Posted on July 14, 2011 by Nix
Available at RPGNow.com
Labyrinth Lord by Daniel Proctor
I was asked at Odyssey Con, several months back now, if I would write a review on Labyrinth Lord after I spoke of it while helping with a panel. It has taken me far too long to write this, as I do enjoy the game a great deal. It has simple and quick character generation. It has endless ways in which to perish with little-to-no escape. It has what many games have lost over time.. simplicity.
Far back in the ancient days of gaming, gamers hewed dice from stone, wood, or chit and the games were far more bare and stripped down. They did not rely upon ponderous tomes of rules that detailed out every contingency. The rules left much of this up to the individual game master to work out. When new product would arrive into the waiting hands of players and dungeon masters, they would pour through these new found nuggets of lore. Admittedly, each would do so for vastly different reasons. The dungeon master might looking for ways to annihilate his players (and then stand over them while he laughed at their pleas for mercy with tears in their eyes), while players would seek loop holes (and thus avoid a mocking and humiliating death). As new editions of classic games seem bent on ever expanding rules to define the worlds, actions, and subtleties of an individuals game there is a slowly growing cry of protest. Labyrinth Lord is one of these boisterous yawps.
Labyrinth Lord is a reminder of those gentler times. It closely emulates the Tom Moldvay edition of Basic D&D and does so quite well. Characters are created in minutes, and can die just as quickly, while rules are quick to learn and modify. It is as close as one can get to being Dungeons and Dragons, without calling itself Dungeons and Dragons and being sued into oblivion. It is old school fantasy at its best, and I have been playing it for well over a year now. It is true I have gone through a few characters in that time, but this is due to evil game masters slaughtering my much adored creations. Labyrinth Lord comes in two different forms. One can use the core book, or the advanced edition and either book will suffice in running and playing the game indefinitely.
For the few that have not played games such as D&D, games that mimicked D&D, Labyrinth Lord, or other retro-clones, the premise and rules tend to be quite simple. A player starts off by rolling 3d6 for stats and these include: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. Once those are written down, the player purchases equipment and once that is done you are well on your way to playing the game. Depending on your chosen profession you might be restricted in arms and armor, but the restrictions are compensated with other perks. Clerics can call upon their chosen deity, Magic-Users can cast cool spells, Thieves can do cool sneaky stuff, and so on. With the core book, based more on the 1974 release of D&D, a player may choose from being a Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Magic-User, Elf, Dwarf, or Half-ling. Yes, race could indeed decide your profession. If you use the Advanced edition, which is based on the 1978 release, a player has a much wider list of choices and race no longer determines class. Both editions emulate their predecessors quite well, and it is clear that the author adored the original versions.
Game play is just as quick and easy. Attacks are made using a d20 and relevant modifiers, saving throws are made the same way, as are the various skill rolls. Unlike in later editions of similar games, Labyrinth Lord has no ‘skills’. If a player wants to do something, he or she states the intended outcome, the game master then figures up a difficulty. Success is then hinged upon a d20 roll with whatever modifiers that are appropriate. There is very little ‘rules-lawyering’, since the rules are really quite plain.
Yet, how does this fit into a horror based website, you might be asking yourself. Most old school games of this genre focus on the ‘killing things and taking their stuff’ mentality. Creatures are there, they have cool shiny things, and they want to hurt you to take your stuff. The natural response is to do to them before they can do to you. But, you shouldn’t forget that these will usually be beings of evil. If you are in a dungeon you might be able to see thirty feet in front and behind you with lichen growing sporadically on the walls while strange noises fill your ears from the engulfing darkness. You are there, alone, or perhaps with a small band of comrades in the midst of hundreds of beings that would like to see you dead.
These creatures can range from giant rats (alright… not that scary to anyone that lives in a major city or has seen the movie Willard or Fievel Goes West) to giant spiders (if a 7 foot spider doesn’t make you go ‘jumpin Jehoshaphats!!!’ in real life.. you must have the spine of Patton, or that Chinese dude that stood in front of the tanks) to goblins, ogres, trolls, and many, many others. It should not be forgotten, in the delightful chaos of combat what these creatures are, what they represent, and what they look like. It is too easy to simply call them ‘monsters’. Goblins are grotesque, malformed, and spiteful while also being quite plentiful in the upper regions of a dungeon or on the outskirts of a city. Trolls and ogres are much the same.. only bigger.. and meaner.. and quite a bit more icky and slimy. Of the thousands of foes you are facing when your character steps into a dungeon you have perhaps seven or eight friends with you.
You, and your fellow adventurers, are standing against this tide of evil. The reasons might be monetary, they might be alignment related, they could be purely by chance, but whatever the reason that an adventurer has taken up arms they are instantly out-numbered. They are surrounded by enemies and suffocated by the confines of a dungeon few have tread upon and survived to tell tales of heroism. What could be more terrifying than standing before an onslaught of villainous savagery, with nothing but a scant handful of weapons and a few other like-minded individuals? The reward for doing so is fame, some gold, and a trip to the healer (if you are lucky and survived).
It has all the hallmarks of other horror classics. Dark Gods of unspeakable depravity, check. Ancient tomes of knowledge riddled with curses, check. Monsters seeking the destruction of anything that is good, check. Walking dead that hunger for the flesh of the living, check. Character death is close at hand and around every corner, check. All of these things are can be lost in the chivalric carnage that most players fall into when they begin bashing, slashing, and poking all the nasty things trying to gnaw on them. They shouldn’t be forgotten though, they should be integrated into the game. The dark, vile nature that the players are immersed is cornerstone of the game. Fantasy can, and should be, be about more than just ‘killing things and talking their stuff’. The ‘killing things and taking their stuff’ is merely the reward of surviving.
Labyrinth Lord is a wondrous step back in time. It was created with love and reverence for the source material. Oh, and it’s free! Both editions have versions available for download at no charge. They lack the art, which is another nod to the origins of the game, but all the rules are there. I’ll often run into gamers that are just starting out and I implore them to look at this product. They should keep playing the current product that is being sold, yet one should still take time to look at where a game came from.
Writing: 3.5 out of 5- have only ever run into a few minor issues over wording
Playability: 4.5 out of 5- you can do whatever you wish with the game. Want to stab things without thinking.. go ahead. Want to role play out every encounter.. and ‘talk’ to npc’s, that is entirely possible as well.
Artwork: 3.5 out of 5- it definitely reminded me of the old box sets and adventures from the early ’80’s and late ’70’s
Review by Sean “Nix” McConkey