Ah True Dungeon (TD). This is the most epic thing any RPG fan could hope for. An event where you can actually crawl through the dungeon, slay the monster, solve the puzzle, and get the girl. Well, you have to bring your own girl to get the girl. It's held every year at GenCon. And this wasn't my first crawl.
I've done TD several times. Looking back at my cool collector buttons (which you get at the end of the dungeon) I've done it in 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2013. So I'm certainly no novice. To give you an idea of how popular the game is they run a group through several times an hour. This year there were also several different options. You could choose from Lycans Afoot, Golembane, and True Grind. All but True Grind were also available as puzzle or combat modes, and each had four levels of difficulty. So that's A LOT. This year they sold 7500 tickets at $44 a pop. My group did Lycans Afoot on Normal.
So the way TD works is you get a party of 10 people. This can be a pre-determined group of people, or you can see if anyone has a slot open and play pickup. This year there were four of us that joined a group of three and a group of two. Once you have your group you're assigned a time. Once your time comes you all assemble and choose your class. I'm generally the bad-ass Paladin, but this year I went Rogue. Once you have your character picked out the DM comes in and assigns your skills and modifiers. You get a character card and start with the typical starting stats for your character. You get buffs by way of TD Tokens. You get a dozen when you buy your ticket, and you can buy more from the store. They're like TCG card packs. All the packs are random, but you can usually trade or buy from other people. There is a bit of an underground economy that's been created over the years and we met one girl that was particularly addicted. There are some tokens that are worth up to a thousand dollars.
So now your adventuring party assembled and you're all decked out in gear. Practice time! Every class has something specific they need to be good at. Fighters, of course, fight. Fighting is done by putting your weapon token into a slider much like one of those things you'd put under furniture to slide it around. There is a slick table with a monster drawn on the end, showing hit points. You slide your weapon at the monster and where it lands determines your hit. It's essentially fantasy shuffleboard. The non-fighters have to practice their skills. Bards, Wizards, and Druids all memorize various symbols. The Rogue opens chests by moving a conductive rod through a maze without touching the sides. It's like Operation but way harder. But guess how much time you have to perfect your new found skills? Yes, it's the same amount of time as a typical coming of age montage.
So now you have the basics. You run through rooms, fight, and solve puzzles. There are usually 6 to 7 rooms and each room has a DM that explains what's going on. There are sound effects, light shows, and often large props. The DM's usually do a great job. You'll get some that dress up and actually act out the role. Then you get the guy in the TD Volunteer shirt, cargo shorts, and combat boots. *sigh*. Most of the DM's this year were great. In fact, all but the last were dressed in character and acted out the story. The last one, well, he seemed like he was over the job and just wanted to get us out. That's sad since the final boss battle is usually really epic. But, as I pointed out in my GenCon blog our Bard decided to start texting half way through the battle. It didn't make us look good.
Generally, TD is really well done. Honestly, when you walked in the front of the area looked awesome. It made me almost feel like I was actually in a market square at night. It was really well done. The sets, though, not so up to par. This is the second year they had so many different stories, and they did have way more room this year. In the past the game was run in one of the hotel ballrooms, so it was very tight. This year they had an actual hall in the convention center and it seemed like they just didn't have the time or budget to do it justice. There were several rooms that seemed pretty sparse. In the final room the sound and light effects were actually broken. I think the most disappointing part of this year was the story. I chose Lycans Afoot because one of our party loves wolves. What didn't we see a lot of? WOLVES!!! There was a Werewolf in the first room, but every other room they were “chasing us”. Even the last boss was an Ent. Really? An Ent? I was sad.
TD really has a long way to go to step up next year. For $44 I would hope to at least have the quality I had a few years ago. It's popular enough that they could really make it great… like it was. But, like most games it really depends on your party. Like I said, we picked up a group since there were only four of us. Usually, we have a great group that Andrea has been playing with for almost a decade. This group was essentially all newbies. Andrea and I were the most experienced, the group of two had played once before, and the other 5 had never played before. We had a lot of “Too many chiefs” during the puzzles. This was also a promo game as three of the players do a podcast. i.e. they didn't have to pay, so they didn't really care. I believe if you have one of the two components (a great party or a great dungeon) you can really rock TD. This year, we didn't have either.