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Reviews - Prisoners of the Maze
by Matthew Pook

Prisoners of the Maze cover For their latest d20 System release, Necromancer Games has turned to something of a superstar in the D&D community. Their author choice is not surprising, given that their company motto is "Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel." So thus we have M1: Prisoners of the Maze, the first in a five-part series of adventures by Robert J. Kuntz, who has written for both the original D&D and the First Edition AD&D games. This 48-page dungeon is designed for a party of four to six characters of ninth through twelfth level, but actually comes with four pre-generated characters.

Reasonably priced at just $10.95, Prisoners of the Mazeis organized and laid out in the clear fashion that we have come to expect from Necromancer. The cover by John Massé is perhaps not his best, but it should not be inferred that it is actually bad, just that it is decent enough. Inside Brian LeBlanc provides two different styles of art, one of which is a little too dark, but the other lighter style is actually rather useful in illustrating the adventure. Once again, though, the actual use of the book is let down by the cartography of Conan Venus. Too often the room numbers obscure actual fixtures and there is no key to explain the features of the map.

The adventure opens with the characters as members of a brotherhood devoted to the good of the kingdom. The secret council ruling this brotherhood has met and come to the decision that that the reign of the evil tyrant, King Ovar, must be ended, even if it must be at the point of a sharp sword. So the party is tasked to enter the palace and strike down the monarch, but as they draw their weapons upon him, Ovar disappears and his personal wizard, Zayene, draws the would-be assassins into a magical vortex. When the player characters awake, they find themselves in a maze of the evil sorcerer's construction. To get out, they will have to negotiate not only this part of the maze, but also the remaining four parts (which have yet to be published :-).

The problem for the characters is they have come on a mission of assassination rather than one of dungeon delving. None of them brought ten-foot poles. No one thought they'd need iron rations. No rope, no ink, quill and paper to keep a map... you get the idea. Since they have been teleported to the dungeon, the characters can't even tell which direction is North (even those with the Intuit Direction feat!). So their objective shifts from assassination to getting through the maze, overcoming whatever strange creatures, traps and puzzles Zayene throws in their path. And the adventure contains a good mix of those three hazards, with slightly more of the magical traps than anything else.

The portion of the maze in this book is rather small, some only twenty-five or so locations. But to the players, it's likely to seem larger or actually be repeating itself, as there are four unmarked teleport devices at the corners of the maze, which transport the party to the next corner and so on round the maze. Exploring this dungeon can and will get decidedly confusing.

The inhabitants of the maze work for either Zayene or Ovar, providing the King with a taxidermist, a bestiary, a harem, a courtroom and finally an art gallery. This last room will occupy the party for almost a session by itself. Nearly all of the thirty or so paintings and ten sculptures are magical in nature. Many of the paintings contain strange beasts that will attack the characters or enclosed pockets of space that they can explore themselves. Several of them contain the exit to the second module in the Maze of Zayene series, M2: Dimensions of Flight. The sculptures will likewise come alive and interact with the party.

The adventure comes with a choice selection of new monsters, spells and magical items. There is the Drench, a new type of water elemental, and the Knight of Chaos, a new construct, as well as several types of aberrations. The new spells are a range of arcane ones that are actually those of the King's former jester, which the characters can be befriend and take on as an ally. Each of the provided characters begins the game with their own magical items, including a weapon with special items, but it is the bad guys that employ the interesting equipment. These have the theme of entrapment with a rug that smothers, manacles that can be thrown and capture their targets, and the amusing Fur Armour of Envelopment.

Since the party is under-equipped, this is a tough adventure that should test the players. Within the constraints set by the module, this is an enjoyable challenging adventure, but stepping away from said constraints, Prisoners of the Maze is not without a problem or two. It works best as a stand-alone adventure using the provided pre-generated characters -- and thus a stand-alone series because there is so much for the referee to set up within their own campaign. This is not just the kingdom with its tyrannical king, but getting the players involved with the secret brotherhood as well. This is a lot of effort and background work to invest to run the series as part of a referee's game, plus there are five parts to this series -- at this stage, do the players want to wait the months necessary before all five parts have been released?

Prisoners of the Maze does offer good value for the money at this stage, but in the long term, at a probable cost of $10.95 per part, an estimated $55 seems like a lot of money to part with and a long time to wait for the whole series. Had this been repackaged into larger sections, along with a price increase, the Maze of Zayene series would offer better value. Yet despite these problems, M1: Prisoners of the Mazeis an entertaining dungeon in the First Edition style.

The author would like to thank Roj at Wayland's Forge for his assistance


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