Masque of the Red Death
A spin-off to Ravenloft, Masque of the Red Death (named after Edgar Allan Poe's short story of the same name) basically is what you get if somebody at TSR goes "Okay, Ravenloft is pretty Gothic Horror, but how can we turn it up to eleven? I know, let's put the PCs in a world that's our own Earth in the 1890s, but monsters and evil magic are real!"
Or, in other words, Masque of the Red Death is what happens when TSR decides that Ravenloft isn't pure enough to be a "real" Gothic Horror RPG under their control, so they set out to make one.
The basic story is that, on "Gothic Earth", a malevolent and corrupting entity called the Red Death, hinted to be akin to the Dark Powers of Ravenloft (and confirmed by the creator and an early preview to be one exiled for breaking some rule the rest had), has been messing around and fouling up the world for centuries, trying to plunge it into eternal (spiritual) darkness. Your players are brave, bold Victorian souls who dare to seek out that which is going "bump" in the night.
Unfortunately, the setting was released before it became trivial to research the 1890s online and was never very popular. Despite this, it did get both three adventures in Dungeon Magazine, a few Dragon Magazine expansion articles, an RPGA Campaign (which, notably, has an actual conclusion to the setting), and two official Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition updates (the first from that RPGA campaign, and the second from White Wolf when they had the Ravenloft license). There's also a DM's Guild product updating the game to 5E, cleverly exploiting the fact it's officially part of Ravenloft instead of its own setting to bypass the setting restrictions on content for that scheme. Time will tell if it does any better in an era where primary sources are trivial to obtain as public domain e-books.
Assertions that the gameline went under because questions of "Hey, want to play a Historical Fantasy version of Ravenloft where your players are even more screwed than usual?" resulted in DMs being driven off with barrages of stale snacks and empty Coke bottles have never been proven on /tg/.
Humans only, baby! This is a real Gothic (Novel) Horror RPG; you can't play anything but humans in this game.
...Well, that's what they say, but both the AD&D and the 3e version offer the option to play demihumans if the DM is cool with it, arguing that they could represent hidden enclaves of magical races, just like how all the other magic and monsters is lurking in the shadows, with your PCs disguising themselves as humans the best they can when walking amongst the ignorant denizens of Gothic Earth. Of them all, the 3e version is most useful, actively encouraging players and DMs to tweak racial statblocks to represent the different environs that these races live in compared to their fantastical counterparts. The 5E version says Variant Human should be an option if feats are allowed, though given how bad normal human is and how good variant human is that's essentially meaning everyone is playing Variant Human.
While everyone's species is human, since it's the Earth of the 1890s a character's race, in the proper use of the word, will actually matter a good deal. The RPGA modules brought this up a decent amount, though kept it in check by making the campaign take place all over the world and often taking place in black majority parts of the US (such as one arc in New Orleans) when it went there.
Masque of the Red Death uses proprietary classes. These classes are generally of lower power than the normal classes, and in 5e, each class actually only goes up to 10th level, half the normal amount!
In AD&D, your class options consist of:
- The Soldier, a tweaked Fighter who gets multiple attacks, but can't specialize in weapons.
- The Adept, a tweaked Wizard whose biggest drawback is mostly how magic is screwed over in Gothic Earth - see "The Curse of the Red Death" below.
- The Mystic, a tweaked Cleric who doesn't get the same armor/weapon proficiencies (but still gets a d8 Hit Dice for some reason) and also has to put up with the Curse of the Red Death.
- The Tradesman, a replacement Rogue who is defined as "The Skill Monkey Class", even having the usual set of thieving abilities replaced with skill proficiencies to do so!
In the 3e RPGA incarnation, the class list was the following (Yes, they are as crap as described. Few of these classes have any class features after third level and almost none after 5th.):
- Adept: Wizard, but worse.
- Athlete: Expert at physical skills that gets a bonus feat related to their sport at 1st and 3rd level. Also save at the start of each session or you're injured.
- Charlatan: Bad Wizard+skill monkey at the cost of needing to make a fort save or be dazed after every spell.
- Cowboy: Full BAB, d10 HD, 6+int skills and some random bonus feats. Takes random penalty on social skills (none of which are class skills anyways) against "city folk".
- Criminal: Rogue, but worse. You also have double chance of provoking dark powers checks! Can only be taken at first level. Still, even lower progression sneak attack gives them the only universal damage increase in the system if they can get it up (though that's harder without magic and the focus on ranged weapons prohibiting flanking).
- Dandy: Skill monkey, with have the highest wealth and skill points and gets the ability to make a charisma check (yes, on an intelligence based caster) to request a favor once per adventure.
- Detective: Criminal, but only one class feature in exchange for slightly better skill points and only doubling dark powers checks for criminal and violent acts. Their sole class feature gives them a charisma check to request aid from the police once an adventure, aid that needs to be paid back.
- Dilettante: Cleric+skill monkey at the cost of an extremely limited (but highly customizable) spell list based on selecting "domains" (unrelated to the 3E Cleric feature) and a skill list of only the weird skills and taking an always on-penalty to initiative and perception that grows as you level! At third level they get the "Savior-Fair" feat... which doesn't exist!
- Explorer/Scout: Essentially Cowboy with different feats and weapon proficiency. Same penalty to social skills.
- Laborer: Effectively an NPC class. Low skill points, mid BAB/HD, minor bonus feats and a prohibition on taking knowledge skills without a special feat. Literally no reason to play one.
- Medium: Cleric, but worse. Takes same penalty as Dilettante.
- Metaphysician: Wizard, but worse. Gets extra spells at the cost of no bonus feats and taking a -2 penalty against mind-effecting magic. Since this applies on magic instead of everything, possibly excluding spell likes, this isn't actually as terrible as it is.
- Mystic: See Medium. The differences are extremely minor.
- Parson: Non-magical religious person. Some skill monkey ability, gimped turn undead, ability to make holy water, and minor bonus feats. Prohibited from learning weapon related feats, because apparently every real world religion prohibits their priest from violence (uh...).
- Performer: Another skill monkey with random bad bonus feats. Takes a penalty on initiative, but it's only minus 1 and never increases.
- Professional: Another skill monkey with random bad bonus feats. Has a lot of skill points, a customizable skill list
- Physician: The only class able to actually practice medicine, but has to obey a harsh code of conduct (No playing a military doctor like Dr. Watson for you!).
- Politician: Might as well just be another type of Professional.
- Scholar/Scientist: Same as above.
- Servant: Commoner, but with a penalty on horror checks. Why would anyone play this?
- Shaman: Primitive cleric, with the same restriction on learning stuff as Laborer (because tribal religious leaders don't even know about their own culture!). Still, has the lightest initiative penalty out of any divine caster.
- Soldier: Fighter, but worse.
- Soldier, Officer: Far and away the best class in the game. Full BAB, d8 HD, good money, 6+ int skills with a good list, all meaningful weapons as proficiency, and no stupid forced "roleplaying" penalty.
- Spiritualist: Another cleric but worse. Forced to double casting time (so not even first level spells can be used in combat) to increase save DC by... one.
- Tradesman: Very minor variant of Professional.
In the White Wolf 3e version, the class list got expanded. Now, you could take a "standard" class, or one of several built-in variants, which used the same core mechanics, but had unique class features - almost like a prototype of 5e's subclass system. The 3e Masque classes consist of:
In 5e, the class list changed yet again, and why this is, nobody knows. The 5e Masque consists of 5 classes:
- Scion: The bearer of an ancient legacy of occult power
- Shepherd: An influential leader and inspiring comrade
- Sleuth: An astute observer skilled at uncovering what is hidden
- Soldier: A master of combat with specialized weapons training
- Stalwart: A resilient and athletic survivor
It also plays with the subclass mechanic, replacing it with Archetypes. These are functionally subclasses, but operate independently of the base classes, letting you mix and match the two in unique ways to better create more nuanced characters. A Shepherd (Criminal) could be some kind of political agitator or rabble-rouser. A Soldier (Adept) could be a former military agent who stumbled across dark secrets of the occult whilst deployed abroad. A Scion (Gunslinger) could be akin to a Deadlands hexslinger; somebody whose "day job" revolves around their use of the gun, but who isn't afraid to mix magic into their gunplay. More ordinary combinations, such as Scion(Adept) who is really good at casting (for the setting anyway), are also options. There are 16 Archetypes in Masque 5e:
- Adept: A secretive spellcaster and keeper of ancient arcane lore
- Artifact Hunter: An acquirer of rare antiquities
- Charlatan: A con artist or stage magician who might blunder into true magic
- Criminal: A rogue with a talent for thriving outside of the law
- Expert: A scholar, tradesperson, or other specialist with highly-valued skills
- Gunslinger: A master of firearms, ranged combat, and trick shots
- Laborer: A steadfast worker able to tackle challenges few others could endure
- Medium: A seer who views the hidden world beneath reality, whether they like it or not
- Mystic: A metaphysical visionary who opens their mind to transcendent perceptions
- Outrider: A scout or explorer accustomed to life on the frontier
- Parson: A cleric or layperson representing a religious institution
- Pugilist: A practitioner of advanced unarmed combat techniques
- Slayer: A relentless hunter devoted to destroying monsters at all costs
- Socialite: An influential sophisticate skilled at leveraging social privilege
- Spy: A covert agent of espionage with specialized skills
- Tactician: A master of the battlefield, adept at gaining the upper-hand against enemies.
The Curse of the Red Death
As everybody knows, magic in Dungeons & Dragons has long been an obstacle to DMs wanting to run intrigue or socialization-heavy adventures, never mind campaigns. Ravenloft came up with a number of rules tweaks to try and force magic into playing nicer, and Masque of the Red Death follows in its footsteps. In all versions, the same basic restrictions on spells from Ravenloft - planar travel doesn't work, divination doesn't work, etc - are reused and casting times are increased to a round per spell level if they weren't already higher.
In AD&D, because Gothic Earth is a "low magic" world, spellcasting requires a skill proficiency check; Spellcraft for Adepts, Spiritcraft for Mystics, with the addition of a -1/spell level penalty unless you spent an extra point to become proficient in that spell's school, and casting time is also elongated compared to standard worlds. Additionally, every time you cast a spell, you need to make a Powers Check for doing so, with a failure percent chance equal to the spell's level (double that for Necromancy spells) - plus, if you roll a natural 20 when making your spellcasting skill check, the spell goes haywire in some way.
In 3e, the same basic system applies, just with a few tweaks based on the changes to the underlying mechanics - spellcasting requires Knowledge (Forbidden Lore) checks to pull off and spells go haywire on a natural 1, for example. Since 1st level spells could still be cast in a reasonable time, spells like Magic Weapon, Protection From Evil, Cure Light Wounds remained extremely valuable and often mandatory.
The 5e version finally tones this down. All 1st level or higher spells that aren't cast as Rituals warrant a Powers Check, with Evocation and Necromancy spells imposing Disadvantage on the check. That's the downside. On the upside, that's the only hassle you have to deal with. The other major changes to spellcasting are that ritual spells can be performed by just about anyone, provided that they have a reference material for the ritual and can pass the Arcana skill check, and that spellcasters can also choose to "slow cast" their spells, deliberately lengthening them out and having to make the Arcana check in exchange for not having to spend the normal tally of Resolve Points - this version of the game uses a sort of mana system to cover spellcasting.
- Dragon #215 - Donning a New Masque - new kits
- Dragon #236 - Mystics, Miracles and Meditations - new kits
- Dragon #240 - Mysterious Cities - brief blurbs about eleven cities, with both mundane and mystical goings-on
- Dragon #245 - Seeds of Evil - more history about Gothic Earth and a new monster
- Dragon Annual #2 - Villains of Gothic Earth - eight unique villains, each based off a specific classic D&D monster.
- Dungeon #61 - Jigsaw - a flesh golem runs amok in Switzerland
- Dungeon #67 - Fall's Run - the players encounter the occult when their train is forced to stop for the night in Fall's Run
- Dungeon #71 - Dark Magic in New Orleans - a murder mystery with Marie Laveau