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Podcast / The Adventure Zone: Balance

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The stage is set, our heroes ready; so steel your nerves and keep them steady. And do not fear this path unknown... enter The Adventure Zone!

"The Adventure Zone Balance: the story of four idiots who played D&D so hard they made themselves cry."

Story Index

The Adventure Zone: Balance is a Dungeon Punk/Science Fantasy themed arc of The Adventure Zone podcast featuring the McElroy Brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin) playing Dungeons & Dragons with their father Clint. Griffin is the Dungeon Master while other three play.

The campaign follows a fairly typical crew of adventurers traveling Faerûn to find their fortune: the human fighter Magnus Burnsides (Travis), the high elf wizard Taako (Justin), and the dwarven cleric Merle Highchurch (Clint). After working together for some time, they're roped into a job by Merle's cousin to help him transport goods to Phandalin, but he ends up kidnapped by gerblins and taken to an abandoned mine that once belonged to his and Merle's ancestors. They find themselves in a struggle with a drow over the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet, a weapon of world-changing power, and somehow manage to defeat him between their goofs. Even more surprisingly, they are able to safely contain the Gauntlet without falling under its control. This earns them recruitment as agents of the Bureau of Balance, a secret guild formed to retrieve and destroy the Gauntlet and the six other Grand Relics to prevent them from causing more destruction, death, and war than they already have. Magnus, Taako, and Merle can only take themselves so seriously, though...

In this same continuity is the adventures of the Hogsbottom Three, a D&D campaign played by the cast of The Flophouse. Stuart Wellington is the DM, with Elliot Kalan playing Scales the Dragonborn bard, Dan McCoy playing Lucian Buttwatcher the high elf druid, and special guest Zhubin Parang playing Tanzer Silverview the human ranger.

The series also has an ongoing graphic novel adaptation. Each volume covers one arc of the podcast (with parts of the Lunar Interludes folded in where applicable). The first volume was released in July of 2018, with subsequent books coming out at a rate of one per year.

In January 2020 it was announced that the series would receive an animated adaptation on the NBC streaming service Peacock.

In November 2021, the series returned for a 3-episode miniseries called "The Zone of Adventure: Imbalance". Set ten years after Story and Song, the miniseries features Aabria Iyengar as the DM and airs on the McElroy Family YouTube channel.

Spoilers for The Stolen Century and Story and Song and related spoilers from The Suffering Game should be spoiler-tagged. Everything else is fair game. Reader beware: you're about to enter... the Spoiler Zone!

This podcast contains these tropes:

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  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The Flaming Poisoning Raging Sword of Doom is hilariously OP, to the point that in one of the live shows, Davenport manages to cleave through multiple Kraken tentacles just by holding it still while they sail past.
  • Ace Pilot: Davenport. He's spent basically his entire life preparing to be the pilot for the IPRE's mission, and come the final battle, he's once again manning the Starblaster through the Hunger's forces.
  • Action Girl: At least one major example every plot arc, with the exception of The Eleventh Hour (which is a more exploration-heavy arc). The first has Killian, a crossbow-wielding orc packing the ability to animate golems. The second has Jess, a pit fighter with an axe. The third has two: Hurley, a constabulary lieutenant with a black belt in ass-kicking, and Sloane, the apparent villain of the arc who Curb-Stomps our heroes in her first appearance. The fourth arc has Killian return with her teammate, Carey Fangbattle, a Dragonborn Rogue and sister of Jeremy "Scales" Fangbattle. The sixth has Antonia, an elven mercenary, and Lup, who manages to kill 50% of the big bad duo despite being stuck in an umbrella for the whole arc. The seventh has Lup, and Lucretia ascends to this after episode 65. Taako lampshades this when he says "There must be a competent woman who can bail us out".
  • An Adventurer Is You: Magnus, with his heavy armor and shield, acts as the Tank and consistently puts himself in the front of the formation. Merle is the Healer as well as casting defensive buffs. Taako is the DPS caster in addition to support magic.
  • Aerith and Bob: Character names include Magnus, Gundren, Yeemick, Klarg, Brian, and Barry Bluejeans. The spectrum is weighted towards Bob, since NPCs are for the most part named after real people. Lampshaded when Justin mocks Griffin for naming the party's new Halfling roommate "Robbie", and invoked when Griffin changed several of the "Aeriths" to "Bobs" during the first arc, which drew heavily from Lost Mine of Phandelver: Sildar Hallwinter became Barry Bluejeans; Big Bad Nezznar was renamed Magic Brian.
  • Affably Evil: John, the source and avatar of the Hunger, which consumes entire realities is pleasant and polite, even playing chess with Merle, and enjoying their conversations. He also kills Merle repeatedly, and his goal is to eat all of reality so he can undo the laws of the universe.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: One of Lucas's abandoned inventions is an educational toy robot named Hodge-Podge, malfunctioned during stress testing...Basically, Hodge-Podge got bored of being a children's toy, and by the time the Tres Horny Boys come across him, he's gladly using the flamethrowers he's taken control of to have some "fun."
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • At the end of The Suffering Game, Lydia dies of despair when Edward is killed; in her final moments, she drops her illusory form in favor of her true black robes, and, at a loss for words, simply screams.
    • John might be the source and avatar of the Hunger, but watching him get subsumed by it is more than a little tragic. His actual death, watching the sunset with Merle before fading away, only makes him more sympathetic.
  • Alien Sky: There seem to be two moons, though the second is soon revealed to be the Bureau of Balance headquarters in disguise. Similarly, the world that the protagonists originally came from had a purple sky with two suns.
  • All Just a Dream: Defied. In Story and Song, the boys wake up onboard the Rockport Limited following their final battle with John, and Griffin states that he hadn't realized that it would sound like he was invoking this trope until it was too late.
  • The All-Solving Hammer: Merle gets a lot of mileage out of the Zone of Truth spell throughout the series, from simple information to other character's intentions. In the Boston live show, it literally ends up saving the day, as it got Klarg to be honest about his feelings and defeat the Monster of the Week, which could only be defeated by honesty.
  • Amnesiac Protagonist Catalyst: One of the major turning points is when we learn Taako, Magnus, and Merle all have huge gaps in their memories—Kravitz has record of them each dying multiple times, there's just static where years' worth of memories should be, and Magnus discovers he's a Red Robe, but none of them have any idea what the explanation for this is. It's eventually reveled that the three of them, along with Davenport, Lucretia, Barry, and Taako's sister Lup—whom he'd also completely forgotten the existence of—are all originally from another dimension, and spent a full century being chased by the Hunger, staying in each dimension for one year before it caught up to them again. After they settled on the dimension where the main story takes place, Lucretia wound up wiping her friends' memories for what she saw as the greater good, as part of a plan to defeat the Hunger for good. Except her actions and the events of the campaign have directly led to it finding them again after ten years of successfully hiding. Mass "Oh, Crap!" ensues.
  • Anachronic Order:
    • The Live Boston Stunt Spectacular and MaxFunCon East Live shows take place sometime after The Crystal Kingdom, and before The Suffering Game, but were released to the public during the latter.
    • The Live in Austin! show takes place some time after The Eleventh Hour, given references to the Chance Lance. Though it could possibly take place after Story and Song, which would explain how the mind flayer who kidnapped them would know who they were, since their story was broadcast to everyone in the planar system.
  • Anachronism Stew
    • A story about magic, swords, and dwarves wielding giant hammers includes elevators, Epcot-style buildings on the Moon, elevators, train stations, elevators, space stations, automobile-like "battle wagons," and industrial mining equipment. At least some of this is justified in-universe by the influence of the Miller family, who had looked into the Plane of Thought where advanced technology is commonplace.
    • As the nature of the podcasting style, it is often difficult to separate the pop culture references made in-game and made out of character.
    • An entire town is populated by animatronic Tom Bodetts, who all have a friendly, open attitude.
    • Taako is dedicated to discover the Eldritch Mystery of TexMex food.
    • Merle the Dwarf's favorite musician is Kenny Chesney, Johann the Bard plays elevator jazz, and the gang shops at Fantasy Costco.
  • And Mission Control Rejoiced:
    • Apparently the Bureau of Balance had all gotten together to watch the Battle Wagon Race in Petals to the Metal.
    • In Live in San Diego!, members of the Bureau are watching the boys complete Lucas's simulation and commenting on it through a group chat. Given how badly they were doing at the simulation, however, it was less "And Mission Control Rejoiced" and more "And Mission Control Made Fun of Magnus For Getting Eaten by a Fish"
  • Another Dimension: All of existence is a seemingly infinite series of planar systems, each consisting of twelve distinct planes of existence. They are arranged in an orbit consisting of three concentric rings, six planes on the outside, four planes on the inside, and two stacked planes in the middle. Going outside-in, we have:
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Merle's final question to John, the avatar of the Hunger shakes him to the core, making him lose his composure for the first time. It's an armor-piercing question out-of-universe, too:
    Merle: Are you my friend?
    Griffin: Hmm.
    Travis: Not what I was expecting.
    Griffin: But very fucking good. Give me a minute, I'm reeling a little bit.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Magnus delivers one at the end of The Suffering Game that cuts off the Animus Bell's We Can Rule Together speech almost as soon as it starts.
    Animus Bell: How would you like to live forever?
  • Artifact Collection Agency: The Bureau of Balance combines this with a side of medieval Men in Black. They collect and (ostensibly) dispose of magical artifacts too powerful to be allowed to exist.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Grand Relics, seven artifacts so powerful that they once threatened to destroy the world. They double as an Artifact of Attraction, as they seem at least semi-sentient and try to tempt anyone who picks one up to use them, eventually corrupting them through More than Mind Control if they don't resist.
    • The Phoenix Fire Gauntlet, which grants powerful fire magic with a side helping of madness.
    • The Oculus Lens, which claims to grant True Sight and ultimate knowledge. In actuality it allows the user to render anything they can think of or create with illusiory magic into reality.
    • The Gaia Sash, an enchanted belt that grants the wielder power over nature. It attempts to tempt Merle with the ability to fuck any vine he wants. Merle resists, saying he doesn't need anyone's help to do that. invoked
    • The Philosopher's Stone, which can transmute any material into anything else. Stopping the process is another matter entirely.
    • The Temporal Chalice, which can manipulate the flow of time and even create barriers out of time. Instead of an outright villainous Final Temptation, it speaks directly to the heroes about undoing their Greatest Failures.
    • The Animus Bell, which has the ability to knock an affected listener's soul out of their body and allow another to take it over. This imitates death, meaning that the soul affected by it will get pulled away to the Astral Plane.
    • The seventh and final one is The Bulwark Staff, aka, Lucretia's staff.
  • Artistic License – Cars: Petals to the Metal takes a lot of liberty with automobiles, with giant cars that weigh less than half a ton and other such nonsense. Lampshaded by Griffin,
    Griffin: I don’t know anything about cars, I should mention, just for the remainder of this campaign, so like, if I say something and you go, "yeah, that’s not how a car works." Just know that it is a fantasy world and that is how battlewagons work, and calm down a little bit maybe there, Vin Diesel.
  • Artistic License – Space: A total solar eclipse occurs every midsummer solstice over Faerûn. The annual eclipse is somewhat justified, since it's a Constructed World.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Angus McDonald is introduced as a bit player in the second arc; he proved popular enough with the players and the audience to be brought back in the fourth arc as the team's Voice with an Internet Connection.
    • At the end of The Suffering Game, the red robe who has been stalking (and, throughout much of The Suffering Game, supporting) the party for almost thirty episodes is revealed to be Barry Bluejeans, a character who seemingly died in the destruction of the town of Phandalin in the podcast's very first arc some fifty episodes earlier.
  • An Asskicking Christmas:
    • All of The Crystal Kingdom takes place on Candlenights. The first episode starts off with a Candlenights party, but by the second episode Candlenights is more or less forgotten. Only until the last episode of the arc (which was in May) are the characters reminded that it's still Candlenights.
    • The Candlenights in Tacoma! liveshow, where Merle becomes Santa and the three have to enter a dangerous ice dungeon to give presents to a sad, lonely ogre boy living there.
  • Assimilation Plot: The Hunger's original goal was to absorb planes of existence into itself, in order to combat the crushing weight of eternity.
  • Assist Character: In the Final Boss fight with John in Story and Song, the Tres Horny Boys are able to summon allies to help them using the Bond Engine on the back of the Starblaster as a portal.
  • Back for the Finale: A whole cavalcade of characters return to help battle the hunger, from Hurley and Sloane to the entire town of Refuge to Lucas to freaking Upsy Your Lifting Friend. Too many to list here. All of whom get badass moments befitting the end to a years-long campaign.
  • Back from the Dead: Brian, Jenkins, and Marvey (the last member of the Hammerheads) return for a rematch in The Crystal Kingdom as ghost-possessed robots.
  • Background Magic Field: In addition to the standard Dungeons & Dragons magic field, there also exist Bonds, the invisible force that connect all things in existence together, ranging from physical, to emotional. Bonds extend between planes of existence, and when a plane is severed from those Bonds, it begins to decay. Magic users that rely on a divine source, such as clerics, lose their power, and the world begins to fade to grayscale. If starved of bonds for too long, the plane degenerates into ash.
  • Badass Crew: The crew of the Starblaster. While they originally just set out to be explorers of the wider universe, they ended up becoming the core driving force against the Hunger, a plane-consuming entity, and manage to pull off a cat-and-mouse chase with it for a hundred years before a final battle.
  • Bad Boss: Klarg the bugbear, according to underling Yeemick the goblin. It's hard to tell if this is accurate, considering that for most of the time we see him he's under the influence of a Charm Person spell that makes him relentlessly friendly. ...That is, until he brutally kills Yeemick with a single blow.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Kravitz is literally the Grim Reaper - with the skeletal form and scythe-y powers that entails - but he's actually a pretty nice guy. Also applies to Barry and Lup, two Necromancers/Liches who are firmly on the side of Good.
  • Balancing Death's Books: Discussed by THB in The Crystal Kingdom, when they offer to kill some people so Kravitz can reap their souls instead of collecting their bounty. Ultimately a subversion when Mr. Nice Death himself empathically insists that that's not how it works.
  • Battle Couple
    • Carey and Killian are both incredibly talented fighters in the Bureau, and show of their teamwork skills in the Grand Finale as the Hunger attacks the base.
    • Towards the end of the story, Barry and Lup, who both take full advantage of their Lich powers to obliterate the Hunger's forces. They're so amazing at mowing them down that Taako, who was planning to join Lup in the fight, turns right back around with a "Looks like they can handle it."
  • Beach Episode: Episode 62, a Breather Episode in the very critical Stolen Century arc, has the crew spending some well-earned time off at a planet that is basically one huge beach. It's basically just an episode with everyone having fun with one another, with a few mild character-driven discussions here and there.
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: Taako (a beautiful elf wizard who takes great pride in his looks), Merle (the cleric with a green thumb), and Magnus (a rough-and-tough fighter with the catchphrase "Magnus rushes in!") respectively. Especially true for the first arc or so, when Justin was still playing Taako as a complete idiot.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Taako is a Cloud Cuckoo Lander with a short attention span and a completely skewed view of reality. He's also an immensely powerful wizard with an extensive arsenal of spells and an artifact that magnifies his powers to godlike levels. Underestimate him at your own peril.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Well, relatively, anyway — during The Crystal Kingdom, Magnus and Merle end up fighting a cockroach while shrunk. It was originally going to be three cockroaches, but two of them were serendipitously stomped on beforehand. Played Straight later in the arc, when they fight giant tardigrades in the lab's anti-gravity chamber.
    Lucas: We call them unkillable waterbears! You gotta get the fuck out of there!
    • Exaggerated with the sandworms in The Eleventh Hour, where the babies are the size of the tardigrades and the adults are tens of miles long.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: In Episode 68, after rescuing him from being trapped in the Astral Plane and reuniting with him for the first time in "way too long," during the Balance Arc's finale, Taako kisses Kravitz.
    Kravitz: did you do that?
    Justin: I run up to him and kiss him - I'm already kissing him. This is ridiculous, it's been way too long.
  • Big Good: Lucretia, The Director of the Bureau of Balance, an organization seeking to protect the world from the immeasurable harm the Grand Relics can do. It's later revealed that she's collecting the Grand Relics to oppose The Hunger, the force that's been destroying planes of existence for over one hundred years.
  • The Big Race: Magnus, Taako, and Merle take part in a Mad-Max style one in the Petals to Metal arc with the help of Hurley.
  • Big, Thin, Short Trio: Canonically, Merle, being a dwarf, is short, Magnus, being the team tank, is big, and Taako is described as being "a very slight man".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Most arcs end with the party recovering whatever Grand Relic they were after, but at a great cost.
    • "Here There Be Gerblins", the first arc, basically just sets up the story going forward, as Magnus, Merle, and Taako join the B.O.B. and accept the quest to regain the Relics. Unfortunately, their encounter with the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet resulted in the absolute devastation of Phandalin, killing hundreds of residents, including their partners Barry Bluejeans and Gundren Rockseeker. The severity of this would be emphasized later.
    • "Petals to the Metal" ends with the boys successfully regaining the Gaia Sash, but at the cost of Sloane and Hurley apparently dying together...although it isn't so much of a bittersweet ending in hindsight, as it turns out Sloane and Hurley simply turned into dryads.
    • "The Crystal Kingdom" ends with the Philosopher's Stone being destroyed and the group leaving Kravitz on good terms, and NO-3113 joins the Bureau. Unfortunately, Lucas' mother Maureen remains deceased and he has to go into hiding (at least temporarily) after what he's done.
    • "The Eleventh Hour" ends with Refuge finally being saved and the citizens are able to catch up to the seven-year gap to the rest of the world, and the boys are hailed as heroes. Sadly, Jack was killed by Sheriff Isaak over the Temporal Chalice, leaving June an orphan. While the boys made the right call in refusing the Chalice's offer, the reminders of what they've done and lost weighs heavily on them.
    • "The Suffering Game", or at least the Relic-seeking part of the arc, ends with the Animus Bell recovered and Edward and Lydia being defeated, setting everyone trapped in Wonderland free. The group of adventurers the Tres Horny Boys met going in forgive them for forsaking them in one of Wonderland's games. Quite unfortunately, however, Magnus has lost his body and is now within a mannequin, and the boys have decided to partner with the Red Robe, necessitating that they cut all ties with their B.O.B. companions.
    • "Story and Song" is an undeniably happy ending, as the Hunger is defeated once and for all, and the heroes are finally able to live their happily ever after, complete with a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue and Carey and Killian's wedding. It's all very heartwarming and well-deserved, with the one caveat being the inevitable death of the human Magnus. Thankfully, for as tear-jerking as it is, he'll die of old age and be reunited with his beloved Julia in the afterlife.
  • Body of Bodies: The larger enemies in the Boss Rush mentioned below are constructed of many mannequins clumped together.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: In a flashback, we learn this is what happened to Lup via Sirus Rockseeker who was helping hide the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet.
  • Bond One-Liner: Taako actually manages to deliver one unconscious.
    Taako: Liches...get...stitches!
  • Boss Rush: Called out by name in the fifth episode of The Suffering Game, where the party is forced to fight mannequin-construct duplicates of major fights from every arc thus far. It gets cut off early when the Red Robe manages to summon a door, allowing the boys to escape.
  • Brain Bleach: During the Petals to the Metal arc, Merle attempts a Charm Person spell on some monstrous vines by dirty-talking them...which completely freaks Justin out. Mainly because, you know, it's his Dad doing it. By the end of it all of Clint's sons want to kill themselves after Merle basically makes the vines suffer The Immodest Orgasm.
    Justin: Statistically speaking, at least one of our listeners has just discovered that they are in possession of the world's worst fetish.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: It's a frequent feature, with characters constantly mentioning the format. During the Previously on… segment for the finale of Murder on the Rockport Limited:
    Narrator: If our heroes can't stop this runaway train, then I'm going to have to find a new podcast to introduce!
  • Breather Episode:
    • Episode 7, taking place immediately after the party's final confrontation with the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet, is largely exposition and comic relief with no combat or conflict to speak of.
    • All but the last Lunar Interlude serve as one, providing light-hearted moonbase hijinks in between plot arcs.
    • The third episode of The Stolen Century also qualifies, seeing as it's a Beach Episode where the crew spends some time hanging out in a tropical paradise and enjoying each other's company for a whole year, without the looming threat of an apocalypse.
  • Bury Your Gays: A case that was played straight and later averted, notably. Sadly in Petals to the Metal, Hurley and Sloane, two female characters who were all but said to be in a relationship, die at the end of the arc. It should be noted that Dungeon Master Griffin genuinely wasn't aware that this trope was a thing, and promised to do better about it in the future he was informed about it. To Griffin's credit, his example of the trope resulted in one of the more genuinely heartfelt and touching moments in what is a very irreverent podcast at times, thereby averting the common usage of this trope as a means of providing unnecessary Wangst for one half of the doomed pair or their friends/companions. The aversion came later in part two of Story and Song, where it's revealed that they didn't actually die, but were turned into dryads.
  • The Bus Came Back: Nearly every live show features the return of fan-favorite NPCs, much to the crowd's pleasure and often the boys' (slight) annoyance.note  While some, namely Angus, Lucretia, Kravitz, Barry and Lup, Carey, Killian, and Davenport have been around for the whole series, others come back after very long breaks.
    • Jess the Beheader, from Murder on the Rockport Limited, returns in the Boston Live Stunt Spectacular to have the Boys help her solve another murder.
    • Maarv, Little Jerry, and Jerreeeeee from Petals to the Metal and Ren from The Eleventh Hour make a return at Neverwinter High.
    • Robbie and Leon the Artficer, both unseen since before The Suffering Game, return in the San Diego Live Show as viewers of the Boys' attempt at Lucas Miller's simulation (himself unseen since The Crystal Kingdom and Story and Song).
    • Greg Grimaldis, who took Lup's $15 on her home plane is the villain in the Nashville Live Show.
    • Clint uses Planar Ally to summon Gundren Rockseeker (who died in the very first arc, Here There Be Gerblins) in the Candlenights show in Tacoma.
    • Sloane and Hurley from Petals to the Metal (and Story and Song) return in the Dallas Live Show with a business proposition for the Boys.
    • Garfield the Deals Warlock returns after hurriedly leaving the moonbase in Reunion Tour (and briefly returning in Story and Song) to hire the Boys to help him solve some arsons.
    • A whole multitude of characters return in the Candlenights 2018 show - Dracula, from the previous liveshow, is now working at the Bureau of Benevolence, Klarg and Cassidy (whose last non-cameo appearances were in the Boston Stunt Spectacular and The Eleventh Hour, respectively, although they both appeared in Story and Song) are some of the customers vying for the Jeff Angel toy at a Fantasy Costco owned by Garfield the Deals Warlock, and Jeff Angel himself returns as a freshly-minted Heel after not showing up since the Boston Stunt Spectacular.
    • Pan and Istus both return in the New Orleans Live Show, and Clint McElroy wanders by on the Celestial Plane. Edward and Lydia, who were killed in The Suffering Game, are the show's twist villains.
  • The Butler Did It: In "Murder on the Rockport Limited" Jenkins, the Wizard Assistant, is murdered by the Rockport Slayer. However, he is later revealed as the Rockport Slayer, and that he killed and swapped clothes with the engineer.
  • Call-Forward: The Stolen Century, being a Whole Session Flashback, is chock full of these, such as:
    • In Episode 64, Merle invents and masters the art of "Interpretative Jazz Dancing". All the way back in Episode 1, Clint makes an offhanded joke that Merle is a great dancer.
    • Magnus's first woodcarving is done with the old knife that he got from his grandfather, the knife being a starter trinket mentioned in Episode 1.
    • When Merle and John talk during their parlay sessions, Merle calls it their "Truth Zone", which foreshadows Merle's extensive usage of the Zone of Truth spell.
  • The Caper: The Live in Nashville! show has Tres Horny Boys and Lup travel back to their home plane to pull of a casino heist with one target in mind: the $15 that Greg Grimaldis owes Lup.
  • Can't Take Anything with You: The Eleventh Hour's "Groundhog Day" Loop presents some difficulties for the boys because it's set in an isolationist town with its own currency (diamonds), and they're limited to what they carried in with them. Magnus and Taako find this out when they take advantage of a bank robbery to abscond with handfuls of diamonds and are disappointed to find that they're gone upon the reset. Istus later performs a Cosmic Retcon when she blesses them with various tools so they'll still have them in the next loop.
  • Captain Obvious: Whenever someone lands a poor roll on any observation or knowledge-based check, Griffin will grant them this trait in fiction.
    Justin: I'm gonna roll a perception check of four to see if our cell is in any way damaged by this quake.
    Griffin: You're in a prison cell.
    Travis: I got a ten.
    Griffin: You're in a prison cell with bars on it.
    Clint: I got a one!
    Griffin: You're in a cube-shaped place.
  • Captivity Harmonica: When the Boys are put in jail in Refuge, Magnus pulls out and starts playing a harmonica that Travis says he didn't have before.
  • Catchphrase: Griffin: "You've solved my [blank] puzzle!" Typically said at the end of a plot arc ("You've solved my train puzzle!"), or sarcastically when the players use brute force to solve a problem or expend a lot of podcast time goofing on something that's not meant to be an obstacle at all.
    • "Magnus rushes in" and "Taako's good out here" serve as in-character examples.
    • "Uh, I'm Taako? Y'know, from TV?"
    • "I cast Zone of Truth!"
    • Saying "Hail and well met!" when greeting someone.
  • Cerebus Retcon
    • There's a brief moment where Davenport is handed a Grand Relic, and there's some tension over whether it'll affect him. Fortunately, he just says "Davenport!" and hands the relic over to be destroyed. The only people who can resist the thrall of the Grand Relics are the ones who created them.
    • Similarly, Davenport's inability to speak other than his own name is originally just a gag, until it's explained to be a result of severe mental confusion from having most of his memory erased.
    • When it turns out Klaarg's hilarious and inexplicable susceptibility to Charm Person from the very first arc is actually explicable after all. It's The result of a secret experiment in which Lucas Miller preformed involuntary brain surgery on a family of Bugbears to make them into polite and docile slaves.
  • Cerebus Rollercoaster: The series goes through a sort of fractal Cerebus Syndrome, with each individual arc starting out extremely light and only getting into the darker or more dramatic stuff as time goes by, until...
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The series gradually begins getting darker and more serious as it progresses, putting more emphasis on the plot and less on goofing around. While the jokes never go away completely, the series remains lighthearted overall, and it has an almost-entirely happy ending, it's very noticeable how much sillier the early arcs could be compared to the later ones.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: In the final battle of The Suffering Game, Cam returns to sacrifice his life in order to heal Merle.
  • Characterization Marches On: Justin originally plays Taako as being competent, but fairly stupid. As the series continues, Taako is instead a very cunning character who comes up with several ruses on the spot. To a much, much smaller degree, there's a one-off joke in the beginning about Taako maybe being distracted by Killian webbed up in the cave, whereas Justin would later confirm Taako to be gay.
  • Charm Person: Taako uses this to turn a hostile bugbear named Klarg to the party's side. Klarg turns incredibly friendly and offers them a valuable hostage, a gift of gold, and tea.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Petals to the Metal introduces silverpoint, a plant with a deadly untreatable poison. While it is first introduced as the Gaia Sash's final self defense, silverpoint poison appears later in the same arc when Capt. Captain Bane attempts to poison the protagonists. Much, much later, it is revealed that (much earlier) Lup was stabbed with a weapon covered in silverpoint poison so that there would be no chance to heal the wound.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • In Murder on the Rockport Limited, the "pleasure chamber" that offers a limited form of recreational teleportation not only figures into the murder mystery, it also comes in very handy later on when the boys need to find a way to divert a runaway train from crashing to a populated area.
    • In The Crystal Kingdom, Kravitz accuses the boys of dying several times each but never properly passing on; he's there to take them in. This is from dying and being resurrected by the white ring core that powered the IPRE's interplanar ship; events that were mind-wiped using the Voidfish's offspring
    • In The Suffering Game, Magnus landing on "skull" during the third roulette round. Later, when confronting the elves, he's forcibly removed from his body which Edward takes control over.
  • Chekhov's Skill: In the first episode, Travis kept trying to find a use for his Vehicle Handling proficiency, but the task at hand (driving a one-horse cart down a smooth path at a reasonable pace in broad daylight) was easy enough that no proficiency was needed. 22 episodes later, he finally uses it to impress a group of motorhead gangsters by helping them soup up their battlewagon. And a full 67 episodes after it was established, Travis pulls this off again by using his unused Animal Handling proficiency to ride a Hunger-infused rhino.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The party cuts a deal with a hostile goblin to murder his Bad Boss in exchange for a hostage. As soon as they're out of the goblin's earshot, they resolve to see if they can cut a better deal with his boss. Magnus and Taako also aren't above surreptitiously looting the corpses of Merle's family members behind his back.
  • The Clan: The Rockseekers are a large and prosperous dwarven family, giving Merle New Cousins as the Plot Demands in early episodes.
  • Clean Cut: Magnus occasionally does this. On one occasion, he cleaves an NPC in twain...then seems surprised when Griffin won't let him do it non-lethally.
  • Cliffhanger: Episodes like to end on these. For example, at the end of Episode 20, Merle and Taako are near-death, and Magnus has no healing abilities.
  • Closed Circle: Refuge is a town trapped in a time bubble, and the boys can't get out until they figure out what went wrong.
  • Cool Horse: Taako can summon a glorious talking, spectral, possibly unkillable unicorn named Garyl.
  • Cool Starship: The Starblaster, a silver ship designed by the IPRE to travel between planes of existence, powered by the Bond Engine, which creates power from the emotional connections of the people around it.
  • Combined Energy Attack: Used to defeat the final boss: the metaphysical bonds between the trio take visible form and combine within Taako's spell to form a coherent beam of light which destroys the avatar of the Hunger.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: There's a lot of this early on, as one of Griffin's tactics for introducing NPCs before his descriptive genius really blossomed would be to say what celebrity they looked like. For example:
    • Barry Bluejeans is described as looking like Tom Arnold.
    • Yeemick the Gerblin "looks like Common and sounds like Kelsey Grammer."
    • Johann the Sad Bard: "This is what Michael Bolton sounds like when he talks."
  • Common Tongue: A literal example, as Dungeons & Dragons uses "Common" as the basic language for all characters to use. Subverted as the few times non-Common languages are used, someone in the party knows that language.
  • Continuity Cavalcade: Episode 68, Story and Song - Finale, Part Two was full of Continuity Nods, Brick Jokes, Running Gags, and returning characters.
  • Convection Shmonvection: The party survives a fireball powerful enough to reduce a few square miles to glass by hiding in a well a few dozen feet deep.
  • Cosmic Retcon: Refuge's time loop in The Eleventh Hour completely resets its inhabitants every hour, including their possessions. Istus, a goddess of fate, wants the boys to break the loop and blesses them with powerful artifacts, but immediately realizes that they'll vanish in a few seconds, so she rewrites time so that the boys walked into town with them.
  • Cowboy Cop: It's unlikely that Captain Captain Bane would approve of Lieutenant Hurley getting some out-of-town rubes to steal an important engine part as part of a convoluted plan to bring down The Raven. She's a loose cannon, but dammit, she gets results.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: A lot of Taako's plans are like this.
    • Given what we know about the dangers of becoming a lich, Lup and Barry's decision to become liches definitely qualifies.
  • Crisis Crossover: Normally very few characters transition between arcs, with only the main cast and Bureau members being recurring. Story and Song sees the return of nearly every named character from every arc thus far as they defend their Planar System from the Hunger, including; Lucas Miller, Upsy (Your Lifting Friend), Merle's family, Klarg, Graham the Juicy Wizard, Jess the Beheader, Hurley and Sloane (as dryads), Kravitz, Legion, Ren, Paloma, Luca and Redmond, June, Roswell (the bird), and Cassidy. A few characters from The Stolen Century also return as the Hunger's thralls, including the Royal Beasts and the Stone Judges.
  • Crossover: There's a handful of jokes and references that originate from MBMBAM, such as Garfield the Deals Warlock and Candlenights.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The trio's first encounter with the Raven. She KOs two of our heroes in one attack, and it doesn't get any better from there.
    • The encounters with The Hunger during The Stolen Century invariably ended with the heroes fleeing for their lives.
  • Da Chief:
    • Director Lucretia of the Bureau of Balance. While she enjoys the adventurers' antics, she's constantly trying to get them to stay on point and boots them out of her office immediately after giving them their assignment.
    • Captain Captainnote  Bane is this for the city of Goldcliff, heading up the police constabulary response to the Raven's assault on the city bank.
  • Damager, Healer, Tank: The players consciously base the party on this structure, with Taako the Damager, Merle the Healer, and Magnus the Tank. Not that they always play exactly to type. In fact, it's a minor running joke that Merle neglects his healing duties, and his signature spell ends up being "Zone of Truth".
  • Damsel in Distress: Heavily subverted numerous times due to the podcast having a cast of Action Girls. The two straight-ish examples are Killian, back in the first arc when she was restrained by the Big Bad's spiderwebs, and Lup in the Umbrastaff, as both are trapped until Taako frees them. Although in Killian's case, it was probably more along the lines of Badass in Distress, as she happened to catch the Distress Ball in that one scene, but kicked ass for the rest of the plot. Maybe she was having an off day?
    • The one true, straight example of the trope is also an inversion: In The Crystal Kingdom, the main characters are sent to go retrieve Lucas, the Bureau's resident (and male) Mad Scientist, to save him from his own experiment Gone Horribly Wrong.
  • Darker and Edgier: The Suffering Game is far harsher than the previous arcs. The arcs afterward continue the theme.
    • Also consciously Defied in The Stolen Century: in The The Adventure Zone Zone, the brothers admit that the arc with the crystal originally had a different ending in which they actually destroyed the crystal rather than let it feed The Hunger. After they finished recording, they all individually felt uncomfortable with the ending, feeling that it just felt too dark for the story they'd been creating and just didn't fit the tone. So, they went back and had the characters Take a Third Option instead.
  • The Darkness Gazes Back: In Carnival Chaos, for the first time in the story, the boys see eyes in the sky staring down at the world. This is the first hint at the existence of The Hunger.
  • The Day of Reckoning: Everything builds up to the day the Hunger attacks the home plane.
  • Death by Despair: Lydia, after her brother Edward is killed.
  • Denser and Wackier: The one-shot live shows are absolutely zany due to taking place outside of or after the Myth Arc. This allows Griffin use more outlandish settings like a computer game or a high school; on the other hand, he's also forced to go along with wacky character choices and even looser rule interpretations than usual. As the Boys relentlessly point out, they can't die, and time constraints with the venue typically force Griffin to keep moving the story along instead of disputing the Boys' decisions.
  • Depending on the Artist: Fanart is prone to this, as Griffin's descriptions of characters aren't that specific and the boys encourage varying depictions. However, it also shows up in official sources. For instance, in the podcast art (see page image), Magnus is bald and beardless with thick sideburns; in the animated trailer he is beardless with sideburns and a man-bun; and in the Comic-Book Adaptation, he has hair, sideburns, and a beard.
  • Deus ex Machina:
    • In Episode 20, the party is saved from a potential Total Party Kill by a halfling in a karate gi busting in through a window. Said halfling lampshades this in the next episode.
    • In Episode 25, Taako is saved from a mind-controlled leap off the team's battlewagon by a last-second catch from Klarg, who inexplicably appears on a motorcycle.
    • Later discussed by Taako during the fight against Lydia and Edward in The Suffering Game, during which both Merle and Taako are put into a near-death state, mentioning that normally when things get this dire a very competent woman busts through to bail them out.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: In Episode 6, seconds before Gundren was going to take off the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet, Kurtze the orc boy shoots him with an arrow to enact revenge. This reignites his rage, and ultimately destroys Phandalin.
  • Dirty Cop: Lieutenant Hurley is not above indulging in illegal Blood Sports after hours. She's also remarkably blasé about the amount of murder the party commits while working for her.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Subverted with Taako and Lup. Despite being twins who both have pragmatic trickster tendencies, they are by no means interchangeable. Lup eventually proves to be the more confrontational and empathetic of the two. They are also accused of almost completely different sins by the judges in The Stolen Century. Both are charged with Pride, but Lup is uniquely charged with Lust, Gluttony, and Wrath. Taako gets none of those three, instead being accused of Envy and Greed.
    • Justin has admitted to initially fearing that Lup's introduction would just mean that there were now two Taakos running around, but thankfully Lup ended up setting herself apart as her own character.
  • Distant Finale: The finale episode explores what happened to the characters long after the events of the podcast ended, flashing forward probably 40-50 years to Magnus's death.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Most of Griffin's arc titles are plain punny, but The Eleventh Hour arc qualifies for this, as the events take place at 11 AM and it's shortly before things go to shit.
  • Downer Ending: The first plot arc ends with an entire city being wiped out by an Artifact of Doom.
  • Doomed Hometown: The place Magnus hails from, Ravensroost, qualifies for this in a rather epic case of Death by Origin Story. In The Stolen Century, we learn this also happened to the original Homeworld of the Starblaster crew, and with it kickstarting the plot, this instance actually fits the trope to a tee.
  • Drought Level of Doom: Wonderland is a rare non-video-game example. Frequent weapon and power forfeits with no new items, nothing lost there can be regained, and no healing unless one of your party members sacrifices twice the number of hit points in a special chamber.
  • Due to the Dead: Merle is staunchly against looting the corpses of his cousins. Magnus and Taako aren't nearly so fastidious.
  • Dungeon Punk: A fairly light-hearted take. Magitek is everywhere and the Fantasy Kitchen Sink is in full effect.

  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The first arc loosely follows an adventure from the Dungeons & Dragons 5e starter kit and takes place in a fairly Standard Fantasy Setting with a pretty straight medieval level of technology and references to classic D&D locales like the city of Neverwinter. Once Griffin starts inventing more of the world, the plot becomes completely original, and all kinds of Schizo-Magitek (flying saucers, secret moon bases, luxury passenger trains with resident wizards who can whisk you off to remote pleasure chambers to pass the time on your journey) and general weirdness (a city full of Tom Bodetts) starts cropping up.
    • The episode summaries tend to follow a format of a brief description of the episode, followed by specific highlights of what Merle, Taako and Magnus did in said episode - often in a way that's misleading or not immediately obvious. This is only the case for the first Lunar Interlude onwards; in Here There Be Gerblins, a different format is followed.
    • Background music and sound effects didn't begin appearing until over twenty episodes in, a little over halfway through Petals to the Metal. Up until then, it was just the group talking with the theme music playing at the beginning, end, and interlude.
    • It takes several arcs for the players to really solidify their characters' personalities, which results in occasional weirdness like Taako being labeled the bravest one of the group in Moonlighting.
    • For his first few appearances, Davenport actually had a fairly wide vocabulary. It wasn't until later where it was retconned that he could only say his name due to the Voidfish's interference.
    • For the series as a whole, Balance is the only story in the show with a main theme not composed by Griffin.
  • Eat Dirt, Cheap: Magnus swallows the Philosopher's Stone. It seemed like a good idea (to him, and no one else) at the time.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: The town of Refuge contained a pretty wild cast of characters, including an old Prophetess/Witch who bakes magic scones and talks like Bjork, an Elemental deputy sheriff whose voice is supplied by a talking bird, and a diamond miner who is inexplicably convinced the boys are Gerblins.
  • Edible Theme Naming: Implied with regards to Taako's family — his grandfather's name is "Tostada," and his twin sister, "Lup," was originally intended to have the full name "Chalupa." This has since been retconned due to problematic implications for anyone imagining the twins as Latino.
  • Eldritch Abomination: What the Red Robe showed the three, and what Maureen saw beyond the cosmoscope, destroying her mind and killing her: a vast black cloud seemingly consuming the universe.
  • Emergency Transformation: Sloane uses the power of the Gaia Sash to transform herself and Hurley into dryads to save the latter from an incurable poison.
  • Emotion Eater: Whatever sustains Wonderland in The Suffering Game, Magnus and Taako quickly hypothesize that it feeds off negativity expressed by the "contestants." It helps sustain the "Vogue Elves"' lichdom, allowing them to stay sane at the expense of everyone who visits.
  • Establishing Series Moment: Nothing sets the tone for the series as much as in episode 1 when Griffin reads the name "Sildar Hallwinter", decides that it's too over-the-top fantasy for his campaign, and renames the character Barry Bluejeans.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: The primary way Taako gets ideas that will eventually result in the taco.
  • Evil Is Petty: The Temporal Chalice's reaction to the boys rejecting her Final Temptation. It's ambiguous as to whether she's evil, as she is up to this point patient and reasonable. However, once they still refuse to alter the timeline after she brings up the destruction of Phandalin, she relents, but not without forcing them to witness the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet's final explosion and its thousands of fatalities in excruciating slow motion.
  • Evil Brit: Played with in the beginning of the arc when Kravitz is first introduced, but subverted after The Crystal Kingdom ends: Turns out Kravitz isn't evil, just goth, and he's not even actually British.
  • Exploding Fish Tanks: Magnus busts the Voidfish's tank to take down part of the Hunger. It's a good thing the Voidfish doesn't need it.
  • Faking the Dead: Jenkins, specifically by killing the Engineer and switching clothes with him.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: When the laws that govern reality are brought up, expect three to be listed: The Laws of Physics, Thermodynamics, and Arcane Interactions.
  • Fantastic Drug: Halfling roommate Robbie stocks the "dankest" potions, including one that resembles Orbitz and which has an effect like a cross between alcohol and salvia.
  • Faux Affably Evil / Bait the Dog: Unlike the somewhat goofy methods of persuasion the other Artifacts Of Doom employ and incredibly destructive nature, the Temporal Chalice is polite and even sympathetic to the trauma of the heroes, presenting itself as just a tool who wants a master who will do good for once. Then she spitefully taunts them with the consequences of Phandalin.
  • Final Boss, New Dimension: The finale has the party fighting the avatar of the Hunger inside its own plane of existence.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Glovey the Artifact of Doom. Though its real name is far more imposing.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • In The Stolen Century, the audience already knows going into the arc that the crew is going to create the Grand Relics, Lucretia is going to erase everyone else's memories, and Lup and Barry are going to die.
    • Frequently abused during the live shows, as the players know their characters can't die because they're still alive in the main storyline.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • While talking with the director in an early arc, Magnus questions whether the Grand Relics could be used for good. Travis follows this up with an OOC goof that he's setting up a classic betrayal to happen at some point in the future. As time passes, Magnus is the first of the THB to receive evidence of the truth about the Relics and the Red Robes. And indeed, his suspicions promptly lead him to infiltrate the Bureau of Balance's brig. And then, he is the first of the THB to take the chance on trusting lich-Barry.
    • An accidental, in-character one. The nullsuit colors that Magnus, Taako, and Merle pick out near the beginning of the Crystal Kingdom arc were Burgundy, Burnt Umber, and Cinnamon, in an attempt to be amusingly difficult. All of these are shades of red.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Barry Bluejeans, after being presumed dead since episode 4, is revealed in episode 58 to have been the Red Robe who's been following the party around the whole time.
  • Franchise-Driven Retitling: The story was originally known as just The Adventure Zone, since it was the only story arc in the series. As the story's end came into view, they realized that it needed a title to differentiate it from later stories, and named it Balance in TTAZZ 2.
  • From Zero to Hero: The Director started off as the record-maker of the IPE, writing down everything the other more active members were doing. It was only through the Stolen Century that she became the proactive, decisive leader she would become.
  • Full-Boar Action: One of the Battlewagon racers was a chariot pulled by an armored boar larger than Hurley's Battlewagon.
  • Fungus Humongous: The second world we see the Starblaster crew visit is blanketed with a glowing, toxic mushroom forest, inhabited by fungus people.
  • Game-Breaker: invoked In-universe. Whomever came up with the rules of battlewagons clearly failed to take into account the amount of damage a wizard with the right spells could do to the opposition. Taako takes down three rival wagons with only two spells.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation:
    • Griffin often doesn't bother to make rolls for NPC actions, simply describing what they're doing, even when it involves laying waste to minor enemies.
    • Justin for a while decided to play Taako as humorously thick, even describing himself to NPCs as a "simple idiot wizard." He has above-average scores in both Wisdom and Intelligence, ultimately maxing out the latter at 20. As the campaign went on, he gradually transitioned to more of a Genius Ditz and finally a genuinely cunning and intelligent person.
    • Robbie's "dank" Orbitz-looking potion is supposedly similar to salvia, but in gameplay it seems much closer to a strong dose of alcohol.
    • The party are all supposedly Good-aligned, but some of the shenanigans they get up to, like copious amounts of murder and theft, would make even the most Chaotic of Chaotic Goodniks think twice.
  • Gender-Blender Name: The gate guard for the Hammerheads's base was a man named Barbara.
  • Genre-Busting: Being a D&D RPG, The Adventure Zone starts out predictably high fantasy, but Griffin's love of robots and elevators gave it some distinct sci-fi elements. In fact, The Stolen Century feels less like a fantasy story with sci-fi elements and more like a sci-fi story with fantasy language.
  • Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter: Merle mostly, but they all experience it at least once an episode. Usually due to Dungeon Master Griffin's Accidental Innuendo.
  • Gotta Kill 'Em All: The party has to find and destroy all seven Grand Relics.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop:
    • Magnus and Taako slip into this routine while interrogating Graham (aka The Juicy Wizard)...with Merle as a bonus "Maternal Cop".
    • Later, Merle and Magnus go into this when interrogating Lucas, with Taako acting as "Guy who's here to pay a parking ticket".
  • Grand Theft Me: The Animus Bell has this power, by forcibly removing a body's soul and allowing another to possess it. The liches who run Wonderland take advantage of this to send out their victims with claims of finding great treasure, thus luring in more adventurers for them to torment.
  • Great Escape: Averted in The Eleventh Hour. Upon entering Refuge for the first time, the boys are immediately jailed—but given Taako's magical abilities, they can escape pretty much any time they want. They chill in their cell until they decide that there's nothing interesting to discover inside of it, and then they wander on out.
  • Great Offscreen War: The Relic Wars, a global conflict fought over immensely powerful magical artifacts called the Grand Relics nearly destroyed the world a decade back, but nobody remembers it, thanks to Laser-Guided Amnesia.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: The central conceit of The Eleventh Hour, evidently induced by the Grand Relic of the arc. The party "arrives" at 11 each morning; at high noon, something tears the town apart, killing everyone; then they end up back in a white void for a short while before starting the morning from scratch.
  • Halloween Episode: The live Halloween Special, where the boys are drawn into Dracula's castle as he attempts to recruit them. Other spooks like disco-dancing ghosts and a Frankenstein knight and knave pair make appearances. This is a bit of a zigzag—the episode was released on Halloween, but the episode takes place at the summer solstice (previously established as an occasion to wear costumes in the setting), and the actual live show was in late September.
  • Have You Seen My God?: Toward the end of The Suffering Game, Pan stops responding to Merle's prayers, and shortly after that Kravitz loses contact with the Raven Queen. This is because when The Hunger invades a planar system, it severs the metaphysical Bonds connecting the planes together.
  • Heist Episode: The "Live in Nashville" special has the main characters infiltrating a casino to track down and retrieve an enchanted bill. Given that stealth is not generally any of their fortes, it doesn't go very well.
  • Hero of Another Story: The Great Switcheroo! cross-promotion with the Flophouse podcast features the hosts of the Flophouse as another party of adventurers in the same universe. They somehow manage to be more bumbling and more competent than our regular heroes at the same time.
  • Heroes "R" Us: The Bureau of Balance organizes adventurers to locate and collect terrible magical artifacts that threaten the world.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • In the Petals To The Metal arc, after losing the battlewagon race against Hurley and the boys, The Raven has a mental breakdown and drives herself off a cliff. From then on, the Gaia Sash takes complete control over her.
    • After seeing how the relics that they made are being used, everyone in the IPRE crew has some form of this.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Our good-aligned Paragons of Justice murder a low-level gangster who commits no serious crimes that the audience is privy to and then throw his body off a cliff rather than use up a healing spell to avoid, y'know. Murder. In their defense, they did want to heal him, but since Travis described Magnus's attack as "cleft him in twain", Griffin made them deal with the consequences.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The name of The Suffering Game, where the PCs have to sacrifice things at every turn to either progress or keep each other alive. Ultimately, Cam does this as well, sacrificing his life in order to heal Merle.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Hurley and Sloane's romance is limited to subtext in the actual story, even though Word of Gay confirms that they're a couple. Averted with later same-gender couples like Carey and Killian, who are explicitly shown to be dating. Further averted when the story ends with Carey and Killian's wedding.
  • High School AU: An extremely rare canon example—the Live in Austin! show takes Tres Horny Boys into a collective Dream Land where they and their friends are students at Neverwinter High.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": The captain of the Goldcliff Militia is named "Captain Bane".
    Captain Captain Bane: "Please, call me Captain. Just one. If you just call me one, I assume you're just using my first name."
  • Honorary Uncle: How Merle's kids, Mavis and Mookie, come to see the rest of the IPRE in the epilogue.
    Mavis: You’re his hero, you know. When we heard the story of what you did when you travelled with Uncle Magnus and Uncle Taako and Aunt Lup and Aunt Lucretia and Uncle Barry and Dav, it’s all he talked about for weeks.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight:
    • When the boys first encounter Sloane, she wipes the floor with them in just over a round, but they're rescued by a timely appearance by Hurley, who convinces Sloane to leave.
    • Travis jokingly suggests this of the final boss after seeing how tough it is, getting quickly shot down by Griffin. Then it turns out to be the case; only after the party is rendered unconscious does Griffin introduce the bond mechanic which allows them to summon outside help, starting with a group heal.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In episode 5, Justin complains that no one else does character voices. As soon as Clint obliges, he complains about that until Clint stops. (Justin's Taako voice sounds like an exaggerated Emo Phillips.)
  • I Call It "Vera": Merle has named his warhammer "Smusher", and his hand-axe "Lil' Choppy".
  • Identical Stranger: Played for Laughs when the party meets Brian, the Black Spider, who is an elf wizard that has Taako's bizarre faux German/Emo Phillips inflection. He even counters Taako's Magic Missile attack with a more powerful Magic Missile attack. This voice leads to Brian's quick death when he tries to pull a Spot the Imposter later on.
  • Iconic Item: The Tres Horny Boys each have one:
    • Magnus has Railsplitter, a battleaxe shaped like a lumber-axe, with the ability to fell a tree with a single swing.
    • Merle has the Extreme Teen Bible, his holy symbol, used to preach the good word of Pan to the youth of Faerûn. He also gains the Soulwood Arm, a prosthetic arm made of living wood to replace the one he lost in The Crystal Kingdom.
    • Taako has the Umbra Staff, a wand disguised as an umbrella, with the ability to absorb the magical power of defeated wizards.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Taako tries to bluff his way past Sheriff Isaak in The Eleventh Hour by showing him a fake police badge he picked up at the Fantasy Costco. Needless to say, it doesn't work.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: One of Lucas's elevators does this, allowing those who enter to view a diorama as if it were actual size.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: The Flaming Poisoning Raging Sword of Doom, dealing an extra 20 damage per swing, and costs a whopping 60,000Gp.note  Taako ends up conning Garfield out of it for only 2,400Gp on his part.
  • In Name Only: Usage of the continent of Faerûn, the planet of Abeir-Toril, and characters like Gundren Rockseeker would point to the podcast taking place in Forgotten Realms canon, but an incredibly customized version of it. By the events of the Moonlighting interlude all pretenses have been dropped to this taking place anywhere in established D&D lore or canon, which is probably for the best.
  • Karmic Death: After the "Vogue Elves" have sustained their undeath for untold years by feeding off the pain and misery of others, Lydia dies of despair when Edward is defeated.
  • Kaiju:
    • The Purple Worm from The Eleventh Hour is far, far, far larger than a normal purple worm found in dungeons and dragons. This worm was described has having a mouth 200 feet in diameter! If scaled proportionally, this worm is 3,200 feet long, 40 times larger than a standard purple worm!
    • The Four Judges of Cycle 65, giant, 20-story-tall statues, have been corrupted by the Hunger, and are now walking across Faerûn towards the BoB Moon Base.
  • Kid Detective: Angus McDonald, the self-described "world's greatest detective," is a pre-pubescent boy.
  • Killer Cop:
    • At the end of the Petals to the Metal arc, Captain Captain Bane attempts to poison the party, presumably to steal the Gaia Sash.
    • Sherrif Isaak killed Jack for the Temporal Chalice in The Eleventh Hour. However, Jack's daughter June got to it before he could, and formed the bubble around Refuge.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The specialty of the Voidfish, who erases people's memories of everything it eats to Cosmic Retcon levels. Those memories can be restored by drinking its... fluids.
  • Laughably Evil: Quite a few of the villains, but especially Magic Brian, the villain of the Here There Be Gerblins arc, who has a ridiculous accent (similar to Taako's) and is ultimately disposed of by Magnus simply kicking him off of a ledge after he utterly fails to disguise his voice when he tries to pull a Spot the Imposter with Gundren.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Justin jokes that the show should be renamed "Magnus Rushes In."
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: In The Crystal Kingdom, Merle gets exposed to rapidly-growing crystal, forcing Magnus to chop off his arm to save him. Fortunately, he quickly gets a magical wooden replacement that he can control independently of his body.
  • Literal Surveillance Bug: The Scuttle Buddy.
  • Locked Room Mystery: The centerpiece of the Murder on the Rockport Limited arc, in which the victim is beheaded and be-handed in a locked train car aboard a train which requires all passengers to surrender their weapons upon boarding.
  • Logic Bomb: The end goal of the "Stump Hodge Podge" round in The Crystal Kingdom. Paradoxes don't work; what does work is Taako asking him who the party works for. Since the Voidfish denies Hodge Podge knowledge of the Bureau of Balance, he quickly overheats and explodes trying to work it out.
  • The Loonie: Justin has decided that Taako's mission in life is to invent the taco and name it after himself. Considering that the setting of the game has yet to discover concepts such as grinding meat, processing dairy into cheese, or growing corn for food, it looks to be a significant challenge. This gets especially hilarious once you consider that the taco quest was set up at the beginning when they were still attempting to make the setting full High Fantasy, at which point having no concept of cultured dairy products or ground meat would have been a big stretch but not entirely impossible, but the campaign pretty quickly diverges from that once things like the moon base and Fantasy Costco start showing up. Hell, Taako even had his own cooking show for a while.
  • Loose Canon: The live shows are subject to this, taking place during ambiguous times between main story arcs.
    • The Live in San Diego! show's place in the timeline is difficult to determine. The explanation with the fewest Plot Holes is that it takes place after Story and Song. To explain, Taako and Magnus possess the Umbra Staff and the Flaming Poisoning Raging Sword of Doom respectively. In the main story, Magnus didn't receive the sword until Reunion Tour, and Taako broke the Umbra Staff to free Lup the same day during Story and Song. This inconsistency, however, can be explained by them being inside of a simulation during the episode, and thus any equipment they possessed was simply the result of the simulation.
    • The exceptions to this are the Live Boston Stunt Spectacular and LA Podfest shows, which have been referenced in the main story.
  • Love Potion: According to the McElroys, Charming is less about making the target like you and more about making the target be attracted to you. After Taako Charms him, Klarg demands a hug from Magnus which lasts a little too long and begins to rub Magnus's back. Tom Bodett keeps asking for a kiss. Merle uses a Charm ability to basically talk some vines into orgasming.

  • The Magnificent: Magnus is occasionally called "The Hammer," despite wielding a battleaxe. It actually comes from his former profession as one half of a carpenter and blacksmith duo with his mentor Steven. Their shop was called "The Hammer and Tongs", with Magnus as the Hammer and Steven as the Tongs.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Lampshaded. There are seven ancient artifacts that must be collected and destroyed for the safety of the world. Secret magical society with limitless resources and a moon base: zero. Three horny boys: six. The Director of the Bureau of Balance notes this in-universe after the Petals to the Metal arc and decides to reassign all other reclaimers and put the Bureau's full resources behind supporting the party. Later justified: according to the Director, because they made them, the main party are the only people who can resist the thrall of the Grand Relics. Anyone else gets tempted to use them and inevitably corrupted by their power if they do.
  • Meaningful Echo: Early in episode 68, Taako claims "I have magic powers." before doing a Suicidal "Gotcha!" off the edge of the Bureau headquarters, leaving his compatriots to wonder if it was meant to be some big reveal. At the end of the episode, Joaquin says the same, which qualifies as genuinely meaningful due to him being the only person in his entire plane with access to magic.
  • Monty Haul:
    • In the first arc, Griffin leaves a small fortune in Gold Pieces and a useful pair of magical boots lying on conveniently pre-dead dwarves, just waiting to be picked up. If only Merle weren't such a prude about looting the dead....
    • Between the Bureau of Balance's magic gashapon machine that awards a random magical item to each party member after each arc, and their Fantasy Costco that stocks a plethora more goodies for the right price, the boys have amassed a very impressive magical arsenal for adventurers of their level.
  • The Munchkin: While Justin and Clint play preconstructed characters included in the 5th Edition starter kit, Travis decided to roll his own. His starting ability scores were suspiciously high.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Garfield the Deals Warlock was a one-off goof in MBMBAM that developed into a full-fledged character in TAZ Balance.
    • Candlenights, which is the most prominent winter holiday in the TAZ Balance setting, originated as a joke from My Brother, My Brother and Me, wherein it's the brothers' own pan-religious winter holiday.
    • The Caleb Cleveland: Kid Cop series of novels Angus is mentioned liking originate from literary masterpiece Grant Andrews - Kid Cop that Griffin wrote in elementary school, which he has talked about on his old blog and discussed a few times on MBMBAM.
    • One of the alternative planes appearing in The Stolen Century features a dead civilization who lives on by storing their souls and possessing robots, a concept discussed in Travis's (K)Nights campaign.
    • The "Arms Outstretched" music from The Suffering Game takes its name from a quote from a MBMBAM Jumbotron. A listener asked the boys to read her friend's decade-old melodramatic Live Journal post about how seeing Music/Coldplay live was a transcendent experience. The post was later preformed by John Hodgman during a liveshow. Other chaos what ensued can be found here.
  • Namesake Gag: Taako's quest to invent the taco.
  • Nerf: Dungeon Master Griffin quietly lowered Magnus's ability scores between episodes to bring him in line with the other two party members.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: DM Griffin suspects Clint of making up new powers for his cleric when they're convenient. He's occasionally right.
  • Ninja Looting: Near-literal example: Taako rolls a Stealth check to see if he can get the magical boots off of Merle's dead cousin on the sly. Later, Magnus distracts Merle so that Taako can lift a small fortune in Gold Pieces off another dead cousin, which he pockets rather than share it with the party.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: In the Live Boston Stunt Spectacular, we have an event which is basically Fantasy Wrestlemania, and several participants who are knockoffs of real-life pro wrestlers:
    • Jeff Angel is a perfect copy of John Cena, from his attire to his entrance theme, except that he's an aarakocra.
    • Death Man is a Goth-themed fighter with a black trenchcoat, a rocking entrance theme, and "massive guns," a bit past his prime but still formidable. Hmmm...
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The party goes out of their way to rescue an enslaved orc boy named Kurtze. Guess who shows up at exactly the wrong moment and shoots a crossbow at the Person of Mass Destruction the party had just about talked down?
  • Nominal Hero: The "heroes" are in the business of tracking down Artifacts of Doom for two reasons: because they don't want the planet destroyed, and because the pay is pretty good. They'll gleefully lie, cheat, steal, and murder along their way toward saving the world from the latest threat, and everyone else has to put up with it, because their track record at world-saving can't be beat.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Ninja Looter Taako actually objects to stealing some gold they find in a lockbox in a ruined bank. Apparently he makes a distinction between looting a fallen enemy (or unsuspecting ally) and straight-up bank robbery. Merle only responds with a Death Glare.
    • A somewhat meta-example occurs in the intro to episode 59, where for the first time the announcer doesn't make any jokes about the upcoming episode, simply stating with total seriousness that big events are about to drop.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Griffin occasionally has trouble keeping his character voices straight. Especially notable with Kravitz, whose British accent was so inconsistent Griffin decided it was just his work accent, and that off-the-clock he spoke basically like Griffin.
  • Ominous Obsidian Ooze: The Hunger, an evil sentient plane of existence, is described as tar-like with the coloring of black opal.
  • Once More, with Clarity:
    • Or rather, Once More with Particular Attention to the Actual Cost of Your Actions; in the penultimate episode of The Eleventh Hour, the Temporal Chalice, in a bid to get them to use it, offers them the chance to prevent their destruction of Phandalin by not letting Kurtze the Orc Boy out of his cage. When they refuse, probably out of spite, the Chalice then shows them exactly what the citizens of Phandalin were doing right as the town got immolated and glassed; a hedge wizard was practicing his spells, bar patrons (and the girl who we now know as the robot Noelle) were hiding from the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet-consumed Gundren, Barry Bluejeans was trying to talk his former partner down, etc., all of which was followed by a blinding flash of fire.
    • In the finale of The Stolen Century, certain clips of Lucretia interacting with the boys (welcoming them to the Bureau, eating Taako's macaron, and at the spa day with Merle) are replayed. They serve as exposition or are Played for Laughs the first time around; after the reveal that she's been friends with them for decades, and erased their memories of her in order to preserve their happiness and try to rectify what they'd done to the world, it's rather heartbreaking.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • Averted with Brian and his pet spider Bryan—and both also have the epithet "The Black Spider". Since they still sound identical, Brian winds up going by "Magic Brian" to avoid confusing the players.
    • There have also been four Jerrys over the course of the show. A gerblin in Here There Be Gerblins, two Hammerhead ruffians named "Regular Jerreeeeee" and "Lil' Jerry" in Petals to the Metal, and a bank guard in The Eleventh Hour. Guest host Stuart Wellington added a fifth one in tribute to the Hammerheads with Goldcliff's Councillor Jerry, who also had the Hammerheads' distinctive "Joe Pesci" accent.
    • Taken to its extreme with there being two bugbears named Jamie Green. One is Klarg's mother and Lucas's gardener, and the other is a reporter on the IPRE's homeworld.
  • One-Winged Angel: The avatar of the Hunger does this, initially looking like a twisted version of John, then taking on a more monstrous form after the first is killed.
  • Only in It for the Money: The Tres Horny Boys start out like this.
  • The Only One: The boys are the only reclaimers who have actually ever managed to...reclaim anything. Which makes sense, once you learn that they were three of the seven people that created the relics.
  • The Order: The Bureau of Balance.
  • Organic Technology: The Millers created a mascot for their line of elevators called Upsy, Your Lifting Friend. Horrifyingly, despite being an elevator, his inside is fleshy, not unlike a mouth or stomach.
  • Origins Episode: The penultimate episode of The Eleventh Hour acts as this, exploring the characters' previously unknown backgrounds.
  • Ornamental Weapon: This is how Taako intends to use the Flaming Poisoning Raging Sword of Doom after swindling it away from Garfield.
  • Our Liches Are Different: Rather than a phylactery, liches bind their souls to their magical essence, however most of the time, they go insane. Liches can be stabilized by rooting themselves with emotions they feel for others, such as people they love. The liches in Wonderland learned how to feed off of other people's emotions, namely misery.
  • Outlaw Couple: Sloane and Hurley.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: In the second episode of The Suffering Game, due in part to the specific losses the boys had to accept to continue without penalty, Taako leads the way into the next room, Magnus follows behind him, and Merle says he's "good out here."
    Griffin: What is happening?
  • Parasitic Immortality: The Animus Bell grants this ability, allowing the holder to rip someone's soul from their body and take it over. It turns out to have been created by Barry, a necromancer who also lived forever this way, albeit non-maliciously. As a lich, when he dies, his spirit lingers on, and he found a way to clone and recreate his own body over and over again, so every time he dies, he can just grow a new body and, effectively, possess himself. This breaks virtually every arcane law regarding death and mortality, but Barry is a well-meaning person who doesn't want to hurt anybody, and is horrified by the way people have torn each other to shreds to get the Bell.
  • Pensieve Flashback: How the Temporal Chalice's flashbacks work.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Everyone who gets their hands on a Grand Relic. Episode 39 features Lucretia giving the party a montage of towns and cities just totally annihilated by them, with a combined death toll in the tens of thousands.
  • Physical God: Our heroes have met several:
    • Istus, the lady of fate, is met in one of her churches in The Eleventh Hour.
    • The Four Judges are godlike entities in the form of giant statues, who rule the world of Cycle 65 in The Stolen Century. They appear again, corrupted by The Hunger, in Story and Song.
    • In the Live Boston Stunt Spectacular show, They prevent Garagos, the forgotten god of war, from being summoned from his imprisonment, but not before his 5 hands appear, and destroy the arena.
    • Merle finally meets Pan face-to-face in episode two of Story and Song.
  • Planet of Steves: Apparently the town of Rockport is populated exclusively by Tom Bodetts. And they do leave the light on for ya...
  • Plot Armor: In nearly every live episode, Magnus does incredibly dangerous and nigh-suicidal things to accomplish the task at hand because since his death has a canonical explanation, he cannot die before it happens much to Griffin's annoyance.
  • Plot Hole:
    • In Here There Be Gerblins, Tres Horny Boys and Killian hide in the well at the center of town to avoid Gundren's glassing of Phandalin. Come Story and Song, Taako turns the obsidian circle into sapphire to create a portal to the Astral Plane. However, for gemstone portals to work, they must be perfectly circular, with no imperfections. The well should've still been there, but was nowhere to be found.
    • In The Crystal Kingdom, Taako briefly disguises as Lucas while Noelle isn't looking to convince her to open the door to his private quarters. The next episode, he's out of disguise, with no explanation as to where "Lucas" went.
    • When Merle's arm crystalizes, the null suit around his arm crystalizes too, even though the entire point of the suit is to be resistant to the crystal's transmutative properties.
    • Taako sold his Gustmaster 5000 in Internal Affairs, but later gave it to Ren at the end of The Eleventh Hour.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: The first episode was released as part of My Brother, My Brother and Me, but there was already plenty of talk about making it an ongoing spinoff if it worked out.
  • Portal Cut: How Jenkins murders the engineer, Hudson, aboard the Rockport Express.
  • Posthumous Character: Julia qualifies for this, as we only learn about her in Magnus's flashback. Before the events of Story and Song, Lup qualifies for this, as The Stolen Century is a flashback arc, and she's dead at the start of canon.
  • The Power of Love:
    • How Hurley manages to save Sloane. They end up turning themselves into a tree together.
    • Taako lampshades this by asking up front if the seventh Grand Relic was love the whole time. As it turns out, the power of strong emotions (including love) does exist. Certain unexplainable magical phenomena that the party has witnessed like Hurley healing Sloane of an incurable poison are due to the fact that strong emotion is an energy unto itself like light, heat, and magic that can affect the physical and arcane worlds. The lich elves that run Wonderland are using this to sustain themselves and keep from descending into insanity by siphoning off the misery and suffering of those around them. Barry and Lup's love for each other and the rest of the IPRE sustains their lich forms. And the Starblaster's bond engine allows Tres Horny Boys to summon loved ones to help defeat Final John in their final battle against the Hunger.
  • Power-Up Letdown: Magnus decides to buy a Mystery Bag at the local Fantasy Costco. Instead of a useful magical item, it contains a magical goldfish that has no other abilities than being a goldfish that can survive without being fed.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Edward intends to give one of these during The Suffering Game, with "bad luck" just before expelling Magnus's soul from his body with the Animus Bell. But thanks to Merle and Taako, the "mortem" part doesn't quite take.
  • Preserve Your Gays: After Griffin caught a lot of flack for invoking Bury Your Gays with Hurley and Sloane, all other LGBT characters in the show became essentially unkillable. And with Story and Song revealing that Hurley and Sloane didn't actually die, the survival rate for LGBT characters in the series is actually 100%.
  • Prisoner's Dilemma: Each team that enters Wonderland during The Suffering Game is faced with a series of these, where they're paired off with another team and the challenge they'll face in the next room is scaled accordingly (with "cooperate while the other team forsakes" resulting in an extremely tough challenge, while "forsake while the other team cooperates" results in a free pass).
  • Red Herring: In Murder on the Rockport Limited, the victim has been beheaded and be-handed in a locked train car on a train where all passengers are required to surrender their weapons upon boarding. Jess, a powerful warrior with no alibi and a super-sharp, summonable soulbound ax that can't be separated from her would seem to be a prime suspect. There was also Graham the Juicy Wizard, who was found at the scene of the crime and had a possible motivation, with Jenkins haven taken the job Graham tried out for. In the end, it turns out the decapitation was accomplished by Portal Cut by another character.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Magnus and Taako, respectively. From the beginning, Magnus's motto is "Magnus rushes in," and Travis consistently plays him as someone who prefers prompt action to careful planning. Taako, on the other hand, later establishes that his motto is "Taako's good out here," and many of his most effective moments are due to action that is clever and not very risky.
  • Reference Overdosed: Both the players and the characters make constant pop culture references. Whether or not the references the characters make are understood in-universe varies according to Rule of Funny.
  • Retcon:
    • Griffin sneaks a few into his series recap in The The Adventure Zone Zone, making it official continuity that Davenport can only say his own name and Garfield is the only employee of Fantasy Costco.
    • The players also have this as their now-developed back stories occasionally conflict with things they've said in the past.
  • Riddle for the Ages: There is in fact a reason Garfield was growing a new Magnus body, but Griffin has decided that it's way more hilarious and creepy to never have it explained and has vowed to take it to his grave.
  • The Role Player: All three players occasionally making suboptimal decisions that are in line with their characters. For example, Travis plays Magnus as an impulsive man of action who will leap into situations without thinking, Clint plays Merle as a bit irreverent, usually trying to keep up with Magus as he rushes in, and Justin plays Taako as disinterested in combat, usually hanging back and waiting for things to play out, or be dragged in by the other two. Perhaps best exemplified by the Flaming Poisoning Raging Sword of Doom, which is so ridiculously overpowered that it would trivialize most combats... but remains deliberately unused until it would have the most dramatic impact.
  • Rollercoaster Mine: The climax of The Eleventh Hour has Tres Horny Boys and Roswell racing down mineshafts while pursued by a colossal purple worm.
  • RPG Mechanics 'Verse: Generally Averted, however spell slots have been mentioned by name by the characters several times.
  • Rule of Cool: The Flaming Poisoning Raging Sword of Doom, in spades.
    Justin: It only looks as though an eight year old designed it because an eight year old designed it. That’s how rad it is.
    Griffin: But it still looks fucking, over-the-top radical, much more than my 29-year-old mind could possibly devise.
  • Rule of Fun: All the players admit to fudging their rolls here and there to keep the story moving and interesting, though Travis is by far the most suspect. As the DM, Griffin often flagrantly bends or even disregards the rules of Dungeons & Dragons to help his players pull off goofs and impressive feats. Griffin mentions that some of the stricter fans are critical of the gang straying from the core mechanics, but he believes telling a story with limited time is more important than adhering to the rules.
    Griffin: We're taking a lot of liberties with what can be considered an action in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, but I'm very much into it.
  • Rule of Funny: Especially in the earlier episodes, though present throughout. Tres Horny Boys will never turn down a chance to goof if they see an opportunity, even if it causes problems with Griffin's characters; the introduction of Jenkins is a noteworthy example.
  • Runaway Train: The climax to the Murder on the Rockport Limited arc has the boys trying to stop an out-of-control locomotive before it can collide with a populated city and cause massive destruction. They actually fail to stop it; massive destruction is only avoided by teleporting the speeding train elsewhere.
  • Running Gag:
    • In general
      • Elevators have appeared in almost every one of their adventures to date.
      • And nearly every time they enter one, Travis starts humming "The Girl from Ipanema".
      • Griffin's ambigiously-ironic vore fetish, carried over from My Brother, My Brother and Me and CoolGames Inc..
      • Justin ragging on Clint and Travis, but mostly Clint, when they don't do their character voices.
      • "You've solved my X puzzle!"
      • All three sons suffer from anxiety to some degree, so they're pushing themselves to the brink at live events. Many live shows feature the boys having the house lights up to greet the audience, then quickly requesting the lights go down in a joking panic so they can pretend they're not on stage being watched by thousands of people.
    • Magnus
      • Magnus removing arms from the robots he fights and collecting them.
      • "Magnus rushes in"
    • Taako
      • "Taako's good out here"
    • Merle
      • Merle casting Zone of Truth, usually at the most inappropriate times.
      • Everybody constantly doubting Merle's healing abilities.

  • Schizo Tech: Magic can explain it to some extent, but the setting is somewhat medieval but includes elevators, steam trains, spacecraft, powerful computers, and styrofoam. And despite all that, apparently a safe method of curdling milk to make cheese hasn't been discovered at the beginning of the game.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Coming face to face with a crab monster on the Rockport Limited while they're all unarmed, Taako decides to run for it. When Clint protests, Justin launches into a hilarious rant:
    "Let me tell you a story about the time we fought three ogres, and I got punched so hard I almost died. You remember? You were up in some kind of weird laser firing potions willy-nilly, Magnus was pulling the arms off a robot, and I got punched so hard I almost died! I'm not about to throw down with a giant crab while you're armed with just a terrible Scottish accent, and Travis doesn't even have his shield! I'm out!"
  • Science Fantasy: Magic, wizards, Artifacts of Doom, liches, robots, aliens, interdimensional space travel, and Costco.
  • Sequence Breaking: Griffin references a long-sounding sequence in a castle that the party manages to skip by figuring out how to use an enchanted map and getting pointed straight to Wave Echo Cave. Unlike many instances of this trope, it is not advantageous, since it puts their level-2 characters in an area recommended for characters of level 4 to 5.
  • Series Continuity Error: While earlier bonus episodes taking place outside the story make sense, as back then there were fewer characters and events to keep straight, later ones sometimes create some serious plot holes. For example, in the San Diego Live Show, Lucas, who disappeared after the end of The Crystal Kingdom, creates a virtual reality dungeon for the Bureau of Balance members to play through. The episode clearly takes place after The Crystal Kingdom, with references to the Chance Lance and even the Flaming Poisoning Raging Sword of Doom, but also before Story and Song when Lucas comes back, because of the fact the Bureau of Balance still exists. How could Lucas have done this whole training thing without the Director knowing? Magnus, Taako, and Merle would've been caught in their lie, since they told the Director that Lucas was dead. The answer is Griffin just forgot.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: After being captured by some mysterious figures, the three main characters are judged by which of the seven deadly sins they committed.
    • Magnus is accused of Wrath and Pride for his extreme violence to evil-doers and thoughtless assurance in his abilities. Magnus defiantly praises those traits of his, shortly before getting petrified for a burst of anger.
    • Merle is accused of Envy and Sloth for his resentment of his Pannite brothers and his refusal to do anything about his communal misery. He admits guilt, although he gets cut off while trying to justify his Lust for flora.
    • Taako is accused of Envy, Sloth, and Greed. Unusually, Greed here does not mean an inordinate desire for wealth, but just desire in general. Taako impresses the judges by questioning how this modified definition of Greed is incompatible with the inordinate sorrow of Sloth, gaining two experience points.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: In the Petals to the Metal arc, Lt. Hurley of the Goldcliff constabulary instructs the boys to steal an important MacGuffin from a gang of street toughs without killing anyone, as is their usual habit. They spend the better part of a few episodes attempting various harebrained schemes to surreptitiously gain entrance to the gang's hideout, at one point actually killing someone and furtively disposing of the body so that Hurley won't find out and turn against them, finally infiltrating the gang through various wacky disguises and bald-faced bluffs. Then their cover gets blown, they wind up killing just about everyone anyway, and Hurley... is very disappointed in them. And gives them a bunch of sweet loot anyway.
  • Shared Universe: Because of the nature of the IPRE traveling between realities in The Stolen Century, they come across a version of the TAZ Nights universe, set in the far future, after a plague wiped out most people living there.
  • Shmuck Bait: Subverted during The Crystal Kingdom. The room with the suspiciously sounding name 'Hugbears' that Lucas doesn't want you to go into? Actually full of nice bugbears that just happened to be created unethically using brain altering chips. (It probably doesn't hurt that Merle healed one of them before they woke up).
  • Shoutout:
    • Wonderland as a whole is very similar to the Tomb of Horrors campaign by Gary Gygax, even being referenced by name. Adventurers are lured into a dungeon with promises of riches, only to find that it's a trap made to sustain the lich(es) that reside there.
      Lucretia: Their accounts of what is inside Wonderland never matched up. [...] One person told of a maze full of undead killers, another told of a Tomb of Horrors.
    • Exaggerated in the Live in San Diego! show, which takes place in a simulated replica of the Tomb, said to be based on an old game that Lucas played.
    • Justin named a character Sazed as a shout out to the character of the same name from Mistborn.
    • Griffin says that the Live in Austin! episode was basically intended as one long shout-out to Persona.
    • The magical basketball game from the Austin show was one long shout-out to Space Jam.
    • The plot of the Live Boston Stunt Spectacular was set at a thinly-veiled (not veiled at all) WWE expy.
    • All in all, Griffin's not shy about drawing inspiration from other sources. Arcs have included The Fast and the Furious-esque racing sequences, a Groundhog DayWestern mash up, and a murder mystery set on a train.
  • Signed with a Kiss: Just before she vanished without a trace for over ten years, Lup left a note for her partner Barry that simply read, "Back soon", with a lipstick kiss at the bottom of the paper. The turns out to be very lucky in the epilogue; Barry never got rid of the note, and there were enough trace amounts of Lup's DNA on the paper for her to be magically resurrected after it was discovered she'd been dead and trapped in her lich form for that entire decade.
  • Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: Merle's interactions with John in The Stolen Century are built on this trope.
    Merle: You can continue wallowing in your sadness and your oblivion and seeing nothing but the negative, and I'm gonna go on my way. And I'll tell you what—if we ever meet each other somewhere in infinity, you can apologize to me and tell me you were wrong.
  • The So-Called Coward: In a sense; the party (especially Taako) relentlessly mock Jenkins for conserving spell slots instead of expending them to make his job easier, when he was probably saving them for later since he turns out to be the villain of the arc. Not that it stops them from making fun of him.
  • Someday This Will Come in Handy: Travis establishes from session one that Magnus had an old knife that was owned by his grandfather. It's a pretty random detail that he gets some mockery about. In Story and Song he finally gets to use that knife, to stab an evil rhinoceros's eyes out.
  • Spacetime Eater: After being unable to find the Light of Creation for ten years, the Hunger loses its desire to grow beyond death, seeking only to consume other planes of existence.
  • Spell Book: Taako's is apparently an Uncle John's Bathroom Reader with notes on spells and ideas for the taco scribbled in the margins.
  • Spot the Imposter: After being defeated, Brian disguises himself as Gundren Rockseeker. The party figures it out easily, since he does nothing to disguise his voice. After five seconds of trying to Handwave the vocal confusion, Magnus kicks him off a ledge.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: During the epilogue to The Eleventh Hour, stars are beginning to blink out of existence. This is due to the thirteenth plane of existence consuming them as it makes for the planar system of the campaign.
  • The Starscream: Yeemick the goblin has a vendetta against Klarg the bugbear, who he claims is a Bad Boss, and blackmails the party into trying to kill him. His plan lasts exactly long enough for the party to tell Klarg, who kills him in a spectacular fashion.
  • Starter Villain: The Black Spider, aka Magic Brian, is a low-level wizard who initially seems to be an overarching villain, but who turns out to be a really small fry in the grand scheme of things.
  • Stone Wall: Magnus has the Protection Fighter specialty, which trades some offensive capability for the ability to better defend adjacent party members. This is only relative, though, and reversible depending on the circumstances; if he decides to cast aside his shield and wield his battleaxe two-handed, he is fully capable of laying down the hurt.
  • Straw Nihilist: According to John, its avatar, the Hunger believes that all life is pointless and horrible, and that as a result it must be destroyed.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: Here There Be Gerblins is lighthearted and silly right up until Phandalin is destroyed, killing countless innocent people.
  • Sudden Game Interface: In the Live in San Diego! show, the Tres Horny Boys suddenly see a Life Meter with three hearts and a life counter in the upper corners of their vision, as well as a chat feed in the bottom left. Justified, as they were inside of a simulation.
  • Summon to Hand:
    • Jess the Beheader possesses a "soulbound" axe that can be summoned to her location, similar to the "Weapon Bond" ability of the Eldritch Knight sub-class.
    • In The Eleventh Hour, Magnus is given a spear called the Chance Lance by the goddess Istus. When he throws and recalls it, it reverses its path in time back to his hand.
  • Surprisingly Creepy Moment: Carnival Chaos features Tres Horny Boys having fun at the Midsummer Solstice festival during the first part. Then comes the Eclipse watching and, though we don't know it at the time, the first appearance of the Hunger.
  • That's No Moon: The headquarters for the Bureau of Balance is disguised from the underside to look like a second moon.
    • The Big Bad of the campaign initially seemed to be a massless void of eyes in the sky, only for it to turn out to be a very sentient and very hungry plane of existence.
  • Theme Naming: When Lucas "took in" the bugbear family, he gave them names based on their jobs. Klarg was "Daniel Butler" (butler), his father is "Aaron Styles" (stylist/barber), his mother is "Jamie Green" (gardener), his grandfather is "John Cook" (chef), and his sister is "Christie Killgore", since they couldn't think of a good name for a maintenance worker.
  • Together in Death: Magnus and Julia in the Distant Finale.
  • Token Minority: Zig-Zagged. The McElroys encourage the audience to depict the characters however we want, but that leaves only one character with a canon race, and that's the dark-skinned Lucretia.
  • Tongue-Tied: A variant: those who aren't in tune with the Voidfish hear nothing but static when certain concepts, like the Phoenix Fire Gauntlet a.k.a. Glovey, are mentioned.
  • Too Dumb to Fool:
    • Invoked in-universe with Taako. Apparently the reason he was able to resist the temptation to claim and use the Artifact of Doom is because he's simply too stupid to be tempted.
    • It happens again with the artifact from the second arc; it tries to tempt him with "anything he can imagine," but his imagination is so bad it doesn't make a difference.
    • Ultimately subverted when the real reason the boys can resist the Relics—the fact that they made them—is revealed.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Okay, Kurtze, this horrifically racist dwarf wreathed in unholy flames is on a rampage through the countryside, but the nice guys who rescued you from slavery seem to be talking him down. Do you, A.) get away from all this madness as fast as orcishly possible, or B.) shoot a crossbow at it?
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: In Carnival Chaos The Boys partake in a carnival in celebration of the annual midsummer solstice eclipse. During the eclipse, the Hunger makes its first appearance, foreshadowing the overarching plot to come.
  • Totally Radical: The Live in Austin! show brings us Brody, who wears obnoxious neon clothing and is never seen without his skateboard. He turns out to be the avatar of the mind flayer who captured them and put them in the high school dreamscape.
  • Trigger Phrase: In The Eleventh Hour, Roswell is revealed to have one—namely, "Junebug."
  • Truth Serum: Merle gets a lot of mileage out of the Zone of Truth spell, which makes it impossible for anyone affected to lie.
  • Two Girls to a Team: The seven-member IPRE crew consisted of five men, Magnus, Merle, Taako, Barry, and Davenport, and two women, Lucretia and Lup.
  • Ultimate Job Security: The party gets up to antics that would get anyone else tossed out on their rear, being rude to VIPs and superiors, trigger-happy to the point of murderousness, and liable to loot anything that isn't nailed down. The thing is, their track record when it comes to hunting down and safely disposing of Artifacts of Doom is six to everyone else's zilcho. It helps that they've been friends with the boss for a century, and they're the only living beings capable of resisting the thrall of the Grand Relics.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: The Stolen Century is actually played using a modified Powered by the Apocalypse ruleset instead of the usual 5E D&D.
  • Unperson: The Voidfish is a being that subsists by eating information. This can be done by simply tossing it a piece of paper with writing on it, and afterward whatever was written will be removed from the collective memory of most planes of reality, with its name and any relevant details being impossible to understand—speakers will simply sound like static. The Voidfish's power isn't perfect—for example, there will still be physical signs of an erased person's existence, which allowed Angus to piece together the Bureau's existence. Anyone who drinks the Voidfish's ichor also becomes immune to the erasure.
  • Useless Useful Non Combat Skill: Magnus keeps trying to find a use for his Vehicle and Animal Handling proficiencies in the first couple episodes, but finds himself in situations that are either too easy (driving an ox-drawn cart down a safe, level road, which doesn't require a proficiency check) or too hard (trying to calm a hostile wolf after he's already picked it up and thrown it into a fire) for them to do much good. In the whole campaign, he makes use of each of these skills once.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Originally, Davenport said "Davenport" quite a lot. It was later changed into Pokémon Speak, with it being the only thing he says.
    • Magnus has a strong tendency to cut off a description of events or list of options by saying "Magnus does X" and proceeds to do exactly that.
  • Villain's Dying Grace: During the Story and Song finale, John's death is this. In his featured episode in The Stolen Century, John was stubborn about his vision for the Hunger and insisted he'd become ascendant. Then he has a Heel Realization when the Hunger itself turns on him after starving for the Light of Creation for over a decade. Knowing he’s almost certainly about to die, John brings Merle to Parley to tell him how to defeat the Hunger and save the planar system.
  • Voices Are Mental: Averted. When Magnus's body is possessed by the lich Edward, he speaks with his normal voice (as imitated by Griffin). And when the trio have their bodies swapped in the MaxFunCon East show, they attempt to imitate each other's character voices.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Well, Voice with Access to the Combined Knowledge of Bureau of Balance, anyway. After the Petals to the Metal arc, Kid Detective Angus McDonald joins the Bureau to feed the boys intel through their Stones of Farspeech (basically fantasy Bluetooth headsets).
  • Wacky Racing: "Battlewagons," an illegal Blood Sport involving heavily-armed cars wagons powered by Magitek.
  • Walking Spoiler: Lup, Taako's twin sister.
  • Wedding Finale: The campaign concludes with Carey and Killian's wedding, officiated by Merle.
  • Wham Episode:
    • The end of Petals to the Metal counts. The deaths of Hurley and Sloane really signify a change in the tone of the show, and the reveal of the red robe kicks off the main plot in a big way.
    • The end of The Suffering Game. Magnus loses his body, it's revealed that he (and possibly Taako and Merle by extension) is originally from another planet if not another universe, the party cuts off contact with the Bureau of Balance to join up with the Red Robe that's been helping them... and said Red Robe is revealed to be none other than Barry Bluejeans from the first arc.
    • Lunar Interlude V: Reunion Tour - Part Two. The Tres Horny Boys break into Lucretia's private quarters and drink the baby Voidfish's ichor, restoring their memories and prompting The Reveal that they — along with Lucretia, Barry, Lup, and Davenport — were the Red Robes, and they all traveled together for a hundred years before coming to Faerûn and creating the Grand Relics.
  • Wham Line:
    • In Chapter Ten of The Crystal Kingdom, The Reveal that something is up with the boys:
      Kravitz: Taako, you've died eight times.
    • At the end of the second episode of The Eleventh Hour, right after everyone dies, Griffin chooses to reveal what the actual situation is:
      Griffin: And there’s something about the dying that feels familiar. And then you're back in that white space, and you see that old woman again. And she says,
      Old Woman: Oh, you’ll have to do much better than that, loves.
    • In the "epilogue" to The Eleventh Hour.
      Griffin: And in this sketch, this earlier sketch, Jack and June look exactly the same. But the Red Robe's hood is pulled down. And you can see his face. And it's an incredibly familiar face, Magnus... because it's your face.
    • "Because in Wonderland, there is no healing." It came as such a shock to the players that Clint thought Griffin was lying.
    • After the Animus Bell is rung, Mangus suddenly collapses to the ground, before getting up and start saying how Wonderland wasn't really that bad. Except, Griffin is the one speaking as Magnus...
      Magnus: (Griffin is saying these lines) You know, boys, I don't think Wonderland's that bad. You know, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself here, and I feel like our friendship has grown even more powerful, don't you think? (Travis is speaking) Ahem. I didn't say that.
      Griffin: Nobody hears you say that, Magnus, because you’ve just had the singular sensation of having your soul knocked out of your still-living body.
    • The finale to The Suffering Game has one that doubles as a serious revelation and a joke.
      Griffin: And Merle, you crack open the chest and retrieve the clothes within. A white cotton shirt, a studded leather belt, and a pair of pants... Sturdy. Denim. And blue.
    • Griffin drops one nonchalantly near the end of Episode 59:
      Griffin: Lucretia's kneeling over her white oak staff, and she's channeling some sort of energy from the orb into the staff, which, of course, is the grand relic she made when the seven of you first came to this world.
    • Also from the end of 59, Lucretia revealing the identity of the final Red Robe:
      Lucretia: So those are the 6 of us. Me, Barry, Lup, Taako, Merle, Magnus. And of course, the seventh, our captain. When I redacted the logs to feed to the second Voidfish, I let you keep your names while eradicating any information pertaining to the mission. [sighs] But for our captain, his life was the mission. He was impossible to edit around and so, unfortunately, his name was all he kept.
      Davenport: L...Lucretia, what have you DONE?
    • From the end of Episode 61: "She thinks of her friends, and prays for sunrise." It confirms that the guardian robot was, in fact, Troth, Justin's character from The Adventure Zone: Nights.
    • Despite the event in question being a Foregone Conclusion, this line from Episode 66 definitely qualifies:
      Barry: Taako, what if she's just gone?
      Taako: ...who?
    • The end of Episode 66, as the final arc begins:
      Griffin: The Hunger is here again. You've escaped it a hundred times, but no more. This is it. THIS IS IT!
    • Even after the big final battle, one is dropped in the winding down finale.
      Griffin: I just have a question, which is, how does Magnus die?
    • A more comedic, but no less shocking one, and one that hit Griffin as hard as it hit the audience, as he realizes that Justin is about to swindle the Flaming Poisoning Raging Sword of Doom right out from under him.
      Taako: Garfield? ... I have something that I think is really gonna interest you.
      Griffin: ...Oh my GOD.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Several examples throughout the life of the series.
    • Ruby, the dog belonging to Gundren Rockseeker, was recovered in episode 2 and brought with the boys, then promptly forgotten.
    • At the finale of Murder on the Rockport Express, Taako retrieved both a magic compass that pointed to valuable (and possibly magical) objects, as well as Jenkin's portal wand. Both items were immediately forgotten, along with a briefcase Taako also found in the safe and was never even opened for curiosity's sake.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The four divine judge statues in the Stolen Century arc examine the party's deeds, finding so many crimes that the pronouncements run over each other and are almost impossible to distinguish. As a result of their findings, the judges take immediate action and kill all of the present protagonists, even though it it supposed to be a preliminary hearing, not a trial, let alone an execution.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?:
    • Basically Jenkins's entire character revolves around being self-aware of this trope, to the point of having a mental breakdown (both in and out of character).
    • Dungeon Master Griffin calls this trope out by name a few times, as he struggles to make different NPCs sound unique.
    • Merle in disguise on the Rockport Limited. His attempts at a Scottish brogue slides wildly between Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping and incomprehensible mush.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The very end of Story and Song details what each of the heroes have done in the year since the titular Day of Story and Song.
    • Taako teams up with Ren to found a Wizarding School named Taako's Amazing School of Magic.
    • Merle founds Merle's Extreme Teen Adventures, an Adventure Guild for teens, in hopes to train them to be the next generation of adventurers, and also to spend more time with his children. He's also made governor (or, rather, earl) of the beach town of Bottlenose Cove by Lord Artemis Sterling.
    • Magnus sets up a dog training school called Hammer and Tails: A Dog's School in the ruins of Ravensroost. He also gets a Distant Finale where he dies of old age surrounded by his friends, and is reunited with Julia in the Astral Plane.
    • Barry and Lup strike a deal with the Raven Queen to avoid being hunted for being liches, and become reapers.
    • Lucretia renames the Bureau of Balance to the Bureau of Benevolence, and changes its goal to helping those ravaged by the Hunger's attack to recover.
    • Davenport, not content to stay in one place, sails the world, reveling in the existence of the world they saved.
    • Other epilogues include Carey and Killian getting married, Lucas founding the Academy of Arcane Sciences, the people of Refuge hitting another diamond vein, Sloane and Hurley returning to a life of racing, and the people of the world banding together to rebuild anew.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Magnus is afraid of spiders; the Starter Villain is spider-themed.
  • "With Our Swords" Scene: Taako swindles the Flaming Poisoning Raging Sword of Doom from a shopkeeper, but his player, Justin, refuses to use it or give it to anyone else because the item was acknowledged In-Universe as a Game-Breaker. Only in the final arc did he relent and give it to the group's fighter, who used it to great effect in fighting the multiverse-chomping monster.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In The Eleventh Hour, Griffin states that Refuge is seven years out of step with the rest of the world, but Ren said that she moved to Refuge about two years after seeing a showing of Sizzle It Up with Taako, which was only six years ago, meaning Refuge should only be four years out of step. She also says that she feels like she recognizes Magnus, which implies she lived in Refuge when he brought Jack, June, and the Temporal Chalice to town. This however is impossible, as that was around ten years ago, and she would still be living in the Underdark. It's possible that she never actually met him, but is subconsciously comparing him to the red-robed statue of him in town.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Due to not having the appropriate legal arrangements, the Comic-Book Adaptation changes several names that were pulled directly from Dungeons & Dragons. Klarg, for instance, is renamed "G'nash", while Neverwinter is "Eversummer".
  • Wrong-Name Outburst: Justin/Taako accidentally says "Travis" instead of "Magnus" during a rant in Murder on the Rockport Limited.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Because your home plane's been destroyed by the Hunger.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: In the climax of the Live in Austin! show, Taako dunks a basketball into the hoop at the center of Brody's final form, releasing them from the Dream Land they were trapped in. They all wake up in a chamber in the Underdark, where their captor, a mind flayer, proclaims "If you get dunked on in the dream, you get dunked on in real life!" and dies on the spot.