Friday, April 22, 2022

Secrets of Dungeon-Mastering: The Adventure Zone

What is this? Griffin, Justin, and Travis McElroy had a freeform podcast that dated back to earliest days of podcasting called “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” Similar to HarmonQuest yesterday, they ran out of content and decided to play DnD for just one episode to kill time, inviting their father Clint along. It was an instant hit and they spun it off into its own episode called “The Adventure Zone”. DnD 5th Edition had just come out. It had a Starter Kit, but didn’t have a Player’s Handbook yet. This is the only actual play I listened to that’s using a pre-made module, “The Lost Mines of Phandelver”, from the Starter Kit.

The people involved:
  • Griffin McElroy is the game master. He’s never done it before.
  • Clint McElroy, the father of the other three, is Merle Highchurch, Dwarf Cleric
  • Justin McElroy is Taako, Elf Wizard. He pronounces it “taco” and wants to invent the taco.
  • Travis McElroy is Magnus Burnsides, Human Fighter
What I learned about DM’ing from listening to it:

How to play with players who find DnD hard to take seriously.

One brother (I can’t tell their voices apart) talks about how, as a kid, he was a nerd, but he did like to say “At least I don’t play Dungeons and Dragons.” Both brothers who are playing bring a little of that attitude here.

Unlike the other shows/podcasts I checked out, these guys aren’t (yet) being paid to do this, aren’t hardcore gamers, and think they’re a little too cool for it, which I think is common. Griffin isn’t helping, because he’s sort of groaning at the names in the starter kit as he’s reading them.
  • Griffin: I’m nervous, like I’m not psyched about saying things like Neverwinter, and Gundran Rockseeker.
  • Brother: You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.
Finally, he realizes he’s losing them and improvises a solution:
  • Griffin: Gundran is actually going up ahead of you guys, with a fighter escort named Syldar Halwinter.
  • Brother: His name one more time?
  • Griffin: (apologetically) Syldar Halwinter.
  • Brother: Ugh. Sounds disgusting. I’m just going to call him Silly.
  • Griffin: Barry… Barry Bluejeans. I can call him, this is what I’m saying, this is our game, we can do whatever we want, I can start calling this guy Barry Bluejeans.
  • Brother: Syldar Halwinter does not stick in my head but Barry Bluejeans I’ll never forget.
  • Griffin: Okay, Barry Bluejeans, that’s his name now.
He adjusts his style on the fly until he’s taking the game just as seriously as his players. If they won’t accept serious DnD names, he’ll give them silly ones to see if that engages them more, and it works. Soon, they’re totally on board.

Other tips:
  • Unlike Critical Role, which we’ll look at later, Griffin announces they will never go shopping. “There’s a lot of like, game shit about having to stop and forage and how much money are you spending on food, but I hate all that stuff, I’m gonna leave it out”
  • Another way to adjust for people who don’t take DnD seriously: curse a lot. They come across “a very goddamn big spider.” At one point, they have this exchange: “Make a perception check.” “I rolled a 23.” “You see the shit out of anything.”
  • One thing I find frustrating and so do the brothers: When the DM says “roll initiative”, which just means “Kill this thing” but you still want to talk. The problem being that your turn lasts six seconds now, and it’s hard to say anything in six seconds.


McL said...

It's interesting that one of the ways that DM gets the group into the game, got me out of listening to TAZ. When the group doesn't participate in unusual D&D names, it's like when super hero comics don't have colourful costumed characters talking while chasing on rooftops or pummelling each other, and instead wearing black leather and sitting around talking to computer screens because it's more realistic. There was a period of several years in the floppy issue comic book world where that was the majority of super hero stories. (may your re-reads podcast live long enough to cover them) They were written by people (or catered to people) who were embarrassed by being adults into childish things and wanted to justify their hobby as much as possible. While fantasy names can go overboard with their alien-ness, some names that aren't "Douglas" are what give the world it's feel. But I wasn't their audience, so I get why they do it, but also why it's not for me.

Mary Mascari said...

TAZ is a really great way to learn about D&D. And it's a great story, too. At least the first arc, Balance. They've done a few others with varying levels of success. They're on their 4th full campaign now, though they did a few short ones after Balance.

Taako would be a great character to look at for Believe-Care-Invest, although it takes a little while for things to get rolling as Justin himself invests more in the character. By the end, the audience BCIs all three of the main characters (and a bunch of NPCs, too). I love Taako so much.

You should also check out "Not Another D&D Podcast" and the Dimension 20 campaigns. For D20, there's some free stuff out on YouTube and as a podcast (I recommend "The Unsleeping City") but there's a lot more behind a paywall on Dropout.tv, their super-duper nerdy and fun streaming service.

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