Twelfth Session (12 page pdf) – “Water Stop 2” – In our first sequel, the PCs need crew for their new ship, and remember the island of freed slaves from Water Stop (Season One, Third Session). They head there to recruit! Naturally, it’s not that easy.
This session took a whole lot of work on my part. I think it might be interesting to see how another GM does this stuf fin detail, so here’s a bit of a blow by blow about how I prepped and conducted the session.
As prep, I needed to generate eleven fully realized pirate crewmen and a dozen freed slaves for the PCs to interact with. Eek! I used some of my favorite random generators, but wasn’t thrilled with most of what came out of them, so mainly made it up myself. And it worked! The PCs were fascinated by the crew: Seven, Stoke, Orgon One-ear, Dum-dum, Tanned Hank, Little Mike, Big Mike, Mano, Gareb, Goat, and Slasher Jim.
I believe strongly in random generation at sea. Random weather, random encounters… I eyeballed Zak’s Wavecrawl Kit, pulled random weather tables together from Stormwrack and other sources, and random encounter tables from everywhere they are hidden in Pathfinder stuff (Note to Paizo, I’d pay good money for a big book of random encounter tables by Inner Sea area. I needed Gulf of Varisia area open ocean and beach/coastal encounters.
So they get going, and I roll some weather up, a snowstorm. Just a minor one, but it gets them back used to making their Profession: Sailor checks. Sindawe was captain and Serpent was master on the helm; the snowstorm was an assisted check with Sindawe leading and Serpent assisting. They didn’t have any trouble.
Day two, the 8% chance of random encounter triggers. Roll the dice – 00. When you roll percentiles and get a 00 you always know something’s going to get fucked up. I scan down the ocean table in the Bestiary and see 00 – Shoggoth. CR 19.
Well now some GMs would puss out and say that’s too much for a fifth level party to handle. But not me. Shoggoth it is! Hey, what’s that ahead, a giant field of sargasso seaweed? Let’s go around. Why is it starting to come towards us?
They started to put on speed. I used the naval version of my chase rules this time with Serpent the helmsman leading. On the fly I was assessing penalties for the ship’s skeleton crew (-4) and rolling for how hard the wind is blowing (lightly, -3). It works a lot like the foot chase rules, each side rolls Movement checks and moves up or down a range band from each other.
It was pretty cool. They didn’t know what it was, and it was gaining on them (shoggoths swim at like 50′). Serpent/Paul joked about “it could be a shoggoth! There would be piping and stuff!” As it drew closer they heard the piping. He was deeply unhappy. He had the presence of mind to order Orgon to go get wax to stopper the crews’ ears (earning an additional -4 on Sindawe’s captaining rolls, sadly, but preventing them all from going insane).
They kept not doing real well in terms of making speed and the shoggoth kept rolling 15+. Sindawe was getting desperate and scanned the horizon with a spyglass for something, anything… I rolled on Zak’s Wavecrawl “Random Event” table, which can be “nothing.” I got a random ship, table says merchants, d4 for size… A big fat Chelish merchantman! Sindawe rolled a 30+ Perception and saw a chance. They headed straight for it. Wogan and a gun crew had loaded a cannon on the off chance it would be useful against the shoggoth, but now they ran to the other side and loaded one with chain shot. The other ship didn’t spot them till they were barreling down on it. The shoggoth closed to close contact with the PCs’ ship and began ripping holes in it. Serpent crossed the T behind the merchantman and they shot a load into its rigging. The Teeth of Araska sailed away as the shoggoth engulfed the huge ship. They were extremely sobered by this encounter, as well they might be!
That could have been pretty bad, but I have confidence in my PCs. They could have gotten away through sheer speed, but that didn’t work, but they came up with a plan B and executed on it with precision. And that’s the kind of response really being in danger of complete extinction drives!
But we were only 1/3 done with the session by this point, that was supposed to just be a warmup random encounter! The PCs got to the island. What the heck had happened to the slaves?
Well, ahead of time I decided I’d roll 1d20 for each slave. 2-5 they died, 6-10 they were sick, 11-15 they were OK, 16-19 they were great and had leveled. 20 was “special good” and 1 was “special bad.” I got only 1 dead, but one special good and one special bad, and the main 3 slaves from their previous appearance were sick. I brainstormed and decided that some of the rats that escaped the sinking goblin pirate ship the Sable Drake got onto the island and multiplied and have become a main food source – and one spread the lycanthropy that Captain Naki, wererat goblin captain of the ship, had. One of the slaves got bit, and changed. Which was fine, but when he was too forward with Sevgi the ex-harem slave and she rejected him, he became forceful and the other two lead slaves had to get firm with him. Looking for revenge, he infected all three with filth fever and was waiting for Sevgi to get sick enough that a) she’s be sure to succumb to lycanthropy when he bit her and b) that she’d thank him for saving her and be hers forever! The PCs’ intervention interrupted this little love story, resulting in his attack on Sindawe.
I didn’t have a huge amount of inspiration for the ‘good special’ so I just had the cook have made some mango wine, resulting in quite a party. The PCs did good in only allowing a small number of the pirates on shore; I had been envisioning a big drunken pirate fight, especially as one of the slaves was trading sexual favors for supplies… Alas, it was kept more bottled up than that. The real challenge in this whole session was personnel management – can you get through this not just without killing a large number of the pirates and/or slaves, but can you make them into an effective crew that likes and/or fears you enough to not mutiny?
Speaking of revenge and sex, Captain Treeg’s woman and cleric of Calistria Ishana had been hiding out on the Teeth of Araska since she was taken. Not all that stable in the first place, her faith in the goddess of lust and revenge has driven her to fanatic heights of kill craziness. She was hoping that if she could rid the ship of the new interlopers that she could control the old crew. But Seven has been sucking up to them and clearly was their favorite. So in standard crazy-chick logic, he became target #1. Serpent was skulking out there when she broke invisibility to hold person and then coup de grace Seven. Serpent whaled away on her good and made his saves against her blindness, but she managed to murder Seven before being beaten down. I was hoping she could re-cast invisibility and escape to beset them but Serpent just does too much damage. Serpent was happy to leave Slasher Jim alone with her corpse.
Oh, and they devised a pirate Articles of Agreement (I mostly copied it from a historical one) and all signed on! The healed slaves decided they wanted off the island (except for the wererat – they marooned him, but figured that as a rat he’d get along OK) and most were good with piracy as long as it’s against the Chelish.
Tired yet? Well, the session is still only 2/3 over. So they set out for Sandpoint to resupply and drop off the one family that didn’t want to take up the pirate life. We’ve had a shoggoth, and had Survivor-on-crack intrigue, and now we have – a winter storm!
My random weather had the temperature drop and drop some more, and a gale force wind whip up. The seas heaved as a freezing wind buffeted them. The last third of the session was them weathering the storm.
Now, often in an RPG that can be boring. But I’ve been reading a lot of Hornblower and wanted to make the actual sailing part exciting; there’s no reason that man vs. nature, one of the fundamental kinds of literary conflict, should suck in D&D.
So here’s what we did. I rolled randomly and saw the storm was going to last nine hours (I didn’t tell them this). They had to make shiphandling checks to not founder or have other problems. The slaves, I rolled to see if any had shipboard experience, and a couple had – the others had to make Fort saves against seasickness; a couple dropped out immediately and some more succumbed to it over the course of the storm. And it was cold. The Pathfinder cold rules say you have to save every hour, DC 15 + 1 per previous save, or take 1d6 nonlethal and be fatigued from frostbite.
This led to a really interesting battle against the elements. Each hour, I had Sindawe roll Prof: Sailor, aided by Serpent and Wogan. As long as they had 20 crew the ship was fully manned; each 5 fewer people manning the ship yields a -2 to all rolls. Based on how well they did they were fine, or being blown off course, or a worse threat like foundering or whatnot. Then came the cold saves. Wogan used the power of Gozreh in the form of channeled healing to throw off a lot of the frostbite damage, but more sailors succumbed as the storm wore on. And third, accident checks. Basically on a 1 on 1d20 something bad might happen to you – a wave comes to wash you overboard, you slip on the icy deck, someone drops a tool on your head. For each 5 by which the captain borks his roll there’s a penalty and if you’re fatigued there’s a penalty, so sometimes people were looking at a 1-3 to 1-5 chance of something risky happening over the course of that hour. Goat fell to the deck from the rigging and Bel and Pirro nearly got washed overboard; finally a chunk of ice fell from the rigging and KOed Bel. Wogan kept as many folks going as he could but by the time it was over more than half the slaves and a good quarter of the pirates were incapacitated. It was an epic battle, but just of man and ship versus the weather.
Finally they ended up in Sandpoint, dropped off the family, and bought supplies. They wanted to buy crates of weapons, but a poor Bluff meant that the local sheriff didn’t like the looks of them and told the locals not to sell them any. We’ll see if they impress any townsfolk onto their crew in vengeance next time before they set off to find the wreck of the Sandspider! (They found that treasure map when they were returning from Viperwall aboard the Blackfin back in Return to Madness, Season One, Episode 25.)
Goodness! I was tuckered out by the end of all this, but was happy with the results. All the NPCs were fully realized enough that the PCs interacted with them with interest and realism. And there were a lot of call-backs to previous sessions; the players are remembering a lot of that stuff and their history is really helping to drive them. I consider it a success!
Unfortunately it’ll be a little; due to work and vacation trips Reavers is on hiatus for six weeks. But we’ll be back with some hard hitting pirate action soon!