The Magic Manacle – or why your CE Rogue can’t leave the party anymore.
THE MAGIC MANACLE
"Hans!" Said the judge, abruptly. "You are a former soldier, are you not? Honourably discharged? And… Get along with the accused fairly well?" The dwarf snapped to attention and gave a salute. "Yes Ma'am! But how does this relate to the charges against the accused?" The judge did not reply. Rather, she turned to face the accused half-elf. "For crimes of arson, I sentence you to the magic manacle." A guard emerged from a semi-hidden antechamber, carrying a manacle without a chain, with glowing runes inscribed all over it. Wordlessly, he clipped the thing on the arsonists ankle, before giving the dwarf, Hans, a plain, unadorned key. "The key will be usable after six months." Intoned the judge. "Now get out of my court."
We've all had that one player. He doesn't want to stick with the party. He doesn't even try to stay with the party, or to convince the rest of the party to go their way. They just split the party at every turn.
Luckily, these players are also the kind of murderhobo who enjoy brazenly flaunting local laws. While this would normally just result in either the guards getting mowed down or a prison sequence that really isn't much fun for anybody, there is another way. It's not a death sentence, and it's not community service work either. What it is, is the magic manacle.
The concept is simple. Much like a shock collar, it will go off and zap the player for, say, a d8 of damage (scaled up or down depending on level) if the player goes farther than 100 feet from the key, which is to be given to a reliable pc, typically your LG paladin. Just saying. The key is keyed to work and unlock the manacle after a certain period of time, however, it must still be deemed appropriate by the keyholder. In theory, a keyholder could never relinquish said key to unlock the manacle, leaving the unfortunate convict to a strange sort of reverse restraining order.
The magic manacle could, if not for the sizable lock built into it, be mistaken for some form of fashionable anklet. Neatly segmented and glowing with runes, the steel contraption deals out electric shocks to convicts who stray outside the bounds set by the judiciary system. Nobody has died of these shocks yet, as the pain it inflicts tends to drive people back to their keyholder quite quickly.
The key, by contrast, is a plain, unadorned key, save for the runes discreetly burn't into the inside of the ring. It's designed to blend in with any other keys the keyholder might have on his possession, making it marginally more difficult to steal.
But why would any city/town/country/kingdom/empire use this system instead of a jail?
The answer is simple. Jails are expensive. You have to pay for three meals a day, staff costs, and facility costs. Not to mention that gathering so many criminals in one place might not be the best idea. Magic manacles ensure that the prisoner is responsible for their own wellbeing, and that the government will incur no further costs beyond that of the manacle, which, for a large country, is negligible.
But then why even use jails at all?
The magic manacle gives its prisoners a degree of freedom valued by both the government issuing it and the prisoner. However, security around it is a bit more lax, as you would only have to bribe or kill the one keyholder to get out, or even just steal the key. Therefore, perpetrators of particularly horrific crimes would typically be sentenced to regular prison, as would convicts without a willing keyholder.
Ways to use this contraption
The main use of this device is simple: Keep the party together. If you really want to build an arc out of this, however, there are many ways you can go about it. The simplest would be to have a pickpocket snatch up the key accidentally, trying to get to the keyholder's wallet. When the party tries to move, the unfortunate recipient of the manacle will suddenly find himself in great pain. Where's the key? Nobody knows. The other is far more nefarious, and probably harder to play out as well. Say that a manacle doesn't shock immediately, giving you a buffer zone of maybe a week(adjust as necessary) to get back to the key. Your BBEG then slaps one of these on a PC's ankle and hands another one the key before gating them both off into different planes. Will they be able to get back together in time? Of course, this also works with any split the party scenario. Just get a hundred foot pit trap. Lastly, there's an interesting plot hook. In a city where these are fairly common, the wearers all suddenly start howling in pain as the manacles activate for… No reason at all. The keys could've been stolen, or the magic underlying the manacles could be beginning to unweave. Can your PCs save all the mostly-reformed convicts in time? Are the convicts even reformed? The choice is yours.