‘The Adventure Zone’: One ‘D&D’ Podcast to Rule Them All

Artwork by Leon Rozelaar.
Artwork by Justin Gray.

Back in high school, I loved playing Dungeons & Dragons with my best friends in my parents’ basement. But many years later, as a busy dad, I just don’t have the time or the opportunity to play late night rounds of D&D with my pals anymore. Then it came to me; maybe there was a D&D gaming podcast I could listen to and live through vicariously.

By luck, Glen Weldon, a roundtable regular of NPR’s excellent Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, recently recommended The Adventure Zone during one of their weekly What’s Making Us Happy segments. “This is the funniest D&D playin’ podcast out there,” said Mr. Weldon. “There are lots of them. This is the best one.” Had my prayers been answered? Indeed they had.

A spinoff of the hilarious My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast from the Maximum Fun network, The Adventure Zone features three brothers–Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy–playing Dungeons & Dragons with their dad, Clint. Griffin serves as Dungeon Master, while Justin takes on the role of Taako, an elf wizard, Travis plays a human fighter named Magnus Burnsides, and their dad plays a dwarf cleric named Merle. In the first few episodes, Griffin kicks off the campaign using a D&D 5th Edition Starter Set adventure called The Lost Mines of Phandelver. But once that quest is relatively completed, the DM goes off-book, creating custom scenarios for the podcast that branch into sci-fi and even a murder mystery on a train.

Thankfully, listeners aren’t bombarded with hardcore D&D rules in The Adventure Zone. The McElroys always play for fun and laughs. Between occasional battles and puzzles, there are many gut-busting exchanges amongst the players and non-player characters. One discussion involving the adventurers and a disgruntled bugbear named Klarg had me bowled over in tears.

Adding to the fun, The Adventure Zone integrates audience participation into the show. A few NPCs have been named after fans who have tweeted using the hashtag, #thezonecast. They also take email suggestions for magical items the players can purchase between quests at a “Fantasy Costco,” and you can check out tons of fan art on their website.

Two factors make The Adventure Zone stand out above the rest. First, it is just so, so funny. Justin, Travis, and Griffin are experienced, professional comics and they know how to produce a podcast. There’s never a dull moment and they make listening to four guys playing an RPG giddy fun. The other factor is the involvement of their dad, Clint. Despite no prior experience playing D&D, Mr. McElroy jumps in feet-first, ready for action. The three brothers must occasionally steer their father through the inner workings of gameplay, adding a charming dynamic to the whole experience.

As the opening disclaimer states for the My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast, The Adventure Zone is NOT FOR KIDS. The expletives fly freely and frequently with some R-rated humor now and then. Currently, there are 13 episodes available for streaming or download. (For best results, be sure to start with Episode 1.) Whether you’re a 10th level gnome ranger or completely new to fantasy roleplaying, put The Adventure Zone on your required listening list.

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Tim McCanna is a children’s author and musician in Mountain View, CA. His picture books include Teeny Tiny Trucks and the sci-fi bedtime book, Bitty Bot!, coming in 2016. He has also produced music and narration for award-winning story apps, picture book trailers, and the opening theme song for the Brain Burps About Books kid lit podcast. Tim serves as Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators San Francisco/South chapter and he’s geekifying his two impressionable children one dice roll at a time.