Last week, our playtest heroes fought their way through the Crypt of the Twin Kings (one good, one evil), overcoming skeletons, traps, and a sealed room where they’d have to listen to Led Zeppelin… forever.
Now they stood before a magnificently carved ivory door that bore engravings of the Twin Kings fighting monsters! This was undoubtedly the end of the maze, the treasury of the Twin Kings themselves! Next to the door was a decrepit side-passage that terminated in a dead end. On the wall of the dead end were, carved into the stone, words in a strange, unknown language.
Our Holy Man, Sansange, was elated! She had been waiting for a chance to cast her new power, “Read Strange Languages.” There was just one problem: the spell cost 20 spell points. Sansange had 20 spell points at maximum, but had already spent 10 on casting an Instant Heal after a battle with skeletons.
Sansange convinced everyone that the words must be of paramount importance, and everyone should camp out and regain their spell points, and then next morning, Sansange could translate the words.
Here we hit, and fixed, a few rules problems. My initial rules had it that resting overnight restored 1 HP and 1 spell point per character level. We agreed that it might be fine for HP to regenerate at this rate, but that a full night’s sleep should restore all spell points.
We also adjusted the cost of Instant Heal. Initially, all level 1 spells cost 10 Spell Points, so that, for instance, a level 1 Holy Man could cast “Instant Heal” twice per day.
Instant Heal cured 30 points of damage: however, since everyone had 2d12 or 3d12 HP, no one had anything near 30 HP. Sansange felt bad about spending 10 points to cure a minor injury.
We decided that, since Instant Healing was the bread and butter of the Holy Man class, we’d give it a nonstandard Spell Point price. It could now cost any number of Spell Points: it cured that many points of damage. You could use it like D&D’s Lay On Hands to efficiently fix minor injuries. At higher levels, with bigger wounds, it became less efficient, but new healing spells would become available then anyway.
Rules issues resolved, the heroes made camp. Since there were no fatigue rules, Sir Robert, who had spent neither HP nor Spell Points, stayed up all night to guard the camp. And it’s a good thing he did! The camp was attacked by Mystic Skeletons!
Mystic Skeletons were much like the other skeletons the group had fought, except that, instead of attacking, they could try to Maze a player. A Mazed player would see everyone as a skeleton, and wouldn’t know who to attack.
This fight was more grueling for the party than the previous one, with several characters becoming Mazed and attacking their friends. Walmart Jr, hurling daggers at the Sansange the Holy Man, posed the greatest threat. She only stopped when someone gave her a chance to break the Maze by reminding her that “your father threw himself to his death in a pit! If I was really a skeleton, how would I know that?”
When the battle was won, the party got its reward: the chance to finish their sleep and refresh their Spell Points. Sansange cast her spell and read the words written on the wall, which said:
KEEP NOT THE ROYAL GOLD
“That’s it?” demanded Sir Robert. “We wasted all this time and fought these skeletons, just to read a warning not to rob the treasury?”
Since Sansange was now totally out of spell points, the heroes discussed whether it was worth it to go right back to bed, but they decided to just go for it and see what was behind the ornate doors.
the hall of the mountain kings
As the players expected, they ended up in the maze’s treasure room. They were greeted by the ghosts of the Twin Kings, Antrus and Bentrus (one good, one evil, but no one knew which).
Each of the ghosts offered the heroes the treasure, along with a quest. If they took the treasure without fulfilling either of the quests, they’d get a curse.
King Antrus asked the players to take the money and give half to the Holy Men of the Purple Mountains. If they took this quest, Antrus would also throw in a magic helmet.
King Bentrus asked the players to give all the money to the land’s current Chancellor in exchange for the last thing Bentrus gave to his Chancellor. If they accepted his quest, he’d throw in a magic spade.
choosing a king
One of the features of Mazes and Monsters is that once per session, the group may ask one question of the Maze Controller. He must answer it, but he is free to give an answer that is equivocal, misleading, or goddamn useless.
Lothar the Frenetic uncapped the group’s question: “Is Antrus the evil twin?”
Antrus was, in fact, the evil twin. I decided to be slightly goddamn useless, and said, “Antrus is known to be a greedy man.” This left a small possibility that Bentrus was worse.
The group discussed their options. Bentrus’s offer (they’d get the last thing Bentrus gave the chancellor) was a gamble. It could be gold and estates, but it might have been something bad, like a curse or an order of execution. I believe someone also suggested syphilis.
On the other hand, while Antrus’s suggested donation to a group of Holy Men seemed good, there was no guarantee that these were good Holy Men. That plus the fact that Antrus was Maze-controller-confirmed as greedy decided them to take Bentrus’s offer.
(By the way, had the group taken Antrus’s offer, they would have gotten a helmet that Mazed its owner into believing he was the true king, and demanding everyone’s allegiance. The Holy Men of the Purple Mountains were an evil cult trying to raise King Antrus from the dead so that he could enslave the world.)
Bentrus gave them a spade that allowed the group to dig through solid rock – but only straight down. I wasn’t sure how useful that would be, and neither was the group, since parties rarely want to take a shortcut to lower dungeon levels; but I thought that it gave the group scope to come up with some Maze-Controller-thwarting plans.
King Bentrus let the group know that they could use the spade to dig down to a passage below the burial chamber. The passage was a short cut to the surface, and to their reward (or punishment) from the land’s current Chancellor.
When the heroes dug down to the passage, they discovered that one branch led up and one led down. “The one leading up obviously leads to the surface,” they decided, but they decided to head down anyway and see if they could find any more treasure.
I had decided that this was a possibility, so I’d placed one more obvious trap at the end of the down-slanting chamber. When they reached the end of the passage, they found a treasure chest which had a lid carved like the head of a tiger, with fangs hanging down over the lock. The key was in the lock, but to open it, you’d have to put your hand in the tiger’s mouth.
And, of course, I announced, “The chest might contain more treasure…… but it might be a trap.”
It certainly looked a lot like a trap.
Sir Richard decided that he’d go for it. He turned the key and opened the chest.
It was a trap.
The tiger-fanged lid of the box bit off Sir Richard’s right hand! The Holy Man was able to cure Sir Richard’s HP damage, but there was no way to restore the hand.
Inside the box was…. a silver hand! Sir Richard plugged it into place. It turned out to be an evil hand, possessed by some long-dead noble, but content to ride around on Sir Richard’s arm. It wouldn’t do common work – it would never lower itself to hold anything, for instance – but it would be quite happy to strangle Sir Richard’s enemies. I allowed the hand to be used like a normal weapon, except it always got to roll a Trait die on damage.
Now there was nothing left for the group to do except go to the Chancellor and take their medicine.
It turned out that the country had been ruled by the Chancellor’s family for hundreds of years. They ruled as kings, but still retained the title of “Chancellor”. The last thing King Bentrus had given his chancellor, before dying of wounds in some long-forgotten battle, was the crown. Bound by King Bentrus’s words, the chancellor had to give the players the crown to the kingdom.
The group asked, “Does this mean we get the whole kingdom, or just the physical crown?”
After a quick consultation with his counsellors, the Chancellor decided the group just got the crown.
The players decided that that was fair. As soon as they got the crown, they offered to sell it back to the chancellor for thousands of Pieces of Twelve. The Chancellor agreed, and everyone left happy.
The players ended up with enough gold to raise everyone to Level Two. (In Mazes and Monsters, as in 1e D&D, each gold coin gives you one point of experience. Unlike in D&D, though, money is the only way to gain experience.)
At level two, players gain more hit points and spell points, do more damage, and get to roll up another Trait. Next time we play, we’ll try out the levelling system, maybe fight some boss monsters (like the evil Ack Oga) and find out whether Wal-Mart Jr.’s player is happy with her randomly-selected Trait, or whether she will hurl herself into another pit.
I’ll probably publish a draft of the rules before we do another playtest. One playtest is more than enough, right? I’m sure it’s more than some TSR-era D&D books got: the 1e Wilderness Survival Guide, for instance.
Next week I’ll probably post an open beta of a significant chunk of the rules: probably Chapter 1, How to Play the Game, and Chapter 2, How to Make a Character. Maybe Chapter 3: Shopping in Town, so people can make complete characters. We’ll see how much I can get ready in time.