this is not a story about saving the world. it's a little late for that.
May 3, 2021 10:28 AM   Subscribe

The Adventure Zone Season 4 trailer (SLYT). It's another beautiful (and well-scored!) TAZ trailer from animator Mimi Chiu!
posted by snerson (85 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Griffin starting off doing his Mothman voice again...
posted by Scattercat at 10:29 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I am looking forward to this! I sadly couldn't get into Graduation, although I loved Balance and liked Amnesty. So I have been waiting for them to start a new story.
posted by bigendian at 10:51 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I liked Balance and Amnesty, but was having trouble getting into Graduation. This undersea romp looks fun though! I'll give it a listen.
posted by crossswords at 10:52 AM on May 3


Snap!
posted by Naberius at 10:57 AM on May 3


In the latest The The Adventure Zone Zone episode, they talked a little about how they'll be running the campaign, and they'll be starting by playing The Quiet Year, a collaborative world-building game without a DM.

I can't wait! It seems like it'll really serve all their free-wheeling imaginations so well - I've played a few sessions of it with my friends, and even though (sad to say) we aren't quite as funny as the McElroys, it was a blast and resulted in some weird, deep worldbuilding.
posted by sagc at 11:03 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Sagc, thanks for the link and recommendation.

I did see an indie designer complaining about their using The Quiet Year without fully crediting it, at least in the audio. Glad it is at least on the site--don't know if that was before or after the complaints (which I haven't followed beyond that one thread.) Definitely the way D&D sort of swallows up indie systems is part of the sore spot.
posted by mark k at 11:33 AM on May 3


I feel like complaining that they called it "Quiet Year" and not "THE Quiet Year" and didn't say the designer's name while mentioning it offhandedly in an audio comment about a then-secret upcoming game is a bit "looking for ways to be angry." And then tweeting about how they won't link to indie games when they did, in fact, link to the game in the place where you put links, i.e. a website.

I mean, it's not like they always say "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition by [list of all the authors]" every time they mention that game and this is some unique snub for The Quiet Year.

Basically Twitter gonna Tweet, I guess, but goodness sakes people.
posted by Scattercat at 11:38 AM on May 3 [15 favorites]


Yeah, that tweet is pretty nonsensical. They're complaining about the same episode I linked to, and about the lack of a definite article; I, as someone who has played this game in the past, searched for it as "A Quiet Year" without a problem.
posted by sagc at 11:42 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]




As much as I want indie games to get all the shoutouts in the world, it's ridiculous to expect TAZ to credit them.

It's a tool they're using to create their art. No one expects them to list their AV equipment. No one expects Mimi Chiu to list her illustration tools or software.

I'd certainly never think that the McElroys would be anything but forthcoming about what they use to make this happen, but getting Big Mad about them not providing their Game Bibliography in the proper format is ridiculous.
posted by explosion at 11:46 AM on May 3


It's a tool they're using to create their art. No one expects them to list their AV equipment. No one expects Mimi Chiu to list her illustration tools or software.

I don’t really think this is equivalent, I do think they have a responsibility to credit the systems they use because they’re not just tools, it’s more like building on someone else’s art- but that’s exactly what they did so I don’t see a problem regardless.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:51 AM on May 3 [5 favorites]


People seem to think that TAZ has some sort of great conspiracy not to credit people, but it just seems like it's a podcast run by 4 creative yet fairly disorganized guys. I expect they would have credited it eventually but there was a twitter stink that they didn't credit it the instant they said "Quiet Year" in a Q&A episode.

Anyway, the new season seems fine. TAZ is less an actual play RP podcast than a different, more structured version of MBMBAM.
posted by GuyZero at 12:17 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


As much as I want indie games to get all the shoutouts in the world, it's ridiculous to expect TAZ to credit them.

Expecting an actual play podcast to properly credit the game the play? Totally ridiculous, I don't know what I was thinking.

I'm glad they didn't agree with you and apologized.
posted by mark k at 12:19 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


Interested to give it a shot, although I lost interest in both Amnesty and Graduation by the end. Balance started as something for the four of them to do as a goof and turned into something much bigger, and now it feels like they put huge pressure on themselves to build up massive arcs and create something big. Just goof around guys, and trust the process to produce the moments you need.
posted by nubs at 12:27 PM on May 3 [9 favorites]


Expecting an actual play podcast to properly credit the game the play? Totally ridiculous, I don't know what I was thinking.

There's a lot of daylight between "podcasters should credit the creators of the games they play" and "they must name-check the creator immediately every single time they mention the game". The latter seems like an unreasonable expectation that we wouldn't apply to other forms of media.
posted by teraflop at 12:40 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]


In their The The Adventure Zone Zone podcast they briefly mentioned a thought that I've had, which is to have someone else come on the show and be the DM for the 4 of them, but they brushed it off with talk of how hard it would be to schedule. Somehow this isn't an insurmountable problem for countless other Actual Play podcasts with many more cast members, like Critical Role or Friends at the Table, as well as shows with people who have other jobs besides "Be a podcaster." So I don't really buy this excuse, but I accept that if they want to keep the show McElroy-only that's their prerogative.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:43 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I would have been super disappointed if they added a new cast member. As mentioned above for me I don't care about the game play at all, it's just the car we're riding in to get somewhere, which is the 4 of them doing improv together. Adding an outsider into the mix on a permanent basis would be a huge shift & a huge risk on their part. They'd definitely lose me & I wouldn't be the only one.
posted by bleep at 1:00 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I don’t know if they’d lose me, they have had guest DMs before and it turned out great (Dadlands!), but doing that permanently would just be a different show.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:29 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


Balance was the richest (and longest) but also had some prolonged expostulatory interludes from Griffin, who probably felt stuck between wanting to let his players explore the space and trying to keep a story moving for the audience. Amnesty was at moments my favorite of their seasons, but they didn't stick the landing. Working in a mostly-real-world familiar space seemed to allow them to get deeper into their characters and there were some storylines teased but unexplored that could have gotten pretty mind-blowing, but it also sounded like everyone had kind of done everything they wanted to do with their characters before the arc had wound down. Graduation ended much stronger than it started, there was a noticeable improvement in Travis's DMing at some point and the players rewarded that with better roleplay on their own parts. Some of the try-out games they played before Graduation were fun and now that both Griffin and Travis are veteran DMs it would be interesting if those got revisited some time.
posted by ardgedee at 1:33 PM on May 3


I liked Amnesty as I think the MotW mechanics work better for their style of play. I'll let Griffin off the hook for not writing an ending, as it basically puts him on par with Game of Thrones and the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Writing a satisfying ending would have just ruined the whole thing.
posted by GuyZero at 2:06 PM on May 3


If you're a Max Fun donor, the drive episodes are now available, and the TAZ ep? It is wild. Just, completely bonkers in every which way, and I love it.
posted by meese at 2:14 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I liked Amnesty as I think the MotW mechanics work better for their style of play.

This is something I've seen expressed a lot, and I don't think I really understand it. I'd appreciate hearing more about it! What do you see in their style that seems to fit best with MotW?

It felt to me like MotW was a bit too... loose for them. The game is set up, intentionally, to permit something closer to joint storytelling than basic game-play. There aren't restrictions that limit precisely how they can develop their story, and the lack of restrictions ultimately decreases the opportunity for narrative tension, for creativity. In Balance, all of the most memorable and hilarious and exciting bits resulted from the PCs finding ways to work around the restrictions inherent to DnD. It's a hack-and-slash game? Naw, we're going to Charm Person and make ourselves a hug bear friend. Merle's falling off a battle-wagon in the middle of a high-speed chase? Naw, booyah, Phantom Steed is here, and nothing's going to be the same after the reveal of Garyl. Magnus has been killed? Hell naw, that's not happening on Taako's and Merle's watch!

I guess what I'm saying is: I feel like, when they play DnD, there is an inherent tension. The rules of the game are like a meta-antagonist--an antagonist that interferes with the very act of creating the story, rather than an in-fiction antagonist that interferes with the PCs' goals. And, I think, both the story and the storytelling experience are improved by the McElroys having to confront that meta-antagonist. With MotW, though, it felt a lot more like the rules exist for the very sake of fostering the story the players and game-master want to tell... The game mechanics are primarily supportive, rather than restrictive, which leaves the McElroys without any antagonist to work against.

Of course, I don't have experience actually playing either DnD or MotW. I know, on a superficial level, that they mess up or ignore the rules to DnD often (I know, for instance, that Phantom Steed is supposed to take a whole hour to cast... But I didn't know that before I first listened to Petals to the Metal). I wonder if that makes a difference?
posted by meese at 2:46 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


Oh, I guess I'd also add on: the point in Balance when they moved away from DnD rules was the end-game, wrapping-up part of it. It was the point at which the story had been established, the stakes had been set, and all that was left was tie together all the narrative components. The non-DnD play they did during Story and Song worked, because of where it fit, at the very end of the story. All the work needed for narrative tension had been done already, and it was just time to start seeing how the chips were going to fall. That's how I interpret it, at least.
posted by meese at 2:50 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Naw, we're going to Charm Person and make ourselves a hug bear friend. Merle's falling off a battle-wagon in the middle of a high-speed chase? Naw, booyah, Phantom Steed is here, and nothing's going to be the same after the reveal of Garyl. Magnus has been killed? Hell naw, that's not happening on Taako's and Merle's watch!

As an actual D&D player it bothers me slightly, although not that much, that they basically only use D&D rules in order to break them. Charm Person doesn't work like that. Phantom Steed can't be cast as a reaction, it's not Feather Fall. The only good thing about them using D&D is the running gag that Clint can't keep cleric spells straight. And Cleric is honestly one of the mechanically simpler classes in 5e.

I have the polar opposite reaction as you - the MotW mechanics support how they want to play. It's flexible and open-ended. Moves like "Read a bad situation" allow the players to do things in a way that narratively oriented rather than the proscriptive game mechanics of 5e (what's your passive perception? 11? you don't see anything. YAWN) D&D 5e mechanics don't support how they want to play at all, to the point where they regularly just change/ignore/break them. Which is fine, making your own rules has been the first rule of the game since D&D was invented, so I don't really care that much about it. But why not play with a system that's more storytelling-oriented at its core? D&D 5e is, at its core, a squad-level tactical tabletop miniature wargame. It's a ton of fun to play, my personal opinion is that it's boring to listen to. (no, I have no idea why Critical Role is popular. IMO it's an improvised fantasy radio drama with a couple of die rolls here and there. At least they mostly stick to the rules when they bother to roll dice)

Also, as a long-time D&D player that had no experience with a PbtA-type game it was great to hear how a different game does things, mechanically. I think I would have had a lot of trouble conceptualizing the playstyle differences between a PbtA game and 5e without having listened to Amnesty.

The rules of the game are like a meta-antagonist--an antagonist that interferes with the very act of creating the story, rather than an in-fiction antagonist that interferes with the PCs' goals.

This is like watching someone try to cut wood with a hammer. I get what you're saying here but it's completely unappealing to me. Expressing competence at using the mechanics of the game you're playing is a common meta-reason for playing any kind of game. As a media consumer I have limited interest in seeing people being bad at things. Or doing things badly on purpose. Balance was fun and I enjoyed it a lot, but I don't think them swimming against the current of the game mechanics added anything to it.
posted by GuyZero at 3:26 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


When you guys talk about "MotW", are you just referring to the episodic "monster of the week" approach to storytelling, or is it a 5e ruleset (or different game?) that they switch to in later seasons? (FYI I'm about halfway though Balance and reading this thread through spoiler-mitigating finger slits.)
posted by The Tensor at 3:33 PM on May 3


As a sometime indie game designer, I'd like to talk about three cases that happened to me:

1. A popular UK-based Minecraft podcast (I forget the name) played a session of my Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen game in their tabletop segment. There was a copy of the game visible on the table, but the title was not readable. At no point did they name the game, or mention it was something that interested viewers could buy. The podcast got half a million hits, last I checked. Sales did not increase. I didn't find out about it until some time after it had gone live.

2. A big-name author and the brother of a different big-name author ran a storytelling convention. As part of it, the author and a bunch of other well-known authors played my Baron Munchausen in front of a large audience, and put a five-part video of it online. Big-Name Author gets the name of the game wrong (he calls it The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen), doesn't mention my name, doesn't say it's a product you can buy. No uptick in sales. He has subsequently apologised to me.

3. Wil Wheaton mentioned my Baron Munchausen game on his video blog and said he liked it. I sold more PDFs that week than I did the rest of the year.

This is not a matter of ego. This is a matter of earning enough money to afford to continue designing games like these.

I no longer design or publish RPGs.
posted by Hogshead at 3:35 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]


The Tensor: Monster of the Week is its own RPG system. It uses the basic bones of a game called Apocalypse World, which is particularly suited to collaborative storytelling.
posted by no mind at 3:41 PM on May 3


"MotW" in this case is a specific role-playing game, Monster of the Week. It uses a ruleset derived from Apocalypse World, as do a number of other games, leading to a category of mechanically-similar games that are collectively described as "Powered by the Apocalypse" (PbtA) games.
posted by GuyZero at 3:42 PM on May 3


The rules of the game are like a meta-antagonist--an antagonist that interferes with the very act of creating the story, rather than an in-fiction antagonist that interferes with the PCs' goals.


I think D&D and Monster of the Week (The Tensor, this is different game built on the Powered by the Apocalypse ruleset) just present different kinds of mechanica challenge. I do think that Griffin struggled with MotW, sometimes, because it's a deceptively challenging game to run (especially if you've not run many games) but that when he was going with the the grain of the system it was extremely effectively.

RPGs are always abstractions, but the ways they abstract, and the ways we experience those abstractions, are diverse. Some RPG tend towards purporting to simulate a world (any world) and its rules, and some toward purportedly simulating stories and their rules. Philip Pullman distinguishes the ideas of world and story (when writing fiction) as "the wood" and "the path". D&D is more about the wood (although not as much as it tends to imply: it has some really narrative dominated abstractions, e.g. hit points) and MotW and other games using the PbtA system are more about the path.

Some people strongly prefer one type or the other (note that this sort of roleplaying taxonomy is arguably a bit dated, because the breadth of games that not exist makes the picture of what RPGs try to and can do much more expansive), and, in particular, some people have a strong feeling that there's more reality, more groundedness, in games that try to simulate worlds rather than simulate the rules of narrative (hence the "Old School Renaissance", about which I have many more thoughts, but anyway). I think that feeling has something in common with the meta- antagonist you describe, although I prefer your description.

However, PbtA is very much designed to throw spanners in the works of plans, and play that meta-antagonistic role. It is designed around a particular dynamic of shifting control from person to person. By offering players enormous control over narrative direction (because the resolution mechanic can only be triggered by a player move) it empowers them to drive the story wherever they want. Players in a PbtA game should always be able to disrupt any GM plans, but are always at risk of rolling a 6 or less and having all *their* plans disrupted. PbtA's main premise is, in fact, that you shouldn't *have* narrative plans: you should start with a few things you want to find out and go from there. It's emphatically not designed to be a means of interacting with a plotted or even significantly preimagined arc or setting: those things are meant to emerge in play.

I think that Griffin's problems with MotW were usually (1) on occasions of forgetting the mechanical means by which PbtA centres protagonists in the game, or (2) losing his nerve about his players' ability to deliver a narrative. So I guess I thought it was weakest when Griffin veered away from playing the game as it's meant to be played. Personally, I think it's just a question of GMing being fucking hard work a lot of the time, PbtA not being the most obvious of systems (despite its simplicity) and even talented and intelligent people making mistakes when learning a complicated new skillset.
posted by howfar at 3:42 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I think that Griffin's problems with MotW were usually (1) on occasions of forgetting the mechanical means by which PbtA centres protagonists in the game

I am definitely no PbtA expert, but many times Griffin simply didn't take a hard move when the rules called for him to do so.

PbtA's main premise is, in fact, that you shouldn't *have* narrative plans: you should start with a few things you want to find out and go from there.

I would say this is an element of role-playing games from the early days of yore. The notion of the DM railroading the players is as old as the hobby. And I agree that it's difficult to actually give players the same level of narrative power as the GM. It's definitely not how Griffin has run games so far.
posted by GuyZero at 3:48 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Wait, so this was just a passing mention about what they are going to be doing on the podcast, and they'll be playing TQY as part of the 'cast? I saw the complaint go past on my Twitter feed, and got the impression they had just used the system offscreen, so to speak, to make the campaign world. And I thought it was in text somewhere, in which case it's reasonable to want the name all correct. If this was just a verbal promo for when they actually play TQY, the whining is a little bizarre. I'd expect them to talk about the game and mention the designer(s) at the start of the session where they actually play it, sure, that's just polite, but no they aren't going to mention it every time they mention the game.
posted by tavella at 5:19 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


tavella: The McElroys vaguespoke about the coming season in the final few minutes of a long Q&A session about the Graduation arc -- some mentions that the first episodes are going to be worldbuilding with a non-D&D system before the story properly begins, and that's about it. The whole segment was an off-the-cuff "Stay Tuned" that they seemed to remember they had to add before the Q&A episode ended. Getting the name of The Quiet Year almost-right was nearly the most specific detail provided, because I can't recall anything they might have said about the scenario or other plans for the coming season.

It's fair for the creators of the system to want to make sure their information's out and up front, but the episodes involving that system haven't even come out yet. My recollection of previous TAZ episodes is that the McElroys been careful about crediting the systems and creators of all the non-D&D games they've played at the start of those games, so I'm willing to trust that they'd already taken care of that in the yet-to-be-released recordings of this series as well.
posted by ardgedee at 5:58 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Based on past characters, I'm guessing the pilot is Clint, little blue punchy + pet is Travis, inventor is Justin.
posted by curious nu at 6:10 PM on May 3


I think the exact timeline of events is pretty useful to keep in mind, when evaluating the tenor of all this criticism:

1. They record an episode of TAZ, using TQY. In this episode, they give full author information about TQY. (This episode hasn't yet been released; I think it comes out on Thursday.)

2. They then go on to record an episode of TTAZZ, in which they very quickly mention that they'll be using TQY in upcoming episodes, but they forget to give full author information.

3. They post on Twitter about this episode of TTAZZ here. It goes up at 5:25am on April 29th.

4. By 9:16am on April 29th, they add a reply to that Tweet with full author information and an apology for forgetting the author information in TTAZZ: see here.

I mean, seriously. That's the controversy, the big scandal. They didn't give author credit as part of their side comment in an otherwise totally unrelated episode, given that they had already recorded the full author credit for the episode where they'll actually be talking about TQY, and they apologized for the mistake.

That's it. That's what happened.
posted by meese at 6:16 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]


Based on past characters, I'm guessing the pilot is Clint, little blue punchy + pet is Travis, inventor is Justin.

Justin clarified on Twitter that they haven't designed their characters yet... So, sadly, all our dreams of Coral Knight are dashed. :-(

Also, thank you very much, GuyZero for clarifying your view!
posted by meese at 6:18 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


I'm looking forward to hearing them play The Quiet Year because when I played it the whole thing was boring and the experience just sucked. It is possible we were just doing it badly though, because in the reviews I've read of the game the scenarios that the players end up with are absolutely bonkers and fun and nothing like what I experienced.
posted by schroedinger at 6:44 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


On a previous episode, they did a one-shot of Honey Heist (a free one page RPG) by Grant Howitt; they did not mention its provenance at the time. It was free, so not a big $ loss, but it’s the principle of the thing.

Plus, there is a sort of quid pro quo in that you can read from an RPG sourcebook at length without getting into copyright fights—partially predicated on the idea, in the indie community, that it ends up being publicity and $ for the author.

A good counterexample is Friends at the Table. They announce the game, author, and place you can buy it in every episode (and often at the end for one-shots). I have spent...lots and lots of money on RPGs that I have never even played because of them.

schroedinger, I recommend you check out their game of The Quiet Year (Episode 1, Episode 2) which they used as worldbuilding for a mini campaign of Blades in the Dark. It gets EXTREMELY wild. There will be some missing context from another campaign but not much.
posted by Maecenas at 8:27 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


They also did a one-shot of Oh, Dang! Bigfoot Stole My Car With My Friend's Birthday Present Inside by Ettin and failed to mention the creator/purchase location. They are making tremendous amount of money without paying a dime to small creators. I do think this particular incident is overblown but a lot of people in the indie RPG community already feel slighted by the past transgressions and are frustrated one of the biggest TTRPG brands is sticking with D&D. On Twitter, that’s basically dry tinder waiting for a spark.
posted by Maecenas at 8:36 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I guess it's strange to me that mentioning the name isn't enough for most people; unless there are several different RPGs with the same name, that's got to be enough to google the games, right?
posted by sagc at 9:01 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


It's weird, I got hooked onto franchise due to Avengers, and intend to watch all the new movies and TV shows, but I've never watched the first Captain America one.
posted by polymodus at 9:16 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


That's the controversy, the big scandal

As the person who introduced this topic, I want to apologize to the extent it's derailed the thread. People who are TAZ fans should be able to be excited about the new season. (I'm only an occasional listener.)

That being said, I didn't introduce it as a "big scandal;" I thought it was an error and a misstep. I know this is the internet but it's not like anyone was calling for them to be cancelled.

I know the McElroys have a down homey approach but they are podcasting gods, at least some of them get money from me directly, and I kind of figured it was a no-brainer that if they're going to play a game they should get the name right and credit the creator. I bounce around a moderate number of podcasts in this sphere and many of the ones I like make a point of crediting creators. Including visual art! It's a good practice.
posted by mark k at 9:24 PM on May 3


Yes, but the point that made it derail the thread is that *they did that*. They did it entirely correctly, it's just that Clint likes to ramble and he got onto the topic of their next season during the Graduation TTAZZ and mentioned off-handedly that he'd really enjoyed playing The Quiet Year to set it up, and someone jumped on that to say they were "using indie games without credit" because Clint didn't say "the" and they didn't at first link to the game in THAT show's notes. There was no misstep at all; just a polite and very kind response to people flying off the handle on Twitter. Which is, I guess, what Twitter is mostly used for, so sure. But it deffo gives things a bad taste here in this thread, especially after the... difficulties of Graduation and the existing divisions in the audience.
posted by Scattercat at 9:39 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


I kind of figured it was a no-brainer that if they're going to play a game they should get the name right and credit the creator

They did. In the episode that they played that game. The complaint is that they didn't fully credit and link the game when they mentioned it in passing in a different, entirely unrelated episode. Which makes me want to play The Quiet Game a whole lot less, actually, because it seems entirely unreasonable for the response to have been anything other than a private email.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:32 AM on May 4


(eh, I take that back about the game, I got the impression it was the author who was kicking up a fuss on twitter, but reading the whole twitter thread I realise it was.... An entirely different person looking for things to complain about?)
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:35 AM on May 4


Shortly before i killed my twitter account, i saw a little bit of how twitter interacts around TAZ. I have never seen a fandom so relentless in its airing of grievances and its eagerness to criticize the content and its creators. I don't even know if it counts as a fandom because it seemed like nobody there was a fan of the show -- they mostly wanted to talk about how much they fucking hated it. It was kind of mind boggling. This thread is running along similar lines -- most of it has been about This One Bad Thing that they've done. As someone who knows almost nothing about fandom.... is all fandom like this?
posted by cubeb at 6:26 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]


(Because it's a super depressing process to think, hey i really am starting to like this thing but i don't personally know anyone else who likes it... maybe i'll look around on the internet for people who like it! okay, found the fans aaaaaannnnnnd everyone hates the thing)
posted by cubeb at 6:36 AM on May 4


Cubeb you're not wrong and every Fanfare thread about TAZ is just like this. I was just thinking how it must be exhausting for them that their so called fans just want to be publicly mad about everything they do.
posted by bleep at 7:14 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I fell off during Graduation, which I feel strangely a little bad about because Travis was trying for something new and really swung for the fences with it, and seemingly by the time he got a handle on how to make it work, the listenership (like myself) had moved on. I got a feeling from this week's The The Adventure Zone Zone that he's satisfied with how it turned out, which is good, but he's talked openly about his narcissism before and the deluge of negativity about the arc has to be just crushing for him. I wish we as an internet culture could calm down on some of that shit.

As for Ethersea, well...

1. I guess Elementary doesn't get to sit in the "E" slot anymore?
2. Griffin does seem like the most natural DM of the group, though part of that is surely having the most practice at it. Clint showed real promise in the Commitment mini-arc, where the biggest problems were it being the first non-balance set of episodes, and it being a system that wasn't particularly well-designed for the podcast format. Still, Clint could run another game and I bet it'd be solid.
3. That said, Clint's character work has gotten really really great. Merle grew like crazy over the course of Balance, and Ned was for my money probably the best single character in all of TAZ. Arlo wasn't as flashy or as humorous as Master Firbolg but showed just how deeply Clint was getting into creating a real flesh-and-blood character, and was maybe my favorite part of Graduation.
4. In the recent TTAZZ, Griffin talks about being on the different sides of the players running over the DM, while Justin talks about both how Graduation cemented his desire to never run a game, but made him realize how he always plays characters that set themselves outside of the action. I feel like in both cases, they thrive in being reactive in different ways. Griffin can play many different characters and gets into his groove playing NPCs riffing on what the others are throwing at him. Justin thrives in taking the story and adapting it to his own pace and being able to truly think through what would be the best, funniest, wildest course of action. Travis, meanwhile, wants to drive the action. This works gangbusters when he's playing impulsive characters like Magnus or Aubrey, but as DM made the amount of worldbuilding, number of NPCs, and general early DM railroading seem a bit stifling.
5. They've had some recent Guest Griffins on MBMBaM, and a few years ago I went to their NYC event touring for the first TAZ graphic novel, where Justin and Travis got stuck in Cincinnati and several guests had to act out their roles (as well as NPCs) for part of the event, so for instance LMM was playing Taako, and Jean Grae and Mary Wiseman were playing other characters, etc. I can imagine (and think it'd be great) if for Ethersea they had guests on occasionally to play certain characters. Grae in particular fits in so well with their style, while bringing her own distinctive voice, that she'd be an awesome addition, and it'd help to deal with some of the criticism they've gotten about being a group of just cis-het white dudes running this podcast.
6. Hopefully we're past this now, but the boys have always been good in the past about crediting the systems they're using, including the authors of indie systems. They talked up The Quiet Year on TTAZZ in advance of this, and I'm certain it was just an oversight that led to them forgetting to cite the creator of it in that cast. This is, to me, a non-issue.

Anyway, psyched for Ethersea. Two more days!
posted by Navelgazer at 7:53 AM on May 4


PbtA's main premise is, in fact, that you shouldn't *have* narrative plans: you should start with a few things you want to find out and go from there.

I ran a MotW game for a while, inspired by Amnesty, and so for sure I was going beyond what the game itself asks for in terms of Narrative, but I'd say that, for one thing, MotW itself is pretty explicitly inspired by Buffy and shows like it, so it's not a leap to feel like an expectation of broader narrative arcs is baked in, and also it runs off of the idea of the "Doom Clock," which is the things that will happen if the players don't get involved, ranging from immediate term to long-term. Of course, the players will get involved, but this bullet-point sheet of things that will happen is still there so that the GM knows the shape of the story, no matter what the players tend to do. It's great for keeping a story in place while not directly railroading, and is one of my very favorite innovations in all of TTRPG design.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:42 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I have never seen a fandom so relentless in its airing of grievances and its eagerness to criticize the content and its creators.

You get this in fandoms with socially aware creators that want to do their best. The fans are young and hyper-aware, and they do this kind of thing because it might work. Fandoms will get fuck-all from, say, Supernatural, but if they shout at the McElroys, the McElroys might listen. It's like the saying -- the reward for doing good work is more work.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:51 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


it runs off of the idea of the "Doom Clock," which is the things that will happen if the players don't get involved, ranging from immediate term to long-term

Yes, this is a common feature (under different guises) in all the PbtA games, as best I know. What I'd say is that not that they are opposed to narrative arcs (rather the contrary), but that they are committed to player agency in defining the shape of those arcs. The thing I'd note about the doom clock/countdown clock/impending doom (etc depending on the game) mechanic specifically is that it's about establishing narrative forces, not narrative events: they describe what would happen in the story if it lacked protagonists. While they might come to pass, the hope is always that the heroes do intervene, not to frustrate the GM's narrative (and hence keep the world in a stable state), but rather to create the game's narrative (and hence experience the hero's/es' journey).

I guess the thing about Chekhov's gun is that it would actually be really boring if it were always fired: it may turn out to be used in a lucky game of Russian roulette that, it may be the subject of a struggle, it might become a bargaining chip in a negotiation, etc etc.

PbtA games can seem very simple because they don't have lots of mathematical resolution mechanics, but they actually have quite a lot of mechanics. It's just that these mechanics are focused on narrative, rather than (some fantastic version of) physics. Pretty much everyone is going to ignore some of those mechanics, because breaking/ignoring the rules is something that 99.9% of gaming groups do more or less often, and all that matters is that people are having fun. But (echoing that thing Robin Laws always says) one of the interesting things about RPGs is how often we substitute our idea of the game we're playing for the actual things we do when we are (or are not really) playing it. This is probably most true of very maths-heavy supposedly simulationist games, where there's a strong tendency for even the people who say they want that simulation to, in practice, ignore most of the mechanics designed to provide it, but its also apparent in systems like PbtA, where the finer distinctions of system are often elided. It really doesn't matter as long as everyone is enjoying themselves, but when "everyone" includes an audience not at the table, I think that system selection and conscious consideration of how one implements it probably gets more important.

The thing I find hardest in running these games is avoiding the instinct to call for a roll when the stakes are not high enough to warrant it. It's so easy, after a lifetime of running things like D&D and Savage Worlds, to assume that, e.g., picking a lock requires a roll to resolve, when, actually, its common for picking a lock to be a no-stakes action in the appropriate kinds of fiction, and should only require a roll where there really are stakes for success or failure. I'm great at not planning though... possibly even a little too great...
posted by howfar at 9:48 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


It’s 2021. If you type “quiet year” into a search engine the very first result links to the creator’s site where the game is available for purchase. Podcast listeners now have had many years to figure out how to use Google and most of them are reasonably proficient at doing so. Twitter remains a fucking menagerie of never-dids dedicated to forging a take hot enough to elevate them into the company of people who actually do things. Every episode of TAZ is an hour-long commercial for whatever game they happen to be playing and I am glad they will be giving Avery Adler’s work some exposure (I haven’t yet played The Quiet Year but Monsterhearts is one of my three desert island games).

Some people are salty the boys are doing D&D* again. I would personally love it if they went a little further afield but I recognize D&D is by a wide margin the most popular format with their audience and they’re trying to reposition after an arc that was overwhelmingly panned by listeners.

* If you’re from Twitter, D&D refers to Dungeons & Dragons created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. It’s 5th edition can be purchased at game stores, book stores, on Amazon or at wizards.com. I hope this is sufficiently clear for you.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:02 AM on May 4 [9 favorites]


You get this in fandoms with socially aware creators that want to do their best.

Yeah, this is it I think. The kind way of looking at it is that everyone is doing their best but everyone fucks up sometimes and the fans are there trying to help the McElroys "be better".

The unkind way of looking at it is the typical "circular firing squad" criticism of woke leftism where people are busy trying to get that sweet dopamine hit of calling out when someone else misses something.

I think it's a little of column A and a little of column B. Plus a dash of the fact that the McElroys are very good at doing improv radio dramedy but that ultimately they're just making up literally everything as they go along, including their business model and how they interact with fans and other creators. There's no checklist of "how to launch a new season of TAZ" so of course they miss stuff.
posted by GuyZero at 10:02 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


If you’re from Twitter, D&D refers to Dungeons & Dragons

If I've read the tweets correctly correct, true Twitter indie RPG fans call it "the elfgame" as they don't want to give it any more exposure.
posted by GuyZero at 10:04 AM on May 4


Which is also silly to me because I had absolutely no idea that non-D&D tabletop gaming systems EXISTED until I got into TAZ and other shows like it. And now I do, and am actively seeking local people to play them with. Just because something is popular doesn’t automatically mean it hurts the less-popular versions of the concept. D&D is a gateway to other RPGs, I don’t get the negativity.

(By the way: Rude Tales of Magic. If you like TAZ... my god.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:15 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I had to stop following the TAZ and mbmbam topics in Tumblr. I wanted to see fanart and cute stuff, and instead it was just a constant, constant barrage of vitriol. Same thing happens on Twitter. It's constant, and it's exhausting, and it starts to feel really, really personal. For instance, I learned about the whole TQY thing by seeing someone declaring on Twitter that this meant they'd never ever listen to anything thing by the McElroys again. That is the tenor of the discussion I see. And I don't even want to think about The Discourse About Travis, given just how cruel and vicious it is.

The McElroys bring so much joy to my life. They have been a frikken light during the past year for me. They care and they strive and they are hilarious. They are actively involved in working to make the world a better place, and they also recognize their limitations. And, you know, they also just make really, really good goofs and joyous silliness. I want to be able to have fun with other fans, and be excited about their upcoming projects.

I guess I'm just exhausted. And I am really, really unhappy that it feels like, for me to be able to enjoy This Thing That Is Good (But Not Perfect, Duh), I don't get to look for any community or goofs online about it.

(And, also, I'm probably going to buy The Quiet Year and try playing it, because the quick side comment they made about it in TTAZZ sounded interesting, and I was somehow capable of doing a Google search for the term and clicking on the very first link that showed up. And yes I'm feeling very salty about everything right now.)
posted by meese at 10:21 AM on May 4 [8 favorites]


D&D is a gateway to other RPGs, I don’t get the negativity.

People on Twitter actually disagree with this and I agree with most of their comments on the matter. D&D gets people and keeps people. Monopoly isn't a "gateway" into people buying German-style boardgames - being popular doesn't make something a gateway. D&D is its own ecosystem that provides absolutely no indication that there are other games out there and it actively tries to support a wide variety of TTRPG playstyles, including ones that's just not mechanically equipped to handle. IMO D&D is terrible for cosmic horror games and it's not even that good at gothic horror in spite of Ravenloft's popularity. But that doesn't stop Wizards from trying to expand D&D's player base as opposed to just publishing a second TTRPG and implicitly admitting that D&D isn't the entirety of tabletop roleplaying.
posted by GuyZero at 10:22 AM on May 4


Right, but TO ME PERSONALLY, that stance feels like basically “if you’re not cool and with it enough to have already known these other (far less well-known) things exist, you don’t belong in our club.”

As a big fan of obscure sci-fi I find it annoying when people assume “SF fan” means “Marvel and Star Wars fan” but I don’t demand other people stop liking those things, you know?
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:42 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


I fell off during Graduation, which I feel strangely a little bad about because Travis was trying for something new and really swung for the fences with it, and seemingly by the time he got a handle on how to make it work, the listenership (like myself) had moved on.

That's exactly where I was. I liked the characters, liked the setting, but I just couldn't pay attention to the mythology of it all. I got lost, and now I have like 30 episodes in my podcatcher that I'm probably never going to hear. That said, I'm super excited for Ethersea. I miss TAZ, and I'm excited to get back in.

I'm a lazy type who just wants them to do D&D games. I don't play RPGs, and I barely know the games and the rules through TAZ, which probably means that I don't really know them at all. I find it irritating to have to learn new game mechanisms at the start of each new story when all I really want is the funny stories.
posted by gladly at 10:51 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


The thing about D&D is that while I am very often annoyed by its status as the 800 lb gorilla of tabletop roleplaying games it remains the game that opened up the world of rpgs to me. Pretty much everyone who complains about it is someone for whom it was either their first system or someone who was introduced to a different game by someone whose first game was D&D.

Next year I will have spent thirty years playing tabletop roleplaying games. In addition to D&D I have played and financially supported Boot Hill, Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP), GURPS, MERP, Tales from the Floating Vagabond, Old World of Darkness, New World of Darkness, Chronicles of Darkness, Rifts, Shadowrun, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Star Wars (West End and WotC), 7th Sea, Spycraft, Bunnies & Burrows, Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game, The One Ring, Call of Cthulhu, Champions, Fading Suns, Spirit of the Century, Adventure!, Aberrant, Monsterhearts, Masks: A New Generation, Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, World Wide Wrestling, City of Mists, The Dresden Files, Godlike, several of the Fantasy Flight Warhammer 40k games, Fiasco, The Shab-al-Hari Roach, and probably a dozen other titles I can’t remember. I’ve poured I don’t know and hate to guess how many thousands of dollars into non-D&D products and I likely never would have spent a dime of it if D&D hadn’t drawn me into the game store.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:53 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


How can you have started in '92 AND played Boot Hill? Are you one of those people who was born 35 years old?

(I kid!)
posted by GuyZero at 10:55 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


The Discourse About Travis

Yeah, watching ableist bullying being passed off as resistance to oppression is just... fucking disgusting.
posted by howfar at 10:58 AM on May 4


The 3rd edition of Boot Hill was published in 1990. I played it in ‘95, I think. My character could outdraw damn near anyone but my accuracy was terrible; I only lasted a couple sessions but by that point the FLGS had my money.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:02 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Ah the 90's when Wizards were still pursuing the strategy of reprinting old TSR stuff and trying to make non-D&D games work. Too bad it didn't work. But I did not realize that Boot Hill had also had an updated edition! I thought it was just Gamma World.
posted by GuyZero at 11:04 AM on May 4


The Discourse About Travis

I'm twitter-averse enough to not even know what this is referring to, necessarily, aside from hating Graduation to the point where the entirety of the section on it on the TAZ wikipedia page is about how much people hated it. Feels like something I should be aware of, McElroy-fanboi that I am, but I don't want to dive into toxic nonsense to join a conversation likely 12 generations past whatever spawned it.

As for D&D being a Gateway Game, I think it absolutely is. I'm friends with a lot of gamers, who do a lot of different RPGs (and I've played in/run a lot of them myself) including a friend who does his own actual-play podcast about one-shot indie RPGs. D&D is still in the mix for all of us, and the thing that originally brought us to the table. I know that a lot of folks will never go deeper than D&D, but those who do more likely than not still took that route.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:06 AM on May 4


My only contribution to evaluating the different game systems they use is...

I would kill for them to do a run of Vampire: the Masquerade. I mean, can you just imagine?
posted by meese at 11:07 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


While I am immediately delighted imagining what they could do with Vampire: The Masquerade I also think it has enough problematic elements that the McElroys are wise not to attempt it.

I have a weekly Thursday night Vampire (20th Anniversary Edition) game I’ve been running since 2016 (it started two weeks before the election and I thought it would make a nice bookend to end it two weeks after the 2020 election but it turns out there were still a lot of loose ends to wrap up so here we are). Even with a group of very thoughtful and progressive players it’s been a bit of a minefield and we DON’T have an audience looking for us to fuck up.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:19 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I would kill for them to do a run of Vampire: the Masquerade. I mean, can you just imagine?

When Balance ended they promised a scifi game and they did that Lasers & Feelings one-shot but I want a crunchy, terrible old-school scifi game. Give us our hard scifi arc!

Of course, there's a reason it won't happen.

TRAVIS: my character charges in!
GRIFFIN (GM): you die
TRAVIS: again?
posted by GuyZero at 11:31 AM on May 4


TRAVIS: my character charges in!
GRIFFIN (GM): you die
TRAVIS: again?


Didn't they do a live show where they adapted Tomb of Horrors (Gary Gygax, 1975) knowing this was precisely what was going to happen?
posted by Navelgazer at 11:34 AM on May 4


If they want a sci for game that won’t be derailed by Travis rushing to his death, Paranoia (one of the many games I forgot in my list above) is always an option.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:37 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


Nope. Paranoia EXPECTS the player to rush in to their death!
posted by Navelgazer at 11:49 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


Didn't they do a live show where they adapted Tomb of Horrors (Gary Gygax, 1975) knowing this was precisely what was going to happen?

Yep!

And one of the greatest unanswered mysteries is: what would've happened, if they'd just gone fishing in the little fishing minigame?
posted by meese at 11:58 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


Re: Elementary versus Ethersea in the TAZ E spot: I think what they're trying to do is make sure that they have an E that is is publicly available, versus paid-for bonus content. Which means we'll perhaps be seeing an entry under F after Ethersea is done?
posted by snerson at 12:11 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I just came across a couple of mentions of Paranoia and my day is fucking complete, thanks world (and you specific MeFites).

I was introduced to Paranoia in the late 80s, we'd been the most earnest little group of DnD players for a while, then our GM started trying us out on Twilight: 2000 and a couple of others. Paranoia made my young brain snap, we'd gone from these campaigns where, you know, you identify with your dude and work with your fellow players.. to Paranoia, where it's like the thin curtain of civility and sanity is brutally ripped aside to show you the dark (and often hilarious) truths of the world. Man, to be a kid in the room again.
posted by elkevelvet at 1:06 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]


I fell off during Graduation, which I feel strangely a little bad about because Travis was trying for something new and really swung for the fences with it, and seemingly by the time he got a handle on how to make it work, the listenership (like myself) had moved on.

I think it was a bad year for a bunch of types of podcasts. I have a folders and folders of podcasts... other RP pods, 99PI, a bunch of other nearly appointment listening things, some other really thought provoking and challenging things, and they're all just sitting there. The stuff that I've been up for are the one-shots, the frothy bullshit, the podcasts with no continuity and no stakes. Not only do I not have the time for podcasts that I used to, but, like everyone, I've been trying to keep up with the perverse and stranger than fiction continuity of reality.
posted by wotsac at 2:57 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I'm twitter-averse enough to not even know what this is referring to, necessarily, aside from hating Graduation to the point where the entirety of the section on it on the TAZ wikipedia page is about how much people hated it. Feels like something I should be aware of, McElroy-fanboi that I am, but I don't want to dive into toxic nonsense to join a conversation likely 12 generations past whatever spawned it.

Long story short, Travis supposedly has narcissistic personality disorder and painting his nails and dyeing his hair is appropriating queer culture.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:50 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


The McElroys have the worst, most negative fandom I've ever encountered and it is entirely because they listen to their fans. Their responsiveness has attracted people who make a point to assume bad faith and I'm pretty sure get off on calling them out and provoking a reaction.

I started listening to MBMBAM from the beginning and the difference in how free they used to feel is palpable. I don't mean "they could make gross jokes and the SJWs took that away", I mean they were more spontaneous and interactive with their fandom in a way they definitely aren't any more. Like, they were having FUN. Now they're in a situation where Griffin is not on Twitter any more because of their fans. They don't do Jumbotrons any more because people complained about how long it took to get one. They don't meet with fans after shows. Even if someone is famous, internet cruelty can have real effects and the McElroys are poster boys for this.
posted by schroedinger at 6:05 PM on May 4 [9 favorites]


painting his nails and dyeing his hair is appropriating queer culture

jfc
posted by schroedinger at 6:07 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]


I was introduced to Paranoia in the late 80s, we'd been the most earnest little group of DnD players for a while, then our GM started trying us out on Twilight: 2000 and a couple of others. Paranoia made my young brain snap, we'd gone from these campaigns where, you know, you identify with your dude and work with your fellow players.. to Paranoia, where it's like the thin curtain of civility and sanity is brutally ripped aside to show you the dark (and often hilarious) truths of the world.

Did we play together? Because that's...eerily like my journey.

For me, D&D was a gateway into different games. But for others it isn't - including one guy at my current table, who I thoroughly like and enjoy, but who has also made it pretty clear that he isn't interested in playing anything that isn't D&D; so I look at a game like The Quiet Year and want to try it, but know that the only way to do it is to exclude him. Which is hard.

But yeah, I think the complex answer to the question of D&D being a gateway or a blockage to further TTRPGs is that it is both; some players want to stay with it, others want to explore other systems and possibilities.

As for the McElroy's, I generally enjoy their stuff - they make me laugh. I've fallen off both Amnesty and Graduation after enjoying the starts, and I've been trying to think about why they didn't work for me; at the same time, I appreciate their willingness to keep putting themselves out there and do their thing, given the shit they take. What they do might not always work for me, but I give them credit for still going.
posted by nubs at 7:48 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


The McElroys have the worst, most negative fandom I've ever encountered and it is entirely because they listen to their fans. Their responsiveness has attracted people who make a point to assume bad faith and I'm pretty sure get off on calling them out and provoking a reaction.

I think you can draw a straight line through some of the past decade's Big Fandoms (in my neck of the woods: homestuck, steven universe, TAZ:B) and watch a core group of assholes congeal and move through fandoms as their IP comes into vogue, picking up other assholes as they go. This happens to coincide with the general congealing of internet assholery at large, but there is a viciousness particular to Big Fandoms that is... deeply unsettling to witness, let alone be the target of.

One of the youtube funnymen did a great job of setting up boundaries against his fandom. I would love to see the McElroys do something like that, but explicitly stating and enforcing that boundary would not suit their brand - between "no bummers" and "family," and the fact that the (white, USA, middle-class) definition of family is uhhhhh not good at boundaries to begin with, I don't see them really holding up against the beast. Maybe the beast will get bored and go stab at something else, but. I'm watching and wondering when the ongoing balance between the McElroy Brand and the McElroy family is going to shift for the better of the people in it. Difficult, since, well, capitalism.

...It's just hard to see it happen to good people who deserve better.

Thanks for coming to my derail, recommending the fanthropology episode of Ologies.
posted by snerson at 8:08 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]


Long story short, Travis supposedly has narcissistic personality disorder and painting his nails and dyeing his hair is appropriating queer culture.

JFC indeed. Unless I'm misremembering, he's talked openly about having narcissistic personality disorder before, like, as something he's aware of and manages. I don't even have a response for the rest of that.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:09 PM on May 4


and watch a core group of assholes congeal and move through fandoms as their IP comes into vogue, picking up other assholes as they go.

So a 21st century version of Mongols then. Or Early Empire English. etc. Tongue in cheek obviously, but surely there are parallels to be mapped.. some of us just want to grow crops and develop spaces and these fucking shits stream in, hack and slash, and leave a wasteland behind.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:15 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


I will say, I fell off Amnesty and then picked it back up a month or so before the end and really enjoyed it - binging it took care of a lot of the pacing issues people had, and by the time I caught back up I was hooked. I also fell off Graduation but binged it through what existed as of about three months ago, and similarly I really liked it. I’m definitely going to go back in and finish it now that it’s completed.

I do think the reason I didn’t feel that way about Balance (I listened weekly as soon as I discovered it, all the way through to the end) was the fact that it was more just a goof delivery mechanism for the first year and a half, before turning into a really serious narrative. And I get why people keep calling for a return to that. But I also respect the McElroys’ willingness as creators to keep pushing their own boundaries, so I can’t hate on them for trying to inject more of that narrative flow from the beginning, even if it doesn’t always work. And I’m excited to listen to the new season once it starts.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:30 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


They've also described Balance several times as "a car that learned to fly." The magic that occurred there is probably not replicable, and I think it's smart of them not to try to force it, but rather to see what can happen with different approaches.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:06 PM on May 5




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