Friday, July 13, 2012

The "Man" in the Cold Iron Mask

For Clayton,

There was a phrase uttered at the table two weeks ago that has been haunting me. So much so, that I'm going to try and blog it out into something people might want to use in their game.

The "Man" in the Cold Iron Mask

So, there's the phrase...and you can see how it kept niggling at me. Poking my brain with lots of little questions...that you can answer and use in your game.

Let's break it down. You've got some good ingredients here: musketeer-era politics, a mysterious prisoner, and a really kind of striking artifact. Let's tinker with them and try to get something for your home game.

Prisoner #24601 is... (d6)

1. A servant who was imprisoned with his VIP master and now can not leave...
2. A scheming, bisexual, minor noble from court who has embarrassed the King...
3. A non-person who was invented by the prison administrator to make himself seem more important...
4. The king's brother from another, but also French-royal, father...
5. The king's identical twin brother...
6. An assassin hired by a highly-placed government official who failed to kill his target...

but really...let's weird that up now. (d6)

1. who is also Reynard, the trickster fox spirit...
2. who is also Morgan LeFay / Oberon / The Merrovingian Heir / Cernunnos...
3. who is also the were-beast of GĂ©vaudan...
5. who is also the actual King, who's been secretly replaced...
6. who is also the dragon who once ruled this land long before the advent of men...

Whats with the mask?

The mask is not as interesting unless it is iconic and invariable. It is a face covering and head piece that has been hammered from a single piece of meteoric iron. The mask simultaneously keeps the prisoner's identity a mystery and prevents the prisoner from expressing a True Nature. To the naked eye at least, the mask should appear to be made of some crudely-shaped and maybe lumpy metal. If the Actual King is in the mask, then the mask should draw on his memories, or life-force, or aura to send power to the villain who is impersonating him.

The next time your players are in the Bastille, or any old, weird dungeon you can have them run into someone like this instead of a regular monster encounter. How long has this person been here? What's been keeping them alive? How hard is it to get the mask off? I don't know, but it could be fun to find out.


I tried to keep the flavor of the above options related to French folklore, but there's no reason beyond that.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How I'm using the Pathfinder Beginner Box

Keeping it simple?

The idea with this game is to just relax, have fun, test out a few ideas, and learn some things about running D&D that I might not have known. One loose goal I set for myself has been to just keep running games with the material that is inside the box, or material that I already have, or material that is free. So far, thats been great. I (mostly) keep to my cheap ethic, and I learn some things about making my own game out of what's available.

What's in the box?

The box has some useful things in it. Very clear and basic GM guidance for different types of terrain, random tables for said terrain, lists of traps, a fair-sized bestiary with accompanying cardboard figures...a dry-erase flip-mat, a book with some items & magic items, a little bit of information on Sandpoint...just click here if you don't know what's in it.

What else did you bring me?

There are some free downloadable extras, including four small adventures that I've also added to the pile of things to pull from. I have always liked early level adventures, and I have a pretty big virtual stack of those to use should the need arise. I've pulled some of my favorite One Page Dungeons for use in this game...and I broke my "don't spend money on this game" rule by purchasing a few James Raggi adventures in PDF for further inspiration.

So what?

So, I feel like I have what I want for the most part...a bunch of ideas in various stages that I can take apart and put back together as I need them. That seems pretty advanced for me considering I've only really run some linked modules for the system before this. I want to push myself to find that sweet spot between being over-prepared (and therefore over-committed to an idea) and not having anything for the players to do if they act "unexpectedly." Previously, I've not been a big fan of how the modules constrain my sense of the I want to go more towards an 'in the moment' style.

What did you learn?

So far, I've learned that players don't do what you expect them to, and that putting some limitations on what I'm doing has allowed me a little room to grow. The last session went really well on my side, it didn't need so much prep that I got 'tired' of thinking about the game, and so I felt a lot more engaged with the table as a result. I didn't even have a set number of adversaries; (I know, I know...SLOW DOWN TEX!) instead I just kept feeding them goblins and complications until it seemed like enough. It was interesting. The "heavy" encounter of the night was another sort of organic thing I threw together based on the dungeon layout. Secret door here + hall full of traps = locked door, ambush shooting gallery here. I felt good about it, and I could tell they were that made me happy.

Where are we going?

Basically, I'd like to branch this thing out into a kind of sand-box for them to rummage in. The next steps will be to get a sense of the area, place some things...make a decision or two about how to handle random encounters, if any...and to stock up on useful tables and charts generated by my favorite DIY D&D folks. By rolling those things up with the contents of the box, I think we may have a mini-campaign that is worth talking about when its over.

Do you use it RAW?

No...and yes. I'm pretty much using the rules as written. I've allowed the PC's to take full HP at the first two levels (to lure them into a false sense of security). After that, I'm afraid they're not in much luck...I'm planning to limit the HP from here on pretty seriously. I'm still working on a scheme to keep all the HP in the game low, so if anyone has any suggestions or interesting precedents...I'd like to know. Maybe just three / level for the fighter, two for the rogue and cleric, and one for the wizard? I don't really know yet.