Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: Mazes & Perils (2012)

EDITED TO ADD: There is a new version out, but I have not had a chance to read it yet.  I will get to it, sometime in the future.

My first experience with D&D was the Eric Holmes version of D&D Basic.  While I soon moved on to Moldvay and to AD&D 1st Ed, the Holmes edition holds a warm and fuzzy place in my gaming recollections. I know I am not the only one that feels this way. So anything that is done as an homage to Holmes I pay attention too.

So I was thrilled when I heard there was a "new" retro-clone that was an homage to the Holmes version of D&D.  That thrill quickly turned sour when a.) I couldn't get it any more and b.) I heard the author was the same one as the OSRIC fiasco about a year ago.  You can read the drama here as a retrospective:

Fast forward to this year and there is a new Mazes & Perils out.  I was curious and more than a little skeptical about the game.  I want to give the game and the author, Vincent Florio, a fair shake. The OSRIC book was a copy paste job with some art that he didn't own and the first M&P was copy and pasted from Holmes.  But again, I never saw that first M&P and can only go on what I read.  So, I want to judge this new M&P on it's own merits.

First things first, obviously the name of the game is a nod to John Eric Holmes' book "The Maze of Peril" and I can respect that. If you are going to do a Holmes' homage or pastiche then that is a perfect name really.
Secondly, some others have complained about the art.  I rather like it to be honest.  The cover is very cool and the interior is no worse than what you would have seen in Holmes.
While this is an homage to Holmes I am not sure what I have here.

Taken as a retro-clone by itself it is not much different than Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy RPG, except it is now quite as good as either of those.  M&P stops progression at level 9.  Which I kind of get, but there is not enough here to support an end-game style D&D, say the way Adventurer Conqueror King System does.
The rules are simple, as befits the times it is emulating.  There is some missing information in some areas (or not easy to find, which is just as bad really).  There are tables for STR, INT, CON and DEX but not for WIS or CHA. This is an artifact of Holmes, but M&P expands STR into the AD&D1 numbers, but still does not include these other tables.Some other oddities are the XP levels for Cleric and Magic User.  Some of the monster text is awkward to read.  There are various grammar errors that even I noticed, and I am terrible at that.

Taken as a "Holmes clone" it certainly does that, even to the point that they are little too similar in some respects.  There are some spots of the text that are nearly identical, including some text that is more similar to Holmes than OGC text that is essentially the same in LL and BFRPG.    Other differences from the source material has Elves, Dwarves and Halflings as races and not race/classes like Gygax/Holmes/Moldvay/Mentzer.   This puts it closer to BFRPG.

This is certainly a labor of love on the part of the author.  And as a Holmes fan myself I can respect that.
But I am left feeling that this is too close to the source material.  It even shares some of the shortcomings of the Holmes book.  I understand the desire, but to mimic the style, even to the point where some sections are not very clear, is not a good idea.  This is one of the reasons the Moldvay book was made, Holmes was a transitional project.  There are lot of places in Holmes that say "these are give in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS".  M&P does not have that advantage.

In the end this still comes off as a collection of house rules added to Holmes and not really a "Holmes clone" or even a "Holmes what-if".   Plus I have the suspicion in the back of my mind that this is merely an edit of a Holmes cut-and-paste job.  I am sorry, but it's true.  If this had been the first effort of this author then I would give him the benefit of the doubt, but that went out with the second copy-pasta.  If you read LL or BFRPG you can see where their text came from; the SRD.  This text does not.

Mazes & Perils is a free product.  It has that going for it. It is also released under the OGL and has it's own compatibility license.  If you can't get a copy of Holmes on your own then this will give you an idea of what it is like, but it's not as good.

In the end it has too many flaws, both in terms of execution and design, for me to really get behind it.


Vile Traveller said...

Time for a look at the updated one, now that it's a Gold Ennie winner? ;-)

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I updated it back in May.

Oknazevad said...

"Other differences from the source material has Elves, Dwarves and Halflings as races and not race/classes like Gygax/Holmes/Moldvay/Mentzer."

Just as a point of order, strictly speaking, the original 1974 box set did not have races-as-classes. It did, however, put severe restrictions on the demihuman races: dwarves and halflings could only be fighting men, with level limits, while elves could decide wether they were a fighting man or a magic-user when they woke up that adventuring day (i.e., game session) and would only gain experience in that class that day, and still had level limits to deal with. Humans are even called the default race.

Holmes kept that (adding thieves from the first supplement), but explicitly listed the available combos. It was Moldvay, in one of the intentional simplifications done to make the rules more understandable, who first presented the demihuman races as classes. However, they're actually mechanically identical, just with their own separate level charts.

AD&D, of course, somewhat loosened character restrictions, following the evolution of the practice in Gygax's own play sessions. Actually, in many ways, AD&D 1e was just recodified and incorporated the rules and options that had rapidly become part of the game in those first 3 or 4 years, as seen through the lens of how Gygax played and ran the game at home, and written for an audience of players who already played.