An Interview with Jenn Ellis and Keith Baker of TwoGether Studios
The Adventure Zone podcast has an enduring legacy in tabletop gaming culture. Starting as a humble spin-off to a regular podcast called My Brother, My Brother and Me, it eventually spiralled into a wildly successful series in its own right. It has spanned the world of podcasts, graphic novels and is now getting its own board game adaptation. Jenn Ellis and Keith Baker of TwoGether Studios have been tasked with bringing the series to life in board game form. We managed to get some time from their busy schedule to ask them some questions about the upcoming title.
TechRaptor: So is The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance a co-operative game or a competitive game?
Keith Baker: It's entirely cooperative. As players, you're a team of reclaimers working together to recover a relic from a nefarious villain.
TechRaptor: The podcast is very much focused on the storytelling aspects of D&D, how does storytelling actually tie into the mechanics of the new game?
Keith: Bureau of Balance has concrete mechanics. You don't have to tell stories to play the game, and you're never judged on the quality of your stories. However, the game is designed to provide a foundation for a group of friends to create an entertaining story. Mechanically, many cards have prompts that offer a concrete bonus if you answer a particular question. When you're facing a Gerblin Garrison you can receive a +1 to your roll is you describe something that's especially interesting about this particular group of gerblins (They've started a punk band! They're all purple, for some reason! They're really excited about redecorating the garrison!). When you find a healing potion, you can restore an extra point of health if you give a detailed review of the potion (It's mainly vanilla, with hints of chocolate, cherries, and despair).
TechRaptor: Does the game feature on moments taken directly from the Adventure Zone's Bureau of Balance arc?
Keith: The game is about telling your own stories within the world of the Balance Arc as opposed to replicating the events of the arc itself; you're another team of reclaimers working for the Bureau. So you'll see familiar faces and items—you may get help from Angus McDonald or Killian, and if you're lucky you could get ahold of the Raging Flaming Poisoning Sword of Doom—but you're creating your own adventures.
TechRaptor: Did the McElroy family have much influence on the design of the game?
Keith: We presented the family with a number of basic ideas for the structure of the game, and we've had a lot of discussions about the direction and content. The McElroys also helped brainstorm content for the cards, and there's a number of cards and flavor text that come directly from them.
TechRaptor: Do you think that a love of tabletop RPGs like D&D is necessary to enjoy The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance?
Keith: We feel that part of what The Adventure Zone is about is breaking down barriers to roleplaying games. Many people are interested in the idea of playing an RPG, but don't have the time or don't have a gamemaster. Anyone can enjoy The Adventure Zone, even if they've never played D&D; the same is true of Bureau of Balance! It certainly helps if you've heard the show or if you'd at least LIKE to play an RPG, but it's not required.
TechRaptor: What do you think is the most important thing for players to bear in mind about the TAZ game?
Jenn: Most importantly, It's a game about creating a collaborative story with your friends. It strikes a balance between being in the world of the adventure zone you might be familiar with, with room for you to expand the world and play with people not as familiar. It's a game that gives you just enough mechanics, rules, and dice rolls to help create the framework, drama, and tension of a collaborative story- but tries not to get too much in the way of it. I guess that's like three things? That's our three, one thing that's important ;)
TechRaptor: How did this collaboration with The Adventure Zone come about?
Jenn: We were lucky enough to have met Travis McElroy on JoCo Cruise a few years back and were pleased a punch to learn that he liked our game Illimat. Over the years we've been to MbMbaM and Adventure Zone live shows and were just blown away by the fans and the energy between them live. We reached out with McElroy Trolls Energy and asked if they would be interested in making a game with us.
TechRaptor: Did you listen to the show a lot while designing the game?
Jenn: Absolutely, listened to and read transcripts numerous times. Shout out to all the fans who transcribe and maintain those fan wikis!
TechRaptor: Did the art of the graphic novels or podcast covers influence the art of the game in any way?
Jenn: One thing very unique about The Adventure Zone is how The McElroys have embraced different visual interpretations of the audio podcast from fan art to Carey Pietsch's work in the graphic novels. I completely fell in love with Hari Conner's illustrations and to me, they bring humor and sensitivity to fantasy illustration that was a perfect fit for this project. It's also great that Hari is an Adventure Zone mega-fan and they are amazing to work with.
The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is available for pre-order right now over at TwoGether's website, and will be available until January 24th so get in quick!. The game is also expected to have a retail release at some point in August 2020! Thanks to Jenn and Keith for taking the time to answer our questions about their game.