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So, it's been a while but I have to say that my players continue to impress me with how 'in to' a setting they can get within the mechanics of the original pathfinder game system. There's a remote possibility some of you recall the antics of our Samsaran led party in Reign of Winter, posing as fey over and over again.
Well, since the closure of the Reign of Winter campaign, we'd agreed that we wanted to try our hand at an evil campaign, but none of us was at all enchanted with Hell's Vengeance. We're not big Chelaxian fans as a rule other than cheap jokes at the diabolists' expense. Since we had done Hell's Rebels in an online campaign for years and everyone at the sit-down group liked the idea of a Pirate Campaign, I'd had Skulls and Shackles ready to go.
So, I thought I'd share a few of our highlights when I remember to do so. We've just completed book 3 and as we switch campaigns for a couple months, I'm working on plans for Book 4 at a measured pace.
Some general commentary on the Skulls and Shackles Adventure Path:
First of all, storyline wise, this is arguably one of the best if not the best Adventure Path I've ever had the privilege to run. The writing of the story is logical, mostly seamless and with perfect use of the various memes one expects of a pirate campaign. The mechanics of the setting are 'usually' in no need of rewriting, despite the fact that the Path is a very old one comparatively and my players are a high-wealth group with access to two Occult Adventures classes and an Advanced Class one, making their tactics drastically outside of what was expected when the Path was written.
Now, here's the caveat on "scaling encounters." The storyline encounters (e.g. guys like Milksop Morgan, Kreelort, Inkskin Locke, the Whale.) are generally not in need of much upgrading. I sometimes toss Advanced onto a couple of them when I feel they need just a bit more pep, but these 'crafted' NPCs usually prove extremely solid at giving challenges even when the PCs are prepped for them (they're an anti-arcane party, but even still Milksop gave them a fair run for their money, as did the illusionist I am suddenly forgetting). I think this is because when they did NPC crafting, they played well to the skill set of the NPCs, meaning that I could take full advantage of what made their classes tick.
However, the generic ship encounters were in need of 100% complete rewrites. The average vessels in Book 2 needed full rewrites. Within short order the party were slaughtering lvl 2 fighters and warriors with generic pirate stats. I understood why they were done the way that they were, being generic low-grade pirates and merchant vessels, but we wanted continued challenge so I built templates for various generic crewmen both for the PCs vessels and the NPCs. This upgraded encounters to the kind of nailbiters that made them smile which pleased me.
I've done extensive reads of all six books, and I'm going to say point blank that I'm a total brownnoser with the Paizo staff for this series. James, Rob and the rest of the team knocked it out of the park overall with this. Most Adventure Paths falter in at least 2 books, at no fault of the team really. It is fair to say that keeping tone for six full books and an entire character's career is not easy and, for every Frozen Stars or Rasputin Must Die, you're going to get a Mother, Maiden, Crone.
There are 'weaker' installments in the series, but Skulls and Shackles does one of the best jobs I've seen so far of series I've played in or run (Wrath, Hell's Rebels, S&S, Iron Gods, Mummy's Mask in particular with some experience in Rise of the Runelords). The theme is clear throughout. Progression is logical (Book 1 - Swabs get ship, Book 2 - We be Pirates, Book 3 - Gaining Recognition as Pirates and seeking the council, Book 4 - Earning their place on the council, Book 5 - Facing off against Harrigan and revealing the final end-game villains, Book 6 - Claim the Crown for Yourself and Down with Cheliax.).
The Strongest Installments:
Wormwood Mutiny - This one really gets them into the idea of being pirates and 'puts them in their place' with ample reason to build a true loathing for one of the primary villains of the whole story arc. Claiming their first vessel then feels like a challenge and something they've earned.
Raiders of the Fever Sea - Though generic NPCs needed a complete overhaul, this is one of the best 'open world' installments I've seen in an adventure path. As long as the GM is creative, you could all kind of things with this book. It's easy to charge through, but better if you take your time.
The Price of Infamy - We're not here yet, but there's a lot to love about the build up to confronting Harrigan. The fleet battle also isn't cumbersome in comparison to the armada of Book 6. It's a 'good' introduction to the fleet mechanics so they're ready for them in Book 6.
The 'weaker installments:'
Tempest Rising - Don't get me wrong. 'Weaker' comes in quotes. Tempest Rising had great encounters and lots of good material for me to use in building up the feel of internal politics among the Pirate Lords. However, the investigation itself (while logically serving as an excuse to visit all major Pirate Ports in the Shackles) is a little wonky and time consuming without teleportation. We jokingly called it the "Where in the World is Carmen Santiago" part of the book.
Island of Empty Eyes - I'm going to need to do some reworking so that Book 4 does not become a massive dungeon slog. The material is great itself, but it's a bit more "Traditional Pathfinder" than "Pirates on the High Seas." However, the piracy content is still solid and I'll be able to do a lot between the cracks.
Alright enough gumming up the works with my commentary, on with the show!
The Press-Ganged of the Wormwood:
My players: This is going to be a pointedly evil campaign.
Tobias Dragomir: Aasimar athiest Skald and "Gentleman Merchant." A hater of most gods, he is a failed businessman with decades of attempts and losses, many tied to prior campaigns we've played. The 'Admiral' of the building crew.
Deksyana: Future Bosun of the Drowned Drachma and later Deep Platinum, she is a cruel, hard-bitten and deadly human Hydrokineticist with a laugh as she sadistically destroys any who threaten her life.
Yhmrhi the Unrepentant: The psychotic and insane Undine Spiritualist whose sister (Envy) aids her in combat. She is both a twisted taxidermist who likes to keep her prized victims as shrunken heads on her person, and who is a compulsive liar, constantly spinning false tales and gossip in every town the go to.
Sandara Quinn & Kroop - I hate to say it, but duh. So, because I have 3 and not 4 players, I generally make it so that there is one NPC always with the party as a "Fourth." For understandable reasons, although the hydrokineticist can single-target heal, the party prefers to have a healer around, and Sandara was both convenient and easy to use. They have two other NPCs on the crew they've used for ship-board actions, but Sandara is the 'go to' for dungeon adventures.
Spriggan "Sprig" Elias Thornblood IV - A Grippli Ranger. Sprig was created as a playful replacement to Conchobar in book 1. Conchobar would not have worked in interacting with the cast for reasons that will be clearer shortly. Sprig was a more 'playful' take on his romancing attitude that also avoided being a Bard when they already had a Skald. They've made regular use of him for 'ship board' events (leaving Sandara to heal the crew) because of his ability to share bonuses against the humans they fight.
Lirriane - Yes, the iconic gunslinger. These guys requested a firearm heavy story, so I relented because damnit it's pirates. I wanted the too. I'll just make old Bonefist more impressive in his own right. They outright hired a gunslinger in Bloodcove, hunting for much of Book 2 to find a good one, and we settled on making the iconic into a Musket Master version of herself.
A couple notes -
- The Rules of the Fleet of Coins that they began to establish included two very specific rules. The crew was fine to plunder their victims as they saw fit and encouraged to better themselves, but they were not to steal from/cheat each other and sex on the boat was expressly by consent only. The latter was mostly a player request since we were playing horrible psychotic buccaneers here, a request I was all too happy to fulfill. Keep everything nice and RRRRRR, not NC-17.
This did, however, make Conchobar a tiny bit uncomfortable as an NPC. He carries a Potion of Love he clearly is considering using on Rosie, as he's trying to romance her. It was just close enough that I opted to change the character, as his whole story surrounds him pushily romancing a female character, so I created a hopeless romantic grippli pretending to be a Frog Prince who only true love's kiss will turn him back into the elven prince he is. We... haven't regretted the decision. Yeah, there's ways to make Conchobar work, but in the end? I just didn't like him of all the NPCs so poof. Frog buccaneer.
So, First Caveat that made me laugh through the whole campaign and will continue to do so: These three were 100% on board with the ENTIRE PLOT of the campaign.
1) I had warned them "Don't tank Charisma. Socializing is part of being a pirate." But they went above and beyond. Each of the three: Deksyana, Tobias and Yhmrhi specialize in different forms of intimidation, bluff and diplomacy and focus on building crew loyalty, making them almost overprepared for most of the social elements of the campaign.
2) They were planning an eventual mutiny from day 1, and already on board with preparing to kill Harrigan eventually, treating him as a primary villain. They went OUT OF THEIR WAY to avoid his scrutiny through every means possible so that he didn't know they still existed until the day of the Regata. Their paranoia over him was the stuff of legends.
3) They were planning their fleet the moment that they squibbed the Man's Promise and rechristened her the Drowned Drachma. Their VERY NEXT vessel, they were assessing whether or not it could be incorporated into a fleet and I was just "slow your roll guys, wow. So you want a fleet that badly?" They were already chomping at the bit for creating a pirate kingdom and fleet, without ANY prompting from the books.
4) They were so intensely into the idea of a pirate kingdom that I included a 'quicky' version of the kingdom rules that we've been rolling every month since they claimed Tidewater Rock.
5) These guys are really really big on recruiting NPCs instead of killing them. I have to look at NPCs they will fight ahead of time to determine if there's even a chance of recruitment. If they 'could' recruit someone, assume that they did. Because they start almost every fight with Tobias or one of the others saying "Just telling you ahead of time, we are hiring! We have an excellent food plan!"
The Wormwood Mutiny
-Of all of the books, the Wormwood Mutiny was the one that has gone the most straightforwardly for reasons I'm sure anyone that's played can understand. The PCs are trapped on the ship, at Harrigan and Plugg's mercy, and so their story is effectively centered on a pre-set path of adventures until they claim their own vessel and their ultimate destiny as pirates of the high seas.
However, there were a few reasonably key notes:
-First of all, they pretty much charmed the entirety of the Wormwood's Crew. Rosie, Sprig (standing in for Conchobar), Grok and Kroop were literally putty in their hands, and they developed an immediate liking for Kroop despite his being drunkenly inept. Tobias saw potential in him after a few talks, and began trying to work on the old drunk early on, while the players focused their ire on other people than Grok and went out of their way to be good to her.
Cog was a little tricky because of rocky rolls, but they got him on their side. Jack Scrimshaw, Narwhal Tate, Barefoot Toppins, Tilly, Aretta, Fipps, Ratline, Maheem and Giffer and ALL of the Man's Promise crew that Plugg brought on to bolster his chances at mutiny were converted into crew eventually. Of the rest, only Badger Medlar survived (turning against them because of epically bad rolls), and she became something of a ... story.
-Deksyana did not reveal her powers as a hydrokineticist to anyone but the PCs until they were marooned on Bonewrack Isle, while the others kept their cards close but did not hide that they had power somewhat. The result was that, when she returned to the Man's Promise and obliterated Plugg with a water blast, she terrified the whole crew (And Harrigan had no clue that she was anything other than a borderline incompetent warrior.)
-When they claimed the Man's Promise, that was the day that the fun really began. By acclaim, Tobias was named captain of the new vessel and instituted his policies.
--The Man's Promise, now called the Drowned Drachma, was always hiring and competency and loyalty were the keys to getting on the ship. Period. He didn't care about the fact that someone had been an enemy once. If they could sail under him, be loyal, they could be considered a work in progress.
--Punishment on the Drowned Drachma was a bit unique. It was metted out either by the hydrokineticist or via "Coin Shot," the spell. Coppers for 'rope bash' level infractions. Silvers for 'serious' crimes, and Golds and Platinums for stuff nearing Keelhauling. Tobias talked in terms like he was investing in his crew when he did this, using his coin shot to 'buy' the loyalty and invest in those they took from Plugg's employ. Badger got the harshest treatment because she outright tried to kill one of the crew before (Yhmrhi) at the behest of Plugg.
--Everything was done in 'business' terms like he was some merchant prince. So, they started advertising their "Health Plan" (employing multiple magical healers), their "Food Plan" (By bolstering Kroop's confidence and spending money to get high end spices and foods for him) and the fact that they lavished equipment on the crew rather than selling it off for personal cash. Every act of piracy was like forceful, hostile negotiations and recruitment, a chance to hire more people.
--Three Rules of Particular Note - Romance was to be by consent only, no theft between crewmen, and they didn't traffic in slaves. The crew decided the slave trade was too likely to result in revolts and so avoided it entirely, usually skipping even ransoms unless it was for a non-chelaxian aristocrat.
Raiders of the Fever Sea
-Yeah, so as soon as they met Rickety Hale they were trying to recruit him to do shipwright business in the future. Their eyes were on making a fleet from day 0 apparently. I started breaking out Squadron rules almost immediately to familiarize myself even though they did not formally claim a second and third vessel until the end of Book 2 and the start of Book 3.
This is where things got interesting, and by interesting, I mean Logistics Heavy. My players found the spell "Track Ship," and Yhmrhi could breathe underwater, so they flat out told me that every time they were in port they were going to steal every single shard they could from every vessel underwater. One of Sandara's big jobs became casting Track ship every day to gauge where various merchant vessels were in the area.
It was at this point that I had to start using google spreadsheets to avoid going insane. I was annoyed for one day, and then I started loving it. I grabbed fantasy name generators for random pirates and kept a record of their current crew along with all of the slivers they were hunting.
What this meant, however, was that they had valid excuse to accurately hunt down other ships. They footed the cash in Bloodcove or Squibs to pay for a Banner of Piracy, and combined the tactics to trick ships into easy boarding actions over and over again, splitting large shares with the crew. So I began to keep tabs on what they were spending on the arsenal of the crew.
Overall, the side effect was we had this lengthy several months-long sojourn as they did circuit after circuit more or less from Firegrass Isle's viscinity to Bloodcove and back around to Senghor, with plans that they ultimately scrapped to hit Sargava (I think they plan to go back at some point).
The campaign became a chess game of 'where on the map are all of them' with them hunting down as many challenging threats as possible and keeping tabs on the ones that got away.
Some of the Fun Moments of Book 2:
1) Knuckles Grype knocked the captain out with a Knock-Out Punch (I turned him into a proper brawler), which earned him a job offer and a promise down the road that he'd be a captain in his own right after he proved himself. He is still proud of the fact that he knocked Tobias flat.
2) They pulled some serious shenanigans when they spied the Dominator using the Farglass from miles and miles away to manage to get a sliver of the vessel. I did not make it easy, but they fairly got it, which allowed them to escape near miss after near miss, dodging the ship using Track Ship, as it became increasingly aware that something was up and they were being scried. One day, it disappeared on their maps and they knew that the gig was up and the Dominator was blocking their scrying attempts.
3) Their first village that they sacked had a village tree and an elder who was a spell caster. When she escaped them, they made a point by chopping the tree down (thus desecrating the ties of the community to Gozreh.). I used it as an excuse to create a minor NPC that hunted them and went completely insane, performing an infernal pact in her efforts to get back at them.
4) They pointedly tried to recruit Gortus Svard. When they beat his ship, they ultimately gave him back his blade, told him that his life was now theirs and offered him a "job" in the fleet while giving the ship he was sacking to him rather than his current warship. Bruised and ruined, the pirate captain fumed and tried to decide if he was out for vengeance, or if he was going to ultimately side with them as far bigger fish.
The Kingdom of the Windward Isle
So, I told you guys that these three were entirely on board with wanting to be pirate lords and create a pirate kingdom? Yeah, they were wanting to do a lot with Tidewater Rock. They claimed it by marriage (Hey, it's not like Tobias won't outlive his new bonny bride, so why not have a business arrangement.) and immediately started looking around for "How can we improve this? Can we conquer the neighboring island?"
...so, yeah. Hah. I was like "You don't even have a writ yet, but you're on the edge of the Shackles, so you can claim the rock. That's story. You want me to break out the kingdom building rules?" And we broke out the kingdom building rules. MORE LOGISTICS. Haha, yeah. They were absolutely thinking out entire plans on how to build Shipwrights on the neighboring larger island and build this into a major trade settlement with a protection racket for ships going through its territorial waters to Senghor and Bloodcove (not Sargava. Not horning in on Port Peril's racket).
This afforded me the first real chance to start divorcing from the main materials themselves. It was now clear that they wanted to keep going at this, even over and above the series' storyline (and there's a solid chance that we may do post-game adventures with S&S's setting after book 6). Enter Cucumber Isle. I came up with reasons that it was never settled, putting an old temple to Thuskchoon (the slug qlippoth lord) there that spewed out infernal large slugs killing any villagers who tried to settle there. Cleansing the island of this temple netted them contact with a cyclops trapped in the temple who has become a minor advisor and the mystic means of contact between their ship and the kingdom.
But once again I think the thing that made me laugh most about that. I used a throwaway Cyclops prophet to do a one off encounter to give them hints of stuff coming in later books. They tried to recruit her with, you guessed it, the food plan. Cyclops, known for gluttony and they're offering her the finest food they can manage (and to be clear, they were blowing about 1,000 gp/book by now to stock Kroop on spices and non-perishable foodstuffs.). So, after I laughed, we agreed that she wouldn't ever be on their ship, but she's proven an amusing storyline element getting ready for book 4.
The Sack of the Dominator... and the Christening of the Deep Platinum
Kreelort is dead. Wolfe's Treasure is theirs. They're famous enough that they feel comfortable seeking to be named Free Captains (and Kroop is advising them to do it soon because the Hurricane King will want his cut from their kingdom). And suddenly the Dominator won't appear on their maps.
They're nervous about this, but they opt to start sailing to Port Peril. I have my own plans. They've been ducking the "Dominator Encounter" several times successfully, and I want to give them a real challenge before they start Book 3, either a good excuse to scare the fear of god into them while they flee or to see just how insane they are.
I put a tropical storm in their path, forcing them to either face several stormbound hazards or make anchor in a small island inlet about fifty miles north of the Windward Isle. They opt to anchor, which starts the traditional Dominator encounter. Seeing its flag in the flash of the storm while they're hidden away, they freak out a little bit at first. But, seeing it anchored there, they decide to investigate and ultimately... yeah, my players are crazy.
So, a few things have changed at the end of Book 2. One, Tobias now has Leadership at level 7. His recruited cohort is a wizard specializing in the use of explosive runes and focused on anti-caster spellcasting, a ratfolk by the name of Brisbane the Deliverer. With some arcane punch, they've bought several scrolls in preparation to add them eventually to Brisbane's book as counterspell work. One of these is a spell that they are a wee bit paranoid about even at this level because it can absolutely WRECK a vessel:
Now, they come up with an insane plan. As stealthily as possible, the officers of the Drowned Drachma would sneak into the tiller area of the Dominator and prepare to begin ambushing and slitting the throats of the officers of the chelish warship while the rest of the crew have been poised outside at the treeline, hidden in the dark. By now, the crew of the Wormwood have been retrained as gunslingers and turned into a small rifle crew and are prepared to fire upon any marines they see once the signal goes off.
Brisbane pulls off a caster level check and releases the cloudkill into the hold while they pull off some insane stealth checks to coup de grace as many officers as possible. This goes on for several rounds, for almost a full minute before they are finally caught in their efforts, not by the Kyan Kain, but by the ship's navigator (An NPC I gave the Captain to give her a fighting chance. Her cohort was a spellcaster who'd been fooling their track ship and trying to track down the upstart pirates himself).
The thing was, Cloudkill would gradually go through the decks, sinking lower and lower, and even if I upgraded the crew of the dominator by a full level they were still automatically dead and likely dead at +2 levels. With the alarm taking so long to raise, it absolutely devastated the crew. Their surprise gave them enough of a drop on the Captain, her Cleric, Cavalier and pet Sorcerer that they were able to keep them separated between the rooms of the officer's quarters that they could beat each down seperately.
Yhmrhi and Brisbane spent the fight taking out the spellcaster. Deksyana goes toe to toe with the captain, stated as a two-handed specialist (and I find out that letting Deksyana get a chance to charge her blasts = dead NPC), and Tobias, Sprig and Knuckles work to handle the rest of the officers, Knuckles knocking Kyan Kain out with a massive punch.
It was all or nothing. Win, or the campaign might be over, but they play the cards obscenely carefully and carried the day. At the cost of a Scroll of Cloudkill, they claim a Chelish Pirate Hunter and take a week or two off to have it Squibbed, choosing to arrive in Port Peril, not in the Man's Promise/Drowned Drachma, but in the newly Christened Deep Platinum. And me? I buy the playmat "Bigger Ship" because... yeah. I wanted it, and this was a good excuse.
The Drowned Drachma is handed over to Rosie Cuswell, who takes Cog as her mate and begins regular defensive raiding and pirate circuits from the Windward Isle. Royster McCleagh is tasked to man Isabelle Inskin's "Thresher" (now the Damp Riel. They've got a coin thing going.) with anti-pirate protection, and he begins building a defensive force for the Windward Isle.
Now, at this point I did change one major thing about the Dominator. Not only did I up the stats of its crew by a level and stat out officers besides Kain, giving them a cohort sorcerer and a two-handed fighter captain, but I built them with the understanding that the setting is firearms heavy. It was a Pirate Hunter, so ... yeah. It has a deck of concealed cannons (and they needed the Captain's Locker to have hold space properly).
I know there's risk in giving them cannons (because of course they didn't sell them), but to be clear: They've verified that these are weapons to use only when they absolutely need to. They're pricey and they prefer to capture vessels. So, for all that they have 20 cannons and hired a crew in book 3 specifically to man them? They haven't fired them ONCE yet. I don't feel quite so nervous. They know to treat the weaponry responsibly as players, and we get to have a pirate frigate with actual canons.
As a GM: Cannon inclusion - Be careful to know your players. It can trivialize ship to ship combat if you're not careful. It hasn't proven an issue for us, but it is something to be careful of.
...that and they 'could' have sold all that for about 60,000+ gold and gotten a mint (but I knew they wouldn't. Seriously, would YOU?)
Tempest Rising Part 1 - The Problem with Badger Medlar.
The Test to become Pirates: Goes almost comically well. The actual encounters are designed to only be minimally challenging, and they make mincemeat of the social check at the party, acquiring vast infamy and reputation.
Gortus Svard makes a reappearance here, having claimed a new vessel and telling them he hopes to see them at the Regata, where he plans to trounce them and prove that his luck hasn't run out. I place him as the captain of the Barnacled B~~$# (the vessel betrayed by Harrigan in the Regata, giving a good excuse for him to take Sandara's place as a commodore in book 5, as she's still a "Party Member.").
Pierce Jerrel is currently being "romanced" by Yhmrhi, who has given him the shrunken corpse of Master Scourge as a gift and token of her affection. They get into a betting match with him, first to see who gets more in their holds in the next month (They do, handily. You guys know how much plunder is in Book 3), and then convincing him to enter the Regata, with whoever wins agreeing to be part of the other's fleet. It feels really in character for Jerrel (And it's a convenient excuse to make him into a Commodore in Book 5 as is already suggested), so I'm running with them getting into pirate dares with him.
They manage to capture Caulky Tarroon, who Tobias had tried to recruit on the Wormwood and failed. Desperate for her life, she decides to try her lot at least for now with the Deep Platinum. In short order, however, she can see that as long as Harrigan never finds her, this is a MUCH better situation and starts to become loyal to the crew.
An offer of a job by the Pirate Lord Fairwind is obviously accepted, and besides they already hate Cheliax so they're totally on board with this whole thing...
But there's a wrinkle in their plans. Badger Medlar.
Who the F is Badger, you ask? She's one of the regular Wormwood crew. A buck warrior 2 with terrible stats. A tired half-elf who they rolled 1s on their attempts to get her on their side, and who sided with Scourge, trying to kill Yhmrhi in the bilges back in Book 1. They've had her as a press-ganged crew member since Book 1, and while they've been good to her she's been getting more and more paranoid. Tobias now uses Spell Kenning to cast Mark of Blood on his crew so he can keep tabs on them (in case he needs to rescue them because they're HIS crew and you don't press-gang HIS crew, or he murders you in your sleep.). Mark of Blood, regular magical healing, a freaking frigate and food like no pirate ever gets regularly, along with as much equipment as they can spare to make them really badass is usually more than enough for the regular crew to love being loyal to their captain... but Badger?
She's been trapped in the ship, unable to see shore for months, and now he's cast Mark of Blood on her. She's convinced he's going to kill her because of all the secrets she knows before she ever gets out, so she finally hatched a plan. Throughout Book 2 she retrained as a rogue and gradually leveled with the crew (I level generic crew members +1 level per book, and do the same for enemy crews to keep fights serious.). Now, at Level 4, she finally has access through Rogue Talents to Vanish. While they're in Port Peril at the tests, she Vanishes with all her stuff, flees to the nearest magic shop, sells everything for a Potion of Remove Curse, and gets that Mark of Blood off before trying to disappear entirely on the next ship out of town.
Tobias, Deksyana and Yhmrhi officially flip the F out. Their players are having a blast, but all three get a low grade obsession about finding this massive security risk (They're keeping the cannons quiet, hiding the Cloudkill use to take the Dominator so it doesn't get done to them, hiding from Harrigan, and are afraid she might know not only their abilities but about Track Ship even though the main crew doesn't know.), tracking her down and shanking her in a back alley.
This search continues for as long as they're in Port Peril and, on a whim, I say that she's snuck onto one of the other regata participants, the Skullduggery. Shortly after they leave port, Tobias begins regularly scrying on her, and I know that I have a plot hook I can toy with them over on top of the main plot: The trouble with Badger and the Skullduggery.
With this, I begin statting out the Skullduggery to be a capable, extremely dangerous but very solitary pirate vessel that is out of the party's league at this time, but not actively planning to engage them if they can help it. An additional thorn in their side because of Badger and a potential rival pirate group. They're powerful enough to be a focus of the side campaign, but not ambitious enough to overshadow Harrigan, Druvalia and Bonefist, at least not for now.
A Brief Aside - Badger and the Skullduggery
So, one of the fastest ways to screw with your players is to have people who plan based upon their tactics. I crafted the Skullduggery as a group of former Pathfinders who turned to piracy and Anti-Cheliax movements after they went about 1/2-2/3 of the way through Legacy of Fire (which we will never play. Absolutely no interest in the players). When the PCs begin scrying and regularly checking in on the Skullduggery, I have to come up with a few responses or it'll be an easily forgotten plot and ended very quickly.
-1) Why not hand Badger over. Easy, ends up being one of the officers' lovers. Done.
-2) How do they respond to the scrying: The ship is being upgraded for the Regata with armored plating to protect against the harsh shoals and rocky walls of the Iris. In the metal plating, they include a lead lining. Suddenly a wide assortment of scrying spells (including Scrying and Track Ship) will not work on their vessel.
-3) They too use Track Ship (using something of the vessel that Badger carried with her but not telling her why.). She doesn't know about the spell herself, but they do and use it about once a week to avoid close contact with the Deep Platinum because it feels like a futile and wasted fight to go up against something that they're sure has a full barrage of cannons.
(I don't like NPCs using track ship. It's a powerful spell and if it was used regularly by pirates, could destabilize the setting, so I treat this as a rare tactic used by only a scant few captains, none of whom reveal that they do it lightly. most of them are either wreckers or pirate lords.)
The side effect of having a vessel, the first one really since the Dominator, that they can't track serves as a burr in the PCs saddle to keep them goaded to be paranoid and not complacent, perfect for the rest of the campaign.
Tempest Rising Part 2 - The Regata and the Rescue of Grok.
Where in the World is Carmen Santiago goes just fine. It's by the book, and most of the encounters aren't all that fascinating. Good fights though. I use the Naga as an excuse to get them to visit the Windward Isle and keep up kingdom building, but otherwise it goes progressively forward.
Where things start to get interesting is run up to the Regata. The players have been tracking three ships in particular for months. The Dowager Queen, a chelish caravel that slipped past them before, has been tracked for a long time and they've determined that it's been hitting several ports and is now making a winding route back towards the Arch of Aroden, giving them a possible chance a really big score (This is exactly the kind of planning through Track Ship that should be awarded in my view.). The Blind Manta, which they left rudderless and crewless in the South Fever Sea, has been slowly flowing along the currents around the Shackles and back towards the Eye of Abendego, dangerously close to the future Regata course (not that they realize this). The "Birthday Present," a massive Junk that they sighted in Senghor has sailed around and to first the Ramport Isles, before waiting at Cauldron Rock seemingly for months.
The Dowager Queen I turn into a secondary pirate encounter with hints of Druvalia's plot. It's a ship that is heavy with plunder and a crew that is far too well armed. Originally intended to surrender to Harrigan as one of his first vessels, it is instead plucked up by the Deep Platinum after a serious fight. While they scratch their heads, Yhmrhi spreads rumors that there is plunder to be found near the site that they find it waiting, sending another pirate vessel to its doom at Harrigan's Hands. The PCs learn of that ship's sinking through Track Ship, adding to their paranoia.
The Birthday Present is my take on the optional "Big Blue" encounter. With two Metropolises easily accessible (Port Peril & Senghor), the PCs don't need a Mercane, not really. So, I altered the mercane to be a "Merchant Prince." Big Blue does not trade for your average +1 Sword. Instead, he sits surrounded by fascinating and exotic "Honored guests" hosting lavish parties and trades unique magical items for other ones to 'complete his collection.' The PCs traded him the Crystal Dodo, getting in turn a young slave he'd recently acquired in the Ramport Isles, who they freed and made their cabin girl (a blank slate lvl 1 for training as they see fit). He'll be sticking around in case they find something really unique that they want to trade something interesting that they'd rather not sell but don't want to use. For the flavor.
What of the Blind Manta? Oh, they narrowly avoid it for having tracked it during the Regata as it goes to its final doom, damaging but not stopping the Skullduggery and slowing it down.
But, before we get to the Regata, my players inform me that they have a crazy plan. They have been wanting to repay Grok for her kindness and offer her a chance to get out of the Wormwood's "Employ." So, they hatch a plan via animal messengers and sendings to contact her and use an animal messenger to fly a CAPE OF THE MOUNTEBANK to her. They have Brisbane craft the blasted thing, pay the cash for it and fly it in to teleport her away. I was sufficiently impressed when it happened that I allowed it, thus sparing Grok a horrible fate in Book 5. She currently is fighting through her alcoholism with Kroop's help and being instated as quartermaster on the Deep Platinum. (Deksyana's joke at the start o this all: "So are we playing heroes now?" Tobias: "No, no, I just always repay my debts and we owe her.")
The Regata goes great. By now, I'm getting happy with random names and stuff. I look up different ship sail configurations, name all the various ship captains that they meet (as potential rivals or ships in their fleet in books 5 & 6) and start looking up pictures. But of these interactions, the ones that stand out are Harrigan and the Skullduggery at the start of the race.
Harrigan, recognizing Tobias (it's hard to miss a crazy undine and an aasimar captain), storms up and snarls "You had one rule to obey. Just one. I never wanted to remember you or speak to you. And you couldn't even manage that simple task."
Tobias: "Excuse me, sir. I'm confused. Have we met?" (Yeah, he's not bluffing Harrigan, but he did bluff the other captains.)
The Skullduggery's meeting is tense, with glares and recriminations, but the two groups agree that... for now, as long as they are not attacking each other and don't plan to for the moment (neither does), if Badger stays out of sight and never gets caught, the Platinum doesn't have to execute her and the Skullduggery doesn't have to get revenge. A shaky truce is born, though it remains very shaky when Brisbane begins casting Detect Scrying at the end of book 3 and finds out that the Skullduggery or Wormwood has been using Track Ship on them, further advancing the paranoia of both vessels.
How'd they do in the regata? Uh, something like +30 points. They spent more on scrolls and pre-prep than they won in the purse itself (though the prize was the island and a seat on the council, let's be honest). They utterly destroyed it through careful planning and a lot of well timed magic.
Also, Gallant Inspiration is total hacks, just saying.
And that's where we're at for now.
Book 4 waits for, ballpark, 3 months. I will probably pick things back up in November based upon past experience. We've go three cycling campaigns to avoid GM burnout. Iron Gods is next, and then Pokemon United, then we're back to Pirating it up.
I'll be working on Book 4 in the interim, double-checking the logistics. They currently have several attendant vessels:
-The Dominator/Deep Platinum - Their Flagship obviously.
-The Man's Promise/Drowned Drachma - Rosie Cuswell as captain.
-The Thresher/Damp Riel - Royster McCleagh as captain.
-The Salty Flagon - Pierce Jerrell, good as his word, as pledged his ship to their fleet.
-*ship unnamed* - Gortus Svard, surviving the Regata to accuse Harrigan of cheating, pledges himself to them as a future commodore, saying a man owes him a favor while he goes to get a new, hopefully last, ship.
-*ship unnamed* - When faced with the Dragon Turtle Hirgenzosk, they go headlong at it and defeated it, throwing Besmara's Tricorne to the crew of the Sullied Strumpet fighting for their lives in the water after it capsized them. Their captain, Polly "The Saucy Devil" Trebilcock has sworn her allegiance.
-Waverider's Revenge/The Breaking Crest - Sprig as Captain. We played No Plunder no Pay immediately after Book 3 to wrap things up with a pathfinder chronicle (using my old Venture Captain from society play as the VC of Quent). The ship acquired in that book was kept and given to Sprig. (They have decided that he's earned it and his abilities are now less pivotal in a fight than Lirianne's gun or Sandara's healing.)
Next ship goes to Knuckles apparently.
So, they're already building a fleet. I'm treating a pre-Book 5 "Fleet" as a mixed squadron with one commodore (the admiral). The Skald can thus control 7 additional vessels besides his own, which lets them cover these ships and start building up as they approach book 4.
I totally expect them to have one hell of a struggle or two in Book 4, but I also expect them to get the highest prize. They were already talking about "Alright, so we have to host a pirate fete. What's the menu? Do we know who's coming? Do they have food allergies? Dude, I just know Aavimar Sorinash is going to be there. We've been avoiding that psycho! We're going to need a great place to host them. Gotta build docks..."
...no, seriously, they're already planning twelve steps ahead of Book 4 (I didn't even spoil Aavimar. They GUESSED he'd be one of them because he'd be a pain in the ass to host so of course he was one.). It'll be tough, but I'm expecting top prize (which means multiple pirate lords to the council.).
I will probably put a 'filler period' between Book 4 & 5. They have been hampering Chelish efforts repeatedly, giving me good excuse for Harrigan to need to take his time getting ready and Druvalia to plot cautiously. So I will probably craft additional material between books 4 & 5 as there's some open air for regular pirating as pirate lords, and just time a major Pirate Council meeting to kick off Book 5.
Feel free to ask any questions if you're curious. I know S&S is old material, but it's still fun. I'll be back probably with an update come Nov/Dec, when Book 4 wraps.
Well, my original character died on Bonewrack island. In a session I was unable to play, no less. :-( So the GM had my new PC start as having triggered a trap that suspended him in time. This was 100 years ago. When the party is sent there, they encounter him, still trapped, and set him free.
We return to the boat, and that is when our mutiny occurs. It is late at night, and the party sneaks on board. The fight occure, and and I take out the 'captain' from above w/sneak attack. Owlbear follows his captain into the doorway, when I say from above "Go back to sleep or die." He turns around and goes back to bed. My first follower even though I don't yet have leadership.
Later on, I start my investment with Rickety Hake. He is now in charge of our shipbuilding and repair business. I even have an animated dock that I send out to collect sunken ships. It swims underwater. I use unseen crew as a way to have the dock rig up a sunken ship to the dock, which then swims back to our secret port. There, the dock raises the ship to the water level (or even a bit higher) while the water is drained. Once mostly dry, it is repaired enough to float, then squibbed. Additionally, I have a Lyre of Building, which the GM ruled works for ships. [It did in the original source, only later dropping the 'ship' text.] The Lyre lets me build new ships quickly.
For the regatta, we won despite Harrigan. When he attacked we counterattacked and wound up stealing Peppery Longfarthing from him with Dimension Door. She had suffered under Harrigan, so readily agreed to flee him. Meanwhile, having liberated her, Harrigan was even more furious at us. [I later learned the GM was worried by our +10 Profession (Navigation) item we let our navigator use. I am pretty sure Harrigan had GM help to keep up with us. Still, it was fun for all, so I have no complaint.] With our win, we got to claim the Isle of Empty Eyes.
Fun was had there, as we had to explore and cleanse the island of its dangers. One of note was an illusion of treasure that was really a monster. I failed my disbelief, so I thought the treasure was real. However, knowing I was easily fooled by magic, and that everyone else stated I was wrong, I allowed myself be persuaded to ignore it.
We succeed, and advance in the plot. Now we need to settle Harrigan. Seems he has managed to grab a piece of our party captains soul, and is using it to augment his own powers, while our captain looses access to his prestige class abilities. In our assault of his place, we make use of Cloudkill to take out a bunch of minions. We free an imprisoned and dominated blue dragon. We later find the equipment and rituals Harrigan used to do these things. Harrigan dies here, but his legacy remains and the Shackles is in peril.
At this point, the GM sent us off the rails big time. We send word to the council of Harrigan's plan, but are ourselves taken out of the world for five years. We then make a brief appearance to finish collecting the final pieces of an artifact (we had already collected some before). This artifact? Besmira's prototype ship. The one made before the one the goddess sails now. We left a big hole in Port Peril, bt at that point, we stopped playing that campaign.
Recent events indicate the GM might be willing to revisit the campaign, but that is to be seen.
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It's been a while hasn't it? Well onto to two years. That is not to say that the campaign hasn't continued. Oh no, no. Au Contraire. However, our tabletop group has a rule of sharing the spotlight between GMs. The player of Deksyana runs us in a non-Pathfinder campaign off and on that is wonderful, and the player of Ymrhee the Unrepentant also for the better part of the last two years was bravely soldiering us through Iron Gods.
This on top of the Year of our Lord COVID did complicate the progress of the S&S campaign. However, the endeavors of the pirate captain Marshall Tobias Dragomir and his crew of reprobates who behave more like merchant marines than pirates has indeed continued.
(for the curious we're moving into the latter stages of one campaign now, S&S si building to this expansive "thing" and Iron Gods has been put on indefinite hiatus. The GM is excellent with years of experience, but there is a lack of connective tissue to the adventure path and the content is either underwhelming or so variable as to be somewhat hard to maintain a theme with. Valley of the Brain Collectors was the final straw. Though we love our characters, and we have mostly enjoyed material in the campaign with some truly hilarious moments, we're probably not completing Conan v the Alien Robots in reality. The GM is currently exploring new alternatives for a future campaign.)
Which brings us neatly to ... THE ISLAND OF EMPTY EYES
Consider this a meager taste. I'll be sharing a few of the tid-bits from the events of Book 4 tomorrow. I want to write them up properly. But there's a particular event that I wanted to share.
So, my players LOVE immersion. I'm starting to think this is in general a Pathfinder thing. They crave things which get them better into the mood of the campaign. And as such? We do feasts. For the party itself in Book 4, we started the session off with what was quite frankly a 4 course meal crafted by the members, complete with small cardboard treasure chest filled with plastic gems that could be used later as counters by the players.
But no, that didn't stop there. As we neared the end of the fourth book, I picked up the Lost Omens 2e material for the Mwangi Expanse and did not regret it a minute. I'd really wanted more on Bloodcove and Senghor and it delivered in spades. I've got lots of adjustments and the mechanics don't help, but the material and NPCs were helpful. Well, one of my players got their hands on the recipe for a spice rub barbecue in the sidebar, proclaiming to be an approximation of Bloodcove Barbecue.
Yeah, we had mustard-powder based barbecued pork ribs, baked potatoes in sea salt, baked macaroni and cheese and cookies before game. It was a miracle that I wasn't in a food coma for the rest of the night, but oh god it was good.
So, something to tell you guys: If you're still running old 1st ed material, don't necessarily ignore the 2e stuff. You might be fans of the mechanics (Look, we're old 3.5 players here. Creatures of habit. We buy for the fluff, not the mechanics), but Paizo does REALLY good immersion in its writings these days. And if you're planning to expand adventure paths beyond merely running through the dungeons, I highly recommend it.
If you're going to run S&S? You will not go wrong in picking up the Mwangi Expanse along with tracking down older material like the actual Shackles Splat Book.
I will return tomorrow with Adventure Path - Chapter 4: The Island of Empty Eyes