08 November 2023

Masquerade as social depth-crawl (RPG Blog Carnival)

For this months blog carnival - hosted by VDonnut Valley on the topic of Let’s Party! Festivals and ceremonies! I bring Masquerade as social depth-crawl.

In my Spelljammer campaign my players decided to run a shell-game masquerade - they had one princess and decided that all three elven PCs (incl. the barbarian) and three hired locals were going to get the same dress and throw a giant masquerade to put the princess in contact with potential allies while also having cover against the hostile factions and antagonist prince who were also in the city.

I dug out my old Festivities as a social depth-crawl and decided to use that as the chassis - set up an encounter list with the players rolling more and more d4's as things progress.

The key addition for all this is that the players are hosting do they get to drive the 'chaos factor' - each time block they get to amp up or chill out the party - adding a d4 or holding at the current level. Two consequtive rounds of 'chilling' will step the dice count down.

The big thing about a Masquerade is everyone pretends that the disguises work and they do not recognise each other, giving lots of opportunities for breaking social norms and acting out, for good or ill.

I swept the net for some ideas to get started - key was Dungeons & Kobolds - and then tailored those to fit the circumstances. Genericising the events list we get:

d20 Masquerade events
1. Local flavour - fortune tellers, world colour
2. Local flavour - significant NPC introduction
3. Key NPC interaction (low stakes)
4. Hostile encounter (low stakes) - pickpocket/jewel thief
5. Carousing opportunity
6. NPC conflict - bodyguards duelling
7. Gambling opportunity
8. Dancing requirement (medium social stakes)
9. NPC opportunity - guest drops something interesting
10. Overheard information - NPCs flexing the deniability of being masked
11. Duel challenge to PC or allied NPC
12. Hostile encounter - e.g. BBEG run in, social monster like vampire or succubus
13. Allied NPC or PC intoxicated, must be handled
14. Hostile NPC social approach, does not recognise masked PC
15. Spotted schemes and plots - opportunity to spy/disrupt
16. Campaign event trigger (e.g. allied NPC assassination attempt)
17. Stumble onto schemes and plots - as 15 but surprised)
18. Campaign event trigger (e.g. friendly NPCs turned to hostile)
19. Campaign event trigger (e.g. hostile NPC ambushes isolated PC)
20. Positive happenstance (potential ally comes to you)

And the additional wrinkle I am throwing in is four locations -
Interior Rooms - medium visiblity
Private chambers - low visibility
Street and grounds - medium visibility
Balcony - visible from the street and grounds - high visibility

Visibility affects how likely others are to get involved in events. If the players split up and are in private chambers, they are on their own - but also can avoid notice. In medium visibility, locations others have a chance to get involved or assist, both friend and foe. For the balcony anyone who is not in private chambers will be able to get involved if they wish.

As it happened on the night the players did some tweaking of the antagonists noses, gathered an ally and then launched their big visible set piece move which then triggered bad-guy reaction and at that point the Masquerade was gone out the window and we pretty much wrapped the session there. The players never backed off the party, running it all the way to 5d4 rolls directly. The sequence that came up was:
1. The fortune teller reads the colours of a PC, making them the center of attention and giving them a chance to grandstand
2. A skillful jewel thief is spotted and recruited on the basis of their talent
3. One of the princess-dressed PCs spots some gamblers and engages in dice-blowing for luck
4. A duel breaks out between NPC factions, two allied factions to the players build friction between them
5. Another duel breaks out between members of the same non-allied NPC faction
6. An officer of the antagonists does not recognise a PC and seeks to dance with them, putting that PC incognito with the 'foe' when things kick off
7. The BBEG spotted watching the PCs

A lot of the content of the encounter list did not get hit but even so I think it was worth having a mechanical structure for events rather than just freeforming it. I feel that my rolling off an encounter list and them having to deal with events which may or may not segue neatly off what they were just doing is more real than fully 'yes, and'-ing the events of the night. Certainly it helps me because I too am waiting to find out what happens as opposed to just running a railroad.

However, in the same way that combats rarely last more than 3 rounds before the bad guy is toast, you could probably get away with a 12-event list and be pretty safe you have enough. There will likely be some repetition which will stretch the use you get out of it.

1 comment:

  1. I think this could be fantastic as a campaign opener with the PCs attending for very different reasons, but organically finding a way/need to work together on future endeavors.