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Maze Rats vs. Knave

Maze Rats or Knave?

Both Maze Rats and Knave are compact OSR games by Questing Beast’s Ben Milton. Both are d6 based, brutal, fast and dirty games. So with two so similar games, which should you get? Maze Rats vs. Knave?

Maze Rats

Maze Rats is a 14 page [28 pages in a folded booklet format] game, that does nearly everything. You get character creation, world building, a strangely weird magic system, just about everything except monsters. As Maze Rats is compatible with most OSR games, you can use your monster book of choice, or all your monster books and everything should work.

The core mechanic for world building is what you could call a d66 system. Six lists of six entries for everything. Sometimes you will make two or more d66 rolls, somethings you use a d6 to decide which d66 tables to roll on. It doesn’t take long for there to be so many options that you will never have the same adventure twice even if you are creating the world one step ahead. That is exactly how I played it.

Character creation is three stats on a scale of +0 to +2. There are then 3 secondary stats, attack, health and armor. You can make a character in about 45 seconds, depending on how fast you can write.

The base mechanic is called the Danger Roll. 2d6+stat bonus and try and get 10+. You can see that success is not the ‘norm’. You have to think about how to try and get Advantage, which is 3d [drop the lowest] + stat.

This is a thinking players game. It is extremely dangerous, but it is very solo friendly (more of that below).


Knave feels more like a cut down d20 or 0D&D game. You have the six characteristics that you would expect, they fall on a 11 to 16 range, and a typical character gets a few +1 and +2 bonuses in most characteristics but can end up being quite exceptional.

Hit points are rolled on a d8 + con bonus. (re-roll if you get less than 5).

From here on in, everything is d20. All the random tables are d20, except for 100 levelless spells. The game mechanics are set up for roll d20 and get 15+ to succeed.

Where Knave diverges from the 0D&D philosophy is that there is no concept of character class ro profession. If you get a spellbook, you can cast the spells from it. If you pack on the armor and heavy weapons then you can fight with them. What defines your knave is the kit they are carrying, not some predefined set of rules.

Maze Rats vs. Knave

Which game is better? That depends on what you want to achieve. I think that Maze Rats is more dangerous for your player character, and you are less likely to survive for long. On the other hand, Maze Rats is more solo-friendly, the world-building and magic system are simply outstanding and it is worth buying the game just for that.

Knave, feels like an addon to a basic D&D game, much more so than Maze Rats, which feels much more complete. If you want a classless addon for D&D it works well. I played the game using the monsters from S&W Complete. In testing I found it hard to survive, and I had to boost my character a little to make the game playable.

So which is better? If I had to choose one to play, Maze Rats is my first choice. If I wanted hack a game and build my own version of it, Knave is probably the easier proposition.

Both, are good games, but offer something different.

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Solo RPG Engines

Solo RPG Engines come in dice or question form.

The way I see solo RPG engines is that they fall into three classes. I have just finished writing my submission for Angela Quidam’s 5-minute game jam.

This is a simple game, ask yourselves some questions and then write, for 5 minutes, about your character’s story. No more, and no less. Thus the 5 minute game jam.

Many games have this question and answer format. Wretched games combine a deck of question cards and the jenga tower. Descended from the Queen is a solo system the all builds up to answering one big life changing question.

These question style games are rich in theme and style, but lose out in the replayability.

Diced Engines

The second pool of games are dice based engines. I wrote about an idea recently in my Red vs. Blue post. Red vs. Blue is an incredibly basic game idea, but anything can be built up and extended. This is a game that was built to be solo right from the start, from the ground up.

The difference between a dice based solo rpg engine and a question based game is that the solo story is driven by the random nature of the dice rolls. You are still going to ask questions, but they are your questions not ones written by the game designer. If you want your game to go in a specific direction, your questions will shape the game.

Diced based systems can be as simple or as sophisticated as you want. CRGE is a long-established dice engine system along with BOLD, UNO, and TOSS.

I cannot possible mention every great dice based system. There are so many of them. Each will give you something unique. I find the deciding factor is the amount of dice rolling involved. I am not a fan of too many dice rolls. As you evaluate dice based solo games, you get to choose how much is too much, or how much just enough.

Integrating Solo Systems

Solo RPG engines can be as simple as Red vs. Blue or as heavy weight as Mythic GME or even Ironsworn. Under the hood you are still rolling dice to answer questions you asked.

A dice based solo rpg engine can be bolted on to any game. This is what I do most days. I start with the games most influential dice mechanic and work out my yes-no rolls from there. Then I try and fold in all the best bits of the system.

Ironsworn is not a bolt-on. The game was built with both solo and group play as central design criteria. I put Ironsworn into this group because the game engine is open for other people to hack. There are loads of derived games from Atomsworn and Iron In The Blood. There are even official derived systems out or in progress, like Delve and Starsworn.

Soloing for our Hobby

I am not a massive fan of the question based solo system. The reason is that they lack replayability. What I like is being able to play and replay. Try out different characters, different situations and even different characters in the same story. I cannot do that inside these question stories.

What I want to see more of, are games like Ironsworn, where the solo rules are there for the GM to read when they buy a new game. As a GM with a new system in hand we nearly always make a few characters to get a feel for the system. If there are rules on how to play the game, right there, ready to play. I can see more GMs just trying out a little bit of solo play, just to get a feel for the game.

If that happens then solo play will become more common, more accepted and more normalised. And that has to be a good thing.

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Weekend Reading

What do you do to chill out? I have been known to read a rulebook or two, just for fun. I can be really fussy. If a rulebook is over about 300 pages it has to be really great to keep my attention.

Recently, I have been playing Index Card RPG [ICRPG], a 400 page rulebook in case you are interested, and just as a counterpoint I have been reading some Operation Whitebox.

It is interesting how they control the power level within the game. The lever the writers use is simply hit dice. In a more realistic power level game you use d6 for hit points. In a cinematic game it uses d10s, and at the inglorious basterd level characters use d20s.

In a game where a rifle does 1d6, you can imagine what having d20s for hitpoints does to a players perception of danger.

By the time you reach about 3rd level every character is on a par with Captain America.

I do like characters to be successful. I think, to my taste, the mid-point, d10s for hit points is closer to the sweet spot.

I haven’t played this game yet, but I am a big Whitebox fan, Whitestar is a favourite system. Operation Whitebox is now firmly on my play list.

Another system I want to look at is ICONS. This was a pandemic freebie. It seems a bit mean to grab a copy of a free game and then not play it, or worse still not read it. It looks like it has some FUDGE or FATE dna in there from reading the game description. I already have both FUDGE and FATE solo rules on hand. I hope I can play this out of the box without having to tweak too much.

Either of these will give me something a bit different after my murder in Death Valley experience with ICRPG. Somehow, my character has managed to make Mad Max look like officer Dibble by comparison! I hove the ICRPG big guns.

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Storing Up Trouble?

This video explains a bit more about where I am with the whole store building process. It also touches on the problems that we experienced last year when RPGnow and DriveThruRPG merged. That was a week where no one sold anything because all the sites were down.

The store on this site is going to be my insurance policy should that happen again!

Having said that, DriveThruRPG is about to get a whole new interface, so there is a possibility that things may well go wrong!

In the video I mention that I want to get about 50 products up and online in the first pass. These will be all the actual solo rules and game systems sold by Parts Per Million in their digital format, PDFs mainly.

I also say that I want to get 250 products up eventually. The other 200 are not going to be solo game books, or not mostly solo game books.

What I want to experiment with is creating DM/GM shields for solo play, putting all your oracle stuff, and other useful random tables all on a screen. This is a quality of life product, making solo play easier to do, taking away the page flipping between tables.

I also want to get all the books out in print. This will be done with as the printer of choice.

Then I am going to create oracle card decks. Dice rolls, oracle answers, and prompts in a pick up and go card deck.

So you can see 50 PDF books, 50 printed books, 50 GM screens 50 decks of cards, the numbers swell quite quickly.

Then there is the idea of the patreon and solo rules for minority games. I suggested this a few weeks ago and the idea is growing on me. The rules would be free for the patreons, but I also have a home for them here.

Finally, there is 3Deep, Navigator RPG, and the Bare Metal Edition games. I want to build these up and make them into popular game systems. Someone said last week that I should create the next Ironsworn. If I were to do that, it would be by integrating solo into Bare Metal Edition games.

If you follow me on twitter, or facebook for that matter, you will see a lot of new product tweets. These get sent out automatically by the site. They are not a call to action for you to rush out and buy my stuff. They are more like progress reports on how my store building is going!

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Laid out flat

Today has been of doing layout for a fanzine I run for Zweihänder RPG, called Lowborn.

I laid out the first three submissions. The third one was a 5,000 word adventure with bespoke art and new monsters. This could and should be a standalone adventure rather than just earning a tiny royalty in a fanzine. The writer is a regular contributor, so I have included the adventure.

The next submission was a 23 page GM resource. There is no way I can put this in a fanzine.

I messaged the writer of this one. I have offered to help them publish their work in their own name. I am worried that this is a case of a talented writer undervaluing their work. This is a constant weakness in self publishers.

If I hear back from the writer I will let you know if we get to publish their supplement.

Fanzines seem to be a bit resurgent at the moment. My Rolemaster fanzine has been going for years, October will be issue#42. Every month I see more and more titles. Is this a result of the pandemic? People at home, not able to game, so they are writing about it instead?

It will be interesting to see how many of these new titles will still be going next year.