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Second Look for Skull & Shackles

Skull & Shackles

I was quite a bit not impressed with S&S when it first came out and stopped buying them half way through. However, recent time playing Pirate101 has inspired me to give the series a second look.

Before I get started, any advice from those of you with some S&S experience to tell me some of the high points I should be looking for or ideas for getting past some of the troublesome spots which cost my interest the first time through?


Well, what exactly were the troublesome spots for you?

I've only played through Book 1 so far, but my players loved it.

I'm planning to go very sandbox now that they've got their own ship, and pretty much let them go where they please and have fun. I have no idea how much of the existing S&S material is going to end up getting used, but I expect that I'll probably be able work most of it in.

Trinite wrote:
Well, what exactly were the troublesome spots for you?

I was partly turned off by my own lack of ability to align standard D&Disms (like wizards and dungeons) with Spanish Main-style pirating that I was looking for.

Mostly, though, I was frustrated with several spots which required the PCs to do things that weren't apparent, such as an encounter based on the characters sailing their ship up a river for fresh water or a dungeon hooked on "they say it's lucky to loot it, you should go do that."

I've a new mentality for that first problem which has geared me up for he reread, but I was hoping some practical play experience might reveal the actual workings of some encounters or plot points which didn't read well.

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A lot of the information is spread over the 6 books in different places and it takes a few read throughs of the whole AP to understand all the plot points. For instance the whole Bonefist and Cheliax plot is not really revealled until the intro of book 6, NPC motivations and backgrounds not appraent until they appear so backstory for Thrune not known until part 6, navigation, weather, getting new crew are spread in small bars in books or in articals at the back, Treasure seeds and random ship encounters need stating up but the framework is there. You will definatley need Isles of the Shackles and probably the map folio too to run it, the random encounters in the Shackles guide is great for the sandbox. There are definatly some ideas that dont work or flow well but I and many others have just changed them or added new ones (Inkskin in book 2 using her as an NPC and switching part 6 around so the invasion is last for instance)

If you trawl through the message boards there are a plethora of good ideas esp the Sandbox idea to work with. Most of the travel from A-B in every book makes sense then and you can then integrate the ship in the channel whilst looking for fresh water with ease (the crew need fresh supplies to keep them going).

Its not a pick up and play AP, it takes some tweaking to make it work and for some of the adventure areas to work but personaly it really worth it. If you can make a sandbox out of it and let the players dictate what they do from book 2 onwards AND keep the plot moving its a damn fine adventure and very differnt too.

Playing it so far has been a blast, my group is loving it, it is deadly in its early stages but it just made my players more inventive on how they survived. They are loveing the ship and crew idea, the NPC's on the ship have formed bonds with some of them and have designed the look of the ship (black and will be decorated in bones and skulls, the captains name is Jack Bones and one of the players has drawn the flag too). All from a bunch of players who are all staple fantasy dungeons and wizard types normally.

ferrinwulf wrote:
All from a bunch of players who are all staple fantasy dungeons and wizard types normally.

My clever fix for this is to look at it with the intent of banning any class from the core rules. No fighters, sorcerers or bards. Instead, the group will be the more exotic Cavaliers, Ninjas and

In fact, Cavalier pirate captains, Besmaran oracles, and tengu ninja seem very appropriate to the setting, and that new outlook has helped me frame the AP.



Nearing the end of the first book, and the only actual disconnect I've had (aside from the weird necessity of schmoozing to get gear rather than just being issued cutlasses) is when acting Captain Plugg sends the PCs off to get water. It makes NO sense that he'd send his hated rivals off to get something so valuable as fresh water and then drop an ultimatum that they'll leave without them (AND the water) if they're not back in 2 days.

Fletch-Fix #1 for Skull & Shackles is to flip parts 2 and 3. During the storm on Man's Promise, either the PCs are finally pushed too hard or their enemies finally decide to make their move, but the mutiny spontaneously erupts. Ideally the PC and their allies win, but the end result is an unguided ship crashing into the reefs. The new PC captain's first leadership test is then to see to the ship's repair and rescue two captured crewmembers.

All told, an easy fix which doesn't stretch credulity or require any number juggling. Done.

Other than that, I kind of enjoyed Wormwood Mutiny. It requires some new thinking on how adventures are run, but it comes with plenty of NPCs to coach the players on the new style. Worst case scenario, the players get tired of being whipping boys easily solved by introducing The Man's Promise earlier than written.

Had a close call with incredulity when reading the rum ration rules until I realized the penalties and CON loss were only if the PC fails a pretty easy save. At first I was all "1d3 CON per day?!?"

I am quite confused, though, with the impositions that allow spells to be cast. How does that work? Is infamy a tangible form of energy which can be used to call lightning or teleport ships? At best maybe I can see them as blessing of Besmara, but I think it'd be just as easy to cut those spell-like options from the impositions list and/or make up my own, more agreeable impositions.

I'm also disappointed in the concise but intangible descriptions of shipboard roles. While the descriptions were adequate, I really wanted to see options which influenced the mechanics of the game in some way like the way different government positions affected the kingdom in Kingmaker. Like having a good Master-at-Arms would give a bonus to boarding actions.

Finally, who's the mechanically-armed pirate lass on page 67? Does she turn up in a later issue?

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I fully expect your Fletch-Fix #1 to occur naturally with my group else I'm not doing Scourge and Plug justice.

I share your concern with the flavour of the impositions. Haven't put much thought to it yet. I'm curious to see how the impositions work in conjunction with fleet battles and the special tricks that squadron commanders get later on.

I'm also curious to find out how my players/we deal with painstakingly acquiring individual crew members only to casually lose those well-defined NPCs to attrition and vague, generalized replacements as crew combat takes its toll. I'm considering just having a long list of names, gender, race and simply quirk to rotate through as crew is replaced via boarding actions/ recruitment.

That said, I'm still quite jazzed about running this AP for my group soon. (Finishing Shackled City is taking longer than anticipated.)

I considered the time limit a bluff, so if the PCs don't go back in time, Plugg will send another party (consisting of his supporters) with the other boat. If it happens I'll probably let the PCs find out about the plot to kill them when they return by interrogating them.

Right now my group has spent 1 day on Bonewrack and haven't found the water yet.

It was Raiders of the Fever Sea which really started my initial disfavor for this series, but a second read had the advantage of already having a few Fletch-Fixes in mind before I even got to the problems so this read went pretty smoothly.


As I mentioned before, an encountered based on the PCs sailing their boat up a river for fresh water is a non-starter in my brain. Since there aren't even any rules for supplying your crew (booo!), this comes up as "you're low on water, you should sail up this river to get some...oh look, an encounter."

Initially my intent was just to cut that scene, but it is a good encounter and I'd hate to waste it. Fletch-Fix #2: Instead, I'll move it to any small port they pull into to sell goods. As they're in port, the pirate hunter will arrive and hover off the coast waiting for them to leave (or be tied up next to them and grow suspicious of the cargo they're offloading). The only way the PCs will escape is to sneak out and disable the ship as described in the river scene. Encounter saved!!

But the biggest waste of the book was ol' Inkskin Locke. Having to recover a pirate map from the skin of another pirate is a great hook. Having that pirate show up randomly and just discover she has a map on her is lame. This combines with my disappointment on the randomness of "you should take Tidewater Rock because it's lucky" hook for my biggest rewrite yet.

Fletch-Fix#3: One of the ships the new pirates take has a really ornate captain's desk in the cabin which would spruce up the Man's Promise quite nicely. It'll even have some built-in charts on slide out panels to give the PCs bonus to navigation. However, the captain soon discovers a secret panel which contains an engraving of a riddle. It seems this was Captain Smythee's old desk which provides a clue to where he hid his treasure. Most people know that his widow, Agasta Smythee, has the map tattooed on her, but that did little good to anybody without this riddle-based clue.

In this scenario, then, the PCs go to Tidewater Rock to get their hands on the map (either through diplomacy or conquest) so they can put together the pieces and reclaim the treasure.

I'll just keep Inkskin in my pocket in case they need to fight a pirate some time.

I was also going to initially cut out the Sahuagin cave, partially as being repetitious of the grindylow cave in book 1, but mostly because I hate the idea of the PCs solving all the challenges to get the treasure but learning someone found it before them. I hate throwing away good encounters, though. The room set aside for Inkskin just gave me the idea of having it be instead a room set aside for Cap'n Smythee who'd formed an alliance with the Sahuagin to protect his treasure. I might even introduce one or two malenti hotties to be a harem of sorts for him.

Final gripe: I just noticed the maps on the inside front covers don't mark the locations of the encounters in each book, instead just being locations for the treasure-hunting hooks in the back cover. Booo!


Nice fixes, Fletch! I think I just might combine Inkskin and Agasta, like you did! It improves the economy of characters and will probably make the players care a lot more about "both" characters, as it were.

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Reading Tempest Rising reminds me why I gave up on this AP in the first place. Lord this is awful. It's so bad I actually had to look at who the author was to find out who was at fault.

The good news is, I no longer have to make a list of things which annoy me in published adventures. Instead, I can just offer up this title and be done with it.


I was about to go blow-by-blow on everything I hate about this adventure, but decided to just sum up instead.

I hate the false barriers to meeting the Hurricane King and becoming a Free Captain. There's no way they can NOT achieve that, so even if they lose the card game or don't impress the council, they achieve their goal anyways. Best I can offer here is that the card game rules can be used back during their time on the Wormwood.

Next, I hate the convoluted yet railroady spy investigation which fills part 2 of the adventure. I can tolerate one or two of the "before I'll help you, you need to do a task for me" scenarios, but I honestly had to make a flow chart to track them all here.

Just for fun, I've enclosed my notes for one path here:

Here we go:
Tessa directs them to talk to a Callistrian priestess who will give them the next clue only if they recover a statue which was pirated from them. They should talk to a priest of Norgorber to find out which pirates took it and then go murder them to get the statue back. Giving the statue back to the Callistrian gives them the name of a person who can give them the name of person who they discover has been murdered. The body, fortunately, has a clue leading them to his contact who turns out to be missing but reveals a clue to another person. They arrive just in time to see that person assassinated. Catching the assassin leads them (finally) to the person who's running the spy ring, ironically back in the town where they started.

I did get a chuckle out of the pirate princess asking them to investigate because she was too well known and then offering them a pennant to fly showing that they're part of her fleet. Durp!

In comparison, I'm only slightly bothered by premise for the regatta. It's actually salvagable. Basically, I find it odd that they hold an annual race to add a new Lord to the council to the point where the winner gets an island to rule over. I would think it'd work the other way, with a pirate proving his worth by creating a successful port and being invited/demanding a seat on the council.

So...Fletch-Fix #5*: The Regatta is just a race. For fun and a big sack of cash at the end. That way, the PCs can legitimately lose without the GM having to handwave Harrigan's disqualification to keep the AP on track (boo!) Instead, the upwardly mobile new free captain politics a bit and figures the best way to get promoted to the council is to found a successful port (better than the one at Tidewater Rock), which leads to them learning the best opportunity is a the Island of Empty Eyes.

In fact, I can smooth over the whole "working for another pirate" aspect of the spy chase by having Tessa offer to sponsor them as council members in exchange for the work and advising them on the best way to go about it.

* I'll have to get back to you on Fletch-Fix #4, 'cause basically it involves re-scheming the spy chase. If it's that frustrating to read, I can't imagine actually trying to play it.

So that's my read of the volumes I have. Looking at them collectively, it was all Book 3's fault that I gave up on this series. Though I had some changes in mind for the first two, I think that's assumed and don't think poorly of an adventure which a GM wants to customize. The amount of hate I have for that third book, though, is enough to sink Maui.

Any actual play experience counter to my reading impressions? Was Book 3 actually a fun adventure? Did your players enjoy the ongoing stream of dead contacts?

More importantly, if it's just the one book, I can see myself checking out Book 4 and carrying on. I was pretty stoked about a pirate AP and could overlook one stinker to get back into the spirit.

If nothing else, I quite enjoyed the Pathfinder Journal in this series...

Yes part 3 was rather comlicated and as you I had to write notes to remember what happened along the way. I hated the the whole wasp sting part I think it looks really hard to run so I subsituted it for the 3rd party module ship of fools instead. I also didnt like the ending of part 2 so added the Bonjo Tomo adventure from dead mans chest instead and the whalebone part I twisted round to have as the end piece being chased by a dead pirate for stealing his treasure. Having 2 waterlogged caverns in 2 parts didn't work for me. All cahnges I have made have been really easy to impliment so far.

Depending on how much time you have and whether you want to run it or not I would suggest you look up the thread for making the sandbox work. it has some really good ideas and makes to make the whole pirates thing work. If you divide up the map of the shackles in to 100mile squares and add regions to them as the op of the thread has done it makes travel a heck of a lot more fun and leaves a lot of part 2 up to the players. This would I think make part 3 a heck of a lot more interseting and easier to run too as there is a lot to do on the way to each of the points in the spy chase. Making everything work for the sandbox has been the big challenge for me but it has already paid up 2 sessions in to part 2 of ap 2 as there are has been so many unexpected and interseting events.

So far definatly my favorite campaign I have run in 20 odd years, mainly I think to the message boards and a pretty solid AP too.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32, 2012 Top 4

ferrinwulf wrote:
... so I subsituted it for the 3rd party module ship of fools instead.

How did that work out? And how well did it work with the Skull and Shackles campaign?

I'm very interested since I wrote Ship of Fools. ;-)

i'll let you know, I hav'nt run that part yet but I like it and it fits really well at this point


I think you raise some valid points about Chapter 3. I think that by the time my players get that far, we'll just open up the Shackles as a giant sandbox and have them maneuver through the politics of the Free Captains however they please.

The Isles of the Shackles softcover is a really cool resource, and I think I'm going to just turn 'em loose among the islands.

I'm embarrassed to say it hadn't occurred to me to just sandbox the third chapter. I don't have Isles of the Shackles, though. Is it that much of a gem?

It does seem preferable to the current option for chapter three (mind you, passing out coloring books would be a preferable option to chapter three). I wonder if I have the GMing chops it'd take to just sit back and see where the currents take my players.

With that in mind, what *has* to happen during this chapter? Presumably the PCs have to get their Letter of Marque and meet Tessa Fairwind (who I assume becomes an important NPC later on). There might also be some foreshadowing of the Chelaxian invasion.

I'd also like to see some development with Tidewater Rock, but I suspect that spot's pretty much dropped in favor of the Isle of Empty Eyes.


Fletch wrote:

I'm embarrassed to say it hadn't occurred to me to just sandbox the third chapter. I don't have Isles of the Shackles, though. Is it that much of a gem?

It does seem preferable to the current option for chapter three (mind you, passing out coloring books would be a preferable option to chapter three). I wonder if I have the GMing chops it'd take to just sit back and see where the currents take my players.

With that in mind, what *has* to happen during this chapter? Presumably the PCs have to get their Letter of Marque and meet Tessa Fairwind (who I assume becomes an important NPC later on). There might also be some foreshadowing of the Chelaxian invasion.

I'd also like to see some development with Tidewater Rock, but I suspect that spot's pretty much dropped in favor of the Isle of Empty Eyes.

I personally think it's a fantastic book. There's a whole bunch of crazy stuff on a ton of different islands. And a really solid bestiary, too.

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