Pirates Thoughts

Posted at July 16, 2019

This year I finally (!) started running a roleplaying game. It’s a pirate-themed adventure set in the Caribbean in a vaguely historical 1670, right in the middle of the golden age of piracy, but before things became overwhelmingly about importing African slaves; I want the Hollywood version of piracy, not the much-more-depressing real life version. (Although I don’t want to gloss over things too much, so it is there in the background.) I’ve been running it sporadically since January, and I think it’s mostly gone pretty well. I’m using Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition for the system, and The Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master by Sly Flourish to help with prep.

Last session my players essentially finished off the current mission. They were sent to Port-de-Paix on the island of Hispaniola to fetch a mysterious giant skull. Because I’m me, it turns out that one of the characters is a dead ringer for the governor’s1 missing daughter, and the governor is frantically preparing for a visit from various muckamucks from the French court. Mistaken identities, intrigue, and much confusion ensued.

So, here’s the stuff that worked:

  • The mistaken identity stuff was fun. It’s ridiculous, and the governor immediately saw through it, but it gave me a good excuse to have him make a deal with the player characters, while at the same time being an unreliable ally.
  • I did a fairly good job establishing the setting. I think the players all got a good feel for the town. Plus I made a map, and then K— made a better version of the map. Awesome!

    Port-de-Paix. Aside from vague geography, it's all imagined

    Aside from the vague geography, it’s all imagined.

  • In general, I think I did a decent job moving the focus around from one player to another.
  • B— made a character in the middle of it, and while her executioner character is conceptually very different than the other pirates, it worked, and I think he has enough reasons to stay with the party.
  • I introduced some good non-player characters. Some drove the story, others were mostly comedy. I juggled a bunch of them, and it was fun.
  • The big boss fight — against a spectral dragon — was suitably big. I pulled my punches way too much, tho.
  • The last session came to a really strong narrative climax. We still need to go through the denoument, but there’s a reason why I’m reflecting on things now.

And the stuff that didn’t:

  • One of my player characters is supposed to be a magic-user, but I haven’t figured out how to pull it off. I’ve established that there’s magic in the setting (it’s not the real world), but the player wants to have a scientific (or at least logical) understanding of things, and while I have ideas, I haven’t managed to explain them well.
  • I have a really hard time figuring out the difficulty of combat. The rules explain how to determine a combat rating based on the stats, but I don’t have a good feel for it yet.
  • Some of the NPCs didn’t have the most thought-through motivations. Like, at one point I had the cardinal from France muck around with the skull and trigger the spectral dragon, and I don’t think I had a good explanation for that, even at the time. It’s also a lot easier to roleplay an NPC if I know what they want for any given scene.
  • In the interest of not railroading the players, I made a point of giving time to do whatever they wanted. But the players didn’t really know or have anything specific to do, so it just wasted time.
  • The big battle and the narrative climax were far apart. It was fine, but it would’ve been amazing if they’d come together.

All things considered, it went well. And now I have groundwork to build on for future adventures. Mwuahahaha!


  1. I’m not sure if this is historically accurate, but I referred to him as le seigneur throughout).