Guest Writer: Jason “Flynn” Kemp
“The Maze of Zayene – Part I: Prisoners of the Maze” is the first of a four-part adventure series written by Robert J. Kuntz and published by Creations Unlimited. The back cover describes this module as “an advanced FRP adventure for four characters of skill levels 8-12. It is fully compatible with the most popular ADVANCED FRP game system(s).” Robert J. Kuntz is a veteran author from the early days of TSR, and contributed to many of the original supplements and modules for 1st Edition AD&D. To me, that suggests the module should encompass an Old School design philosophy, and I am pleased to say that it does not disappoint. This module is set in the “World of Kalibruhn” (an as-yet-unpublished setting that serves as the author’s home campaign.)
The module includes a map of the maze and a close-up map of one of the major rooms in the dungeon. In addition to the table of contents and credits page, there’s a page on abbreviations/terms used in the adventure series and how the various modules in the series connect; one introduction page that pretty much railroads player-characters into the dungeon as part of the narrative that starts the module; three pages for the GM reviewing common elements throughout the dungeon, including random encounters, lighting, etc.; three full-page line art images; seventeen pages detailing keyed locations on the maze map, the last page of which starting Appendix A, which describes new monsters and traps; two more pages to round out Appendix A; a page and a half of Appendix B, which describes several NPCs; and finally, two and a half pages detailing four pre-generated player-characters.
The core conceit of the premise of the dungeon is that the player-characters, considered a worthy band of adventurers, decide to kill an evil despot by entering into his court under false pretenses and then strike a blow that should fell the vile villain. Sadly, magic protects him, and his court wizard, Zayene the Mad, casts a spell on the party that renders them unconscious and teleports them to the starting point of the dungeon. It’s a little heavy-handed, particularly given that a 10th level Paladin is among the four pre-generated characters provided. (The others, for the curious, are a 9th level Cleric, a 12th level Fighter, and an 11th Level Wizard. Note the general lack of rogues.) As a One Shot, this works simply because it’s exposition. As a part of an ongoing campaign, however, I don’t like the railroading feel of it. However, I imagine I can come up with some reason for Zayene to banish the party into his dungeon. My players are the type that would probably earn that kind of negative attention from Chaotic Evil villains.
I found several features in this dungeon to be quite flavorful. For example, the floor of the hallways throughout the entire dungeon is covered by a thick red carpet (as are the floors of certain rooms), making it easier to sneak up on others. Burning the carpet releases toxic fumes that poison those caught in it, and the carpet regenerates the damage quickly. In addition, it dissolves anything that is left on it for more than a few minutes, making rest upon it difficult. In a way, the damage done to equipment by the red carpet acts like a timer, forcing players to make decisions quickly rather than hole up in any one location for long periods of time.
The Maze of Zayene was designed with teleporting areas, which can in turn throw off mappers. I liked that riddles are used excessively throughout this module, primarily as clues, which engages players that enjoy solving puzzles. There are plenty of traps and puzzles to plague the curious and greedy, a number of interesting NPCs (both good and evil) to interact with, and numerous common dungeon clichés handled in a tastefully classic Old School manner. I am particularly fond of what I consider the centerpiece of the entire dungeon, the art gallery. All in all, I found the keyed rooms of the dungeon to be engaging and challenging, particularly in an Old School way. Some of the traps came off as a bit bizarre, which I suppose is justified by Zayene the Mad’s apparent, well, madness. The feel and flavor of the dungeon is consistent and immersive. This module doesn’t feel like a set of random dungeon rooms, but rather presents an internally consistent location worthy of exploration.
Like many dungeons in the early days, this one is a gold mine for treasure. There are some powerful items scattered about, twenty-eight in total, I think. Aside from scrolls of powerful spells, thorough adventurers may find three magical rings, several magical amulets and necklaces, a few wands, some cursed and non-cursed magical weapons, and an artifact or two. There’s also a cool idea in the form of crystals that dissolve in water to become potions (and potion-jellies as well). I’ll probably steal these in the future. In addition, there are many high-end gems, expensive pieces of artwork and other valuables. I feel that this is fitting for characters of 8th to 12th level in earlier versions of the “most popular ADVANCED FRP game system”, but it may be shocking to more modern sensibilities.
The new creatures are a mixed bag. The grotin is a mass of dust particles that emanate from a solid black core, with blindsight and dust strands with a twenty-foot reach that heavily damages or disintegrates softer materials, damages metal, and is resistant to numerous forms of magical attack. The knights of chaos are simple constructs in service to Zayene, the evil wizard that created the maze and banished the party to it. The speckle resembles both small and large furry haystacks, with fibrous tentacles for feeding off the water in other creatures. The symbuus resembles a tiny mass of brain tissue with a feathered bottom and a feathery sensory antenna that hides in discarded helmets like a hermit crab and tries to take over the minds of any creature it attacks.
As mentioned previously, “Prisoners of the Maze” is the first of four linked adventures. There’s a small section that provides an overview of how the four adventures fit together. If the Gamemaster does not intend to run all four together, there are also suggestions on how to treat this module as a stand-alone adventure. Either way, I think players would have a fun experience, as this module has a very clear-cut goal of getting out of the dungeon, and is developed around the means to do so. All in all, I like this module, particularly as it provides a higher level playing experience for Old School gamers (or mid-tier for more modern gamers). Find it and check it out!