Mazes and Monsters: retro clone

Monday, July 19th, 2010
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!

Mazes and Monsters retro-clone 2: actual gameplay

Monday, July 26th, 2010
This entry is part 2 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

(As I mentioned in part I, I’m reverse engineering the rules to the RPG from the Tom Hanks blockbuster Rona Jaffe’s Mazes and Monsters.)

Here’s the first scene where we see a Mazes and Monsters game being played! And, as we’d expect in this film, which is so steeped in RPG rules that it is practically a Mazes and Monsters manual, we can get a lot of rules information from just the first frame of this scene.

Mazes and Monsters board

First of all, we can see that this game is played on a board. (I think? It could also be just an awesome coffee table that happens to have a dungeon-like pattern.) Second, we see that there are candles. Lots and lots of candles. Finally, we see what looks like a GM’s screen, shaped like a sweet castle!

Notable for their absence: dice. None of the players have any dice sitting in front of them. What kind of game is this? What do the players stack when they are bored? The only possible answer is NOTHING, because IN MAZES AND MONSTERS YOU DO NOT GET BORED!!!

If anyone had any lingering doubts about Mazes and Monsters being an entirely separate game from D&D, those doubts should be dispelled. Most editions of D&D have some sentence that is a variation on the following: All you need to play this game is a few friends, this book, dice — and imagination!

Imagine that sentence as it would appear in the Mazes and Monsters rulebook:

All you need to play this game is at least three friends, this book, NO dice, a board (or possibly a coffee table), and some personal problems you want to work out. Hundreds of candles are optional but highly recommended.

OK, let’s get to some dialogue!

Mazes and Monsters retro-clone 3: meet the characters

Monday, August 2nd, 2010
This entry is part 3 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

After last week’s extremely informative introduction to the game system, we get a shot, from one of the players’ point of view, of a character sheet and a corner of the game board.

character sheet

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to read the character sheet. So much valuable rules information, lost, just because of lousy screen resolution! Squinting, I can sort of convince myself that the second word on the character sheet (after the character’s name?) is “strength”. The fourth word seems to end with “ing” (cunning?) and the fifth word looks like it ends with “ge” (courage?)

Mazes and Monsters retro-clone 4: love and character sheets

Monday, August 9th, 2010
This entry is part 4 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

A strange plant is growing in Tom Hanks’ heart… and its name is love. In a story repeated at so many gaming tables, the tank (Kate) is falling in love with the healer (Hanks).

Mazes and Monsters

What's that at the end of the maze? It's a heart!

I have to pause here. Mazes and Monsters has never got the recognition it deserved as one of Hanks’ most emotionally powerful love stories. Tom Hanks has been in a lot of movies – imdb lists 60, with another 15 in production – but Mazes and Monsters is one of the warmest and most romantic films he’s ever been in. I’d seriously put it in the top 3 Hanks love stories. Let’s go through some of his biggest roles:

  • Dragnet: A buddy movie; the other buddy gets the romantic subplot.
  • Big: Child in an adult body.
  • Turner & Hooch: A love story between a guy and a dog.
  • A League of Their Own: A baseball coach has a team of female players and doesn’t have a romance with any of them.
  • Sleepless in Seattle: A romantic comedy in which Hanks and the girl don’t actually spend any time in the same city.
  • Philadelphia: Antonia Banderas is presumably Hanks’ boyfriend, but they act like roommates.
  • Forrest Gump: OK, Forrest loves Jennay. So far, this is the only Hanks movie I’d put in the romantic class of Mazes and Monsters.
  • Apollo 13: Hanks spends the movie 205,500 miles away from his wife.
  • Saving Private Ryan: Hanks’ love for Private Ryan is never made explicit.
  • You’ve Got Mail: I haven’t seen this but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt: maybe, unlike in Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan actually meet and don’t JUST email each other.
  • Cast Away: Love story between a man and a volleyball.
  • The Polar Express: Love story between a Hanks and a Hanks.
  • The Da Vinci Code: The idea of anyone loving a man with that hair is clearly preposterous. Besides, *SPOILERS REDACTED* Jesus Hanks.

All I’m saying is, it’s unusual for a Hollywood leading man to be so asexual. Hanks’ heart will forever be barren and inhospitable to love, as if he left the Mazes and Monsters set with +3 bracers vs. Cupid’s arrow. Why? Could it be that he never forgot Kate? or could it be that his Mazes and Monsters obsession left him warped – a child in a man’s body (an echo of which we can see in Big)? Remember, not everyone is able to play at the Ninth Level. Perhaps Hanks was not ready for the demands Jaffe put upon him.

But that’s all in the future. Here, today, at this gaming session, Tom Hanks’ heart is very much alive. We see a montage of his eyes locking with Kate’s over the gaming table… him ducking under her umbrella… them jogging together. Sexy stuff! But for our purposes, the most important scene is the two of them working on their character sheets together.. We get screenshots!

Mazes and Monsters retro-clone 5: It’s a Trap!

Monday, August 16th, 2010
This entry is part 5 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

the cleverest of all sprites

the cleverest of all sprites

Last week’s game session over, we see JJ and Blondie hangin’ out together, painting some miniatures. You know. Like you do, as bros.

Here we see JJ with his magifying glass. It was probably part of, like, a Sherlock Holmes costume (JJ’s schtick is that he loves costumes). Who knows, maybe the magnifying glass will come in handy again if he ever gets a job as Construction Producer on “Handyman Superstar Challenge”.

So apparently Mazes and Monsters minis are made out of paper? or cardboard? Anyway, they’re flimsy — providing nothing like the honest, slightly-toxic solidity of the lead miniature that D&D was using at the same time. Mazes and Monster’s publisher (whoever it was) just never had the money TSR did to produce licensed gamepieces. Luckily, the Mazes and Monsters minis are always conveniently facing the camera, so it looks like they’re not quite as ramshackle as they are.

Mazes and Monsters retro-clone 6: Live Action Maze Exploration

Monday, August 23rd, 2010
This entry is part 6 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

We’ve come a long way in our exploration of the Mazes and Monsters rules. The old rules. The old, boring, sit-around-the-table rules. But now it’s time for the next stage of the game:

Evolved Mazes & Monsters

As I mentioned last week, JayJay (the guy who wears the hats) had a brain wave while looking for a quiet place to commit suicide: he invented the “next evolution of the game”, which turns out to be LARPing in a cave. This is an event as momentous as the D&D rules branching into Basic and Advanced D&D, and therefore deserves its own section of the rules, if not its own rule book.

Evolved Mazes and Monsters

Read this book second!

At some point, the psychic danger of the terrifying world of Mazes and Monsters, and the physical danger of death by candlefire, may not provide enough of a thrill for you. You and your players will be ready for an evolution of mazes and monsters, at a more sophisticated level.

WARNING: Evolved Mazes and Monsters is only for the most advanced players! If you have never played Mazes and Monsters at at least Level 9, CLOSE THIS BOOK NOW as its contents will certainly drive you into a mental state from which you may never recover!

There. Now that the less advanced players are gone, we can reveal the terrifying secrets of Evolved Mazes and Monsters: players dress in costumes and stand in a cave.


Mazes and Monsters retro clone 7: beware of the sacrilege!

Monday, September 20th, 2010
This entry is part 7 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

We last left off with Tom Hanks and his friends in the middle of a new, LARP-enhanced version of Mazes and Monsters. They just encountered a skeleton, so we should finally get a chance to see how they’ll handle combat so we can find out how that mechanic works, and… oh. Oh. They’re not going to fight the skeleton. They’re going to talk to each other. Roleplay.

Girl: Perhaps there is a clue hidden in the skull!
Hanks: (in a squeaky, panicked voice) Beware of the sacrilege!
Girl: Glacia the fighter is not afraid.

As Glacia the fighter approaches the skeleton, it is suddenly pulled up, out of the shot; presumably by a system of ropes and pulleys rigged up by Jay Jay, who, in addition to free run of the Theater Department and Anatomy Skeleton Department, apparently has the key to the Ropes and Pulleys Department. Either things are invisible when they are on the ceiling, or the characters can only see things in-frame, or Jay Jay’s system of ropes and pulleys pulls the skeleton down the tunnel and around the bend, because the skeleton, mouth flashlight and all, is now gone.

Showing bizarre and amazing lumination-location memory, Blondie says, “Look! where the light was pointing!”

Look! Where the light was pointing!


Mazes and Monsters: psychodrama!

Monday, September 27th, 2010
This entry is part 8 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

When we left off, Tom Hanks had just gone crazy in the local caves. Tonight, as he sleeps, he is visited by a dream.

Don't shoot the Great Hall!

Don't shoot the Great Hall!

In the dream, Tom is talking to an authoritative God figure. God looks a little like “Not Me” of Family Circus as seen through James Bond’s gun barrel.

Mazes and Monsters: leveling rules

Monday, October 4th, 2010
This entry is part 9 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

I’ve been blogging the Mazes and Monsters RPG for about two months now, which is a long time in internet land, so, just in case you’re new to the project:

I’m watching Tom Hanks’ Mazes and Monsters to glean the rules of the Mazes and Monsters RPG. So far, the game players (Hanks, Jay Jay, Kate, and the blond guy) have stolen costumes from the college theater department and LARPed in a dangerous cave, and Tom Hanks has gone totally insane, hallucinated a fight with an evil monster, and broken up with Kate because a spectral figure called “The Great Hall” told him to.

Now we’re all caught up!

Confused and hurt by her breakup with Hanks, Kate meets Blondie in a diner (apparently there is a diner on campus? it seems to be called “Fat City”) for some post-breakup flirtation, and to ask whether Hanks might be acting a little more… Pardieuxy than usual. Blondie is unable or unwilling to recognize the change in Hanks’ personality.

GIRL: What about his blessing people all the time and giving his stuff away and acting so holy?
BLONDIE: He’s just staying in character. […] I don’t think Robbie’s turning into Pardieux. We work out our problems in the caverns and then we leave them there.

It’s been a while since we were reminded that Mazes and Monsters is a game meant to help us Work Out Our Problems. But it is. Who knows how many thousands it helped during the 80s? Such a powerful healing tool was undoubtedly invaluable for professional psychologists. I bet this scenario played out a lot:

PSYCHOLOGIST: Hmm, your marriage does seem to be troubled. Perhaps we should try some role-play. (lights candles) You are standing before the greatest adventure of all: marriage. Shall ye enter?
HUSBAND and WIFE: Aye! (dice are rolled)
WIFE: I slew a Gorville!
ALL: Marriage saved!

But for every problem solved, there is a life ruined. For every yin, there is a Hanks. The game really should come with a warning to that effect.

Mazes and Monsters is a game about FUN – but it is also a game about self-improvement. Mazes and Monsters players work out their problems in the game and then they leave them there.

Like any respectable psychological tool – hypnotism, LSD, lobotomy, Scientology – Mazes and Monsters is dangerous if used improperly. Don’t try to work out serious real-life problems until you are high enough level to deal with them! And never play the game except under the guidance of a fully licensed Maze Controller!

The other fact to notice about this scene: Blondie writes off some pretty wacky behavior – blessing people all the time, giving away his stuff – as “staying in character.” Well, we know that Blondie isn’t so smart. This is the guy that advocated splitting up when they were LARPING in the cave. But still, “staying in character” seems to be something that is acceptable within the Mazes and Monsters subculture.

A high-level Mazes and Monsters player may want to start acting like his character in the real world. This is perfectly normal. This is what Russian theater director Konstantin Stanislavski calls “staying in character”. It can help players gain the naturalistic playing style they really need to work out their problems in the game.

The next night, Tom Hanks again dreams of The Great Hall!

HALL: Pardieux. Next you must find the secret city under the earth.
HANKS: When?
HALL: When you have purified your mind as you have your body.
HANKS: I’m making a map!
HALL: When you are ready, you will need no map.

From Hanks’ madness we can glean game rules. He is a player, not the Maze Controller, and yet he feels it is his responsibility to make a map. Therefore, a player must be appointed to be the party mapper, as in Dungeons and Dragons.

Player Responsibilities

The players should be prepared to do a little work to ease the task of the Maze Controller.

One player should be the maze mapper. This player notes down the twists, turns, corridors, and rooms of the Maze. Only by studying the map will the players be able to reach the treasure.

Here’s Hanks’ map. Pretty nice, huh?

the great hall/two towers map

Next session, we’ll talk about XP!

Mazes and Monsters: mystery in the caves

Monday, October 11th, 2010
This entry is part 10 of 34 in the series Mazes and Monsters

Remember 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 without incident. It seems that something is finally happening there!

Katie drives by the cave and sees a car parked nearby. Panicked, she rushes in to save … Blondie? He confesses that he has been mapping the caves between official game sessions. “”I wanted to figure out where Jay Jay hid the treasure.”

Katie and Blondie get home safe. Another fake-out where no one gets lost in caves. Something is going to happen there soon, though, I can just feel it!

What we learn from Blondie’s confession about “the treasure”, though, is that there is just one treasure at the heart of every maze! It sounds like when you find the treasure, you win the maze. Players have a lot of motivation to find the best possible route to the treasure, avoiding unnecessary dangers and obstacles.

This is how early editions of D&D worked too. Most of players’ XP was earned from treasure; wandering monsters were things to be avoided. By third edition D&D, though, character advancement came primarily from combat. If you skipped the combats, you’d never level up.

We’d better codify this in our Mazes and Monsters rules.

The maze treasure

At the center of every Maze in Mazes and Monsters is a treasure! The object of Mazes and Monsters is to find this treasure. Only by finding the treasure will the characters gain the wealth, powers, and spells they need to gain Levels and defeat their personal problems. Be wary, though: every treasure will be guarded by formidable obstacles!

I think that, while the bulk of XP in Mazes and Monsters comes from finding the Treasure, you must also get some XP from incidental encounters. After all, everyone was excited when the party met a dozen bloodthirsty undead!

How long to level 9?

I have another question about gaining levels. All the players are so proud of having level 9 characters. How hard is this? How long does it take to get to Level 9?