It’s important to remember when reading game materials such as this series on magical masks that you never have to use game material “as is.” You can always adapt it to suit your own games–sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. It can help, however, to actually have a few suggestions for where to start, especially if you’re new to the whole game mastering (GMing) thing. So here are a few tips and hints to help you adapt this series to your own game.
The first, most obvious hint is that if you already have a well-detailed campaign world, then try to find ways to fit this story into what you already have. Move Eva’s little kingdom to some place on your own map; you could even make it a mountain stronghold or a tropical paradise rather than an island. Keep the warlord as is, or, if you have a convenient warlord or tyrant in game that would suit the bill, then use him. If he doesn’t have a son, then use a nephew, younger brother or cousin. And so on.
A Few Notes on Genre
Obviously the base story was designed for a fantasy world. But can you use the masks in a different genre entirely? Of course!
The masks would suit a horror game quite well–the theme of slowly taking someone over and altering their personality is a staple of the horror genre. (Everything I write seems to include horror in some capacity or another!) If you’re playing dark fantasy, there’s very little you need to do to change things (other than the standard changes to suit your campaign world). If you’re playing modern horror, then you have three major options.
Put Eva in the Distant Past: Have this story set in the very distant past. Bare scraps of legendry remain–mere whispers of the masks’ travels through the ages and the havoc they’ve wreaked. Adapt the story to the history of your world with a few quick detail changes.
Put Eva in a Distant Land: Many modern game worlds still have dark corners where more primitive peoples remain. Set the story in some odd corner of the world, adapting Eva and her family to the local culture. She could be the daughter of the chief of a small tribe instead of the daughter of a fantasy king, for example.
Modernize Eva: Imagine Eva as the heiress of a modern wealthy family. The “warlord” is a cutthroat businessman who plans to ruin her family’s financial empire. His generals, priests, and soldiers become financial advisors, lawyers, and hired thugs.
And Now for Something Completely Different: What if Eva were the leader of an evil cult, and the masks were meant as portals to bring dark spirits into the world? What if the personalities of the masks are just the first impressions of the powerful “gods” behind them? What if Bone-Thorn and his priest aren’t making enemies out of ambition — they’re doing it because their god has told them of a terrible threat to the land? There’s nothing keeping you from totally reinventing the story in ways that change the sides and the conflict.
Some forms of science fiction bear a strong resemblance to fantasy, and it would be easy to adapt Eva to these campaigns. She’s the daughter of an influential family on a colony world; the warlord is a profiteer terrorizing the colony. She’s the daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate; he’s a pirate. Once again you have multiple options.
Put Eva in the Distant Past: Place Eva and her story in a distant, more barbaric part of the past. Somehow her creations have survived all this time, perhaps coming back in cycles, acting out their dramas and being placed back into slumber over and over.
Put Eva into a Mystical Corner of the World: Plenty of SF universes allow for the mystical by shoving them into a corner somewhere, such as on a primitive planet, or within a mystical order (think of the Technomages from “Babylon 5”). Make Eva a native of this planet or a member of this order.
Modernize Eva and Her Masks: We’ve mentioned a couple of the ways in which you could modernize the tale in general. But what about the masks? Perhaps they’re technological wonders, complete with artificial intelligence personalities and neural interfaces. If you’re playing a game that involves some sort of “cyberspace,” then they might be personalities that live in that space. Eva herself might be an artificial intelligence who spawned them. Perhaps they’re her way of reaching into a physical world (by taking over people’s minds) that she can never gain access to herself. The warlord could be the programmer who created her, now determined to make sure she never breaks free of her prison.
Mystical artifacts that give a person strange powers are a staple of the super-hero genre. So what do you need to do to make these particular masks appropriate?
No Limit On Use: For one thing, most such items in super-hero universes aren’t things a character uses once a month or once a week. Consider making the effect permanent, so that the character can wear the mask near-constantly. This causes us a problem, however: how to determine when the mask’s special effects take hold?
How often they take hold should be determined by the game universe. In a dark, brooding super-hero game the Danger effects would occur more often. In a positive, optimistic super-hero game, they would happen more rarely. They will also need to be triggered by a specific situation or event, since the player no longer makes the standard roll when putting the mask on. (Perhaps a humiliating defeat, a sufficiently harsh injury, or a trigger particular to the specific mask or hero.) The character should be able to deliberately trigger the Overdrive effect like any other “super-power,” perhaps once a day. Whether using the Overdrive has any negative side effects (such as leaving our hero feeling drained and exhausted) again depends on the conventions of your game world and sub-genre.
Masks on Villains: The masks seem almost ready-made to create dastardly villains. Any one of these masks merged with or in possession of a person could try to act out its basest needs or darkest desires in ways that threaten ordinary people.
Altering the Story: Eva could have been a ancient sorceress lost in the mists of time. She could be an alien princess trying to free her people from another race of aliens using the masks. The possibilities are almost endless.
Resisting the Masks’ Effects
In a pessimistic horror genre, it might be appropriate for the player characters (PCs) to be unable to resist the effects of the masks. In a superhero genre, however, it probably isn’t. Look through your game for any other instances of items, spells, or powers that affect people’s minds. How do the PCs resist them? Do they entail some sort of resisted roll against a person’s will, willpower, or something similar? Can a person spend points of some sort to resist it? Whatever you have, apply it to the masks as well.
If there is no inherent, willful way for the PCs to resist the masks’ effects, then come up with one or more plot-related ways for them to try to foil the masks. Quests they can go on, rituals they can perform, special places they can go — that sort of thing. You want to make sure that there’s always some way out of a bad situation, however difficult.
Altering the Masks’ Background
As you can see from all the materials regarding altering the story to fit your genre, you can change almost anything to fit your world, game, and story. Take a careful look at Eva, the warlord, the masks, and the descriptions of the people the masks were meant for.
Does anything remind you of something out of your game or world? Does Eva’s style of sorcery match an odd cult described in one of the game’s supplements? Does the background of your campaign already mention a warlord that tried to take over a continent, only to meet his doom? Do the masks sound a bit like a type of item described in your game system that involves personalities or spirits and unusual powers?
Does the description of one or more of the warlord’s advisors remind you of some of the PCs — or would it, with a few tweaks? What about some of the villains the PCs have heard of but not yet met?
It’s always easiest to slip a new plot into your game if you can find at least one place where it already meshes with what you have. This can make the graft seamless and natural-looking.
Eva and the Masks as Distant Past
Eva and her family can live as far in the past as you’d like them to. They could have died a decade, a century, or ten thousand years ago. This allows you to use as much or as little of their story as you’d like as plot background, while usurping the masks — just one, several, or all of them — for any plot purpose you’d like.
Eva and the Masks Alive and Well
You can also have this story take place during your game. The first thing to decide is, how much of Eva’s story is background to the plot, and how much the PCs will get involved in? How can they change the outcome of what’s to happen? (It’s important to remember that the PCs should be able to leave their mark on the plot.)
Since the first part of the story (Eva’s marriage and the subsequent construction of the masks) takes part over a long time (about 17 years), it would be best for the party to come in sometime after the masks are finished. After that, it’s all up to you: Before they’re sent to the warlord’s advisors? After? Before the warlord’s territory dissolves into chaos, or after? Before the warlord kills Lane, or after? Before Cort kills the warlord, or after? If Eva has fled the castle, then is she still alive and findable? Can Cort be found with her after he disappears, or has he gone somewhere on his own?
And whose side are the PCs on, anyway? Were they sent by Eva’s family? Do they work for the warlord? Are they spies from a neighboring country? What’s their goal
Hopefully this has given you a few ideas for how you might take the information in the first five articles and twist it to suit your own game. Just remember that game settings and information are fluid; you can twist and shape them to suit your needs.