Podcasts about people playing Dungeons & Dragons have become more popular over the years, but few took off in the way that The Adventure Zone did. The tabletop podcast starring the McElroys—brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin, plus their father, Clint—quickly became a success, thanks to their comedy background and Griffin’s storytelling as the Dungeon Master. For fans of the distinctive flavor of humor, it’s easy to see why the first campaign, dubbed Balance, has been slowly adapted into graphic novels (and soon, an animated series for Peacock).
This new volume of the graphic novel adaptation covers Balance’s longest and most important arc, “Crystal Kingdom.” The adventuring trio nicknamed Tres Horny Boys—made up of fighter Magnus Burnsides (voiced by Travis), cleric Merle Highchurch (Clint), and wizard Taako (Justin)—are sent by their employers at the Bureau Of Balance to recover the Philosopher’s Stone, yet another world-threatening relic, from the Bureau’s top scientist, Lucas Miller.
All of the big plot beats and character moments from the podcast are here, but some have been heavily altered. It’s done for the sake of expediency, and mostly for the better: One notable fight towards the end of the arc gets wrapped up before it can really begin, and another is presented as a hypothetical by Taako—clever as a fourth-wall gag, and it just manages to avoid being too meta. The same can’t be said of Taako’s relationship with the Reaper Kravitz, because the book has them fall for each other almost immediately. Likely done with the best of intentions to avoid concerns of queerbaiting, it unfortunately takes away from the tension of their eventual relationship, as happened in the podcast proper. Additionally, a hilarious moment from the podcast (where Merle calls up his deity Pan and builds their relationship for the future) is sadly omitted, as is the incredibly goofy way Magnus resolves the team’s dilemma.
Still, nothing tweaked or taken out is ultimately a deal breaker, and that’s largely owing to how charming the book continues to be. The dynamic between the McElroy family was always the podcast’s greatest strength, as they grew into their characters with each episode. Clint captures that energy perfectly in his writing, even if he’s sanded off some of the edges to make their comic incarnations less abrasive. Fans who only know this series through the books will likely come away falling hard for characters Noelle and Carey Fangbattle, largely thanks to how cute they’re drawn by artist Carey Pietsch. The art style is goofy without being over the top—except when it needs to be, such as when Kravitz reveals his human form.
Unlike earlier arcs, Crystal Kingdom isn’t self-contained, and is very much in conversation with what follows, which puts the trio and their world in a much larger (and weirder) place than how it started. And, much like what has been achieved here, these adaptations will surely continue get the broad strokes of the stories right. Still, it’s hard not to wish the books made more room for the goofier character-building moments from the podcast as well.