03 May 2013

Fantasy Friday: Maze of Peril

The Maze of Peril, John E. Holmes, NY: Space and Time 1986, 147 pp., ISBN 0917053052.
This is a fun, little read by one of the legends of old-school gaming, 1LT John Eric Holmes, M.D. It is obviously a D&D novel with references like "You're just a second level wizard!" and the two protagonists Zereth the Dark Elf and Boinger the Halfling, both of whom just scream "race as class" in their presentation.
The plot is straightforward and simple. Bardan the Dwarf and Boinger the Halfling enlist the aid of Zereth the Dark Elf in an expedition into the Underworld proposed by Murray the Mage. While in the Underworld, the party finds a temple to Dagon and loot the golden idol of the deity while fighting weresharks! The dwarf is killed. He is buried on their return to town, but the body goes missing.
Stealing a scrying crystal from Ebeneezer the "the great and terrible," the party locate the dwarf, apparently now a zombie and, pursued by the aforementioned Ebeneezer and a flesh golem turned to stone, return to the Underworld to rescue the dwarf. This is not Tolkien by any means, but it is entertaining and fun to read.
Two things are of note. First, the town of Caladan is fairly metropolitan. In addition to the normal demi-humans and the fact that no one pays any mind to a dark elf, there are also centaurs, serpentmen, and satyrs in the city. The Green Dragon Inn's serving girl, Sunna, apparently has no problem romancing with the hobbit also. This is a nice breath of fresh air from places like Hommlett; can you tell me how many non-humans live in Hommlett, hmm?
Second, religion is not really defined either. That shouldn't be surprising, really, if one examines fantasy literature closely. However, we've become used to the idea of fantasy worlds having elaborate polytheistic religions. So, what are the religions? Well, the worshippers of Dagon are Deep Ones. The cleric and paladin (or cavalier) that appear in the second half are obviously Christian. Based on comments by them, there are also Satanists ("devil worshippers") that are feared. There is mention of the fact that the elf worships a "pagan moon goddess." The halfling swears several times by both Mitra and Crom, deities from Robert E. Howard's Conan stories.
So what does this mean? Well, Holmes obviously had no problem presupposing Christianity as the 'Lawful" Church/Religion. In a way, it makes sense. Most players should have a basic understanding of Christianity and can act good. There is a tradition of this in modern fantasy and swords and sorcery. While never explicitly mentioned as Christian, there are nuns in Hawk the Slayer and the entity that resurrects Voltan could well be the devil. In Dragonslayer, the village priest, Brother Jacopus, leads his congregation to confront the dragon, denouncing it as the Devil.
All in all, The Maze of Peril gives us some insight into the type of games that Holmes probably ran. We can also extrapolate other ideas from the content after correlating it to other data. For example, in OD&D, the equipment lists did not have holy symbols, but crosses. Information like that can be gleaned an utilized, even if it is supposition to some extent.
Finally, the novel is an excellent tribute to one of the early geniuses of our hobby. While long out of print, there was a reprint a couple of years ago. I recently purchased an original copy in NM/EXC condition for about $13 with shipping. As I said, not Shakespeare, but easily in on par with Howard or Lieber. Pick it up if you see it. 

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