Featured Free RPG: Mazes & Minotaurs

Featured Free RPG: Mazes & Minotaurs

At the start of last year I posted a list of over a dozen free RPGs.  A few months ago I came across another really cool free RPG that I wanted to share: Mazes & Minotaurs.  I was introduced to this game by one of the guys in my gaming group, who wanted to GM a campaign using this system.  We've played several sessions with the game so far, and I'm really digging it.

The premise of Mazes & Minotaurs is this: what if the world's first table top role-playing game had Greek myth as its basis instead of Tolkein/Howard Fantasy?  From that premise the game's creators wove an alternative-reality story in which M&M was created and published in 1972--two years before the Original D&D.  They present that alternative reality as actual reality, and much of the text in the rulebooks furthers that fake truth, going on about the early days of the hobby and the disputes and culture of the people who were playing it.

Honestly, all this fake history is my least favorite part of the game.  It's amusing and clever in how it relates to the actual true history of the role-playing hobby, but with all the conspiracy-theory hoopla that has infected so much of modern life, I kind of chafe at the conceit of presenting the fake as if its real.

But looking past that, the actual game itself is really very cool.  The Greek Myth inspiration is a big part of that.  I'm a fan of Greek mythology--I just recently re-read Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY and loved it.  The stories of the ancient Greeks are so fundamental to Western culture that their themes and their plots are ingrained in the way my imagination works.  There's a sort of logic to the plots of these stories, a sort of (mortal) cause and (divine) effect that feels very satisfying to me.  And the concept of the Gods walking among us, having their own fallible personalities that directly impact human experience, is very compelling.  The gods might be immensely powerful, but they're also knowable on a personal level.  They don't stand above and apart from men; they mingle and have relationships with us.  It's very rich material to draw from.

The rules themselves are clever and interesting, too.  They start from the old-school D&D premise, with six attributes, different races and classes (with races being played as class), hit points and DC and all that.  But the rules take these basic building blocks and reinterpret them in a novel way.  For one thing, the attributes used in M&M aren't the same as D&D.  Some of them are pretty close--Might is basically the same as Strength, for example--but others are notably different.  For example, there is no basic Intelligence or Wisdom attributes, but you have other attributes that reflect certain concepts that D&D folds into its key six.  Intelligence is often described as book-learning and the ability to retain information, which is sort of paralleled in M&M by the Skill attribute, which reflects "adroitness and martial training."  Wisdom in D&D is often described as common sense, cleverness, and self-discipline, and M&M has two attributes that sort of reflect those concepts in different ways: Wits, which is "alertness and cleverness," and Will, which is "resolve and self-discipline."

Another notable difference, attribute-wise, is M&M's inclusion of Luck as one of their key six.  Other games (like Dungeon Crawl Classics) also use Luck as an attribute, but in M&M I feel like Luck is really another word for "Divine Favor."  As mentioned above, in Greek Myth the powerful Gods are intimately interested and involved with humans, they watch us and have no qualms about influencing our fates.  The Luck attribute is a satisfying way of incorporating that characteristic concept into the game.

And whereas the classes in D&D are primarily tied to specific attributes--Fighters are focused on Strength, Magic Users on Intelligence, etc--M&M further develops that concept by having each class tied to a pair of attributes.  For example, both Amazons and Barbarians are playable classes of a martial type, but the Amazon's key attributes are Skill and Grace, and the Barbarian's are Might and Will.  The result is two very different approaches to martial classes.

M&M also uses clever combinations of attributes to come up with a character's other information, notably Combat Scores (which includes melee and missile bonuses, defense class, initiative, etc.) and saving throws.  There are four types of saving throws, and each is derived from two attributes plus luck (Mystic Fortitude, for example, comes from the character's Will, Wits, and Luck modifiers, whereas Danger Evasion comes from Wits, Skill, and Luck). There is a logic here that feels satisfying to me.

So, all in all there's a lot of refreshing twists on classic ideas, coupled with rich source material and a clear and clean presentation.  It's a very cool game, with lots of available material (four core rulebooks, for example: the Players Manual, Maze Masters Guide, Creature Compendium, and the M&M Companion, plus lots of adventure modules).  And, as I mentioned at the start, it's all FREE!  So go check it out!

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