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!