How to plan the Wormwood Mutiny final encounter?

Skull & Shackles

SPOILERS AHEAD!! Players, go no further!

I'm with a problem that perhaps somebody can help me with.

My party is getting closer to the mutiny scene. I don't know how it will play out yet, they've just joined the crew on the Man's Promise and I have the feeling they might mutiny earlier. Anyway, my biggest problem with the whole thing is: What to do with the NPCs in the last fight?

Before the campaign started, I gave all named NPCs a detailed personality and background. It was really enjoyable for my players to interact with the crew, be it in a friendly way or not. They talked to almost everyone and can remember the crew by name (with exception of a few guys they didn't have time interacting with). It lead to memorable scenes and characters - Rosie is almost an honorary PC now, Conhar is the quirky but nice guy the PCs have to look up after, Fipps is the douchebag target of several jokes and pranks a day, Sly is a creepy stalker that PCs genuinely fear, and so on. Now, as we approach the climax, I don't know how to handle the last encounter.

On one hand, it would be SO much easier to let the overall fight fade into background and focus on the PCs vs Scourge and Plugg. On another hand, I fear this may diminish the importance that social interaction played so far. From the start I emphasized that gathering allies is crucial for a successful mutiny, so it would be nice for them to see the allies they toiled so hard to conquer actually there, fighting and being useful instead of serving as minor background noise, but dealing with an encounter of more than 20 NPCs would be a nightmare.

So far, possible solutions I came with are:

1- Leave the fight as background with the exception of a few of the most memorable NPCs. Diminishes the problem, but doesn't solve it.

2- Put all NPCs on the map and hand my players simplified sheets so they control the 'good guys' and I have only to deal with the enemies. I've done it before in other campaigns, it worked well, but with smaller encounters. As it is, it may shift attention from the real villains and take forever to finish.

I'm also concerned with keeping the encounter challenging. Plugg and Scourge are despised but feared. It would be really anticlimactic to see them go down in a few turns but, knowing my players, if they have NPCs to command, they will surely swarm the villains one at a time, making it impossible to do that movie-like pirate showdown everyone is expecting.

3- Do the final fight in parts. First a showdown against minor NPCs with the help with allies, then move on to the big fight with only the PCs vs the diabolical duo. I don't know how I would build this. It's practical, but always seems silly from a story / strategic viewpoint. Plugg doesn't seem like the kind of guy that would sit in the back with a glass of wine, stroking a white cat and mwahaha-ing while the heroes cut through his lackeys.

4- Find excuses to why most of the NPCs aren't available to participate in the climax. Such as being locked up by Plugg, being unconscious due to lashes, getting cold feet and refusing to participate, etc. This is my least desired choice since it involves major railroading and that's what I'm trying to diminish.

Oh, one detail about by game: We're playing using Roll20 and skype, sessions lasting usually about 3 hours. So, there's that.

How you GMs out there handled this scene?

My DM had our party's NPC allies locked up below deck, so it was just the 4 of us against Plugg, Scourge, and the handful of loyal crew members they had. It was maybe 10 against 4 (our 3 characters plus Sandara; Giffer unfortunately didn't make it out of the grindylow cave alive...) including Scourge, Plugg, and Owlbear, and they attacked us as soon as we got within crossbow distance of the ship.

Granted, we were all gestalted, so that may have played into how little trouble we had in that fight once we were on deck.

I ran it in parts. One of the PCs was locked in the store room below deck, while Quinn was with Scourge and Plugg in the Captain's quarters. The party split up, each taking six NPCs with them into battle against about three NPC pirates and two bosses. Ended up being a good, memorable way to run it, as the bad guys and good guys were roughly evenly matched and while there wasn't much of a threat to the PCs, there were two NPC deaths (one to an Antipaladin at that) before all was said and done. In the end, the party even managed to fulfill their promise to Slips (who I had cast as a borderline psychotic knife nut) to let her be the one to kill Plugg.

In any case, finding a way to split the party up a bit and put them up against Plugg, Scourge and their loyal, as well as the Rahadoumi sailors, in relatively even numbers, and it should be fine.

I 'cheated' a bit when I ran it. It had been well established that Plugg and Scourge were hated and the crew loyalty was split between supporting the Plugg/Scourge or the PCs.

When the PCs are exploring the island I had it so some of Scourge and Plugg's cronies were digging up some buried treasure and get discovered by the PCs. This let the PCs know something was up.

When they got to the beach head to rendezvous with the ship, the mutiny sort of already happened and Plugg and Scourge were on the shore 'disciplining' a couple of the NPCs that were loyal to the PCs.

This isolated the other PC-loyal NPCs on the ship and the PCs could take on Plugg and Scourge. With their leaders defeated, the NPCs loyal to the bad guys surrendered.

I was also worried about this when I ran it. However, they were smart, sneaked in and surprised Plugg. They then took the main deck with a mixture of a fight and some diplomacies, dealing with a few of the opposition fast and then trying to get the rest on board.
Basically, the pcs came with Plugg's head in hand from the cabin, which did a lot to chill down everyone.

Then I had the storm hit them.

However, I wouldnt actually worry too much about whether if it is a challenge or not. We are in book 4..and this AP is murderous at every corner, the island they're about to embark on included. IF they are smart, do yourself a favour and roll with it.

As for the map parts, I printed out the deck of the Mans Promise and put some small die or pieces of plastic/wood to symbolise the crew, and pointed to a few who were "opposed" npcs, which they were sure would support Plugg.

Thanks for the feedback, guys! :)
The temptation of having a huge epic fight with everyone on the map is huge but I guess separating would be better after all, before the fight descends into a magnificent clusterf+&$.

Major problem I have with dividing the fight is explaining why P&S didn't jump in immediately. They're both cowars that like to show off, so it makes sense they would attack all at the same time and be there to enjoy when the PCs go down, but Scarykavu gave an idea. Guess I'll put some of Plugg's cronies at the shore the embush the PCs. I could make that they were trying to impress their new captain by getting rid of the mutiny leaders earlier (those pirates aren't very smart, after all). I already changed some character sheets, giving some of the hostiles PC levels, so a "miniboss" fight wouldn't be bad at all.

That is, of course, if my players don't decide to mutiny earlier. A very likely scenario, considering how much they hate Plugg at this point.

Errant Mercenary, I unfortunately can't play with prints and miniatures since my players live very far from me. It's easy to run sessions using the the internet nowadays, but sadly is still not the same thing. I compensated the lack of physical tools by drawing portraits for all the wormwood crew, so at least my players will have something different, and then use border colors to differenciate baddies and allies.

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My way takes a bit of preparation time on your time, but I think it works wonders:

Put them all on the board. Plan ahead (narratively) how the fight will go, assuming average rolls for everyone. Have a document with the figth results broken down by turns.

As the PCs confront the big baddies, narrate the background fights, and if they choose to interact (say, try to save somebody who is clearly in over their heads), you have your document knowing the relevant variables depending on when they interact.

This way, you can keep the secondary fights in the background unles they choose to focus on them, while retaining the cinematic of a big fight.

Hmm seems my party was a bit meaner and stealthy. Two days on man's promise they stealthed to the sleeping forms of plugg ando scourge and coup de grace them. Thus ignoring a final showdown.

Efreeti, that's a good idea. I'm trying to do that. However, how much detail do you put in preprating this scenes? And how further back you start planning? The PCs may mutiny early, but at the same time they're still trying to get allies. Would be annoying to make everything ready and then have some npcs change sides.
Another thing I tought about: In the proper mutiny part, at the end of the book, how the crew allied to the PCs is able to participate in the fight? Wouldn't Plugg lock them up, at least the ones obviously supporting the PCs?
I know I might be focusing too much on unecessary detail, but hey, that's what this thread is for ^^'

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