The Ballad of Ranger Russ: One of Pike District's Most Interesting Characters

Mild-mannered game designer by day, outspoken mountain ranger by night -- all in the heart of Pike District.   

Russell Allen is a student in the Simulation and Digital Entertainment department at the University of Baltimore at Shady Grove. He also happens to have one of the most interesting jobs in Pike District.

Russell is a game designer at Rockville Panic Room, an escape room that recently opened in Pike District. You can read our profile of Rockville Panic Room here. He designs the layout of the escape rooms and creates the logic puzzles that have to be solved in the 60 minute time limit to win the game.

“I make sure all the puzzles and clues make sense and if people are getting stuck… I have to look at that and change it,” Allen explains. “I make sure it looks pretty and it works right and people have a good time.”

The challenge is designing a series of puzzles that can be adapted for players of all ages and skill levels. “It’s tricky,” Russell says.  “Our goal is we don’t want everyone to get out of the room quickly, we want them to get out with a minute left. So I have to design the room so it takes up almost the whole hour but…if you get out 15 minutes early that’s not a good game.”

Although Russell spends a lot of time in front of a computer, game design is only one part of his job. If you sign up to play Cabin Fever, one of the two escape rooms currently available at Rockville Panic Room, there’s a good chance you will meet Allen’s alter-ego, Ranger Russ.

Ranger Russ greets players in full costume when they arrive -- mountain ranger jersey, backpack, and Mountie hat -- and stays in character the entire game. After Ranger Russ checks you into the cabin, he monitors your progress on video and is always available on the two-way radio to give hints, answer questions and warn about the movement of an oncoming blizzard.

“We joke around on the radio a lot, the Cabin Fever one especially,” said Andrew Ma, the owner and Chief Escape Officer at Rockville Panic Room.  “It’s cheesy but people love it.”

Russell fully commits to his Ranger persona. “It’s fun. I love it. I can mess with them and push them in the right direction.”

Where does Russell find his motivation for his acting role?

“I think it all comes from playing Dungeons and Dragons,” he explains. “All the players I have are my players and I’m kind of like their dungeon master.”

In fact, Russell’s love of Dungeon and Dragons helped get him the job in the first place. When he interviewed, Ma asked Russell if he had played an escape room before. Russell had not, but he said the concept reminded him of Dungeons and Dragons.

“That is one of the big reasons I hired him,” Ma confirmed. “Because I used to play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons.”

While Russell enjoys the role of Ranger Russ, he does not want to be typecast. He is currently workshopping a Principal Russ character for Escape Detention, where groups are trapped in a middle school science classroom.

“I’m still working on that character,” Russell says. “They might be stuck on something and I’m like, ‘Let’s try this class. I see you all haven’t been doing your summer reading. That’s why you got detention.’”

With Rockville Panic Room in the process of adding prison and zombie-themed escape rooms, Russell will have more than enough chances to showcase his acting range.  

Rockville Panic Room is located at 12009 Nebel Road and is by appointment only. You can reserve a room online at www.texaspanicroom.com/rockville.

Monday, May 22, 2017