Masks of Magic

Masks have a certain flair to them, a mystique. A mask isn’t just something a character wears or uses; it’s something a character becomes. The Masks of Lady Eva are a set of magical masks created by one talented woman. Over this series of articles we’ll provide a system for using them in your game; a detailed background of the masks; suggestions for working the masks into your previously existing campaign; additional campaign and story ideas; and of course the masks themselves.

Mechanics

Feel free to translate this into whatever system you play under, particularly if you already have an appropriate mechanic. We’ll provide a simple, generic system for using these masks in case you don’t have one already. Give it a read either way; you might find some interesting ideas.

Always-On

The masks are “always-on” items. That is, they work automatically when a character puts them on; there’s no need to see whether they succeed or fail. They do, however, have a couple of unusual states that they can enter into.

Frequency: Any given mask can only be used once per lunar cycle (once it has been used it cannot be reactivated until the next new moon). If some other trigger or cycle seems appropriate for a given mask, you can use that instead. Here are a few ideas to start with:

  • Natural triggers: seasons; years; centuries; the movement of certain celestial bodies; the alignment of planets; time of day.
  • Political triggers: coronations; diplomatic negotiations; war & peace.
  • Personal triggers: passage to adulthood; times of grave illness or healing; dying times; mood cycles; times of revelation or despair.
  • Geographic triggers: on a certain trade route; during a certain phase of a journey; above certain elevations; under ancient oak trees; when traveling on water; at certain mystical locations.

You may of course choose to combine triggers. For example, a mask might work once per week during times of war and once per year during times of peace.

If a mask has already been used during the current cycle and someone puts it on, make a die roll. On a critical success of some sort the Overdrive effect happens. However, if the Overdrive effect doesn’t happen, not only does the mask not work normally, but there is a 50% chance that the Danger effect will happen. [See Special Results, below.]

Duration: A mask’s powers remain in effect until dawn or dusk, whichever comes next, or until the mask is removed. Again, in some cases a different duration might seem appropriate to a given mask or to the power level of your game. Here are a few suggestions to start with:

  • Until the triggering condition ends.
  • Weather conditions: while dark; while sunny; while raining.
  • Personal conditions: while feverish; while manic; while enraged.
  • Celestial conditions: while a particular planet shines above the horizon; while the moon is in a certain phase; while a comet shines in the sky.
  • Geographic conditions: while on a certain path; while the moon shines down on a particular forest; while within the boundaries of a given country.

Both frequency and duration should depend on the game you’re running. If you run a low-powered low-epic game, then the masks should operate less often and for a shorter duration. If you run a high-powered high-epic game, then the masks should operate more often and for a longer duration. Take this into account when you plan how you will use them.

Non-Magical Use: The masks can be worn as ordinary, non-magical masks if a wrapping of silk is worn between the mask and the face. Some of the masks might come with removable silk linings that have been designed for them.

Special Results

Each mask has two possible special results which we call “Danger” and “Overdrive” (you might think of them as fumble and critical, to use common terms). Although you can use your own system for determining these results, we do provide one here.

Since most of Lady Eva’s masks were deliberately designed to be flawed, the chances of these effects occurring are rather high — 1 in 10 for each. In other words, when a character puts a mask on, roll 1d10 (one ten-sided die). If the result is a 1, use the Danger result. If the result is a 10, use the Overdrive result. On any other result the mask operates as normal. If you want the special results to happen less often then use a die with more sides, like a d12 or d20. If you want them to happen more often then use a die with fewer sides, like a d8 or d6.

A non-flawed mask would still be dangerous; magic is, after all, inherently a dangerous occupation. The special results would simply happen less often. So if you’re using the d10 approach for the flawed masks, then use a d20 for un-flawed masks. If you’re usuing a d20 for the flawed masks, then use percentile dice for un-flawed masks. And so on.

Danger: Masks are dangerous and slippery things with a mind of their own. Sometimes you use the mask, and sometimes it uses you. The Danger result listed next to each individual mask is a general bad effect that happens when a player rolls the Danger effect. If this happens, the character cannot remove the mask until the normal duration of the effect ends. The character gets both the normal and the Danger effect unless the Danger effect contradicts the normal effect, in which case they only get the Danger effect. (Ultimate decision is up to the game master (GM), however — if you want only the Danger effect to occur, then you can certainly do that.)

Overdrive: Sometimes a mask is just something we overlay on top of our own face and personality, but sometimes we seem to slip straight into the personality of the mask, channeling its spirit. When the player rolls the Overdrive result listed next to each individual mask, the character gets a hyped-up effect from the mask. This is in addition to the normal effect unless the Overdrive effect contradicts the normal effect, in which case the Overdrive effect is the only one that happens.

Alternatives: You might decide that you don’t want the Danger and/or Overdrive effects to each have a 1-in-10 chance of occurring. In fact, you might not want them to be random at all. Here are a few alternatives:

  • The Overdrive effect only happens when the correct hero wears the mask during the climactic battle or under some other prophetically pre-determined circumstances.
  • The Overdrive effect is only available to the appropriate character or type of character. (Hero, chosen one, mages, those of Evil alignment, “true believers,” etc.)
  • The Danger effect always happens if the wrong character or type of character puts the mask on.
  • A special ritual, sacrifice, spell, action, or set of circumstances is required to activate the Overdrive effect.
  • A special ritual, sacrifice, spell, action, or set of circumstances is required to deactivate the Danger effect.
  • The wearer must come to some kind of agreement or pact with the spirit of the mask before she can use its powers. If she breaks the terms of this pact, the spirit within the mask can take over her body for a specified length of time.

The Masks’ Effects

When a mask is described as aiding certain skills, abilities, or perceptions, simply use whatever bonuses are afforded by the rules system you use to give the wearer a better chance at achieving these things. It would be best to decide how you’ll handle things before you work one or more of these masks into your game. Where multiple possible effects are listed, you can choose to involve all of them (for a higher-powered game) or pick one that you like (for a lower-powered game).

For example, a mask is described as aiding its wearer’s ability to be stealthy or sneaky. If you’re using White Wolf’s Storyteller system you might lower the difficulty of related ability checks by one or two, or give the player an extra die or two for their die pool. If you’re using Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition, you might translate one of the mask’s suggested effects into a feat. If you’re using HackMaster, you might give a bonus of, say, 20% on a skill check.

The size of the bonus you give should be determined by the power and/or epic level of the game you’re running.

Plot-Driven Effects

You can use the masks as plain, “ordinary” magic items if you want to. However, there are a number of other interesting aspects you can play with as well. Some plot material you’ll find in the background section, in another article. Some ideas you’ll find under the individual masks. Here, however, are a few general suggestions.

Spirit: Each mask has a rudimentary spirit, or personality, briefly described under each mask. Each personality has goals and an agenda, or at least wants and desires of its own. Here are a few things that you might play with:

  • The character might feel the spirit nearby and perhaps even communicate with it when wearing the mask (or when the mask is somewhere on or about their person). Perhaps it seems to be some sort of advisor, god, guardian angel, or demon.
  • The character wearing the mask might take on physical aspects of the spirit of the mask. (A character wearing a mask of a hunting cat, for example, might move in a more graceful and predatory manner.)
  • The character wearing the mask could experience mild personality changes. (A character wearing a mask of fire might react more emotionally than usual.)
  • When the character gets a Danger effect, the mask’s personality forcibly possesses him and tries to use him to achieve some goal, agenda, or desire of its own.
  • When the character gets an Overdrive effect, he and the personality effectively merge together. This might temporarily give the character new instincts and insights, as well as more noticeable changes in personality and appearance.
  • The more the character uses the mask, and the more he experiences either the Overdrive or Danger effect, the deeper the communion, merging, or possession, and the longer it lasts. Perhaps after the first time it lasts even after the mask ceases functioning and is removed. If the character uses the mask too much, perhaps he risks a danger of permanent possession or merging.
  • A character might find communion with the mask addictive.

If the spirit takes over or merges with the character, the mask might disappear entirely–it merges with the body of the character (temporarily or permanently), radically altering his appearance.

Description: Use your details to make the masks seem mystical, awe-inspiring, creepy, or otherwise special and unique. A basic description of the mask is provided; use the circumstances under which each mask is found to add atmosphere to the encounter. Alternatively, make a mask seem perfectly ordinary, perhaps even drab or plain, until someone puts it on, at which point its true nature is revealed.

Plot Relevance: Alter the background provided in the rest of these articles to suit your campaign and world. Work the masks into your campaign plots. The masks might be necessary in a plot to save or destroy the world, a country, a god, a demon, a monster, the king of a neighboring country, or any other such thing. The masks might have become signs of office for a group of powerful people, or they could have been given as rewards to heroes who served a king well. Perhaps they’ve already taken over or merged with various people, and are acting out their desires, their hatreds, their inner natures, or some pattern they can’t seem to break.

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