Balance – Episode 1: Here There Be Gerblins: Chapter One

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Strap on your fantasy seat belts and brace your asses for.... The Adventure Zone!

—The Announcer

"Here There Be Gerblins: Chapter One," as it appears on the MaximumFun website, is the pilot episode of The Adventure Zone, from the arc which would later be named Balance.

Synopsisedit | hide all | hide | edit source

Full transcript available here.

In this, the pilot episode of The Adventure Zone, the McElroys create the characters with which they’ll build a new — and hopefully very, very lucrative — fantasy fiction franchise. Join in the campaign as Justin (Taako), Travis (Magnus) and Clint (Merle), led by Dungeon Master Griffin, take their first steps into the unknown.

We meet our Heroesedit | hide | edit source

Griffin begins by suggesting that "we use the pre-rolled dudes ... otherwise we'll be here all day". Justin is immediately concerned with the possibility of branding and asks about sponsorships.

[2:16] GRIFFIN: Basically if you and a handsome teenager fall in love --
[2:23] JUSTIN: Mhmm.
[2:23] GRIFFIN: -- and play it up, then you get, um, you'll get potions that'll help you out -- I should mention just off the bat that we are playing a Hunger Games role-playing game. And it's not an officially licensed product, but um, it's of my own division.

Griffin goes on to inquire about the group's overall experience with Dungeons and Dragons.

  • Travis is fairly experienced with D&D Fourth Edition. While he didn't have a regular game, he has played "six or seven times". Griffin isn't sure if Travis is ready for the D&D acumen that Griffin is bringing to the table.
  • Justin has played an unknown edition of D&D twice.
  • Clint claims to have never played in his entire life despite being "the biggest goddamn nerd" Griffin's ever met. He also claims to have met Gary Gygax at (presumably) a fan convention.

After riffing on LARPing, "live-action slash fiction," and Travis' dog, the players get down to business discussing their respective characters. Travis is playing a human fighter named Magnus Burnsides (whose name is Greco-Roman in nature), Justin's goddamn wizard is named Taako (it's a family name, short for Taako the Lesser) and Clint is playing a dwarven cleric named Merle Highchurch (Griffin: "See, that's a goddamn name." Travis: "I'm sorry - 'Magnus Burnsides?'"). It's here that Taako's legendary taco quest is established.

A quick plug for FX's The Quest follows as more character details are revealed.

"The Hammer"edit | hide | edit source

Magnus is a protection-style fighter, which allows him to impose disadvantage on a target attacking him or a creature nearby him.[1] As a folk hero who deposed a noble tyrant, his Rustic Hospitality endears him to the common folk.[2] The tyrant will stop at nothing to see him destroyed, but Magnus believes that no one is above the law - not even nobles. He carries a magical butter knife given to him by his Peepums.

Taako Supremeedit | hide | edit source

Taako is an elven magician. His spellbook is a tome entitled The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Elves,[3] which consists of a written record of all his life's achievements thus far. His starting cantrips include:[4]

  • Mage Hand
  • Prestidigitation
  • Ray of Frost
  • Shocking Grasp

As an elf, Taako has dark vision and resistance to being charmed. And as an acolyte of Oghma,[5] he can expect free healing and care at a shrine of Oghma. "He's an actual guy!" says Griffin, to the dismay of his family, who wonder how deep into the fantasy world Griffin is.

He Who Seeks Teensedit | hide | edit source

Merle Highchurch the hill dwarf was a mercenary soldier, who quit the job because the life was too rough for him. Presumably afterwards, he found religion in the service of Marthammor Duin (later retconned to Pan). As a cleric of nature, his specialty is healing his fellow adventurers and preserving nature forcing people to tell the truth. He has 1,999 Party Points. Despite his small stature, he has a high Armor Class and his warhammer (affectionately nicknamed Smusher) is capable of dealing a high amount of damage. His starting cantrips include:

  • Light
  • Sacred Flame
  • Thaumaturgy

Merle is a relative of the Rockseeker clan, which allows him to use his blood (or his urine) to reveal the location of Wave Echo Cave later on in the story.

After explaining some game mechanics (namely, advantage/disadvantage and inspiration) Griffin starts to get weird.

[26:46] TRAVIS: It says 'set of common clothes' at the bottom [of Magnus's inventory].
[26:48] GRIFFIN: No. Sorry. I'm taking that away from you right now. [everyone laughs] A dragon comes and bites all your clothes off. [assorted laughter]
[26:54] TRAVIS: Wait, I like where this game is going. [in a sexy voice] And then what happens?
[26:57] JUSTIN: Hello, my name is Taako and this is my dick, can I come into your town?

Griffin explains the joy of seeing the players fuck up and encourages them to be honest about their rolls. "Frankly, I think it's more entertaining when bad things do happen to you," he tells them. This ethos is promptly ignored for the rest of the podcast.

Clint wishes he had named his character Peepums. Before beginning the game proper, Griffin expresses his nervousness at DMing and asks Clint if he's alright with entering 'the demon's domain'. Everyone gets up to grab some chips, while Justin makes no-bakes that remind Clint of wintertime and hugs. As the players step into Griffin's Imag-o-sphere, the game proper begins.

Meet Me in Phandalinedit | hide | edit source

Merle, Taako, and Magnus met each other on Craigslist -- that is, a list posted by a gnome named Craig. Among the listings for elves with hungry butts and lonely tieflings who'd like to make friends, the three discovered an open listing for a three-person job posted by a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker, a cousin of Merle's. After our three heroes fought another trio for the job,[6] Gundren informed them of an exciting opportunity that he called 'the last job you'll ever need to take.' Ignoring the implications of that statement, the adventurers learned that Gundren wants them to do a little favor for him first. An audition, so to speak.[7] He asked the trio to escort a supply wagon from Neverwinter to the town of Phandalin, a little mining town about 150 miles to the south-east. Phandalin was famous for its mining industry, which produced ores used in the creation of magical items. The town was abandoned after being ransacked and destroyed by orcs, but is now in the process of being rebuilt.[8] Gundren doesn't expect the adventurers to face any trouble during the transit. Since it's a pretty simple job, he offered them a paltry reward of 10 gold pieces each. Certainly not the last job they'll ever need to take, but perhaps it'll lead to more lucrative opportunities. Gundren is leaving Neverwinter ahead of the adventurers, and he exhorted them to meet him in Phandalin with the supplies.

On the Road Againedit | hide | edit source

The story then fast-forwards to the present as our adventurers trundle on down the High Road to Phandalin. Merle is "studying his cantrips" in the back of the wagon as Magnus drives the cart. Also along for a ride is a leather chest and the ugliest dog they've ever seen. Something about the whole deal seems fishy to Merle, and the feeling isn't helped by the sight of two dead horses lying in the road. Suddenly, Magnus notices some goblins gerblins hiding in the brush! The goblins attack the cart but are swiftly murdered by the adventurers, who get one kill each.[9] After scooping up some gold from the goblin corpses, the heroes examine the horse corpses. The bodies are slightly warm -- they didn't die that long ago. More worryingly, the horses were owned by Barry Bluejeans and Gundren Rockseeker! After recovering a map owned by Gundren, the heroes notice a suspicious-looking trail leading into the brush. After covering the wagon with some brush and tree branches, the trio venture into the woods in search of their employer.

A Cave Storyedit | hide | edit source

The trail is easily followed. Gundren's a pretty big guy -- for a dwarf, that is -- and he left a pretty deep imprint in the dirt. The adventurers follow the trail to a natural cave, out of which a beautiful stream is flowing. The adventurers can see perhaps twenty feet into the cave, which means that someone will have to use some sort of light-causing magic to help Magnus, the only adventurer who doesn't have dark vision. After more quibbling than anyone would expect, Merle blesses Magnus's axe to glow with a divine light. The adventurers don't get far into the cave before they find a fork in the cave. The light from Magnus's bitchin' axe illuminates the two paths. Listening closely, the trio can hear the clank of chains and a rustling sound from the right-most path. With nary a single thought, Magnus impulsively rushes in. With even less thought, Merle yells after him, "You fool! Wait for us!" The sound bounces off the walls of the cave and echoes throughout the entire structure. A wave of startled bats pours from the cave, as Merle runs after Magnus. Taako, meanwhile, is hanging back.

The adventurers eventually reach a decent-sized cavern without furnishings or decoration. There are stalagmites all along the ground, which Griffin dubs 'bitching cones of rock.' Big metal rods emerge from the stalagmites, which are connected to chains, which are connected to wolves. The angry wolves were awoken by Merle's foolhardy shout. Ignoring the rational thoughts in his mind, Magnus calmly and confidently walks towards the rabid, angry wolves, certain that his Animal Handling skills will protect him. Somehow, he realizes this is a bad idea and backs away from the snarling canines. After returning to his fellow adventurers ("There's wolves back there", he says. "Doesn't seem to be worth it") the trio continues down the cave, which at this point is growing very dark. With his dwarven night vision, Merle notices a bridge up ahead over the three adventurers. It appears to connect two passages on the second story of the cave. Merle also notices a shadowy figure sitting on the bridge. Taako, obliviously, calls out "Hello, friend!" in Elvish to the figure, who grunts in surprise. Ignoring his fellow adventurers, Taako calls again, this time in Goblin. "Who's there?" replies the goblin. "You don't sound like anybody I know."

[1:41:27] TAAKO: We're just exploring. We've taken a wrong turn.
[1:41:32] GOBLIN: You certainly have. I would actually heartily recommend you turn around, this is not a great place for tourism. [Travis laughs]
[1:41:39] TAAKO: Where have we found ourselves?
[1:41:43] GOBLIN: Come a little bit closer. Show yourself to me!

Taako warns the goblin that he's very dangerous but doesn't want to hurt anyone. Merle mutters something about cutting goblins in half. The bridge goblin reveals that the adventurers are inside the goblin's hideout and calls for backup, calling "Guys, it's the guys from the horse thing!" The goblin pulls out a shortbow and begins raining arrows down on the trio. Merle quickly casts Shield of Faith around Magnus, protecting him from any attacks. Seeing this, the goblin decides to aim for Merle instead of the burly, magically protected fighter. The arrow strikes him in the shoulder, dealing 5 damage to the dwarven cleric. Taako retaliates with Ray of Frost, which nearly kills the bridge goblin. Immediately afterwards the sound of rushing water can be heard. Magnus wisely steps back and shoots the goblin with his own shortbow, killing him and knocking him into the water. Fearing for his life, Merle attempts to climb up the rocks but falls back into the water. Somehow, Taako succeeds where Merle failed and clambers onto the bridge.

Suddenly, a horrifying wave of water rushes down the cave and sweeps Magnus and Merle away, dealing 3 damage to both of them. A horrified Taako suddenly hears some goblins calling after the now-deceased bridge goblin. "Did we get 'em?" they ask. Thinking quickly, Taako tells them the adventurers are definitely dead, but urges them not to come into the cavern as he's 'studying his cantrips'. This disgusts the goblins enough to scare them away.

[End of Episode]

Featured NPCsedit | hide | edit source

Featured Locationsedit | hide | edit source

Animaticsedit | hide | edit source

Character Names by kc Amaryllis.

Triviaedit | hide | edit source

This episode was edited down to Balance – Episode 1.5: Here There Be Gerblins: Chapter One (Super Cut) to serve as a more condensed episode for easier listening.

Referencesedit | hide | edit source

  1. This should in theory help him defend his fellow adventurers, but for the most part he forgets that he's specialized this way and lets his adventurers take the hits. Hey, thinking isn't his strong suit.
  2. [in a terrible Southern accent] "Come on in, shooguh! Come on into the Burnside estate!"
  3. Later changed to an Uncle John's Bathroom Reader
  5. this is another thing that gets tossed out the Plot Window
  6. see the donor bonus prequel
  7. Somehow crushing the rival applicants in one-on-one combat wasn't enough for him.
  8. Griffin: It's like Deadwood, but shittier.
  9. Notably, Merle kills one goblin by hurling his handaxe into the brush. When asked whether Merle needed to wade into the brush to retrieve it, Griffin tells him not to worry about it. Thirty-three episodes later, it's an item of contention whether Merle actually has a handaxe. At that point, it seems in character for Merle to throw his weapon into the woods and forget about it, considering his lackadaisical treatment of his items.
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