TAZ: Bureau of Balance News!

Once upon a time, when a dark pandemic lay over the land and people were trapped in their towers, my company Twogether Studios released The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance—a collaborative storytelling game set in the world created by the McElroy Family. We’ve just launched a preorder for the first expansion to TAZ:BoB (it’s Kind of a Big Deal), and I’m excited about that — but given how isolated we’ve been these past two years, I also want to tell you about the game itself.

The Adventure Zone began when the McElroy Brothers decided to play a D&D campaign with their father, Clint. From humble beginnings, this Balance Arc grew into a sweeping story. In developing the game with the McElroys, we decided two things right away. The first is that this isn’t a game in which you replay the story you may already know—the Balance Arc—but rather, it’s about creating your own unique stories about all the other Reclaimers in the Bureau of Balance. Taako and Merle may show up to lend a hand, but this is YOUR story. Likewise, if what you want to do is to play D&D, there’s already a game that lets you do that (it’s called “D&D”). What we love about the Adventure Zone isn’t the rules and mechanics, it’s the story the McElroys create together. That’s what TAZ: Bureau of Balance is all about; it’s a simple game that helps you create a delightful fantasy adventure with your friends. The rules are simple and no gamemaster is required, and you can finish a session in 90 minutes. If you’re familiar with The Adventure Zone, you’ll spot some familiar faces—but people don’t have to be familiar with the podcast to enjoy the game.

The first step of the game is to create characters. It’s a simple system and you don’t have to track a lot of ability scores or specifics. What’s important is who you are, where you draw your strength from, and how you interact with your companions. The image above is one of the character sheets included in the game, as filled out by Justin McElroy. This is Justin’s character from one of the livestream games we ran when we released the game, and if you want to see how Jason and I play Bureau of Balance, check it out here!

As a team of Reclaimers working for the Bureau of Balance, you are tasked to explore dangerous locations to keep powerful relics out of the hands of nefarious villains. The game includes decks of double-sided challenge cards, and you combine decks to create a scenario. But the cards establish a framework; it’s up to you and your friends to fill in the details. In the example above, you’re venturing into the Cave to steal the Hoard from the Lich. But where is the Cave, and what have you heard about it? What is the precious Hoard? Is it gold? Rare books? NFTs? Who is the Lich, and what’s your connection with them?

Each challenge comes with a deck of cards, and to defeat the Villain or escape the Cave, you must work your way to the bottom of that deck; the doublesided cards ensure that when you face the Lich a second time, you won’t deal with exactly the same challenges. The basic mechanic is simple: declare what challenge you’ll face, determine your strength against that challenge, and roll to see if you are able to defeat it and progress deeper into the dungeon. But once again, the most important thing about the challenge is the foundation it creates for the story. Who is the Lich’s Smug Apprentice? What are they so smug about? How are you going to attempt to defeat them—will you best them in a magical duel, or will you cut them down to size with a well-placed quip? Will you go it alone, or do you need help from your friends—and if so, how will they help?

The most important thing to understand is that this isn’t complicated, and it’s not supposed to be. TAZ:BoB is a concrete foundation for collaborative storytelling and improvisation. You don’t have to make up elaborate stories—if you don’t like being in the spotlight, you can just choose your challenge and roll the die—but the game often rewards you for doing so. We believe that it’s a great game to play with friends who have never played a TTRPG before, but have always wanted to. It won’t teach you the rules of D&D—but it will show you how to create a story with your friends, and to think of your character as more than just a collection of numbers.

What’s in the Bundle?

If you already own TAZ:BoB, you may be eager to hear more about the expansion. We’re releasing two things: the Kind of a Big Deal expansion and a set of five beautiful glittering TAZ20s… or both together in a bundle, which gets you free shipping! The Big Deal expansion adds six new challenge decks to the game. Some of these will be familiar to fans of the series—you can compete with Regular Jereeeeee and other members of his Crew while you try and seize the Sash by winning the Race. But you can also sneak into the lair of the Giant, try to steal the deadly Sword, or finally beat that Crooked Can Game at the Carnival. Some of these challenges are even more chaotic that usual, while others remove the TAZ20 from the equation and require more careful planning.

Whether you’re entirely new to the podcast and game or whether you’re a seasoned Reclaimer, I hope you’ll check it out—adventures await!

My Current Projects…

Art by Júlio Azevedo

While I’m proud of Exploring Eberron, there’s a lot of Eberron left to explore and KB Presents is working on a number of different projects. We’ve already teased a project codenamed Fool’s Gold. This is something that is still in development, but over the last month I had two new ideas that have taken precedence. The first of these is Threshold, an online Eberron campaign that I’m developing and playing with my Patreon supporters. I’m excited about this, and once I had the idea I wanted to get started on it immediately. I’m still going through the Session Zero on Patreon and working out some details about the town, and I’ll be running the first adventure in November.

In addition to Threshold, I had another “Hmmm” moment—an idea that I loved and wanted to create right away. We initially called this project Skeleton, but I can tell you now that the actual name is Eberron Confidential. I’m not going to say too much about it just yet, but I’ll tell you that it’s short, it’s fun, and it’s something both players and DMs can enjoy. It’s currently in editing, and I think it will be available as a PDF on the DM’s Guild by around November 10th. While this pushed Fool’s Gold, that work isn’t lost; I have two major DM’s Guild Eberron releases planned for 2021.

Of course, Eberron is only part of my professional life! I also create games with my company Twogether Studios. After long complications due to COVID-19, we finally have our games back in stock, including Illimat and my RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. In addition, we’ve developed a collaborative storytelling game based on The Adventure Zone with the McElroy family, and we’ll be releasing it soon! You can get on the release mailing list here, or you can watch us play it with the McElroys and other friends on our Twitch channel!

If you have any questions about Threshold or The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance, post them below! As for Eberron Confidential, I’ll be sharing more details once it’s through editing!

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!