True Dungeon is the brainchild of Jeff Martin, an avid Dungeons & Dragons player who first began developing the idea back in 1997 as part of a private event for a small group of fellow gamers. The first prop-driven campaign was a big success, leading Martin to expand upon the idea in following years, until Gen Con owner Peter Adkison heard about "JefCON," tried it for himself and was impressed enough to incorporate it into Gen Con in 2003.
This year's event will see more than 3000 people pass through the volunteer-built dungeon, with walls created from 6000 hand-carved stones and featuring traps, treasure and monsters generated by makeup-wearing volunteers, animatronic puppets and sculptures. Many will not survive; the True Dungeon website says, "While not in the league with The Tomb of Horrors, we have fashioned a very challenging adventure. It is quite possible that you will die before you reach the end of the adventure. We want it to be an accomplishment if a team makes it all the way through the dungeon, so you will have something to brag about if you get through this one."
Martin said the dungeon grows in size and complexity each year, and hinted that it may already be outgrowing its current confines at Gen Con. "Right now we're in a 22,000 square foot ballroom," he said. "The largest ballroom in Indiana, and we're squished."
Unlike a typical LARP game, True Dungeon doesn't require players to stay in character while they're in the adventure. Some participants do dress up for the event, but the focus is on problem solving, teamwork and combat tactics in a classic dungeon crawl driven by a modified D&D rule set that includes physical interactions with players, ensuring their "coordination and nerves will be tested." The game makes extensive use of large-scale puzzles and props like smoke effects and traps made with firecrackers, jets of water and, apparently, even mild electric shocks.
Cate Hirschbiel has made three previous runs through True Dungeon, and is set to do a fourth this year. "It's unlike any other even at Gen Con," she said. "It's such a rush when you play. I'm just pumped up for hours afterwards."
More information about True Dungeon, including photos, a walkthrough video, a player's guide and more, check out truedungeon.com.