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 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.