Mulmaster: City of Danger. Struggling under the weight of an oppressive and corrupt government, life is difficult for the peoples of this proud and ancient city. Most people know better than to complain about the hardship however, not only out of fear of reprisal – but because they know life is that much worse for the most hated of Mulmaster’s criminals – Arcane Spellcasters!
While on the surface, Mulmaster’s draconian laws appear punitive; such laws provide a refreshing backdrop for dramatic, roleplaying opportunities rarely seen in other settings. Enforced with totalitarian authority, the Arcane Edict (first presented in the recent State of Mulmaster article) is designed not to punish players, but to challenge them to find creative and unorthodox solutions to common problems – or suffer the consequences.
With that being said, many players and DMs are justifiably concerned how to fairly adjudicate the Acane Edict. DMs are encouraged to use the Arcane Edict and the threat of reprisal as a tool to increase dramatic tension, but at the same time should remember to reward unorthodox thinking. At times, this might mean leaving the dice on the table, and allowing the party’s actions to succeed. At other times, this might mean a series of dramatic encounters designed to test the party’s creativity, as they attempt to circumvent and/or escape the clutches of the ruthless Brotherhood of Cloaks.
While DMs should never completely remove the threat of failure, they should remain mindful not to wield the Arcane Edict as a blunt instrument. Adjudicating the Arcane Edict requires a certain degree of finesse. Ruled too leniently, and it removes the implicit threat and reduces dramatic tension. Ruled too harshly, and it becomes punitive and undermines player enjoyment at the table.
This article serves to offer suggestions and guidelines to aid DMs and players alike in adjudicating the Edict, with the goal being that its enforcement enriches your gaming experience, and helps to create dramatic stories which will be told and retold for decades to come!
The Perils of Policing other Characters
One of the greatest concerns surrounding the Edict is that it appears to encourage and support interparty conflict, especially between party Cloak and non-Cloak spellcasters. On the one hand, Cloak characters swear an oath to report any illegal spellcasting they witness within the Zhent Ghettos, or the city of Mulmaster itself.
While Cloak players may feel their position and the threat of a fate worse-than-death gives them license to police other players, such players must be careful not to undermine the enjoyment of other players at the table. Likewise, non-Cloak players may see this as an opportunity to troll the Cloak character in an effort to get them to violate their oath, and thereby suffer the consequences for doing so.
This is a delicate situation which must be handled with maturity, and tact. As stated on page 21 of the Player’s Guide:
“Just because a player has a character with a darker side doesn’t mean that player has a license to make the game less fun for other players at the table. Players are encouraged to have their characters work together despite their differences; a little competition is fine, as long as it stays fun for everyone involved and doesn’t result in other players getting shut out of the experience.
If a DM or another player feels as though a player is creating an uncomfortable situation through the excuse of “it’s what my character would do”, the DM is free to give the offending player a warning for disruptive behavior, and if it persists, ask the organizer to remove the player from the table”
This rule puts both players and DMs in a difficult situation with no easy answers. However, the situation is not as monochrome as it at first appears. First and foremost, the city of Mulmaster, and all of its draconian laws – are intended to serve as a backdrop for riveting storytelling, and create a sense of dramatic tension within the city, setting it apart from other settings in Faerun, and beyond.
Adjudicating the Edict
While the Laws of Mulmaster are absolute, at their heart – these laws are nothing more than a tool which DMs can manipulate to increase dramatic tension, and to create a sense of elevated risk which the party must factor into their characters decisions.
With serious consequences for getting caught, DMs are encouraged to abuse this tool in order to leave players feeling on edge, and fearing real and genuine risk for their characters – regardless of whether they are members of the Cloaks or not. Unlike most settings, adventuring in Mulmaster should leave players jumping at every shadow, and feeling threatened at all times. At the same time, DMs should only use this tool in the spirit of enjoyment, and not take them to an adversarial extreme.
To that end, DMs are encouraged to use any (or all) of the following strategies when adjudicating the Arcane Edict, as each one provides varied opportunities to manipulate the danger for which Mulmaster earns its moniker.
Witnesses: Decades of arcane repression have instilled a genuine fear and hatred of arcane magic amongst its citizenry. In a city rife with corruption, players should feel as if a dozen eyes follow their every move, and should be left wondering if every beggar on the street is secretly an informant of the Hawks, Cloaks, or both.
With that being said, witnesses to a characters illegal spellcasting may not always be available, and even then – some witnesses may not report the incident for a variety of reasons. Such reasons include (but are not limited to):
- Rebellion against a corrupt authority
- Being open to bribery
- Falsely believing someone else will report the crime
- Fear of being “questioned”
- Fear that the perpetrators themselves would have them killed
- Or out of loyalty to the characters due to past service.
Reporting the Crime: While loyal citizens will report any illegal spellcasting they witness as accurately as possible; in a city known for its corruption – reporting the crime does not automatically mean that the offending character will be arrested.
From corrupt guards who are easily bribed, to citizens and guards which give vague, conflicting, incomplete or inaccurate accounts of the crime and/or perpetrator(s), there are a variety of reasons why the offending character may not be immediately arrested.
Even in situations where the crime is witnessed by a Cloak, Noble, or other city official, the character may still get away with their crime:
- The official may be corrupt, and deliberately give a false report – pinning the blame on a rival competitor in an effort to advance politically.
- They might secretly be a Harper which has infiltrated the cloaks, and chooses not to report the crime out of a sense of justice.
- The official might be corrupt, open to bribery, or may see it as an opportunity to blackmail the party
- The official may procrastinate, and deliberately (or negligently) delay in reporting the crime; etc.
This of course assumes that the official witnessed the crime accurately. Like other witnesses, even loyal officials are not always privy to all details of the crime, and at times may only have an incomplete description of the crime/perpetrator with which to make their report.
In all such situations the DM should stress how lucky the character is for having narrowly avoided being arrested.
Heightened Security (and other Near Misses): Illegal spellcasting should be reported on a regular basis, but not all reported spellcasting should involve the characters. Should a character be caught casting spells illegally, DMs are encouraged to use the opportunity to increase dramatic tension by overt increases in security through a variety of methods including:
- More frequent Cloak Patrols and check-points.
- Arrest warrants for characters, NPCs, and other perpetrators which vaguely resemble a character placed prominently around the city.
- Cloak operatives publicly questioning witnesses as they attempt to track down unidentified perpetrators.
- Cloak operatives arresting everyone who meets a vague description of a character.
- Reports of witnesses being tortured during interrogation
- Seeing punch-happy guards assault low-level mages, or the characters themselves.
- Or having the “false” culprits arrested and sentenced publicly, and with extreme prejudice.
Getting Caught: In the event that a player Cloak is accurately identified, allow the players every opportunity to avoid/confront the authorities, in an attempt to escape (if time permits). While DMs can issue arrest warrants at any time, DMs are strongly encouraged to conduct arrest attempts and/or sentencing in the last 10-15 minutes of a session, so as not to leave the player unable to participate in the remainder of a session. If time permits, or players are willing – feel free to increase the time available to conduct these encounters, but be mindful that such encounters do not interfere with adventure pacing.
Sentencing: As stated in the State of Mulmaster article, players have several opportunities to avoid sentencing. If this is the characters first infraction, the character should be offered an opportunity to join the cloaks and pay a fine of 200gp x level of the spell. Failing that, if the party includes a rank 3 Harper, the player may be released unharmed. Finally, you could always give players an opportunity to stage a jailbreak. If all else fails, the player willingly and knowingly cast an illegal spell, and should face the full consequences of their actions.
While the threat of arcane sanction remains ever present, the threat of interparty conflict or serious harm to a non-Cloak character as a result of their spellcasting activities is marginal. Players and DMs alike should treat their “illegal spellcasting” as an opportunity for riveting storytelling, and should explore the ramifications in its totality. It is situations such as this that make for epic gaming stories. Stories that are likely to be told years if not decades to come.