|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
Initially I gave a similar ability to my pcs, they had a kind of medallion that give the geas to the ones that touched it, but since they wanted to convert everyone to their cause I made that melt away, Instead the new players got the mantle the first night at camp with the pcs seeing the black rider in a dream and so getting the geas.
To change things a little bit the last player I introduced was the last member of a party of Irriseni recruited by the Red Rider, all slaughtered near the dancing hut.
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Yeah, we brought in a couple of new PCs after a death and they were both bearing the mantle of the Red Rider. Since they came in at different times, the story was that they each thought the other one had died and that they were the last one left from their previous party. Imagine their surprise when they found each other. They had an awesome "bro-ment" together upon reuniting, made more awesome by the fact that those two characters, both male, are played by the two women in our group.
I used the "Red Rider" to bring in other characters after a death. Then I had a PC that had an idea that would try to lead the other PC's off their path and then finding out why they couldn't allowing the other PC's to bestow the curse upon him (this takes place after receiving the Cookbook of Arcane Augmentation).
When we had a new player join I had a whole nights adventure set up specifically with a summer fey pocket his druid was tied to and a sacrifice ritual involving the whole party. At the end he ritually gained a +2 bonus on a stat and the contracts gave the pledging and sacrificing PCs some one shot summer powers in their fight against winter's encroachment.
A character just died and his new character is going to be a Jadwiga magus with the witchcrafter archetype. I said the Baba Yaga blood is enough to be a +2 bonus on a stat straight out so I didn't spend another game introducing a +2 bonus to keep the party fairly balanced.
If he had not chosen a Jadwiga I had asked him to consider possible Mythic origin type backstories to explain the high powered bonus without me spending a session devoted to it.
I've made the mantle of the rider transferable to other PCs by the original group. As long as 1 member of the original party remains, I've allowed him to "induct" new riders. If we get a full TPW, which has nearly happened, I'll have to think up something new.
I've done something similar. Running with five people (had one drop out so he withered away in Whitethrone.) The new PC was using the mantle of the Red Rider, but he was just recently killed in Artrosa. With four of the original PC's remaining, if they come to trust his new PC and induct him into their "inner circle," I'll allow them to pass on the geas to him. Giving him the mark of the black rider and the +2 ability score.
If this happens in my game, I intend to work with the player as they make their new character, with a flashback scene of the Red and White rider granting them their mantle before getting killed.
If more than two players die ... I'll worry about that if it happens.
Players ended last week with the Soulbound Guardian. With any luck, they'll enter Somir Valley tonight and encounter the Black Rider.