PF Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

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DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
5 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

Skull & Shackles represents the very best in long-form pre-written adventure ever written. S&S stands head and shoulders above the other Paizo adventure paths and every other pre-written campaign product I've ever seen. With strong NPCs; lots of RP opportunity; plenty of enemies to grind and challenge the players; the best illusion of sandbox/player agency I've yet to see; and of course pirate ships; S&S has something for everyone. As with all the adventure paths some modules are better than others. In particular the first and second modules can really shine. The fifth and six modules, while fun, suffer a little from design fatigue in mirroring the structure of previous modules a little too much.
 

lyle.spade

Explorer
2 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

I'll keep this short. Book 1 promised a seagoing sandbox - a great idea! In fact, it's a brilliant idea, and perfectly suited for a sandbox: PCs have their own ship, and a broad range of places to go and things to experience and do. And yet, as is Paizo's wont, there is a "story as expected," which means there is a railroad. The first portion of the story was all railroad, seemingly in an attempt to get the players to hate certain NPCs and like others. It was a clumsy attempt to establish the vibe of the genre and overall direction of the plot. I had to adjust a great deal of those 'encounters' because my players...get ready for this...THOUGHT ON THEIR OWN. They created opportunities to deal with the enemy NPCs that were way outside what the book expected or demanded, effetively short-circuiting several of the written encounters and interludes. I ended up using the NPC stats and encounters as ideas and ad-libbing rather than running the story from the book - I had no choice because my players were treating this supposed sandbox as exactly that, instead of a railroad, which it is.Book 2 offered much more freedom, but my group was already so frustrated with the limitations that they decided to no continue with it. That, and a few of them simply did not enjoy the pirate genre - which has nothing to do with the writing or encounters, of course. As I said: this AP is based on a terrific idea...brilliant...but it was brought down by a clumsy, heavy-handed plot.
 

Netherstorm

Visitor
5 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

Hands down, Skull and Shackles is the best campaign I have ever run. If you even remotely like pirates at all, you should run or play this. The first four books are utterly fantastic. Five is a bit shaky and book six, in my opinion, needed to be revised quite a bit. The final attack on Bonefist is OK, but in my opinion the final battle with the other main villain needed to be at sea on his ship. What really puts this over the top is all of the tie-in products. The ship flip-map is the exact ship the PCs start out on. Isles of the Shackles is seriously one of the most useful sourcebooks ever. It is literally overloaded with islands to adventure on, and comes with a bunch of cool monsters too. The sourcebook can help you flesh out book two, which has a massive "sandbox" piracy section. The best tie-in of all is the fact that they made a complete miniature line for Skull and Shackles, which includes minis for ALL of the major NPCs from Harrigan to one of the coolest NPCs I've ever used - Isabella "Inkskin" Locke. There's even grindylow minis and one of my favorites, the seaweed siren. The only downside to this is that the minis are a bit brittle and some of them will break if you do not store them for transport with care. As a DM, preparing this path is difficult, but that goes for any campaign. Book one in particular has some pitfalls to watch out for, namely the drinking rules and the fact that if you run the opening section where the PCs do ship chores day by day, it will become a drag. As always, you'll need to adjust it to your style. But, in my opinion, it is well worth the effort and will create epic RPG moments that your group will talk about for years to come.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
5 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

Playing this adventure path now, just about to start on the final book. First of all, it is not really a pirate adventure at all. It is a series of adventures in a pirate setting - any actual piracy is strictly optional except perhaps for a bit in part 2. Second, real-life pirate laws do not work for the player's and their crew - you can't give everyone in the crew an equal share of the spoils in a game like Pathfinder where the players' gear needs to advance along with them. The player's companion includes pirate rules for infamy - these did not work very well for our group, as they are not achievement-based but are based on social skills - which all of our character excel at, making it too easy to feel relevant. The incorporated ship combat rules are also not very good and better resolved though storytelling. So, the piratey bits don't really work. The fleet battle rules are pretty good tough, and add a quick and exiting tactical game element, but that's really out of the scope of normal piracy.

On to the advenures. The first part begins with the players shanghaied and having to work their way up from the bilges, literally. It needs to be GMed with a light hand - I actually lost half my gaming group here as their characters were wallowing in filth. It has some great roleplay moments, and builds camaraderie among the future crew, but some players prefer to not play misery in such detail. The camaraderie doesn't really last unless the players and GM works at maintaining the crew - Pathfinder's rapid advancement means crew will become obsolete in later adventures. Part two is the one where you engage in actual piracy, and ends with the players accepted as pirates. Part three gives them a chance to become sort of pirate "nobility" in a fantastic race. Part four gives them an island home to explore and build into a port. Part five is preparations for a big fleet battle, while parts five and six detail a war among pirates. Throughout the players have a plot to investigate and must determine who to trust and not. This is perhaps the most interesting part; no concrete proof is found until late in the story, but there is a growing mood of suspicion, without actually going into paranoia.

Overall, this is an excellent adventure path. Going over my text, I notice I point out all the bad things. A review is often like that - it is easier to complain, and you avoid spoiling things too. Still, more than a summary like this indicates, this is an adventure of many, many small plots and situations you weave together. The players have a great freedom of choice, and there are many instances where you can insert a little extra plot or piracy to spice things up. Depending on your chosen rate of advancement, this could easily be the skeleton plot of a huge pirate campaign.
 
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JLant

Visitor
5 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

A memorable cast of characters and a beginning reminiscent of old module A4 combine to make this a must have.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
3 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

If your players like railroady stuff, it is a 5 out of 5. If not, this AP is difficult to adapt. For one, the chars get press ganged in the first part, which seems nonsense assuming the players want their chars to be pirates already. This left them without their gear/familiars and more frustration than necessary. Easy enough for the GM to change that, which is what I did, but that meant other adaptions along the road.

Despite being advertised as a sandbox, a lot of the railroading is still present later, and to make it come over as a sandbox you need to add other scenarios, and be prepared for players to just cut stuff short and ignore other things altogether.

I recommend using Pirates of the Inner Sea, Isles of the Shackles, Frog God Games' Razor Coast and Freeport (which is now pathfinderized but can be used with the old material as well) for your game. It enhanced our game greatly. I also recommend adding a few crewmazes to the wormwood who better correspond with the PCs so as to have allies not governed by the storyarch.
 

Rorryn

Visitor
5 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

I like the versatility of this campaign for characters. If you have a hankering to be shady PC this can be the AP for you.....
 
4 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

This is frankly the best AP I've played and GM'ed (we alternate). If you take a deep dive in the ship-to-ship combat rules provided within the free Skulls and Shackles Player's Guide, and familiarize yourself with those, Chapter 2 of that AP is just amazing (the players become officers and captain of a pirate ship and simply plunder everything in sight). The AP provides complete rules about selling plunder, tracking your fearsome reputation, putting upgrades on your ship and even sets a price on the captured pirates you'll sell as slaves. The AP rewards skills A LOT, as should be, and groups with a wide array of skills will shine the most (i.e. each character specializing in a few good skills, so that the party as a whole can regularly hit high skill DCs for various situations)

I just can't compliment enough the free player's guide that was supplied for this AP - that document alone will enrich every campaign I'll ever run in the future. They have made ship combat something you're looking forward to. The run of the mill, unequipped sailing ship you capture will yield the players about 5,000 gp, and you basically throw 1,000 gp at your crew and the players keep 4,000 gp. This simple fact alone has brought the pirate out of almost all the players at my table! They *want* to be at sea and they *want* to capture everything. They also do not want to destroy ships and kill enemy crew (that's worth money!), so they invest in merciful weapons and tactics that speed up combat and leads to enemy surrenders. Just amazing!
 
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Babawonga

Visitor
4 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

Overall the adventure path is excellent with the player's commanding their own ship and getting their very own keep. I provides plenty of opportunity for exploration and pirating in an exotic and mysterious setting. The plethora of NPCs allows for plenty of role playing, but requires a lot of record keeping by the GM.

One review posted that the players are railroaded in the first module. Of course they are. The entire module is about getting kidnapped into pirate life by pirates much more powerful than them and basically becoming slave labor. They get their ship at the end of the module and their interactions with the crew during the first module determines which NPCs join their crew. Main drawbacks with the first module are repetitive daily tasks and a deadly encounter. I avoided the daily duty boredom by pre-rolling tasks and results for each player and then modifying it with their choice of activity for the day. It sped things up immensely. The deadly encountered can be modified or it can be used to send a message to the group about trying to use force against the people that shanghaied them by killing one party member. GMs choice. Otherwise a great adventure path.

Note that the party becomes pirates and the module encourages evil acts so if you don't want to run an adventure with an evil, or willing to do evil acts party, you will need to modify or eliminate the infamy rules.

Also, I highly recommend levels players as per the points in the adventure where they are supposed to level as getting xp from pirating (which they can do lots of) can level them too quickly.
 
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Enrico Poli1

Explorer
5 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

Great adventure path, sandboxy and open to morally gray characters.
 
4 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

This is the pirate AP. It delivers buried treasure, sea battles, and amoral shenanigans. Parts of it are too sandbox-y and its easy for PCs to lose sight of what story there is (somewhere in book 2 or 3), but with a firm GM hand this AP will pay out everything the players expect from it.
 
5 out of 5 rating for Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

This is the most fun pirate game for D&D (and D&D derived) rules I ever played. It gives you the feeling of swashbuckling adventure from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and always makes sure to have the party interested in engaged in the game world.
 

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