Posted: August 19, 2012 by mearrin69 in Gaming
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We kicked off what should be a very long campaign this Sunday: Paizo Publishing’s Skull & Shackles adventure path for Pathfinder. Here’s Paizo’s elevator speech on the AP:

There’s adventure to be had on the high seas when a group of press-ganged strangers seizes a ship and becomes embroiled in the plots and politics of the Shackles—an infamous island chain dominated by pirate warlords. But as these new swashbucklers make names for themselves, rival scalawags, enemy navies, legendary sea monsters, and the infamous Hurricane King himself seek to see them walk the plank. Who will survive when there’s glory to plunder?

LL and HG had spent some time before game day coming up with characters for the campaign. They’ll play two characters each and HG created an extra character for drop-by players. Here are their characters along with the bios they wrote for them:

Keeya Stormcrow (HG) – Female sylph sea witch – Born in the city of Ilizmagorti on the island of Mediogalti, Keeya was a little different from the other children of her age, and was often avoided by the other children, more out of fear than anything else. You see, Keeya had unusual marking on her skin, kind of like the turbulent surf on a bright and sunny day, and when angered or distressed a mysterious wind would whip around her (even indoors). But life wasn’t too bad for Keeya in Ilizmagorti, she would sit and watch the sailors prepare for their long sea voyages and would often go down to the docks and help. She always seemed to know when a ship was about to arrive in port before anyone could see it on the horizon, “a sea gull told me” is what she would often say. Once she was of age Keeya decided to hop on a ship bound for Port Peril. The trip was mostly uneventful and to celebrate her safe arrival Keeya paid a visit to a local pub for a few drinks, and that’s where her trouble began.

Killian “Silver Tongue” Black (HG) – Male human bard – Another orphan in Port Peril, more meat for the grinder some would say as he would often talk someone out of a meal. He got along well with the other children repeating stories he had overheard while sitting outside a barroom window at night. He quickly learned that the trick wasn’t so much in the story itself but in the telling or rather how it was told. A story is just a bunch of words. A “Tale” has feeling and old pirate would tell Killian, and song could turn a brawl into a party…or vice versa. And there’s coin to be made if you be good enough. One day Killian decided to give it a go and see if he could earn a few coin that didn’t break his back. After telling a rousing tale of a pirate ship chasing down a fat merchant ship, the barkeep so impressed with the tale gave Killian a couple free drinks and for the first time with more than 2 coins to rub together in his pocket and feeling good about this new life he was going to explore, and readied himself for his next tale about a poor sailor who found himself press ganged after drinking a drugged ale, then the world suddenly went black…why is the floor moving, oh no.

Shieraa’ll (LL) – Female human cleric (Besmara) – Sheira was born and raised in a village in the Mwangi Expanse. The small village is many miles from Bloodcove.  Despite the distance and being on solid ground she felt Besmara’s pull. Shiera always had “sea legs” and had never been near the sea. Her natural clerical talents and worship of Besmara frightened her family and village. She was forced out of the village and her family disowned her. She headed for the Sea and the closer she got the stronger her cleric abilities became. She feels most at home on the open sea. Despite losing her original home and family she is upbeat and happy.  She has no intention of ever living on dry land again.

Valana (LL) – Female human swashbuckler – Valana is the middle child of five adult children. Her siblings were openly hostile when Valana followed in their father’s criminal footsteps. Valana quickly gained a reputation and enemy of the city guard at a shockingly early age. Her father’s criminal activity was the worst kept secret in town and the family was shunned by everyone. Eventually the area lawmen gathered together and raided Valana’s family compound. Her parents died during the raid and her siblings fled as fast and far as possible, leaving Valana alone to fight her father’s enemies. She tried to stand her ground and barely escaped with reckless haste. She signed aboard the nearest ship leaving port the next morning. That was a year ago. There is a bounty for her live capture and return to face charges. Valana is mindful to stay a few steps ahead of bounty hunters and the law. She is quietly trying to track down her siblings to protect them. There are people that will, in her absence, exact retribution on her innocent siblings. If her siblings knew she was doing this, they would refuse her aid. They still despise her.

Baroque (XX) – Male human fighter – Baroque is a Schrödinger character…sometimes he’s there, sometimes he’s not. He’ll be a background NPC unless we have a drop-in player that wants to take him over for a session or two. This Sunday he was played by TG.

Our new friends awoke in a dark room – a room still seemingly pitching to and fro as a result of the previous evening’s revelries. Their heads splitting, foggy memories of the night before, spent at Port Peril’s infamous Formidably Maid, came flooding back. For most, these were regrets over too much spicy food and strong drink…for one it was an ill-considered fistfight in the filthy alley behind the renowned pirate watering hole.

As eyes cleared of fog and adjusted to the dark, beams of sunlight between planks here and there attested to the poor construction of their chosen sleeping place. Heavy steps could be heard from the floor above. What hotel was this? Why weren’t they in beds? Hands reached for weapons that were not there, found sea bags and duffels that were. Before long, after they had nearly regained their faculties, they heard more heavy steps…these descending wooden stairs into their room. Several sets of steps, several people. The hood of a lantern was lifted, playing bright light across their dazzled eyes. The sharp crack of a whip sounded, making their heads ache all the more.

“Still abed with the sun o’er the yardarm?” shouted a sneering man with a braided beard and a mouthful of gold teeth. “On yer feet, ye filthy swabs! Get on deck and report for duty before Captain Harrigan flays yer flesh into sausage skins and has Fishguts fry ye up fer breakfast!” A look that might have been an expression of pain, but was clearly an attempted smile, crossed the man’s face as he looked to his six rough-looking companions and ordered, “Get them up!”

As our friends struggled shakily to their feet they got their first glimpse of their surroundings. They were definitely aboard a ship, in a nearly empty cargo hold. There was some grumbling and Valana, possibly the sauciest wench these pirates had ever met, decided to handle things in her usual manner: her fists. She took a swing at a big-eared former harlot called Aretta Bansion but failed to connect. Her reward was a conk on the head from Aretta’s sap and a sneering, “Do as Master Scourge says, honey, or you’ll get some more of that!” They decided to give in and climb the stairs to the deck, where the rest of the crew had gathered for breakfast and morning assignments.

Above them, on the poop deck they saw what must be the captain of this vessel, a three-masted sailing ship they would soon learn bore the inauspicious moniker the Wormwood. He was a broad, muscular Garundi man with a shaven head, a long beard bound with gold rings, and an eye patch. He said, “Glad you could join us at last! Welcome to the Wormwood! My thanks for ‘volunteering’ to join my crew. I’m Barnabas Harrigan. That’s Captain Barnabas Harrigan to you, not that you’ll ever need to…”

At this point he was interrupted by Shieraa’ll, with some nonsense about the terms of their hiring. Bansion’s ever-ready sap sang through the air but failed to connect as she hissed, “Silence while the captain is talking!” After a pause Harrigan continued, “I have only one rule—don’t speak to me. I like talk, but I don’t like your talk. Follow that rule and we’ll all get along fine. Oh, and one more thing. Even with you new recruits, we’re still short-handed, and I aim to keep what crew I have. There’ll be a keelhaulin’ for anyone caught killin’ anyone. Mr. Plugg! If you’d be so kind as to make pirates out of these landlubbers, it’ll save me having to put them in the sweatbox for a year and a day before I make pies out of ’em.”

A younger, balding man next to the captain descended the stairs and looked them over. Mr. Plugg had a long black ponytail and was wearing a long coat and carrying a well-used cat-o’-nine-tails. From his expression it was clear that he didn’t like what he saw…until he noticed that Keeya had already strayed from the group and was already hard at work mending some ropes. A thin smile crossed his lips as he said, “You! I need another rigger and it looks as if you’ve got the skills for it. Which of the rest of you can cook?” He got no useful replies so pointed at Shieraa’ll, who had said something about creating food and water, and said, “Okay, you’re the cook’s mate. The rest of you are swabs. Assignments after breakfast. Dismissed!”

Shiera’ll tried to ask Mr. Plugg about her holy symbol, a flask bearing Besmara’s mark, but was waved off by another crewmember who Shiera’ll noticed bore a tattoo of Besmara’s mark on her right arm. Plugg left and the woman approached, introducing herself as Sandara Quinn. She handed Shieraa’ll a small sack containing her flask and a few daggers and such. “End your quarrels on shore. Friends are hard to come by on a pirate ship, and enemies are many. I thought you might need these.” She explained that she had told the superstitious quartermaster, Cut-Throat Grok, that they were cursed and that she’d be better off with them gone.

The dirty ship’s cook, Ambrose “Fishguts” Kroops, brought out the ship’s biscuit and crew began lining up for their share. Two crew members, a foul-mouthed halfling called Rosie Cusswell and a foppish gnome with the unlikely appellation Conchobhar Turlach Shortstone had a run-in by the biscuit. He’d apparently been sweet on Rosie for a couple of days and she openly opposed the idea, though Valana got the idea she might be secretly appreciative of the gnome’s advances. Rosie joined the group and Concho, as he likes to be called, approached later with sweet words for all of the ladies present. Shieraa’ll told him he’d best make nice with his own hand but he took no offense, giving a rather good extemporaneous performance of a song called “Magic Hand”. 

After breakfast, Plugg handed out assignments. Killian, for his earlier attempts at currying favor through smooth talk, earned himself a place in the bilges. The other swabs, Valana and Baroque, were put on rope duty. Keeya was assigned to the crow’s nest to be a spotter. Shieraa’ll was sent below to find Fishguts and get started on the day’s cooking tasks.

The new crewmembers took heed of Sandara’s earlier warning and, as they worked, tried to make friends where they could. Killian was assigned to the bilges with a rather surly fellow called Crimson “Cog” Cogward and, though he was initially quite hostile, warmed up after some interesting stories of pugilistic glories and an impromptu song about a game of gnome-kicking. Speaking of gnomes, Valana made small-talk with a one-eyed gnome named Giffer Tibbs. It was rough going at first but Tibbs eventually warmed up enough to engage in conversation as they worked and later joined the group for the evening meal and rum ration.

At the dusk, the ship’s bell sounded and shouts of “Bloody hour!” arose from the crew, who began gathering on deck. The captain addressed the crew. A fellow named Jakes Magpie was brought from the sweatbox on deck to stand before the captain. Harrigan said, “Jakes Magpie, you stand guilty of stealing from the ship’s quartermaster and are hereby sentenced to keelhauling. Let this be a lesson to you!” Plugg, Scourge, and a handful of the other pirates dragged the weakened Magpie to the bow of the ship and tied heavy ropes, which had already been strung under the keel to the port side of the ship, to his feet. More crewmembers took up position on that side of the rope as Plugg and Scourge ceremoniously pushed Magpie overboard. The crewmembers working the portside rope heaved for several seconds, half a minute at least, pulling at the rope. Eventually, Magpie surfaced on the port side of the ship and was hauled on deck. Sheiraa’ll and Sandara ran to his side but he was gone, his body torn to shreds on the barnacle-encrusted hull. Plugg shooed them away from the body, lifted the corpse, and threw it over the edge. “More feed for the sharks!” he spat.

Harrigan addressed the crew again, “Conchobhar Turlach Shortstone, stand forth!” Concho looked around with a start and stepped forward. “Me?” he gasped. “You stand guilty of ‘taking the caulk’, as reported by Mr. Plugg. Second offense, four lashes with the cat. Let this be a lesson to you!” Several of the pirates moved on Plugg’s orders and grabbed Concho, dragging him to the mainmast as they removed his jacket. They secured his hands and feet to the ropes there and Plugg stepped forward, fondling his well-worn cat. “One!” he shouted as the brought the barbed whip down across Concho’s back and the little gnome cried out in pain. Blood welled through his shirt as Plugg laid three more hard stroked but Concho took these later blows well. When done, Plugg’s helpers rushed forward to untie Concho and let him slump onto the deck. “Now for dinner,” said Harrigan as he turned and went into his quarters. Again Shieraa’ll and Sandara rushed to the victim’s side, fortunately finding that this one would live. They eased his wounds the best they could and helped him move to a more comfortable spot. (MA: “Taking the caulk” is pirate jargon for napping while on duty. Apparently such shirkers would often awaken finding that the caulk between the deckboards had left dark parallel lines on their clothing, marking them as guilty. Concho had lines. Oops!)

Fishguts brought out dinner for the officers, who had decided to dine on the poop deck this fine evening, and then served the crew. More biscuit plus some fish stew and a side of hummus, whipped up by Shieraa’ll. Afterward, quartermaster Grok brought out a barrel and handed out the evening’s rum ration to the crew. It was stout stuff and our friends could see the deleterious effect its long-term consumption must be having on the crew. Shieraa’ll decided to ask Besmara to remove the worst of the consequences for her and her friends and they lifted their cups and drank no worse than fresh, clean water. (MA: In game terms, the nightly rum ration is quite lethal for low-level characters. I’ve lightened up Paizo’s rules on this a bit but it’s still a bad thing. I’ve asked for opinions on Paizo’s forums for whether the purify food & drink spell can be used in this way. Even if it can, there’s no word yet on what Besmara, a pirate diety, thinks of this sort of rum treatment. Doubtlessly we’ll learn her judgment soon!)

The crew drank well into the evening, gambling on various pirate games such as twenty-three peg and heave. At some point Aretta Bansion approached Valana and challenged her to arm wrestle. Pirate arm wrestling is usually done on top of an upended barrel with lots of pointy, harmful objects to greet the hand of the loser. Valana accepted and bets were placed. She toyed with the weaker Bansion for a bit and then pressed her down slowly before, at the last, giving her hand a final extra-hard slam into the waiting point of a broken and rusty dagger. Bansion cried out in pain and then calmly said, “You’ll pay for that, swab.” as her friends moved to comfort her with another cup of the ship’s rum.

Next session we’ll see what happens during the characters’ second day aboard the good ship Wormwood. On Labor Day weekend we’re scheduled for “gaming camping” and, if all goes according to plan, we should make some good progress on the campaign…while enjoying some homebrew and camp food!

NB1: Starting PCs off as prisoners is, in my book, generally a dick GM move. I wouldn’t do it in any ordinary circumstance but the authors decided this was the way to go and they did it in an okay sort of way. I briefly toyed with the idea of just having them hire on as crew but then realized that the Players’ Guide for the AP included campaign traits with built-in hooks built on the characters having been press-ganged…so I went with it. I did, however, leave them with most of their stuff: only weapons and obviously magical gear was taken and placed in the quartermaster’s stores. It’s not that hard to get back so I think all’s well. 

NB2: The previous Sunday, we made a brief attempt at continuing our Call of Cthulhu game with an investigation into the disappearance of an Arkham boy in nearby Innsmouth. We didn’t make it far, however, due to the GM having a particularly bad allergic reaction to…something. We decided to table the game and instead move to Skull & Shackles. We will come back to CoC as a break from whatever other “main game” we run alongside S&S – that will likely be LL’s planned Pathfinderized Dark Sun game.


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