What Does It Mean: The Adventure Zone

Exploring nuanced phrases that keep me up at night.

Oh how innocent those early days were for our heroes (author photo of the TAZ graphic novel)

“I’ve got an exercise for you. Let’s pretend we’re two strangers waxing poetic about life. Without going into details about your personal experience, what would you consider to be the four main priorities one should have in life?”

“Ok…ok. I think family. And friends. Friends and family in the same category. Then…health. Not just physical but, like, mentally? Like, mental wellbeing. Then…creativity. Being able to create something; whatever you want, but more like having something to do? I guess? Does that make sense?”

“Great. And the last thing?”

“Love. But not romantic. What I mean is love for everyone, platonic, familial, etc. The ability — no, not ability, but just being able to love and be loved.”

“So, in short: a capacity for love.”

“Yeah… Oh, wow. That reminds me. Remember that D&D podcast I was telling you about?”

And that was the first time I cried in therapy as I quoted The Adventure Zone.

*INCREDIBLE SPOILER ALERT*

“Our capacity for love increases with each person we cross paths with throughout our lives, and with each moment we spend with those people. But too often we neglect that part of ourselves in favor of others. And by the time we realize just how important it is, we find ourselves with fewer folks around to practice with.”

For those of us who’ve listened to The Adventure Zone: Balance in its entirety, we know what this moment means. To the tune of “Salut d‘Amour,” we know that NPCs Lup and Barry Bluejeans will perform a duet that channels fifty years of romance into a single piece of music.

Up until this point in the story we’ve seen heroes Magnus, Taako, and Merle struggle, laugh, sometimes maim, and overcome several obstacles for the good of their world only to be crushed by the revelation that: They already knew each other. They were explorers from a different world, and the calamity they’re trying to avoid was brought on in part thanks to them. Whatever follows Lup and Barry’s duet is tragically inevitable.

Yet while both tender and bittersweet, I keep going over this moment in my head, particularly the first part of Griffin McElroy’s, your dungeon master and best friend, narration: “Our capacity for love increases with each person we cross paths with throughout our lives.”

And I believe what hit me the moment I broke down in my therapist’s office while reciting — and simultaneously translating into Spanish — this phrase was that Griffin never goes into specifics about which kinds of people are the ones that make our love grow.

He doesn’t say “each person that loves us back,” or “each person who shows us kindness.” By deliberately stating that it is with every single person we’ve ever met and will meet throughout our lives, Griffin makes a broad statement about the role we play in the world through the simple act of love.

I was overwhelmed by the idea that our capacity for love can still grow from the people who abused that love and hurt us, because it’s not about loving them despite what they did and thus blindly forgiving them (Merle gives John a second chance, that doesn’t change the fact he told him to fuck off once before,) but rather it’s about us. Me. You. Individually.

It’s nice to be liked and loved, but to love and be in love? To experience such strong feelings for someone, whether they appreciate it or not? Whether they know it or not? It’s a beautiful thing to possess, a pure feeling of joy for another person; loving doesn’t rely on reciprocity to be felt, rather it’s yours to do with as you please.

By this point in the story, the seven members of the I.P.R.E. have suffered so much loss, undergone so much devastation, what with the literal embodiment of existential despair chasing after them, consuming all and becoming a collective entity that shares nothing, loves nothing.

Dissatisfaction is selfish. Love saves these characters: it’s love that pushes Magnus to rush in and makes him tough against the big hits. It’s love that makes Taako suddenly shoot out of his body, into the ethereal plane and almost certain death for the sake of his friend. It’s love that helps Merle find joy in a simple game of chess against John, a tiny bit of happiness that turns the tides against the Hunger.

None of these acts of love are rewarded — the Tres Horny Boys never feel the need to collect a debt or demand compensation. Instead, these moments are performed for the sole satisfaction of the person carrying them out. It’s familial love that informs Lucretia’s actions and helps her remain firm in her decision at the cost of unbearable loneliness.

Even instances of romantic love belong to them: the people in love. Without drawing attention to themselves, every character in love performs this act silently, to themselves to feel themselves in love, to happily care for another without prying eyes or outside interference. It’s love that keeps Barry sane for over a decade, a love that went missing and seemingly forgotten but never lost.

It’s a powerful thing to realize: that my love has remained untouched by those who’ve hurt me. My bullies, my abusers, toxic friendships that slowly chip away at your self-esteem, almost inhumanly cruel people who punch down and steal what remaining faith in humanity you might have, none of them have managed to stifle the nearly unbearable joy contained in my heart, from my love of life, and love of my friends and family to the love of a D&D podcast I listened to so hard I cried.

Mika is a Mexican writer and translator, pretender, pet-lover, and a mess at 1 in the morning. Follow her on Twitter @frequencymika.

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Mika AM

Writer, daydreamer, procrastinator. Always late to the party but loves platypus(es)