Last weekend, I watched the Pirates of the Carribean trilogy in its entirety and I found myself brainstorming ways to make my Savage Tide game more exciting.
Our group has currently completed TiNH and will be heading into BG. I am going to have Lavinia lend them the Blue Nixie on the way to Kraken's Cove and run a pirate encounter (I'm moving the Brotherhood Blockade encounter from SWW here) along the way. Also, at the suggestion of several posters, I plan on having my players run afoul of savage sharks while rowing to the beach in Kraken's Cove as well as using Webbirds from the later Dungeon issues in place of the savage monkey encounter. During their romp through Kraken's cove, I plan on giving them several "redshirt" NPCs (crewmembers of the Blue Nixie - i.e. warrior/experts) come aboard with them. This is to emphasize the lethality of the Savage Fever and the monsters they come across.
For the second half of Bullywug Gambit, I am expecting my PCs to play up the inflitration aspect of the Vanderboren Manor assault.
My PCs are:
human fighter 1/ranger 3
human transmuter 4
tiefling rogue 4
warforged fighter 4
human cleric 4
Anyways, what things have you done to make your Savage Tide game as exciting as possible? Do you suggest that I refrain from using the Battlemat and figurines for every combat? What kind of music should I use? What things in game/out of game have you done to make your games more cinematic? Thanks.
A couple of simple maxims:
1) There should never be only one thing happening at once. Fighting pirates is just a fight. Fighting pirates IN A HURRICANE while desperately trying to keep the ship afloat and a DIRE SHARK is cicling under the keel waiting for anyone who falls overboard and an INVISIBLE PIRATE NINJA is stalking around hunting the wizard and there's a pirate informer fomenting mutiny among the passengers is *memorable*.
2) Sometimes there must be things that are too big to fight. The AP as written is full of level-appropriate challenges until you hit somewhere around EoME, and so a meathead group can chop cheerfully through everything they come across if they're tactically formidable enough. This is the wrong vibe for the 'exploring the mysterious Isle' type campaign - there's no tension or fear of the unknown if the players are ooc confident that they can smack anything they come across if it comes down to it. PCs (and players) should sometimes be scared. The unknown has no power if you're always sure that you can take out whatever comes at you. Zotzilaha is a good example here.
3) If a PC tries something spectacular and cinematic, give it a chance of working. But more importantly, ensure that if it DOESN'T work, the failure is spectacular and cinematic and makes the situation more interesting, rather than being discouragingly, crushingly deadly - even at the expense of 'realism'. Refer to rule #1 - a PC trying and failing to do something outrageous can often be a great way to introduce a complication into an otherwise one-dimensional situation.
One of the biggest gripes about Sea Wyvern's Wake is the railroad nature of it. And I don't just mean how it's one long boat trip. Some aspects of the trip are unavoidable as written.
More important sometimes than cinematic action is a sleight of hand act that makes the railroad portions seem like they are the result of PC choice. For instance, the parts where the ship is forced off course. The PCs must be made aware that despite their best heroic efforts, a ship is at the mercy of the wind. So in those moments, let the PCs decide if they attempt to do anything to minimize the results (but then play out the results you choose).
That said, I've tried to sort out in my mind how things would happen at the very end of the trip. From the moment of the first damaging collision, things start going badly. Holes in the side of the ship allow creatures to snag passengers. Even after breaking free (even better, after the PCs have attempted to repair damage), the captain resigns to the fact that the ship will sink. The goal is to keep the ship afloat long enough to reach safety (will anyone be able to reduce the size of the holes?) but not allow the winds to capsize the ship (someone will have to go up and detach the upper sails). Then, as shore is in sight, the waves up ahead seem to drop suddenly. The water is waving and breaking on the rocks. But it's too late to turn around. Lightning flashes. Every crashing wave forces the ship forward towards the rocks until the inevitable occurs.
Sometimes environment provides you all the cinematics you need, as long as you include all the details but still allow PC choice (even if it doesn't make a total difference).
You get the idea.
What I have done, is the following:
1) Give the PCs the feel that they are on their own. SWW works best if one of the PCs is the captain and has to solve the problems on the ship. Keep the NPCs in supporting roles and make it clear that they are not as powerful as the PCs.
2) Keep up the pace and put the pressure on. I even suggested that there was a risk the crew would mutiny. They were on their toes the whole trip.
3) Use a lot of handouts, more than in any other campaign. I showed them the pictures of SWW when appropriate.
4) Make things mysterious and spread a lot of rumors about dangers they might encounter. SWW has a list of small encounters, such as jungle with spider webs, dead monkeys, etc. I described these with a sense of mystery. The players supposed these were clues to events behind their backs they knew nothing about, which might create problems in the future.
I've decided to do away with battlemaps and minis to emphasize the "first person" and cinematic nature of the campaign. I've spoken to my players and though they were a bit tentative, they seem excited by the prospect. Has anyone played through this campaign without using minis and battlemat? Do you have any advice or feedback for running this campaign in an "old school" manner? How were you able to handle high level play? Thanks.
I second Laurellians advice about battlemats but also understand that it can constrain you to specific actions rather than the sort of free flowing feel you get without them. I still use the mats and find they're crucial for all of us being on the same page. But anyway, to get that cinematic feel, I took some advice from a fellow gm and started using Hero points. These I think come from Mutants and Masterminds (so an appropriately super heroic type system which is whats lacking when sticking to standard rules).
Briefly, the way they work is that you start each session with say 1 hero point and at any time on that players go they can spend it to redo an action or take creative control of the scene.
For example in a session I just ran during Sea Wyverns Wake. The party was finishing up Last breaths of Ashen Port (a wotc free module that I used in place of the first fort during the trip to the Isle of Dread)when there was a battle at the docks. I had a major NPCs ship in harbour and had as background Emraag (from TOD)appear while the party was fighting fish monsters.
Emraag came up under the NPCs ship and broke its back and started dragging the stern under the water. One of my pc's (A Scout Rakasta) decided that he wanted to have a go at the Dragon turtle. so he charged down the dock then lept off into the water but used his Hero point to have a Barrel be bobbing in the ocean in the right square, then jumped from that to land on Emraags shell. He then critted him with his Kukri and Jumped back to land back on the barrel.
Emraag (who was only there to add a cinematic feel) then sank under the waves dragging the ship with it (this elicited much gloating from the players deciding they had driven off a massive dragon turtle). The scout player then decided that using his skills he would ride the bow wave created by the DT all the way back to the dock and rolling high as the wave crested he stepped off the barrell back onto the dock and decided that he had just invented surfing.
My long winded point being that without the hero point the players creativity would've been stifled. I have found that if I give them out whenever they come up with something clever, funny or heroic then they spend them regularly and it all helps create something that to us feels like it would look good up on a screen at the movies.
It's a bit like what they say in 4th ed, try saying yes when players want to try something. It took me a while to let go of the reigns for creative control but I've since found that the players always surprise me and the game goes in directions which make it more enjoyable for all of us.