Leading up to this day, I was pretty nervous. Not because of True Dungeon, that part I was fairly confident about. But because I would soon be running Demon Hunters for a couple groups who most likely knew the rules and setting better than I did. However at this point in time, I did my best to reel it all in and just focus on the work ahead of me. Setting up for True Dungeon.
As far as I understand it, the 2016 GenCon True Dungeon experience was the largest one to date. It was the first time they had been given the space they had in the basement of Lucas Oil Stadium (to any non-sportsball fans that’s where the Indianapolis Colts play their home games.) I found myself somewhat grateful for not having volunteered in years past as I would not have a standard to compare the amount of work I was doing. I couldn’t complain that it was “easier” last year, which is something I would do.
I knew two people going in, Amanda and Ian. Amanda was kind enough to give me a ride downtown and I didn’t have to pay for parking. Plus she probably knew what she was doing here so I could just stick near her and find stable work. Ian was promoted to some kind of position above Team Leader (I never learned the actual term for his position. Whenever someone asked he would say “I’m doing Stu’s job” or something along those lines, but “Stu’s Job” doesn’t sound very official.) Anyway he ended up being the “Do you need something to do?” guy who would assign me most of the things I ended up doing.
However getting in the door was not that simple. In the days leading up to GenCon I had a lot more e-mails than I’ve ever had in my life between Don Early of Dead Gentlemen answering my questions and confirming schedules with me, and True Dungeon reminding me when I needed to be there and what my role would be. The problem was that because I am, in general, not the most observant tool in the shed, I ended up skimming most of the e-mails I got sent that weren’t from Don. As I mentioned in Day 0, I was mostly worried about my performance for Dead Gentlemen. So when I saw an e-mail from True Dungeon saying “Confirm Your Schedule” it went something like “Yes, I see it, I know when I’m supposed to be there. I get the idea, but how does magic work in Demon Hunters again?”
The lesson here is, if you’re doing a thing like this for a group that really needs organization as a key component of its success like True Dungeon does… read the e-mails. Because I showed up that morning and my name was not on the list. It turns out “Confirm Your Schedule” means “Are you coming or not?” to which you should probably answer “Yes, I’m coming.” if you intend to go. This was the important sub-text I did not read.
So imagine being the guy who just got a ride 30-40 minutes away from your home by a generous friend to do some small labor to earn an expensive badge into a place where you really want to be, and the whole opportunity was given to you by another generous friend, and when you get there you find out you’ve already screwed this whole thing up days ago when you didn’t read the thing they sent you 6-7 times. That was me.
But like I said in Day 0, this is an 8 part story. It’d be much shorter if I didn’t get in with both True Dungeon and Dead Gentlemen. So when I approached the coordinator in charge of mistakes like mine, it was a good thing that she needed as many people as she could get, and my name was written in pen underneath everyone else on the sheet. For the moment, I was already “the outsider” again. The person who did something wrong, or differently, or ended up needed special treatment. I know it’s not like it was the end of the world, but I was a grand total of 3 minutes into the whole GenCon experience when I had become “that guy” and it did not bode well for the rest of the week.
That being said, there wasn’t much I could do about it. So I grabbed a sandwich from the table and had a sit down while everyone around me played Pokemon Go with the remarkable reception you wouldn’t expect to get underneath Lucas Oil Stadium. Meanwhile I sat there in a chair with sandwich crumbs on my shirt and a small notebook scribbling away these kinds of details specifically so I could write this story later. A couple of people shared some stories about past True Dungeon experiences that actually sounded really cool like puzzles based on the globes that had different temperatures and textures. It was starting to get really interesting to be there and I was excited to see what we’d be doing this year, and what I’d get to work on. I probably should have felt that way the whole time, but I was all wrapped up in “being the guy” again. So I did what I could to put it behind me and dive right in to the work because it was starting to sound fun.
At least that was my attitude for all of like 10 minutes. The “excitement of building a real dungeon” had started to wear off right about the time I started sweating from the hot basement and constant movement. Setting up the walls was simple, screw in a pipe into a plate and line it up with a string on the ground. We were laying out the dungeon at this stage as the crossbeams would be covered with decorated walls and curtains to make dungeon-y rooms and then filled with props. We set a bunch of “lava tables” in their respective areas, though without their lighting they looked nothing like lava to me. Unfortunately I got kind of hung up on that part and even when the lights did come on, I couldn’t stop looking at how they were made and just enjoy the effect. It’s for this reason I try not to read TVTropes.
At some point during the tree set-up I noticed the giant spider bodies sitting towards the back of the room. I think officially they were referred to as “Spidaur” because the intention was to have an actor in a stand under the spiders body so his torso would pop out like the popular Drider creatures, but I don’t think they were allowed to use the name. After “discovering” the Spidaur’s I noticed the two Beholders sitting next to one another. I hadn’t realized what they were until I saw the giant eye in the middle, and even though they were missing their eye-stalks at the time, I knew what I was looking at. The amazing machination had a microphone and small screen in the back, and from what I understood the operator would be not only speaking through the Beholder, but also capable of manipulating the eyeball to focus on the players in the room along with casting a light at them to really make it a terrifying appearance and put people in a tension-inducing spotlight experience.
I’d like to say I spent the rest of my time transfixed to the Beholder and getting to work closely with it, but I was just some nobody who’s name wasn’t even on the list and got scribbled at the bottom. Well, that and also because I had no technical skills that I’m sure were required for the Beholder… So I got stuck being the “guy who had the ladder” and hanging up cave walls, speakers, and lights. Overall, not that hard of a job. The hardest part was shifting the ladder a few feet every time I needed to climb out of arms length.
The whole deal with the ladder started to turn into a joke when tall people became a commodity. Fortunately our team had a ladder and a man who could mostly reach the tops of the walls so we managed to stay productive. Basically if you’re thinking of volunteering for True Dungeon next year and you’re above 6’6″ then you’re going to be very popular. Not that you’ll have all the hard work dumped on you or anything, but that reach is valuable when dealing with 8ft tall walls.
The Cave walls were really interesting. One side was all foil (think like cooking foil but triple-thick) on one side and featuring a simple grey and brownish pattern on the other side. It’s important to mention that it wasn’t just rocks painted on a simple wall, we actually had to fold the foil walls up and pound them out of their nice thin shape in order to make them look random and rock-ish. It might not sound as interesting as it looked, it’s kind of hard to describe.
(I plan on adding pictures of the True Dungeon set-up as soon as I can! Keep an eye on the Archfossil Twitter, I’ll share some there and let you know when this post is updated with images as soon as it happens.)
There was a point where I managed to take a quick break. I plopped down on the top step of the ladder and was able to peak over the walls and curtains that had been set up. It was really cool to see our progress across the floor.The walls were going up and it was getting harder and harder to traverse the floor as parts of the maze got built around you by a dozen other teams of people. It’s kind of surreal to watch the change happen from within it. I don’t know if anyone has ever set up a time lapse camera for the build before, but they should.
As more props and set pieces showed up I had to fight off distractions. I probably should have run through True Dungeon at some point in the past before volunteering for it so I wouldn’t keep going “I wonder how this will work.” and would have some kind of answer or idea myself. What kept drawing my attention was the second “dungeon” Behold Her Majesty. A panel over there of a series of pulleys with placards on them would be used to form words the players would need to progress through the story. Admittedly, I tried pulling the ropes but the second it offered resistance I gave up because I was already the “scribbled name” guy and I didn’t want to become the “somehow broke the props” guy too.
At this point I started getting hungry. And it was hard to stop comparing the Beholders to giant meatballs. So our Cave Wall crinkle ethics started to suffer. If, for whatever weird reason, you went through the Deeperdark Dungeon and started thinking to yourself “man those cave walls were way more cave-y at the start.” That’s my bad, I needed a lunch there towards room 5.
Overall though, the day went well. Partly due to my being an “extra” I didn’t have an injury waiver available when everyone else needed to sign theirs, but they made sure I went and had mine done. It’s one of those “kind of important legal things to do before someone loses a finger” so they were not slow about printing one out for me. Other than that one hiccup and the part where I accidentally gave the impression I wasn’t coming, everything went swimmingly. On the way home I realized how tired I was from climbing up, then down, then lifting a ladder and climbing back up it. And then I realized tomorrow would be an even longer day…and then I took a hard nap.
Check out True Dungeon for more details about volunteering or playing next year. It’s a lot of fun to do either and volunteering will get you a badge.
If you like these GenCon adventures and want to support the RPG a Month platform, as well as Archfossil in general, check out our patreon here.