I’ve talked before about the McElroy’s and their various podcast properties. (Since I’m straight pimping the brothers at this point, you can also find all their works here.) But I’ve kept quite on what’s arguably my favorite podcast for fear of mockery. But no more will I be ashamed. Guys, I listen to a podcast where three brothers and their dad play Dungeons & Dragons, and it is amazing.
Despite its resurgence in pop culture in the past few years, I still consider D&D the gold standard of nerdy activities. The reason I’ve been resistant to embrace the game fully, however, is not the nerdiness itself, but the implication of rigid and complex rules. I love a good rule, but it’s not exactly what I do to unwind. The McErloy’s version displayed in The Adventure Zone has provided the world with a simplified rule system: You take the standard game, and replace any inconvenient rule with a dick joke. Or a pithy one-liner. Or an NPC getting all meta on your ass by openly acknowledging that this is not the way things are usually done.
It helps a good deal if your Dungeon Master and best friend is skilled enough to create a narrative that supports some outside the box thinking. Which makes your sweet baby brother Griffin McElroy the MVP of the podcast. As Dungeon Master, he’s figured out a way to essentially force a contained story on his family while still allowing them the room to create the goofs that truly power the show. You decided that instead of defeating several large, killing robots using teamwork and intelligence, you’re just going to beat it to death with its own arm? Griffin can work with that, but you will need to make a strength check.
But while Griffin has created an objectively interesting and funny story, his family members are the ones that fill it. Justin as the wizard Taako (pronounced Taco), a former chef who had his own cooking show and dark past; Travis as Magnus Burnsides, a folksy carpenter with rustic hospitality, a long-standing rivalry with a “mad tyrant” and a dark past; and McElroy-dad Clint as Merle Highchurch, a dwarf cleric with a (sort of) loyal devotion to his god Pan, an uncanny ability with the ladies, and a dark past. There’s a lot of “dark pasts” going on. Any previous misconceptions about D&D being a serious game for serious nerds has been wildly disproven by these three. The characters are as likely to save the world, accidentally murder a large group of people, and openly mock a small child who is just trying to help them do their fucking jobs. Yeah. They openly express dislike of a small, precocious child. It’s amazing.
Perhaps the strongest selling point right now, though, is the show’s complete lack of anything at all related to the real world. Ninety percent of the stuff I watch, read, or listen to recently at some point mentions some shitty thing about the real world. Racism, sexism, the Horseman of the Apocalypse that is represented by our current election, the movie X-Men: Apocalypse and how it wasn’t very good. Even this very article which I wrote specifically because I couldn’t write about real world bullshit one more goddamn time. But not The Adventure Zone. It’s pure escapist beauty. And with 50 hour-long episodes and a companion website, you’ll have plenty of mental real estate to disappear into.
Do yourself a favor, folks. Let out your inner nerd. Embrace a break from the daily garbage onslaught. And if you come across Angus McDonald, you tell that little punk to get bent.