Posted at August 23, 2021
It’s been two months since the last session. My first version of this post had a blow-by-blow account of the final game. The second version was extremely introspective. I will spare the reader both of those. Here are some thoughts about the campaign as a whole: what worked, what didn’t, and what I can improve next time.
My original idea was to run a short adventure. The PCs would be crewmembers of The Dauntless, a pirate ship under the command of Captain Beatrice Cutter, based out of Port Royal, Jamaica. They’d go on three missions from the sinister Lord Bottomsly (great name, I know), who would send them to fetch mysterious items — a glowing stone, a dragon’s skull, and St. Elmo’s fire. He’d use these items to turn himself into a dragon, at which point the party would fight back and (hopefully) defeat him. End of campaign.
The second adventure (to get the skull) ballooned into a multi-session epic. It was awesome. I wanted to let the players continue to drive the story, but that ran counter to the original idea. So I waved goodbye and ventured into the unknown.
That revealed some structural problems. I had a hard time figuring out how to give the players freedom whilst under the command of an NPC. Bottomsly shifted from a villain to a wild card. The details of how The Dauntless worked, and the mechanics of the setting, became something to worry about. And I went from having a clear ending in mind to … not.
Stuff that didn’t work
Jumping from book to book was a hassle. I never really got a handle on some of the rules, especially naval combat (which is important to this style of game). There were enough places where things didn’t line up between systems to be frustrating.
I wanted to be at least somewhat historically accurate, which led to a lot of research that didn’t make the game better. Throwing everything out the window and going crazy would’ve been a lot more fun.
Integrating the PCs
The PCs had their own backstories and motivations: Roderick deserted the navy; Alonso wanted to build a trade empire; Dr Ake wanted to figure out how magic worked. I tried, but I don’t think I did a good job pushing those stories forward.
Unless you’re playing a sandbox or West Marches game, there should be some fundamental conflict to the campaign. The players should have their own motivations1, but the DM should weave them into some greater struggle. I didn’t have that going in, and the campaign suffered for it.
Stuff that worked
Savage Worlds was great — I think it’s chocolate to my DM-ing peanut butter. Most of the time it was pretty easy to say something like “Give me an Athletics roll at -1” and boom, done. I love giving out bennies, it’s a great mechanism to incentivise gameplay and encourage players to get into trouble. I think the players enjoyed it, too.
It’s a pirates game. I got to bring in inquisition mages, the ancient sunken island of Atlantis, a ghost ship, the Spanish Armada. I mean, c’mon, that’s awesome.
Integrating the PCs
I got better at this. The last few months of the campaign were motivated entirely by Bessy and her desire to reunite with her fiancé. I finally brought in her doppelganger, who’s been off doing her own thing since the Port-de-Païx days. Roderick and Remi (Bessy’s cousin and a halfwit) were great together. And I ended with a good (if confusing) character reveal for Dr Ake.
Considering that it was a mess, I managed to bring the campaign to a good stopping point. Not a conclusion, really; more like the end of an act. If we ever go back, I think it’d go into exciting new directions.
Honestly, it’s easy to be critical. But it’s the first campaign I’ve run since I was a teenager. My players all had fun, and … I completed it. Huzzah!
Next time I’ll make a point to get to the good stuff faster. I had monsters, magic-wielding inquisitors, and the last Atlantean in my notes from the very beginning, but I took my sweet time getting around to them. In a real-world setting, it’s the stuff that doesn’t fit in that’s really interesting.
Also, I need to work on my villains. I had a nasty tendency to introduce characters to be villains, and then play them as reasonable people. I robbed myself of the chance to say “Mwuahahahaha!”
Finally, I should’ve just run 50 Fathoms. I picked up a copy to plunder some ideas for the game, and ended up reading the entire book. Aside from some quibbles, it looks like a solid game, and it has exactly the feel I wanted.
Like “Avenge my parents!”, or “I’ll show those fools at the institute!”↩