Title: Maze Rats
Author: Ben Milton
In an age where all of geekdom seems to be enthralled with D&D 5th edition, I find myself going back to my roots with all of the solid OSR content out there. As a GM, there is just something special about running a game where things like encounter balance and challenge rating are non-issues. I love the freedom of being able to throw instakill traps and ancient black dragons at a low-level group without remorse. As a player, I love the feeling that death is around every corner; that every doorknob is trapped and every stone tile is really a spiked pit trap waiting to swallow me whole.
The one downside to both of these perspectives is that new characters will have to be made quite a bit if the players aren’t careful, which brings me to just one of the many reasons why I think Maze Rats by Ben Milton is such a brilliant system: Random tables for character generation! The character generation section of the rules is made up of one page full of tables. Abilities are limited to three attributes: strength, dexterity and will. These can be determined by rolling 1d6 on one of two random tables: one with 6 different sets of ability scores and the other with the score values assigned to different die faces where you roll for each ability. With the highest starting score being +2, I prefer to use the first table to make the characters a little more vulnerable. Next is recording your starting HP of 4, choosing your feature from a list containing choices such as +1 to attack bonus, a spell slot or one of three “skill packages” that make a character more specialized (this can be seen as your class, though this is a classless system), rolling or choosing your equipment (6 items) and choosing your starting combat gear. If you roll for everything that has a table, the whole process takes 3 minutes at the most. And if you are playing in a game where actual roleplaying does not happen then your done! But if you are like me and like to roleplay, you need to have a basic understanding of your character’s background and this is where the next half of the page really shines. There are 6 tables, each containing 36 different results organized into 6 groups of 6. Rolling 2d6 separately on each table will determine your appearance, physical detail, background, clothing, personality and mannerism.
Using this system, it took me 3 minutes to make the following character:
Str: +0 Dex: +1 Will: +2
Items: Fish Net, Rope, Lockpicks, Bedroll, Bear Trap, Chisel, Axe, Light Armor and Shield.
Physical Detail: Sallow Skin
See? That’s a pretty sweet character for three minutes of work. There is a lot of potential there and already my mind is swimming with ways to play this guy.
Looking at the above character probably makes you wonder what the 1 spell means. Well, magic is determined by tables as well! Spells are all one-time use and are randomly generated by rolling 2d6 separately on the first table. This will determine type of effect, element or form that the spell falls in to. The effects, elements and forms are broken down into physical and ethereal tables, each containing the standard 36 choices in groups of 6. Some examples of spells generated from these tables are Reflecting Shield, Serpent Call and Spawning Glass. Once the spells are rolled, it is up to the GM as to what these spells can do and this is half the fun! Reflecting Shield is pretty straight forward, as well as Serpent Call, but Spawning Glass? It could be a shard of glass that spawns larger shards of glass in a given area or it could be a conjured mirror that spawns a creature or demon that is bound to the caster for a short period of time, and that is the beauty of the spell system. It’s random and fun and will usually surprise you.
Actions and combat are handled in a few different ways. Firstly, if a situation seems like it could be taken care of easy enough, no roll is needed. If the outcome is uncertain then the player rolls 2d6 and adds the applicable ability bonus. The total of the roll plus bonus must be 10 or higher to succeed. This system is tailored to smart, thoughtful play and avoiding danger, and this mechanic drives that fact home. You will fail the vast majority of the time. Combat is a little more forgiving, asking players to roll over the armor value of their target on 2d6. Damage is equal to the difference between the armor value and the roll, with heavy weapons adding 1 to the total while unarmed attacks are at a minus 1. I like that the combat system seems to fit with the lower HP values of the characters. This adds even more suspense to every encounter and yet again drives home the author’s ideal for the game: deadly and dangerous combat.
With the above content, which only covers 3 pages, you could start diving into the darkest of dungeons with torch in hand, ready to cower in fear with every flickering shadow. But pages 4-10 of the twelve pages that comprise this svelte system are the highlight of this system and a real boon to any GM who likes to “wing it” in any amount. That’s because they are filled to the brim with tables containing systems to generate monsters, NPCs, treasure, cities, wilderness and dungeons. These tables are made in the same format as the other tables found in the character creation section and can make adventure design super simple. I have used these tables to generate an entire adventure and have also used them to flesh out areas during a session. I find it easy to go off script with these tables set before me. Now, remember that proper preparation is essential as a GM and trying to create an entire adventure during play with these tables can be a bit cumbersome and may detract from the suspense that this system instills in the players with every roll of the dice.
Lastly, there are two pages dedicated to the GM, giving an example of play as well as tips on running a game and world creation. This section does a good job of relaying to the GM what the overall feel of the mechanics should be, which is needed to get people out of the Pathfinder/ D&D mindset of heroic characters doing heroic things in a balanced environment. This game is about non-hero characters, about the struggle to gain riches and notoriety, and just maybe becoming a hero if you live long enough. And to this end, the system works brilliantly.
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Until next time, have fun!