As the date for Gen Con closes in, everyone here at Paizo is still chugging away, making sure we're contributing our fair share to the best four days in gaming. But as our annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis gets closer, we often start wondering, "What's it going to be this year?" As in, what's the one story—or, more likely, bunch of stories—we'll be telling everyone upon our return home? Things happen at Gen Con that can only happen at Gen Con, so there's always some unbelievable tale to tell. Dozens of examples leap to mind, but, among those of which I haven't been sworn to secrecy, I find myself constantly coming back to one story in particular from nearly a decade ago.
In another life—one that was a lot like this one, but far quieter—I helped make an awesome magazine. Occasionally, as part of that business, wonderful people would send us wonderful things, either for review, or by way of thanks, or simply because they thought we too were wonderful people. As the editor in charge of news and previews, I held down the landing desk for many significant parcels.
From the contents of one of those packages, the staff of Dragon and Dungeon magazines wound up with preview tickets to True Dungeon at Gen Con 2006.
If you don't know about the singular awesomeness that is True Dungeon, a deliberately placed click can solve that. As it stood, none of us had previously had the pleasure of partaking in this immersive dungeon experience. The promise of what we expected to be an intricate fantasy funhouse was more than enough to get the entire crew signed on, but none of us had any actual idea of what lay in store.
As it was, our tickets were for Wednesday night, only a narrow few hours after landing in Indianapolis. Perhaps predictably, delays left us racing for our evening reservation. We arrived before True Dungeon's faux stone gates with whole seconds to spare and presented our hostess with our golden tickets, which were, quite literally, golden. (Let it never be said that those True Dungeon folks don't know a thing or two about ostentation.)
After giving us a generous moment to catch our breaths (editors are sprinters, not distance runners), our hostess sunnily asked if we were "hardcore."
That was the point when our bravado caught up with us: "My friend, don't you know? We are the creators of Dragon and Dungeon magazines. Few in gaming come more hardcore." Confident nods—and one indulgently arched eyebrow—followed, and that was that.
We received basic instructions about the sorts of puzzles and dangers we'd soon face, along with a variety of character options, equipment tokens, and other wonders I can't recall. Finally, our hostess handed me a plastic ball and, giving it a solid knock, demonstrated that it lit up.
"Lit up" might actually be a bit of an overstatement for what it did. Rather, think of the light shed by the screen of your classic 1989 Nintendo Game Boy... when it was about 8 minutes from running out of batteries. Remember that drowning electronic green? That. The ball did that.
So! "Light" in hand, we marched through the convincing stone-board gates, ready to face challenges none of us could anticipate...
Our psyches were left shattered and our memories drained from what we encountered that day. Whether such psyche-obliterating effects were the result of the horrifying dungeon-come-to-life itself or the binding non-disclosure agreement we signed afterward, none are sure. All I can admit with any certainty is that the dungeon's authenticity was like no other—right down to the oppressive dimness that left us scouring encounter rooms for overlooked clues and secrets hidden in the shapes of shadowy statues. And finally, against not-inconsiderable odds and with acceptable loss of life, we emerged into a room easily mistook for a trap chamber. It turned out to just be the discharging area.
Squinting against the light but knowing we were victorious, we gave our accounting and returned our somehow-diminished light source to the attendant, who held a plain cardboard box. The attendant looked somewhat surprised at our faded glow-ball. "Oh! You went hardcore!"
There was that word again, this time said like a term. "Yes?" we collectively acknowledged, realizing our bravado was among the wounded.
"Well that means you get these AMAZING TREASURES instead!" Our host extracted his hands from the common cardboard box and reached into the container next to it, fishing our rewards from a platinum chest trimmed in panda belly-fur and studded with the gems diamonds cry. Among these were pins emblazoned with the True Dungeon logo and a stamp that read "Hardcore."
"What does 'hardcore' mean?" Fearless Leader Erik asked.
Our beaming host cocked his head. "Didn't they..." he began, but shrugged, realizing he had the rapt attention of the thoroughly confused. "It means you don't get a torch."
Laughing, victorious, we walked out into the steamy Indianapolis night—utterly despite ourselves—hardcore.
That's exactly the sort of unlikely adventure that only happens at Gen Con.
F. Wesley Schneider