Maze Rats, a slender, versatile little rules system by the Questing Beast a.k.a. Ben Milton, is OSR simplified: Instead of the traditional six attributes that feel so indispensable to DnD-purists, it distills them down to three: Strength, Dexterity, and one mental stat called Will. Intelligence is asked only of the player, never of the character.
Maze Rats claims to be based on Into the Odd, although other than the three attributes and the OSR-spirit I see little overlap. They are both excellent, inspiring systems, but like ItO Maze Rats is its own full game, and even inspired other projects.
If your character runs into trouble, the core mechanic for saving throws is 2d6 to overcome 10. That is a safe with pretty abysmal odds. A success is only 17% likely, but it can be bettered with attribute scores (0, +1 or +2) and advantage (the 2 best of 3 dice). Still: The odds are often long. The objective of the players is to prevent a roll as a matter of course. In finest OSR-fashion the best run is one where good planning and careful stacking of advantageous conditions, using every means in your possession, to make rolling the dice superfluous.
Combat is harsh — especially on level 1. Beginning characters have only 4 hit points, and while the normal target number is 10, in combat we hit on a 6. Another stark OSR-chord: Don’t get hit! It is best to avoid combat, and if you have to confront a foe, make sure you hit first and with superior numbers.
Armour works differently than in DnD. Since attack rolls and damage rolls are one in Maze Rats (speeding up combat but adding an element of simple math), it simultaneously makes it more difficult to hit armoured foes and reduces the damage they take.
Say one thing about Maze Rats, say it is simple and short. The main rules all fit on one standard printer page. The rest: character generation, magic, monsters, and other details are mainly a number of random 2d6 tables. One significant distinction to other magic systems is its randomness: magic users don’t study scrolls and spell books during breakfast, they are inspired: A number of random spell names right out of a handful of 2d6-tables equip them with… something. That something can be a ball of lava, but it can also be a bubble key. In other words: It forces magic users to get creative. To balance their risk to be stacked with a bunch of useless skills, they have no real limits when it comes to any mundane task. Magic users are just regular guys and girls who happen to know a spell or two. Otherwise they can ride, shoot, slice or climb just like any other person, which is very refreshing if you need a break from weakling bookworms lugging huge tomes of wisdom through the ruins.
No clue how your character should be? Maze Rats has you covered. In the time it takes to roll 2 dice ten times, you have a character with a name, a horrible fashion style, scars, a speech impediment, and an assortment of weapons, ready to go succeed or die.
Really, these tables can help you whenever you are stuck in character generation, be it for a game or for writing that novel you always wanted to start. You can populate a town with them.
We spoke of means in your possession earlier. The rules allow to choose, but they also suggest to leave the content of your backpack to chance. An assortment of things with various value and even more various use can be rolled on another 2d6 table, and like in Into the Odd, what you have in your possession, if horn, button, mirror or an old doll, goes a long way giving you options and shaping your tactics.
In fact, there are so many 2d6-tables detailing Inn names, buildings, wilderness structures and plants, potions, books, traps, etc, that it is entirely possible and sometimes even desirable, to pull whole adventures or even campaigns, landscapes, treasures and unique monsters right out of these randomizers. Versatile tables that can – and should – be used in any RPG, if you like to let yourself be surprised now and then.
It is hard to miss: I like Maze Rats a lot. So much, in fact, that I am worried about the follow-up-project “Maze Knights”, because I cannot imagine how it should improve on this perfect gem.
One last thing: Maze Rats has roughly one A4 page of GM advice, and it is basically the golden core of the best of the best GM tips. So, enough fanboi-talk, or you will not believe me. Just go and try it: If you like the OSR style, you will like Maze Rats.