In the Keep on the Borderlands, the characters can stumble into a...

Minotaur's Labyrinth

Which has a spell on it that causes "Direction Confusion". As I understand it, it was assumed that all games would occur in the "Theatre of the Mind", so the instruction to...

misdirect them by naming incorrect directions, i.e. south-east instead of northeast, east instead of west, etc.

would work fine. But if a table who was primarily used to playing with a game board and miniatures were to encounter this area, how should the GM go about applying a version of this advice that would invoke the same feeling in the players?


4 Answers 4


Player mapping as an assumption

it was assumed that all games would occur in the "Theatre of the Mind",

Partially correct. One of the things that has not translated well over time is a standard "table" assumption that goes back to the original game (a convention that Basic D&D and AD&D continued).

Part of the older ToTM includes a player mapping function

The players start with a blank sheet of graph paper before they "go underground" and one player volunteers to, or is tasked with, the sketching / tracking / mapping of the party's progress as the DM describes their environment. Obviously, this is put on pause when combat starts, but here is an example from Wilderness and Underworld Adventures (My B/X is elsewhere at the moment, but it has a similar example in it): (Below is excerpted from OD&D, Wilderness and Underworld Adventures, 1074, TSR, p. 12 - 13).

... The Referee's part will be indicated REF, that of the "Caller" for the players being shown as CAL.
REF: Steps down to the east.
CAL: We're going down.
REF: 10', 20', 30' — a 10' square landing — steps down to the north and curving down southeast.
CAL Take those to the southeast.
REF 10', and the steps curve more to the south; 20'. Steps end, and you are on a 10' wide passage which runs east, southeast, and west. There is a door to your left across the passage on a northwest wall.
CAL Listen at the door — three of us.
REF (After rolling three dice) You hear nothing. (At this time a check for wandering monsters is also made.)
CAL Ignore the door and proceed along the corridor southeastwards.
REF 10', 20', 30', 40', 50'. "Four way": Northwest, northeast, south and southwest — the south passage is 20' wide.
CAL Go south.
REF 10'-70': passage continues, doors east and west.
CAL Listen at the east door.

And so on. From an originally agreed orientation of "north" the mapping process goes on with the "mapper" paying attention to the Referee/DM and making a map. Mistakes were not that uncommon and it was assumed as a play style that this was OK.

I recommend that you try this with your group. They may find this change in challenge interesting.

How do the battle map and miniatures fit into this?

What we found worked best in our groups in OD&D, Basic, and in AD&D was that you don't put them into play until the situation calls for it. Everyone is supposed to pay attention to the map the mapper is sketching out. (Yes, put that cell phone down). The players can rotate mapping responsibility so that each gets a turn to try this out.
The REF/DM can always ask any of the PC's who are not mapping "what are you doing/paying attention to as the party progresses?" between encounters, particularly if the character has a skill or a reason to notice something the other players may not: dwarves have a skill that lets them sense sloping passageways, for example.

Bring out the map & figures for major areas and when combat comes

Switch from the generic marching order (see below) to setting up the figures in the room / cave / passageway / whatever, which is quickly sketched onto the battle map by the DM.
Either a detailed search (when discovereing a significant room/cave, etc) commences, or the NPC encounter / battle commences. Between times, the party places their miniatures into whatever marching order they are in, off of the battle map, in a generic hall / passage / room / cave to be ready for the next encounter.

How do I make this "sense of direction change and getting lost" work?

To fit the adventure's feel, use the mapping that was an assumed part of the play. Approach your players with "try it, you'll like it." And they might. Yes, this may alert them in a meta game sense, but I'd not worry about that. Play on. But for one reason or another, this may not fit your group.

If adopting that mapping function causes disruption with your players, then look at what this maze is supposed to be as a challenge: it is supposed to represent "getting lost in the labyrinth."

Once the party enter the labyrinth, revert to theater of the mind and set the figures / battlemap aside until a significant encounter crops up.

Ask your players "How do you intend to keep track of where you are going?" Let them know, by your narration, that they feel a little confused, and as they move through the labyrinth they get the nagging feeling that of deja vu, or "haven't we been here before?" whether they have or not.

The second time I ran Keep on the Borderlands, for teens and pre teens, that's what we did for the labyrinth. We put the party into a marching order, and then I described what they saw and relied on them to either keep track of the right and left turns, or do something else. As one of them had read the old legends of Thesus and the Minotaur, after the second turn he declared (he was playing a cleric) that he was keeping his hand on the right wall, and that they would make "all right turns." The others went along with this.

Yes, it may have been a bit metagamey to switch the setting like that, so they were as players alert to "something is not quite right here" but that's fine. They still had to decide how they would deal with that.

The above was one way to mitigate the "we are lost in the maze" problem in terms of presentation, so they kept making right turns until the next encounter ... for that group, this went over well.

Whether or not your group will respond to this will depend on what they expect in terms of "control" of the flow of play.


The key thing is to have your own map laid out beforehand. I ran into this problem when I was programming adventure games (Scott Adam's type) back in the day (Vic-20/Commodore 64 era). I created a maze where directions didn't correspond to the actual direction taken.

The method is to lay out the locations in a grid fashion (regardless of actual location in space), number them, and then use a number/destination table to get directions and destinations (I used numbers as I translated it into an array, but you can use straight directions). From this, create a table that lists the corresponding destination for each direction from a particular location, and map it accordingly. I personally used a straight line for a "normal" back and forth traverse (so north to get to a location, south to get back). If it was one way, I used an arrow. If the direction was not an option, I used a zero so it wouldn't appear. If I wanted the direction but not a travel, I used the same location as the destination (infinite traverse)

An example table is below for a 4 location map.

Location #    N  NE  E  SE  S  SW  W  NW  U  D
    1         0   0  2a  0  0   0  0   0  0  0
    2         3   0  0   0  0   0  4a  0  2b 1
    3         3   1  0   0  4   0  0   0  0  0
    4         0   0  0  22c 0   0  0   4  2  3

a - Example of direction A from one location, the opposite direction at the destination will not take you back

b - Example of an infinite traverse, up takes to back to where you were

c - The way out of the maze

(Please note, the table was created for example purposes, it is not intended to be a true map).

This way you have the true map, you can represent where they are, and you know where each direction will take the party next.

Addendum - If you really want to mess with the players, you can create puzzles/things to do in various rooms that change the destinations around in other rooms. There are tons of ways to mess with their heads doing this.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There's a novel solution. tips cap \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5, 2019 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ This looks like it would work well for representing an area with complex connectivity, but it doesn't seem to address the effects of the "Direction Confusion" spell, which would cause characters to move in different directions than the ones they believe they're going. Have I missed something? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kyyshak
    Aug 5, 2019 at 15:44
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Kyyshak - It is the same effect in the end, essentially. If you map it out, and a north direction takes you to a location that is actually south, it produces the same misdirection sense. Picture it as 4 locations that are all north/south of each other, north from location 2 takes you to location 4 instead of 1, west from 3 takes you to 1, etc. Now do that in a grid form. \$\endgroup\$
    – JohnP
    Aug 5, 2019 at 16:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice approach, but each room actually had a unique name: a maze of twisty little passages, a maze of little twisty passages, a maze of twisting little passages, a maze of little twisting passages, a twisty little maze of passages, a twisting maze of little passages, etc. I made an isometric graph, directionally accurate. We played it on a SOL on CP/M. I'm old. \$\endgroup\$
    – Davo
    Aug 6, 2019 at 2:44
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Davo If you're talking about Colossal Cave, aka Adventure, IIRC there was one maze that permuted all combinations of maze/twisty/little, but there was also a second maze where all descriptions were identical (you pretty much had to drop items to see if you moved to a new location, which of course attracted the prirate!). I'm probably as old. \$\endgroup\$
    – TripeHound
    Aug 6, 2019 at 13:25

Note there's a spell in classic D&D called confusion. It's 4th level, so it doesn't appear in the Basic rulebook that Keep on the Borderlands [module B2] came with.

In original D&D, the effect of this spell was to have the victim(s) attack allies or enemies at random (determined by the equivalent of a reaction roll). On the other hand, the effect in Chainmail was for the affected unit to move in the exact opposite direction from what the commander's orders were.1

So it's likely that the designer had something like that latter effect in mind when writing the minotaur cave. I might suggest with a battlemap in play throughout, that you could roll randomly for which direction the PCs take at each intersection, regardless of their stated intent. Or possibly something equated to a reaction roll (maybe bonus for highest Wisdom?) to actually follow a desired direction. Probably massage that mechanic to something that's less than infinitely frustrating, or gives some bonus to the PCs if they have a clever plan or tracking device.

Alternatively, you could specially say in this area that they feel disoriented and unsure of their perceptions, and so remove the normal battlemap visibility, sending them back to all-verbal navigation just for this section (and thus give deceptive directions as given).

1 It looks like original D&D had the first appearance of confusion in its 1974 1st printing, and then the spell was back-ported to its version in Chainmail, first appearing in that game's 1975 3rd printing.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, the changes from 2 ed Chainmail to 3 ed Chainmail jump out at you when you finally get to look at 2 ed. (A friend of mine has 2 ed, and no, he's not selling it. He had an offer of over 700 dollars and declined) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6, 2019 at 2:10

The other answers told you quite a bit about how this was intended to work but it is quite possible to achieve the same effect without changing the playing style from miniatures on the board and alerting the players. Just keep in mind that the dungeon layout you put on the table does not have to correspond to the actual dungeon layout, rather it represents what the characters think it looks like.

Small caveat: you need a dungeon that has many connections, it is obviously hard to get lost in a linear sequence of rooms.

Put the first room on the table normally (by drawing it on the mat, placing tiles or whatever you do). When the players want to move through a specific exit to a new room, pick a random adjacent room and orient so that a random entrance of the new room connects to the exit of the old they want to take. This way, the table represents the entrance/exit pair they thought they went through, while in fact, they got confused and took a different one. Continue this way until they want to go back to an old room. At that point pull out the rug from under them, remove the old room and instead give them a new one generated by the same procedure.

Assuming they are already a few rooms in, they should now be thoroughly lost. If they backtrack right in the beginning, you might have to fudge it a little bit and allow them to do so until they are deeper in.

If you are particularly cruel, you can also prepare some excuses to string them along further, e.g. "I'm sorry, I got turned around in my notes, this room actually faces that way, so this door now leads to this new room, let me fix that for you..." and so on.

There is the possibility that they try to go in a circle but the rooms now obviously don't add up. Again, at that point you either confess or you prepare some excuses "the floor is uneven in this dungeon so the new room is above the old.", "I shortened a corridor to save space and now things don't add up, sorry...", "the rooms don't have exactly right angles, so if I bend this corridor everything fits" and so on.

If you are using tiles, be diligent and remove old rooms regularly to free up space on the table. (Add long corridors to artificially create that need) In that case maybe allow them to go back to whatever is still on the table, but gaslight them on the rest "No, the room you came through was in the other direction. It's not my fault you guys aren't keeping track." Personally I like to have all rooms ready as a pre-drawn sheet of paper cut to size, that I can just put on the table, which would be ideal for that kind of playstyle.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Why would you have to fudge a little bit to punish player cleverness, carefulness, or good luck? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Aug 8, 2019 at 10:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thanuir I would never punish player cleverness. I was more thinking of them accidentally revealing the gimmick too early without meaning to do so. The main goal should be for the players to have fun and turning a tough challenge into a boring problem without trying or even noticing it doesn't sound like fun to me. Especially if in this case it can be done without them ever knowing the difference by just retconning the spell to only work starting from room 3 or something similar. But that was not an integral part of the answer and any DM might do as they see fit if such a situation occurs. \$\endgroup\$
    – mlk
    Aug 8, 2019 at 15:32

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