Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Maze Rats

I've been wanting to try running Maze Rats for a month or two, and this weekend I finally did. (Maze Rats, as I understand it, is a minimalist OSR tabletop RPG making use of d36 tables to enable flexible ad-hoc sandbox play.)

So, my girlfriend and I decided to roll up a quick character each and go at it. (I don't usually like playing a character while DMing - both because of the mental load and because my player self would have too much knowledge - I figured it was both okay because of the randomized format and necessary because it was just the two of us and having only one adventurer would be lame and boring.)

Character generation was quick, simple, but also pleasantly flexible. We decided to just use the random tables for every aspect of our characters (including stat spreads and equipment!), so here's what I came up with: 
Grimsvald, former coin-clipper, current adventurer.
STR+1, DEX+2, WIL+0. 
Rosy, piercings, wears practical clothes.
Uses flowery speech, but is often mopey.
Wields arming sword and shield, has crossbow and light armor.
Equipment: a crowbar, a roll of steel wire, a fishing net, a horn, a vial of poison, and a small bottle of glue.

Again using the provided tables, our adventurers were tasked to smuggle a large sack full of topaz music boxes to the Bardic Academy. (Topaz was a criminalized substance, because all topaz in the land was cursed such that touching it caused forgetfulness.)

We decided to avoid guard patrols by journeying through the city sewer. (We felt like characters in a horror movie - doing stupid things because genre conventions - but it worked, haha.)

We entered through a butcher's shop, whose slaughterhouse drained directly into the sewers. Passing through the larder below and the abandoned foundation of a nearby building, we abruptly stumbled into a deep crypt. Ghouls!

We ducked quickly out and slammed the door behind us, bracing ourselves against it, but five ghouls proved to be too strong and the ancient door burst from its rusted hinges.

My companion, who had chosen to use a large spear instead of a small weapon with a shield, was quickly torn to shreds when the ghouls won initiative. I was able to barely survive (my shield shattering versus a critical attack roll) and cast my only spell for the day: Levitating Coils.

Smoky coils of force wrapped about me, causing me to rise toward the high, vaulted ceiling out of the reach of the ravening ghouls. I pulled out my crossbow and started pegging the foes with bolts from above. They were driven reluctantly off, but not before devouring most of my companion's corpse. I shut and barred the door behind them.

I retreated for the day, recovering my health and my spell (this time: Claws of Chaos). I found a new companion - one who looked suspiciously like the last one... - and returned to the sewers.

This time, we "borrowed" armfuls of bloody meat from the butcher's larder, laying a trail of delicious flesh from the door of the crypt to the larder itself, then opened the door and hid in the shadows as the remaining ghouls devoured their way to the butcher's storeroom. We slipped through while they were gone without difficulty. 

We encountered a strong vault, likely the cache of some wealthy nobleperson, but were unable to breach it despite application of my crowbar and my companion's hand drill. We shrugged and moved on.

Disaster narrowly overtook us when we stumbled into the basement of a guard outpost, but they were unusually friendly and helpful ("6" on the reaction roll!) and escorted us through their area without investigating our sack of contraband. 

Skirting a deep cistern in the sewer (its walls scrawled with thieves' signs - perhaps indicating the danger of the guard outpost, and/or the presence of a rich vault?), we opened the door to a connecting storeroom, stocked with rotting food... and a strange, dense fog. (Out of character, I was puzzled by this, but my girlfriend suggested that it was dense spores from the mold and fungus consuming the food. Oops.)

I, being first through the door, failed my danger roll and breathed deeply of the dank clouds. I began hacking up blood and my vision dimmed.

I had four rounds to live.

My companion's strength enabled me to be carried back to the guard outpost in short order, where they quickly administered medicine.

Alas, it was not enough, and I died a horrible death as my lungs were consumed by malevolent fungal spores.

Given that both of our characters had suffered one death, we laughed and called it a game.

Definitely a fun time overall. The whole thing took about two hours from the time we pulled out the rules and dice, so definitely quick setup and gameplay! Great ratio of enjoyment to time invested.

My partner-in-crime was "really charmed" - she thought it was "very simple, pretty creative."

Gameplay was a bit TOO lethal for what we were doing (pickup play with only two players); I'm sure it would be unproblematic for parties of more like four members, and for funnel play in a multi-session campaign.
I am, however, a bit addicted to house-ruling, so I might make the change that PCs start with 6 health rather than 4, but then only gain 1 health per level rather than 2; PCs would be ahead of the curve for levels 1 and 2, but then fall behind the default from level 4 onwards - I do kind of like the idea of going from 6 to 12 health (doubling) over a character's career, though, rather than from 4 to 16 (quadrupling). I'd have to play more to see, though.
Even so, my girlfriend and I may end up playing this way again; it would be fun to have a continuing experiment to see how many horrible ways our characters can die. :-)

Ad-hoc, extemporaneous dungeon generation was fun, but perhaps the random tables would be best used to spend half an hour or so (maybe an hour?) generating the adventure and the dungeon before gameplay started - it might offer a good mix between utilitarian quickness and cohesion. Again, I'll have to try that.

I found it strange that the three stats - strength, dexterity, and will - didn't apply to attacks (there is an independent Attack Bonus). Probably for balance reasons?
I ended up rolling Strength to attempt to hold the door shut against the ghouls, and we rolled Strength and Dexterity to use our crowbar and hand drill (respectively) to attempt to crack the vault, but overall they weren't used very much. Perhaps that is intended?
(Oh, I guess I rolled Strength to avoid being infected by the mold spores, but that didn't seem like the right thing to do in that case. The rules say it represents "...stamina, or physical resilience" in addition to "raw power," though, so I guess that was also intended?)

My favorite part was actually the magic system - PCs don't choose spells, but only have spell slots (1 to begin with; more can be chosen upon leveling up) that fill with random spells each night during sleep. I often quibble with RPG magic systems either being too complex or too restrictive, but this hit a great balance between flexibility and ease-of-use, while adding a special dash of creativity and Lady Luck.

All in all: great lightweight tabletop RPG system. I will definitely play again.
(Available here at DriveThruRPG for the wonderful price of "pay-what-you-want." I downloaded it for free because I'm a poor young person who will lose their job this week because their company is being liquidated, but the game deserves at least a buck, probably five or even ten.) 

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