Mazes & Muppets : A Labyrinth RPG Review

TristramEvans

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PRELUDE

It is December, 1982. In the back of a limosine sit Jim Hensen, Brian Froud, and Froud's new wife Wendy. The three had just attended a San Francisco screening of The Dark Crystal. An incredibly ambitious fantasy epic, The Dark Crystal pushed Hensen's creature shop further than ever before, and created a motion picture unlike anything the world had ever seen. The film project that began in 1978 was now finally only days away from wide release. Hensen addresses his two companions with a question that takes them both by surprise.

"Well, should we make another movie?"

It is June, 1986. Labyrinth opens in the US at #8 at the box office, almost unnoticed behind Ferris Bueler's Day Off, The Karate Kid Part II, Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School, Danny DeVito's Ruthless People, Schwarzenegger's Raw Deal, Billy Crystal's Running Scared, and The Adventures of Milo and Otis. The 25 million dollar production would go on to make only a little over 12 million in it's theatrical run, and recieve mixed to lackluster critical response.

It was to be the final film Hensen directed before his untimely death in 1990.

It is April, 1992. David Bowie states in an interview with MTV that he is most recognized, not for his musical career, but by a "crop of new children every year who say 'Oh! you're the one who's in Labyrinth!'"

It is October, 1997. In an interview with Entertainment magazine, Brian Hensen states that when his father died in 1990, both the Dark Crystal and Labyrinth had already started to enjoy a cult following.

"He was able to see all that and know that it was appreciated,"

It is February, 1999. Labyrinth is released on DVD for the first time, and is the best-selling DVD of the year, making an estimated 65 million in sales.

It is January, 2007. Labyrinth is released on DVD for the 3rd time, in a "20th Anniversary Special Edition". It is estimated that home video sales for the film since 1987 have exceeded 500 million. It is currently considered one of the Jim Henson Company's most successful films.

It is June, 1986. I am six years old. My mother takes me and my sister to the theatre in Kingston, Ontario to see Labyrinth. It is an experience that I will remember clearer than any other event that year. For the next 34 years, it will remain one of my favourite films, and is instrumental in inspiring a lifelong fascination with European folklore in general, and studies of the Faery Mythologies in particular.





PART I - PRESENTATION

" 'Ello."
"Did you say 'hello'?"
"No, I said "Ello", but that's close enough."​

The Labyrinth Adventure Game is a 6x10" 295 page hardcover published by River Horse Games, written by Jack Caesar and Ben Milton (with numerous "guest authors" who contributed individual Scenes). It comes with a very thick cardstock dustcover featuring a reproduction of the original US theatrical poster painted by Ted CoConis. Removing the dustcover, the book is a red cloth bound reproduction of the Labyrinth book owned by Jennifer Connelly's character Sarah Williams in the film itself. It is perfect bound, and features three integrated silk bookmarks, black, yellow, and red in colour. Included is a bookmark with a summary of the rules.



The pages are a high quality matte ivory. It is full-colour and heavily illustrated, featuring art pieces by Brian Froud from the film's production and his follow-up book, Goblins of the Labyrinth, along with additional illustrations by Chris Caesar, Johnny Fraser-Allen, Ralph Horsely, Rebecca More, Dan Mumford, and Jeff Stokley. There are also 15 pages of stills from the film and promotional material.

The most unique feature of the volume, however, is a small, roughly 1 x .5" hole running through the majority of the pages that houses two custom 6-sided dice for use playing the game. The dice are red with white pips and an owl symbol replacing the "ones". I'm not aware of any other RPG book with this feature in the hobby's history.

It was an odd choice. It mainly means that every time I want to read the book I have to take the dice out and set them aside. Not a big deal, but I would not call it an innovation so much as an inconvenience. Luckily, it appears that this feature does not hurt the integrity of the pages themselves (I was initially worried that this hole would be prone to rips).

Overall, the presentation is nothing short of luxurious. I have possibly never seen another RPG book of this level of production value, and it's clear that love and attention was devoted to every aspect. The only thing holding it back from perfection is that some of the contemporary art included is of a much lower quality than I'd prefer. There is one artist among those listed whose art is...while not bad...not especially good, and suffers in comparison from the juxtoposition of Froud's amazing work. This is a minor niggle at best, however, and does not overmuch detract from the presentation as a whole. It is likely this bothers me more than it would most readers.

Final Score: A
 

Rich H

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Definitely a thing of beauty. I picked up a copy on a bit of a whim and have loved my initial skim through it. Looks like it could be lots of fun and certainly has replay value.
 
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TristramEvans

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PART II - THE RULES

"Ow! It bit me!"
"What'd you expect fairies to do?"
"I thought they did nice things, like... Like granting wishes."
"Hmph. Shows what you know, don't it?"​

The Game Master is referred to in the rules as "The Goblin King". On the one hand, while I tend to mildly dislike assigning "clever names" to the GM role (*cough* Hollyhock God *cough*), it is in this case rather appropriate. On the other hand, I worry ever so slightly that this implies an antagonstic role for the GM, mostly as this game is ostensibly aimed at new gamers. I believe emphasizing the duty of a GM to act as neutral arbiter as paramount and this could undermine that to some degree.

The system included is exceptionally simple. The GK sets a difficulty for any task that requires a roll between 2 ("easy") to 6 ("not fair") and the player rolls a die, with a result of equal or above counted as success. The roll is modified in two ways: if the player character is at an advantage, they roll 2D6 and take the highest result; if the player character is at a disadvantage, they roll 2D6 and take the lowest result.

That is pretty much it. There are no rules for combat, weapons, injury or healing. Even movement is completely left open to interpretation. The only other notable rule as such is that each player character can carry a maximum of 6 items, herein called "Equipment".

I don't have any problem with this. As someone who has GMed many a game of Risus, Fable, The Window, and other "ultra-lite" systems practically one step away from freeform, I think this is perfectly useable as the basis for a game. That said, I again have reservations about this as a game for people with no experience playing RPGs, which is definitely how it presents itself. I'm reminded of Everway, actually, a game that was targetted at new players, but relied on a very experienced GM to run successfully. I think the combination of an experienced GM with players new to RPGs is probably an optimal situation for this game.

Additionally, as far as I can tell, this is a "only players roll" system. GK's are given numerous randomized charts to roll on, but there is no mention of rolls by NPCs. Of course, any canny GM can ignore this easily enough. Though this is a game more about puzzle-solving than direct interpersonal conflict, so it doesn't bother me as a premise the same way it did in, say, Dungeonworld.

Final Score:
C
 

finarvyn

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I definitely need to track this down, because it looks like a fun family-style RPG and my kids love the movie Labyrinth.

Interesting, but I never really thought about using Advantage/Disadvantage in dice other than d20's. :shock:

If you are interested, here are the odds.... (I know, "never tell me the odds!")

1587670322286.png

As folks have noted with d20's and Advantage, that second die roll certainly skews the percentages. On the other hand, with a game like Labyrinth that may not be a bad thing. I'm thinking that getting some degree of help or hinderance should make a difference in this kind of setting.

Anyway, hopefully TristamEvans will give us more previews of the game! :grin:
 
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TristramEvans

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PART III - CHARACTERS

"You have to understand my position. I'm a coward. And Jareth scares me."
"What kind of a position is that?"
"No position! That's my point."​


Chargen in the Labyrinth Adventure Game is almost as simple as the system itself. Character sheets can be copied from the book, or downloaded from River Horse's website here: https://riverhorse.eu/download/jim-hensons-labyrinth-the-adventure-game-character-sheets/

Labyrinth Character sheet.jpg


Each player picks a Kin. There are 7 provided by the game. The book suggests new players pick from one of these but states that experienced players may want to make up their own Kin, something that would be exceptionally easy following the paradigm set here.

DWARF - Dwarves are the caretakers of the Labyrinth. When you pick a Dwarf as your kin, you get to roll to see what their job is, and recieve a piece of Equipment relevant to such.

FIREY - You have detachable limbs and can throw your head at people. It's implied that it's possible to lose your limbs in the Labyrinth, and that this is considered more of an inconvenience than an injury.

GOBLIN - A rogue Goblin has the advantage that other Goblins you encounter will, by default, assume that you are on their side.

HORNED BEAST - a telekinetic wooly-bully, with the advantage/disadvantage of being "Very Large"

HUMAN - "What is the measure of a man?" asked The Bard. Well, in this case it means you get one extra Trait.

KNIGHT OF YORE - You are honourable and chivalrous, and can aquire a steadfast steed (but do not begin the game with one)

WORM - You have the advantage/disadvantage of being "Very Small". You can also climb walls and (presumably) make a mean cup of tea.

Once you've picked your Kin, you chose one Trait and one Flaw (with Humans getting an extra Trait). A sample list of each is provided, but it is again suggested that you might come up with your own.

EQUIPMENT - while travelling through the Labyrinth, you may aquire items, and as mentioned earlier, you can carry a maximum of 6 at any time. Only the Dwarf starts the game with a piece of Equipment. This of course is a bit of a departure from the source, the only time I recall any item playing a role in the story of the film is when Sarah bribes Hoggle with some plastic jewelry, and it does lend the game a bit of a "Zelda-ish" quality, but it's a perfectly fine extrapolation IMO. After all, an RPG should not restrict itself only to the events of a single story.

Finally, as a group, you chose a Goal. By default, the game premise is that the Goblin King has stolen something from you that you are trying to recover. This could be something physical...


...or something ephemeral, like a memory or a feeling. Maybe he stole from just one member of the group, maybe he stole something from each of them. Either way, you have 13 hours to reach the Goblin King's castle at the centre of the Labyrinth to retrieve it.

TEAMWORK - whenever players work together at a task, the Difficulty is reduced by one for each person assissting. Not to get too 'Rules Lawyery' here, but this does mean that if you have 6+ players, you're pretty much able to make every task an automatic success. Of course, I dont really run games with that many players, but if I did I might houserule a limit onto this - such as a roll of one is always a failure, no matter what. And certainly there will also always be situations where teamwork is not possible, so it's possible that practically speaking, this isn't really an issue.


PART IIIb - EXPERIENCE

"I could never do it before. I think I'm getting smarter."
The game does not have a set experience system, this is left entirely to GM fiat. But character growth is nonetheless greatly implied. For example, the Horned Beast kin begins the game able to control one of a certain type of object, but it states that with practice, they can learn to control many such objects. Likewise, the Knight of Yore is able to find a beast in the Labyrinth and, if they are able to tame it, use it as their mount. The lack of set rules here are again, par for the course, and I think no GM should have much trouble allowing characters to grow. Though this isn't suggested, my first thought is that characters might be afforded opportunities to change their Traits, acquire new ones, or even resolve their Flaws.



Overall, what we have is a very swift means of getting into play immediately. Perhaps some Pre-Gens might make this even quicker, but that hardly seems necessary when chargen amounts to "pick a race and decide one thing you are good at, and one thing you are bad at". I like the encouragement towards customization, and players coming up with their own ideas rather than feeling restricted by the options provided by the game.

Final Score: B
 

TristramEvans

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INTERLUDE

It is spring, 1985. We are living in Kingston, Ontario. The first video rental shop opens in town, not too far from us. For the first time we are not restricted by the meager selection at Mac's Milk convenience store. The Rental place is called "Banditos", and it seems huge to me. A Critters standee is just inside the doorway, threatening to eat me up before I have the chance to scream. I find it strangely comforting. Half of the store is VHS, the other half is Betamax tapes. We have a Betamax player. Each week, my sister and I are allowed to pick two movies a piece. For me, this is always The Dark Crystal and...

The Dark Crystal and The Last Unicorn.
The Dark Crystal and Dragonslayer.
The Dark Crystal and Inframan.

I lost track of how many times I'd seen The Dark Crystal. My parents are amazed one day to discover that I can recite every line from the film from memory. Exasperated at one point that I wish to rent it yet again, my mother asks me why I want to keep watching it over and over again. My response is succinct in the way of a five year old:

"There's still so much to see"

It is summer, 1987. We attend a concert of the children's performer, Raffi. After the show he signs autographs for the kids. I get him to sign the back cover of my Labyrinth picture book. I spent a large part of the concert reading it while listening to the music.

I have a set of Labyrinth stickers that I acquired through multiple boxes of cereal. I mounted these onto cardboard and then cut them out to create makeshift 2D action figures. I am inconsolably upset when one of these is accidentally ripped in half. My Mother tries to replace it, but the cereal promotion is long since over.


It is autumn, 1989. We have just moved to Kemblesville, Pennsylvania. My mother takes us to the nearby library, where I discover Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee for the first time. I'm not yet aware that Froud is the same artist that worked on both The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, but I feel an immediate kinship with the illustrations. The implied mythology that the book provides is a taste of something that fascinates and resonates with me in a way I can't explain. I feel a great desire to "own" this information. Unbidden, I retrieve a blank notebook from my mother and begin copying down descriptions of the creatures within, accompanied by crude reproductions of the art.

It is winter, 1992. We are living just outside of Houston, Texas. Today, like many days before, I am skipping school. My Mother drops me off at the front parking lot, I wait until her car is out of sight, and then I head up the street to the large public library. At this point I know the dewey decimal system by heart, so no longer need to consult the card catalogues and instead head directly to section 398 ("folkore and mythology"). Aquiring an armful of volumes, I take them over to a secluded desk and pull out my latest notebook and a handful of mechanical pencils. Opening the first book, I prepare to begin taking notes...

It is winter, 1998. I am attending my first year at the Joe Kubert School of Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey. Down the street from the school is the "Dirt Mall", a repurposed building that is part flea-market, part blackmarket garage sale. Each "shop" takes up one room in what at one time might have been a one-story house, along with a basement full of single sellers at fold-up tables. One shop sells knives and military paraphernalia. Another albums and tapes. One sells toys and comicbooks - nothing new, only old longboxes of stuff from the 80s. One sells VHS tapes. Half of the store is porn, the other half obscure and hard to find films. Labyrinth has been out of print for several years, and the copy kept behind the counter, in a Disney-esque clamshell, formerly of some video rental shop, is priced at $75. I talk the owner down to $50. I have enough money left over for two casettes - Lita Ford's third album "Lita" (featuring her duet with Ozzy Osborne, "If I Close My Eyes Forever") and Poison's "Slippery When Wet".

It is autumn, 2005. I am in Anchorage, Alaska. The "University Mall", a strip mall with a small school attached, features a two-screen independent theatre that normally shows independent or foreign films and documentaries. They are showing a double-billing of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal for one night, this is in anticipation of the release of MirrorMask later that month. This is my first time seeing The Dark Crystal on the big screen, and the first time since 1986 seeing Labyrinth in the theatre.

MirrorMask came from an idea by Executive producer Michael Polis when The Jim Henson Company and Sony Pictures expressed interest in making a film "like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal", based on the two films' consistent home video sales. The Henson Company initially considered creating a prequel for the Dark Crystal or sequel to Labyrinth, but decided that "it made the most sense to try and create something similar or in the spirit of those films and attribute it as a Jim Henson Company fantasy title."

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, two of the creative forces behind Vertigo comics' The Sandman, wrote and directed the film, respectivelly.

At the other mall in Anchorage, there is a Hot Topic. Besides gothic clothing and what could only loosely be described as jewellry, the chain is most known for carrying merchandise from films that have achieved the status of "cult classic". It is here that I find replicas of the door knockers from Labyrinth.

MirrorMask finally arrives in Anchorage at the end of September. It is shown in a limited engagement at The Bears Tooth TheatrePub, which offers a combination dining and film experience. I attend with my girlfriend at the time and her three daughters. I order a chipotle burrito meal with wild rice and sweet corn, and a draft ale that tastes faintly of chocolate. The meal is the only thing warm that night, as the heater in the Bears Tooth breaks down and the theatre is freezing throughout the showing. My girlfriend aquires a wool blanket from the boot of her car for her kids to wrap themselves in, while she and I bear through the cold huddled together. No one at any point suggests leaving or missing any part of the film.

It is autumn, 2015. I am living in Vancouver, BC, a few blocks away from an independent theatre/bar called The Rio. They are showing a double-billing of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The Dark Crystal starts too early for me to get out of work, but my soon-to-be fiance and I attend the screening of Labyrinth. There are no children in the audience, A cosplay/costume show takes place before the movie. This is the last time to date that I rewatch the film. I remark afterwards that David Bowie's crotch seems bigger every time.

David Bowie passes away on the 10th of January the next year, at the age of 69.
 

TristramEvans

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PART V - THE LABYRINTH

"What have we here?"
"Ohhh...uh...nothing..."
"Nothing? Nothing? Nothing tra-la-la?!"
The majority of the Labyrinth Adventure Book is composed of the the individual vignettes making up the Labyrinth's environs and the Castle of the Goblin King. The book contains 99 individual Scenes, broken into 5 chapters -

The Stonewalls (22 Scenes)
The Hedge Maze (22 Scenes)
The Land of Yore (21 Scenes)
The Goblin City (22 Scenes)
The Castle (12 Scenes)

For the most part, each individual scene is a self-contained puzzle, encounter, or obstacle, but the resolutions can sometimes have lasting effects. Each Scene is presented as a 2-page spread, with a map and often some randomized charts. I have not yet read through every puzzle in the book, but enough to say the following:

  • There is no single linear path or even an overall map of the Labyrinth. It moves and shifts as you travel through it, and is different everytime you play.​
  • There is no set difficulty. Some Scenes are easy, some are devilishly tricky. It doesn't get harder or easier as you go on, the Labyrinth is pure chaos.​
  • This books contains genuine puzzles that the players will have to work out on their own - no "roll and your character comes up with the answer"​
  • A lot of Scenes are ambiguous with no set single path to victory, and there is no set of "solutions" for the GM. This means creativity on everyone's part is essential.​
  • The puzzles are effectivelly system-neutral. You could easily run the game using any RPG you like, especially modular OSR systems. Creatures are defined in terms of their personality, behaviour, and goals, not system stats.​
Here is an example shared by River Horse on their web-page:

Labyrinth scene example.jpg

It's honestly not the most interesting of possible examples, but does give a general idea of the format to expect.

Movement through the Labyrinth is governed by two mechanisms.

The first, is whenever you complete a scene, you mark it with the red bookmark, and then roll a die and proceed that many scenes forward, If you ever don't complete a scene, you can go back to the last scene you completed and roll the die again to choose a different path. You cannot go back further than the last scene you completed because at that point the Labyrinth has changed behind you. So from every completed scene you have 6 possible avenues forward.

The other mechanic is the 13 hour clock ticking down that you have to complete the Labyrinth before the Goblin King turns your baby brother into a goblin (or you permanently lose your memories of your mother, or the Goblin King draws mustaches all over your valuable baseball cards and reads your copy of Action Comics number one while eating cheetohs, etc, depending on what he's stolen from you). The game could almost used a physical representation of this clock, and there is one to pilfer for this very purpose if you happen to own the Labyrinth boardgame also put out by River Horse games.

However, the twist here is that the clock isn't really a "clock" so much - or anything to do with time really, or at least linear time. You can spend hours playing with no movement on the clock, and then the clock can rapidly advance several hours in short succession. It is certain failures during Scenes or rolling a one at vital moments that triggers the clock.

I'll cover the castle in the next section. In conclusion for this part I'll say that every other thing this gane has going for it aside, the Scenes making up the Labyrinth are worth the price of admission in and of themselves, whether you plan on playing the game as presented, adapting it to the system of your choice, or simply pilfering the ideas for any fantasy RPG,

It's also worth noting that the authors have done an exceptional job of capturing the sense of humour of the film. This means that it is full of whimsy, sillyness, and general wackiness. It is the embodiment of what my friends across the pond would call "twee". Obviously this means that this is not the sort of game that's going to appeal to everyone. I'm sure you all know gamers, like I do, that can't abide that sort of stuff. There's also a large group of people who this would appeal to that I couldn't abide, personally (it's what I would call the "Changeling Factor").

Final Score: A
 

TristramEvans

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PART VI - THE CASTLE

"Beware. I have been generous up 'til now. I can be cruel."
"Generous? What have you done that's generous?"
"Everything that you wanted I have done! You asked that the child be taken. I took him.
You cowered before me, I was frightening. I have reordered time.
I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you!
I am exhausted from living up to your expectations. Isn't that generous?"​

When players reach the castle of the Goblin King, the game changes somewhat. There is now a map of the area. The rooms do not shift and are linked together. A roll of the dice decides what room the Goblin King starts in. Each turn the Goblin King will move to an adjacent room. The player characters must complete the obstacle in a room to move to an adjacent room. The party can split up to try and corner the Goblin King, but this will make the challenges more difficult. Each room has it's own reaction table for the Goblin King if he's cornered there.

The individual rooms of the castle are up to the standard of the campaign as a whole - any individual one would be worth taking and inserting in the adventure of your choice.

Again, the ending is left ambiguous. The presumption is the characters will face down the Goblin King and force him to return what he has stolen, but this is not a mechanized or systemized event. A GM will need to put some effort in to make this resolution feel satisfactory. I could see "OK,, you cornered me. I give you back your stuff, you win. The End" coming across as more than a little anti-climactic.

In other words, successfully resolving this game depends on role-playing.

I have to say, I rather admire that.

This reflects an overall conclusion regarding this game - its very much a situation where what you get out of it depends on what you are willing to put into it. It's open to the GM to define the nature of the game, and the Goblin King themselves. And it's this point I'll note that there's nothing tying the position or personality of the Goblin King to Jareth from the film. Early on reading this I began to think of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, a story where a young boy and girl encounter a fairy object (a Troll Mirror), and shards of this mirror enter the boy Kai, "freezing his heart" and making him cruel and uncaring to Greta, the girl who loves him. That night, Greta sees the eponymous Snow Queen arrive in a sled and whisk Kai away. Greta then sets off on a series of adventures and trials to make her way to the Snow Queen's Castle, to confront her and reclaim Kai.

What this reflects overall is the nature of Labyrinth, the film, which draws upon and synthesizes numerous fairy tail motifs from around the world, all of which could be taken as inspiration for creating a unique version of the quest presented. The fairy abduction of children is of course a long-standing tradition, but where the film glosses over the Changeling element, it would be easy to turn this on it's head - what if it's the Changeling itself travelling through the Labyrinth, trying to discover it's heritage? What the game does an admirable job of is opening the options past simply recreating the film, and provides a framework to build upon.

Final Score
- A
 

TristramEvans

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PART VII - THE BESTIARY
"You're a worm aren't you?"
"Yeah, s'right."
"You dont by any chance know the way through this Labyrinth do you?"
"Who me? Naahh, I'm just a worm, eh."​

After the adventure proper is a bestiary that includes creatures you can insert into the game, along with more detailed descriptions of creatures featured as both antagonists and playable kin.

Included are:

Black Hart, Brick Keepers, Cricket Men, Door Guards, Dwarves, Eye Lichen, Fairies, False Alarms, Fireys, Giant Turtles, Giant Badgers, Goblins, Goblin Mounts, Goossoogs, Griffons, Helping Hands, Horned Beasts, Humans (lol), Jonk Lady, Knights of Yore, Morainian Lions, Night Trolls, Sentient Plants, Sphinx, Stiltt-Birds, and Worms.

Again, numerous randomized charts are provided to customize them (especially for goblins, who get two pages of charts to construct them), and the descriptions are free of game stats. The entry for humans, amusingy, has a chart to assign them a name, personality, and appearance.

It's an unexpected addition to the game, and helps further emphasize the customizeable nature of the setting. One could also easily extrapolate from here any creature from fairytales, folklore, myth (or videogame) to insert in the game.

It's also worth noting that even the included creatures described does not cover all the numerous encounters in the Scenes, as one can see clearly from the sample Scene that I posted earlier.

Final Score - B
 

TristramEvans

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PART VIII - CHAOS!

"But that's not fair!"
"You say that so often; I wonder what your basis for comparison is."​

Finally, the book provides a series of random charts. One page of random encounters, one page of random potions, and two pages of random Equipment. It's a nice touch, something for the GM to employ as they see fit to add more variety to the game. Indeed, throughout the volume there is a proliferation of charts, something that one doesn't encounter in many modern games outside of the OSR. It's a too that l I think for a long time the hobby seemed to forget about, as the 90s saw an increased emphasis on narrative structures and crunchy bits for characters. There seemed, for a time, almost a prejudice against charts, which is a shame. If this game represents one of the first steps by modern games adopting some of the lessons from the OSR, I can only hope it's a trend that continues.

The book also has an index. I am a huge advocate of indexes in RPGs. I can't say how many RPG rulebooks that are sorely in need of one are lacking , but I'm a bit surprised to see one here, because, well, of all the RPG games out there, it probably needs one about as much as a printout of Risus. Nonetheless, there it is.

And, last but not at all least, the book finishes up with 15 pages of photos from the film. Actually, that's not correct, some of these pictures are not stills from the film, they are obviously either behind-the-scenes production stills or part of early advertising. These are printed on high quality photo paper and spared the dice holes that run through the rest of the book. It is another completely unecessary, but deeply appreciated luxury.

I'm not going to assign these sections a score, they are all just bonuses, and will factor into my final evaluation and conclusion, coming up next.
 

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PART IX - DENOUEMENT
" But why?"
"Because that's the way it's done."
"Well, if that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it."
The Labyrinth Adventure Game is a love-letter to a 35 year old film, a luxurious artifact of beautiful nostalgia. And it could have been just that, and probably would have made a pretty penny just as a collector's item. It also could have been a railroad through the events of the film, a nostalgia maze with a set story that goes no further than the source material, and I think there are plenty of fans that would have been perfectly fine with that.

What it is, instead, is something unique. A "living setting" that takes the original premise and creates an adventure path unlike anything I've seen in an RPG module before. It is not slavishly true to the source in all cases, and could easily be used to run a game that doesn't resemble the film it's named for in any way. In fact, this might have been released with no ties to the IP whatsoever, and people would say "this feels like a Labyrinth game, and they'd be both correct and incorrect, because it is ultimately it's own thing, something like the Labyrinth but not THAT Labyrinth.

It's also worth noting that in pursuing this approach, they also avoid addressing an aspect to the original film that specifically lies in the subtext of it's story. The Labyrinth is a fun aventure film just as this i a fun adventure game, but Labyrinth is also a very poignant metaphor for growing up, a cleverly constructed narrative of not just a fairy tale, but of someone growing out of a worldview that is simplistically defined by fairytales. It is the story of a girl's transition into womanhood, and deals with many aspects of that, including letting go of physical possessions, taking on adult reponsibility, coming to terms with a world that is not fair and just, and even (quite blatantly at times to the point rewatching the film as an adult it is surprising what they got away with in a children's film), her sexual awakening.

None of that is present in the game.

While some fans might argue that means the game is lacking as an adaption, I personally think this is a good thing. We were spared a bunch of pretentious White Wolf-type wank about the "deeper meaning of role-playing games", some heavy-handed social/personality mechanics, and what could only be systemized in the form of a character development railroad.

But that isn't to say that those elements cannnot or should not be present in an individual group's game. It is simply up to the GM and the players working together to develope their own story. To invest the game with as much (or as little) deeper meaning as they chose.

Which brings me to my next point, something that I remarked upon earlier. This is a game that relies heavily on role-playing. You will get out of it as much as you are willing to invest into it. This is an approach that is refreshing, frankly, as over the years there's been a constant drive to systemize as much of the RPG experience as possible so the bare minimum is expected of players and GMs. This is an RPG whose primary focus is role-playing itself, and that is, in my opinion, more novel than it should be in this hobby.

So, what is the final verdict? Well, that's difficult to say, actually. Because that depends very much on what will appeal to you, what you personally, want from the game. My intention was to finish with an overall Pros and Cons list, but what I've found is the only things that are actually "cons" to me are the two very minor niggles I mentioned in the first part - I don't care for the "dice-in-book" innovation, and some of the art isn't perfect.

So instead, I'm just going to offer a list, and you, dear reader, can decide for yourself whether it is a Pro or Con

  • The production standards are top-of-the line, some of the best ever seen in the hobby.​
  • The system included is incredibly light, and relies heavily on interpretation and GM fiat.​
  • The game is well-suited to new or younger players, it quickly gets them playing and the system resolution is intuitive and easy to learn.​
  • Likewise, the game asks alot of the GM, without providing very much in the way of GM advice or direction. In this manner, the game seems more suited to an experienced GM.​
  • The system is also not intrinsically tied to the adventure, so the game could be run with another system of one's choice.​
  • The adventure is inclined to a lot of re-playability, and no two paths through the Labyrinth will be the same.​
  • The individual Scenes of the game can easily be pilfered for other games.​
  • The game is not entirely faithful to the source material and adds elements, including potions, equipment, and many new creatures.​
  • The Scenes include actual puzzles and riddles the players are expected to solve​
  • The Scenes are "not fair"; there is no progression of difficulty, and in some cases the odds are stacked against players​
  • Many Scenes are open to various interpretations in how to resolve them​
  • There is a built-in mechanism in the game for players to deal with Scenes that they cannot overcome that additionally reinforces the shifting nature of the Labyrinth​
  • The game makes frequent use of random-roll charts​
  • There is a particular sense of humour that is expressed through the game, that is frequently whimsical and silly​

FINALE FINALE SCORE - A-
 

TristramEvans

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POSTSCRIPT

It is Summer, 1999. I've just finished my tenure at The Joe Kubert School of Graphic Art and I have returned to my parent's house for the first time since I moved out in my early teens. I say "returned", but this was never a house that was my home. And now it is just my mother's house, as she and my father are going through a divorce. My sister, now in her second year of High School, seems to be taking it the hardest. This brief time would be my last visit to Texas, and my last time seeing my sister. I visit one of the large malls in Houston, and by happenstance run into my grandparents, on my father's side. My grandmother tells me that my mom is a leech and all she ever did was take from my father. I wonder what she's talking about. I don't mention my father's frequent infidelity that ended the marriage. I just say "it is what it is". I hug them, and exchange pleasantries. This is the last time I see my Grandparents before their deaths.

I spend my time not at work mostly online. AOL chats. In one of these I am invited to a play-by-post Labyrinth game. I've never played this sort of RPG before. There is a list of official characters from the film, that people can sign up for if they are not already taken, or you can make your own character. I opt for the latter, and create a character called The Third Sorrow. He is a raven, one of the sons and daughters of the Celtic goddess, The Morrighan. I spend more and more time in this game, sometimes posting until 3 am. It's not very much like the RPGs that I've played before that point. More like a soap opera. Some of the players are living out romantic fantasies. This is particularly true of the pair playing Jareth and Sarah.

My father stops by the house to pick up some of his belongings in the garage. My mother and sister yell at him over things I can't remember. I don't say anything to him. This is the last time I will ever see him.

I meet several girls online, and these lead to intense, but brief, relationships. I am young, and totally unprepared for the illusion of love created by intimate online interactions. One girl I fall particularly hard for. We start using silly terms like "soul mates". She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Particularly distraught one night, my mother threatens to commit suicide with a handgun she got from who knows where. Probably purchased by my father at some point. She holds it to her head, crying. I lie to her. I lie to her that she's a good person. I lie to her that she's a good mother. I lie to her that she has so much to live for. I lie to her that she is so important to me. She calms down, and puts the gun away.

I realize in that moment that she is no longer my mother. Of course, I've always known that she wasn't, biologically speaking. But this is when I realize that she doesn't even fit that term as a role in my life.

The next day she hates me. It is like she took all the anger she had towards my father and transferred it onto me, the only male in the house. I mostly ignore her. Finally, she asks me to leave. She doesn't give a reason, but she does say that she is very disappointed in me. I don't argue, I simply pack. As I'm heading out the door she says to me that I am just like my father. In that moment, I want to slap her. Instead, I leave without a word.

I sell my book collection to a used bookstore, which gets me enough money for a greyhound ticket to Anchorage, Alaska. To meet a girl I think that I love.

It is autumn, 2002. I am living in Salem, Oregon. My marriage is over. My child is lost.

The Third Sorrow is the Spymaster to Morgan La Fey in the Goblin Wars. Sarah has left Jareth, and now leads the Wyld Hunt. Morgan is making a bid for the castle, as the last loyal goblins hold fast against her army of tree knights. After weeks of stalemate, Jareth is forced to abdicate. Numeerous players leave the game, including the one who originally portrayed Jareth A new age begins in the Goblin Kingdom.

It is winter, 2007. I am in Czechoslovakia. I came here to work on a film as a assistant production designer, but at the last moment, the original studio backed out, and the property was acquired by Columbia pictures, with production moved to Budapest. I am not hired on by the new company, as I am not a union member.

Jareth, played by a new player, has reclaimed his castle. Sarah is back by his side. The Third Sorrow is currently banished from the Goblin Kingdom, after teaming up with the Pied Piper to unleash a great plague in revenge for the death of his love. Cast into the Shadow Realm, he escapes by convincing a sorcerer on earth that he is a daemon who will grant him his greatest desires if he is summoned. He betrays the sorcerer, and eats out his eyes, gaining his knowledge. He is on earth, in the city of Rings, Nova Scotia. There he finds a changeling who has been raised as a human being, unaware of her true heritage. He takes her under his wing, and teaches her the how to use glamours, and the pathways in and out of Faerie.

It is autumn, 2013. I am on Bowen Island, just outside of Vancouver, BC.

Only 6 of the original players are left. Many others have come and gone. At one time we had several hundred, now only around a dozen. Posts are infrequent. Most often we simply talk of times gone by. We wonder what happened to certain people. The Third Sorrow sacrificed himself two years ago to stop the Archdemon Moloch from manifesting on the Physical plane. Jareth sacrificed himself to save Sarah. Sarah sacrificed herself to end the Tithe that Faery was oblifated to pay in the souls of 9 humans to Hell each year. Everyone could sense the end coming, and everyone wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.

My new character is a wererat named Snickersnatch. He never ends up having much in the way of stories.

It is Spring, 2020. I still occassionally visit the Labyrinth forum. But now it is more a reminder of the past than anything. 20 years of adventures, a lifetime of epic stories that will never be told to the world outside. It is maintained now more as an archive than anything. A legacy of friendships, and imagination, and escapism. An online family closer than any relative I have in real life that has slowly drifted apart.

There are still some stories being told, but at a much different pace, with weeks or even months going by between replies.

Three days ago I contacted the original Sarah. I asked her if she had read the new Labyrinth Adventure Game. She said she didn't know about it. I gush about it for a while, and she is apprently convinced to buy it. Talks about running it for her kids.

Two days ago I post on OOC thread on the Labyrinth forum. I ask if anyone would be interested in me running them through the Adventure Game in the forum. I am surprised by the amount of replies. People I thought long-gone, that I hadn't seen post in years.

The character creation thread is starting to fill up.
 

Endless Flight

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Great story. The power of the internet, folks.

I met my wife in an AOL chat room. Our 18th anniversary is coming up in a few months.

Some of my favorite free form RPG sessions were in AOL chats.
 

Necrozius

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Great review! I agree with pretty much everything you wrote.

I ran it with my family. We had a pretty good time, although there were a few encounters where the GM has to improvise a LOT. That can be a good thing, but there are definitely a few "dead ends" that can require a pause to let the GM get their head in place.

Also there were a few strange bits with the rules, as light as they were. One encounter, in particular, can set the players back several HOURS if they're unlucky with the dice. I had to fudge things a bit to keep things moving.

Otherwise a great game and I'm very, sincerely glad that I own it.
 

TristramEvans

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This may sound sick and wrong, but I'd love to take this format/premise, of a shifting/living labyrinth defined by a number of scenes and adapt it to something based on Scorn

 
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AsenRG

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The other mechanic is the 13 hour clock ticking down that you have to complete the Labyrinth before the Goblin King turns your baby brother into a goblin (or you permanently lose your memories of your mother, or the Goblin King draws mustaches all over your valuable baseball cards and reads your copy of Action Comics number one while eating cheetohs, etc, depending on what he's stolen from you). The game could almost used a physical representation of this clock, and there is one to pilfer for this very purpose if you happen to own the Labyrinth boardgame also put out by River Horse games.

However, the twist here is that the clock isn't really a "clock" so much - or anything to do with time really, or at least linear time. You can spend hours playing with no movement on the clock, and then the clock can rapidly advance several hours in short succession. It is certain failures during Scenes or rolling a one at vital moments that triggers the clock.
How wickedly narrative:shock:!
 

The Mad Hatter

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I agree completely with a lot of this review.

I absolutely love the way this game has structured it's adventure. I wish, more traditional games would do their published adventures in the same way.

I'm hoping to get to run it in the near future.
 

Necrozius

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Well now is a good time with the lockdown, amirite? I will try something. Or...... maybe we could do this on the forum? We could all submit and compile “room” encounters, structured into “sections” as they are in the Labyrinth RPG. Make it system-agnostic or compatible with some forum favourites. That would be neat!
 

Johndesmarais

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This game has been sitting on my shelf since it came out, with little to no hope of being played. It really requires a group that will fully buy in to the premise, tropes, and conceit of the setting and not treat it like “just another fantasy RPG”. Sigh...
 

TristramEvans

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This game has been sitting on my shelf since it came out, with little to no hope of being played. It really requires a group that will fully buy in to the premise, tropes, and conceit of the setting and not treat it like “just another fantasy RPG”. Sigh...
Welcome to The Pub John.

And yeah, I cetainly know the sad feeling of wasted potential of many a beautiful RPG on my shelf that requires a very specific sort of group that (as much as I love em), aren't my current gaming circle.
 

Vargold

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I pre-ordered my copy on the 13th after finally watching the movie (why I waited so long I have no idea.)
 
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