Sunday, 9 February 2020

Mini-Review: Mazes & Minotaurs

This one is, I believe, the last mini-review I originally wrote for EN World but never got around to publish, slightly edited.

Disclaimer: The article includes affiliate links.

Back in 2002, Pault Elliot wrote an article about how different D&D (and the whole TTRPG scene) could have been if its inspirations were different; say, Jason and the Argonauts and the Odyssey instead of Conan and the Lord of the Rings. Olivier Legrand became fascinated with the concept and soon began working on such a game that could have existed back in the 70s, first on his own, and then collaborating with Paul himself. Eventually, the fruit of their collaboration was the design of Mazes & Minotaurs.

Mazes & Minotaurs was not just a design experiment, however. It was minimalistic, amateurish, and even parodistic, but it was a game to be played, nonetheless. Soon the original version received numerous supplements, and then a major revision, bringing us the advanced versioní of the game, which is now available on DriveThruRPG.

A shtick of M&M is that every product is written as if it were a re-release of something from the 70s or 80s, and a whole fake history of role-playing games is constantly referenced (like MAZECON and the Griffin magazine), which makes it a hilarious read on its own. As noted above, however, M&M is not merely a parody; it is a fully functional game with a simple but powerful core.

M&M has a slightly tweaked list of Attributes (Might, Skill, Wits, Luck, Will, Grace), whose modifiers are used extensively to calculate various secondary statistics (such as melee and missile attack bonuses, and saving rolls like Danger Sense and Mystic Fortitude). There is no standard resolution mechanic per se, even though every test is made using the familiar mechanic of "d20 + modifiers vs. target number". There is no skill system either (just like in the early editions of D&D), but there are various Background Talents detailed in the Companion.

The Players Manual describes twelve classes (such as Centaur, Lyrist, Spearman, and Thief). They differ in their starting Hits (the equivalent of hit points), primary attributes, and special abilities (everyone gets two or three of these, except for casters who only have their spells). Combat is very straightforward, but the supplements detail a fair amount of special maneuvers. Magic uses spell points (called Power Points), and every caster class has access to six unique spells.

The Maze Masters Guide provides information regarding the setting (called Mythika), whose bare-bones descriptions are further detailed in a series of articles (cf. Atlas of Mythika). It also has a handful of random generators (adventure plots, city states, temples, mysterious islands), and an easy-to-use monster creation system (the actual monsters are presented in the Creature Compendium; circa 200 opponents of various types and power levels).

Mazes & Minotaurs is an amazing work of love. It retains the simplicity and familiarity of old-school D&D, while improving upon it at the same time. There are a lot of supplements covering a wild range of topics (new monsters, mythic items, classes, and adventures), yet the game remains simple and elegant. And the best part is that the entire product line is completely free.