After some deliberation, questioning, and input from the players, it looks like I’ll be running a somewhat modified rendition of the Skull and Shackles Adventure Path for a group of five. As such, I’ll be looking it over a bit today; I already know some segments will require extra work on my part to have them as the AP suggests, much less modified while keeping them fun.
Why modify it? Partly because some segments are exceptionally brutal, others a near cakewalk, and some simply nonsensical; and partly because one of the players has run the AP before. Were I more thoroughly confident with the group, I’d run Kingmaker for an AP that requires less total work to modify. Perhaps after this AP, if everyone remains on board to continue.
As it stands, the AP theoretically opens with everyone waking up aboard the Wormwood with the kind of horrible hangover that comes from drugs mixed into cheap wine and ale. In practice, I’ll be letting them run around the tavern they get press-ganged from during the first session, so they have some small sense of who each of them are and what they do. Unlike at least one GM who felt ‘you wake up on a ship press-ganged into service’ is too much of a railroad compared to ‘you all meet in a tavern with a mysterious quest-giver’ I’ll be ensuring they get properly drafted before the first session is done.
Important details, for me – Mister Plugg, the primary antagonist of the first book of the AP, is undoubtedly the one who decided what to loot off the characters to be stuffed into Grok’s stores, and he’s likely distributed the leftover coin from the PCs’ initial purchases to the men who helped to cement their loyalty a bit; those sailors are the ones most likely to gamble on the ship, and so the best way for the PCs to get their money back to buy back their gear if they want it.
A certain event on day one – scripted to reinforce how horrific punishment can be aboard – will need modified; I intend to reinforce how powerful the primary officers aboard are, to ensure that the players won’t be trying to capture the Wormwood itself. This is one place where I intend to enlist the help of the other person that’s run the AP already, as he knows what to expect from the officers in question.
Another key point is that Skull and Shackles was written in 2012; since then, a few new options have come out, and I need to evaluate the primary NPCs in light of it. Some of them will also need changed and upgraded because APs tend to be written for a ‘generic’ group concept, while the actual players will bring a different mix of differently-optimized characters to the table.
Speaking of players, here’s what I have for the character lineup so far.
A Chaotic Neutral catfolk swashbuckler with the inspired blade archetype, Besmara’s Blessing as a trait, and a natural climb speed. I expect she’ll be the one to master the rigging competition by that virtue alone. I imagine she’ll be eager to get her rapier back as quickly as she can.
A Neutral Evil undine (native outsider with ancestry from the plane of water) cleric who serves Gozreh, the primal god of nature. Described thus far as unkempt and on the curmudgeonly side; this could go either way with the crew, depending on how the player handles it in the wake of certain events during the early days of the campaign.
A Lawful Evil tiefling (devil-blooded native outsider) alchemist from Cheliax, with the vivisectionist archetype because he’d rather not throw firebombs around the ship. This one has a significant advantage over some other arcane types, since an alchemist’s spells are imbibed rather than cast. Far less likely to draw the ire of a bunch of superstitious pirates if he takes a little care with it. Also a bit of a background as a chef, so he’s liable to be the cook’s mate.
A kineticist who has either water or wind as a first elemental focus; as with the priest of Gozreh, this could go either way depending on how the player handles it. Given the phenomenally obvious nature of kineticist powers, the character may well need to be subtle about it if they don’t want to be the go-to scapegoat for everything going wrong aboard the Wormwood, including some invented by those hostile to the party.
Last is an occultist, who’ll probably be able to conceal a small implement on themself so that when press-ganged they aren’t totally helpless. On the up side, occultist spells are psychic magic, which is much less flashy than most arcane or divine magic. I’ll give them player Bluff checks, likely, to convince people that they’re not the source or focus of whatever magic they do while on board.
Truth be told, this party sounds like the start of a bad joke of some sort. “An alchemist, swashbuckler, kineticist, occultist, and grumpy old priest of Gozreh walk into a pirate bar…” Who knows? Maybe the barkeep at the Formidably Maid will decide all these weird people in the bar need to go, and helpfully dose them all with some added sleeping poison even before good* old** Mister Plugg starts trying.
Tomorrow, I may introduce everyone to Jake “Magpie” Cooper, a ratty little man who starts the AP in quite a bit more trouble than he realizes***.
* – All things considered, “good” isn’t even a stretch as a descriptor of Plugg; it could qualify as slander, however.
** – He’s also only twenty-one years old, which makes his position as First Mate aboard the Wormwood a little surprising and perhaps a bit dubious.
*** – I’ll just say that keelhauling is a phenomenally ugly punishment and leave it at that. Go look it up if you perhaps want a bit of nightmare fuel; worse is that if you survive the experience, you get killed anyway and tossed into the sea just the same.