The Whole Story
or : the Mazes & Minotaurs Odyssey
In November 2002, Paul Elliott - author of various free roleplaying games including the excellent Zenobia - wrote an article called The Gygax/Arneson Tapes for his Tempus Fugit column on RPGnet. Rather than attempt to paraphrase this weird and wonderful little piece of speculative uchronia, I prefer to direct you to the original article which can be found here.
Done ? Okay so let's get on to the genesis of the project. After reading Paul's article a couple of times, I said to myself : «What a wonderful idea... it would be so much fun if someone actually wrote this game...» and then I decided to give it a try myself. I wanted to write this game as a personal exercise in game design. From my perspective, it was a triple challenge :
1) Write a complete game in English (which is not my native language).
2) Write a game with a genuine old-school, 1970s feel, reminiscent of early D&D – something very different from the roleplaying games I had created so far.. and from the games I play or run. I also wanted the game to have simpler and smoother mechanics than the first versions of D&D – something in between Basic D&D and Tunnels & Trolls, in terms of complexity. But above all I wanted to write a game with a strong nostalgia element... which leads us to the third point.
3) Write a game that would be totally coherent with Paul's article : a game that would 'feel' as 'the first RPG that never was' or perhaps, more accurately, the first RPG that could have been'... In his article, Paul listed a few of the game's highlights, limitations and oddities – such as the six basic character classes (Barbarian, Spearman, Noble, Sorcerer, Priest or Nymph), the fact that « all weapons did the same damage» or that « the sailing rules were crude – to say the least ». As part of the « exercise in game design » approach, I decided to integrate all these elements into the game...
But I also wanted Mazes & Minotaurs to be more than an exercise in game design or a nostalgic pastiche – I wanted the game to be a real, working, playable game. And so I set myself to work, with Paul’s article as my One And Only reference to what the game should be. After a few months, I had a working system and had written most of the character creation and combat rules… This was easy enough but I knew I would have my first difficulties with Magic, because the old-school feel I wanted to convey called (cried ?) for D&D-ish spell lists… and I really have no affinity for this kind of things. Then I decided it was time to contact Paul Elliott, to ask him for his permission to put the game online when it would be finished, to let him know I was working on HIS game… and to ask him for a few ideas and suggestions concerning Magic (or any other topic, for that matter).
Paul’s response was very enthusiastic and he gave me his blessing to develop his concept and put the finished game online as freeware. At first, Paul had not realized that I intended to be as faithful as possible to his own description of this imaginary game (a weird idea, I admit) – he even asked me why I wanted to include D&D-ish Sorcerers in an ancient Greek setting (where they pretty much have nothing to do). « But that’s not my idea, it’s yours ! » I replied. From that point on, we started to exchange mails about magic, monsters, a possible game world… a few hours after we had decided on the overall layout of the ‘official’ M&M world, he sent me a map he had drawn… and then his own unpublished version of Mazes & Minotaurs (!), written some time ago as a « mythic Greece » version of Ian Livingstone’s and Steve Jackson’s famous Fighting Fantasy rules – needless to say it contained material that would eventually find its way into the finalized game… and so, Mazes & Minotaurs really came full circle, from Paul’s original article to my game design and back to Paul’s fondness for ancient world adventure gaming. That being said, on to the game !