Friday, February 1, 2008

I want to play Mazes & Monsters...








...and have wanted to for about 20 years now. I discovered this book sometime during early high school and I fell in love with it. I'm not saying this is a good book, it's not but it's not a bad book either. It definitely does not fit in Rona Jaffe's other works if you look at it from the surface, like I am, becasue i'll likely not read her other works so I can't really say if it is or isn't at the core. My wife could and she read this book because I asked her to but I doubt she'll read the others either. (Rona Jaffe here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rona_Jaffe). She passed away, or as one of the movie's fan sites put it, "Failed her saving throw versus death." which is more frightening. I mean, we don't even know what her saving throws were at that moment. Was this 1st edition, 2nd edition or 3.5? Was she play testing 4th Edition? We can't know although two years ago is long enough that it is unlikely. All I'm saying is, get your self something to improve that saving throw pronto.

But anyway, I want to play this game. Read the book and you'll come to understand why. It sounds friggin fun. The characters are very non-templatative, mostly because DM Jaffe probably never played an RPG much less one that doesn't exist. It's clearly molded after Dungeons & Dragons yet it is molded by someone who only knows what they have heard and what they have read written by other people that haven't played the game or read the rules. So it's a game described through a muddy pair of goggles that are perscription goggles, but for somebody else and not you. Oddly the game descriptions turn out fascinating. Allow me to elaborate.

"Holy Men" or "Holy Man" (i.e. Cleric): the character of choice for Robbie Wheeling (Tom Hanks before he saved Ryan's Privates...or something like that) is clearly based on what you might hear about an RPG character but strangely different. The Holy Man is not a cleric except in a sense of being, well, holy, which he isn't. This isn't really an aspect of D&D but instead a reflection of mythology. The mythological dieties took a nearly soap-operatic hand in mortal affairs and commanded loyal followers to pursue strang quests to exotic locations to get killed rather than in their back yards. The character of Mazes & Monsters is instead more 'monkly' than 'clericy' although he is clearly meant to be 'clericy'. Elaboration within the text sites that each Holy Man is actually a student of another Holy Man who teaches him all his wisdom and one day leaves to go...someplace. We really don't know where he/she (I imagine there are Holy Women as well) goes or why but the guy he taught aspires to become good enough to go where they went, and thus we have a cycle in this way. This is more reminiscent of the of asceticism in practice which you can find relevance of in every major religious belief. All this aside I dig the idea of a character that is following in the foot steps of someone who was there and taught them personally but moves on to something better and your character is trying to catch up with him. I can recognize this is a manifestation of my personal belief in Christ and Christianity in the desire to be like my savior and ultimatley, through his Grace, reach heaven.

Charlatan (i.e. Thief): we don't know much about Daniel's character because he doesn't appear to later (initially he is the Maze Controller) but it's obviously a Thief from 1st Edition D&D. He dresses in black and carries a dagger and sneaks around and is called a Charlatan which is defined as: "A person who makes elaborate, fraudulent, and often voluble claims to skill or knowledge; a quack or fraud." which isn't really an accurate reflection of a D&D Thief but an accurate reflection of what someone who uses the goggles I described above would think a D&D Thief would be like. As an aside i'm pretty sure Jaffe had anti-semetic feelings since the only nationality mentioned in the book is Jewish which is Daniel (go figure on the name) and he's a Charlatan. Can we say Merchant of Venice?

Fighter (i.e. well, Figther): Kate's character is the 'strong' character because she wants to be strong herself in light of a horrible event in her past. I won't elaborate or i'll start talking about other things rather than the non-existant game I want to play. Basically she kills the monsters with effeiciency and can challenge hordes of them. At one point the adventurers are beset upon by a horde of "blood thirst undead" and she makes short work of them. I want to have a fighter like that on my team. My experience with 1st Ed. showed me a horde of anything, even mushrooms, will totally screw your party of brave heroes. She was obviously hoss beyond hossness. I find it interesting that at the introduction of her character it mentions her bringing the gear she needs to survive and one of these items is a sword. Just a sword, it's not magical, not enchanted, not flaming or icing, or anythign else-ing. Just a normal sword. She must have a strength of 18/1000. I'd like to throw in that this is clearly intended to be a feminist character, which is a good thing I think. If I had to apply a fantasy RPG class to my wife it'd be Fighter, only because there is no "Rampant Waste Laying Ass Kicker" class. When she did play years ago that is what she played, but we called it Fighter.

Sprite (i.e. I have no clue): J.J. gets the Sprite. And whatever the hell a sprite is...is beyond me. There is no equivalent to this character in the game and the best I can guess is that the description she makes omits Freliks class choice. Say a halfling that never says what he does for a living. This theory is at best weak since he has sonar and many other abilities such as enchanting monsters to tell them where the treasure is. I want to see the rules for this puppy, sounds very cool and over powered but yet again, remember the goggles eh? Otherwise it doesn't really mention much of his abilities but he does jump into a pit towards the middle of the movie and early in the book and dies. If this was 3.5 there would be NO WAY he'd go down so eacy, 1st Ed. he could have been level 20 and it would have done him in.

Rules: not much reference made to these but there are a few tantalizing gem stones she let drop while carrying this book through the maze. "Power" for one; when Frelik kicks it by jumping into a pit filled with diamond incrusted spikes (a rich death indeed) Glacia (Kate's Fighter) ask Pardeu (Robbie's Holy Man) to raise him from the dead but he tells her he doesn't have enough power. Now this makes it sound like magic points or magic slots or something like that but it's not because when Daniel says he can make a new character Kate complains that it will "...take him forever to amass enough Power." This could be a simple double use of the word, and likely is, but it still generates a rich mechanic inkling in my mind that I'd like to explore. Something else that fascinated me was the limited dice usage, now oddly enough this is heavily 1st Ed. At the introduction to the 'new game' ala Daniel he shows the dice to the players (d12's btw) and tells them he holds their fate in his hands. Not with d12's he won't but meh. The rules of 1st Ed. encouraged Dungeon Masters to make all the dice rolls for the characters to maintain a mystery of the probabilities and mechanics of the rules as much as possible. This was meant to be done for everything from attack rolls and damage rolls to saving throws. I can see how this would be cool as a player and an insufferable pain in the ass as a DM. Why this is fascinating is the depth of knowledge of the game someone would have to have to know this was in the rules. I have two theories on why this appeared; 1. because she was actually a role player herself and played 1st Ed. or 2. pure chaos theory coincidence. It's likely the latter.

Gorvils and the Jinnorak: woooo monsters! We love to make them and we love to kill them. These are the only monsters besides the "blood thirsty undead" that are mentioned and only the Gorvil is visually represtented in the made for TV movie and is not really what is described in the book. I don't have the text in front of me right now but the Gorvils are small lizard-man like monsters that leap from holes in the ground to attack, and are cycloptic, which is to say only one eye, and no they aren't wearing a patch. The movie's Gorvil is this hulking six and a half foot tall crested lizard man that looks cousin to the Gorn from Star Trek (hmmm, close spelling too eh?). Let us compare (Gorvil on left, Gorn on right):

















The Gorvil picture isn't so good, I know, but you can get the jist right? Neither of these buggers are cycloptic or in holes. The Jinnorak are a different story because in essence they are mutants, it even says so, they've been in the dark soooooo long that they have mutated into a horrible nocturnal race that feeds captives to their Jinnorak king. Hmmm, could that be a race of Golems? Naaaaa. But these monster ideas really captivated me when I was younger and fresh to fantasy unlike now but they still hold a place of value in my mental box of nostalgia and they will continue to hold a place of honor there right next to Scarlet from G.I. Joe, Optimus Prime, and polyhedral dice.

This is a game that never existed but it is a game I've kept my eye out for ever since I read the book. I imagine that copy right issues keep a serious game developer from making a set of rules for the title Mazes & Monsters, which is a damn good title IMO, or even producing a board game of it. There's likely to be something to do with the fact that Jaffe basically says that games like this are bad and leads to people jumping off tall buildings. Which really isn't true, but hey, why stop a demagogue right? Also Jaffe stole the entire story, I still love her for novelizing it though, look up this link off from wiki for more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Dallas_Egbert

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