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The Cabal of Eight Pt.13: The Under-City Vaults Pt.3

Athfonia (played by Perla) lunged with her spear at the monster but missed. Excor (played by Cris), The vault map with each doorwhom was only about 5 feet from it, cast Spook. Fortunately the spell took hold and the creature was loath to approach much less attack him. Fauna (played by Jenn) tried to cast Sleep on the serpent but it was of no use. Gornix (played by Gil) cast Invisible to Sight on himself. Szoosha (played by Isis) summoned forth his flaming naginata and struck the serpentine creature wounding it. The serpent monster swung the spiked mace enwrapped in one of its 3 tails. Gornix parried the blow easily.

Surprised as to the ineffectiveness of his invisibility spell, Gornix drew his short-sword then cast Brighten Blade on it. Szoosha swung his flaming weapon at the monster but it parried the burning blade with its mace. The black scaled naga then took a few steps back to try to get beyond the serpent’s reach. The monster struck at Gornix with its fangs but it missed.

The young wizard replied with his gleaming sword but also missed. Then the creature struck at Szoo with its venomous fangs and sank its teeth deep into the naga’s flesh. Its poison weakened Szoo and made even the slightest movement agony. It then swung the club in another of its tails at Fauna who parried it with her dagger. It then struck at her trying to poison her as well. Fortunately for Fauna it missed.

Its third tail cracked at Athfonia like a bullwhip but the amazon knocked it aside with her spear.

The creature bit Gornix. Excor meanwhile cast Neutralize Poison on Szoo. Fauna tried to cast Throw Fire at the beast but the spell fizzled. Gornix struck despite the venom coursing through his veins hacking a bloody wound into its side. The young mage seemed unaffected by the poison (he had natural 20’d the save). Athfonia cast Neutralize Poison on Fauna. Szoosha stabbed the snake-monster wounding it again. No longer affected by Excor’s Spook spell, the monster swung its mace at him. It missed. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile at the creature injuring it. He then quickened another round of chrono-missiles blasting the man-sized snake to bits.

The strange three-tailed snake-thing and its weapons disappeared in a flash of magic light. This was when Fauna realized that she hadn’t recovered her staff. She never picked it back up after fumbling it in the fight with the spiders (see Pt.11: The Under-City Vaults Pt.1).  So she backtracked it to the gallery with Szoo in tow easily finding her weapon in a wall niche tangled in cobwebs and insect husks.

Gornix cautiously moved down the short hallway to the west to peer into the chamber to its south. The room was decked out entirely in polished white marble tiles with an archway in its south wall that presumably exited into a short hallway on the other side. Against the west wall however was a statue.

The statue was of an ancient and stern-faced aged wizard balancing on his staff and though it was just painted marble it had a life-like semblance. Tipping the black lacquered staff in its right hand was a sparkling red gem possibly a ruby. The statue’s left arm was out stretched with his left thumb pointed to the floor.

Gornix and Excor debated as to whether or not the gem or even the staff might be worth the risk of an obvious trap. While they did this Athfonia unilaterally decided to march in there and snatch the gem herself. Needless to say as soon as she got to the center of the room about 5 ft. from Gornix the floor dropped open. Beneath the surprised Ferenoi was a deep pit filled with a pungent mixture of salty seawater and wretched sewer wash. Just above the putrid brine protruded the tips of corroded and rusted iron spikes. Her quick reflexes allowed her to gain a fleeting grip with her fingertips on the edge. Gornix immediately jumped forward and grabbed her wrists helping her up from the foul mouth of the pit.

They decided the room and its potential treasures weren’t worth the risk. The majority of the group was puzzled as to how to bypass the trapdoor room when Excor simply pushed the closed bronze riddle-door open.

Excor: “It only locks from the other side man! Ha ha ha!”

It was then the druid and the naga rejoined the group.

The group backtracked through the room with the ruined bronze armor into the hall to the east of that chamber. They moved through a small square chamber (room 12 on the map) with cobwebs adorning its ceiling and dirt strewn across its floor. Continuing east they moved into a larger chamber (room 13).

As soon as Gornix, who was leading the group now, stepped across the threshold the chamber was magically lit. The chamber was fairly clean with only a marble tile floor, empty niches in the north and south wall, and an open passage continuing east. Dominating the center of the room was a large superior quality red coral statue of a roaring lion with a scorpion’s tail. In each of its eyes was set sparkling emeralds each as big as a fist.

Excor immediately tried to pry out the left eye with his dagger but found he was simply too weak to do so. Fauna was trying at the right but she too wasn’t strong enough. Pushing them both out of the way Athfonia pulling out her dagger gave a try to each but also failed.

Meanwhile Gornix looked into the eastern chamber and saw that this chamber was torchlit with an illusion from the torch sconces so that the long disintegrated tapestry and portrait frame still cast shadows on the walls. There was an open archway to the north. At the center of the room sat a superior quality carved oak table with a high backed chair behind it. Atop the table were set four thick heavy bound books.

Fauna failed twice more to pry the emeralds from the red lion’s eyes. Gornix meanwhile tempted by the massive tomes on the table moved into the eastern chamber keeping his eyes open for any obvious traps.

Gornix: “I’m staying alert and walk in but I don’t touch the books!”

Cris (to me, the GM): “Books huh? I follow Gornix!”

Fauna, taking prying at least one gem as a challenge, forced her dagger point into a near non-existent seam between the gem and the red coral. Athfonia backed away cautiously and silently, careful to leave at least 5 feet between her and Fauna. Eventually Fauna, nearly breaking her dagger, broke the right emerald free. The cold gem plopped into her palm and she was struck in the face with poisonous powder.

Fortunately the druidess suffered only some stiffness in her joints and muscles being able to resist the meaner effects of the toxin. Meanwhile in the eastern chamber Excor upon seeing the tomes on the table immediately snatched at the closest one.

Gil (face palming): “You could not resist could you?!”

Cris: “Hey man! We’re wizards! Those’re books! So sue me! Am I right!?”

Athfonia and Fauna stumbled into the room the moment Excor put his hand on a book. Seeing all of the books beginning to stir Athfonia cast a spell.

The Ferenoi cast Throw Flames at the stack of books but the fiery ray missed. Fauna also cast Throw Flames scorching the first book as it took flight. All four books took flight in the air and flapping their covers much like wings sprayed the group with pages and shards of paper as sharp as razors. Excor took some minor damage but the wounds began bleeding uncontrollably. Athfonia managed to avoid the storm of leaves. Two of the books peppered Gornix. He also took some slashes from the enchanted paper and began to gush blood all over the dusty floor.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile blasting the second book to ashes. Szoosha readied in case anything would emerge from the north archway. The first book slammed into Excor bruising him somewhat. A third flew at Athfonia but missed her by a hair. The fourth flew at Gornix barely missing him. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile two more times each time blasting a flying book to pieces. Using his spell-slinger feat Gornix cast a final Chrono-Missile eliminating the final book.

With the immediate threat vanquished Excor tried to perform first aid to stop Gornix’s bleeding but failed. As Gornix saw that he was bleeding out fast he grudgingly cast Close Wounds on himself instantly stopping the blood.

Gil (in response to Jenn): “You know I’m just trying to preserve some spells for the rest of the dungeon.”

Gornix then cast a couple more Close Wound spells on himself as he realized how bad his wounds really were. Gornix then led them under the north archway into a short hallway that ran west for ten feet into another chamber similar in size to the previous (room 15). Again the chamber lit up magically as he stepped into it.

In a niche in the northern wall stood a bronze-wood statue of an Arborean with its hands outstretched and cupped together but with the fingers spread apart. It posed as if pleading for something. Opposite the statue was a marble font with fresh clean water in it that stood in a niche. On the edge of the font was a plain bronze goblet. At the foot of the font was a bucket of loose soil. To the west was a solid bronze door with the same strangely-stern face in relief at its center.

This face however had a right eye of brown agate and the left of sapphire. Just above the face and its jeweled eyes was inscribed the words:

I open for those that feed the beggar.

All but Fauna were puzzled. She took the goblet scooped up the water, poured it in the bucket of soil, and scooped up the mud dumping it into the hands of the statue. The door opened.

Excor immediately went to pry the sapphire from the door but failed. He got Athfonia to do his dirty work and she easily popped the sapphire from its fitting. Surprisingly, this did not trigger a trap. Excor gazed into the next room.

He saw that the room was magically lit with no apparent source and its ceiling, walls, and floor were of polished white marble. At rooms center stood a bronze brazier burning with orange flames. Around its sides were the reliefs of roaring lion heads in all eight directions of the compass. It also had four tall jointed legs that ended in leonine paws. In the south wall was an empty niche. To the north were stone steps through an archway that sank down into darkness. From that passage a pungent and damp breeze blew. To the west however was an archway of familiar green stone. Through it he could see the Dungeon Heart Shinning in its green chamber.

Excor (exhaling in relief): “Okay! I think this is it!”

Before he entered Excor tried to sense if there was any magic emanating from the brazier but his wizard’s sense failed him. He then tried to disbelieve the brazier believing it an illusion. It was real. Gornix in turn tried to sense magic on it and also failed. Feeling a bit impatient Excor just walked in. As nothing happened to him Gornix followed.

While the rest of the group shuffled carefully into the room Gornix cautiously felt out the Wall of Force filling this green arch as well. He looked into the Dungeon Heart’s cell.

Gornix: “There’s another archway we haven’t been to. In the… North.”

As soon as Szoosha, the last in line, slithered across the threshold the orange flames of the lion brazier blazed, its leg joints squealed, and it sprang to life.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.12: The Under-City Vaults Pt.2

Szoosha the black scaled Naga (played by Isis) continued to lead the group into a smaller chamber The vault map with each dooradjacent to the spider-gallery they had just survived. He burned away the cobwebs that choked this room as well to reveal a roughly 10 x 10 room, barren with a floor strewn with dirt. To the north was another stone staircase winding down.

The naga continued carefully down the steps and around a corner to come to a short hallway which turned west sharply just ahead. Excor (played by Cris) put his lit torch in the iron torch-loop set into the wall at the bottom of the steps before lighting another. There were spider webs covering the ceiling. Szoo set them on fire and after the flash fire a couple of hand sized spiders, burnt crispy, dropped to the floor.

Excor: “HEY! Let us know when you’re gonna do something like THAT!”

Shrugging, Szoosha continued ahead while the rest of the group tried to organize themselves. He saw an open archway to the north from which he could see a constant white light shining from beyond the chamber through it. He could also make out the backlit and squatting form at the center of the room ahead. As that did not move he looked to the west and saw a closed solid bronze door bearing the same strange face in relief at its center. This time the face had two opal eyes.

Having come to a fork in the road the group of young mages debated as to which way to go. The form that Szoo first saw in the other chamber was a kneeling behemoth of bronze plate-mail with a large spiked mace in one gauntlet and a standard flanged mace in the other. The mass of bronze was on one knee and was lacking a head. In place of the neck was a gaping hole rimmed with corrosion that also opened partway onto the chest.

Excor: “If we go that way that thing will get up and KILL us! It’s some kind of construct or golem or something weird. Our magic might not do anything to it!”

Gornix (played by Gil): “How do you know?”

Excor: “Because I do! I know!”

In a similar fashion, they discussed the bronze door to the west, whether to open it and/or pry loose the gems. In turns, they checked the door and trying to sense magic on it. None could get a solid read on it other than it lacked a lock. So they continued arguing about what to do for about a half an hour. Eventually a frustrated Szoo simply opened the door.

Behind the bronze door was a 5 x 5 closet with a shelved alcove in each of its three walls stocked with various vials, jars and bottles. Each sealed with a preservation spell in wax. They found a jar of Mandrake Root, a jar of 6 Blue Lotus Seeds, a jar of 3 Grey Lotus Seeds, a jar of Purple Lotus Seeds, a jar of 8 Mantrap Seeds, a packet of 3 Dragon Teeth, and 4 potions of Healing.

Finding that they had only one way left to go and perhaps emboldened by the extra healing juice they continued north. The chamber before them was about 15 feet by 15 feet with a thick round stone support pillar in each corner. To the west in this room was another bronze door with the same face save the glittering ruby eyes. In the east lay an open but dark passageway. To the north was an archway from behind which a brilliant light source blazed into their eyes. The source, a large blood-red ruby on a white marble pedestal.

Szoosha began to move past the squatting armor towards the brilliant archway. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye he caught some movement from within the neck hollow. He leapt to the side. The thing that burbled and oozed from the corroded hollow appeared as a semi-gelatinous blob of blood red slime with several dark patches over it akin to scabs. It was a Red Ichor, a type of slime monster (see MMII).

Athfonia (played by Perla) readied her spear to jab at it if got close to her. Excor shot a bolt of lightning at it with the copper spike to some effect. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile dealing some damage to the strange creature. Fauna (played by Jenn) moved past the squatting armor hoping to be out of the ooze’s path. Szoo threw a blast of fire at it reducing it to a crystalized heap of granules.

Afterward, Excor looted the solid bronze maces with Szoo volunteering to carry one in his pack. Fauna wandered over to the archway. She saw runes carved into the greenish stone all around the edges. After a group-inspection they worked out a constant Wall of Force with no apparent way through filled the archway.

Through the impassible archway they could see their prize, the so-called Dungeon Heart only a few feet away. The chamber where the treasure rested was diamond shaped. Its floor, walls, and domed ceiling were constructed of a polished green marble. There were other archways possibly leading into it to the north, east, and south but in between these were large bronze reliefs of the same face with open, gaping mouths.

After some belly-aching, the group decided to inspect the bronze door in the west wall leaving the dark passage for another time. The door was the same as the previous doors save for the ruby eyes. It also visibly lacked any locking mechanisms but shut tight. It also seemed warded against any kind of magical attempts to see through it or “ghosting”. However, there was a riddle inscribed on it in Ivoran:

I consume all that I touch, without a mouth I roar, by my black touch only I may open this door.

Szoo solved it immediately and conjured some fire, touched the flame to the door, and it opened just as quickly. Szoo slithered into the dark room beyond. It instantly lit up with a magical light its source not readily apparent. The chamber walls, floor, and ceiling were covered in polished white marble tile. An empty wall niche laid to the south, to the north another bronze door, and in the west a narrow short hallway continued west with empty niches and an archway opening north lay at its end.

They inspected the bronze door recessed into the center north wall. It was solid bronze with the relief of the same face though this time with sapphire eyes. In addition, this door was also shut tight with no apparent locking mechanism. The riddle inscribed on it read thusly:

A proper guest knows how to open me.

So Gornix tried to talk to the door receiving no response. Excor used his Social Aptitude skill but to no avail. They stood there for a while trying to figure out the riddle. Still perplexed Gornix then tried to charm the door open. They were truly stumped this time.

The players sat there for a while scratching their heads until Cris excused himself from the table to go to the bathroom. Isis, Jenn, and Gil threw out a few wild guesses before falling into quiet contemplation.

Cris (on his way back to the table from the bathroom): “KNOCK on it! I KNOCK on the door!”

The door swung open after Excor’s rapping.

Cris: “Ha ha! It came to me while I was standin’ there pi$$!n’ ‘We should knock on it!’”

As a group, the young mages moved north into the newly revealed chamber. This chamber was very similar to the previous as its walls, celling, and floor were of white marble. It also lit up with magic light as they entered. To the north was a small empty niche in the wall and to the west, a short hallway that opened to the south. However, to the east was a recessed archway through which blazed a familiar white light.

As soon as the last mage in line, Excor, stepped over the threshold, the door slammed shut and a strange creature materialized at the center of the brightly lit room. This creature was a large serpent whose body split at its rear into six separate tails. Two of these were wielding a club and a spiked mace. The others were lashing the air like whips.

Isis: “What the HELL is that THING!?”

To Be Continued…

 

Dungeons

Skulking carefully through a web-choked and shadow-drowned passage, a thick grey sheet of dust over the flagstone floor and the scattered bones probably those of other adventurers hopefully of a lesser skill, watching where you step and hoping the next is not your last propelled onward by the dream of snatching the promised treasure and escaping with your life. This should be familiar to any avid roleplayer even those who’ve only had a cursory experience with the hobby as a description of the prototypical Dungeon Crawl. In these games mazes are crawling with strange and often bizarre beasties for the players to battle and treacherous with traps and pitfalls to impede their progress as well as studded with treasures to tempt them. These mazes are most often constructed of various chambers linked by a confusing network of passageways and corridors not to mention stairwells.

Dungeons, ever present in roleplaying games and sometimes the sole focus of a game, imprison their inmates within a complex or maze of rooms often peppered with an assortment of puzzles/riddles, traps, hazards, treasures, and monsters. In my gaming experience dungeons are always, even if not by intention, a confusing conglomeration of chambers meant to serve as a playing field where characters test their mettle and the players test their cunning against that of the Game-Master or the author of the dungeon. The well-designed fantasy dungeon demands players work as a team, cause characters to take on the roles to which they’re best suited, and pit the Game Master directly against the players though allowing some distance between responsibility and any lethal results within the game. The modern conception of the roleplaying dungeon is not just the fantasy of fulfilling greedy impulses and living out dreams of glory but the path of its evolution and its pedigree down through history makes the fantasy dungeon much more. It is however, a modern invention inspired and informed by certain historical facts, myth, and ideas presented in fiction.

‘Dungeon’ is a colorful word that delivers certain images, sensory information, and can carry certain connotations by its mere mention. It brings to mind not only the medieval justice system but conjures into the imagination skulking enemies, deep and dark chambers dripping with slime and moisture, and such iconic objects as chains & torture collars and hidden treasures. The word itself begs for at least a brief exploration of its etymology. The English dungeon has an etymology that rises from the French donjon (which translates to keep or great tower) but is more akin in usage and meaning to the French oubliette which means literally “forgotten place”. It is probable that since an often small and high chamber in the keep was used to house a prisoner that dungeon became, eventually, synonymous with ‘prison’. Fiction and horror movies would later alloy the imagery of the torture chamber to ‘dungeon’ also adding to its connotations and power of imagery further making it inevitable that the word and the ideas/images that it carried would find its way into fantasy roleplaying games not to mention the use of the word as an indictment of a cramped and/or damp isolated room in which many tabletop gamers would be accused of incessantly playing their games in.

Dungeons in roleplaying games seem to encompass three central ideas which are essential to their composition. These basic ideas are imprisonment, puzzlement (like a physical riddle, a travel puzzle), and exploration (what’s around the next corner). These three ideas also relate very closely to the idea of the maze or labyrinth. Whereas dungeons contemporaneous with tabletop RPG’s are a very new idea the concept of the maze/labyrinth dates back thousands of years into antiquity and definitely has contributed to the modern concept of the dungeon. Mazes themselves do adhere very closely to the three core ideas of dungeons and it is no surprise that many modern dungeons resemble them. The maze as a symbol lends some of its meaning to dungeons and that is the circuitous route of a human life represented in its twisted corridors with dead-ends aptly named.

Inspiration for the titular roleplaying dungeon can be found throughout history and in ancient myth but cannot be pinpointed to any singular instance or structure though several instances carry very obvious components of the modern dungeon. The roleplaying dungeon has its roots in the Egyptian tombs, the European and English hedge-mazes, the myth of the Cretan labyrinth, and the medieval bottle-prison, the oubliette. The Egyptian influence especially where it comes to traps and maze-like tombs is nearly self-evident. The ancient Egyptians employed false rooms, secret doors, and simple traps such as concealed pits, hematite powder (if inhaled it shredded the lungs causing the tomb-raider to drown in their own blood), and used huge granite blocks to secure tomb entrances occasionally inscribed with a death-curse, mostly for effect. The Egyptian tombs fit perfectly in with the idea of Exploration and add a sense of danger and risk to the idea of the fantasy dungeon due to the traps laid for and the cyclopean security measures as proof against tomb-raiders. Not to mention such history-based stories as the Curse of Tutankhamen in modern myth contributing an air of mysticism and mystery to the sense of danger.

As Egyptian tombs carry the idea of exploration, hedge-mazes bear the idea of puzzlement, and the medieval Oubliette carries the core idea of Imprisonment. In the Black Tower of castle Roumeli Hissar, built probably by Alexios Comnenus about 1100 A.D. – “[a] dark passage near the head of the stairway leads to the crown of a deep circular oubliette, which is constructed in the thickness of the wall and has no window or any other entrance than this passage. [A] prisoner impelled along the passage and pushed through the opening would fall in utter darkness to the bottom of the chamber 13 ft. below. This is probably one of the earliest examples of a true oubliette, of which there are very few.” (Toy, Sidney. 1939. Castles: Their Construction and History, 1984 Reprint. New York, Dover Publications Inc. pg.83, Emphasis Mine.) These rather infamous “bottle-prisons” so named due to the bottle-shape of their interiors were probably historically used more for storage than serving as imprisonment as most medieval justice involved execution or fines rather than prison sentences. “Important prisoners, such as members of the nobility, were sometimes held for ransom […] in a castle’s dungeon.” (Cantor, Norman F., ed. 1999. The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Penguin Putnam Inc. Prisons and Punishment) As a prison these could serve as pretty inescapable cells though they were dirt floored and situated at the base and in the foundations of castle towers making tunneling somewhat impractical.

Hedge-mazes, a particular example being that which figures in the English myth of Fair Rosamond, which existed in Europe and England for hundreds of years, also figure into the evolution of the idea of the modern fantasy dungeon. Though most archetypical RPG dungeons are subterranean and built of stone the maze that was used to keep King Henry VI’s indiscretions with Rosamond hidden from his jealous queen is considered (probably mistakenly) as a maze of evergreens but the fair treasure, often symbolized by a rose, at the center is a key idea which has carried over into the modern concept. The hedge-maze brings with it the puzzle aspect, a puzzle that must be solved and the established goal reached. That English maze concealed not only a prize as it were but also served to keep a secret only available to those who were either cunning or treacherous enough to solve it. Of course, Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, did eventually solve it using a spool of thread to the doom of his young and beautiful mistress very much like Theseus in the maze of the Minotaur but there it was the triumph of the hero and the death of the beast. The Cretan labyrinth, that which contained the Minotaur, probably served as the core inspiration and model of the English myth as it like King Henry’s maze was cleverly built by a master builder, Daedalus but who unlike Louis of Bourbourg, the architect of the English maze, was later forced to escape from a tower prison with his unfortunate son, Icarus. These labyrinth-myths bring to the modern concept the idea of a central prize and that of an occupying monster.

Inspired by history the roleplaying dungeon has been equipped with the imprisonment capability (and escape fantasy) of an oubliette, the complexity of the Cretan maze, and the deliberate dangers of an Egyptian tomb with the puzzle and the game aspect of the hedge-maze. However, it is apparent with a little investigation that the current concept of a roleplaying dungeon is inspired by history but historically a ‘dungeon’ was not existent in its current form even as a prison cell and most probably originated in the Italian Renaissance becoming synonymous with torture chambers and being shaped into the archetypical medieval prison in the gothic novels of the nineteenth century. It seems a modern idea which evolved within the context of the roleplaying game, at least the idea of the treasure-trap laden monster haunted gauntlet certainly is.

The fantasy RPG dungeon’s history can be followed and is somewhat well-documented. The idea itself evolving with the early years of roleplaying games emerging at around the same time as fantasy gaming from the War-Gaming hobby where an opposing army would mine its way under the fortifications of the castle they are sieging into unexpected lower chambers and storerooms which then developed shortly into deliberately constructed gauntlets for heroes to traverse. At about the time of the evolution of roleplaying games from the primordial soup of war-gaming the idea for dungeons began and one of the major influences of course was popular literature especially that authored by J.R.R. Tolkien, namely Moria the Black Chasm. “Some spoke of Moria: the mighty works of our fathers that are called in our own tongue Khazad-dum…too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear. Long have its vast mansions lain empty since the children of Durin fled.” (Tolkien, J.R.R., 1994 (1966 ed.), The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Company, SFBC edition. pg.234) No doubt mines have become a type of dungeon within the modern incarnation of roleplaying games among others but they definitely, at least in my mind, are an early inspiration in the development of dungeons in roleplaying.  Of course, that comes with the popular knowledge that Tolkien’s shadow looms large over the early roleplaying games not exclusively involving dungeons and the trend in fantasy fiction of that time (the early to mid-1970’s) so it should be no surprise that the mines of Moria could have added to the concept at its earliest stages. “[T]he creators of D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] were inspired by the empirically detailed fantasy texts of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Fritz Lieber and others[.]” (Saler, Michael. 2012. As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality. Oxford University Press. pg.101) “One of the peculiar developments in the past few decades has been the rise of the “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Magic” industries. These role-playing games are derived directly from epic fantasy. They owe everything to the original writers like [Robert E.] Howard and Tolkien.” (Moorcock, Michael. 2004. Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy. MonkeyBrain Books. pgs.146-147)

The evolution of the roleplaying dungeon can be marked as beginning within the game of Blackmoor written by Dave Arneson. “Arneson…shifted the game from the battlefield of traditional war games into large indoor settings such as castles, caverns, and mines. In one of Arneson’s most successful games, the characters were sent to infiltrate Blackmoor Castle through its sewer to open the gates. … To reach the gate, the character had to traverse the castle’s dungeons, which were full of various guards and monsters. … Similar scenarios became standard for fantasy roleplaying games. The indoor environments of the games were known as “dungeons” regardless of the actual nature or purpose of the space. In 1972, Arneson attended Gen Con in Lake Geneva and ran his Castle Blackmoor scenario for convention goers.” (Laycock, Joseph P. 2015. Dangerous Games. University of California Press. pg.41)  Soon after its debut Dave Arneson would refine and expand his design. “The second issue of the [Blackmoor] Gazette [and Rumormonger], which details events of the late spring of 1972, provides the first mention of the counterintuitive but seminal notion that the “dungeons” beneath Castle Blackmoor were a place where “heroes went looking for adventure and treasure.” By this point, [Dave] Arneson had mapped, on a pad of graph paper, a dungeon six levels deep beneath the castle, with each level containing progressively more formidable adversaries.” (Peterson, Jon. 2012. Playing at the World. Unreason Press LLC. 2012. pg.68) Not soon after a participant in a Blackmoor game would take the idea of the RPG dungeon and run with it.

“[A] Minneapolis local named Louis Fallert attended one of the University of Minnesota Military History Club meetings and there joined a Blackmoor dungeon expedition.” (Peterson. 460) “After playing in Blackmoor, Fallert felt an irresistible urge to adapt and reinvent it for his own use[.]” (Peterson. 460) Mike Wood, who attended the meetings where Fallert unveiled the Castle Keep game writing a commentary of the foray he witnessed: “[He] was directing […] a couple [of] people in a game he’d just put together, sort of a simulation of intrepid heroes wandering around in a dungeon seeking to find treasure and avoiding death at the hands of trolls, orcs and other perils.” (Peterson. 460-461) Again the idea would course down to other players within the gaming community and begin to spread as rules were codified and roleplaying games began to roll out. Craig van Grasstek was one of the three original players that Louis Fallert let into his Castle Keep in 1974 in Minneapolis. Grasstek decided to write down a set of rules, his Rules to the Game of Dungeon (1974). “The problem seems to have been one of standardization: “since there are so many different mazes, run by so many […], there are bound to be many discrepancies and idiosyncrasies among them,” Grasstek writes in his foreword.” (Peterson. 485) Not long after the standardization of the roleplaying dungeon was a fixed play space within the imagination of gamers everywhere. The idea also began to expand into other game realms which were themselves in their infancy. The precursor to all computer adventure games, Adventure, merged spelunking with the maze and elements already codified in the early roleplaying dungeons alloying the meaning of the word in most gamers if not people’s minds. It was developed in 1975 and 1976 by Will Crowther for the enjoyment of “non-computer people”. He created it as a fantasy recreation of his caving; he was an accomplished caver, mostly as a game for his daughters. It was influenced by “some aspects” of the game Dungeons & Dragons which he had been playing. (Montfort, Nick. 2003. Twisty Little Passages. The MIT Press. pg. 10) “[I]t requires the exploration of a secret dungeon (which most likely would force most players to take up cartography to navigate) where one defeats adversaries and escapes with treasures.” (Peterson, Jon. 2012. Playing at the World. Unreason Press LLC. 2012. pg.620) Will Crowther was however heavily inspired by a roleplaying game titled Mirkwood Tales as told by Barry Gold in an article entitled “Computers and Fantasy Gaming” for Alarums #30 in January 1978 (Peterson.616). The Mirkwood Tales roleplaying game was a Tolkien themed variant of Dungeons & Dragons authored by Eric S. Roberts around 1977 set in the world of Middle-Earth and adapting the races found in the Lord of the Rings as Player Races: elves, dwarves, and hobbits though “Tolkien is relegated to the second credit” in the Acknowledgments section of the game manuscript. “It moreover relies on underworld exploration, combat and treasure to drive an engaging narrative.” (Peterson. 617)

Of course with the codification of the modern idea of the dungeon it wasn’t long before those that were too well designed or deliberately made to be unfair to players became common enough to garner the moniker ‘Dungeons of Death’. A Dungeon of Death being a “dungeon that is considered extremely difficult, in which few characters survive.” (Fine, Gary Alan. 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. University of Chicago Press. pg.29) Even with these bumps in the road dungeons infiltrated and soaked into fantasy roleplaying becoming ubiquitous even in fiction. They could be found everywhere with any kind of subterranean environment becoming a dungeon. “Dungeons are the first thing to be built when anyone is planning a large BUILDING. Even Town Halls tend to have them. The Rules state that Dungeons are damp and small and a long way underground. […] If the Dungeon is a pit of the type called an oubliette, on the other hand, you are justified in slight melancholy.” (Jones, Diana Wynne. 2006. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Revised and Updated Edition. Dungeons) Roleplaying groups are often wont to find and discover dungeons to explore sometimes exclusively setting out to crawl through such constructs in a style of play referred to as “delving” or as “delves” as in dungeon-delving or more commonly engaged in what is called a Dungeon Crawl.

A ‘crawl’ can refer to anything from breaking into a tricksy guild-house (esp. thieves’ or assassins’ guilds), a mages’ tower, invading a dragon’s lair, or wandering through a cave system. It presents the players and their characters with a challenge which begs to be met as well as granting them bragging rights after meeting that challenge and (hopefully) conquering it. Within the context of a roleplaying game a dungeon serves a couple of major purposes. The first is to provide a pretty straight forward thrill-packed section of a game campaign. The other major purpose of a dungeon is to provide a stretch in the game which can endure anywhere from one to many sessions where the Game Master just has to rely on the material (hopefully) already written giving them a little break other than running the game itself and having to deal with off-the-cuff bits which dungeons accomplish, mostly, by limiting the wandering scope of the player characters. “Arneson explained: A dungeon is nice and self-contained. Players can’t go romping over the countryside, and you can control the situation.” (Laycock. 41) While the running of a dungeon has certain advantages when it comes to the GM’s role they also come with some caveats on the GM’s part as well.

The designing of dungeons demands a particular set of skills and an eye for detail. The Dungeon-Master must know the players that will be entering the dungeon (their ‘delvers’), be familiar with the design of mazes, and a penchant for engaging the delvers within the dungeon. The design of a dungeon requires a certain level of cruelty, ingenuity, and the ability to come up with or adopt details and puzzles that are appropriate to the player group. The minimum components required to qualify as a ‘dungeon’, at least in my opinion, are a few passages twisted about at least a single room with a minimum of one tricky door, a single trap, and a single monster with maybe a puzzle or riddle thrown in for good measure. Note also a well-designed dungeon should have a balance, but not a particularly predictable, scattering of traps, hazards, obstacles, treasures, monsters, and puzzles which are hopefully not beyond the ability of both the players and their characters.

There are plenty of pre-generated dungeons out there in the ether for purchase or free, known as “Dungeon Modules” taking the hassle and fairly involved work of designing and generating a dungeon off of the GM save for the minor alteration usually needed to work the module into the current campaign and maybe even some modifications to fit it into the game system that the GM may be using at the time especially with those modules written for specific systems. Of course there are a lot pre-gen modules that are “system neutral”. Actual dungeon design is a time consuming endeavor with map-making only the tip of the ice burg though I find that it works better to begin with the map.

Initially you should probably decide on a rough number of rooms to work with and try to keep the number well within that you are confident you can spend the amount of time needed on the design (and decoration) of each depending on the level of detail required per individual chamber. It can get pretty boring when the players are wandering around from empty room filled with detritus to empty room with a pile of rubble or trash strewn over the chamber floor. Not diminish the use of empty rooms especially when the players have become justifiably paranoid and finally happen upon an empty chamber then take painstaking measures to be careful while making their way through it not to mention the expressions on their faces after they’ve gotten through and have realized it was indeed just an empty room. After deciding on how many chambers you’re going to use you should also know already if the chamber for any reason will require a specific shape or modifications on the map especially when it comes to areas or other rooms outside of that chamber. This is very necessary when dealing with Trap-Rooms, rooms that are designed as giant traps which are often elaborate and should be used sparingly as these can be particularly deadly. Other map considerations are the support systems and architecture required for certain features such as pools of various types of liquids which would require a source and a drain along with some valves somewhere that can be opened or closed as well as pipes/piping but an inlet and a drain are the most necessary in this particular situation also when dealing with flooding chambers or passageways which also require the addition of an air vent for the escaping air. Also do not discount mechanical and gear-box areas on the map that may be located above, below or adjacent to a trap/trap-room as well. There are also other considerations that could come into play such as air-vents, sky-light type openings, the floor which can be stone, covered in tiles or flagstones, or be compacted soil etc. Support pillars are a minor consideration but can be useful when there are enemies adding in nice places for cover and to use for ambush and should be placed where it’s obvious that they may be needed for structure but when it comes to a fantasy dungeon the latter use is preferable as you don’t need to be an architect to draw a dungeon map unless the details start to knock on the delvers’ suspension of disbelief.

The second step in this process would be to draw the map and arrange the rooms in a way that serves your purpose maybe even making use of labyrinth or maze logic when it comes to the passageways connecting the individual chambers. You should after or just before this stage figure out the obstacles you’re going to throw in the way of the player characters especially doors, collapsed areas, and large bits of detritus, and simple traps which should be mapped. Of course simple traps and doors could be placed in afterwards if they don’t require complex mechanics or support structures that influence the area on the map around them. Doors can be simple roadblocks, such as a locked iron door or a barred wooden one, or be somewhat complex with special traps and devices built into them. Another thing to keep in mind even while drawing or building the map are the monsters/enemies found wandering within the dungeon and/or occupying certain chambers. Unless there are special circumstances (namely magic, special devices, or super-science) they will need living quarters and the necessary amenities: food, water, etc. Probably why most dungeons, even those that are not tombs, have a lot of undead and golem type monsters wandering about them as well as the seemingly ever-present rodent and insect-based creatures whom can be relied upon to provide for themselves in the filth of the place also don’t overlook monstrous fungi which may be feeding off of certain bits of the structure of the dungeon itself not to mention the remains of its victims.

After your map is done you can place the smaller components doors, traps, monsters and then come up with the individual matter (writing for the narration) for the chambers which should be a short couple of sentences setting the general atmosphere of the room (scent, sight, and temperature) along with the play components/features within the chamber. Each of those may have a brief description attached to them as well as the general physical description of any readily apparent enemy within as well. Combined together this matter is what composes the entirety of the room description. A room description is what the GM will narrate to the players when their characters either look into the chamber or when they enter it all based of course on what the characters can logically see at the time based on their positions and point of view. Voila! You have a functional dungeon. The basic steps in designing a dungeon are: Decide on the number of rooms, decide what extra support features will need to be mapped, draw the map, come up with and place the smaller features such as traps/doors, come up with and place enemies keeping in mind the amenities they will need to survive (also known as Dungeon Ecology), and then come up with the details/descriptions needed for each chamber not discounting those for the smaller components as well as enemies. Note also that a well-designed dungeon should have a balanced, but not particularly predictable, scattering of traps, hazards, obstacles, treasures, monsters, and puzzles which is hopefully not beyond the ability of both players and their characters.

Dungeons are a common and even archetypical dare I say cliché scenario found in contemporary roleplaying games and is a mode of play that may also dominate the type of play in which certain ‘dungeoneering’ groups will participate. In roleplaying the term is associated with scenarios involving a map which can be simple or complex with chambers and passages populated with traps, hazards, enemies, and treasures to be had applying to anything from the under-passages of a castle or city sewer to a cave complex, dragon’s lair, or even the interior of a wizard’s tower. Dungeons never quite existed historically in the form the word is now associated with though it still carries some of the historic weight and imagery associated with the word given it by history and literature. The modern dungeon was inspired and influenced not just by history especially due to the evolution of RPG’s from historical war-gaming but by popular fiction, possibly more so, especially J.R.R. Tolkien and the mines of Moria featured in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. The mythological/historical inspirations range from the hazardous tombs of ancient Egypt to the decorated hedge-mazes of 16th and 18th century Europe and Britain not to mention the raging-bull in the room of the Cretan Labyrinth. In some ways dungeons are directly linked to such ideas as mazes/labyrinths and make use of other ideas with equally as long lineages such as riddles, magic, and monsters. It was developed at the birth of roleplaying games not solely invented by a single person but evolved by the contributions of early roleplayers and their ‘referees’ one of the central figures being a prime contributor to the birth of roleplaying, Dave Arneson. His Blackmoor campaign is of central interest where concerning dungeons and the refinement and spreading of the dungeon scenario by such individuals as Louis Fallert, Craig van Grasstek, and Will Crowther. Within the context of a roleplaying game session a dungeon can help the GM maintain control by limiting the scope of the game into a finite self-contained space and limit the range of the player characters whose imperative it is to wander. It also adds in some action and thrills to a campaign with little effort due to the nature of such scenarios. For these two reasons the dungeon has become a central part of the roleplaying experience not to mention they can also be fun to design and populate. Designing a dungeon can be as fun as delving and is definitely an exercise in creativity but it can be rather time-intensive. Fortunately there are dungeon-modules galore that can be had for free or purchased via multiple outlets.

A dungeon presents the puzzlement and symbolism of the maze, the potential to trap and imprison like the oubliette, the thrill of exploration as the tombs of ancient Egypt, and the power of mytho-historic imagery and the clichés presented by fantasy fiction stirred into the pot. With it a dungeon drags the connotations of reward and danger as well as the test of cunning to escape and bypass the traps, the strength to overcome resident foes, and the intelligence to solve its puzzles. Even the word ‘dungeon’ itself has the weight of history and color of imagery associated with it that which transcends the gaming table and adds a certain power to any maze-like challenge dubbed as such. Due to the ease of acquirement as well as the ease of design of dungeons along with the fun to be had while delving should leave no questions as to why dungeons are so popular in the current state of roleplaying games.

Mazes

What comes to mind when either of the words ‘maze’ and ‘labyrinth’ are uttered anytime in a roleplaying session, at least to me, is the moist stench of mist haunted corridors carrying the promise of treasure at the goal, the danger of hidden traps along the way, and the ever-present threat of monsters lurking in musty shadowy depths. The idea of the maze or labyrinth has been around since what seems like the beginning of history. “Patterns for mazes are very ancient and have been found incised on rocks or tablets in many prehistoric cultures around the world, from Ireland to Greece.” (McGovern, Una. ed., 2007. Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained. Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd. Mazes) The basic ideas which they connote can be found in virtually every roleplaying game ever played especially in the form of the ever ubiquitous ‘dungeon’ but seem to not be particularly common outside of the dungeon context in my experience and often not utilized to their full potential when they are. Apparently they’re seen as simple puzzles, a minor obstruction to the players’ progress through an adventure often solved with a single die roll. Puzzles that are often droll and take too long to figure out for those wandering aimlessly through them or too easy for those with a handful of time-tested tricks at their disposal. When mazes and labyrinths are implemented in a roleplaying game it’s typically as a design choice when dealing with dungeons; complexes of chambers studded with traps, treasures, and monsters, commonly subterranean. Mazes in roleplaying games do serve as a challenge to be overcome, a complex puzzle to be solved, a set-piece which can carry some symbolic weight. They carry an air of strange fascination and a certain mythical richness which a clever game-master can turn to the advantage of their game. The first place to start would be the inherent vagueness of the terminology namely the difference between a maze and a labyrinth.

The usage of the words ‘maze’ and ‘labyrinth’ for the most part are interchangeable but have been, and will be in this article, defined by the branching or singularity of their path(s).  “Technically, a maze contains many pathways, only one of which leads to the center (multicursal), while a labyrinth has only a single path that always leads to the center (unicursal). Ancient labyrinths and mazes were devised as symbolic traps for malevolent spirits, while medieval ones represented symbolic pilgrimages.” [Wilkinson, Kathryn ed., 2008. Signs & Symbols. First American Edition. Dorling Kindersley Ltd. pg.290] Basically mazes and labyrinths can be said to “be roughly divided into two types as regards the principle of their design, namely, into unicursal and multicursal types, or, as some say, into “non-puzzle” and “puzzle” types respectively.” [Matthews, W.H., c.1922. Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development. Kessinger Legacy Reprints ed., Kessinger Publishing LLC. pg.184] But to be fair “Neither the etymology nor the origin of the labyrinth has been fully explained.” [Grafton, Most, & Settis. 2010. The Classical Tradition. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pg.505] I will however for the sake of both brevity and clarity refer to ‘labyrinths’ as those with a single meditative path and ‘mazes’ as labyrinths that are more puzzle-like “where the path is determined by the choices made at intersections[.]”(Grafton. Labyrinth.)

As symbols mazes and labyrinths carry some mythic potency that has captivated the human imagination through the ages aside from them being simple distractions. The spiral on which the first labyrinths were undoubtedly based was a symbol of significant meaning representing both the path of life and encompassing the entire world within it. “[The spiral] is an ancient symbol of energy (which was thought to flow in spirals) and of life’s rhythm.” (Wilkinson. 285) The meander which came from the spiral became the symbolic circuitous route of the human lifetime and from these ritual walkways the labyrinth and then ultimately the maze evolved. “[T]he archetypical maze was a pattern, usually cut in turf, to be traversed in a religious or magical ceremony, while the archetypical – though not the first – labyrinth was that built by DAEDALUS to hold the MINOTAUR. Usage has blurred the distinction, but mazes tend to be submitted to voluntarily as a GAME or RITUAL[.]”[Clute & Grant. 1997. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York, St. Martin’s Press. Labyrinths] The pagan roots of the symbolic maze inevitably became obscured and the maze found its way into medieval Christianity to be set into the polished floors of cathedrals and churches. “Medieval culture Christianized the symbol [-] the path that leads via turnings and detours to the center represents the circumambulations of human existence in a world of sin[.]” (Grafton. 505)

The concept of the maze/labyrinth dates back thousands of years deep into antiquity arising from the mists of history at first with symbolic and pseudo-magical importance gaining religious significance later then as they became secularized they evolved into a form of entertainment taking on the puzzle aspect. “Spirals and meanders, precursors to the labyrinth, have been found among the cave paintings of prehistoric peoples[.]” [Ronnberg, Amy ed., 2010. The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. Cologne, Germany. TASCHEN] Later examples of the labyrinth concept can also be found on Mycenaean clay tablets from Pylos dated as early as 1200 BCE (Grafton) illustrating the immense length of time the labyrinth has occupied the mind of humanity but the most ancient designs are hardly those that come to mind when the words labyrinth or maze are mentioned the precursors of the modern concept being more akin to the spiral as they were unicursal. When thinking back on the history of the concept however what comes to mind and what draws more interest especially that of gamers if I don’t say so myself, are Egyptian tombs, the maze of the Minotaur, among a few other examples. The chief labyrinths of antiquity, those which may fit more with the current fantasy concept, were that of Egypt (1800 CE built by Petesuchis or Tithoes near Lake Moeris; it had 3,000 apartments, half of which were underground), the Cretan Labyrinth (1st Century BC, built by Daedalus to imprison the minotaur), the Cretan Conduit (had 1,000 branches or turnings), that of the Lemnians (built by Smilis, Rholus, and Theodorus, it had 150 columns so finely adjusted a child could turn them; vestiges of it were still in existence in the time of Pliny around the 1st century AD), the Labyrinth of Clusium (built by Lars Porsena, king of Etruria for his tomb), that of the Samians (540 BC built by Theodorus, its mentioned by Pliny, Herodotus, and Strabo among others), and the Labyrinth at Woodstock, Oxfordshire (built by Henry II to protect the fair Rosamond).[Rockwood, Camilla ed., 2009. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. 18th ed. Hopetoun Crescent, Edinburgh. Chamber Harrap Publishers Ltd.]

The Cretan Labyrinth also known as the Maze of the Minotaur being the most famous of the aforementioned and probably the single most influential when it comes to the inspiration of the modern-day fantasy maze. In Greek myth it was said to have been constructed by Daedalus to contain the monstrous offspring of the Minoan Queen Pasiphae (conceived between her and the Cretan Bull after a love spell/curse put on her by the god Poseidon) built by the command of Minos the Cretan king. This maze over the other mytho-historical examples is singularly vital to the concept of current fantasy dungeons as, like the fantastical dungeons of today, it contained a monster, the bull-headed Minotaur, and was solved by the hero, Theseus, after slaying the monster. Even Theseus’ solution, a ball of magic twine given to him by the Minoan Princess Ariadne, has become the go to archetypical solution the very first thing most dungeon delvers think of when they enter any labyrinthine complex suspected of being a maze. It’s also telling that the name of the path of a labyrinth/maze, the meander, found its etymology in Daedalus’ inspiration for the Cretan maze. “Daedalus is said to have taken his inspiration for the Cretan labyrinth from the Menderes, a winding river of Phrygia.” (Rockwood. Meander) Another well-known maze probably loosely based on the Cretan myth brings us to Britain circa the 1100’s. “In Britain, mazes were carved into turf as long ago as pre-Roman times and many of great antiquity have survived.” (McGovern. Mazes)

Rosamond’s maze, the name probably originated from the Latin phrase rosa mundi meaning the ‘rose of the world’, was built as a strangely ostentatious method of concealing an English king’s illicit affair. The central part of the story, a prominent story in English historical lore mentioned briefly by Charles Dickens in his Child’s History of England, concerns Rosamond de Clifford as the mistress of English king Henry II whom had the maze built as a measure to conceal his indiscretions with the fair lady in his park at Woodstock in Oxfordshire. Eventually of course the queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, heard of the affair, penetrated the maze by following a thread (Rockwood), found and forced poor Rosamond a choice between a dagger and a bowl of poison to end her life and “she drained the latter and became forthwith defunct”. (Matthews. 164). This story does involve historical figures but is on its face just a myth as its core story elements are parallel to those of the Cretan myth; it was built by royal command, the story involved the imprisonment/concealment of a secret a result of the fidelity of the royal couple, and the presence of a fiendishly clever architect. The architect of this tale being “a certain workman named Louis of Bourbourg, with a skill in woodwork very little different from that of Daedalus, was employed in building the house and made there a nearly inextricable labyrinth, containing recess within recess, room within room, turning within turning”. (Matthews. 111) Popular belief portrays this maze as a hedge or garden maze though the famous ‘bower’ (house) of the myth was described as being of stone and timber. “It would appear…that the “bower” was a labyrinth of an architectural kind…not, as popularly believed, a maze of evergreens”. (Matthews. 165) For a significant length of time outdoor hedge-mazes dominated the popular imagination starting around the 1600’s the zeitgeist probably coloring the myth of the Lady of the Bower. The other major influence besides the type of labyrinth present in the previous myths and probably the second if not the first image to spring to mind when mentioning labyrinths or mazes are the turf labyrinths of Britain and the hedge-mazes of Victorian Europe. “Hundreds of topiary & hedge mazes were realized for amusement in the gardens of Europe in the 16th through the 18th centuries.” (Grafton. 606)

These open air mazes with walls of living foliage served as game-like distractions for nearly 300 years, and some continue to this day, evolving from the Knot Gardens of Renaissance Europe themselves probably modeled after the turf spirals that can be found throughout Europe and Britain dating back to the iron and possibly stone ages. Knot gardens, or parterre, are very formal square-framed gardens planted with a variety of aromatic plants and culinary herbs laid out in an intricate design and serve to illustrate the human mastery of nature. “The square enclosure represents stability and the Earth; the pattern and chosen plants may symbolize love or religion.” (Wilkinson. 245) The paths between these gardens were laid with fine gravel as were often the meanders between the hedges of mazes. It’s not unfathomable that as a spiral could give birth to the knot design thusly the knot garden could change into the contemplative labyrinth and then the game-like maze. The boundaries and passages of these hedge-mazes were of course composed from hedges of aromatic herbs then aromatic shrubs with later and current mazes using boxwood. “In some cases limes or hornbeams were “plashed,” i.e., their branches were so trained and intertwined as to form a continuous wall of verdure.” (Matthews. 117) Labyrinths had moved from having a mystical or religious connotation to a secular form of entertainment. “The more secular image of Daedalus as the personification of human skill and of the genius of the architect gained momentum with the Renaissance.” (Grafton. 505) Hedge mazes had gained a playful atmosphere by this time with undoubtedly at least a few souls probably still traipsing along the meanders as a contemplative exercise subconsciously harkening back to the early turf labyrinths. The playful airs may have also had some romantic possibilities for couples out on a late night stroll as well; at least one would like to think. Of course, hedge mazes have a few practical considerations such as upkeep and the obvious weakness that walls of verdure imply. “The hedges require very frequent trimming, and sometimes partial renewal, the latter especially in those cases where unscrupulous visitors are not prevented, by barbed wire or other means, from short-circuiting the convolutions.” (Matthews. 145) Hedge mazes became a sort of fad throughout this period and continued to evolve with those with the means to have these sorts of gardens planned and planted adding in decorations and statuary to the green with the best specimen of these highly refined hedge mazes to be found in 17th-century France. “In practically all types of maze it became the fashion to relieve the monotony of the walks by placing statues, vases, seats, fountains, and other ornaments at various points. This kind of thing reached a climax of extravagance in the latter part of the seventeenth century, when J.Hardouin-Mansart constructed for Louis XIV the famous labyrinth in the smaller park at Versailles.” (Matthews. 117) The hedge maze at Versailles had water fountains and statuary based on Aesop’s Fables with portions of poetry on plaques by each statue. Of course eventually the upkeep, the requirement on the horticultural skill of the groundkeepers, and the waning of the trend saw the end of the hedge maze as common public feature. “Towards the end of the eighteenth century the taste for mazes in private gardens had to some extent declined, but as an adjunct to places of public amusement the topiary labyrinth was still in great demand.” (Matthews. 137) It’s these latter types of hedge mazes that are no doubt the primary inspirations (especially that of Versailles unfortunately destroyed in 1778 when it was replaced by an arboretum by Louis XVI) for the roleplaying dungeon-maze which benefitted from the mythical complexity of the Cretan maze and the extravagance and game-feel of a hedge-maze.

Mazes had progressed from mystical symbols with magical powers to imprison spirits to contemplative exercises of religion into a pastime, a game. “By the time maze-makers in Britain began using hedges instead of patterns cut into turf the original motivations may have been lost, leaving an amusing pastime in the place of meaningful ritual.” (McGovern. Mazes)

Essentially in the context of roleplaying games a maze is a tour puzzle (a puzzle where the player takes a trip around the game-zone from beginning to end retrieving certain objects along the way). A maze is a puzzle that must be solved by finding the exit (or goal) after entering meaning the player must accept the challenge by entering into the labyrinth essentially trapping themselves within; only victory or death awaits at the end. These mazes are most often constructed of various chambers linked by a confusing network of passageways and corridors. Traditionally constructed mazes, those consisting of only corridors and twisty passages, are rarely played through in a roleplaying game session usually relegated to a single “intelligence check” representing a specific amount of in-game time per singular check in which the player characters can solve the maze-puzzle  (in my experience typically 1 day). This is due to the shear monotony of traversing only passageways even those sprinkled with monsters, traps, and hazards. Labyrinths on the other hand are more frequent in the form of ruins, caves, and the lairs of villains usually consisting of various chambers and corridors which have a roundabout, primarily single path of travel allowing both the occupants and the player characters to move freely through them, the aim usually being to confront the villains and monsters on their own turf. Labyrinths really only lengthen the time the players spend working their way towards their ultimate goal, a duel with the ‘big bad’ serving more in the capacity of a gauntlet rather than a contemplative trip though GM’s shouldn’t discount this aspect if there is a twist when it comes to the final villain. When it comes to the puzzle-like mazes however, if the players are aware of what they’re about to enter they will usually take some precautions which are frankly, ages old but nonetheless effective, mostly.

Answering these tricks of the trade is always the responsibility of the master of the maze. These titular tricks being – the ball of twine, leaving a trail of crumbs or pebbles, making marks with chalk or charcoal, and following either the left or right hand wall. The ball of twine (Ariadne’s golden thread) as employed by Theseus is utilized by attaching it to an anchor at the entrance and then as the meanderer walks away they let the string unspool and thus leaving behind an easy to follow trail. This can be just as easily defeated by creating a lack of anchor points, using string snipping doors, fiber-chewing pests that infest the maze, or cleverly placed flames. Dropping a trail of crumbs/pebbles (the old Hansel and Gretel trick) is just as easily defeated by having pests or other such creatures following the trail and either eating it up or sweeping it away also chasms and flowing water can stop this strategy dead creating a cut-off point for the trail. Using chalk or charcoal markings at certain intervals typically on a wall (a strategy taken from spelunking) can be defeated with moist or slick walls, mark erasing pests, and even some sort of mischief involving duplicating or moving the marks around via some sort of enchantment or by resident spirits/faeries or sliding/flipping panels. It is also wise not to ignore the possibility of moving or rotating walls as well. The only real way to defeat the following of a single wall is to have the start or finish of the maze at the center which is surrounded by a looping passageway possibly employing a few other design tactics to lead the cheater(s) astray. In order to make a maze that is more difficult to solve a Game Master (GM) has a few options to work with.

The GM can limit the number of solutions (a single solution being the hardest), the longer the solution path is the more difficult the maze or at least the longer someone has to spend within it giving more time for them to get lost, and adding in irregular features to the maze can increase its difficulty greatly. Adding loops can throw off meanderers (those not on the solution path being the most effective) as well as subtle curves and odd angles which can discombobulate the players’ spatial sense especially if you use certain magical features such as extra-dimensional spaces. Multi-level mazes can definitely confuse things where the solution path travels through multiple floors. Roundabout passages that lead meanderers to a destination other than expected are also in the maze-master’s toolbox. These passages should appear that they go in one direction but are designed in such a way, typically a spiral, so that they go in another. Landmark features can also be manipulated in order to fool those trying to use landmarks and memorization to mark their way. Adding in statuary or frescoes that are duplicated elsewhere in the maze will always confuse those attempting this most basic but usually fairly effective method. Of course, the standard GM toolbox suffices especially when it comes to enticements in the form of sparkly treasures and gems in order to lure adventurers off of the true path and into a trap or interesting encounter.

The maze with its long legacy, its mytho-symbolic power, and the fun of a puzzle is infinitely useful to game-masters and to roleplaying in general. In either its unicursal or multicursal guise mazes are a common staple of the fantasy adventure (maybe the fantasy genre in toto) and functions in a dual capacity first as an action set-piece and then serving the story at a symbolic level adding a little literary dimension to a campaign. Essentially a maze in a roleplaying game is attached to three basic ideas: imprisonment (like the titular dungeon), puzzlement (like a physical riddle, a travel puzzle), and exploration (what’s around the next corner). It’s the Game Master functioning as the Maze-Master whose responsibility it is to add an air of mystery to the dungeon-mazes that are to be explored by the players as well as making them challenging (but not impossibly hard, use your best judgment based on the individuals in your group and their level of teamwork) and add in the fantastic elements. The maze, an element of mythology, history, and fantasy known and recognizable by virtually everyone is a useful element likewise, in fantasy roleplaying games. Mazes and labyrinths lend themselves to the roleplaying hobby in a few potent respects; they can serve as more than simple puzzles or obstacles, bringing with them a certain symbolic significance which can surface regardless of the level of subtlety or crudeness with which they are presented in-game. “The twists and turns of a maze represent life’s pathway. Entering it is equated with death, while emerging is rebirth.” (Wilkinson. 245 – emphasis mine)