Not too long ago, I played in a game which contained a maze of one-way doors. From one side they appeared to be normal doors. However, once the players had walked through them and the door was closed, it simply did not exist on the other side. Whether this is the work of marvelous engineering, or simply magic, it’s not important. The important thing is that once the players walk through a door, they cannot walk back out the way they came. They must move forwards.
I liked the idea, and so decided to give it a go myself. I constructed a maze of moderate size. It was primarily made up of empty 10′ x 10′ rooms, but there were a number of puzzle and challenge rooms to add variety, along with a pretty interesting encounter table. I thought it would be a lot of fun to run through, and to my delight, the players did find it and enter the maze.
The players in this group are very good, though, and they were careful in their approach. The party’s fighter entered alone at first. He opened a new door to look through it, and in doing so caused the door he’d come through to close. He returned to where the door had been, and pounded on the wall to let his companions know they should open the door, which they did.
Having discovered the trick, the party decided to leave one party member in each room they passed. So one party member would stay outside, and the remaining two would enter the first room. Then one of them would remain in the first room, while the last party member went into all of the adjacent rooms, and opened all of the doors in there to look inside those rooms. Using this method, they were able to discover a route from the first room, back to the outside of the maze. Since they knew a way out, and thus no longer needed someone outside the maze, they were able to systematically map a large portion of the maze.
The players were clever, and I approve of clever play. Unfortunately, it wasn’t fun. For them or for me. Essentially all I was doing was reading them a long list of room descriptions within their searchable zone, while they took notes. The encounters were entertaining, but the encounters could have happened anywhere. They would have been improved by placing them outside of the maze, because the maze was boring.
Eventually the players gave up and headed off to a different area of the dungeon. And I’m left to wonder: can a maze of one-way doors be done better, or is it simply never going to be fun if your players are cautious and skilled?
Some thoughts on how it might be improved for more highly skilled players:
- I had a warning of sorts printed above the door. “To enter is easy. To become lost is easier. To return is failure. To die is worse.” I thought it was cool and thematic, but it’s what put the players on edge in the first place. Without it, they probably all would have entered the first door together. I think, though, that they’d still have landed on the same strategy. Particularly if they ended up on one of the many failed paths which leads back outside of the maze.
- There’s no reason to assume that a one-way door would allow sound to pass through it. By soundproofing the maze, I could prevent the characters from requesting a door be opened from the other side. Of course, I can’t stop the players sitting at the table together from talking, and telling them they can’t just seems dickish. Plus, the workaround seems obvious: “Open this door 60 seconds after it closes.”
- I like one-way door mazes because they’re a challenging trap which could conceivably be engineered. But if I’m willing to amp up the magic, I could say that each door is a normal, two-way door so long as there are people on both sides of it. Only when everybody has passed through the door will it become a one-way door. And, so long as any door in the room is a two-way door, none of the other doors in the room exist. (So one can only attempt to move forward once everyone has entered the new room and become trapped in it.)
I’d be curious to hear other’s thoughts on one-way-door mazes.