PF Your experiences with "Skull & Shackles"

Green Onceler

My assumption was that an AP would be something suitable to being run by an novice GM, but it's not really working out that way.
I wonder why you assume a 6 volume campaign is going to be suitable for a novice GM? Surely starting with something from Pathfinder's Module line would be much more reasonable. The Dragon's Demand, for example, makes for a fantastic 64 page "My First Campaign".


A lot of the mini-games/abstractions are intended to allow the players to interact with the fiction without being bogged down in mechanics. We didn't feel any lack of officers-running-a-ship minigame. Our players picked the positions they took on the ship and we hand-waved the day-to-day so we could focus on the decisions on where to go and who to get cozy with.
Pardon me, but "who to get cozy with"? I don't understand the reference.

Anyway, at least to me, it felt lacking that we just were able to run a ship with minimal crew and little experience without any challenge or difficulty. I'm a big "step on up" sort of player, and to me running the ship shouldn't be handwaved away until such time as we had surmounted that obstacle. So I expect to have supply shortages, crew discipline issues, personality conflicts, difficulties in navigation and piloting, sickness about the ship, complaints about food and vermin and all the rest. One of the areas of the game that I consider as having the most potential interest is can you manage to run a pilot ship better than Harrigan and Plugg, or are you going to find yourself morally compromised in the same ways and adopting the same sort of attitudes toward the crew? As one example, playing out the officer game has led us press ganging sailors, which was the very action that was performed against us that would eventually form the basis of our mutiny. So where does that put us? As captain, I've not only at this point flogged several NPCs, but have had one of the other PC's flogged. If running the ship is easy enough to handwave away, none of that sort of gameplay comes up.

same with the shipboard combat aspect where we focused on the opposition officers while our crews duked it out. None of us wanted to push 20-odd tokens around the board, rolling for each one's attacks.
None of us want to push 20 odd tokens around the board either, but "while the crews duke it out" is entirely unsatisfying for the following reasons:

a) Early on it was abundantly obvious that our crew was beating their crew despite their crew being larger, more heavily armed, and higher level. This raised problems like why did we only have to beat so few enemies in order to take the ship, and why wasn't our crew beat to crap? And initially, before we realized that the minigame played that way, we were reluctant to send our crew into battle since it was obvious that they would get killed. So then the question was, if it was only the PC's fighting, why didn't we have to fight their crew as well?

b) Later the situation was reversed. Why isn't the crew helping us fight? And both of this goes back to the ship management situation. If the crew is always going to win if we win, regardless of the odds against them, then why does it matter if we have 20 crew or 200? And don't enemy ships have crews of 200 to stop that?

c) Regardless, what is the outcome of this fight between the NPCs. The NPC's aren't faceless mooks, especially early on. If you just send them into battle against 25 Chellish Marines while you hang back and fight these 6 over here and one low level captain, then a lot of them ought to die because those are overwhelming odds against them - just as in the PC fight we had overwhelming odds against the portion of the scene we were supposed to be fighting. Did name NPC's die taking on those enemies? At no point did it feel like hand waving that away was a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it left the GM in the situation of needing to just make up what had happened without any real guidelines. How much crew do we have left? Which crew member's critical resources have to be permanently forgone?

All we really need is a simple measurement to determine relatively how strong the two crews are, and if they two crews fight, what the consequences are so that we can make an informed choice about whether we want to fight or flee. Because we are in the game and we're trying to assess this in character, and if we have to make decisions based on a metagame that's really crappy.

But, yeah, you've noticed a couple of things. The scale of the sea is tight, particularly if you want to think Caribbean Sea - it's not as bad if you're thinking of the density of the Philippines. Still kind of tight but that's easily adjustable.
It's not the tightness that's the problem. It's that, for example, the Philippines are roughly nine times the size of the Shackles. So everything in the Shackles is basically right next door to everything else - even using the unrealistically slow travel rates of the game. So if you are trying to go for the feeling of a sea voyage, and everything is like 1-3 days from wherever you are now, it just kind of losing something compared to the classic feel of being pirates. The upshot of that is to make the game of being pirates make sense, we've had to treat the Shackles as being just a small part of where we are sailing. So for example, we sailed down to Senghor recently to sell plunder and spy on merchants ships leaving for parts north. Which makes a ton more sense than sailing around the Shackles where pretty much everyone is supposed to be pirates.

The issue with paying the crew not scaling - they probably assumed players would continue with crews on the scale of the Man's Promise - about 20 sailors.
What they I think assume is that no one playing the game knows anything about ships or pirates at all. But, be as that may, even within the game, we are told in the fiction that Man's Promise is desperately short handed and this is part of the reason that the crew is so badly mistreated. So there is an in game reason to not crew the Man's Promise with so small a crew, leaving aside that anyone who has read anything about pirates and the age of sail knows that a crew of 20 is terribly small for any sort of warship, and the assumption that we had when trying to figure out what we ought to do is that we needed to take steps to ensure the crew could face off against an enemy naval vessel in a pinch.

Now that you've spotted it and have 80 crewmen, you know to drop 4 points of plunder paying them off when you sell in port rather than just 1.
Well the thing is, we were inhabiting the fiction. We were roleplaying. And as part of role playing out the mutiny, the notion of fairer pay and better treatment was part of the fiction. So we didn't stop to ask what metagame we were supposed to have. We created an in game distribution of shares similar to what real world pirates and navies used. It was only after we did that thing that the GM had to inform us that we could have paid the whole crew just 1 plunder port, at which point our jaws dropped and I protested, "But Harrigan - Harrigan! - paid us better than that? Are we supposed to be worse than Harrigan? And the crew isn't supposed to care?"

Behind all of this I feel is an unspoken assumption that no matter what choices the players make, they aren't supposed to fail. In other words, none of these choices matter because they can't get us off the rails. Our crew won't mutiny, not because we are fairer to them than Harrigan and kinder than Scourge, but just because they aren't supposed to. We won't ship wreck (at least, not until it is supposed to I guess), not because we are better sailors than Plugg, but just because we aren't supposed to.

it's also a good excuse for PCs to take the Leadership feat. I was playing captain in our campaign - as soon as I was able to take Leadership, I took it and we made Rosie Cusswell my cohort. I gave her a prize ship to captain and started to build a fleet... which you will eventually want if you ever want to be Hurricane King.
I haven't got that far, but I will say I've always hated the Leadership feat because it's unbalanced and because it makes something that is an in character, in fiction relationship become just another feature of your character sheet.


I wonder why you assume a 6 volume campaign is going to be suitable for a novice GM?
Because I assumed that it was largely linear and that in being linear it wouldn't demand a large amount of novel creation by the GM. I figured there would be some Sandbox areas in the story where we 'played pirates', but I figured that they had well constructed rules and minigames to handle all the obvious and common "What if the players..." scenarios.