Pirates Redux

Posted at January 18, 2021

This is going to be a rambly attempt to take stock of how things are going. I have mixed feelings about the Pirates campaign as a whole, which I’ll get into below. FWIW, this is about the same campaign I talked about before at Pirates Thoughts.

The good

  • It’s still going! I may have mixed feelings about the campaign, but I can say that I’ve run a successful campaign. The last time I tried this sort of thing, I crashed and burned in the second session, and it took a decade before I got up the nerve to try again.
  • Everyone seems to be having fun. I like running things, once the session gets going. I can feel the roleplaying muscle in my brain getting stronger.
  • I’m actually halfway decent at dealing with the unexpected. Two sessions ago I was expecting to roleplay the event where the party discovers the remnants of Atlantis and meet the last living Atlantean, but the player who wanted to explore this area couldn’t make the game. So I jumped ahead in time and ran a quick adventure around the plantations near Port Royal. All I had was one NPC who was secretly planning a slave rebellion, and that was enough to run a game.

The bad

  • I’m terrible at NPCs. I can come up with interesting characters, but they seem to exist more for the PCs to interact with them than to push forward the story at all.
  • I have a tendency to have flat scenes. Like, I want to bring up something, but beyond that I have no further goal for the scene. So yay, Aubert is doing fine, that’s awesome. But there should be something more to the encounter.
  • Preparation is like pulling teeth. My useful prep tends to happen between one and two hours before the session. In the pre-Rona times, I used to do my prep in a coffeeshop, and that worked for me; but that’s not an option now.
  • I’m not great at rules. I have the gist, but every now and then I’ll pull out something like, say, naval combat, and kill all momentum by frantically reading up on how things are supposed to work. This is the sort of thing I should do as part of my prep.
  • I lack confidence in how well I’m doing. It doesn’t help that I can point to specific things I need to work on.

An example

Last session we jumped back in time to roleplay the adventure in Atlantis. This is actually something I’ve had in my notes from the very beginning — there is a NPC named “Bluejohn”, the last Atlantean, who is tied to the resurgence of magic in the Caribbean. I actually name-dropped him way back in the day, although I suspect none of my players will remember.

So, OK. I knew what was going to happen — the party would sail from Charlestown in the Bahamas to a mysterious spot in the ocean; there would be various defenses to encourage people to turn away; and it’d end with them encountering this mysterious person. I wrote a couple pages of notes — stuff I wanted to communicate, things I wanted to happen. For instance, at one point the sky would cloud over, and they’d be attacked by ghost ships.

So what happened? I didn’t actually expect to have a naval battle, hadn’t read the rules in forever1, and had to work things out on the spot. I eventually threw up my hands and shortcircuited the thing, which (to be fair) was probably the right call. Then when the party finally met Bluejohn, all I had was a bunch of exposition, and nothing to push the story further.

I thought about it later, and started kicking myself. Here are things I could’ve done:

  • Establish that he’s limited to his quarters in the ruins of Atlantis. He said something like that, but I could’ve established it clearly to the players.

    • He could’ve asked the players to help him. He needs the whatever of place. The party would have to determine how much they trust him, and whether they want to provide him with some artifact that could be dangerous.
  • Savage Worlds characters have “hindrances”. Basically, they’re some sort of mechanical or character drawback. The interesting thing about hindrances is that they provide character hooks for roleplay. A player shouldn’t have a hindrance if it has no relevance to the game.

    Well, I had some really good hindrances I could’ve pulled upon. For instance, Alonso is blind — I could’ve tempted him with artificial vision. Bessie has a phobia of snakes — he could’ve been a talking snake. Dr. Ake is curious to a fault — I could’ve dangled a mystery in front of him. The specifics don’t really matter; the important thing is that they would push the story further, in a way centred on the PCs.

    I totally whiffed.

I had other aims in mind. I can’t say that it was bad. But it could’ve been so, so much better.

Finishing the sandwich

It’s easy to be overly critical. The truth is, I’m learning how to run a game. I’m gaining (actual) experience. Of course I’ll make mistakes or wish I’d done something different — that’s life.

One of my goals this year is to finish off this campaign. I’d like to try out 50 Fathoms, but I don’t think I’d want to run two nautical-themed adventures for the same group.

Anyhoo. YARR, AVAST, AND AHOY!


  1. My naval combat rules are a mishmash of the theatre of the mind rules from Pirates of the Spanish Main and SWADE updates. I compiled everything into a Google Doc, but it’s really complicated, like.