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November 22, 2005
True Dungeon Experience at Gen Con
Welcome to the Anaheim, home of the palm tree
Gen Con registration lines go on and on...
Don't mind the Dark Knight
Help, I'm stuck in the floor!
Oops, big fella, you missed
True Dungeon test for weapons aiming skills
This, my friends, is a wall -- fear it, respect it
Learning more survival skills for True Dungeon
Doom, I tell you, a +1 magic camera flash!
A test just like Operation but twice as hard
Tokens, fresh tokens here!
Collections of Treasure Tokens to envy
Our band of intrepid adventurers at the entrayway to True Dungeon
The story that launched a thousand adventures
Facing down the beast on the board
Adventurers carefully searching the room for treasure
Lantern upheld, the wizard attempts to solve a timed puzzle
Nasty looking critter, but it surely cannot be that harmless...
...but the beast has a few secrets of its own

The Night Before Gen-Con...

'Twas the night before Gen Con when all through Anaheim
Hardly a gamer was stirring, not even a mime;
The Marriot Hotel was filled with live action heroes
In hopes that True Dungeon waiting lines would be zero...

Yes, you may have guessed it for yourself. MPOGD is at Gen Con So Cal, in scenic Anaheim, California officially from November 17-21 at the Anaheim Convention Center. Gen Con So Cal encompasses card, board and online games, and more. While there are groups of diehards willing to put in their time and play their game of choices, at any time around the clock on any day, most activities and event functions didn't kick in until the 18th, such as the exposition area and the eGame area. One particularly popular event, the True Dungeon runs throughout the duration of Gen Con, including the otherwise quiet opening night. In only two years, True Dungeon has become a marquee event for Gen Con.

True Dungeon can best be described as a "multiplayer live action role-playing game". True Dungeon does a pretty fair job replicating the role-playing experience seen in other role-playing games, with a particular emphasis on the teamwork problem solving aspects like you'd see in methodical squad-based games, like Rainbow Six.

I tagged along with a friendly group of dungeoneers, to soak in the experience for myself. The stalwart party of adventurers was outfitted with laminated badges detailing their stats and class identifications. The True Dungeon Experience begins with a skills test for players within their given class. Our rogue in the group was tested by having him sliding a needle through a groove snaking its way through a metal plate, much like the board game Operation; to defeat the trap, the Rogue needed to slide the needle through successfully without touching either side of the metal plate. Very difficult, I didn't see any trap successfully deactivated. For wizards, they'd need to memorize certain patterns on a chart on a wall to create a more successful spell. In many instances they'd need to use these skills to escape triggers, traps and uniquely adverse environments. These representations were placed on the wall and floor in various rooms where the right player's skills would more than likely be called for.

Also, at the start of the experience was the all-important allocation of "wooden nickel"-style Treasure Tokens, which represent a number of useful items like magical weapons, armor, gems, etc., a few items of which are very rare. A few of these tokens are given to every player in the group to start with, but can be bought, traded and sold using the wooden nickels are currency. A final nice touch for adventurers needing a shot of courage, a full-service tavern (accepting no wooden nickels, of course), amusingly dressed in penguin-style suits among the tavern wenches, a wandering angel of death, and other medieval sorts.

Then, after being briefed with a quest from a robed and bearded seer, the adventurers were sent into their first room, where they checked their tokens and badges and suck in their guts. Every room had a Dungeon Master to narrate the back story and direct the progression of events depending on players' choices, offer hints, and to ensure the players follow the rules. The True Dungeon environment is more or less a stiff cardboard-walled maze illustrated in classic dungeon wall bricks and sparsely furnished with rough wooden chairs, rough burlap cloth and other features that illustrate a room well enough for those with enough imagination for the experience. There is little ambient light, certainly not from the sprawling ballrooms where the dungeons twisted and turned. The few ambient sound and visual cues were made more effective by the lack of light.

In the first room, the easiest by all accounts, the players faced a forested scene replete with a festive flower garland festooning the top of the wall, and a shuffleboard-like table with the illustration of a ferocious-looking dog painted on the surface, different sections inked to represent targets for varying damage. The sound of a barking dog accompanied the entrance of a chained wolf creature, as a threat. The players quickly dispatched the creature, with a combination of well-aimed slides of the disc across the surface, landing on the best sections to finish off both the possessed creature and its slightly more challenging second incarnation. Afterward, the players were given a hint to search for an artifact in the room, which they search for carefully, so as not to set off any possible traps.

Beyond this room, to avoid giving away too many spoilers, players were greeted by successively more difficult rooms, in each of which they have twelve minutes to carry out their tasks, which gradually wear down their life points and their token supply, until they reach the end of the maze. In this instance, the party I traveled with successfully reached the last room, almost the entire two hours a usual game lasts. Players were then given experience points and keep their tokens, which add up as players return for further True Dungeon game experiences. Call it persistency, which is the standard quality seen in almost all massively multiplayer games.

Make no mistake: True Dungeon is a gaming geek's dream, which makes it a perfectly suitable fit for Gen Con and its attendees who happily embrace their geeky side. You've got to show up with money to get you in the door, a vivid imagination and a passion for role-playing and teamwork. If you don't have all of those qualities, you'd be better off looking elsewhere for your kicks. For gamers who are deeply into the digital EverQuest or the pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons, True Dungeon is in many ways your game come to life.

Written by Paul Philleo


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