Mazes and Minotaurs
“Beginning with you, Phoebus, I will recount the famous deeds of men of old, who, at the behest of King Pelias, down through the mouth of Pontus and between the Cyanean rocks, sped well-benched Argo in quest of the Golden Fleece.” —Apollonius of Rhodes: Argonautika, Book I.
Thus begins the epic tale of Jason and his intrepid Argonauts. I would bet most of us have never read Apollonius’ version (I’ve not read it in its entirety), but we neverthesless know the story thanks, in no small part, to Ray Harryhausen’s excellent 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts*. We know about the Fleece, and Medea, and poor Hylas, and the Clashing Rocks. The tale has become part of our cultural heritage, in a manner of speaking.
Imagine, then, what the world would be like today if back in the late 60’s and early 70’s Gary Gygax had allowed himself to be influenced more by ancient Greek myth and Harryhausen’s celluloid epic than by Tolkien and Medieval Europe . . . rather than Dungeons and Dragons we might be playing Mazes and Minotaurs. That would be cool, huh? Well, as they say: ask and ye shall receive . . .
In 2002, in an article on RPG.net, veteran game designer and ancient historian Paul Elliott (whose RPG Zenobia might just interest a few of you, Gentle Readers) posed the same question. He hammered out an alternate history in his article, gave a few tantalizing details about this Mazes and Minotaurs game, and extrapolated some of the same triumphs and troubles as what befell D&D in its early days.
Enter French game designer Olivier Legrand, who read the article and decided to make the game Elliott referenced a reality. And — by Zeus! — what a game he did make! Here is Olivier in his own words about the creation of M&M. I only recently discovered it, and though I’ve not played it yet it is every inch an awesome homage to Gygax, original D&D, and Harryhausen’s animated skeletons! But, Legrand didn’t stop there. He and the game’s fans have constructed an elaborate alternate publishing history that stretches back to 1972 (the game really only dates to 2006, but the 2006 edition is supposedly “a reprint of the 1972 original”); what’s more, he also created a second set of rules that mimic the shift in the early days from D&D to Advanced D&D. And, as if it couldn’t get any better, every stitch of it — every word, phrase, and random encounter table — he offers 100% free of charge. Rulebooks, supplements, gaming aides, and a mammoth 200-page adventure. Free.
And don’t equate “free” with poor workmanship or playability, either. Despite it’s origins as a parody of sorts, Legrand has created one of the best systems since, well, since Uncle Gary put pen to paper. It’s elegant, simple, and captures the feel of ancient Greece as well as the nostalgia of 70’s-era gaming. His .pdfs have a very professional layout, with art and Greek key-motif page borders. I’m looking forward to getting some players together and fighting the Trojan War all over again, or maybe seeking out the ferocious Medusa . . .
If you want to check out the “1972 Original Rules”, go here.
If you’d prefer the “1987 Revised Rules”, go here.
Supplements can be found here.
*Directed by Don Chaffey; Harryhausen gets the lion’s share of the credit because it’s his stop-motion animation we remember.