Maze Solving Strategies for Adventurers

Yesterday I posted resources for the DM to create mazes. Mazes of such complexity as to vex and confuse players everywhere. I only thought it wise to follow-up with some maze-running strategies to aid players.

Just to make things simple, my tactics will not rely on magic or exotic equipment.  Most DMs, being the evil bastards that they are, usually block teleport and other “maze breaking” spells anyway. Nor will I discuss trap avoidance. That is an entire post by itself. Today I am only interested in defeating the maze itself.

Here is our scenario: Trask and his party are dropped into a maze by the Evil Overlord. Picking ourselves up off the floor, we do the first thing that every maze running party should do.

Make tea.

Yes, have tea.  The primary reason for this is to start a fire and take the time to get your bearings.  Hasty decisions lead to an even hastier death. Once everyone settles in and absorbs the situation, then it is time to make plans for escape.

The key to running a maze is a map. You literally cannot escape (easily anyway) without a map. This is even more critical if there are no external landmarks visible from the maze.  Even without paper and ink, some leather and a bit of charcoal are a good solution. Failing that, a sharp fingernail and your own flesh are good enough. Painful, but you will never lose the map.  I suggest you assign a specific PC to handle the mapping. Prevents those “wait, I thought you were doing it” moments after eight hours of mapping.

Map equipment in hand, the party marches into the maze. At this point most people use some method to mark the path already taken. Never, ever, use breadcrumbs or some other easily moved marker, like copper pieces. I guarantee the Evil Overlord has a minion following along to move them about and cause you problems.  A much better method is to mark the walls

Optimally, mark the walls permanently with a chisel or other cutting tool to prevent erasure.  Chalk or charcoal are  good second choices.

A good “mark” has three characteristics. First, it must be clear to everyone in the party, but not to anyone else. Second, it must have directionality and finally it needs to be done in pairs. One for each wall.

Encoding your marks gives anyone trying to change them fits. Instead of arrows, use stars, triangles or other symbols to indicate forward, back, right and left.  Then have a literate PC sign them. That way any changes require someone to forge a signature and interpret your encrypted symbols. Fairly difficult for the average evil overlord minion.

Marking in pairs is really just for redundancy, but it also is a nice indication that the walls are moving(common in many fantasy mazes.) If you mark a hallway with two squares directly across from each other and suddenly they are out of alignment, that means the walls moved. Not much you can do about it, but the information is priceless.

Be sure to mark any dead ends you find, clearly and at the beginning of the hallway. Each dead-end you eliminate is one step closer to escaping the maze.  It also prevents running down a dead-end during combat.

Speaking of combat, every maze has a few monsters in it and they often want to eat adventurers. As maze-dwellers, they have the advantage of knowing the terrain. Take that advantage and make it your own. As you progress through the maze, choose “fortresses” along the way and have everyone memorize the path back to this location. This prevents the “party member lost in the maze alone” problem.   Create a new “fortress” every hour or so, so one is always nearby.

A “fortress” should be a defensible position, such as a room or even just a three-way intersection instead of four. Something that gives a tactical advantage, however slight. If possible, fall back and fight the encounter from your fortress. Fight on ground you chose and know rather than give that advantage to your enemy.

Having a planned route of retreat also reduces the chance of stepping into a trap or  encounter, since you already traveled the route.

With these tips in hand, hopefully your party will have no trouble defeating the Evil Overlord’s foul labyrinth.

I would love to hear about any other ideas or strategies. If you have a good idea, please drop it in the comments section.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer


Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.