October 8, 2022

Mazes: A Review

Mazes was a series of zine sized books turned describing a game where each player only gets a single die for which to play the game with. The referee never needs to roll dice and the game plays like an old school dungeon crawler. It claims to support both one shots and long term campaign style games with the gusto of Old School gaming in mind. Let’s take a look and see how Mazes stands up to it goals.

First let’s talk about the product itself. Originally published as a set of small books. the recent Kickstarter was for a complete version all in one book with additional material to expand upon the Polymorph system behind the game. Raising just north of $114K, the book looks and feel nice in my hands. The pages have a feeling almost of an old book pulled off of a library shelf. My first thought was that it felt similar to the deluxe Black Editions of Warlock, Disciples of Bone and Shadow, and Through Sunken Lands. Similar in the look and feel, though maybe just only slightly less so, regardless of whether the quality matches or not I am happy to have this added to my collection. Two ribbons round out this fine cloth covered and copper foil stamped edition.

Now to the meat of the game. Why in the heck would each player only get one polyhedral to play with? And by the way one die means if you have the d4 then you roll anything and everything with that d4, and you will most likely be the only one with the die, though one could see a party having more than one of the same type of character with a different spin put on them depending on the games MC (Maze Controller, their term for the referee). Well the game has been cleverly designed so that the actions or saves that would be easiest for the Paragon with a d4 should be easier for them to roll than the person with a d8. This is achieved by having target numbers, and in the case of Books ability that would be a 2 or 3, which statistically is easier to roll on a d4 than a d6, d8, or d10. Even becoming harder as you move further away from the d4. (the math works out at 50% for a d4, 33% on a d6, 25% on the d8 and 20% on the d10). Therefore the Books test is most easily performed by the Paragon class. So on and so forth for the rest of the categories Boots, Blades and Bones. It is a clever system. Here are the additional roles that can be played matched with their favored ability. Vanguard (most closely attached to Boots), Fighter (Blade), and Sentinel (Bones).

The classes are open enough that you could use them to cover most any classic fantasy game class. And in fact there are suggestions in the back of the book on what the classic fantasy classes would convert to in the system. There are a lot of questions being asked in almost every aspect of the game, in fact at one point there is a suggestion that the MC should be constantly using the Socratic method more than ever suggesting solutions or actions to the players and this holds true to even character creation. which brings us to our next point, what does it look like to control the Mazes?

MCs are antagonists and fans of the players at the same time. There is an adversarial role to play but that should not get in the way of the story being told. There is a great spread about the initials MC and the different meanings that they have depending on what aspect of the game you are looking at. It is insightful and even interesting to see that the common role of referee is called out as having being a changing amorphous thing for the many years that RPGS have been around now (50 years since 1972, if we are referring to the start of Dungeons and Dragons as we know it). It is a quick read and makes me excited to run this game for my table. The advice rings true to me, I want to have a fun time, with challenging tasks but allow the players to spread their wings and really explore the space we are inhabiting together in our shared imaginary world. This feels like old school gaming to me.

Also I should like to mention that one of the first pieces of advice in the book is to make sure everything is starting in media res. The game works best when you get right into the meat of things. No shopping trips that take up the entire session before you go knock down the dungeon door. There is a time and place for that and it is not necessarily at the beginning of a session, get into the action to keep it exciting.

Magic is a cool point I want to touch on real quick as the game is trying to emulate the Swords and Sorcery style of story. Magic takes the form of an action that is rolled against Books, Boots, Blade or Bones depending on the effect wishing to be produced. The player describes the intention and then the MC describes what actually happens calling for a roll if necessary or asking for a meta resource to be spent, all fo this depending on any of the specifics of the situation playing out in the game. This system somewhat reminds me of The White Hack with its miracle system. I think it is well done. Seems like a good way to approach the subject of magic. It gives a lot of freedom to the player and MC in creating the story, but ultimately coming down to the MCs best judgement.

So classes are cool, different yet the same in many ways. Magic is dope in that it is freeform but controlled all at the same time. MC life seems pretty chill with some great advice about what shoudl be expected of the MC at various parts of the game, but how does the game actually play out?

While I have not had a chance to bring this to the table, yet, I do think I have experience enough as a referee both running and reading many different systems to give the rules a fair shake.

The rules have a modern spin that will be familiar to anyone who has read an RPG book from the last decade or so. There are advantage rules that are simple yet effective for saves and pretty intuitive for critical success and failure, which come when you are rolling with Vantage (as the game refers to either advantage or disadvantage) a success of both dice yield a critical success and vice versa for failure.

The MC describes a situation and setting. Allows the characters to interact with the world and then makes a ruling on what the players should do for their characters. The game incorporates flashbacks ( a Forged in the Dark style mechanic) where players or the MC take a moment to peer back in time to create information about the world generating out of game resources to be spent or used by the players or MC.

This is the crux of the system, plain and simple. Narrative play emerges as the MC introduces their world, then players interact with it through their characters. The MC will then arbitrate what they players need to do for their characters to move onto the next thing.

All in all I am excited to bring this to my table. With the opportunity to play an old school feeling dungeon crawling game while taking some modern sensibilities into account. Using meta currencies to change the world by both players and the MC. Arbitration through rulings if a rule is not to be found. Magic that is loose and fluid while staying within the confines of the mechanics of only rolling your one die.

Derek Bizier, the Halfling Master, hoarder collector of fine games

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