|Herremann the Wise|
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I'm still planning out my Reign of Winter Campaign (waiting for the entire AP to be released before starting) but the Black Rider's mantle seems a crucial point, particularly if a new character (or entire party) needs to be introduced.
From what I see, the issues involved and possible solutions are:
* The somewhat heavy-handed nature of the mantle that diminishes the PCs autonomy.
* The suddenly transferred nature of the mantle and how it is tied to the words and throat-cutting of the Black Rider.
* The absence of fore-warning in regards to Baba Yaga as anything other than the cold evil queen of witches.
There have been other threads suggesting how to manipulate the situation to incorporate a new PC; but for me, I think the answer is to tie the power of the mantle into the Black Rider's horned helmet. This allows you to:
* Have the PCs talk with the Black Rider; and then when the discussion is done have him remove his helmet for a nice Darth Vader reference. I think the picture of the Black Rider really plays this up too as he gets to view the world for the last time through his "own eyes". I think to see the humanity in one of Baba Yaga's servants is important if the PCs are going to buy-in to freeing Baba Yaga.
* With his mask removed, his death becomes imminent and irreversible. When he dies, perhaps his body dissolves into black wisps sucked into the helmet as well as the two keys; empowering each item with Baba Yaga's magic. [I think this might neatly parallel the nature of Baba Yaga's progeny and their relation to the Dancing Hut but I'm still not sure.]
* By doing this you can have the power of the mantle be attached to the PCs interacting with the helmet. They have the choice of accepting the benefits/geas or staying well away from it. Importantly for your original question this means that a new PC can tie themselves to the group by accepting the mantle (perhaps by performing a ritual involving the helmet). In the case of a TPK, you can have the helmet mysteriously appear somewhere with the entirely new party interacting with the helmet.
* Another thing I am planning is to provide a little more context for Baba Yaga. I plan to have the actual campaign in Snows of Summer start a little earlier than given. In particular, I want Old Mother Theadora to play an important initial role as the strange and eccentric "witch" woman. In her house, are many items relating to Baba Yaga (including that absolutely brilliant painting of Baba Yaga gifting the black rider with his helmet on p4). Perhaps this will motivate the PCs to ask a few questions of this strange entity that the Old Mother venerates while also being a pre-cursor of events to come. By presenting the "softer" side of Baba Yaga's nature, I hope to motivate the PCs (and the players) in their crucial decision to rescue her.
I'm hoping that such an approach will cover all the bases for the Black Rider encounter as well as the possible repercussions if a new PC or entire party are required to be introduced.
Herremann the Wise