A-Maze Us with a Maze (Labyrinth Review)

Overview

Bought this because Ben Milton worked on it. I’m a simple man. Ran it for my brother, mother, and father whilst in Amish country, hence the absence. None of us have seen Labyrinth, though I likely will after this at some point.

Brother was a goblin, dad a Firey, mom a human. We played through the first two chapters of five before calling it quits. They enjoyed it loads.

Aesthetic

Stinkin’ gorgeous. All the reviews on Amazon rave about the look and layout of the book, and I agree. It feels great just to hold in your hands at the table. After admiring the cover and reading the interior of the dust jacket, remove it. There are bookmarks and the read cloth cover preserves the mystery of Labyrinth without subjecting players to the odd hairstyle and makeup of David Bowie. But I digress.

It’s beautiful, and the inside is no exception. Control panel design (Ben practicing what he preaches), many good tables that take the improvisation to a whole new level and clean, clean maps. The look is consistent, the art inviting.

Play

I nearly choked when I saw the system. It’s Dragonslayer Adventures with some VERY minor differences. I felt at home immediately. One six-sider vs. difficulty number, with advantage and/or disadvantage, and each PC that helps in a meaningful way lowers the difficulty by 1. Slick and spicy.

Character creation is simple, although I made some changes even before playing it RAW (see below).

Required materials? Just six siders and index cards. The book handles everything in theatre of the mind. Well, except one scene we came across: 19. The Hunt on page 124. It required me to either draw or print a map, which I didn’t have on hand or the patience for. Maybe there was a heads-up for the need to prep that particular scene and I dropped the ball on that. But in any case, I just said “Whelp, we’re not gonna do that one. On to the next scene!”

Guess I should explain the adventure a bit, aye?

Adventure

The frame for the adventure is genius: The Goblin King stole something from you. Get it back. You have 13 hours. Any time you wander aimlessly, fail a challenge, or the whole party wipes, lose an hour. When the time runs out, so does your will. You become a lost soul of the Labyrinth.

The “losing an hour” mechanic is a FANTASTIC non-violent consequence. With many OSR games that threaten bodily harm or death as their near-primary consequence, it’s so refreshing to see this. The short-term consequences affect the long-term outcome in a visible, palpable way. I set two additional six-siders on a card label “HOURS LEFT” after the first time the players declared they wanted to wait something out. Aha! Try that again, eh?

It prompts ACTION. A huge plus.

Players roll after succeeding or failing a scene, only making progress on success. It keeps a Labyrinth feel as you never know what scene is coming next but you could also encounter a failed scene twice (which happened on our playthrough. Mwahahaha)!

One complaint players had was that many of their solutions relied on item use. If they had more items at the start rather than relying on their finds from inside the Labyrinth, they would’ve felt better about the problems they were facing. I could see that. Easy fix is to give them one or two items each from pages 272 and 273. Just to get them started. BUT the items that they did find in the Labyrinth were both odd and fun, the favorite probably being the wind-up duck. What goofiness (a high compliment, for sure).

The replayability? Slightly hampered by the uniqueness of the premise. “What? The Goblin King stole from MORE people? We have to enter the Labyrinth again?” But when my dad asked about replayability during a break, I noticed that we had only done 5 of the 22 scenes of the first chapter. 17 were completely bypassed. And there are 90 scenes in total, yes, 90! So a player may find the game replayable, but I was thinking from the GM’s side of things: that’s REALLY replayable, more than 90% of dungeons. I could run this for five or more groups and never get to all of the scenes contained in the book. And who’s to say I can’t fudge to swap one scene for another (while still keep their same level progress of course, I’m not a complete monster)? Fun, fun.

As the GM, I only read the first scene, just so I’d start comfortable. For every single scene after, I speed-read while my players bickered. I trusted Milton’s concise language and was rewarded for it by not having to prep as much. This is a HUGE plus for me and why I recommend Ben’s adventures, like The Waking of Willowby Hall.

Now for my idiosyncrasies…

Complaints and Patches

So the players I generally have at my table are afraid of blank spaces on their character sheet. Me asking “so what are your character’s strengths and weaknesses?” makes many of them actually scared, no joke.

Saying “here’s a list, choose one” is better, but if one player doesn’t know what one item on the list is, I have to explain it. And then someone else will likely have the same question, which I’ll answer again. And then a third person will make a joke pretending not to hear and then ask the same question a third time. Laugh track ensues.

With a setting like Labyrinth, filled with mystery and bizarre creatures, I found it more fun to only explain the races/species/kin that the players themselves are, rather than spoiling what a “Knight of Yore” is without any context and from a dry “they stand this many feet tall with this color skin and generally do such and such.” No fun.

Better to roll now and ask questions later.

So even before I started playing, I made some things into tables and made an original table to get things started. Making “step 5: decide your goal” a table was a huge priority for me just reading through the thing. I could easily see this as a thing that players get stuck on. If it takes them 15 minutes to decide whether to go left or right, imagine a blank in the world that everyone has to come to consensus to before play can begin. Oofta.

So first table: making the game human-centered-ish while not having to explain ALL the kin options, go!

Step 2 Table: Kin (2d6)

2-3. Dwarf

4. Firey

5. Goblin

6-8. Human

9. Knight of Yore

10. Horned Beast

11-12. Worm

Step 3 Table: Great at… (1d6)

Reroll duplicates among players.

1. Lifting and pushing

2. Singing and dancing

3. Sneaking and hiding

4. Listening and spotting

5. Endurance and bravery

6. Running and jumping

Step 4 Table: Bad at… (1d6)

Reroll duplicates among players.

1. Blunt

2. Forgetful

3. Coward

4. Naive

5. Overconfident

6. Selfish

Step 5 Table: What did the Goblin King steal from you? (1d6)

Reroll duplicates among players.

1. Sibling (1 older brother, 2 younger brother, 3 twin brother, 4 older sister, 5 younger sister, 6 twin sister)

2. Pet (1-2 dog, 3-4 cat, 5 mouse, 6 bird)

3. Precious item (roll on page 272-273)

4. Treasured memory (who is in the memory? what is it of?)

5. A special talent of yours (what can you no longer do? why was that talent so valuable to you?)

6. It’s a SECRET (choose one and write it down somewhere hidden. why don’t you want others to know? show the Goblin King if they ask.)

Conclusion

Ben Milton is a genius for setting up scenarios that require solving. There is something is interesting in this scene, something is blocking your way, and the timer is ticking.

I’m glad I waited for distribution to correct itself a bit as now you can get the book on Amazon. Great buy for a hardcover at just under $35 as of writing. Did I mention you ALSO GET DICE?!

To be totally honest, I bought this to rip these 90-some scenarios right out of the book and reskin them for my kids on Outschool. I have no allegiance to the Labyrinth setting, although I very much respect that Mr. Henson man. Kermit’s Clan and The Black Gemstone are stellar works of film.

If nothing else, every single scene demonstrates smart principles for scenario design. Get it for that, you Muppet.

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