Characters and Adapting the Tempest

The first few scenes of a play are dedicated to introducing the cast and explaining the initial situation. In Shakespeare’s version of The Tempest, this exposition includes having a ship hit a sudden storm, brief exploration of the relationships between Prospero, Ariel, Miranda, and Caliban, and some explanation as to Prospero’s motivation to cause a shipwreck in the first place.

In this adaptation, I’ll need my exposition to serve similar purposes: the player characters (and their respective players) will need to learn something about the island, get some sense of what it is they could be doing, and since the game rules I’m using is Pathfinder Second Edition perform some exploration, downtime, and of course have a couple of fun combat encounters.

A big question I’m asking is this: Why are the player characters on the Island?

Prospero can’t be the protagonist. So, his goal of reclaiming his Dukedom by marrying of Miranda isn’t the main plot of this adaptation. To the extent that he is sympathetic, Caliban probably shouldn’t be the protagonist either: he has set motivations and knowledge and could be an interesting character and/or people group for the players to interact with though. In this scenario, I’m bringing in a group of 4-6 characters who don’t necessarily know the play, and definitely have their own ideas and agendas. I think this gives me a couple of options:

  1. Have the events of the play as a backdrop to something else.
  2. Take the basic situation, and spin it into something that resembles but is definitely not The Tempest
  3. Make the events of the play a thing that the PC’s are involved in.

The trouble with #3 is this: the events of the play are weird and Prospero is at best an antisocial patriarch. I’m not a huge fan of #1, but I really like #2.

The basic situation: at some point about twelve years before the start of the scenario, Prospero and his daughter Miranda escaped Milan in the midst of a coup d’etat. After arriving on the Island, Prospero frees Ariel from their magical prison while also making them his slave and briefly enjoys a peaceful relationship with Caliban before also enslaving him (which may or may not have involved an attempted rape of Miranda). Eventually, Prospero’s brother sails by the Island with the King of Naples and Prospero uses magic to waylay their vessel while also scattering the crew and passengers around the Island. Ferdinand, the Prince of Naples, meets Miranda and perhaps falls in love with her. Prospero torments Ferdinand while torturing those responsible for his downfall before agreeing to allow Ferdinand to marry Miranda and then reclaiming his title, freeing Ariel, casting off his magical power, and leaving the Island to Caliban.

If I were to determine a level for Prospero based on the things he does in the play, I’d suggest that he is capable of casting Sleep, can summon and control spirits, and perhaps cast the spell Freedom. Freedom isn’t in Pathfinder Second Edition, but was a 9th level spell in the previous edition. I could make Prospero a 20th level Wizard, but I also want a group of relatively low-level characters to play through this adventure, so, maybe I’ll give him some access to ritual magic, but put him in around level 4-6 somewhere. I think there’s also an argument to be made that Prospero has at least some Bard leanings, so I’ll keep that in mind for when I stat him out.

Caliban is another problem. He’s supposed to be extremely strong, but he is easily frightened by apparent displays of magic. I’d say he’s probably a barbarian or a ranger, but too low a level to be a threat to Prospero. One way to adapt the play would be to say there are more people than just one enslaved by Prospero, so there could be a whole race of who identify as the Caliban.

I’m not going to slot Miranda into any particular role yet – I want to see how this develops.

Then I have some of the ships crew and some assorted nobility and middle class folks scheming to profit in various ways from being trapped on the Island.

Oh, and there’s also the player characters.

I’m not a lot further into this adaptation than when I started, but I’ve at least identified that I have a few key presences on the Island:

There are the spirits, as represented by Ariel. There are the Caliban, who are being exploited by Prospero. And then there’s Prospero.

In order to balance things out a bit, I’m going to say that Prospero has an entourage which includes Miranda and a few other counselors – a bit of a court away from court. This includes Ariel, but also some regular mundane folks; it can also help to explain how Prospero isn’t overwhelmed by the superior numbers of the Caliban. He’s perhaps the highest level mortal on the Island, but not invincible.

Ok, I think this is a good spot to leave it for now. Check back later for some more development of the Island and an outline.

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