Thursday, August 8, 2019

You are in a maze of twisty passages all alike

Review - The Nightmare Maze of Jigrésh by Michael E Mayeau
Judges Guild 1981 for Empire of the Petal Throne

     As part of my recent splurge buying old books and adventures, I saw this for sale for a reasonable price and snapped it up from williams_books on the Amazon Marketplace.

Frankly, I had never heard of it before, nor was I aware that JG had published any  for EPT.  I knew that they were a big D and D shop, who had a few offerings for RuneQuest too. Overall and over the years, I've found the Judges Guild RuneQuest products quite good, while the D and D products have been uneven in quality - City State of the Invincible Overlord being groundbreaking, while the Purple Worm under the bed in Tegel Manor is an object of wonder and/or ridicule.  This product is firmly at the low end of the spectrum as far as being an adventure I would consider running - but I am VERY happy I picked it up.

The Good , the Bad and the Ugly
And the Turning of the Volume to 11
And why I'm excited to own it

The Ugly
The author explains that he was inspired by a maze being copied and passed around the office, which he took and modified to create the dungeon (left).  Not a labyrinth, a maze, one of the ones you look at and try to draw a line from the start to the finish.  The whole point of it is that you can see the whole maze, and still have trouble figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B.  Now take that and try to do it using Theater of the Mind, there is a reason why Zork had the tagline I used as a title.

Oh, and the scale is problematic too, the DM's map is ¼ inch = 10 feet - measuring the passages, the vast majority are 2½ feet wide with 3 inch walls.  One character at a time can fight in a passage, maybe a spellcaster in the second rank could get a shot off, of course if the first rank goes down, the spellcaster is toast.  A extremely strong character or one with a pick could break right through them - assuming they're stone.

The author appears to have had some appreciation of the issues the map would pose, as he offers a real time based movement system, rather than forcing the hapless DM to measure tiny curves to estimate distance traveled - which is how EPT tracks elapsed time in the dungeon.

Fixing it:  Draw a new labyrinth, great use for geomorph tiles I think, create a few standard patterns and use them more than once in your labyrinth layout.  Make sure that you put traps on monsters where they will be found if the characters try the 'follow the left/right wall' trick to navigate the labyrinth.  Why?  Read about the Bad and find out.

The Bad
Really a sort of nice idea horribly executed.  The author provides a blank copy of the maze (partially shown above) and gracious permission to photocopy the page, as a Player's map.  Ok, if they get it, you could time them as they did the maze, I suppose.  But they can't get the map until after they have reached the end of the maze and found the McGuffin, in other words it becomes an available resource at the point where it has little to no value to the adventure.

Fixing it:  Give them a chance to get a partial map upfront, no need to make it to easy and it doesn't have to show the shortest safest path either.  Remember those repeating geomorphs?  Use them to keep the players can mislead themselves into thinking they are on the right path when they've wandered onto a completely different trail.

The Good
The McGuffin - "The Claw of Srükráum" a neat little artifact that creates undead, different kinds depending on the freshness of the body you stab in the heart.  Pulling it off in combat creates a very powerful monster to fight for you.

The Turning of the Volume to 11
Monsters, what a variety of monsters.  A 16 page dungeon, of which only 5 pages contain monsters and area descriptions, yet the author packs Twenty Two different kinds of monsters into those pages.  Twenty directly from EPT and two brand new ones.  The Jájgi - a powerful undead which became a staple of Tekumel, appearing in Professor Barker's books and the Tekumel Beastiary of 1992.  And the forgotten Hwo'ár, which get a quarter page write up and a handful of encounters - then flies off into Tsuru'úm - the Underworlds of Tekumel, never to be heard from again as far as I have found.

What's Exciting (to me anyways)
Two pages of fluff.  But it's fluff copied from The Book of Ebon Bindings, a very rare volume in the real world retailing as a second hand paperback for about $140 a copy on the day I posted this.  The fluff describes Srükráum - Lord of the Legions of the Despairing Dead and Tkél - The Guardian of the Gates of Flame, Supreme One of Doors, Warder of the Walls and the Pylons and the Portals, He Who Seals with Fire.  Two extremely powerful demons serving the Lords of Change.  Finding extracts of a book I have heard of but never seen - and can't pull myself to spend that kind of money on - is incredibly exciting to me.  Mostly because I know that this is exactly the way manuscripts got passed down from the Classical World, as copied fragments rather than as complete documents more often than not.

Grognardia did a review of this adventure years ago.

Oh, the big green warthog and guy on the cover? No relation to  the adventure.