As a young nerd, I would have thought it was almost impossible for Dungeons & Dragons to break into the mainstream media, however, recent years have proved that wrong. With the release of the new film based on the decades-old game and popular streaming series such as Critical Role’s Legend of Vox Machina, interest has been at an all-time high. The Adventure Zone is among the likes of Critical Role, with a podcast that has spawned graphic novels, such as the newest release, The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour by the McElroys.
With origins in an earlier podcast brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy began recording The Adventure Zone with their father Clint in 2014. The series has gained a lot of popularity and amassed a large following, as listeners can’t seem to get enough of the hilarious antics of the McElroy family.
The latest book from the first campaign, Balance, brings heroes Magnus (Fighter/Rogue), Takko (Wizard), and Merle (Cleric) as they recover another Grand Relic. However, time is not on their side as these three are in a race to solve the mystery of Refuge and acquire their target. So what exactly is going on in The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour? Read on to find out.
[Warning: Spoilers from The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour are below!]
Time has no meaning
As The Eleventh Hour begins, our heroes are at a memorial service for Boyland, a fellow member of The Bureau of Balance. Those present seem to be in mourning, however, the three adventures are confused as to why. Boyland wasn’t a nice person, yet everyone seems to remember him as a kind and thoughtful man. There’s not much time to dwell on the loss of Boyland before The Director announces that another Grand Relic has been located.
The Temporal Chalice might be the most dangerous Grand Relic the team has been tasked with collecting. It grants the wielder total control of time, which is a power that corrupts almost anyone who has it. Traveling to the location of the Temporal Chalice, the trio discovers a large nearly impenetrable force field encasing the entire town. Sealed off from the rest of the world, it seems impossible that the heroes can break into it, at least without a bit of help.
Using some Bureau technology, the group is shot into and past the forcefield, arriving in the small Western town of Refuge. Picture the typical Western town from any film and that’s basically Refuge, however with a D&D flair. They wake up on the edge of town at around, greeted by the town’s guardian in a suit of armor, Roswell. He takes the heroes around town, explaining how Jack, June, and the mysterious Red Hood saved the town. Everything seems to be going well until an earthquake hits. They set out to help the town as the quake continues and a fire breaks out at the bank. As the clock strikes 12, the ground drops out underneath the heroes, killing them instantly. That is until they wake up again at the edge of town.
Groundhogs Day in The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour
Time has reset itself, with Magnus, Takko, and Merle confused as to what happened. The majority of the story plays out as a Groundhogs Day story, with the adventurers attempting to reach the Grand Relic and solve the mystery of Refuge. It sounds like there are insurmountable hurdles for the heroes to complete their tasks within an hour, but each go-through gets them one step closer to their goal or another clue to the puzzle. It also adds to the humor of the story, with new hijinks each round, as the stakes mean almost nothing when you know you’ll wake up seconds later to do it all over again.
With the reduction of stakes on that front, The Eleventh Hour brings emotions and heart in other ways. Peppered throughout the pass-throughs are moments where the heroes enter a blinding white place, where they are confronted with their past. These moments are just glimpses into the character’s past, which don’t add up to much significance at first. As the story continues, their past becomes an integral part of reaching the Time Chalice in the climax of The Eleventh Hour. To say I shed a tear during this moment might be an understatement.
Some of the other entries in lacked the emotional component, instead focusing on the mystery or combat instead. Which is totally fine. I just enjoyed the change of pace with a story that had a better balance between the roleplaying bits as well as the fighting and adventuring.
The good and the bad from this Adventure Zone story
As a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, I have always had a fondness for The Adventure Zone and the McElroy family. Their brand of nerdy humor is brilliant and translates well from podcast to page. As we all know, adaptations from one medium to another don’t always work, but these graphic novels seem like natural extensions of their podcasts, with characters that remain consistent, which to me is the most important of all.
The colors and art by Carey Pietsch elevate this graphic novel series even more, bringing the rich world and words of the McElroys to life. I remember when the first novel came out, I was stunned by the vibrant purples and striking oranges, upping the fantasy aspects of the story and creating a world that is even more gorgeous than I could imagine. Their interpretation of the characters was exactly as I had them in my mind’s eye and yet even better.
The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour is an exceptional read for fans of either the podcast, Dungeons & Dragons, or just fantasy stories in general. That being said, as the fifth book in this series, you might be lost jumping into it at this point without reading some of the others that came before. There are ongoing jokes or story points that aren’t explained more so than the passing mention. I don’t think not having that previous knowledge will ruin the overall experience, but it would definitely enhance it.
With a lot of adaptations, some things are changed or removed and The Eleventh Hour is no exception. The biggest change I noticed is the reduction of Griffin McElroy’s Dungeon Master interjections, which have been present in the previous graphic novels. One aspect that makes The Adventure Zone superb is the banter and interactions between the players and DM, which is a large part of any D&D game. With less Griffin, that felt odd and something I craved from this novel.
Overall, The Eleventh Hour was an excellent continuation of The Adventure Zone franchise. The world created by the McElroys is exciting regardless of whether it’s listening to them play or reading it in a book. I suggest those who are big fans of the D&D world or any TTRPG in general check out this novel and the podcast that it’s based on.
The Adventure Zone: The Eleventh Hour by the McElroys and illustrated by Carey Pietsch is available now! Are you a fan of The Adventure Zone? Let us know on Twitter or in the Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our book review of The Road to Neverwinter: A Dungeons & Dragons Novel!