Prison or Puzzle? – Death Maze

Death Maze
{Deluxe Edition}

Author: Christian Blake
Publisher: Glendor’s RPG Adventures
Page Count: 46
Available Formats: Print
Print – $20

A game designer’s creativity knows no bounds. That’s the case with so many small, independent publishers today. The increased accessibility of digital distribution and print on demand continues to make it possible for so many. Christian Blake of Glendor’s RPG Adventures is one such small independent publisher; he’s taken a different path. His products are available in two versions—Standard and Deluxe.

Note: a review copy was provided by the author to Rolling Boxcars for this article. If you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review, please visit our Product Review Request page.

Death Maze is a fantasy adventure for 4 to 6 players and is level and system agnostic. The adventure’s narrative does not conform to a specific game’s rules. All system language is generic, including monster stats—falling outside the scope of any game’s implied or open gaming license. Level agnostic simply means the scenario has a mechanism in place, allowing it to be scalable. A second booklet is included (at least in the Deluxe Edition), allowing Gamemasters to scale up the encounter difficulty based on the average party level, from level 1 to 20.

A powerful wizard created the Death Maze to serve as an elaborate trap to ensnare unwary travelers for his sadistic amusement. Later he uses it to banish formidable foes, eliminating them as a threat to his power. The exact location of the maze is unclear; even the warlock no longer knows precisely. Although the warlock can still access the maze and banish adversary there, every day at a random time and location, a portal opens and remains open until some unsuspecting person or creature falls through. The scenario begins with the players falling through one of the portals, finding themselves underground. They must not only survive but find their way out, or they’ll be trapped inside the maze forever.

The Standard Edition is available from Amazon in both print and Kindle versions. The Deluxe Edition is, however, only available directly from the publisher or through authorized retail locations. The publisher has noted that the Deluxe Edition, with the extra material (Combat and Art booklets), is an incentive for customers to purchase from their favorite local game store. The Deluxe Edition comes with a detached cover and three booklets “Narrative,” “Combat,” and “Art and Maps.”

The Contents

The Narrative – This booklet consists of twenty semi-gloss pages including, the cover. The adventure is laid out in a single column of text over top of a large watermark. Location entries are identified simply as “Area #1, Area #2, etc.” The layout’s design does nothing to draw a reader’s attention to these entries—blending in with the surrounding copy. They also lack monster stat blocks, requiring Gamemasters to refer to the “Combat” booklet.

As far as fantasy adventures go, the Death Maze feels run-of-the-mill. We’ve seen this theme done over and over at various scales—characters trapped in a maze-like cave system looking for a way out. The adventure is a no-holds-barred and pretty challenging for a party of 1st level characters in any fantasy game system. Take, for example, the first encounter is with a pair of Nagi (the author’s version of Naga, I assume), one of whom is trying to charm the characters with its “Nagi Song” spell. If successful, a party could easily succumb to the second Nagi, hiding, waiting to pick off enthralled characters.

The treasure characters find appears, at first blush, to be balanced. It’s only after reading the adventure in full that you realize there is a fair amount of magical gear and weapons. If the scenario is scaled up for a high-level party, this isn’t all that unbalanced. Low-level parties might quickly become very powerful with enchanted weapons. Then again, low-level parties may need whatever help they can get.

In the end, the unimaginative layout with its single-column format, no art, and distracting watermark makes reading the adventure a chore. Neither the adventure’s premise nor presentation inspires me. Having to reference a second booklet for basic information is annoying but manageable.

Combat – This booklet consists of sixteen pages (matte stock this time), including the cover. The booklet has basic monster stat blocks, including most of the necessary information to scale up the encounters. Entries include only part of the necessary information. Unlike most monster stat blocks, there are no physical descriptions of the creatures nor any accompanying artwork. Any description provided is in the “Narrative.” Stat blocks contain only some of the basic mechanical details (i.e., Armor Class and to hit bonus), primary attack methods, and any special abilities. To find other key information like hit points, experience points, average base damage, and further details, Gamemasters need to refer to other tables located on pages one and two.

What does scaling do? Scaling up the encounter increases the “to hit” bonus and the number of hit points per creature in the encounter. Conversely, the experience point reward increases proportionally as well. Depending on the average party level and the type of encounter, there are also escalating passive abilities that some of the Maze’s inhabitants will possess.

I find the idea of a full-ranging scalable adventure innovative and exciting, but its implementation in the Death Maze is clunky and inefficient. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Advice on how to use this booklet is in the “Narrative,” which right away forces the reader to flip back and forth between the two booklets.
  2. With the “Narrative” lacking even the basic creature stats, one must reference this booklet, increasing the amount of table space needed.
  3. Stat blocks themselves are not all-inclusive and do not contain all the necessary information to support scaling, resulting in Gamemasters having to reference multiple tables on multiple pages.
  4. Two  terms (sub class and Tier) are used interchangeably, which is initially confusing until one catching on that they’re the same thing.

As I said, I was excited for the flexibility it potentially offers Gamemasters, but in reality, I am left scratching my head and frustrated when I try to look up stuff and scale it up. I feel the systemless nature of the product only exacerbates this further.

Detached Cover and Artwork and Maps – The detached cover provided a full color, keyed map of the Death Maze. It could also double as a GM Screen in a pinch. The Art and Maps booklet is exclusive to the Deluxe Edition, features a larger map of each location within the Maze interspersed with a few full-page full-color art panels.

Each location’s map includes the available artwork of the Maze’s inhabitants, but the artwork doesn’t necessarily correspond to the correct map location. For example, the Nagi is illustrated on page 8 with the map for location 4b, not location 1, where the Nagi is located. Each page also includes a smaller but still obnoxious watermark.

Regarding the quality of the artwork itself, the illustrations accompanying the maps are uncredited, cartoon-like, and give a sense of whimsy that does not necessarily fit with the adventure itself. The full-page panels are full credited to their respective artists, of which there are six. The style and composition of each are a mixed bag—I’ll just leave it at that.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Death Maze to our readers. A creative Gamemaster can fix the cookie-cutter theme of the adventure, but it’s just not worth the effort when you factor in all the other issues. It’s all those other issues that make it a “no-go” for me. It comes down to the clunkiness of the “Combat” booklet’s utility and scalable combat system and the amateurish, non-user-friendly layout of the “Narrative” booklet. The final deal-breaker is the publisher’s stance on digital access—which, by way of the watermark, should clearly telegraph his stance. But if it’s not clear, one only needs to look at the back of the “Narrative’s” cover, which clearly states you cannot create digital assets to use. Thus, it is not twenty-first-century VTT accessible. Be mindful and stay clear, or you’ll get trapped in the Death Maze too.

~ Modoc

Follow Modoc on Twitter at @DM_Modoc
Join our Discord
We’re on Facebook!

Did you enjoy this review? Would you like to see us write more in the future? Your support means we can keep writing more reviews and articles. Please consider becoming a Patron by clicking the Patreon banner above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.