Mazes and Monsters – Part 1

The second horror adventure I wrote was called Mazes and Monsters.  Originally I wanted to title it Dungeons and Dragons, but was worried that would be too confusing in the convention listing — players would think I was running a game of D&D rather than about D&D.  Here’s the listing, and as before, this is your chance to hide from the spoilers, as I’ll get into a lot of plot details below.

Mazes and Monsters

The year is 1981, and a series of disappearances at the local college have brought together an unlikely group of investigators. The only connection between these disappearances is a strange new game with occult overtones that is rapidly becoming a cultural phenomenon. Have the missing kids joined a nefarious cult, or did they just get lost in the woods playing a silly game while stoned? Be prepared to lose your mind in this tale of dark humor amidst mass hysteria.

The inspiration for this game was a combination of the D&D Cartoon and the James Dallas Egbert case.  I thought, what if a group of teen-agers did get sucked into a magical D&D world, and it turned out to be just as deadly and horrible as when I actually run that game?

As mentioned before I used a method of choosing characters where I give the players extremely limited info.  I set out for each character a tent with the name and a short title, plus one physical prop.  I then had players roll d20s and choose in order from high to low.  Here’s what they had to choose from:

The PCs are all people with a vested interest in locating the missing kids.  They are:

  • Jackie Goldstein, Concerned Parent – The bored, wealthy, helicopter mother of Eric (he always seemed like a mama’s boy in the cartoon).  She hasn’t heard from her baby in over a week and knows something is wrong, so has come up to see him.  Inspiration: Fran Drescher.
  • Theo Tucker, Chauffeur – Jackie’s chauffeur is an overworked family man, who puts up with Jackie’s madness because deep down she’s a truly kind woman. She used her influence to help Theo’s daughter Diana get a scholarship to the university.  Oh yeah, turns out his daughter is also one of the missing kids.  This character is set up beautifully to be the voice of reason until suddenly he discovers his own kid is missing, at which point he becomes crazier than Jackie.  I probably pick on this character the most in this game.  Inspiration: Richard Prior in The Toy.
  • Thomas Sullivan, Private Eye – Actually an unlicensed hack who has watched too much Magnum PI and Columbo.  He’s read Rona Jaffe’s book (the titular Mazes and Monsters), as well as articles about the James Dallas Egbert case.  He knows William Dear has a book deal from investigating that missing kid, and is hoping to score one of his own.  He’s investigating the disappearance of young Bobby, who he suspects has run away to visit his sister Sheila here at the school.  He’s really excited about the whole D&D aspect of the case.  Inspiration: Peter Falk in Murder by Death.
  • Bill Williams, Campus Safety – One of those guys who went off to college and never left.  He just loves academia and took a job as a campus safety officer so he could spend all his time on campus. Like all campus safety, he has all the appearance of authority with no actual power.  Inspiration: every campus safety officer I ever met.
  • Harry Simmons, Dean of the College – an ex-hippy psychology professor turned dean, he’s always looking out for everyone’s emotional well-being.  He’d like everyone to just take a chill pill, there’s no reason to call the cops, let’s just talk it out.  Inspiration: the guidance councilor from Freaks and Geeks.
  • Tracey Dillon, Student – Harry’s student worker who both knows how his office works and knows all about student life. She’s also in a love triangle with Sheila and Hank.  She’s got a lot of info the group needs and is something of a busy-body.  Inspiration: Reese Witherspoon in Election.

I made the character sheets as little booklets (just a standard page folded in half).  The front had the actual character sheet with stats and skills, the back was a little cheat-sheet on how the insanity cards worked, and the inside was private info.  As well as character background there’s a bullet list of other characters this character knows and what he or she thinks of them.  I made the mistake though of mixing the other actual players with the missing NPC kids, and not every character knows each other in this game, so each booklet ended up with a list of bullets where some were players at the table and others were not.  This proved a point of confusion for some, so in future I may make sure to separate PCs from NPCs in such lists.

In addition I included one more section called “Opening Scene” which described for each character where they are and what their goals are for the first scene of the game.  I orchestrated that opening scene to be one where all the characters collide.  The dean is in his office with the glass-windowed door shut and Tracey is working just outside at the main desk.  In walks two groups: Jackie and Theo have just been over to Eric’s room and gotten no answer, and she’s here to demand that the dean help her find her precious boy.  Thomas arrived on campus and stopped at the campus safety shed where Bill became uncomfortable with the personal questions he was asking about specific students, and so has brought Thomas here for the dean to deal with.  They all collide at that same moment.

This lead to a wonderful beginning to the game, where I just describe the office and the people walking into it, and then say “go”.  The players immediately all start in on each other and it’s wonderfully orchestrated chaos.  It’s really one of my favorite moments of this game.  I run around the table like a mad-man fielding questions like “can I get class schedules off the computer?” or “what exactly did we see at Eric’s dorm?”  The players start forming little groups, trading info, and otherwise bouncing their characters off each other.

OK, that’s a lot of words for just the setup and opening scene.  I guess I’ll split this one into multiple posts.  More details on how this one unfolds coming soon.

2 thoughts on “Mazes and Monsters – Part 1

  1. Love the idea of the opening scene allowing players to be self directed. Definitely going to have to steal that idea.

    1. Yeah, I really enjoyed it and hope to use it again. I will mention though that some groups took to it more aggressively than others. In some cases it was immediate bedlam and I was scrambling to keep up with them. In others they needed a little pushing to get the ball rolling, and without even a single NPC present it wasn’t always easy to do so. I’ve debated having a minor NPC in the room who I can use to instigate more. Maybe in this case a second student or campus safety who can say dumb things like “What do you want? Oh, I’m sure Tracey can help you with that.”

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