The Adventure Zone: Balance Arc || A Thank You / by Caleb Sawyer

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Hey y’all. SPOILER ALERT. For real, if you haven't finished the first arc...probably don't read on. Or go ahead, you do you.

I remember where I was the first time I listened. I was working a closing shift at Starbucks. I had been put on dishes and I had discovered that, if you do it right, you can tuck your headphones down your shirt, into your pocket, and listen to podcasts while you washed dishes. I remember standing with my left earbud in, washing pitchers and tongs, hating where I was in life. But here, three sons and their father embarked on a goofy, stupid quest. And for a moment, I forgot about where I was.

I remember a wizard with a ridiculous quest to discover the food of his namesake. A delight unknown to the world he lived in, but one that he would hunt down nonetheless. He and his companions, a devout dwarf and a strong-headed human, venturing out in search of the last job they will ever need to take.

I remember their first battle. The Gerblin shattered, the Gerblin split, and the Gerblin axed from afar. Without practice, the three adventurers had bested their first trial with “aplomb.” There was a use of the word “horny” after that first fight. If only they had known how that would define them as a group.

I remember the when Sildar Hallwinter unceremoniously became Barry Bluejeans. In fact, that chuckle kinda got me in trouble at work. I remember Phandalin turning to glass in a furious flame and realizing, “Oh shit…this show is gonna be interesting.” I remember the introduction of the Bureau of Balance and the curious white noise.

I remember so many things from the Adventure Zone. The McElroy’s created something that reminded me what it was like when my imagination turned my back yard into Crystal Kingdoms and Wonderlands. I carried their stories with me everywhere. I listened to the first chapter of Petals to the Metal the day before I got married. I listened to the second chapter of The Eleventh Hour the same morning I found out my wife was pregnant. I listened to the first part of Lunar Interlude V holding my sleeping, four-day old daughter in my arms.

I listened to the final episode of “The Balance Arc” on the day it came out. The entire episode was punctuated by my tears. In fact, the entire three-part finale did this to me. The same podcast where things like “Abraca-FUCK YOU!” were shouted, completely controlled my emotions in its finale. Griffin’s outro about the Day of Story and Sound filled me with a joy that can only really be rivaled by a couple things (I mentioned them earlier actually). Taako fucking learned to make those tacos and I laughed myself into tears. When Magnus saw his Julia again, I was sitting in the dark, in my living room. My Xbox One dim in the background, I shuddered and trembled with sobs that I haven’t really experienced before. I know this all sounds cheesy, so let me qualify it all a bit.

I have struggled with depression heavily in the last five years. It has made friendships, family, love, happiness, literally everything in my life, more difficult. But The Adventure Zone, for the last three years, has been a constant that has provided a profound sense of joy and belonging that I very nearly forgot how to feel. And it was sneaky about it. If you would have told me then, that I would have felt the range of emotions I have at the actions of three brothers and their dad playing D&D, I most certainly would have laughed into your mouth.

But I would have been wrong.

Having listened to the end of Merle, Magnus, and Taako’s stories, there was a something about the end of each of their stories that felt…more than true, to me. If that makes any sense. Jeffandrew meeting the Tres Horny Boys and congratulating them, thanking them, felt like Griffin, speaking directly to his family. He says through Jeffandrew that he created all the rules that governed their world. He explains that he can’t control the worlds that he makes, he just makes them. “Whenever we make a world, we’re guessing, mostly.” He says. “We’re putting some English on a ball that will roll and roll for eons (three years) and we hope that it will land somewhere good.” Griffin did just that didn’t he?

Taako’s success speaks to obtaining something that doesn’t exist. Reaching the unreachable. And Justin’s biting humor is befitting an older brother, fucking with everyone because, well…he can. He’s fucking Taako. Clint’s Merle Highchurch, a father seeking to atone and spend as much time with his children as he possibly can, creates a school to train the next generation of adventurers. How appropriate that this whole story of adventurers was created by Clint and his children. When Griffin, as Mavis, asks Merle if he knows he’s Mookie’s hero, it felt like a son thanking his father. Travis, explaining to Griffin how Magnus found a reason to live, instead of dying in a blaze of glory, hit me like a sack of bricks. And when he sees Julia, and tells her that he tried to make her proud…like I said, there isn’t anything that can explain the full extent that The Adventure Zone moved me.

I write all of this so that I can say that I at least tried to explain those feelings, and so I can say thank you. Thank you, Griffin, for dedicating so much of your time to this story and creating something truly special. Thank you, Travis, for teaching me the importance of finding a reason to live, rather than looking for ways out. Thank you, Justin, for teaching me to laugh even in the face of the insurmountable. And Clint, thank you for training this group of adventurers so they could tell us this story, and thank you for living it with them, just like Merle would, with his kids at his side.

I know there is only the slightest chance any of you will read this, and I am ok with that. I’m just glad that I could write about it. I can’t wait to see what you guys do next. I can’t wait to see you in Chicago in November (best believe you good, good boys are getting a hug if I run into you).

I am, we all are, so grateful for you guys. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I will always remember.

~Caleb
@LubWub