In every tabletop RPG player lies a dream. That dream is to become that which they create through their imagination when they step into the realm of their RPG. Dungeon Masters take the role of creating adventures for their players and players take the role of mighty adventurers set on quests to save the world as they know it. I’ve been a tabletop RPG player for years and there’s nothing like getting together with your friends and running into deep, dark dungeons in search of treasure or glory.
An RPG enthusiast by the name of Jeff Martin felt these same feelings along with the rest of us. Martin enjoyed playing Dungeons & Dragons, and for most of his games he created elaborate props and puzzles. With this knowledge and skill in mind he decided to make the impossible possible, thus something called True Dungeon was born. Jeff put together a role-playing game company he named True Adventures and began work on what would become the most popular event at Gen Con.
True Dungeon is a floor-to-ceiling dungeon event set up during Gen Con each year. Attendees pay for tickets and enter a pre-made dungeon setting where they will choose a character, solve puzzles, fight monstrous foes, and try to make it out of the dungeon alive. It has a lot of live-action role-playing aspects to it, though it’s more focused on teamwork and puzzle-solving than most LARPs. When compared the “gameplay” in True Dungeon is closer to what you’d see with Dungeons & Dragons. Combat is loosely based on the rules from the D&D RPG series, though instead of rolling a die for your attacks players will slide weapon counters along a shuffle board table. The table will have regions on it that dictate a number, simulating a roll. It focuses more on skill than on luck when attacking. For characters who are spellcasters you’ll be required to memorize things like prayer beads, leaves, or runes in order to cast.
The adventures in True Dungeon change each year, and they bring tons of players back over and over again for a new experience. While I was at Gen Con last weekend I was able to run through one of the two adventures that were presented. I got into a group with my wife and a few friends as we were able to pick up tickets for the same event. At first we thought it would only be us running through the adventure, but we found out that it is set up for groups of ten. We joined five other players and sat at a table after registering.
During the event you get a bag of tokens. These tokens represent items like armor, weapons, equipment, and consumables that you can use in the event. Once you register and get your bag of tokens you can sit down and go through them. During this time you’ll also receive a handful of character cards. These cards have printed classes and stats on them. You’ll select one class card and then distribute the others to the rest of the players in your group. For this run I was a dwarf fighter, which made me all kinds of stoked. Soon the time came for our adventure to start and we were led to a big sitting room. This is where the tokens first came into play. We sat at a table that had character sheets on it, and on these sheets there were spaces where you could “equip” yourself. You’ll place tokens in the appropriate slots to dictate the equipment, armor, and weapons you’re carrying.
Luckily for me I picked up a couple extra bags of tokens before the event, as you can purchase them yourself. I ended up with a nice set of armor, a +1 Dwarven Dirk as my weapon, and some extra gear. One of the cool things about True Dungeon is how immediately teamwork comes into play. Without discussing at all we began handing out tokens to each other to help equip those who didn’t have gear. Instantly we were working together to help one another without bickering or any worry.
Once we were all set a guide walked around and recorded the party’s stats on a party card. This card recorded things like our attack bonuses, AC, and the like. Recording these stats makes it easy for the DMs in the dungeon to keep track of what’s happening so it speeds things up. After the guide was finished we put away all of our tokens except for our weapons and consumables. Then it was time to enter the dungeon.
For our adventure we chose “Giant’s Travail.” Our party was tasked with a dangerous trek into the Dilmhold Mountains to find the entrance to an ancient dwarven burial site. As it stood, the adventure was made up of a total of seven rooms. In each room we would either have a puzzle to solve or a creature to fight. Our party was made up of a dwarf fighter, fighter, rogue, druid, cleric, barbarian, wizard, ranger, paladin, and monk. It was a tight group, but we made it work. Now usually I wouldn’t give a description of the rooms we went through, but since the event is over and it will be changed next year I’ll go through each room a bit. Keep in mind, however, if you go into a room and don’t solve it the party takes damage, and the DM doesn’t reveal the secret. So some of these descriptions will merely be how I think the room needed to be solved if we didn’t make it through.
Room 1: The first room in the adventure seemed simple. There was a large pillar in the middle of the room that had 9 plaques on it. There were also a lot of faces on the pillar. On the left wall from entering the room was a board with a riddle on it. There was one of these in each room. I can’t remember exactly what each one said, but through solving them you’d get what you needed to do in the room. Each room is timed, so we immediately set to work. After looking around for a while one of us noticed that there were voices coming from the pillar. We huddled around and tried to listen to what they were saying.
After a few minutes we gathered that the faces were telling us steps. On the 9 plaques were images. One was a mine, the other was an anvil, and more. Listening to the steps we were being given, we deduced that these images were all part of the smelting process. You needed to put the plaques around the exit door in order so that the door would open. After a few unsuccessful attempts, which yielded a large axe striking whoever placed an incorrect tile in the back for 10 points of damage, we weren’t able to solve the room. We each took 4 points of damage and were passed through to the next room.
Room 2: Heading into the second room we were surprised. There wasn’t anything immediately striking once we moved in. Heading forward we were greeted by the room’s DM (each room had one) and he explained to us that we were standing upon a large cliff that drops into a chasm. The only way across the gap was to walk across a wooden beam. We all assembled in a line to head across the chasm and that’s where things got shaky. All of a sudden a worm emerged from a hole in the building across the chasm and attacked us. Since we were in a line only the person it attacked could use melee attacks against it, meaning the only other way to attack was by casting spells or using ranged attacks. I didn’t think to equip my crossbow, so I was pretty much useless. The worm managed to take a bite out of a couple of us, but after a hard-fought battle we managed to burn it to death. See, as we were battling the DM let slip that the fire spells the druid and wizards were casting seemed to deal more damage than usual. We then knew to kill it, kill it with fire! Once the worm fell we made it across to the next room.
Room 3: This was a tough room. Entering the room we saw big colored tiles lining the floor. They had letters on them. The riddle in this room hinted at spelling out a phrase, following the phrase’s instruction, and exiting the room safely. The rogue’s special talent (like memorizing the runes and whatnot with other classes) was that she needed to guide a pen through a maze without touching the walls in order to open a box. Inside each box (there was one in each room) was either treasure or a clue. For this room the rogue passed her test and we were rewarded with a clue. The clue, as it appeared on a card, read:
“Mead and bead are important in this room.”
Looking around the room we saw beads in a chalice along with a bottle of mead on the table. We found that they served as distractions because the clue was referring to the tiles on the floor. There were gray tiles and blue tiles, each with yellow letters on them. We talked together and noticed that if we placed the free tiles from the floor on their corresponding color, one in each row as the riddle suggested, we would spell out words. It took some toying with, but we eventually got a phrase spelled out on the floor after moving around some tiles. The phrase went something like, “Pull blue bead, left foot lead.” I don’t know what the bead part was for, but beyond the tiles was a break in the path that symbolized a drop in the floor. Taking note from the phrase we each stepped over it with our left foot first. Apparently we put too much thought into the riddle because it was as simple as that. We all passed over the drop and made it through without any errors.
Room 4: The next room was my favorite, although the most challenging I think. We entered a large cavernous room with nothing in sight. The DM walked up to us and told us that we could hear breathing and the floor was giving signs that something was moving. The room extended forward and to the right around a corner, which we assumed was our destination. The DM asked us what we planned to do, and it was up to myself and the monk. Being the most nimble, the monk decided he would move silently around the corner to scout, and I would follow him. I had the best AC and the most hit points at the time so if something attacked us I could draw its attention. Sure enough as soon as we moved around the corner we spotted a huge troll. This creature was easily 10 feet tall, and it was fully animatronic. It roared when it saw us, and spoke in a deep voice, claiming that we’d be a great meal. The rest of the party met us, and we jumped into an encounter.
The troll was tough, as it had thick hide that was hard to penetrate. The melee fighters moved in and started sliding their attacks, and the casters lined up by the DM to cast spells. Once we’d all made our moves they were confirmed. We managed to actually do a nice bit of damage to the troll before it swung back, knocking a couple of us with its large mitts. We followed the round up with another successful bout and managed to gain a hard hit to the creature’s head. That was enough to drop him, and we got out of there as quick as we could. It took a lot of teamwork, with us talking about how we wanted to attack, and how we should utilize our items. The cleric was able to heal the wounded, and we were ready for another challenge.
Room 5: The fifth room was a real pain. We entered a large room with four pedestals, a long bridge connecting one side to the other. As we walked in we were told to cross the bridge one at a time. We obliged, and as about half of us got across the bridge collapsed. That split us into two groups, one on either side with two pedestals. A closer examination of the pedestals revealed that there were blocks placed on them in attempts to spell out a phrase. There were loose blocks on each pedestal that had letters on them. Seeing this, I knew we would be spelling out some answer to a riddle that would let us leave. Each pedestal contained a certain color of blocks which held the broken phrase. The loose blocks did not match the color. We knew that we needed to somehow get the right blocks to the right pedestals to spell out the correct phrase so we could pass. The problem was getting them back and forth between groups.
The group opposite us luckily had the rogue, who spotted another one of her boxes. She passed the test and inside was a belt pouch and some rope. It didn’t take long for the monk to decipher that we needed to put the blocks into the pouch and toss it across the gap in order to transport them across. It took us a little bit, but with the coordination of the monk and ranger we got the blocks we needed. We went to work immediately, but in the end we couldn’t decipher the correct phrase. As we were assembling the blocks I noticed that each set actually held two phrases, one on top and one on the bottom. The DM said I had the right idea, and I ended up with “And rap on the pillar three times, speak the words our twin.” At the exit there was a small pillar with a face on it. I ran to it, said “Our twin,” and knocked three times. It still was to no avail. After taking some damage from not solving the puzzle we were urged on.
Room 6: This next room was all-around the easiest, though it was the hardest to put the solution into action. When we entered the room the DM let us know that the walls were unstable. We couldn’t exit due to a large stone slab blocking the doorway, and the only way to get it to open was to either let the room collapse or solve the puzzle. We were told that we couldn’t speak above a whisper or the walls could collapse, and we were also limited to 50 steps in the room. These steps were to be shared by the whole group. The riddle on the wall was further out into the room on the right, and a lone pillar stood in front of us.
The riddle explained that we needed to limit our steps and match the symbols to each their twin. After speaking softly with the monk I decided I would venture out into the room to see what was on the pillar. I took about 6 steps and saw that there were plaques on the wall. The riddle mentioned that we could only remove one at a time and it needed to be placed somewhere matching its twin. I immediately figured out what we needed to do. As a group we needed to create a chain that led from the pillar to the door around the corner. I assumed there were slots there that these plaques needed to go into in order for the door to open up for us.
This is where we ran into a problem. I spoke to the monk and tried to coordinate a plan, explaining how I thought we solved the puzzle. We started to make a chain, but it eventually turned into a game of telephone. I removed the top plaque and behind it was an image of a double-bladed axe. I told the monk what I saw and explained whoever placed the plaque needed to look for either the rune on the plaque or a picture of an axe and place it there. What I didn’t know was that there was more than one axe and the wizard who was placing it needed more detail. Before we knew it time ran out and we took damage from the falling walls, but were able to run out. Still, we were all alive and made it to the final room. In True Dungeon you only need to make it to the last room with the entire party alive to get the EXP for clearing the dungeon. That’s right – you advance in player level for completing dungeons.
The Final Room: As we entered the final room we were greeted by a large ogre. A female lich walked emerged from the shadows and explained to us that we’d never make it out alive. Thank goodness we managed to heal before coming in the room or we’d be in trouble. The lich gave her speech and ordered her “pet” to rise and kill all of us. The large ogre stood, a menacing tower above us and proceeded to attack. This was the end battle and it would take everything we had to escape with our lives. Immediately we were thrown into initiative and started attacking. The lich lady came at me and remained fully in character the whole time, which was hilarious. She talked trash to us as we swung away at the ogre. I fumbled around in my pockets at my tokens and had a brilliant idea: if this chick has the ogre under a spell, what would happen if it was broken? I pulled out two Potions of Pelor’s Strength, which game whoever drank them a plus to their attack and damage versus undead creatures.
I ran to the DM and asked if the lich was undead (just to make sure), and it happens she was. I then moved to the barbarian and explained my plan. He agreed with me and we both downed a potion. Then we ran back to the lich and started sliding our attacks at her. The first couple of rounds missed, and the ogre was busy beating on the rest of the group. The rogue took lethal damage and was killed. We then knew we had to end this encounter. The monk made a mighty blow on the ogre, stunning him. We then attacked the lich once more, doing well enough to score what would be a critical hit. Since you can’t crit on undead the DM had a better idea. It seems we hit her hard enough to grab a hold of her and pin her down. With both enemies subdued we gathered together and made a sprint for the exit of the dungeon. We did enough damage to make it through, and we emerged victorious.
Once the dungeon was complete we spoke to staff that handed out treasure in the form of tokens and a special pin. The experience points were added to our accounts and we were free to leave. All in all it was an experience that I’ll never forget. We came together with strangers and used teamwork to survive. When going through the adventure it really did feel like we were in another world. The DMs didn’t tell us how to solve puzzles and we really had to use our brains to get through each room.
The attention to detail and artwork really helped bring the event to life. Each room DM added flair to the dungeon and provided entertainment while we wracked our minds trying to get out of their lair. For $38 it was an amazing event. We were locked in the area for almost 2 hours, which was well worth the price we paid. Jeff Martin has done something amazing with True Dungeon and it’s a hit at Gen Con each year. I know I’ll be going back, and I’m already planning for next year. If you’ve ever wanted to get as close to dungeon-crawling in D&D as you can, this is definitely your way of doing so. Tickets will go on sale next year, and it’s no wonder why they sell out so quickly. I know I’m not going to miss out on it. If you want to learn more about True Dungeon make sure you visit the official website. It’s created memories for me I’ll never forget, and the fact that I made it out alive makes me a proud dwarf.