The Adventure Zone Fandom Says Farewell--and #GreatJobDMGriffin--to the Podcast's Balance Arc
Editor’s note: Before we begin, thank you to everyone who sent me messages to include here, whether I was able to or not. I will be donating my pay for this post to Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of you, Pajiba and those good good goof boys in the McElroy family. Thanks. - Courtney
Do you ever read a book, or see a movie, or listen to a song, or consume any form of media and it touches your soul in such a way that is changing, and you realize with this full-body visceral sensation that you love it as much as—or much much more than even—you are capable of loving any human being in existence?
One wonderful, beautiful thing that has done this to me is The Adventure Zone. And, trust me, if you told me this a year or two ago, I’d be very shocked and confused.
As a huge fan of My Brother, My Brother and Me and all the content from Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy, the one thing I struggled to get into was The Adventure Zone. My only experience with Dungeons and Dragons was that episode of Community. This podcast was probably just not for me and that was fine. My brother, who got me into MBMBAM in the first place, spent the better part of a year begging me to listen to this podcast, telling me how much I’d love it. Finally, like when I started watching Breaking Bad just to shut the knuckleknobs over here up, I started listening so he’d quit bugging me.
And over the course of nearly 70 episodes (nice) I would fall as deeply in love with this podcast, its characters and the storytelling abilities of Griffin McElroy, a man who, yes, did become quite famous for sticking Amiibos in his mouth, as I have any person.
Today, the finale of what we’ve come to know as The Balance Arc is being released (and if you’re new or unfamiliar with the podcast and none of this means anything to you, start here). And while this isn’t goodbye (the podcast will continue in a new story with new characters, and the original characters will still appear in live shows) it feels like the end. “This is it.” And I just wanted to give a proper farewell to a show that has meant this much to me and so many others, thanks not only to its storytelling, its humor and its general goodness, but its representation.
As Emily said the other day, the McElroy brothers
are not experts are not white saviors. This isn’t about them singlehandedly saving the world as the sole source of representation. At the end of the day, they’re four cis, white, straight men being decent and inclusive human beings and that’s so rare we can treat it as revolutionary, often at the cost of marginalized people doing real work every day and just trying to exist in a world that refuses to include them. But this show means something. It means something beautiful and wonderful and powerful to me and so many, people who don’t get to see themselves in media at all, let alone fantasy. So I reached out to them to tell us why this show matters and what it’s meant.
“The song is now yours, just as the story has always been yours.”
TAZ is so special in my heart. It’s so… safe for me to listen to. I don’t have to fear any jokes at my sexuality’s expense. There’s so many people in the fantasy I can relate with and turn to, that are represented. It will always hold a special place in my heart and I’ve been moved to tears on more than one occasion by the love I can feel through it. Always proud to be me, and I know I can always listen to TAZ and be safe and happy. I wanna thank the McElboys for everything. - Emily Anadell, @EAnadell
I’m both genderqueer and bisexual and TAZ has really just set the bar for media for me in the sense that it’s given me a source of both entertainment and comfort whilst also including characters I can completely relate to? And I love it so much in that regard because here is a beautifully crafted and hilarious story with LGBT characters? Just? There??? And its just really really wonderful, I have the McElroys to thank for knowing I can expect better, because if they can pull it off so wonderfully, everyone else should too. - Abby S., @apxrvis
I was in a rough patch of not being able to find much support in friendship circles, I was suffering badly from depression and was struggling with schoolwork. Something about TAZ just resonated within me and being able to see the McElroys be able to grow with their story and shared learning through experiences with fans gave me so much joy I wouldn’t usually see in my usual life. It’s been such a great creative outlet for me and as a POC it’s amazing to see how TAZ has grown and developed into such an important part of my life. - @mang0pulp
Representation matters. But the fact that members of the queer community were included in the narrative of TAZ, and moreover that their gender identity or their sexuality was never *the point* of the narrative, makes TAZ as special to me as it is. Griffin is the only storyteller who has ever, in my eyes, successfully Unburied His Gays. I didn’t have a choice in TAZ becoming an important part of my monthly routine. It snuck in, sat down, and made me a better person. - @mistergryphon
The Adventure Zone, as corny as it might sound, has saved my life in more ways than one. As someone with depression, major anxiety issues and issues with financial stability and keeping my life together, it’s wonderful to have something so positive and entertaining and beautiful to turn to. It makes me laugh when I feel like crying, and the story has become so intensely touching and inspiring that it gives me a reason to keep going. As a queer woman, it’s amazingly refreshing to have multiple LGBT individuals that aren’t fetishized one bit. Hurley and Sloane have been my favorites from the start, and Carey and Killian’s relationship is perfect and precious and so dear to me. Seeing a confident, powerful trans woman in a healthy!! relationship with a cis man is also extremely important and inspiring, and of course who couldn’t love Taako and Kravitz? I’m so grateful to Griffin and all the Mcelroys for bringing this wonderful adventure together and making life more bearable in bad times. Their work is so important and will hopefully inspire other content creators to be just as amazing. - Nova, @dirtyquartz
What I truly love about it is the clear and demonstrated love and affection the dad+boys share. For those of us who don’t come from demonstrative families, it’s SO precious. - @HogSandwich
I think more than anything TAZ has been so meaningful to me beyond the aspect of POC and LGBTQ+ in the fact of how creative and loving it is. Don’t get me wrong—as a bisexual black girl, seeing characters I can connect with means the world to me, especially coming from such genuine people like the McElroys. The fact that there’s also no “canon” appearances so that everyone is free to see characters how they want and make their own connections is amazing. It would’ve been so easy to say “This is what this character looks like and that’s that” but they left it open to be inclusive and that’s wonderful.
But what means the most to me about this series is the creativity and love this family puts into it. The way they all play off each other and how Griffin created characters he knew would not only work with the story but also his family is amazing. You can feel that familial connection through to their characters and in every interaction they have. It feels real and relatable. I’ve never been able to get into podcasts but TAZ sucked me in just because you can honestly feel the connection these four have.
The amazing creative narrative Griffin has come up with is another part of what makes TAZ so special to me. His story telling and world building has so much detail, thought and emotion put into it and it’s so, so inspiring! After I started listening I started drawing on a regular basis again, I’ve started writing and I haven’t attempted it in over 15 years, I’m started my own D&D campaign with friends, and it’s all thanks to The Adventure Zone. This narrative has inspired so many people in so many ways, myself included, and provides representation and inclusion for so many, I’m just so, so thankful to the McElroys for that. - Kaniesha, @kanooshie
Honestly, when Griffin introduced Lup and mentioned she was trans I started crying. It was the first time I’d seen someone like myself in a piece of media that wasn’t sexualized or harmful in some way. The show itself is amazing. It’s really refreshing to consume media and not have to sit wondering if the people you’re listening to can be trusted to be good people. Every time they have slipped up somehow in the past, no matter how unintentional, they always go out of their way to apologize and correct, and that really means a lot. As I said, it’s just really refreshing to have this and just be able to enjoy it! - Alex Stanton, @alexael37
There is so much to why I love this show more than other media I’ve consumed in my life. I think the blatant acceptance is one. They’ve created this world where these characters can be gay/bi/pan or trans and it’s a complete non-issue. I think one of my favorite moments that illustrated that was at the beginning of the Stolen Century when Griffin is talking about Lup, and he asks Justin if Lup being trans and Taako’s sexuality had anything to do with them being kind of bustled between family members and Justin said no. It was so simple but weirdly refreshing because it would have been easy to play along that trope because it’s an unfortunate thing that does happen, but he chose for it not to be that way. So basically, they got bustled around probably because they were difficult children. That was a big praise moment for me.
As for the show in general there is… So much! First, Griffin’s female NPCs are well rounded characters! This shouldn’t make me so excited in this day and age but sometimes that’s still hard to find. There are aspects to these characters that are important, but don’t feel like they’re just there to fill a slot to make someone happy. Lup is a beautiful, and in my opinion, well fleshed out character. Her being trans is important to who she is, but it isn’t considered a personality trait for her character because it shouldn’t be. Also, this is one of the few bits of media where sibling relationships have been orchestrated so beautifully. I’m the eldest of five, one of which who isn’t with us, and everything discussing the loss of Lup pulled at me in such a personal way. t’s so hard to describe how this podcast as touched my life—because those are words I never thought I’d say—but I’m so happy things aren’t ending here, because I’m sure whatever else is coming will be amazing. - @Anxiety_Muffin
As a queer person, the amount of same-sex couples is amazing and very important to me. It’s never made a big deal by everyone. But as a genderfluid, person the most important thing has been Lup. As someone who isn’t cisgender, it is so incredible to have such an important character be trans. It was never made a big deal in the story and they made the point to say that she is canonically a trans woman and those things are so important to me. Having such a strong, developed transgender character isn’t something I see very often and I’m so happy that Griffin made the point to make her canonically trans. Roswell using they/them pronouns also meant a lot to me. Nonbinary characters are so rare and I’m so grateful Griffin decided to include them. This amazing story and this amazing cast of diverse characters mean a lot to me. - Alex Lowe, @pocketsizedbird
For me, the show has been a place to escape to—for laughs but also for an adventure incomparable to anything else I’ve been a fan of. It’s really cool to see LGBT and POC characters just casually existing, not being a big deal or misrepresented, especially coming from straight white guys. The real world is full of varying people and personalities, and they represent that in a great way. There’s something in the show for everyone, and it’s never left me bored. - Sebastian, @electrcforest
I’m a Latinx woman who has found so much more happiness through #TheZoneCast. I struggle with an eating disorder and one day in therapy, we were discussing emotional eating, and in that moment, I was reminded of The Hunger and suddenly everything clicked. Long story short, TAZ is helping me fight my own Hunger. Like Magnus, I have learned when to ask for help and see that as a strength. I have learned to admit my shortcomings and draw my lines like Taako. I have figured out when to be a helping hand and to reach out to those who need it most like Merle, even if all he does is cast Zone of Truth. It has really personally affected me for the better and I’m so bittersweet about today. - Anjelica, @nyxnyssa
Beyond the abundant joy, tears, and laughter that The Adventure Zone provided, seeing the introduction of Joaquin Terrero, a fellow Latino, filled me with even more empowerment. Representation matters, and the McElroys have shown time and time again that they will do everything in their power to showcase the brilliance of everyone—regardless of race, orientation, or gender. I can’t thank them enough for giving me such an important character that looks like me. - Joey Huizar, @jhuizar93
Well, I love D&D and the McElroys are good boys in general. So I like it on its other merits as just a great D&D podcast and generally funny. But it’s great how inclusive it’s been in general and with Lup especially because there’s not a lot of great trans characters in mainstream media yet. And, often when there are trans characters, being trans is the focus of their character arc. It’s also nice because it means that TAZ fan spaces (such as the Discord channel I’m in) are also generally very inclusive/accepting because the podcast has been. I’ve no idea how much this one instance of a good trans character has done for overall acceptance but it might also inspire others to follow suit which would be great. We need more inclusivity of all marginalised peoples and for fiction to stop treating cis straight white people as the norm and anything else as a departure. - Quinn Murphy, @misequinn
I guess one of the things that really impacted me most is the fact that there’s not only such a wide range of fantastic representation, but that these diverse characters are so important. Take Lup for example. The amount of build up to her reveal and the excitement surrounding it and then we learn that she’s trans. And contrary to a lot of media, she’s a total and complete badass. She has a brother and a solid group of friends, she’s tough and funny, she falls in love and is loved and return. That’s not the story that’s usually told about trans people, women in particular. Same for Lucretia. Having one of the few characters with a canon physical description be a dark skinned women who is more or less in charge for much of the story was… I mean it sucks that we see so little of that that this felt revolutionary, but it’s such a big deal to me and I’m sure to many other people. Because not only is she cool and tough, but she’s funny, empathetic, she has a soft spot, she gets things done without falling into the “angry black woman” trope. And like Lup, she has a group of friends who she loves, who she would go to the ends of the earth to protect and who would do the same for her.
This got lengthy, but I guess my point is, to see people like me, like my friends, my family, people who are usually condemned to mistreatment and oppression in media, or stuck in a corner and just there for brownie points (if they’re represented at all, especially in fantasy) is what made this such an emotional journey for me. Seeing people like me and the people I care about doing absolutely average things like having a good group of friends, finding love, etc. things that, even in real life, often feel so out of reach, but then in addition to that… being absolute badasses, running a secret bureau of agents, mastering complex and powerful magic, and working toward saving the world. People like me being heroes? It’s awe inspiring. And knowing that this was all orchestrated by cis white men who didn’t have to go out of their way to not only fit this representation in but to listen to the fans and correct their mistakes and do what they could to make it SO GOOD… it just really restores hope that there are good people out there. - Charles Baca, @malefiqueer
Besides the rich narrative and the brilliant, funny, complex characters that the McElroys have created, I think one of my favorite things about The Adventure Zone is that the characters have such distinct personalities that are not necessarily tied to the way they look. No room for stereotyping. I remember the time when Justin tweeted out that “All interpretations of Taako are valid,” and that it goes for all the other characters as well. That was amazing to me because we live in a society that considers Whiteness as a default and here’s a creator telling the people that the lanky Taako is as good as the chubby Taako is as good as the brown Taako. I saw Magnus as a man with Asian features, and while it’s not popular fanart material, it’s okay because the creators not only told me that not only are *my* (a nobody’s) views valid, they also let me know that it’s completely acceptable for me to see myself and my people as heroes. I mean, I’m really just starving for a show/movie with an Asian that 1) doesn’t revolve on their Asian-ness (none of the mystical, exotic crap) and 2) not be a sidekick and/or gang member. I’m already hard-pressed to find a piece of media that will just let me live, much more be the main character. This concept also helped me empathize with people better by letting me see through their eyes. Through the fanart you could see how differently fans (mostly those who also don’t usually see themselves represented in media) interpret the same character and how accepting the community is of these headcanons. I mean, 99% of Kravitz fanart is of a dark-skinned man with locs even though the only description he had on the show is handsome, dark-haired man with a suit and a Cockney accent. If it were up to Hollywood, Kravitz would look like Benedict Cumberbatch or something. TAZ is one of the only pieces of media that is really considerate of the views of its audience (e.g. Lup’s name, Taako’s canonical skin color, etc) and while this occasionally causes conflict and discourse, to have something so special make an audience member like me feel heard, feel valued…it’s truly a remarkable thing. - Jireh, @sulcusandjirehs
I had been listening to MBMBAM for about a month so I was expecting a generally inoffensive funny podcast about a few white guys having an adventure. But after the first time they said that no one had any canon descriptions, and even encouraging nonwhite interpretations of characters, I kind of started to have hope that maybe they could possibly have some genuine diversity in their story (again, as much as a few white men can). And then as it moved on to Taako being canonically gay, and Lup being canonically trans, and canon lesbian and gay relationships, etc. It became such a hugely like… almost validating thing (AGAIN, as much as a few white men ever can) to listen to. The McElroys have proven that you CAN listen to your fans, and you CAN rely on your diverse fanbase to give you equally diverse opinions. Artists complain about how “no one is ever satisfied” but the solution is to always try and try and if a mistake is made, it can be addressed. - Neil Marino, @Barca_Bee
TAZ means a lot to me as a queer non-binary person, because of its amazing CANON LGBT+ characters. It’s so so important to have creators who are willing to learn and are open to creating such characters/ allowing people to imagine characters in any way they want. It’s truly revolutionary; it has changed my life and the way I look at narratives. - Kieren, @fenhawkeing
Over the last few years I’ve discovered and become more comfortable with the fact that I’m transgender, and the first time I heard Griffin say that Lup was DMAB [designated male at birth] I immediately started tearing up. Please let Griffin know how spectacular he is for me, because he (along with the entire McElroy family) have changed my life for the better with the work they’ve done. - Alex Dougherty, @huge_sword
I’m a Latino fan of TAZ. For me, especially with the most recent arcs, it’s great to be able to enjoy entertainment that doesn’t resort to locking characters of color into a trope or typecast. It’s a type of representation that’s pretty sparse and the fact that these characters, within a ridiculously fictitious setting, can convey such depth and nuance is amazing. It gives me hope that this kind of writing that comes from a loving and considerate approach can keep expanding into different mediums. It’s also inspired me to start writing, to create the characters I want to see—characters like me. - Stephen Alcala
I’m a queer TAZ fan and the way the boys have learned and progressed in awareness means so much to me. Having content creators who are willing to make mistakes in order to have better representation, who accept community input and admit to mistakes is so so so meaningful to me. Also, seeing a content creator not only make queer characters front and center, but also take tangible steps to help that community is amazing. It’s been really hard for me to articulate how much the Transgender Law Center donation means to me. - Alex Stanton, @lazygayofficial
I think, as a POC, it feels really wonderful to have characters that look like me that I can root for, even if I don’t actually see them outside of fan art. Griffin and co. didn’t necessarily *need* to paint these characters as people of color or LGBTQ since it’s an almost entirely vocal medium, but the fact that they chose to anyway via solid writing and working with the fans made me feel especially comfortable settling in this world. In addition, I’ve never really felt comfortable with the idea of cosplaying until I was introduced to Taako, the flamboyant wizard. As a somewhat feminine Puerto Rican and Dominican guy, it’s almost on the nose for me.
Finally, I think the reason why I find this show so wonderful is the fact that it began as an actual gag episode of MBMBAM and snowballed into this truly touching story about friendship, responsibility and the complications involved with trying to do the right thing. The McElroy brothers (and Clint) were the last people I expected to get a tearjerking fantasy epic from, but I guess I had been underestimating their capabilities. Also, I learned so much about the McElroys as people, based on the way they navigated the moral and strategic haze of D&D. And they’re all good boys. - Will LaPorte, @walaprat
The Zone Cast appeared into my life right when I needed it the most. I’m bisexual and my now ex-girlfriend broke up with me right after coming out to my mom and being totally rejected. My stepmom is also pretty homophobic, so coming out to my dad was never even an option. I had hit a pretty low point in my life. I had just recently gotten into the podcast world and decided to start TAZ just as a distraction, not knowing at all that there would be LGBTQ+ representation. I just wanted cute, fun adventures with some fun jokes every now and again. But, well, as we all know, I got so so much more. When Sloane and Hurley were made canon, I was in tears. I couldn’t believe it. In a Spain, gay marriage has been legal for a while, but the representation of LGBT+ folks is close to none. I simply couldn’t believe it. But they were there—a gay couple. Little did I know it’d be the first of three. And I cried with every single one of them. And when Lup was announced as trans, I screamed so hard I scared my dog. I’m incredibly proud of the McElroys, and TAZ holds a huge place in my heart. My situation hasn’t gotten any better externally, but they have helped me so much to feel accepted. I’ve met amazing people (in and out of my country!) thanks to TAZ and to the boys, and there’s no actual way that I can express how important this podcast is for me and how thankful I am to them and to the community. I’m sure they’re going to keep doing amazing things, because that’s what amazing people do. - Marina Galán, @roboticmixie
One of the first things that made my feel welcome to TAZ as an LGBT human was the canonic fact that Taako is gay. It made me so happy to see my favorite character turning out to also be gay. Then Lup was introduced as a trans woman and it got so much better. As a trans man, I was so excited to see a trans character that was strong, brilliant, kind and a badass. Being trans isn’t even a HUGE defining characteristic for her and that is even better to me. Watching her be surrounded by supportive family that didn’t even bat an eye at her gender identity was so heart warming. It made me feel like it didn’t matter what you identify as or who you once were. You can still be strong and happy in the end. Barry loving her regardless of the fact and being so supportive made them my favorite relationship in this show. Aside from all the good representation, TAZ also got me through a very hard time in my life. My dad has terminal cancer and we went through many very close calls and then him being put into hospice permanently. The doctors said they couldn’t do anything and I was crushed. I also have recently had top surgery and have had some death in my family. But TAZ was my always my light in the dark. I would listen to it when I was feeling like giving up and these boys grabbed my by the hand and pulled me up everytime. From their dumb goofs to the touching moments it always made me feel better. The McElroy brothers and Clint are one of the reasons I still have as much energy to fight as I do. I can’t thank them enough for creating this show and letting us on for the ride. Griffin has created such an amazing world that means the world to so many people and I am so thankful to have been a part of this story for so long.- Kale Keriazes, @TransKingKale
I tried to explain how I feel about TAZ with a lot of words and adjectives but I totally couldn’t, so I’ll keep it simple. Since I started the adventure zone, every thursday is magical, and warm, and full of feelings. I’ve already listened to it twice, because when I do I feel great, I feel part of the story, even it that isn’t totally true. It still amazes me how four white dudes can create a better piece of media with good representation than any other company in the world. The thing is, they made a lot of mistakes (like the ending of Petals to the Metal, or the stuff with the graphic novel) but they learn from their mistakes, apologize, truly apologize, and try to improve their projects. That means a lot to me. To see that Taako is mostly seen as a Latinx guy? As a girl from Argentina, that means a lot to me. Watching people go from “Who’s Lup?” to “GOD HOW COULD YOU FORGET LUP” was an amazing experience, considering that the most loved character is a trans woman. When I first heard Griffin say that Carey and Killian are girlfriends I real to God started crying. So I wanted to thank the McElroys (specially Griffin) for making every other Thursday a day where I feel excited, and sad, and amazingly happy for a couple of hours. You made realize that we can have an enjoyable (AWESOME IN THIS CASE) plot and also characters to relate with. Thank you for changing my life. - @toomanyfndoms
(Header image by Avery Helm, @avery_helm.)