The Adventure Zone: Graduation Ep. 1 “Orientation”
The Adventure Zone: Graduation, promises to deliver an adventure set in Heironymous Wiggenstaff’s School for Heroism and Villainy, a school where students are trained in the art of being heroes, villains, sidekicks, or henchpeople. Travis McElroy is heading up this campaign as the DM, and I absolutely can’t wait to see where he’s going to take us.
Travis mentions spending six or seven months planning this campaign before it got started this morning, and all that preparation shows. Even just from the amount of detail in the animated trailer that dropped almost two weeks ago, I could tell this was going to be another wild McElroy ride.
Their regular antics start as soon as the introduction is over when Griffin, the family’s long-time DM, takes the opportunity to make fun of the nonsense his dad and brothers have been putting him through since 2014: “Hold on, I have to talk about Supernatural for ten minutes. Do you want to start playing, or should we — I’m going to start eating granola bars really close to the microphone.”
I would expect nothing less, and I wasn’t even a little disappointed.
Character introductions also live up to the standard McElroy hype:
Griffin is playing an upper-crust half-elf named Sir Fitzroy Maplecourt (Knight in Absentia from the Realm of Good Castle), who thinks he’s been put in the Sidekick and Henchperson program by mistake since his Clyde Nite’s Night Knight School credits haven’t transferred yet. I had Fitzroy pegged as a sorcerer, but it turns out he’s actually, according to Griffin, a magic barbarian.
Clint is playing a blue-green water genasi with blue hair and a handlebar mustache named Argonaut “Argo” Keene, who is so quintessentially Clint I don’t know what to do with myself. He’s a swashbuckler rogue, and I can’t wait to see him play something that’s the opposite of Merle Highchurch.
Justin is playing a blue-gray, dirty firbolg without a name (since firbolgs don’t need names) that Fitzroy and Argo immediately nickname Bud, or Buddy, who wins the award for making me cry for the first time this season. He is, of course, a druid.
Over the course of the two-hour episode, Travis repeatedly pokes fun at the most famous magical school and J.K. Rowling. He starts with Gary the talking gargoyle making an announcement about not just going to the bathroom anywhere you want: “No matter what anyone tells you, we do not urinate or defecate directly on the floor. This is a lie that older students tell first-years. It does not magically disappear, it just magically sits there and magically grosses everyone out.” The headmaster later mentions the bathroom issue as well, and when they receive a tour, they all rip into the idea of moving staircases in a school.
The NPCs, all voiced by Travis, are a delight and complement the extensive worldbuilding that Travis has done during the leadup to The Adventure Zone: Graduation. More than once during the episode, there’s a conversation between two or more NPCs, but I never got confused about who was speaking; it was easier for me to picture different people talking to each other than it was for me to remember Travis was talking to himself. Each character felt like a real person with a real backstory, not like a throwaway character designed to move along the plot.
Every question asked of him earns a quick, detailed answer complete with directions to the location. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear he had created a map of the grounds and surrounding towns and had it up for reference during the game, his answers are just that detailed.
The school feels almost like a character in and of itself. Even if the stairs don’t move around, the orientation room, the training room with the talking skeletons (who refuse Fitzroy’s offer to free them), the stable with the ordinary and magical creatures, and the (spooky and forbidden) Unknown Forest are all detailed enough that hearing the characters move around was almost like watching a movie.
The underlying idea of the campaign, that heroes and villains are hired by towns, and the wars they rage help raise the profile of the town, which boosts the local economy, is just brilliant. Travis describes this as “Looney Tunes esque” with little to do with the morality of the heroes and the villains. Really, it’s all about the presentation and how showy they can be during battles. The Hero Oversight Guild keeps heroes and villains in line, and once a hero or villain breaks too many of the Guild’s rules, they’re branded as Evil and no longer allowed to work for the Guild. This is why there are apparently so many Evil professors at the school; it’s their best way to make money once they aren’t allowed to be an official hero or villain.
This led to my favorite moment of the episode, even though it was out of character. The moment Travis finishes explaining the hero/villain situation, Griffin gives him an immediate and heartfelt, “That’s a cool idea, Trav!” One of the big draws of The Adventure Zone: Graduation, for me, is the genuine interactions between the brothers and their dad. Their relationships seem so chill and real, and it just adds to the enjoyment of an already interesting storyline.
Although most of the first episode, appropriately titled “Orientation”, is just setting up the setting for the rest of the campaign, it’s a wonderfully entertaining episode that leaves me wanting more. What happened with Fitzroy at Clyde Nite’s Night Knight School? What happened to Buddy’s family? Why did Argo decide to stop swashbuckling and become a sidekick? And what, exactly, is the smiling monster?
Did I laugh? Yes. Did I cry a little bit in the middle? Also yes, but in a good way. Am I excited to see what else Travis has planned for us? Absolutely.
In the words of Argo: “God, this is gonna be a great semester.”
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