Part The Legend of Zelda, part Lord of the Rings, and part Saturday-morning cartoon, the absurdly generically-named Mystical Quest is what you end up with when you blend a grab bag of fantasy-based pop culture and filter it through the mind of a 10-year old boy who has never played a tabletop RPG.
Mystical Quest is one of the many “paper games” that I made as a kid, which my wife and I are now playing through as adults for our podcast, Spiral Bound Adventure. It wasn’t until years later that I would find out that these attempts to retrofit the structure of video games into an analog form were basically just me making a much worse version of D&D.
With myself as the GM and my wife in the player’s chair as the young elf warrior she named Panastasia, we set off on a.... well you get the idea.
We had to essentially make up and tweak the game’s rules on the fly because, as you can see in the images below, I created numerical stats for the game but didn’t have the foresight to actually write down what they mean. We settled on a simple dice pool system based on the numbers given to the enemies.
The game is split into levels and offers limited freedom to the player. Essentially, each level is a series of hallways filled with enemies. While this can be decent fun in a video game with interesting combat mechanics, it’s a real slog to play through as a tabletop game. Thankfully, I was thoughtful enough to include the occasional NPC or secret area to break up the action a bit and the collection of new equipment and spells at least offers something of a reward system.
Most baffling was the inclusion of “challengers” encountered throughout the game. I really can’t remember what I was going for with that and can’t find more information about it anywhere, so I assumed it was supposed to be rival villagers who are more interested in fighting the player than worrying about the ongoing invasion of their home for some reason.
While Level 1 wasn’t exactly a master class in pacing, Level 2 proved to be an infuriatingly ill-designed labyrinth built on a grid. Because of its simple structure, the smartest choice a player could make would be to just run straight ahead the whole time.
...and that’s it. I had never made a Level 3. Since that wasn’t exactly a satisfying conclusion, I went ahead and wrote up a final level, although I didn’t sketch it out.
In this final level, the player emerges in the dungeon of the Kings Palace and encounters all of the stuff I’d made rules for but not actually put into the game; namely, a sea serpent, a dragon, and a griffin. Unsurprisingly, this more open-ended level ended up being the most fun of the three and Panastasia ultimately triumphed over the Orc King, restoring peace to the kingdom.
In the end, we actually had plenty of fun playing Mystical Quest but it was largely in spite of, rather than because of, what I had written as a kid. Whenever we went off book or I made up a silly NPC on the fly we found ourselves laughing or even getting weirdly invested in this ridiculous world but anytime we tried to play the game as it was presented it proved to be a chore.
You can listen to our full playthrough of Mystical Quest in the episodes below or subscribe to Spiral Bound Adventure to hear all of our escapades into my childhood mind.