Bureau of Balance: The Dark Lord

Art by Hari Connor

Twogether Studios is currently developing The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance — a collaborative storytelling card game set in the world of The Adventure Zone’s Balance Arc. In working with the McElroy Family and developing the basic ideas for Bureau of Balance, we agreed that we wanted the game to be accessible and engaging both to established fans of The Adventure Zone and to people who know nothing about it. The Adventure Zone broke down barriers to RPGs and ultimately is about a group of friends creating a funny fantasy adventure together, and that’s our goal with the game: you should be able to bring together any group of friends and create your own unique story in a little over an hour. An important part of this is expanding the world of Balance to allow for new missions – other relics, villains, and locations that your team of reclaimers must overcome.

Bureau of Balance doesn’t require a game master. Instead, you create your missions dynamically by selecting three decks of challenge cards: a Villain, a Relic, and a Location. These cards provide concrete mechanical details—the numbers you need to roll to defeat the monsters, the consequences of success or failure, and the prompts and rewards for storytelling. But these cards are broad ideas that leave enough room for you to make this your story. We wanted to share a closer look one of these mission decks: The Dark Lord. 

An early prototype game board

Bureau of Balance includes four villain decks. Each villain has to present a unique mechanical challenge, while also presenting a compelling foundation for adventure. The Dark Lord is a straightforward concept. We know there’s gerblins (“goblins” to those of you new to the Bureau) in the world; the Dark Lord is a malevolent tyrant with an army of gerblins and trolls, determined to use the power of the Relic to conquer the world. When you start off the game, players collectively need to answer a few questions about the Dark Lord. What is their name? What is their connection to the Relic? Consider two possible answers…

  • The Dark Lord is the Endless Shadow, the ghost of the demigod who forged the Relic at the dawn of time. As long as the Relic remains, the Endless Shadow will return and seek to consume the world. You must destroy the Relic once and for all! 
  • The Dark Lord is Bob, your old roommate from Fantasy College. You always said he’d never amount to anything, and it looks like he’s out to prove you wrong. If he gets that Relic, he’s going to do something very irresponsible with it. 

These two concepts show the spectrum of what’s possible within the game. Do you want your tale to be deadly serious or lighthearted? Are the gerblin minions of the Dark Lord innocents corrupted by the Endless Shadow, or are they just the loser buddies of the Dark Lord Bob? 

When you face the Dark Lord, the challenges are primarily physical. Initially you’ll have to deal with gerblin spies and scouts, along with human toadies and wraiths. You could just fight your way through these hosts, but you could outwit the gerblins or even try to stir up a revolt amongst the minions. As you progress through the deck you’ll encounter more powerful challenges, and Griffin McElroy helped us come up with ideas: If there’s gerblins, there should be hob-gerblins; if there’s a Big Troll, there should also be an Even Bigger Troll. One of the unique aspects of the Dark Lord is the idea of reinforcement—that while the gerblin hordes of the Dark Lord aren’t particularly tough, they are endless; certain challenges can call back defeated gerblins to fight you once again. 

In developing the image of the Dark Lord, artist Hari Connor worked with the idea of an imposing, armored figure that still maintains a sense of mystery.  What lies beneath the Dark Lord’s armor? In the final image you can see tusks—is the Dark Lord some sort of uber-gerblin, or are these just decoration? We wanted the sense that the Dark Lord is commanding an army, and the flavor of The Adventure Zone is carried through by the slogans on the banners of the army (Career Opportunities! Join the Forces of Evil!). 

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a collaborative storytelling card game for 2-5 people. A single session takes 60-90 minutes to play, and the dynamic design provides over a hundred hours of possible adventures. Preorder now through January 25th (ships August 2020).  Each preordered game includes an exclusive Reclaimer Rewards expansion. Find out more at :  theadventurezonegame.com! If you’d like to see it in action, check out this episode of AFK!