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Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk (the Dungeon of Naheulbeuk) is a French online audiobook series (referred to the creator as an “MP3 Saga”) telling the story of a group of adventurers in a fantasy world. This one-man amateur franchise became a successful hit in France and is today 5 seasons long.
In 2000, John Lang (known online as Pen of Chaos, or PoC) uploaded an audio sketch that featured highly modified voices on his website. This parody spoofed traditional fantasy role playing games such as Dungeon and Dragons and Warhammer Fantasy. Eventually, the sketch was met to enough acclaim that PoC decided to create an enhanced remake, starting with an expanded plot that explained how the group arrived to the dungeon.
The idea of comedic sketches with high pitch voices mostly came from Les Deux Minutes du Peuple, a French Canadian series of audio sketches realized by François Pérusse, who became quite successful in Quebec and France.
The story itself was based on numerous fantasy works like The Lord of the Rings or Dungeon and Dragons (as mentioned previously). Interestingly, the author said he was mostly inspired by a more obscure work called Les Merveilleuses Aventures de Kalon by Asp Explorer.
A patchwork of adventurers are enrolled by a mysterious man to explore the Dungeon of Naheulbeuk, a tower leaded by the dark wizard Zangdar, and loot the twelve and last statuette of Gladeulfeurha, which reunited with the others will summon an ancient and unknown prophecy. The main characters meet each other for the first time at the entrance of the dungeon, and all extremely inexperienced in both adventuring and combat. The ineptitude and the distinctive personalities the characters lead them to unexpected, exciting, and funny situations, highlighted by the absence of friendship among the members of the company.
After the first season, the victorious group leaves the actual dungeon, but the members are always stuck together by a series of unfortunate events.
The characters are all unnamed, and only known by their race or their class.
- The Ranger is the self-proclaimed leader of the company. He is a former chair builder wishing to achieve a level of success that will allow him to recieve the respect he believes that he deserves. He tries to maintain cohesion within his clumsy group, but his own cowardice and incompetence mostly lead to the failure of many of his plans, further inhibited by the impulsive personalities of his companions .
- The Dwarf is dirty, greedy, selfish, annoying, and racist – in other words, a typical dwarf. He is only here to stockpile all the more money and treasure that he can, not caring about any of his companions, especially the Elf, whom he expresses contempt for. Though he always seems to have inventive ways to solve problems, his solutions tend to be impossible to realize.
- The Elf is a female (amateur) archer with a nice pair of… boots. She is extremely nice and naive, and started the whole adventure thing only by boredom, not knowing what awaited her. She partakes in arguing with the Dwarf about anything.
- The Enchantress is a ginger wizard who is the smartest member of the group. Unfortunately, she is also known to frequently confuse the curses that she cast. Her continuous prattle about knowledge quickly bores her companions, but she often finds practical solutions to the issues that meet the group.
- The Ogre is a massive, quite stupid creature who does not speak in human tongues and is always hungry. He does not really understand the purpose of the quest, but doesn’t really care either. The Enchantress is his best friend, mostly because she is the only one who speaks the ogre language.
- The Barbarian is ferocious and unmerciful, only interested in killing any foe that crosses his path. He is far from brilliant, and is not very talkative either – though he has a tendency to scream “Brawl!” any time he can.
- The Thief is an extremely timid man, who always suggests the safest way possible. In spite of the help that he provides to the team, he is mostly scorned by the others, and frequently meets considerable misfortune.
The series became through the years a huge hit in France, almost only by word of mouth. It eventually became successful enough to allow John Lang to live on the money he received from selling merchandise of his work, such as CDs of the characters singing, roleplay figurines, and the hardcover comic adaptation by Marion Poinsot, ongoing since 2005 with more than 11 issues published. The work became popular enough that he eventually did a live concert with his band, Naheulband.
In 2001, PoC’s friend Knarf (who would play some roles in Naheulbeuk) started his own saga, Les Aventuriers du Survivaure, a parody of science-fiction franchises such as Star Trek and Star Wars. John Lang cameos within the work to assure the characters in this saga. The story in the comic has overtaken that of the original audiobook series, as the first season not finished yet in the MP3 format.
After the first two seasons (comprising a total of 30 episodes), John Lang started to write the story as a novel, as he became frustrated by the narrative limitation of the audio support, and seasons 3 to 5 (respectively named La Couette de l’Oubli, L’Orbe de Xaraz and Le Conseil de Suak) were released in 2008, 2009 and 2011. L’Orbe de Xaraz was considered good enough that it ended up winning the Prix Merlin.
Though the work has changed mediums twice, PoC has not forsaken the original adaptations of his work, as the comic and audiobook are still in production (the latter of which features some exclusive scenes). He plans to rewrite the first two seasons as a novel, and wants to finally translate his entire saga in English.
With the success of Naheulbeuk growing, a lot of other persons started their own audio adventures, popularizing the term “MP3 Saga” and Naheulbeuk by the same. The Netophonix website counts more than 750 MP3 Sagas (though more than 75% of them remain unfinished). The most famous complete MP3 Sagas are Reflets d’Acide (a fantasy adventure entirely in rhymes), Adoprixtoxis (a sci-fi spoof with a lot of pop culture references), Banal Fantasy (a Final Fantasy VII abridged series), Chez le Psy (the consultations of a bad psychiatrist) and Trimoria (the imaginary adventures of a madman).
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