By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief
It’s a little strange that my favourite podcast started off as filler content for another podcast’s paternity leave. I’m not sure why brothers Travis, Griffin, and Justin McElroy decided to teach each other and their dad (Clint) how to play Dungeons & Dragons . . . but since that first foray into tabletop role-playing games in 2014, the McElroys have developed a blend of storytelling and comedy unique to their family dynamic.
Since The Adventure Zone’s 2014 debut with a simple pre-written story, the McElroys have created a high-fantasy epic campaign (TAZ: Balance), an Appalachian sci-fi arc using the Monster of the Week game system (TAZ: Amnesty), and fun one-shots playing with Lasers & Feelings and Oh Dang! Bigfoot Stole My Car With My Friend’s Birthday Present Inside. Now that the McElroys are circling back to D&D with The Adventure Zone: Graduation, which premiered October 31, it’s the perfect time to hop on the TAZ Train.
I can promise you laughs; they’re all hilarious. They’re silly, crass, witty, pun-tastic, and their repertoire of references is wild. It’s the perfect blend of fart jokes and wordplay, in this economy. But this show is about more than trying to fuck plants.
Notably, the McElroys make genuine efforts to educate themselves and make their show diverse: they consulted their trans viewers on how to best incorporate a trans character into Balance, they normalize queer romances, and they admit their own shortcomings. It’s a breath of fresh air for this queer female fantasy fan, as is seeing the McElroys actively work against the myths that political correctness and inclusivity “hurt” comedy.
What I like about TAZ is not just the stories you get to listen to, but the collaborative nature of the storytelling behind it all. The McElroys’ characters grow with and thanks to each other as the stories go on — and those stories are as wild as they are entertaining, touching, and complex.
While Griffin usually lays the infrastructure and sets the scene, his family members live through it and affect it. Sharing your created worlds, characters, and plots like this takes trust, and this mutual growth and collage takes an openness and an attunement to one another that I haven’t gotten from other D&D podcasts. Their experiences as individuals and as a family — struggling with body image, chronic anxiety, fatherhood, masculinity, and the loss of their mother — build this closeness, and translate into the harmonious and holistic incorporation of themes like loss, grief, survivor’s guilt, creation, and hope in their stories.
The McElroys both embrace the uncertainties of their game and revel in the ways they constantly surprise each other. Their pride as creators is heartwarming, and watching them take on new storytelling positions, create more and more interesting characters, explore new themes, and even delve into music production keeps me coming back for more.