Mazes: DMing Strategy

My players have requested that I convert some 3rd party dungeons into possible adventures for them along with the ones I’ve made myself. I’m working on one right now that involves some labyrinthine hallways twisting and winding and connecting to a wide variety of doors. It’s essentially a maze, and in old D&D would just require a lot of careful mapping. I’m trying to figure out the best way to do this in Torchbearer while keeping some of the same flavor while also not burying myself under a lot of confusing and tedious description. I’m thinking of throwing out the idea of a map entirely, using Pathfinder rolls to get the players from room to room without getting turned around, and giving them branching paths with clues based on curiousity and exploration hinting at what they want. Then I’ll more or less just present the different dungeon encounters in a semi-random sequence until it’s cleared.

Not having a map feels a bit like working without a net but I think it’s perfectly possible in Torchbearer, and it makes Pathfinder and Cartographer really useful for the PCs.

I love the idea of a labyrinth. It works very well with the mood of Torchbearer.

I think I would name a lot of the different junctures and corridors which would aid the cartography. I would force a lot of tests and include Dungeoneer and Scout as useful skills. Remember the idea of failing forward, so while they might not pass their Cartography check, they map some things out but it takes a long time and they burn through more torches, or food starts to run out, etc. Hit them with twists and conditions, make their time there increasingly weighty so they are literally dying to find their way out. I can imagine a really intense sigh of relief should they find the exit.

I may also steal this idea!

You could also do an underground hunt conflict in the labyrinth at some point. Using Dungeoneer and Health maybe? Hunted by a minotaur? Looking for an illusive gnome?

I don’t know that you need to, or even should, do anything special. In the dungeon, PCs are “lost” by default. Unless you’re giving them some meaningful choice (“there’s light down this way, but you hear a humming sound from the other direction, so which way do you go?”) just move them to the next interesting location. If they try to backtrack without having made a correct map (or maybe if they enter an actual maze) have them make a Dungeoneer (not Pathfinder) test to find their way.

Whoops, you’re right, Dungeoneer.

Apart from that, I feel like you just restated everything I said in my first post!

Hmm. It seems that I did. Well, as far as I’m concerned, that means you must have been right! :slight_smile:

It might be useful to have “landmarks” of a sort in the labyrinth as well, and use those as the locations. Those Dungeoneer tests will be harder, of course; given that it’s intentionally confusing to try to find your way around. Probably an additional Factor for the Cartography tests as well.

This seems like the perfect venue for the Cartography skill. You let them get lost via the description and then they’ll ask “How can I never do that again?” and you can suggest they make a cartography test to map their route.
That way the mapping stays where it belongs, with the characters.


So i’m interested then in what do other groups’ player’s map would then look like after a successful cartography test? Something like a Tony Dowdler ‘big picture’ map, with the maze listed as something like “confusing maze” and the relevent locations that ajoin the maze attached and labeled?
My players are having a hard time coming up with ‘descriptive maps’ based on their notes in the adventure as suggested in the rules, they have a good grasp on basic mapmaking OSR style, but when it comes to complicated maps such as the maze suggested by Bret, find all sorts of dramas in making effective locational guideposts without getting lost in the mire of grid mapping from days of yore.

I’d love to see some examples from actual play if folks can be bothered to post them?

The book describes player maps as just a list of locations. They don’t actually draw the map, but anything they have successfully listed on their map they can get to without a pathfinder or dungeoneering test.

Yeah, the “map” the players have is just a list of places they’ve been that they might want to be again. “That place with the fountain”, “The big pit”, “The hall with the green glow”, “That damned maze”.

We found that it would have been very helpful mentally if the DM had shown the players a map of what had been successfully Cartographor’ed, or at least we suspect it would have been very helpful getting mentally into the world. I’m envisioning this being of the art quality roughly the same as if the map was sketched by a murderer-hobo sitting in candle light in dank cave.

We’re playing with a map from Dyson’s Delve, and had the section we’ve mapped so far revealed to us from a successful Cartography check. Worked really well, I think.

Good to hear our post-op suspicions confirmed, thanks. I’m [highly] likely to be the one running it next time I’m involved so I’ll make allowances and plans to be able to do that.

From this thread:

I see your point, though an area with seemingly endless maze-like hallways might just get frustrating or annoying for players, particularly if they aren’t keeping a visual map (the fun of that kind of maze exploration was always drawing it out and fixing the mistakes when you realize it’s wrong, though that was also often a cause of arguments which TB quite cleverly tries to avoid in most cases, so that’s probably why you keep mapping in game). I might go with a Pathfinder test if they were lost in some abandoned warren of the underdark just to avoid an hour or more of meaningless frustrating play. But then, maybe TB isn’t meant to be played in an abandoned warren of the underdark? It does seem like TB is about discrete locations packed full of “fun” rather than sprawling labyrinths. But the Pathfinder skill isn’t a bad compromise if you feel like a sprawling labyrinth is appropriate to the setting and idioms in play at the moment… at least to me.

Or you could just use Cartographer to map the areas you’ve been in.

I suppose I was thinking of the following type of scenario.

The evil guildmaster has a mansion full of treasures, traps, and other interesting stuff, and the players have obtained guild permission to raid it. However, the guildmaster has a fascination for topiary and has constructed an enormous sprawling hedge-maze in his front yard. It’s not magical and there isn’t a whole lot to find in there, but the party need to navigate it to even get in the castle. No point in playing out every corner and intersection, because this is just intended as a single obstacle. They could hack their way through with a Health test or they could try to navigate the maze with pathfinder.

Doesn’t that make sense? Or are you saying that you would simply prefer to have a smaller hedge-maze that actually has interesting features and obstacles at every intersection?

If I were going to do a hedge-maze scenario like that, I would treat it more like a puzzle room mini-game rather than part of the standard exploration/turn structure, with the capability to bypass it with a test triggered by the right description. So essentially it’s the same thing mechanically as a room with some decoder ring lock on the exit door, and you hand the players a prop to see if they can solve it (or trigger character knowledge tests to bypass solving it.) If you wanted a longer scenario, you could have the maze solved in stages, with each stage of the maze effectively a single “location” with it’s own thematic obstacles.

I did this with a riddle statue the other day. The characters could just answer the riddle directly, and either guess right or wrong, or they could have triggered some sort of character knowledge test to bypass it with the right description of action.

Edit: In other words, actually “solving the maze” as a fun mapping minigame, figuring out the combination to the decoder ring, or guessing the right answer to the riddle, would just be ruled as A Good Idea.

A topiary garden is out of doors. You could use Pathfinder to stay in a general direction. At the very least you could hack your way through to the other side. Being underground/in a dungeon is very different.

You need to ask yourself what the purpose of the maze is. If there are no choices and no obstacles, there’s really not much point to a test at all: “You stumble around in it for a few hours and finally find your way out the other end.”

If you want to find your way through the maze to the exit? You better make a map.

I guess it’s a matter of scope. A maze of the sort I’m suggesting serves the same approximate function as a door. It isn’t an area so much as a single obstacle, and in that sense serves the same purpose to the campaign as a door would. You can search a door for traps, and you can travel through the maze slowly looking for traps. You can try to pick the lock of the door and you can try to navigate the maze. You can try to bash through a door and you can try to dig, chop, or climb your way through or over a maze. You need to get through that door/maze, how are you going to do it? If you try something and fail you get a condition or twist. Granted, it takes “longer” to get through a maze than a door, but in terms of function they could be quite similar, if you engage with them in a similar fashion.

Of course, every dungeon shouldn’t have this kind of a maze, and maybe most shouldn’t. And certainly, rooms full of interesting stuff are a lot more interesting. But despite the fact that a single interesting and complex area is spatially smaller in-game than a simple but sprawling maze, such complex rooms are actually functionally much larger and therefore of a different scope than such a maze, treated as a single obstacle rather than a set of areas. This doesn’t seem necessarily antithetical to TB.

Also, lizlarsen, I do really like the idea of stepping out of TB with an external puzzle that gives them an opportunity to bypass an obstacle. I should try to incorporate that more often, it’s always fun and spices things up. It just takes a lot of work and I’m just not that resourceful all the time :slight_smile: