Monday, October 22, 2018

Mazes: The Monotony or How to Run an Actual Maze

Mazes: The Monotony.   Sounds like a White Wolf role-playing game.

I love dungeons.  Lord knows how many I've drawn.  But I never draw "actual" mazes.  And any time I see a maze in a published module I kinda cringe.  Navigating the players through an actual maze is a monotonous, fun-killing, pain-in-the-ass.

Too bad.  Mazes go all the way back to Theseus and the Minotaur.  The fear of being lost ...primal ...powerful.   Of course, dungeons are mazes too.  But dungeons are filled with so many unique structures, getting lost would actually be pretty hard.  The whole point of a maze is getting completely lost.  So how do you do that mechanically?

Here's an idea...

Don't even draw the maze.  If the maze is part of a larger dungeon, just draw a false maze in that spot or simply write the word "maze."  Don't even try to navigate it in a traditional way except for maybe the first 3 or 4 passage turns. Make sure to describe how labyrinthine the place is. Then inform the players that they are in danger of getting lost, and from now on they will have to roll to find their way.  How they roll will differ from system to system.  5th Edition would probably be an Investigation roll DC:12-15.  For OSR I would use a save vs. spells allowing for an Intelligence bonus to the roll. Some DMs may think Wisdom is the better choice; up to you.

Basically you require x amount of consecutive success rolls to navigate successfully through the maze.  The number of successful rolls needed increases depending on the complexity and size of the maze.  Only one player can roll per attempt and each attempt represents x amount of time.  To keep things interesting, have the players take turns rolling--this represents everyone having input, "I think we should go this way," "No, that way!" and prevents the character with the best chances of success dominating the event.

Every x amount of time roll for a random encounter.  Random encounters should vary in what they are, from wandering monsters to pit traps to puzzles or NPCs.  Pay attention to corridor width when stocking your random encounter chart, not everything will fit.  Also, take heed of how corridor width affects combat.  You may also include on the encounter chart, specific entries like "the center of the maze" or "the Minotaur's lair" or the "captured Princess" or a "secret door."  The more encounters you put on your encounter list the better, and Navigation rolls aside, a larger encounter list equals a larger maze--you don't want to run out of encounters.

You could also include variations of the same encounter so that the maze is different every time you run it.  For example, if the goal was to rescue a princess, one of the results may be that the party finds what's left of the princess (who wants to report that to the Baron?), or they discover that the princess is in league with the Minotaur, or they find her chained to a wall, or wandering lost and hungry.  Whatever result is rolled becomes the story and the other possibilities must then be ignored and re-rolled if they come up later.

Secret Doors  Can you imagine running a maze the traditional way and having the players search every 10' for secret doors?  Mind numbing....

If the players find a secret door it has to be meaningful, such as finding a secret door lowers by one the number of consecutive success rolls now needed to navigate the maze.  Or it could hide treasure and/or serve as a safe room.

Splitting the Party is very dangerous in a maze, but circumstances can make it happen.  Any time the party is losing a fight and decides to retreat from combat they could get separated in the chaos.  Every player must make a Navigation roll, if at least half of the party succeeds, then they all stick together.  If more than half fail then the party is split with those who failed going one way and those who succeeded going another.  Any navigation success the party had is lost after a retreat.  How do they find each other?  Yelling out each others names should call for an immediate encounter roll (use common sense with the result here.)  Put at least one entry on the random encounter chart which states that they have bumped into a lost party member.  Until then, take turns running the two groups separately.  Don't fuss too much over whether the exact same amount of time has passed between groups, mazes are mysterious places.

Resting  At some point the party might be beat up and choose to take a "long rest."  Unless they've found a hidden safe room, they'll be resting in a corridor.  A random encounter will be rolled at some point during the rest.  Rolling for a random encounter doesn't guarantee one will occur.  Assuming the party members will take turns on watch, randomly roll whose watch an encounter occurs on if an encounter occurs, e.g., if its a party of 4 assign an order and roll 1d4.  If it was a party of 5 roll a 1d6 and re-roll a result of 6.  Determine surprise by whatever "perception" method you are using. If they fail their roll it basically means that they were nodding off during their watch.

It's possible the players will find their way through the maze without accomplishing their goal, unless finding their way out was their goal.  They may have to go back in.

Mazes are potentially very dangerous places as the players could literally be trapped inside for quite some time....if the maze is large enough.  But, the players could get lucky and waltz right through.  Also, high level characters usually have a bag of tricks that can wisp them away to safety in an instant.  You could put a magical barrier around the maze, but that seems arbitrary.  My advice is to keep mazes for lower level groups, but with a little thought they can be used for any level.  Something else to consider, does the maze have a ceiling?  It probably should.  Is it multi-leveled?  Doesn't really matter, that's simply window dressing. It could have stairs or not.  It could also have strange gravity, like being able to walk on any surface.

So, here is a sample maze.........

Scenario:  It seems that a Minotaur (who has bad blood with the local Baron) has captured a princess (not THE princess, A princess, just one of the daughters of one of the nobles.) and is vowing that she will be eaten within the fortnight if the Baron doesn't enter his maze....alone.  Of course the Baron is not going to do that as the maze is rumored to be full of all manner of foul things, but he has sent knights to the rescue.  Naturally, none returned.  There is one week left and  now there's a reward of  500 GP and a small estate in the hills for the person(s) that safely rescues the princess and another 500 GP for the Minotaur's head.  The entrance to the maze is not common knowledge, but it is known and is located in a gorge 10 miles outside of town.  Guards are stationed at the mouth of the gorge 2 miles from the maze.  Finding the maze should be automatic.

Lacramoira's Fate

Navigation Mechanic:  OSR (Save vs. Spells with Intelligence bonus), 5th Edition (Investigation DC:14).

Navigation Turn Time:  10 minutes.

Consecutive Successes Needed to Find the Exit:  4 (see encounter roll 41-43).

Random Encounter Rolls:  1 Every 30 minutes (that's every 3 Navigation rolls).

Random Encounter Rolls When Resting: Roll 1d12.
  1. A friendly knight who is still sane. (4 HD Fighter).
  2. A gelatinous cube.
  3. No encounter.
  4. 1d6 horned skeletons. (see 9-12)
  5. A maddened knight. (see 36-40)
  6. No encounter.
  7. A lost villager.
  8. A rat swarm. (see 20-22)
  9. No encounter.
  10. The Bull attacks. (see 73-76)
  11. A wandering princess (doppleganger). (see 66-68)
  12. A shadow-thief. (see 28-32)
Corridor Width:  10'.

Complexity:  The average corridor goes for around 60' before an intersection or a turn.

Visibility:  20' on average though some areas are better lit than others.  Dimly lit with a gold color.  The source of light isn't discernible; seems mystical in nature and shadows flicker as if from flames.

Description:  The maze is carved directly out of the rock.  The uniformly sized passages are all on the same level with a classic maze layout and a 10' ceiling.  There are no stairs and only a handful of chambers. The entrance in the gorge is nothing more than a large crack in the rock behind a small waterfall. 

Purpose:  Rescue princess ( as far as they PCs know, they have 7 days to find the princess) / slay Minotaur / find exit.

Random Encounters ( Roll % )
(To keep things simple, stats will be OSR style)

1-4.  A 10' x 10' pit trap triggered after at least 2 people have stepped on it ( save vs. wand/device, damage: 2d6.)  It takes up the whole corridor so will most likely be triggered by the first 2 party members if they are walking 2 abreast.  It's a 10' fall down onto spikes.  The trap resets itself after 1 minute.  There are plenty of bones and rusted metal among the spikes including the fresh corpse of a knight.  If the pit is searched 1d6 x 10 GP worth of treasure is found in a combination of coins and gems.  Searching takes up 1 Navigation Turn.

5-8.  Sitting in the corridor, starved, delirious, and more than half dead is a local peasant.  He first begs for water and food and then for the party to take him with them.  He claims he knows the way out and/or the location of the princess, but is too weak to continue.  In fact, he knows nothing.  If they take him with them, they need one extra successful Navigation roll so long as he is with them.  If they leave him behind, he creates such a ruckus screaming after them that there is a 75% chance attracting 1d6 horned skeletons.

9-12.  2d6 battle-axe wielding, horned skeletons are coming toward the party, eyes glowing red...(2 HD, AC:13, damage: 1d8.)

13-16.  The party stumbles on a secret room hidden behind a passage wall.  The room is 10' x 10' and completely empty except for some small rocks.  The door opens inward toward the room, but has no latch or lock.

17-19.  The party is ambushed by a Chain Wreck.

20-22.  Lacramoira's Fate # 1.  In a small pit at the dead end of a corridor, a swarm of rats is feasting on the corpse of a once beautiful girl clearly of noble birth.  One of the girl's wrists is tethered to the wall by a chain.  Within moments, the swarm attacks the party.  Rat Swarm ( 4 HD, AC: 12, damage 1d2 + disease, attacks everybody each round.)

23-27.  The party hears the fearsome horn-like bellows of a large angry bull (google this sound if you haven't heard it before).  They must all save vs. paralysis.  If more than half of them fail, any successful Navigation rolls they have are lost.

28-32.  A shadow-thief stalks the party stealing supplies from them.  Treat the shadow-thief as having the same stats as a shade (or shadow) but instead of draining strength or life on a hit, it steals a random item from the target.   The stolen items now exist only as shadows and the shadow-thief discards them throughout the maze.  The shadow-thief disappears after stealing 1d4+1 items.  If this happens undetected during a rest period, the PCs will wake up to 1d4+1 items missing and should occasionally spot shadows of their stolen items throughout the maze.

33-35.  They find a secret passage in one of the walls that leads them to a different section of the maze much closer to the exit.  Reduce the number of consecutive Navigation success rolls needed by 1 for the next sequence of rolls.

36-40.  They first hear the sounds of clanking armor. Then, walking toward them is a fully armored knight who has completely lost his mind to the maze.  He attacks maniacally.  The knight wears plate-mail, has a sword and is a 4 HD Fighter.

41-43.  The light at the end of the tunnel is the real deal as the party stumbles out of the maze and into the moonlit gorge.

44-48.  The walls start shifting and coming apart as this section of the maze rewrites itself.  Within moments the layout of the maze has changed.  Everybody must save vs. wands/device to avoid being separated from each other.  Those who make the save will be together in one area of the maze and those who fail the save will be together in another part of the maze.  All success rolls are lost.

49-52.  The party wanders into a part of the maze they have already encountered (choose something).  They have made a complete circle and lose all progress.  Increase the number of consecutive Navigation success rolls needed by 1 for the next sequence of rolls.

53-57.  No encounter.

58-61.  A large scythe swings out of the wall attacking the person(s) in the front of the party. (Save vs. wand/device +2 bonus, damage: 1d10.)

62-65.  Corridor after corridor, turn after turn, the PCs wander and find nothing.  Their minds and bodies grow exhausted, in fact, it's time to rest.  The PCs have lost entire day.  Any Navigation successes are lost.

66-68.  Lacramoira's Fate # 2.  A high-ceilinged 60' x 60' chamber.  Standing in the center of the room is a 100' high pillar.  Standing on the pillar, shackled, is the princess.  She looks healthy and well, if not scared out of her mind.  She immediately breaks down and pleads for rescue.  If the PCs try to rescue her, 2d6 +2 battle-axe wielding, horned skeletons (2 HD, AC:13, damage: 1d8.) rise out of the ground and attack.  She is not the real princess, but a doppleganger who will eventually attempt to assassinate the Baron.

69-72.  Corridor after corridor, turn after turn, the PCs wander and find nothing.  This maze is not a normal place and their minds are at the brink of sanity.  The madness of the maze might cost them mental coherence.  The PCs have to save vs. spells or permanently lose 1 point of (roll 1d6):  Intelligence (1-2), Wisdom (3-4), or Charisma (5-6).

73-76.  The Bull attacks.  The Minotaur suddenly comes charging at the PCs.  They all have to save vs.wands/device with a -2 penalty or take 1d8 damage.  The Minotaur disappears down the hallway and can not be tracked.

77-80.  You stumble across your missing party member(s), otherwise no encounter.

81-84.  The PCs enter a section of the maze under the effects of a permanent darkness spell.  All Navigation rolls in the darkness are made with disadvantage.  The darkness lasts for 1d6+2 turns.

85-88.  The PCs come across the corpse of a gored wizard.  Searching him reveals a staff, a dagger, a pouch containing 2d6 x 10 GP, and 1d4 scrolls.

89-92.  In an alcove there is a fountain in the form of a bull's head.  The liquid could be clear but seems gold in the glow of the maze.  The fountain is magical.  If the PCs drink from it the results are as random as this maze.  Roll 1d6:
  1. Save vs. poison.  If you fail you die.  If you succeed you regain all lost hit points.
  2. You are granted a vision of the maze.  You may re-roll a failed Navigation roll.
  3. The essence of the bull.  You sprout tiny bull horns from your head.  Lose 1 point of charisma.
  4. Save vs spells.  If you fail you fall into a magical slumber for 1d4 days.  If you succeed, you can now cast sleep once/day. 
  5. It is water.  It tasted really good.  Gain 1 hit point.
  6. Now you have brain fog.  You have disadvantage on all your Navigation rolls.
93-97.  A gelatinous cube is sliming it's way down the corridor.  It surprises on 1-4.

98-100.  Lacramoira's Fate # 3.  The center of the maze.  Steps go up to a thrown currently occupied by the princess who has a large Minotaur on a leash.  She is a 10th level sorceress and the Minotaur has twice the hit dice as normal.  She unleashes him while muttering something like "How pathetic..."  Once per this encounter, she can summon 2d6 + 2 Horned skeletons (see 9-12).  If the PCs retreat they are not pursued............the maze will take care of them.


  1. Great ideas, and I really like the small maze adventure!
    Emmy Allen's The Gardens of Ynn does something similar for playing hedge mazes:
    "Explore the Maze. Each PC rolls a
    d20. For each 20, roll for a random
    encounter as something finds the
    players. Other rolls that are higher
    than the PCs intelligence score are
    discarded. Rolls equal to or lower
    than the intelligence score are added
    to a running total. Once the
    running total equals 50, the maze is
    fully explored. Hacking through the hedges helps, at a
    cost. Each player who hacks gets to add
    their d20 to the progress total, regardless
    of if it was greater than their intelligence
    or not. However, doing so attracts attention:
    automatically roll for an encounter.
    The same applies to other plans to circumvent
    the maze, such as climbing
    Once the maze is fully explored, the
    centre is found: roll a random treasure
    to see what’s there."

    1. Thanks Tamas, I have yet to check out The Garden's of Ynn, but that sounds like a an excellent maze mechanic.

    2. Do check it out, it's an amazing release!

      Maybe for your maze, you can include the following rule (which is inspired by Ynn's Depth mechanic):
      For every successful Navigation check, add +5 to the 1d100 Random Encounter roll. That way, the longer the PCs navigate the dungeon, the higher their chance to get the riskier encounters.

    3. That's a great idea, good call. And yeah, Ynn does look nice...

  2. This is great, I have adapted it for a non-euclidean, 3-D maze in a tower and it has saved me so much time not having to figure out maps and routes. Thanks for working through this method!

    1. Thank you Xaosseed, sounds very cool!

    2. Finally wrapped up the labyrinth-centered sessions - got eight sessions, over 24 hours of table time from the one labyrinth - multiple passes through it as they sought specific elements and then worked their way back out. Players loved it - more people should know about this.

    3. This is amazing that you got so much out of it. It is my most popular post by far. Game on Xaosseed!

    4. Finally got to writing up the lessons learned from the sessions if you want to take a look.

    5. That is most excellent! A pleasure to read. Don't sweat the water. I imagine 10 days of water is probably around 5 gallons per person. Nobody can carry that. In hindsight, you just assume that they made use of any water they did come across. I'm glad your players enjoyed it, sounds like they have a pretty good DM!


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