True Dungeon is one of those events that I see every year at large conventions and just never made the time to see what it is about. Not really for any particular reason other than I had other games to play. This year one of my gaming buddies expressed an interest in giving it a run through and I agreed to join the party. This review will not include any major spoilers about the “Five Aspects” event in case it ever runs again.
Ando and I arrived at the True Dungeon ballroom in the Marriott and checked in for our two-hour slot. Decorated in early dungeon style, the staging area is a series of tables with character sheets, hit point tracking boards and flashlights (dungeons are dark!)on them. We sat down at our assigned table and met the rest of the party. Friendly group and they played regularly, so we had some experience in the party. We arrived later than the rest of the party, so we had last pick of the PCs. I got a druid and Ando was the bard due to his vast karaoke experience. A GM filled out the “party card” with our attacks, damage and other data that we carried through the dungeon.
We also received a small bag of game tokens containing a random assortment of PC equipment. The tokens are the same size as poker chips with graphics of each item printed on them. I got some potions, rope, grapnels and various other items. Apparently there is a rarity factor in the game that makes good items hard to get in a random bag. There are options to buy additional tokens with real money. Ando picked up a couple of extra bags that we shared. Having the extra tokens made no real difference during our game.
After character setup, we entered another staging area where a GM explained the game mechanics. Combat uses custom shuffleboard tables and the tokens each player carries. The table is roughly 6 feet long with a silhouette of the monster you are attacking. You insert a token (for example, a +1 Longsword) into a plastic puck and slide it down the table. Where it lands is your “roll” on the dice. A head shot is a 20, but an arm hit is only a 12. The GM uses the token to calculate the attack and then returns both puck and token to the player for the next attack.
That covers the fighter’s combat ability. Casters receive a handful of flash cards with symbols on one side and names on the other. As a druid my symbols were leaves and on the flip-side was the tree name. When I cast a spell, a GM showed me a picture and I have to correctly tell him the name. If I get it right my spell does more damage. Should I fail, then the spell still works but does less damage. I had about 5-7 minutes to memorize the cards. I used a “Roman Room” system I learned in college and got 3 out of 4 correct while I was in the dungeon. Bard Ando also had some symbols to memorize, but I am not sure how he was to use them.
Relatively well prepared, we entered the dungeon. There was some story wrapped around the dungeon, but I honestly do not remember any of it other than we needed to get a magic Macguffin from a lich to kill a dragon.
TD sets up a maze of corridors and rooms in a dark ballroom. It reminded me of a very high-end Halloween haunted house setup and had some nice special effects. Flashing lights and some creepy music made for reasonable atmosphere. Each room had a GM to handle traps, puzzles and combat. Our first room was a word puzzle that one of the players got almost instantly. Each room has a time limit before you “fail” and are pushed to the next room. It keeps people moving through the dungeon and minimizes down time. Our rapid solution meant we had some time to kill. The rogue, being a rogue, went looking for treasure and got jumped. I mean literally. He nearly had a coronary when the beast attacked him. Some decent hits by the fighter and a spell killed it quickly. This attack was the high point of the event.
Moving deeper we confronted two more puzzles, one of which was quite pretty to look at and involved some magic cups.
You could try each puzzle many ways, but each wrong answer caused damage. Happily we had a clever group and made it past the initial puzzles with ease. We also fought the monsters with little effort. Almost too little because the fighter player had real skill with the shuffleboard. He clearly practiced before adventuring…a lot.
We reached the final encounter, gave it our best shot and failed miserably. The dragon lived and we died a miserable death. Oh well.
The entire event took about 90 minutes and cost $38.00.
This was my first experience with True Dungeon. It was also my last. It was not a terrible experience by any means, but it just is not worth the cost. The shuffleboard combat system is truly silly and the puzzles, while challenging, were little more than word games. I am also not going to buy into what is essentially a CCG, only using tokens instead of cards. There is an aftermarket for the tokens, so the rare tokens are available to anyone willing to part with their hard-earned dollars. I am not willing.
All that said, I will not discourage my readers from crawling in the True Dungeon…once. It is like seeing the Mona Lisa. You do it once and check it off your life “to do before I die” list. Now you can say you did it and move on to more interesting things.
PS. Since I messed up the last puzzle and died I am curious about the solution. Please drop me a line if you know the answer.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer