don't want this campaign to be over, jeez Griffin is great at this
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:14 PM on February 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


To be clearer: that's not what Planar Ally does, except going by an awesomely creative reading of the flavor description.

After the shit Griffin has let Justin get away with, it was about time! (That spell Taako used to make Roswell obey him takes a freaking hour to cast for example)
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:19 PM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


Now that I'm no longer trying to write from my phone under time constraints and can properly gush...

Griffin has done masterwork with this arc. It's been difficult and stressful as hell to listen to, in part because it seemed like he legitimately didn't care if any of Tres Horny Boys died in it. Moreso, though, the raised stakes make me think of an idea that Robert McKee didn't really describe all that well in Story (in which concepts are usually described very well, but this one was less intuitive than others and his language for describing it was odd.)

Basically, he talks about raising stakes to the point where characters are taken "to the end of the line," in terms of the worst thing that a story can threaten them with. McKee diagrams this by Showing the positive, or goal, position for the character to be in, then past that the negative (probably original) position, then past that the negation, which is worse than the negative in clearly objective ways, and feels final, and then "the negation of the negation," in which things are demonstrably the worst they could be. For, say, a career story, the diagram might be "Happy at work - Unhappy at work - Unemployed - Unemployable." In normal D&D rules, it would be something like, "Full HP - Unconscious - Bleeding Out - Dead."

Only with this arc, Griffin did one much better on us, and shifted the diagram to "Whole and Victorious - Incomplete but Alive - Dead - Damned." And this does amazing things for us the audience as far as stakes are concerned. When death is no longer the worst outcome, it feels frighteningly likely. Also, the Wheel (upon which were lost almost exclusively aspects of no mechanical importance) made us care deeply about character history elements. Lord Callen and Magnus's vendetta against him (and vice-versa) has never come up in the show before, aside from when Magnus was tempted by the Chalice. Now it matters in a poignant way. Merle could have come in wearing an eye-patch, but his jaunty, cheerful way of accepting the sacrifice (doing so as a "fuck-you" to the Liches) makes it a clear badge of honor.

He also did this on a personal note for every character. Taako's self-interest is trumped only by his fear of failing those he truly cares about, whose opinion matters to him. We already saw this (heart-breakingly, to me) in The Eleventh Hour's bank heist when Ren burst in and Taako tried to banish her, a way of removing her from the scene without harming her. Instead, Taako misses, and she's horrified at him attacking her and flees. She's still leaving unharmed, but with a horrific view of Taako, and you can hear the resigned hurt and frustration in Justin's voice at the turn of events. Here, Taako's heroic part in saving Magnus grants him a front-row seat to see Kravitz drowning in the Nothing, out of Taako's reach to save him. Jesus.

Merle, of course, loses his god, Pan, but Griffin twists the knife deeper and uglier by making the reason ambiguous. Merle is on a self-described redemptive path. He's spending time with his kids (and the parallels between the climax here and Merle's time with Angus and the Kids in Neverwinter are eerie) and trying to get in line with the Gods (specifically, Pan and Istus, who hopefully are honestly buds.) When Pan doesn't pick up the phone, it could be an aspect of Wonderland, but we know it isn't - this started before they entered Wonderland - so either Pan has forsaken Merle or else Pan is just gone and gun-to-his-head I'm not sure which one Merle would consider worse.

And then there's Magnus. Magnus the most pure, most genuine. His backstory is the darkest of them all but he always remains the most positive. He might have revenge in mind against Lord Callen (or, he did, anyway) but in the way Travis has played him, Magnus has always faced combat with his focus on who or what is being saved, rather than whatever damage he's doing. He doesn't know any magic, and he's not a charismatic guy, particularly, but he's built his body to be the greatest instrument for good that he can possibly make it. So of course the liches steal it to repurpose it for what is, let's be real, the most straight-up evil motive we've seen in this series (and it will be nearly impossible to top: luring innumerable people into a torture and death prison in order to use their suffering to give yourself better clothes. Jesus, this arc can really easily be read as a scathing indictment on capitalism and the American dream, can't it.)

Anyway, all of them get their absolute worst dangled in front of them in this episode.

Finally (on this note, not on this comment) the very palpable feeling of damnation allows for the self-interested-by-nature Taako to throw himself at the rift to the Astral plane on the chance that it might save Magnus. Justine rolled a twenty, but that move should have left both of them dead and Merle stranded with no Pan. Instead we got that most bad-ass turnaround the series has yet presented us with. Magnus's soul has been kicked out of his body into oblivion. Taako has dived in after him. And Merle has, for once, nailed it to catch them both.

(That's the other thing this type of structure does: abject hopelessness makes the hopeful victory shine out all the brighter.)

Okay, maybe more for later. Right now, I just want them to make a "Liches Get Stitches" t-shirt.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:44 PM on February 16, 2017 [12 favorites]


Here's a short animatic and a long animatic of the last few minutes of this episode -- both of them very very good.

If it wasn't an absolutely ridiculous prospect I'd love to see a full conversion of the podcast to an animated series just based off of all the absolutely fantastic animations I've seen come from it.
posted by flatluigi at 10:44 AM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


Well, as mentioned a few episodes ago, the first arc is already gonna be a graphic novel!

In other news, I'm listening back to this arc and it is absolutely flying by compared to how it seemed on first listen, with all those huge gaps between episodes. In fact it seems right in line with previous arcs - they were 6, 7, 10, 7, 11, and 9 episodes respectively, and we're only up to 6 in this arc now. And in total they only spend 4.5 episodes actually playing the game.

The only thing that really drags is the second Wheel scene, and I think that was just because they'd been out of the game so long that they temporarily lost a little of their 'let's keep this shit moving' mojo.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:38 PM on February 20, 2017


Definitely agree with the idea that it isn't only the Astral Plane that's effed up -- that Pan isn't answering not because of a personal tiff with Merle, but because something extremely bad is going on.

Honestly, I'm starting to wonder what things are going to look like when they finally get out of Wonderland. Presumably their stones of farspeach haven't been working this whole time, so the folks at the BoB wouldn't have had any way to contact them. Will the Felicity Wilds still look basically the same, or will the landscape have been ravaged by the same forces that have taken over the Astral Plane? Will the Moon Base still be there for them to return to?

And on that note: unless Griffin has decided to deliberately push back against this particular trope, it seems extremely unlikely that the Bureau will survive much longer, at least as a physical base of operations. It feels like we're closing in on the D&D equivalent of the end-of-the-second-act-low-point in this campaign, and I can't imagine that Griffin's going to allow them to keep their nice friendly comfortable moon digs? I just...hah, man, GRIFFIN PLEASE LEAVE YOUR NPCS ALONE! KILLING SIDE CHARACTERS FOR DRAMA IS A CHEAP TRICK, DON'T DO IT.

There's a theory going around Tumblr that Keets (Keats?) is actually Kravitz, which...I mean that's interesting? I don't think that's where Griffin is going, but it's fun to watch the kids yelling about it. It does seem pretty significant that he not only introduced a third Vogue sibling, but also named him, but on the other hand Griffin gave us a ton of NPC backstories in the Eleventh Hour and I very much doubt that any of those folks are ever going to come up again.

Very much agree with the feeling expressed here that the boys seemed to get their narrative feet back under them in this episode. Gosh, it's fun to listen to them when they're gleefully fucking up something Griffin's planned.

And I AM curious as to what that original plan was? My household thinks that he was going to use Magnus Peril as a sort of clock to add urgency to a fight -- Taako and Merle would battle Edward!Magnus and Lydia, and at the end of that fight Edward would lose control of Magnus' body and allow Magnus' soul to return to it. Or something else along those lines? Kind of hope Griffin decides to do a "What would have been" megapost of some sort once the campaign is over.

....

........

....fuck, I'm worried about Kravitz.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:39 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


Kind of hope Griffin decides to do a "What would have been" megapost of some sort once the campaign is over.

I have to assume there will be another The The Adventure Zone Zone episode as a wrap-up.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:44 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


There's an article on Forbes about the McElroys today, and while it only mentions TAZ in passing it does contain the following paragraph:
The weekly podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me had 5 million downloads last month (“that’s bonkers”, “that’s crazy,” the brothers say). Since it premiered in 2010, it has racked up over 63 million downloads. The Adventure Zone, a humor show about Dungeons & Dragons they host with their father, garnered 6 million downloads last month.
Hoooooooooooly shit I did NOT realize that it'd gotten that big. Fuck me. And to have that many more than MBMBaM, which I think of as being so much more popular...? Although I suppose part of that is that a much higher percentage of new TAZ listeners will go back and download the entire show. (And in my case, re-download old episodes to listen to them again.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:52 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


I think it was the #1 comedy podcast for a while when it first came out and got some primo promotional placement in iTunes.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:57 AM on February 21, 2017


Very much agree with the feeling expressed here that the boys seemed to get their narrative feet back under them in this episode. Gosh, it's fun to listen to them when they're gleefully fucking up something Griffin's planned.

Speaking a little metagamishly as a DM, I have learned to love it when the players gleefully start fucking up my plans. It's great; it forces me into more of an improv role. I'm playing with my two boys these days, and they are learning the game, and I've been patiently explaining to them again and again that the game isn't me vs. them; they have their characters and my job is to play the rest of the world and interpret the rules and outcomes of the dice. But when that's your role, you can get deep into the preparation and planning and anticipating (because it's a big fucking job, so it's easier if you have some "scripted" bits), but getting thrown out of that and having to roll with the fact that they just scattered the enemy forces or came at a problem from an unexpected direction is fucking awesome.

Watching my kids gleeful faces this past Sunday as they botched an ambush and just rolled with it into some unexpected decisions which made me in turn have to try some different things was awesome. They loved it; they recovered well, and in the end - thanks to some good thinking and some good rolls - they came through largely unscathed, which makes it a huge victory for all of us. Because the players doing well should be just as much fun for the DM as the players being in peril; and the stuff I planned that gets missed or scrapped or avoided - well, it can get reused somewhere else; it's not like it gets wasted.

I love TAZ, but I think at times the sense of drama & stakes & humour that Griffin feels the show needs to be a good podcast gets in the way of the natural play of the game; I'm not sure how the balance that, nor do I want to second guess something that has been very popular and successful and my hat is off to him; he's a fantastic DM and I learn a lot by listening to him. However, I compare and contrast with things I hear happening on other live play podcasts where the DMs do just let the play speak for itself, and I guess I'm at a point where I'm feeling like TAZ is an awesome comedy podcast with D&D and I also like several D&D podcasts that have some comedy.
posted by nubs at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2017


Six million downloads a month - even if you split that in two for the two episodes, that's more popular than a lot of TV shows these days.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


So are we sure what, exactly, the Animus Bell does yet? Because while the effect of the bell was horrific when we saw it visited upon Magnus, the effect from the user's perspective could basically be handled with a fireball and an alter-self spell. The other artifacts have seemed far more powerful in their potential.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:40 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Most popular theory is that it's a necromancy relic, which according to D&D rules would give it power over life and death as well as wounding and healing - so that all seems right on target. But it could easily be something else, since Wonderland apparently existed before the liches ever got their hands on the bell.

Hey... you know what's funny? We don't know a thing about how any of the relics came to be where they were, do we? (Man apparently thinking too much about this show is my new hobby)

Glove - sealed in the vault along with the dwarf guy who didn't seem to know what it was... and guarded by a mysterious Red Robe, who we know is female ("you found her?!"), but not who she is.*

Oculus - recovered by another Reclaimer but we don't know where he found it.

Sash - found by the Raven... somehow. No details.

Stone - found by Lucas... somehow. No details.

Chalice - somehow known to Jack and Isaac, since Isaac's journal said he was tempted by it for a while before he killed Jack. No details on how they found it in the first place.

Bell - found by the liches... somehow. No details.

Where the hell did these things come from? Well... based on what we know about Eleventh Hour, I feel like the Red Robes put them into specific peoples' hands at specific times for some specific reason. But whatttt

*Fuckin, ok, wait, that skeleton is in the umbrella isn't it! How did I never put this together before? The skeleton fell apart when Taako picked the umbrella up. The umbrella 'eats dead dudes.' Kravitz sensed some sort of undead presence in the umbrella. WHO IS THE GODDAMN SKELETON this is the key to everything! Rrrgh

(There is no in-canon justification for this at all but I so want it to be Julia)
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:30 PM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


If Julia is in Taako's umbrella that is going to make the coworker relationship landscape EXTREMELY awkward.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:42 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I love TAZ, but I think at times the sense of drama & stakes & humour that Griffin feels the show needs to be a good podcast gets in the way of the natural play of the game; I'm not sure how the balance that, nor do I want to second guess something that has been very popular and successful and my hat is off to him; he's a fantastic DM and I learn a lot by listening to him. However, I compare and contrast with things I hear happening on other live play podcasts where the DMs do just let the play speak for itself, and I guess I'm at a point where I'm feeling like TAZ is an awesome comedy podcast with D&D and I also like several D&D podcasts that have some comedy.

It's really more of a (very) long-form improv performance that uses dice rolling and the D&D rulebooks as prompts.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:24 AM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


The thing to think about is whether there's any moments you think would've been better off if they had followed the rules religiously instead of improvising and doing something off the wall. I can't really think of any, and in truth there's several moments (especially the end of this latest episode) that were fantastic for reasons that would've been completely shot down otherwise.

It's why I think (as above) that it'd be worth moving to a system that would allow much more freedom in that aspect once TAZ 1.0 is over, especially given what Austin Walker & co have done with all their varied systems in Friends at the Table.

(does FatT have a Fanfare going? I'm still really far from catching up to current episodes so I don't want to look in case of spoilers)
posted by flatluigi at 6:36 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


The thing to think about is whether there's any moments you think would've been better off if they had followed the rules religiously instead of improvising and doing something off the wall.

Well, there is a lot that would have been different. It's a logical impossibility to say that it would have been better. One example of a way the game has been negatively impacted is that I think that a lot of Travis's frustration with "So I guess I just hit it with an axe again" and stuff is because the spellcasters are really overpowered, given that they don't have to deal with expensive components and casting times and spell slots and whatnot. I don't think it has negatively affected the podcast though, because it has forced Travie to be more creative and off the wall, which is overall a good thing.

I agree that it might be cool for them to move to a more narrative system like Friends at the Table (no FanFare as far as I know - I just started Counter/Weight this week), but they kind of already have modded D&D to suit their needs pretty admirably, so if it ain't broke?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:02 AM on February 22, 2017


The thing about fighters in 5e is that there really isn't anything interesting they can do purely based on the rules other than "hit things well" and that leads to situations like in the boss rush where Griffin resists him even starting a fire because it's not something in the mechanics. The difference just ends up even more striking when you compare it to spellcasters, and then even more so once the spellcasters don't have any grounding in preparation or cast time.

In FatT, you can just go 'here's a cool thing I want to do' and the DM will go 'yeah that's awesome, here's something we can work out for it to happen mechanically, let's go for it.'
posted by flatluigi at 8:11 AM on February 22, 2017


It's why I think (as above) that it'd be worth moving to a system that would allow much more freedom in that aspect once TAZ 1.0 is over

See, people keep saying this, but since they're not beholden to the D&D rules anyway I can't really see the benefit of a looser system. The fact that the spells and rules are so specific gives them so many interesting jumping-off points, and a more freeform game wouldn't give them that same level of inspiration. In a less 'restrictive' system there would probably not have been any Garryl or 'you work for me now' or hilarious overuse of Zone of Truth, and a ton of other awesome things.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:26 AM on February 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


I would argue that all roleplaying games are extended improv; what varies is how the system/game engine manages and allows for improv in the setting/genre you want to work in. D&D 5e is more flexible than 3.5/Pathfinder in that regard IMO; a system like Dungeon World (which I think is what FatT is using for some of their stuff) or similar is more flexible still. But you can insert whatever degree of flexibility you want; the issue for me comes down to consistency in world building wherein my experience has been that once players tried/achieved something that bends or moves beyond the rules, there is an expectation that they can do that again. D&D doesn't tend to suffer the "particle of the week" issue that Star Trek has, in terms of story; the players and their characters remember what solved a situation before and will use it again.

I think Griffin is masterful at the "Yes, and..." improv quality necessary in the game master; it's one of the reasons I listen to TAZ. However, in addition to being the person at the table who "plays the world" the role involves interpreting the rules in a fair and consistent manner, and for me that is where I have to remind myself that TAZ is primarily comedy improv using D&D, whereas I am used to being at tables where D&D is used to create improv situations for the players. I hope that makes sense. I look at shows like Critical Role, where the DM is also very good at improv but has a bit of a firmer hand on the rules, and there are plenty of great moments there for comedy and improvised actions and so forth.

To build on the example above, about Travis trying to start a fire during a fight, I would argue that D&D mechanics should be able to handle that just fine - there are rules and mechanics in place about things being on fire that can be adapted or used. Griffin didn't really roll with it, and I don't want to second guess why he didn't - DMing is a lot of times making a call on the fly and part of that is learning to listen to your gut about how this might be problematic not just right now, but in the future as well. Sometimes those calls are wrong. Sometimes it's because the DM is flat out improving their ass off in a lot of different ways already and they don't want another; the DM is an important part of the game engine and they can overheat/overclock. Griffin has been working hard in this arc to set things up in terms of moving TAZ to a grand finale; that's involved putting things on the rails a bit more in terms of the storyline and the rules, and that's always harder to do when you have been fairly creative with things to this point.

What it comes down to, as always, is fun. The players at the tables in TAZ and Critical Role and FatT all seem to be having fun to me, even though each game is very different. When TAZ wraps this storyline up, I'm interested to see where they go next, whether it's D&D or Dungeon World or Star Wars.
posted by nubs at 9:02 AM on February 22, 2017


As a person who has next to no tabletop experience, it's interesting to see other folks process it through that particular perspective. I'm only aware of how much Griffin has bent the rules, for instance, because of this exact sort of conversation.

I agree with Liz, though, that this flexibility had lead to some fantastic scenes in the show, at least in terms of the action plot and the fights which advance it.

I'm personally interested in TAZ less as a game that I'm watching other folks play, and more as a collaborative serial narrative. Griffin's railroading only bothers me when it messes with the players' ability to tell a good story; bending the rules only bothers me when it throws me out of the moment as a listener, and honestly, I can't even think of a particular instance where that's happened. It's probably pretty telling that my nearly all of my favorite moments are from the various Lunar Interludes, in which there's no fighting at all, and where the intimacy of one-on-one storytelling means that the players are often much more overtly sincere in how they're approaching the story and their own characters.

My impatience with The Suffering Game is largely a frustration with the Wheel as a mechanism for NERFing the characters, because both the chance-based mode of choosing sacrifices and Griffin's motivation for creating it in the first place feel very much like they're coming from the "Adventure Zone as a game that people are playing and which needs to be hard enough to be interesting" angle, which is the angle I personally least care about. I was pretty angry for a couple of weeks, if I'm honest, that these huge and terrible things were happening to the boys for literally no reason other than clicking a button on a website and Griffin's interpretation of what fate handed them -- that they lost some pretty serious shit in ways that were wholly divorced from the larger story and their own arcs, such as they are. Magnus forgetting about his own history is tragic and losing a decade of his life is tragic, but it isn't Tragedy, if that makes sense.

But in the conversations I've had with friends since, the folks I know who are most into actually playing tabletop RPGs were also the least bothered by the SG and the wheel. And I have to say, while I absolutely trust that Griffin is going to to his best to wrap all of this up in a satisfying way, it's left me a little bit nervous about whether Griffin and I agree on what "satisfying" means.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:40 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


To be a little more concise here....

Griffin seems to be really worried about stakes -- that we, the listeners, don't buy that the boys are in real peril, or that there's a possibility they could fail.

But I absolutely could not care less about that at all! If I was honestly worried they might fail, I would probably stop listening to the show? If I want to be constantly worried that my fav is gonna die, I'll watch Game of Thrones. Like that is not the content I'm looking for here.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:45 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


You know, I remembered something a while ago that I think might be relevant to the possibility of one of the characters dying: in Crystal Kingdom, Noelle and the other robo-ghosts were able to understand information which had been destroyed by the Voidfish. Later the Director said that maybe people who had gone to the Astral Plane and back were immune to the effects.

We know that the guys have some extra Voidfish-style brain-static that has never been explained. What if the point of potentially killing one of the characters was to reveal whatever information has been erased?

If that's the case, then the story pretty much requires someone to die - but if they just died in some sort of ordinary arc, it would feel a little unearned to me. Like, imaging Merle just rolling off a battlewagon and getting crushed under the wheels and killed. This arc (if I'm right) prepares the audience for the death of one of the characters by dangling it as such a real possibility for so long, and making them actually suffer and lose things. (And of course, I doubt they'd stay dead - or at least, non-undead - for long.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:07 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I know there's talk of another brother or Clint DMing the next story, and if it's Travis I hope he subtly concocts an elaborate plot mechanic to have the others unknowingly provide him with words over the course of the game for the ultimate Sad Libs. The groans would be so real I think I would feel them in real time while they're recording, like Obi Wan sensing Alderaan's destruction.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


But in the conversations I've had with friends since, the folks I know who are most into actually playing tabletop RPGs were also the least bothered by the SG and the wheel.

Interesting. I didn't enjoy the SG and the wheel at all; I felt they were railroady mechanics introduced in an attempt to up the stakes when the stakes should be more emergent properties.

What if the point of potentially killing one of the characters was to reveal whatever information has been erased?

There is always a question of how to manage risk of character death in tabletop RPGs; typically, the players are engaging in risky behaviours and actions that carry consequences, up to and including death. But it's hard to do, particularly if you're running a game that has the main focus on the narrative, because character death fucks with narrative arcs pretty hard. So that would help bridge this necessity for TAZ; a character dies but gains new knowledge, and with the Animus Bell apparently involving necromancy...well, it becomes a strong reason for the Boys to hang onto and use an artifact.
posted by nubs at 11:29 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Later the Director said that maybe people who had gone to the Astral Plane and back were immune to the effects.

And this also explains why Kravitz was able to have Taako run him through everything that had happened in Refuge.

Man, I had not thought about things from this angle at all. I'd mostly given up on my "Griffin is trying to kill one of them for plot reasons" SG theory, but this presents a really compelling case for what Griffin may have had in mind for the end of Episode 56 -- maybe Magnus WAS actually supposed to die, there.

I mean, I have completely confidence in Griffin's ability to murder one of the player characters if he's determined to do so, it just may turn out to be a little more difficult than he'd expected to do so without the Hand of God reaching in and essentially squelching someone on demand.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:20 PM on February 22, 2017


Annnnnnd this week's terrifying Griffin tweet:
My heart was actually racing recording the end of tomorrow’s #TheZoneCast, to the point where I didn’t know if I could get all the words out
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:38 PM on February 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


I'm just gonna have to get all my work done in the morning aren't I?
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:51 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


TAZ comes on the same day I get paid and honestly I don't know which thing I anticipate more.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:06 PM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


I mean, I have completely confidence in Griffin's ability to murder one of the player characters if he's determined to do so, it just may turn out to be a little more difficult than he'd expected to do so without the Hand of God reaching in and essentially squelching someone on demand.

I agree that he may well have planned to kill off Magnus there (or whoever had landed the Skull before we moved into the endgame) but to his immense credit, he completely ran with the not-totally-by-the-rules creative solution that Justin and Clint came up with seemingly on the fly. He could have easily shut down their suggestions, but instead let them go against his plot for what we can all agree was a kick-ass and triumphant move by the players after several sessions of literal torture.

That's what makes this next one perhaps the most anticipated of the series' history.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:18 PM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Some things Griffin could have done to raise the stakes and the difficulty level without the Wheel:

1. Buckle down somewhat on spellcasting. At least when it comes to prepared spells and spell slots. Without those restrictions, spellcasters are just too powerful.

2. More fights with hordes of very easy enemies. This is both fun for the players and a good way to nibble down hit points and spell slots in preparation for a tougher boss battle.

3. Fights with powerful enemies with bad weaknesses. This can give puzzle-solving satisfaction and gets the players used to changing up their strategies depending on the opponent.

4. Fights with high level NPCs in which the NPC will abandon the fight after taking or dealing some amount of damage. This can build a rivalry narrative and if you want, can lead to chase/tracking opportunities.

Obviously, this is all Monday-morning quarterbacking - I think Griffin is doing an amazing job with this campaign, and TAZ is one of the few podcasts I still await desperately, but this arc has been my least favorite, so I find myself second-guessing him a bit more and wondering what I would do in his place.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:57 AM on February 23, 2017


He could have easily shut down their suggestions, but instead let them go against his plot for what we can all agree was a kick-ass and triumphant move by the players after several sessions of literal torture.

No, definitely agree that he made the right call there, to go ahead and roll with what Justin and Clint came up with. But if, for instance, having one of their souls be sucked into oily black goo is a key part of advancing the story, it'll be interesting to see how he manages to put those pieces together without it feeling forced.

UNRELATED: wow, I'd forgotten the MBMBaM Seeso show was set to premiere today. If I were the McElroys I'd be shutting my phone off and going for a very long walk around now, but obviously those boys and I have a pretty different relationship with social media and anxiety. (That, or they've been dealing with this sort of thing long enough at this point that they bulldoze through it.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:41 AM on February 23, 2017


omg the description for the new episode! I cannot wait to listen.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:40 AM on February 23, 2017


GASP it's up already??? Guess it's time for me to take lunch right now immediately
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:45 AM on February 23, 2017


Man, Taako/Justin has ended up my absolute favourite character/player at this point. Every time he goes quiet for a moment then busts out "I cast..." and makes Griffin go "oh shit" it brings me joy. I know they are totally bending spell slot and casting time and various other rules, but I think Griffin does a good job of allowing stuff if it's hilarious and/or awesome.
Taako also gets the best quips.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:04 AM on March 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Belatedly catching up on the Fanfare threads for this...bearing in mind I'm not a D&D person and only got into TAZ when I was casting around for light and amusing podcast last November:

One example of a way the game has been negatively impacted is that I think that a lot of Travis's frustration with "So I guess I just hit it with an axe again" and stuff is because the spellcasters are really overpowered, given that they don't have to deal with expensive components and casting times and spell slots and whatnot.

I think this would be true if either of the spellcasters were, you know, good at D&D, but Merle's frankly hopeless and Taako only stoops to competence when he's worried the pace is getting too slow. For me the straight up boss fights are often some of the most borings bits, and if the characters really had to be strict about burning spell slots and spend time, I dunno, grinding yarrow and squinting at their inventories to try and remember if they picked up eye of Newt at the last time they were at Fantasy Costco I think it would make things hopelessly draggy. I like that when things looks like it's going to take forever to wear down some foe Taako can whip something out that does 50 points of damage and then send Magnus in for the kill. T
posted by Diablevert at 6:34 PM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


and if the characters really had to be strict about burning spell slots and spend time, I dunno, grinding yarrow and squinting at their inventories to try and remember if they picked up eye of Newt at the last time they were at Fantasy Costco I think it would make things hopelessly draggy.

5e really did away with this; not that most games I ever participated in with previous versions ever paid much attention to it. In 5e RAW spell casters can get a "focus" that takes the place of needing the material components unless it's a particularly rare & expensive item. Because, yes, inventory management and such can be a boring, draggy thing.

That being said, paying attention to spell slots and prepared & known spells (characters like wizards are supposed to have a short list of spells that they could cast in a day, not complete access to anything on the spell list) is important because it does unbalance the action economy of the game; every character has so many things that they can do in a given time period (a round/between rests/per day). If spell slots aren't being well-tracked then casters become OP relative to other classes; one of the relative strengths of the fighter class is that it has persistent endurance in terms of actions in combat throughout a day, even if those actions aren't high damage shots; they are a consistent DPS to balance the high-burst of the spells that have a limited number of uses. In some ways, D&D is a resource management game in which the decision of when to use special abilities and how far to push before refreshing the timers on those abilities is important.

So not paying strict attention to spell slots and prepared spells (ie, Justin might have prepped spells that aren't useful) might help speed of play for radio drama purposes, but it is going to feed the frustration of Travis because it doesn't allow for his character to have his moments to shine - when he can keep going because Merle and Taako are spent or don't have something useful to contribute in that situation.

This bogs down pretty quickly into the question of serving the needs of radio drama versus the demands of the game and how to straddle that, and I don't want to come across as being nitpicky critical; TAZ is fantastic and I enjoy it greatly. By comparison, I'm catching up with Critical Role, and the episode I watched last night involved about 1.5 hours of players planning and prepping for a boss fight that took an equivalent amount of time. I enjoy both formats.
posted by nubs at 7:59 PM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


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