Mazes and Monsters: retro clone

This entry is part 1 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

There have been a lot of open-source old-school game clones: OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, etc, letting people legally produce content compatible with older games. One game that has been sadly neglected is Mazes and Monsters. Who among us doesn’t have fond childhood memories of spelunking in costume until our friend Tom Hanks went crazy?

Mazes and MonstersWell, not me, because I was never lucky enough to find a M&M group – I had to make do with Dungeons and Dragons. Rona Jaffe’s Mazes and Monsters sure made M&M look intriguing though. Evil creatures! Traps! Descent into madness! Hats!

It’s been suggested that there never was a M&M game – that the Mazes and Monsters movie is an excoriating criticism of a fictionalized version of D&D. If so, it is a dismal failure, because as we can see from the movie, MAZES AND MONSTERS IS NOTHING LIKE DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. Therefore, unless we are to assume that Rona Jaffe and everyone involved in the movie are total idiots who didn’t bother to do the most trivial speck of research, we must assume that the movie is an excoriating criticism of a real game called Mazes and Monsters that I have just never heard of.

Rulebooks of Mazes and Monsters are hard to come by; luckily Rona Jaffe’s movie contains a wealth of gaming detail – enough, I think, to make a workable retro-clone. I volunteer to watch the movie and glean any rules details. The M&M community will have to help fill in any rules gaps with memories and speculation!

My first question for the community: Since the name “Mazes and Monsters” is undoubtedly under copyright, what should we call our retro clone? The suggestions that come to my mind are

  • Mazes and Hanksters
  • Mazes and MOSRIC
  • Rona Jaffe’s Dungeons and Dragons

Vote or leave suggestions in the comments!

Let’s start watching the movie!

Media Uproar


He sounds a little like Howard Cosell.

The movie begins with wailing police sirens and a be-trenchcoated reporter doing a story about a Mazes and Monsters-related disappearance. Even in his media fearmongering, though, we can find good material for our game:

REPORTER: Mazes and Monsters is a fantasy role-playing game in which players create imaginary characters. These characters are then plunged into a fantasy world of imagined terrors. The point of the game is to amass a fortune without being killed. It’s kind of a psychodrama, you might say, where these people deal with problems in their lives by acting them out.

This is good stuff! Let’s use it for page 1 of our game!

What is Mazes and Monsters?

Mazes and Monsters is a fantasy role-playing game in which YOU create an imaginary character. This character is then plunged into a fantasy world of imagined terrors! It’s kind of a psychodrama, you might say, where YOU can deal with problems in your life by acting them out!

I know that if I opened a manual and read these words, I’d be sold! Softcore new age pseudo-psychology masquerading as a game? YES PLEASE!!

Mazes and Monsters also separates itself from other RPGs of its time, which said stuff like “The point of this game is to have fun!” or other such unquantifiable nonsense. Mazes and Monsters has a win condition!

Goal of the game

The goal of the game is to amass a fortune without being killed!

Meet the Players

After a screen title reading “SIX MONTHS EARLIER”, we meet the movie’s main characters, the four Mazes and Monsters players. They’re perfectly representative M&M players, and we might as well use them as the basis for the players in any sample text in our retro-clone.

Daniel: The handsome blond one. In sample text, I’ll refer to him as Blondie.
Robbie: Tom Hanks. In sample text, I’ll refer to him as Tom Hanks.
Jay Jay: The one who wears a lot of different hats. In sample text, I’ll refer to him as JJ.
Kate: The girl. In sample text, I’ll refer to her as The Girl.

Kate and JJ

Kate and JJ and a comic hat

In scene 1, JJ and Kate are discussing their M&M plans for the coming semester:

KATE: We’ve gotta find a fourth player!
JJ: Yeah… one that won’t flunk out or freak out, like last semester.

which lines gives us a valuable piece of rules data! Let’s put it right in:

Number of players

Mazes and Monsters requires at least 4 players! With less than 4 players you won’t be able to gain any Levels – not to mention you won’t have any fun!

wanted signTo recruit the all-important fourth player, JJ tacks up a sign on a bulletin board: “Mazes and Monsters enthusiast who can play at the ninth level.” That gives us more rules information! Any Joe Bludgeon can’t just whip up a level-9 M&M character. The ability to play at level 9 is a player attribute. Let’s write it up!

Who can play Mazes and Monsters?

Anyone can have fun playing Mazes and Monsters — at the first level! But be warned, as the levels get higher, the psychodrama becomes more challenging! Some PLAYERS have the ABILITY to play at high level – and SOME DO NOT! Some will flunk out, and some will freak out! But if you can play at the highest levels, you will be able to pretend to amass a fortune!

Soon, the bulletin board sign works! JJ, Blondie and the girl discover that Tom Hanks used to play Mazes and Monsters:

TOM HANKS: I played a game called Mazes and Monsters a little too much.
GIRL: No kidding. What level?
TOM: Uh, nine. Ninth level.
GIRL: So am I! Isn’t it wonderful to be finally creating your own scenarios?
TOM: Yeah, yeah, and your own fantasies too!

GIRL: JJ, he’s Level 9!
JJ: Level 9, he didn’t tell me that! Well, sign him up!
TOM: No, no, I can’t.
GIRL: Please, try ONE campaign with us?

A lot of important rules information here! For one thing, it confirms our assumption that it takes a level 9 PLAYER to run a level 9 CHARACTER.

More importantly, we learn that 9th level you can “finally create your own scenarios” and your “own fantasies”. What are scenarios and fantasies?

Well, creating your own scenarios might just mean that when you GM, you can write your own adventures, instead of relying on pre-written Mazes and Monsters modules. But what about creating fantasies?

I speculate that in order to be distinct from GM-created “scenarios”, the ability to create fantasies must be a player power. Let’s write all this up in glossary format.

SCENARIO: A scenario is simply a Mazes and Monsters adventure, containing, at the minimum, the following elements: a) MAZES, b) MONSTERS, c) RICHES. The fourth element, FUN, is recommended! M&M sells many excellent prewritten scenarios, which will bring a M&M party to level 8. At level 9, the players gain the ability to create their own scenarios!
FANTASY: A high-level Mazes and Monsters player may actually alter the maze itself! This is done by invoking a “fantasy”. The fantasizing player can claim to see anything he or she wants (as long as it is either an imagined terror or a real-life problem). This power should only be used by those experienced with advanced psychodrama! Players of level nine and above have this ability.

Re: the Fantasy power: Sounds like something from a Forge-designed game. But Mazes and Monsters did it first!

Oh, let’s add “campaign”, which Kate mentioned, to the Glossary.

CAMPAIGN: A single scenario.

That’s enough of a rules dump for today! Next time, we’ll get to an actual onscreen example of Mazes and Monsters being played! As a preview, here’s a screenshot of the game, complete with candles and a puzzling game board:

game board


Until then, feel free to comment on the name of the game, rules nuances I missed, and even create your own content! This is an open source project!

On to Part 2

Series NavigationMazes and Monsters retro-clone 2: actual gameplay >>


27 Responses to “Mazes and Monsters: retro clone”

  1. Thunderkor says:

    I remember being baffled at the stupidity of that movie. My crazy aunt made me watch it as some sort of warning. A already didn’t take her seriously about anything, and this sure didn’t lend her any credibility.

    Although sometimes my group did play by candlelight. But no candles on the map. SHEESH! Maybe those were supposed to be fire golems?

  2. paul paul says:

    Beware, Thunderkor, lest ye travel in the footsteps of Hanks! Your dozens of Oscars and Golden Globes will be no return for the loss of your SANITY!

  3. Bret says:

    Please keep developing this.

  4. Brilliant! Thanks for chuckles – can’t wait for the next installment. 😀

  5. KFooLoo says:

    Heheh… Hanksters. How about a retroclone of Wizards & Warlocks?

    Seriously though, the one truly appealing aspect of M&M is the idea that if a character dies, the player has to start over at level 1. He/she can’t simply re-roll a new 9th level character. Makes a high level character all the more impressive.

  6. paul paul says:

    Wizards and Warlocks – are you talking about *google* the RPG they play in this one episode of The Greatest American Hero?

    Dude. I just Hulu’d the first few minutes. This looks AWESOME.

  7. KFooLoo says:

    Yes, that episode, and yes, it’s that awesome. You’ve got to watch the whole thing.

  8. […] I mentioned in part I, I'm reverse engineering the rules to the RPG from the Tom Hanks blockbuster Rona Jaffe's Mazes and […]

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Mearls and Obsidian Portal, Sean D. Sean D said: RT @mikemearls: Finally, Tom Hanks' contribution to RPGs gets its due: […]

  10. John Powell says:

    Let’s call it “Monsters and Mazes.”

  11. CrazyDreamer says:

    I nominate the title “Monsters in Mazes”. Has an appropriately pseudo-Grecian feel to it, don’t you think?

    (Since it doesn’t seem to be providing trackback, I thought that I’d mention that I was linked to here from the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games [CAR-PGa] e-mail list via The Escapist blog [].)

  12. Uncle Shecky says:

    I vote for “Flunk Outs & Freak Outs.”

  13. Ancient of Days says:

    how about Creatures & Corridors or Lizards and Labyrinths or Puzzles and Pathways…..

  14. […] the caves? They were featured, ominously, in the first shot of the film, and then Jay Jay was going to commit suicide there, but didn't, and then the players LARPED there […]

  15. You make some good points in your blog. I found this site on google while searching for some puzzle games, I have added you to my favorites :)

  16. […] to show that one person's trash is another one's treasure! Don't forget to help out with the RPG based on the movie!! __________________ "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." – Samuel Johnson […]

  17. […] to show that one person's trash is another one's treasure! Don't forget to help out with the RPG based on the movie!! Comments     Woah __________________ "Patriotism is the last refuge of the […]

  18. Dungeoneering says:

    This if frakkin’ hilarious!

  19. DungeonDevil says:

    Wonderful — and very humourous — interpretation of this quirky classic movie!

    It occured to me that the sprite’s name may have been derived from German froehlich, “cheerful, merry, jolly”.

    Good catch with Pardieu = “perdu”! (That didn’t occur to me.)

  20. This is terrific! I think I finally need to see this now (in a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 way).

  21. […] in The Odyssey, Beowulf and Mazes and Monsters.In the next scene, we've finally caught up with the beginning of the movie, which, as you remember, started with a bunch of cops and reporters gathered around the entrance of […]

  22. […] been remiss in finishing my retro-clone of the bizarre RPG from the movie Mazes and Monsters: maybe if my planned Random Dungeon Kickstarter works out I will try to print M&M as a game […]

  23. Kerkerwicht says:

    As a difference to the movie all players in the book were up to level 3rd when they met at JJ’s party.

  24. matt says:

    This is priceless. But have you read the novel? It’s a bit different.

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