tl;dr The finale for the Amnesty arc holds few surprises but cinematic storytelling and great characterization raise this episode above the average. It all feels like a lot of work for the end of a mini-arc, though.
Title: Episode 5
Podcast: The Adventure Zone
Game-master: Griffin McElroy
Justin McElroy as Duck Newton
Travis McElroy as Aubrey “Lady Flame” Little
Clint McElroy as Ned Chicane
Game engine: Monster of the Week
If you’re looking for a twist ending to this Amnesty campaign, you’re in for some disappointment. While there are a few plot surprises, they’re not material. What is surprising, however, is the amount of time and finesse that has gone into this mini-arc.
The Adventure Zone is a podcast that runs on heart, and the Amnesty campaign has been no exception. The fan community, still working through the end of the Balance arc and their farewell to the beloved Tres Horny Boys party, has been eager to pick up on the Amnesty story. It’s got a lot going for it: compelling PC characters, a complicated backstory, lovably complex NPCs, and a light enough game system that it doesn’t get in the way of the story-telling.
But now we’re at the end of the arc, and it all feels like it’s prematurely over. After all, the party didn’t even meet each other until episode 3. The plan the party put together in episode 4 comes off as expected. In a cave, they trap the Abomination (or “Bom Bom” as Travis calls it) that has leaked into our world through a supernatural gate. With some magic fireballs and melee attacks they defeat the monster and save the town of Kepler, WV.
The good part of the story, though, is in flashbacks and denouement. In the middle of the action, Griffin takes each PC in turn through a flashback to their earlier life. Ned Chicane sees himself on a screwed-up heist from his criminal days. Lady Flame has a heart-to-heart with Bigfoot in the cave earlier in the day. And Duck Newton confronts his highly annoying sword, Beacon, in Ned’s museum earlier that morning.
Beacon is probably the high point of this episode. The sword that destiny has bestowed on Duck is smarmy, superior, and talkative. It’s also weird-looking and complicated. Justin voices Beacon, which is kind of unusual for an NPC in real-play, but Justin does such a terrific job with it that it’s hard to worry too much about the game-play ramifications. Beacon is almost unbearable to listen to, which gives the audience empathy on a gut level with Duck’s refusal to take up his destiny. Listen to this sword all day long? Forget it.
The fight ends right at the commercial break, and we get a whole half-episode of wrap-up. Aubrey gets a sweet letter from Mama, asking her to remain at the Amnesty Lodge with the Pine Guard and defend the world. Duck is visited by his guiding spirit, Minerva, who we see across time and space as a warrior much like him. And Ned and Kirby see their work on Bigfoot recognized by the world, attracting visitors to Kepler and the Cryptonomica.
The big question of this episode is why go to all this trouble with the characters? Why the fancy narrative footwork? There’s a temptation to believe that the Amnesty arc will be back in longer form — Griffin says during the commercial break that “we’ve learned a lot about what we want to do for the next full season.” And it’s clear that fans are picking up what the McElroys are laying down — if I see another Pine Guard patch fan art in my feeds, I’m gonna plotz.
But I’m also wondering if the McElroys just haven’t learned how to do a mini-arc yet. I’d contrast the team at Friends at the Table, who have been doing minor side stories as part of their show for a long time. They go deep, but they pace themselves for the short time period they’re working with.
As usual, a flawless audio experience. Great background audio — I was struck by the level of detail in the atmospheric sound, like the forest full of insects in the first few seconds of Ned’s opening scene.
I know it’s asking for a lot, but having an episode that knocked down what Episode 4 set up was, well, kind of expected. And it feels weird to ding an ep because it made me care too much. But with that, and with the funky pacing for a mini-arc, I’m giving this episode 4 stars, but I predict that fans of actual-play will be seeing more of the Amnesty storyline in the future. Maybe… a lot more.