Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mapping a Campaign

Mapping a Campaign
In a previous post, "Acts of Faith," I mentioned that I like to write about my characters. The example there was a short story meant to capture some of the personality of a character, as well as to explain why he would have the Enemy fortune. I also tend to take detailed notes about adventures, tracking important encounters and recording details that might become important in the future. For characters from longer campaigns, I have pages of notes to chronicle events, and refer back to them when needed.

In a similar vein, in the Interlude "The Refitting" I mentioned that a source of considerable outside-of-play activity was customizing the deck plans for the party's ship(s). This helped to create a sense of investment, and provided a clear mental image of such an important location. Thinking about these elements, it occurred to me recently that, in a pirate-themed campaign, it would also be fun and even useful if somebody used a map to keep track of the party's movements. This notion is inspired in part by the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the hero's travels are represented between scenes spanning the United States, Nepal and Egypt.

Consider, for example, the adventures presented in the Come Hell and High Water campaign. During the second one, "Reprisal," the PC's have a chance to acquire a small pirate sloop, the Oppotunity. After that, "Out of the Darkness" takes the party to a plantation on Hispaniola and thence, in all likelihood, back to Jamaica. Tracking these movements on a map would look something like this.

There are plenty of good maps available online for use. Some are simple and plain, like the one taken above from . Others are fancier, but just about any will do the trick. The players could even make a fancier prop by soaking printer paper in tea or coffee, letting it dry, and then printing an antique-looking map on it.

Using a map in this way provides a number of benefits. One is that it helps give the players a more solid mental picture of the places their characters have visited and how they fit together into the world of the campaign. Another is that it can help the GM keep track of the time needed to cover such distances; this is especially the case if one is enforcing rules regarding provisioning and the like. Finally, of course, it helps create a record of the adventures for years to come.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Interlude: The Minister

I'm still working slowly on the next adventure, but real life is making it hard to find time. Perhaps appropriately for Good Friday, however, I have an interlude featuring a religious fellow who could make for all kinds of roleplaying opportunities.


Interlude 39: The Minister
At first glance, it might seem unusual to introduce a minister into a Skull & Bones campaign. After all, the teachings of Christianity frown upon many piratical pastimes, such as pillaging, killing, stealing, whoring, drinking, gambling and the like. In spite of that disapproval, however, a holy person can make for numerous adventure hooks and roleplaying opportunities. Detailed here are just a few of the possibilities.
  • For one thing, the minister could become an unwitting companion for the pirates. This might happen when prisoners are rescued from the clutches of more wicked cutthroats, when they discover a group stranded due to mishap, or the like. Whatever the case, this makes for an odd couple type of relationship, as the minister preaches to the PC's while judging their deeds and misdeeds. To really sell this, the GM should be prepared with a series of Bible verses and other quotes that speak against the sins mentioned above.
  • Another interesting element is the fact that ministers act as confessors to those who are about to be executed. This situation could make them privy to various secrets revealed by the soon-to-be deceased, possibly including confessions, the locations of loot or other such details. Should a minister learn of such things, he could use said information in a variety of ways.
  • If the campaign includes divine magic of any kind--perhaps using the suggestions for subtle magic presented in the "Clerics of the New World" article--then Father Smith could be a source of blessings or other such help. Given that he has the Scribe Scroll feat, he might write prayers for faithful who need them later. He might also be required for using a holy relic, perhaps even providing access to healing magic.
  • Father Smith could seek out the PC's because he wishes to go in search of a relic, perhaps one lost at sea or hidden away in a treasure cache on a desert island. A variation on this idea is that he is brought to the PC's because he believes they were divinely chosen; carrying his Bible, he casts himself adrift in a rowboat, and the wind and waves lead him to them.
  • In a similar vein, Father Smith could decide to found his own religious colony, and he hires the PC's to transport him and his followers to the location selected for it.
  • Of course, Smith's faith in such "choosing" could be misguided; one possibility is that he's actually being duped by a playful onijegi such as Arukuma.

Father Malachai Smith
Cleric 6; CR 6; Size medium; HD 6d8+12; hp 35; Init +0 (+0 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 10 (+0 Dex); Atk +5 (1d6+1, cudgel) or +4 (ranged); SQ Turn Undead, spells; AL LG; SV: Fort +7, Ref +2, Will +8; Str 12, Dex 10, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 17, Cha 14.
Background: Religious (Diplomacy and Knowledge: religion).
Skills: Concentration +6, Diplomacy +11, Heal +12, Knowledge (religion) +12.
Feats: Combat Casting, Great Fortitude, Iron Will, Scribe Scroll.
Fortunes: True Thomas.
Equipment: Clothing, cudgel, Bible, writing materials, pouch containing 20 poe.
Spells per Day: 5/4+1/4+1/3+1.
Domains: Good, Protection.

Father Malachai Smith is a very serious fellow. He is devoutly religious, and seeks to help others come to a similar understanding of the world's divine mysteries. For that reason, he does not engage in the sinful pleasures of the flesh; he would rather spend his time reading the Bible or praying. He is tenacious once he begins on a project, however, and can be contentious if crossed by those who are not interested in doing the Lord's work.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Three Reviews

In the midst of working on RPG-related projects, I thought I would post some reviews: two for books, and one for a new anthology of pirate-themed music.


The Blackbirder and The Pirate Round
These two novels are sequels to a book that I previously reviewed, The Guardship. In that predecessor, the reformed pirate Thomas Marlowe had struggled to set himself up as a proper gentleman in Virginia. These sequels continued to tell not only his story, but also those of the people around him.

In The Blackbirder, the freed slave King James gives into rage and kills the crew of a slave ship. When he flees the scene, taking the slaves with him, he is found guilty of murder and piracy, and it is up to Marlowe, the respectable sailor, to go after him. Meanwhile, a new enemy converges on Marlowe's estate and the other freedmen who live there, and Elizabeth, his wife, must deal with the ensuing conflict.

I enjoyed this story for a number of reasons. For one, it dealt with the issues relating to slavery in a forthright manner, something that doesn't always happen. It also created interesting conflicts for the characters, and mixed action with intrigue. I didn't love the ending, but it was probably fair given the time period that is depicted.

The Pirate Round takes this a step further. I will admit that, at first, the different storylines seems disparate and I wondered how they would all come together; the development seemed a little bit slow at times. In the end, however, the novel built to an exciting climax. There was a good deal more nautical action in this book, providing lots of inspiration for future adventures. This time around, Marlowe is thrust  back into his old habits, amidst a colorful cast of cutthroats, with all kinds of opportunity for scheming and betrayal.

Son of Rogues Gallery
Finally, I'd also like to comment on Son of Rogues Gallery, the follow-up to a noteworthy compilation of "pirate ballads, sea songs & chanteys," Rogues Gallery. The older collection of music is one of my favorites, and I play it while running Skull & Bones sessions to help create atmosphere. In the new collection, the feel is notably different. Unlike the previous ensemble, these ones are not usually performed in the style of the historical period. They tend to include more modern trappings, such as electrified instruments and a variety of singing styles. With that said, they are still quite enjoyable, and make a nice compliment to the older collection.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Interlude--The Outfitter

Sometimes an idea just flows. This is delightful for a writer, of course, and helps make up for the time when the words don't come so easily. In the case of this Interlude, what started as a pragmatic element for a campaign turned into what could be the seed for an entire adventure.


Interlude 38: The Outfitter
As the PC's advance in their careers as pirates, chances are good that they'll need to buy supplies for their voyages. When that happens, they'll need to find a source of provisions, equipment and other such things. Of course, this purveyor could also become a liability. This interlude deals one such merchant, who does business without asking questions and has secrets of his own to keep.

Alec Robertson (Lester Newman)
Rogue 9; CR 9; Size medium; HD 9d6; hp 34; Init +6 (+4 Improved Initiative, +2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+2 Dex); Atk +8/+3 (1D6, rapier) or +8/+3 (2d4, pistol); SQ Sneak Attack +5d6, trapfinding, Evasion, trap sense +3, Uncanny Dodge, Improved Uncanny Dodge; AL LE; SV: Fort +3, Ref +8, Will +3; Str 10, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 14.
Background: Gentleman of Fortune.
Skills: Appraise +15, Balance +9, Climb +7, Diplomacy +16, Disable Device +12, Escape Artist +9, Forgery +14, Gather Information +16, Hide +11, Knowledge (local) +15, Knowledge (nobility) +7, Move Silently +11, Open Lock +12, Search +17, Sense Motive +11, Sleight of Hand +9, Tumble +9.
Feats: Improved Initiative, Investigator, Negotiator, Nimble Fingers, Stealthy, Weapon Finesse (rapier).
Fortunes: None.
Equipment: Gentleman's outfit, rapier, concealed pistol, ledger, purse containing 50 poe.

Alec Robertson, as he is now known, is a successful shopowner who sells supplies and equipment to ships' crews in Port Royal. As far as the other townsfolk are aware, he is the nephew of the shop's former owner, Anthony. The story goes that Alec came out to Port Royal from England to work for his uncle, shortly before that fellow's untimely death. Alec's father was Anthony's brother, but the younger man had been left as an orphan in London after his father's death. When Anthony learned of this unfortunate event, he sent for his nephew in order to adopt him and take him as an apprentice.

What the people don't know is that Alec Robertson is actually Lester Newman, a thief who happened to be aboard the same ship as the real Alec Robertson was traveling to join his uncle. Lester managed to acquire the letter Alec had received, and from it learned that young Robertson had never actually met his uncle. Recognizing an opportunity, Lester befriended the young man and gradually learned of his story. Indeed, the thief subtly pressed him for as many details as possible, and then, once they reached Port Royal, offered to act as his guide. At that point Lester murdered the young man and then assumed his identity, sought out the uncle and usurped the dead man's position.

The rest of the story, as they say, is history. Anthony Robertson didn't have much time left on this earth, and before long the new apprentice gained control of the shop. He now lives as a respected merchant in the town, but, if anyone should ever threaten to reveal his secret, he would show his true colors again.

The Outfitter's Shop
This building is a story and a half in height.

1. Main Room
The walls of this area are lined with shelves, and several free-standing units are arranged in two rows in the middle of it. Here are displayed the various wares that Alec sells, for the perusal of customers. Most of the items in the Skull & Bones rulebook can be found here, at the GM's discretion.

2. Office
A heavy oak desk dominates this room. It is here that Alec keeps his ledgers, along with an iron strongbox (hardness 10 and 20 hit points; DC 30 to open or break) containing the store's accumulated profits, to the amount of 500 poe in mixed coins.

3. Storeroom
Extra goods are kept here for when shelves need to be restocked.

4. Kitchen
Alec and his hired help live in the store, as is not uncommon. To that end, there is a full kitchen with everything one might expect to find in it.

5. Alec's Bedroom
This is where Alec sleeps. As such, the room is furnished with a wardrobe containing various gentleman's outfits, a writing desck and a comfortable bed. Alec keeps his weapons here except when he has reason to suspect that he might need them. There's also another lockbox hidden beneath a loose board in the floor (DC 25 Search or Spot check to notice) that matches the one in the office.

6. Warren's Bedroom
Alec's hired help is a fellow named Warren Griffith, a rather taciturn but sensible man who helps deal with customers and watches the place when Alec is away. Indeed, Alec chose him because he seems almost completely unimaginative and has displayed no curiosity about his employer. This makes him an ideal associate in Alec's mind, for he poses no threat as far as discovering the truth is concerned. Rather, Warren loves nothing more than good food and drink, along with a pipe, after a day's work.

Warren Griffith
Expert 3; CR 2; Size medium; HD 3d6; hp 13; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 11 (+1 Dex); Atk +3 (2d4, pistol) or +1 (1d4-1, knife); AL LN; SV: Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +5; Str 8, Dex 12, Con 10, Int 13, Wis 14, Cha 15.
Background: Mercantile.
Skills: Appraise +10, Bluff +10, Diplomacy +11, Forgery +7, Intimidate +8, Knowledge: local +7, Listen +8, Sense Motive +8, Spot +8.
Feats: Persuasive, Skill Foci (Appraise, Diplomacy), Weapon Proficiency (simple).
Fortunes: None.
Equipment: Knife, ledger book, pen, ink, paper, purse of 20 poe in mixed coins.

Using the Outfitter in a Campaign
Alec Robertson and his shop could be worked into a Skull & Bones campaign in a variety of ways; a few of the possibilities are detailed here.
  • First and foremost, the PC's likely need to deal with the outfitter and some point when preparing for an important voyage. Given that Alec is always on the lookout for business opportunities, he might take a more-than-casual interest in any plot that is developing. He could be an investor, or might spy on the PC's.
  • Alec is not above raising his prices for pirates who have money to spend, and could even conspire with other merchants in town to raise prices for such individuals.
  • If an old associate of Alec's came to Port Royal, that rogue could begin blackmailing the erstwhile merchant. Should that happen, Alec might look for capable and discreet individuals to take care of the problem for him.
  • Alternately, the visitor could be a distant relation who knew the real Alec and recognizes the deception, but needs help in revealing the truth.
  • In either of the two previous situations, Warren Griffith could become a useful--albeit overwhelmed--associate for interested parties.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Interlude--The Troglodytes

As a follow-up to the last post, this one provides another interlude that provides suggestions for using troglodytes in a Skull & Bones campaign.


Interlude 37: The Troglodytes
The Skull & Bones rulebook presents a creature that, at first glance, seemed unusual for a book about fantastic/historical pirate adventures--the troglodyte. A second look reveals that this creature has lots of potential, however, to create mischief in the manner of the sprites and faeries that are common in folklore. With that in mind, this interlude presents some suggestions for using them in a Skull & Bones campaign.

Using the Troglodytes in a Campaign
These pesky creatures could become involved in a campaign in a variety of ways, including some of the following options.
  • As mentioned in a previous interlude, the troglodytes are obsessed with technology; as such, they might steal key components from such important devices as a printing press, the machinery for processing rum, or the like.
  • An opportunistic individual could charm the troglodytes into attacking outlying settlements.
  • Should the PC's acquire a particularly valuable haul of booty, a band of troglodytes might take an unwholesome interest in this mass of shiny objects.
  • An enemy of the Maroons who live in the highlands of Jamaica could use the troglodytes to make life difficult for them.
  • Should the PC's camp out at night, or otherwise put themselves in a vulnerable position, a band of troglodytes might come looking for booty. Indeed, they could abscond with favorite items such as pistols or other devices.

More Challenging Foes
Detailed here are stat blocks for more dangerous troglodytes, ones that have learned to work together and to use their inherent abilities in combat to their own advantage, and have learned the benefits of using ranged weapons. During the first salvo they gauge the defenses of their foes, after which they begin to use the Aid Another action, enhanced by the Guidance feat.

Troglodyte Hero
Warrior 1/Fighter 2; CR 3; Size small; HD 1d8+2d10+3; hp 22; Init +3 (+3 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 17 (+1 size, +3 Dex, +3 natural); Atk +3 (2 claws, 1d3) or -2 (bite, 1d3), or +6 (small javelin, 1d4); AL NE; SV: Fort +6, Ref +3, Will +1; Str 10, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 11, Wis 13, Cha 10.
Background: NA.
Skills: Hide +12, Jump +4, Move Silently +7, Tumble +12.
Feats: Guidance, Point Blank Shot, Toughness.
Fortunes: NA.
Equipment: Quiver of seven javelins.

The heroes among the troglodytes are ones who have begun to learn how to use ranged weapons and swarm tactics to overwhelm foes.

Troglodyte Champion
Warrior 1/Fighter 4; CR 5; Size small; HD 1d8+4d10+5; hp 35; Init +3 (+3 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 17 (+1 size, +3 Dex, +3 natural); Atk +5 (2 claws, 1d3) or +0 (bite, 1d3), or +8 (small javelin, 1d4); AL NE; SV: Fort +7, Ref +4, Will +2; Str 10, Dex 17, Con 12, Int 11, Wis 13, Cha 10.
Background: NA.
Skills: Hide +12, Jump +4, Move Silently +9, Tumble +12.
Feats: Ambush, Guidance, Point Blank Shot, Rapid Shot, Toughness.
Fortunes: NA.
Equipment: Quiver of seven javelins.

These troglodytes are even more proven in battle, and stand on the cusp of establishing themselves in their pack's hierarchy. As such, they are prone to attempting daring (some would say foolhardy) acts in order to demonstrates their courage and prowess.

Troglodyte Sub-Chief
Warrior 1/Fighter 6; CR 7; Size small; HD 1d8+6d10+7; hp 48; Init +3 (+3 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 17 (+1 size, +3 Dex, +3 natural); Atk +7 (2 claws, 1d3) or +2 (bite, 1d3), or +11 (small javelin, 1d4+2); AL NE; SV: Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +3; Str 10, Dex 17, Con 12, Int 11, Wis 13, Cha 10.
Background: NA.
Skills: Hide +14, Jump +4, Move Silently +10, Tumble +12.
Feats: Ambush, Guidance, Point Blank Shot, Rapid Shot, Toughness, Weapon Focus (javelin), Weapon Specialization (javelin).
Fortunes: NA.
Equipment: Quiver of seven javelins.

Only the chief stands higher in the hierarchy of the pack than these warriors. They are grizzled veterans, and are often sent to lead raiding parties when the chief is not able or willing to do so.

Troglodyte Chief
Warrior 1/Fighter 8; CR 9; Size small; HD 1d8+8d10+9; hp 61; Init +4 (+4 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 18 (+1 size, +4 Dex, +3 natural); Atk +7 (2 claws, 1d3) or +2 (bite, 1d3), or +11 (small javelin, 1d4+2); AL NE; SV: Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +3; Str 10, Dex 18, Con 12, Int 11, Wis 13, Cha 10.
Background: NA.
Skills: Hide +19, Jump +4, Move Silently +15, Tumble +13.
Feats: Ambush, Far Shot, Guidance, Point Blank Shot, Rapid Shot, Stealthy, Toughness, Weapon Focus (javelin), Weapon Specialization (javelin).
Fortunes: NA.
Equipment: Quiver of seven javelins.

Having made numerous raids into human territory, the chief is a grizzled and experienced veteran who commands the respect and obedience of other troglodytes in the pack.

The Lair
Somewhere in the hills of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica there is a series of caves in shich the troglodytes make their home. This location is the culmination of their ingenuity and efforts, where they have gathered their treasures and built their defenses.

1. Entrance
A narrow tunnel provides access to the lair. It is concealed amidst a tumble of boulders and the like, requiring a DC 20 Search or Spot check to locate. The tunnel is protected by a falling block trap that the troglodytes have crafted from scavenged materials; it affects the squares marked with an X on the map.

Falling Block Trap: CR 5; mechanical; location trigger; manual reset; Atk +15 melee (6d6); multiple targets (can strike all characters in two adjacent specified squares); Search DC 20; Disable Device DC 25.

2. Main Chamber
This wide open space is where the troglodytes keep their accumulates treasures. As such, if the PC's have run afoul of them, this is where they could find any pilfered items. It also tends to be occupied by numerous members of the pack, who are busy playing with the items in question.

3. Midden Pit
This is where the troglodytes dispose of their garbage and waste. As such, it makes for a nasty hole full of refuse and other effluvium. There is always the chance, of course, that the troglodytes might discard an item here which they do not recognize as being valuable.

4. Females' Quarters
This room is filled with crude beds consisting of straw, furs, scavenged cloth and the like. In addition to being the place where the females sleep, it is also where they keep eggs that have not yet hatched.

5. Chief's Quarters
The most powerful member of the tribe sleeps here, along with a select number of mates and certain favored warriors.

6. Males' Quarters
The males of the tribe sleep here, and keep the treasures they've won in battle amidst their hodgepodge of bedding.