True Dungeon, Gencon 2013

9 09 2013

A staffer stands watch before the entrance to the massive western wing of the Indianapolis convention center. The doors are held wide open but beyond there is only a stifling darkness. The staffer asks for an entry ticket and takes it with a soft grin and a nod. Carefully passing into the veil of blackness, your eyes soon adjust to the pervasive dimness and you find yourself standing in a lobby area of some sort, decorated to have the resemblance and ambiance of an inn or tavern that adventurers might visit to collect and steady themselves before venturing into more dangerous parts. Apart from this holding area, looking aloft you can tell from the expanse of ceiling that the room stretches hundreds of yards in each direction, and one can only ponder on what challenges and dangers are concealed in the sprawling maze of curtains beyond that makes up the expanse of the True Dungeon. There is an air of tension and excitement amidst the quiet, and several other patrons are here as well whispering amongst themselves, whether in anticipation or dread you cannot tell.

You approach the counter and offer your papers to the administrator. They glance at the paper briefly then speak the name of your waiting room and offer a small grey bag filled with what feels like sturdy poker-sized chips with little explanation. Upon finding your way to the room, you find a long table across which are strewn various laminated templates and documents. Taking a seat, you study the documents and find that some of them are named to be dungeoneering professions; fighter, druid, rogue, wizard to name a few which are chosen by the participants. Additionally there are templates depicting an adventurer’s body with various circular “slots” in each position on the body—head, left arm, right arm, ring, amulet, body, belt, etc.—where various items, weapons, and equipment seem to be placed. This is when you remember the grey pouch, and emptying its contents you find that indeed the various chips depict a random assortment of adventuring gear, protective vestments, and various weaponry which are the tools of the trade for dungeoneering. There are some that appear more effective and valuable than others, and those blessed with good fortune may have particularly powerful artefacts and relics to wield.

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A few more participants begin to trickle in, and also begin studying the sheets and instructions. A few of them set to work immediately, and apart from the small grey pouches of their own produce hefty bags of the chips which have been stockpiled from years of dungeons previous; it seems that veteran dungeoneers are allowed to accumulate their items from dungeon to dungeon and become more powerful as their hoard grows. Soon, the pool of participants begins to fill and the room is filled with cross-talk and banter as the team of adventurers evaluates their effectiveness. Classes are chosen and items swap hands as the party readies themselves. The more veteran dungeoneers assist newcomers, offering advice and sometimes even gifting to them a piece of equipment or two from their vast arsenal such that each member is competently prepared for the unknown dangers of the dungeon.

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Before long, a guide appears from the administration, and he assists in finalizing the party’s composition. He offers some coaching and advise to newcomers, and also notes down the selection of equipment each participant has chosen on a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will be taken through the dungeon such that the other guides can discern the party’s armament from a brief glance. Soon the time to enter the holding room for the entrance to the dungeon sounds from the speaker and the party gathers their effects and heads to the door. The classes that were chosen are worn around the neck via an elastic cord, and relevant items such as weapons and ammunition are kept at the ready. In the holding chamber, another guide briefs each participant on some of the potential challenges of the dungeon and gives a brief overview of combat and spellcasting.

When an adversary appears, the party must engage them in combat. The guide produces a large and long table with a polished surface, at the end of which is a silhouette of the enemy, in whatever monstrous shape it may assume. The silhouette is broken into distinct sections, each marked with a different number, with vital areas denoted with higher numbers. Each participant wielding a weapon may attack the foe using their weapon chips by fitting the chip into a slotted weighted coaster and then sliding the coaster down the table in a fashion not unlike the tavern game shuffleboard. Damage is determined by the position and orientation of where your shot lands on the opponent’s silhouette. Some melee specialists like the ranger and monk are able to fling multiple coasters at once, due to their mastery of multiple strikes. You would do well to aim your strike so that it lands true and strong, for if the foe is not felled, it will retaliate and some of the dungeoneers may take damage, or even be killed if they sustain too many wounds.

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Apart from rending enemies with weaponry, certain classes have other effects that they can call into play throughout the dungeon. Wizards and druids are required to memorize arcane symbology and shapes to represent their mastery of magic and lore and may be required to recite and recall these images when attempting to muster their powers. Rogues will occasionally have the opportunity to pick locks and treasure boxes by way of their own dexterity, guiding a metal stylus through a winding path without touching the edges to simulate their finesse in bypassing security. The bard of the party is informed that if he wishes to have his music bolster and enhance his allies, he will have to actually vocalize and sing for the duration that he wishes for the effect to occur.

After what seems like only a few heartbeats of frantic training and memorization, the party is whisked into the first of many rooms partitioned into a progression of chambers. The first of these rooms was a small enclosure, about 25 ft by 25 ft, handsomely decorated with its walls having a clockwork look to them with various bronze panels, pipes, and wiring. In the middle of the room rests a circular table with small round openings around the perimeter of the surface, each corresponding to an abstract symbol. Attached to the table there is a comically large switch like you would find in a madman’s laboratory. The referee in this room explains that you need to power the switch to successfully bypass the sealed door to the next chamber, and offers no further explanation. The rogue of the party notices a treasure box and sets to work in silent concentration. The rest of the adventurers, puzzled as to what to do with themselves, begin to inspect the decorum of the room itself. They discover that there are openings in various places on the wall about 3 inches in diameter, that seem to have some tube connected to them that leads somewhere out of sight. After a few moments pass, there is a peculiar thrumming sound, like a warning that something is about to happen. From one of the openings, an object issues forth and the adventurers watch in surprise as it plummets to the floor. “The orb impacts the floor and everyone takes 5 lightning damage!” the referee announces. The party quickly organizes themselves such that each member is assigned to a different opening to catch the falling objects such that this doesn’t happen again. Sure enough, in a few moments another orb leaps out into the room and is caught by a waiting hand, but this time the orb is different bearing a frosted blue appearance and being actually cold to the touch…It is at this time that the magic-users of the party recognize the symbology of the table to represent the various elements and infer that the correct orb must be matched with its element on the table to power the switch. In this fashion, 7 more orbs are caught and allocated to their spot on the table, and the door creaks open…

This is simply the first of many rooms you and your party must defeat in succession, with their skill and wits about them, to conquer the dungeon. A total of 7 challenging rooms with devious traps, confounding puzzles, and deadly enemies awaits for the dungeoneers. Not all parties make it through the dungeon intact, and indeed it is a mark of honor to have survived the gauntlet of chambers and survivors are awarded with a special badge to display proudly. After the party has cleared the final room (or suffered crushing defeat) the adventurers emerge into another common area where they are free to carouse and trade with the various merchants for valuable items for future dungeon runs. This adventure is but one of the four offered in a given year of True Dungeon and truly dedicated dungeoneers may attempt all of them, time and coin permitting. One thing to be certain of is that it is a truly unique experience of Gencon that is not to be missed.