Category Archives: GURPS: Sea Dogs

Sea Dogs, Chapter II:II, GM Debrief

GM Confidence: 3/5. Once again, after a solid first session, the second session that followed was frustratingly sloppy, from my perspective, at least. I felt kinda dirty afterward. As with the previous session-2, maybe the players didn’t really notice…

The Bounty hunter

We got off to a good enough start. Mel got to tell her story. As soon as I started on wrapping up the bounty hunter story, I started to realize how I’d forgotten to really process the situation, having, instead, focused entirely on other, farther-out issues.

I had not actually worked out what item Friendly might have had of Matthew’s, except a passing thought about the letters—I had meant to come up with something a little more dramatic. I had not fully processed how Mikkel should interact with the people/situation, and how he might start to break down a little upon discovery of his runestones being missing. I had also meant for the local townies to make a bit of a fuss over the kidnapping, and completely missed that—more on that note, later. I didn’t really process Friendly’s reactions, either. Overall, “it happened.” It wasn’t terrible, it just could/should have been a little more.

The Interrogation

Just like in the Season 1 Episode 2, I had planned to interrupt an ongoing complex process (the PCs’ shore business) with an “event,” and just like the previous, it screwed up the narrative flow. In retrospect, I think it would have made more sense to go ahead and get the business die-rolling out of the way, and better establish who was where before interrupting, but I had made the stupid mistake of assuming everyone would be in one place—which could easily have occurred if the event had happened before everyone broke off, but in the heat of the moment, I couldn’t course-correct for some reason.

As to the interrogation itself: I decided to roll Reaction for Lt. Brace’s “baseline” and rolled high: 14 (which I lowered by two, ultimately). It caused a little cognitive-dissonance with my prior imagining of the scene, and I didn’t fully process what these results should look like, before the game. I should certainly know better by now, but I also did not make any plans for what might happen if one of the PCs were to fail, much less deliberately antagonize him. (Rogers’ behavior appears to have been somewhat of a misunderstanding, but that’s another matter.) I also didn’t think too hard about his line-of-questioning, which could have been a lot more challenging and sensible—other than “What’s your side of the story?” and “That’s good enough for me!” I could kinda feel the whole thing tilting off-balance as we progressed through it. There are so many good resources for this sort of situation, and I used none of them.

One thing I realized after the game was that I should have had some “cumulative” effect for everyone’s level of success or failure that would result in a “final tally” of guilt or innocence. But then “guilty” wasn’t really an option here, and it should have been. For shame. That’s just bad GMing. Never, ever do that.

Another thing I realized after the session was over was that, once again, I had a situation where the players weren’t asking the questions I expected them to, and once again, I find myself wondering what is the right way to coax those questions out of them? There’s no way to say, “So, are you going to ask Lt. Brace the identity of your accuser?” without giving away that it is important information, or essentially, “playing their character for them,” which is always bad form. Every time I consider it, I feel myself drifting away from GMing “propriety” toward “pragmatism”—just give them a list of knowns and unknowns beforehand so they don’t forget. Maybe next time. In this case, I’m going to have to do a little cleanup next time.

Shore Business

When it came to wrapping things up ashore, I quickly found that my notes were badly ordered, parts missing, mechanics either not fleshed out or not recorded in their final incarnation, etc. There were big chunks of my rules on Speculative Cargo missing. I kept having to scroll miles up and down my notes to get to that other thing I needed. I desperately needed to do a thorough read-through, to grasp the narrative flow, and find the gaps in my information to-hand. It could’ve been worse, though.

I had a bunch of character stuff planned, for crew ashore and whatnot, that I just skipped completely past, for no reason I can think of, except that those notes weren’t where they needed to be in the flow. There was a whole thing about pineapple being a cash-crop on Eleuthera that the PCs might have been interested in; completely missed. I really wanted to do more with Friendly; just dropped away. The townies were supposed to be trying to get to the bottom of the kidnapping, and I wanted to force the PCs to answer for his release (or lie about it).

Some of my issues with the above stemmed from a small amount of “panic” regarding the PCs’ decision to cut things short. I hadn’t planned for them to leave in the evening of the 13th. Not at all. I was far too lenient in twisting conditions to allow it to actually happen—maybe, in some way, I was afraid that if they were delayed after dark, they would attempt it anyway, and I didn’t have a plan for it. I also had specific routes worked out that did not include things like “stopping in Nassau for any reason”—I could’ve managed with that, I think, but I found myself “steering” the players a bit. Once again, bad form.


My pacing expectations for this campaign—early, though it is—has been a bit off. I expected them to be at Havana at the beginning of this session. I expected them to be at Havana at the end of this session, too. I’m not sure where I went wrong; not yet, anyway. I expect this to improve as we go, though. It did result in an awkward ending/cliffhanger, which I hate. Such is life.


  • I did a lot of spreadsheet cleanup over the week. This needed to happen, but it did take time away from the other stuff, and that didn’t help matters.
  • I realized afterward that, with regard to Area Knowledge, it might benefit from using a “Group Roll” rather than individual—since everyone will normally be communicating, and can pool their knowledge. There are probably some other instances of this I can use. (I may discuss the concept in a later post.)
  • When the PCs were departing, I pointed them to the wrong island for where the Hazard was anchored. It was much farther north. Not sure why I got that wrong.
  • After the session, I discovered a number of things in (or adjacent to) Social Engineering. The big ones are using Savoir-Faire to “impress one’s status on another,” and that to get the Reaction bonus for Talent, one must be observed using a skill covered by the Talent.
  • Mikkel “the Hound” Skaarup not only lives, and is still “in play,” but is actively looking for Hayden’s son, now, as well. I look forward to bring him in again later.
  • Regarding “Handsome” Ned Long: I finally figured out what’s going on with him. It’s gonna be fun to reveal this one. 😉

Sea Dogs, Chapter II:I, GM Debrief

GM Confidence: 4.5/5. I’m finally back at this one, only two years later than originally predicted. 😛 Despite the usual pre-run jitters, I felt pretty good about this one. I honestly can’t think of anything in particular that went “wrong” in this session, with an admittedly-minor exception.

What’s New

The most drastic change for Season 2 is that I’m now using Fantasy Grounds Unity. I’ve been playing it for quite a while now, but this was my first time running. I’ve gotten used to the quirks, and I still have a problem with some of the changes, all of which made me reluctant to switch. Anyway, I spent some time getting proficient with the new features, and I plan on getting the most out of them. In this session, the combat was certainly enhanced by the lighting features, at least.

The second biggest change is that, once again, I have a couple of PCs with new players: Claudia and Rogers. Claudia was only played once by her original player. Her storyline lapsed during her tenure as NPC, and I’m getting her caught up. Also, Mel has already started writing some prose to flesh out her background. Regarding Buck, I feel that Nosh is a pretty good replacement for his original player, but I’ve also not run with him before, so there’s some uncertainty there. But these aren’t “worries” for me—I expect good things.

Outside of those changes, I mostly just picked up where I left off. I had a long run-up from my initial announcement to the start of the campaign run (including some delays), which gave me plenty of time to research. I managed to get some answers to some questions that had nagged me throughout the previous run—things like the dollar-amount of import/export tariffs, the nature of smuggling, pilotage costs and operations, etc.—and I made more improvements to the spreadsheets (and discovered yet more that were needed).

The Fight

Kicking off with a fight is a great way to let everyone get acclimated. The combat in this session was a set-piece that had, ultimately, been in the works since the end of the previous run. It’s always worrying to me when I find myself stacking the deck against the PCs so strongly. The weather conditions and such were the result of the real-world weather I’ve been using, as was the “new moon”—that is, not something I had deliberately decided to inflict upon the characters. I struggled a bit with how the PCs would actually arrive at the proper location, much less be able to conduct the rescue at all in those conditions, but I obviously found a way. I made certain to spell out all the adverse conditions in much detail well prior to the engagement, so the players had time to fully process and come to terms with them. It didn’t make sense for the bad guys to have a small (PCs-sized) crew, but turning half of them into “non-combatants” kept that from turning into a disaster.

The scenario made a good showcase of some of the new FGU features, and I feel like the novelty of it may have helped make the combat “fun,” rather than tedious. It lasted for a little over an hour; roughly what I had anticipated. I didn’t think about the “Bad Footing” for the beach sand until the last minute, and as such, I held back on enforcing it, having not fully established that condition beforehand—players don’t like that sort of “surprise,” I’ve found. It was similarly late in the process when I remembered Disasters – Hurricane as a source, so I didn’t have time to wrap my head around those mechanics. But I think we all had fun with the results.

The Prisoner

It was the previous run of this campaign where I had identified a problem I had with managing social interactions, and had begun figuring out a solution. Here I made use of the latest iteration: the “Lock & Key”—identifying factors or lines-of-questioning/approach that will cause the NPC to open-up or shut-down. In the case of the county hunter, both were “control”—as long as he feels he can complete his mission, whatever the detour, he will hold fast (bonus to resist Influence); if he feels he is losing control of the situation, he would begin to lose control of himself (penalty to resist Influence). In practice, it seemed to work, but I don’t think the players really pushed the limits. I should have come up with some specific success/fail responses for him beforehand, though, instead of improvising. That said, my “big fail” of the session was not actually knowing the circumstances of the delivery of his prize—a dumb mistake on my part. So I had to come up with something plausible on-the-fly. If I change my mind later: maybe he was lying? 😛 Regardless, this segment took more time than I had anticipated, and is probably the main reason I ended up, story-wise, coming up shorter for the session than I had intended (aside from the delayed start).


  • I completely forgot to hand out Bennies at the start. I’ll have to make up for that next time.
  • Post Season 1 research uncovered a lot of little “errors” I needed to correct at the beginning of the session. The good part: The time taken to issue the corrections gave me some time to ease in behind-the-screen.
  • I had actually not prepared for the PCs to end up getting lost or going the entirely wrong direction—another dumb mistake. Always ask yourself: What’s the worst logical result of player involvement, and be prepared for it. 😉
  • I was particularly happy with how all the PCs managed to find a little way to “contribute” during the fight, even if it wasn’t dealing damage, that served to highlight their characters’…character.
  • Hayden’s “commission” of the bounty hunter in his own search was a complete surprise to me—the idea had never occurred to me at all—but I can certainly make use of it!
  • I was fortunate the players didn’t settle on some of their other ideas about what to do with the bounty hunter—there were quite a few I hadn’t even considered (and probably should have).

On top of everything else, I have to get used to writing these things again… 😛

Sea Dogs: Treasure Maps

Work on Sea Dogs season two continues, still with the expectation of running it after New Year’s. In the meantime, I thought I would discuss a mechanic I’m using in this campaign, which might be of use to someone out there.

When I started work on this campaign, I decided I wanted it to be a more player-driven sandbox than its predecessors. To that end, I denied the players the use of things like Patrons, so they would have no “NPC Authority Figure” whose orders they follow without question (as is generally the like-it-or-not case). But then, how do you motivate the characters to some end without such a reliable source of direction? My solution, in this case: “Treasure Maps.”

What’s All This, Then?

The idea is that each player would define a “treasure” he is attempting to find—though this treasure would not necessarily be “silver and gold,” but could be anything. In fact, I encouraged them to each come up with something unique among the group. I was really happy with the results, summarized here:

  • Artegal Spenser is looking for the means to free his wife from a fairy-prince, and knew to look for a “witch” in Port-de-Paix.
  • Claudia Lucroy has a small golden Skull she had stolen, that would lead to “something valuable”—I already had something in mind for this. It causes weird dreams of another Skull, and a “pull” in what is presumed to be its companion’s direction.
  • Davino Palange has The Gun™—in his case, he already possesses the “treasure,” and the conflict would come looking for him instead, though he had a clue regarding the former owner in Barbados, that leads to more information.
  • John Hayden is looking for his recently-discovered son, with the name of a ship he had served on, and the whereabouts of the lad’s good friend who might know where he went.
  • Sir Randel Payne had knowledge of a couple of items that would lead him to a “Treasury,” hidden by Captain Morgan near Campeche, and a journal containing more clues.
  • William “Buck” Rogers has a painting that he knows to be a map of the Amazon River, pointing to the location of something of great value, along with the name of the thief that stole it—it’s an actual treasure map

Many of these are in some stage of progress/completion as of the end of season one.

The Setup

After the players did their part, I decided to give each of these objectives three “steps” to completion (or thereabouts), and worked out what/who/where those steps would be—I tried to spread the locations around the Caribbean. (Many of these steps are unknown to the players until they find clues.) Using Payne’s example, being the most complete at the time of this writing: his step-one was to dive for the Coin at Port Royal; step-two was to find the Compass at Île-à-Vache; and step-three is getting to Campeche to put it to use, with guidance from his research of the journal. Three steps times six characters equals eighteen potential destinations with related events. That, combined with the other potential events occurring in between, including Enemies’ appearance, Secrets, and the like, amounted to plenty of campaign content. I left it up to the players, when the characters planned their expedition in-game, to decide in what order the steps would be addressed—I offered no guidance in that regard.

Behind the Scenes

Firstly, I decided to treat each Treasure Map like a Secret: I gave it a 6 on 3d6 roll per session, success indicating that some “related” event occurs. In many cases, this would be something the character experienced and had to deal with, but in others, it would be something occurring behind-the-scenes—the bad guys make a move, travel, a witness dies, something is exposed off-screen, or whatnot. I made a bullet-list of such events for each Treasure Map thread. In season one, I used this roll exclusively to determine when things happened, but in season two, I have many events (as made sense) actually scheduled to occur on a certain date (so they can be “missed”). It has been the case in the past that, with Secrets, that roll of 3d6 might never succeed during a given campaign run, so I decided to increment the target number by one for each failed activation—this way, it’s guaranteed to fire at least once during a twelve-session run.

Secondly, I gave each Treasure Map an antagonist: someone also seeking that treasure, for their own reasons and by their own means. Each of these characters are more powerful than the associated PC, and have their own organizations under their control, and their own agenda they are pursuing (whether or not the PC has anything to do with it—in most cases, they don’t). All these bad guys are “tied together at the top” to form the campaign’s “conspyramid” (see Night’s Black Agents). Their activities are worked into the Treasure Map event bullet-points, mentioned above, and make up a considerable portion of the behind-the-scenes ongoing content that will be revealed as the campaign progresses.

The End Results

Once a PC has completed all the steps and found the treasure…well, we haven’t gotten there yet. Obviously, they’re going to be more wealthy (or whatever), but since the players decided to take each one in turn, the first to complete will lack that motivating factor for the rest of the campaign, without some sort of continuation—and that’s generally covered by the individual antagonists, who will undoubtedly continue to pursue. I had originally expected that each season of the campaign would feature the completion of one of these goals, but (a) the first season ended before the first goal was reached, and (b) the characters’ itinerary has them completing many of their steps in parallel, for the most part. I expect Payne’s will complete in season two, so I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Sea Dogs Chapter I, GM Retrospective

Overall, I have to say that I’m pretty happy with how this campaign run went. There were some difficulties here and there, but they were easily overcome, for the most part. The run went for twelve sessions, which is the longest I’ve run for Olympus so far (double the nearest, at six), and tied for my longest run ever. I did not suffer the “attendance issues” I’ve always struggled with: there was only one session with partial attendance, and a single delay in the middle of the run. I didn’t feel exhausted at the end, like I usually do, and I might have been able to continue longer.

Lessons learned

Preparation: I had proven, to my satisfaction, that week-before-only session prep can work, but I didn’t strictly adhere to that method this time. I had worked out a bunch of “drop-ins,” events that could occur wherever the PCs ended up. In the latter part of the run, however, when I was scrambling to come up with some content for the session, I found I didn’t have enough of them, and I think the narrative suffered for it a little. I now know roughly how much material I can expect to go through during a run, so I can be better prepared for the next—so that’s good.

Sandbox: This wasn’t my first time running a more-or-less pure sandbox. My objective was to allow the players to do as they pleased while I throw obstacles in their path. Like its inspiration, Traveller, visiting a limited set of ports in a linear fashion results in a narrative that’s easy to get out in front of. My handing out story locations (via the Treasure Maps) at the start meant they only needed to map out which ones to hit in which order. I was fortunate the players didn’t really deviate from the plan we established in the first session.

Minutiaæ: The “Wilderness Travel” stuff from DF16 went a little clunky at first, but with some tweaking along the way, the players and I started to get the flow of it. They even started to track their own progress on the map, and came up with their own downtime material without prompting—a good sign they’re invested. While making the players roll for everything is a big part of the sandbox/hex-crawl feel, it’s also a pain-in-the-ass to GM—my need for foreknowledge won out, in the end, but I think we ended up with a workable balance. Similarly, the voyage’s inevitable logistical concerns started a little rough, but smoothed out relatively quickly. But I found myself forgetting or intentionally bypassing/delaying things as we went on. Now I’m considering streamlining—for example, next run, I will probably turn provisioning into an “automatic allotment” (as I had for maintenance expenditures) rather than bothering the players with it. I’m also considering instituting some version of the standard Cost of Living mechanics to cover purchasing of lodging and whatnot in port, since I haven’t managed to consistently enforce purchasing of those things.

Random Encounters: My theory on random encounters has been that the players need to know what’s on the list—if they know one option is certain disaster, it will provide a bit of tension/drama when the dice are cast. I never quite managed to build out a “normal” encounter list, though, and ended up using Universe Reaction Rolls, which everyone understands well enough without the need for specific details. I started out having the players roll them out in-game, but that soon fell away to me rolling them up between sessions. It just flowed so much more smoothly if we didn’t have to stop the narrative to roll more dice (especially for multiple in-game days in a row), and figure out how to interpret the results. For now, I’ll save the old-school player-rolled stuff for another time.

Spreadsheets: They were not only helpful, but necessary to make it all work. That said, they ended up mostly being used by myself, in the background, and not by the players, as I had intended. It’s less of a disappointment for me, I suppose, than it is a recognition of what information is important to telling the story, and what level of management the players will invest in. I’ll end up shuffling some stuff around before next time, taking the stuff they don’t need out of their sight. There were multiple instances where “bugs” resulted in some screwups at game time, and I really need to use the downtime to make improvements.

Combat: The reduced focus on tactical combat was intentional, not only due to the potential lethality of the Low-Tech non-magical (on the surface) setting, but it also just doesn’t really fit the narrative—these PCs aren’t typical murder-hobos. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding, combat, but I didn’t generally try to force it either. The combat that did occur, though, felt a bit too perfunctory—I need to find ways to make the fights we do have more memorable on their own. Naval combat, on the other hand, was something I wasn’t sure the PCs were ready for—specifically, due to their very small ship—but the players were aware of that, and I knew they weren’t going to bite off more than they could chew. I’d like to get them into a naval action at least once while they’re still aboard the current ship, but it will have to be carefully planned ahead, lest there be a campaign-ending result.

Other Stuff

  • I kept trying to focus on “storytelling,” with some occasional success; I think it’s easy to tell when I actually got it right. But the more “mechanical” nature of RPGs makes it sometimes difficult to stay out of the weeds. Also, I’m not certain to what degree I succeeded in getting across that “nautical” feel I wanted. I expect I will always be working on this one.
  • I figured out a great mechanic for good-play rewards, the “Bennies” thing, and then hardly made use of it due to my focus on other goings-on in the moment. It’s disappointing. I can’t really consider this a good test of the mechanic. I’ll just have to try to do better next time.
  • This was my first campaign to get full, regular use of the “Activities in Town” concept (turning the shore-business question into “multiple choice” instead of an “essay”), and I definitely feel like it helped organize things. Now that I’ve seen it in action, I’ve got some improvements in mind. I also intend to get the NPC crew a little more actively involved with their own on-shore shenaniganry.
  • I used the tarot to generate details quite a lot in this campaign, but I’m learning how to read them well enough that I haven’t needed to look things up as often. Progress.
  • The idea of non-players influencing the game bothered me quite a lot, at first. But we did find some ways for the Twitch audience to participate—specifically, using the chat-bot die-roller—which turned out less awkward than I expected. I had some fun giving the regulars cameo-characters. This will likely continue in the future.
  • Using real-life weather isn’t a new GMing concept for me—I’ve done that several times now. While it didn’t give me any mechanical trouble, the weather for Jan/Feb wasn’t all that interesting, until the end. But I know that the further the story goes into the year, the more “interesting” it will get, so I don’t think it needs fixing, per se.
  • I still haven’t found a sufficient answer to the question of trade-restricted ports buying/selling of provisions, etc. I’m fine with continuing as I have, since it’s functional, but not knowing the right answer will continue to bother me until I find it.

Final Thoughts, and Next Chapter

The feedback I’ve gotten since the season wrap-up tells me the campaign has been well received, maybe moreso than any previous run I can think of. I’ve really enjoyed running it, too. Maybe the two are related to some degree, or influenced by the same factors, at least. The replays are also performing really well on YouTube. Ultimately, though, I didn’t get nearly as far into the story as I wanted, but that means there’s plenty more material for next time. Historically, it’s been about a year for the GMing wheel to circle back around to my turn again, so I’d expect Chapter Two around the end of 2020 or early 2021—but it will definitely come.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:XII (Finale), GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4/5. It was another desperate, last-minute effort, with the added weight of the need to wrap up the season properly, that I feel I barely squeaked out, behind-the-scenes, but it worked. As much as I’ve actually enjoyed running this campaign, I’ve been struggling to keep up, lately.

The Central Conflict

It was Thursday when I realized that, although I had a number of disconnected individual events that would occur during the session (most of which were leftovers we didn’t get to, from the previous session), there was no “central conflict” around which the session would revolve. Very weak storytelling. I hobbled together the Jack Rackham/pearls/Scooby-Doo thread, which I feel worked well enough, though I was still wrestling with the details an hour before the session.

Medical Drama

For the first time during this campaign, a PC would require surgery. It was very possible he could die as a result. Very dramatic; everyone was prepared for the worst. We tried to sort out all the modifiers ahead of time. I had already intended to be using the rules from Low-Tech Companion 1, which we used once after the duel in the first session. I wanted to have the rolls made in secret and reveal the results in a more narrative fashion.

The end result was rather less dramatic than expected. Spenser succeeded both rolls; one needed a single Benny to become a success, and the other was a Critical Success on its own. The automatic damage rolled was really low, and further reduced by the surgery success. It was a little anticlimactic, truth be told. I tried to keep them guessing about the actual recovery time, but it turns out that’s really difficult to do, the mechanics being what they are.

Unfortunately it did mean that Rogers would be out of action for recovery. The player ended up bailing on the session early as a result, which is too bad—I think it might have been more fun for him to play the stubborn patient, and continue to contribute in spite of his wounds, against doctor’s orders. Oh, well.

Raynard Adler

AKA Raymond Atchisson, Mr. Atwell, etc. This is another old character of mine—I believe, the second character I ever created in GURPS—and, essentially, a self-character-plus. He’s a time-traveling antiques-dealer and adventurer. Basically, in this case, he came to Nassau looking to get his hands on one or more of Rackham’s pearls for a client, and landed in a hot mess. Afterward, he teleported out to Barbados a week or so before, to send himself a letter detailing the positions, etc., of the bad guys in the warehouse, and enlist the PCs’ aid.

This is not the first time this character has appeared in a campaign of mine: he showed up in both timelines of Fortune Hunters, Inc.; and was planned to appear in The Crusade eventually; I also played the character as a GMPC in an early Temporal Solutions game.

I don’t have plans to introduce any other of my personal characters in the campaign. Last one. Honest. 😛

Other Stuff

  • Throughout the campaign, I had a bunch of what I refer to as “drop-ins,” events I can easily wire in wherever the PCs happen to be. But I clearly didn’t have enough of them to last the whole season. At least now I have a better idea how many I will need, and what it takes to implement them, before the next season rolls around.
  • I made an effort to tie this season finale to the Campaign Theme, and the business with the pearls—that is, the merchant not keeping the secret when he should have—fit nicely, after much last-minute tweaking.
  • There were several social interactions in the session that, for no good reason, I didn’t give nearly enough thought to before they happened. Something I’ve decided is that in all such future cases, I should take the “main six” social skills (as implied in Social Engineering: Diplomacy, Fast-Talk, Intimidation, Savoir-Faire, Sex-Appeal, Streetwise) and write a note or two toward each approach, just to establish a baseline for responses.
  • Likewise, there were a few elements for which I had never sorted out the details, though they had been in the works from the very beginning (or before). I found myself in a last-minute scramble to sort them out. Adler’s business in Nassau was one. Friendly’s background with Hayden’s son was another.
  • Jack Rackham’s lost bag of 5000 pesos worth in black pearls is not a historical occurrence (to my knowledge). Rather, it comes from Season 1, Episode 2, of Black Sails.
  • Artegal’s discovery of his own black pearl was the result of his newly-added Perk: Moneyclip Magnet.
  • I realized afterward that I probably should have rolled for random encounters during the PCs’ downtime in town, but maybe the padding wasn’t really necessary.
  • Boissonade’s presence was the result of Payne’s Enemy (Rival) finally showing up for the first time since they lost them at Île-à-Vache. The wager was originally intended to occur at that island, but their navigation failure during the race made their arrival narratively impractical. It also meant I never got to introduce any of the La Dame Blanche crew, since I failed to do so in Kingston. They should be more available in the near-future, though, now that they’re in the area. The reappearance of Handsome Ned is another matter entirely…
  • I had to sort out the weather for two weeks and hope the PCs didn’t stay in Nassau longer than that. As I did so, I saw there was going to be a bit of a storm on the 11th-12th—gusts up to 50mph—and thought it would be hilarious if they ended up setting sail that day. They did. Totally unintentional. 😛
  • I had a hard time working out a proper cliffhanger for the session—more important due to being the end of the run. I went through quite a few revisions before I settled on Dora’s kidnapping, which was the easiest to drop in wherever the PCs ended up, and I expected it to be effective—and it was.

Wrapping Up

My original intent was to end the season at Campeche with the first Treasure Map done. My adjusted expectation was that it would end at Havana. Obviously, it ended up even shorter, but that’s fine. That just means I have some big set-pieces coming up at the beginning of the next. With this season over, my intention is not to set it aside, but really focus on fleshing out the bits I know are coming up—especially Campeche—and generate more drop-ins. After a bit of a break. If the usual pattern continues, I would expect to see Sea Dogs return for Season 2 at the end of the year, or beginning of 2021.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:XI, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3/5. This session revolved mostly around a combat encounter, and while everything outside the combat went pretty well, the combat itself felt rather sloppy, at least, to me. To be honest, my planning for this week’s session could have benefited from a few more days to process, and I feel like it showed in the execution.

Calm Before the Storm

I had some basic stuff planned leading up to the fight. I presumed it wouldn’t take very long to go through it—that turned out to be wrong, though I couldn’t say what took so long.

  • We’ve been getting more comfortable with the “sea travel” bits, settling into a rhythm. That rhythm was interrupted by some character stuff, but that’s fine—I want that to happen.
  • The encounter with the impressed schooner served a couple of purposes: the obvious, the way-out for Geoffrey de Saloman, but also to start setting up the British as being less-than-upright. I don’t personally have anything against the Brits (more than anyone else in the period), but I also don’t want them to be looked to as the shining-good-guy-city-on-a-hill either, and that means tearing them down a little, if just as a reminder.
  • I worked in a bit more harassment from the Revenue Service which had been previously lacking.
  • I realized I had been missing an opportunity to get the NPC crew a bit more involved by not giving them their own “shore business” to take care of at port. I decided to give them all a tarot draw, ignoring anything but face-cards. I got some results I wasn’t expecting, but I managed to make something out of it, I think. I’ll try to keep that up in the future.
  • The introduction of Raynard Adler went mostly according to (much-adjusted at the last minute) plan. In spite of this scene being in the works since the beginning, I never actually fleshed it out properly, and I had to fill in a lot of holes. For some reason, though, I expected all of the PCs to be present, not just one—I should know better. 😛

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

We hadn’t had a proper fight in a while. I expected it to consume a lot of game-time, as they do, but I also expected to get to it earlier. It really felt sloppy, to me. I think the players didn’t notice so much, as usual, but I really wish I had done better.

  • The map was bad, in retrospect. I had focused on the PCs’ approach, and the possibility of taking the fight into the street, and therefore got a map of a much wider area than was needed. That took away clarity and detail from the warehouse itself, where it was more useful. I also really needed an establishing shot of the warehouse itself, which would have helped the players decide on points-of-entry and whatnot.
  • I had expected a more one-sided, quick battle, like the one in Santo Domingo. In the moment, I realized I had failed to actually set that up properly, and kinda fumbled it.
  • I was completely unprepared for the PCs to enlist the NPC crew in the operation—again, I should know better. When the fight got going, I didn’t have the NPCs entered into the combat tracker, which resulted in me forgetting them entirely. I was fortunate the players started dragging them along without me.
  • I keep forgetting to check the Malf numbers for black-powder weapons; we’ve probably missed some misfires here and there.
  • Based on some of the missteps I made in this combat, here are a few lessons to learn:
    • Always ask yourself how the bad guys are armed, and how ready they are
    • Always make sure it’s easy to tell which is which at a glance
    • Always clarify possible entry points, even if they’re unlikely to be used
    • Regular ally NPCs should be statted and ready to be dropped in quickly—no excuse not to

Other Stuff

  • I was pleased/relieved that when Geoffrey said people would be asking after him, the appropriate PCs said they would keep his secret—otherwise the “What? No!” response couldn’t have worked 😀
  • More on Raynard Adler next time…
  • The players didn’t end up asking some questions of Adler I felt were obvious (again), but there’s opportunity for that next time.
  • As it turns out, Aikido techniques are really difficult to describe to/by someone who knows nothing of Eastern martial arts (like the PCs)
  • The session ended where I originally wanted, but not where I had intended at the time
  • Lt. Rogers and Mr. Bold are going to end up requiring surgery to remove bullets (in spite of what I had said in the session—that would turn out to be incorrect)

Series Finale Coming Up

The injuries are going to end up causing the PCs to remain in Nassau for an extended period to heal, which is going to disrupt the narrative intentions I had before the session. I was already unsure how to end the series, and that delay won’t help. On the other hand, I’ve got material to last the session already, I think, so I can afford to devote more time to figuring out how to do a proper wrap-up. I really need it to end on the right note.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:X, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.25/5. This session went pretty well, overall; I don’t have much to complain about. The entire session more-or-less revolved around “The Shindig,” plus Spenser’s “Treasure Map” plot-point.


  • I am discovering that asking individual players, “What is your character doing?” is more effective than asking the entire group and waiting for individual responses, which usually only trickle in slowly and inefficiently.
  • Spenser’s meeting with Cassandra went as expected, though he missed a few possibly-important questions I had prepared (a little) for—again, the players’ “necessary questions” issue, which I haven’t discovered the solution for yet.
  • Spenser’s serendipitous snagging (:P ) of the lurker’s pendant was something I wasn’t actually prepared for, and afterward, I realize I should have been.
  • After last week’s session, I realized the PCs had arrived at a foreign (French) port and had not been harassed by customs. I’ve had a little more luck with related research, lately, so I have a better picture of how that should go. Thanks to the fact that the goods had not been delivered yet last session, I was able to insert an encounter without breaking the narrative. As I was working that angle, though, I realized they hadn’t used any of their Plot Points yet—I have always struggled with how to keep the players mindful of them. Now I’m also wondering if those should carry over to the next run.

At the Shindig

The money-shot of the session.

  • Espionage is a perfect fit for the “secrets” Theme of the campaign, and it was an opportunity to set up the political “inciting incident” for the upcoming war, that being the Treaty of Vienna in April 1725.
  • I decided to give each “group” at the party a tarot-draw event, which meant improvising—scary, but I managed. I’m getting proficient enough with the tarot lately that I didn’t have to look up everything that was drawn. I have to praise the players’ roleplay in this one. I enjoyed the results. This would work better for a face-to-face session where they could draw the card themselves, though.
  • On the downside, I realized when the soldiers arrived that I had not actually worked out what they were going to be doing sufficiently well, and it felt a bit flat—probably the worst part of the session, IMO.
  • It felt a little forced, but I managed to get in a bit of Hayden’s “Treasure Map” info, in the mention of Jean-Baptiste Daucourt—this will be important later.
  • I thought the Chase went pretty well—I suppose a stronger “map” might have been nice. At the end, however…I really didn’t think through the assassin’s interrogation. I probably assumed he would be killed, and I really should know better by now.

Other Stuff

  • Davino didn’t have much to do in this session, but it’s really the player’s fault for not getting himself more involved. (I’ve made the same common mistake playing in my face-to-face Friday game.) My natural inclination is to try to coax/drag the character into the narrative, but I have intentionally held back—I want the player to learn to be more proactive, but I realize it may not actually work, and the character may end up sidelined a lot.
  • I gave the assassin a “face” when I probably shouldn’t have, mostly because I had actually tried to introduce that character three times before, in other roles, but the PCs never interacted with him! 😛 As a result, he will probably escape his captors to reappear later.
  • It was looking like the session would end too early, at the beginning. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but it did end in a spot where I didn’t have a proper cliffhanger prepared. I had to think fast, and it wasn’t really working, until the players brought up Hayden’s “Death Check” separately. That was my best opportunity, even if it was a little weak as a cliffhanger. (And what would have happened if he had succeeded?) I keep meaning to give some forethought how to drop a cliffhanger at every natural stopping-point in the story, just in case.

Coming Up

I really wanted to get a proper fight in this session—there hasn’t been one in a while—but I ended up dropping it, as it would have felt too forced. I expect to make up for it next time. But there are only two sessions left in this run, and I’ve got to figure out how to end this thing on the right beat, which will be more difficult considering it’s going to end nowhere near my originally-intended endpoint.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:IX, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.5/5. Another rough week leading up didn’t do me any favors. A lot went really well. A lot went really clumsily.

Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail

I had some basic plans for this week’s session but the details refused to come together, for various reasons, until late in the week—that is, the last puzzle-piece fell into place on game-day morning. As a result, I was very late getting everything typed in, and that meant a lot of my usual notes keeping everything in proper order and accessibility were incomplete. It showed, especially when dealing with the minutiæ of the travel segments. I kept losing track of the date. I kept mixing up the weather. I kept having to do math that should have been done beforehand. My spreadsheet was set up for a later segment, not the one we were working at the time. Very messy. If nothing else, it certainly shone a light on the value of proper note-keeping. A side effect was when I realized at the last minute that I really needed to build tables in Fantasy Grounds to automatically handle the details for “Medieval Sea Trade” I had no time to create them. More mess. It was fortunate that these issues could be handled on the fly, where the background details would certainly have suffered worse for it.

Geoffrey de Saloman

AKA Solomon, son of Geoffrey, Trenton Solomon (and many other names); AKA The Saxon. I’ve been waiting a long time for the opportunity to bring in this character. I was happy with how it turned out.

I have always included the unofficial Highlander: The Gathering material for World of Darkness in the Daniverse. The players have already correctly deduced that Geoffrey is an Immortal (Highlander style). He was actually an old non-GURPS WoD character of mine that I only got to play once or twice. He began in WoD Sorcerer character whom I gave the “Immortal” trait. Naturally this became the HTG-type Immortal when I discovered that material. I have a long timeline dating back to his origin in 8th-century Saxony, all the way to modern age (where he would presumably be killed before McLeod could claim the Prize). In Sea Dogs he has been operating in the Caribbean as a “buccaneer” for (actually) around a hundred years, and did know Captain Morgan personally. His story about the two troubadours is autobiographical. He is, however, also (still) a hedge-wizard—this will show up soon—and former Templar. This introduction was one of many versions I had considered, but they all ended the same way—in a secret duel the PCs would (likely) eavesdrop.

That said, he won’t be hanging around. I don’t intend him as a GMPC or anything.

Buck Rogers

For each player’s “Treasure Map” I’ve been rolling vs 6 each session, at +1 per fail, to determine when some clue is revealed or related event occurs. Rogers has had some truly rotten luck in that regard since the beginning, compared to the others, but his turn finally came in this session. Since the player had ripped off Buck Rogers, I have intended to introduce other related characters throughout. This is the first time one has made an appearance—and won’t be the last. I was just happy that everyone recognized Erin Grey when I brought up the picture (except Ethan, understandably, who is not nearly old enough to have seen the show). It got the reaction I had hoped for.

Other Stuff

  • The Expedition is finally starting to turn a little profit—a small start
  • I’m running out of “bad luck” events for Red Sherd to find himself on the wrong end of
  • Falko Rijnders was the Frisian—though actually, after rewatching The Highlander recently, I realized I had been mistaken all these years, in that they weren’t actually referring to the other Immortals by their place of origin as a matter of course, only when they didn’t know their names. Was I the only one who thought that? Now I have to wonder if there being only one per “region” is also incorrect? (Which is one reason the TV series always bugged me.)
  • I’ve been focused on the “storytelling” aspects of GMing. I still feel I have a long way to go, but I am starting to feel like I’ve made some progress. (If only my notes hadn’t been so rushed.)
  • I finally got a good cliffhanger ending, after a few lackluster ones. It felt good.

The End is Nigh

The original plan was to do a run of twelve sessions, which means three remain. I wanted to end at the end of one of the Treasure Map quests, at least, but that doesn’t look like it will happen. I actually feel like I could keep going, which is unusual—I’m usually pretty exhausted by this point. Unlikely, but we’ll see.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:VIII, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.75/5. I wasn’t in the best mental shape this week. Although I can’t think of anything in particular that went wrong, per se, I can’t help feeling it was a bit rough and unpolished.

Excuses, excuses…

Because of some absences, and a couple of rough weeks at work, we took a break from Sea Dogs. Unfortunately, due to the same rough weeks, I wasn’t able to make the best of the time off, to plan ahead. Then, last week was another rough one at work, which combined with one of my worst allergy seasons I can recall to keep me at rather less than 100% throughout. My confidence level going into the game on Saturday was not high. It turned out fine, as far as I can tell, though I do blame some of the sloppy execution on those aforementioned conditions.

What Went Right

I finally got to do the proper “long” Chase (from Action 2) I had been wanting. I inserted the narrative bits in between the Chase Rolls; I feared this would be distracting, but it seemed to work well enough. I dropped the standard range scale for a more “narrative” distance; I didn’t expect that distance to actually change, due to the PCs’ skill levels, but if it had closed up, there might have been some shooting. The situation was also simplified by the fact that there was really only going to be one Maneuver used, overall, so we didn’t have to bother with choosing. I do think I should have announced the Chase Roll results a little more deliberately, just to reinforce the mechanic. My intention for using a Chase here was to build tension, and I think it worked.

Some of the narrative parts were added in late, to add to the tension: like the Rumjack (the enemy) and Princess Mary (the friendly) disappearing at night. Some details were the result of tarot draws. The rescue was added as a mid-point obstacle to force them to change-up and worry about the enemy catching them up. I did have a plan in case the PCs chose to move on, though I really didn’t expect them to, being heroic types. The “argument” was a later addition, though, to fill things out and give the PCs more worries.

While I continually built up the expectation of a naval action of some sort (I intended to reinforce that a bit more, but for the aforementioned “excuses”), I fully intended to yank that rug out from under them with the intervention of the ghost-ship. I wanted to leave them scratching their heads, and I got the reaction I intended. This happens to be the PCs’ first “undeniable” encounter with the supernatural, which the entire crew (and then some) experienced together. I consider this series to be Act 1 of the overall story, and this encounter destroys the “lie” of the normal mundane world at just about the right segment.

What Went Wrong

I can think of a few specifics that, after the fact, could definitely have been improved. Ironically, in spite of having thrice the usual prep time, I ended up quite rushed before game-time. As a result, I didn’t give some of the narrative elements the thorough editing they deserved, and I feel like it showed—early parts in the session were better, but the latter parts suffered. Although the ghost ship concept has been in my hopper since the beginning, I actually had to scramble to patch together a last-minute backstory for it. I completely forgot about Dora through the whole thing, and I fear my addled brain wasn’t quite up to the task when the question of her reactions was asked in-game, and I may have made some mistakes there. The cliffhanger at the end was terrible. I hate ending on a “You arrive at this-or-that port” beat—I’ve done that multiple times now, and I need to do better.

Other Stuff

  • I did discuss strategy with the players on our message boards before the game, just to make sure we were on the same page (bearing in mind lessons learned from Generica: don’t trust them to stick to it)
  • Up to this point, I had avoided the unnecessary bother of setting up a watchbill for the PCs, but since I (sensibly, IMO) broke the Chase down into watches, it became necessary to come up with something—and I knew it would take up a non-negligible chunk of game-time to get it sorted, which helped pad the session a bit
  • I had considered that the PCs might want to scavenge the enemy ship, but I hadn’t considered them paying for it, or I would have looked up some prices for cannon. Also, I apparently didn’t plan for them looting anything other than the cannons, really, at all—definitely due to the rush. Fortunately I can sort some of that out after-the-fact on the message boards.
  • Afterward, knowing what was coming at the time, I should have pre-rolled all the NPCs’ Fright Checks, at least, or just come up with some basic fear-reactions for them, individually. As it was, I kinda forgot about them, and when asked about their reactions, my brain lagged a little too much to do it proper justice.
  • I finally got my opportunity to work in a cameo for one of the Twitch followers, “Bruno,” but sadly, he wasn’t actually on Twitch at the time. That’s okay, though—they’ll likely see him again when the Expedition turns south toward Brazil.

Home Stretch

The plan was for twelve sessions, which means there are now four remaining. It’s begun to dawn on me that I need to start wrapping things up for this run, and also, how little actual time I have to do it.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:VII, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4/5. I think this week’s session went pretty well, overall, if a bit less smoothly than I wanted.

Necessary Questions

A couple of sessions ago, I lamented my lack of solutions for when the players, for whatever reason, aren’t asking the right questions. Multiple times in this session, I found myself giving away information without having been asked, because the players needed it in order to make an informed decision. I don’t want to do that. There’s no reward for clever play if the GM gives you the answers without your having asked. Standard practice would be to call for a skill-roll and give them the answer if it succeeds, with the obvious downside that if the roll fails, they either go without or you’re left having to fudge or ignore the results, which renders the roll pointless. Lately, I prefer to take a page from Night’s Black Agents and give them the necessary info up front, if the character has sufficient skill, and then let them roll for “extra”—this is fine if you actually have something “extra” to add. Lately, I think I’ve been assuming too much. When I script out the answers, I really should consider more carefully what happens if that question goes unasked.

Anansi, Behind-the-Scenes

As I’ve stated before, the Daniverse has World of Darkness at its core. It has been my plan all along to introduce the many creatures of WoD in the course of this campaign. When I first started to study Barbados for the game, I took its considerable African-slave through-traffic as an opportunity to introduce the Ananasi, whose African mythological origins made a logical connection. As in all WoD cases, I’ve made alterations—such as the “royal we”—though I mostly stuck to abilities from the original source material here (the powers she used were deliberately chosen). The name “Anansi” in this case is not her name, but what she was called by the Africans she encountered. The encounter went through quite a few iterations—I was admittedly tempted to borrow from Anansi’s portrayal in American Gods. Ultimately, I was shooting for something “alien,” and I feel like I succeeded. And of course, she could easily return later…

This is not the first WoD creature they’ve encountered, of course, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Scripting, Part III

I was really looking forward to the encounter with Anansi, but I suspected this question-and-answer occasion might not go as planned. As I feared, the player whose character was at the center of it entirely left the conversation to others. Their hesitation, and some incorrect assumptions on my part, led to scripted elements occurring out of order. Plus I ended up giving answers to questions that had not been asked, not only to get the information to the players, but to fill some of the dead air.

As a result, there were some spots in this interaction where it felt a little like the typical computer-game NPC delivery, at least, from my perspective. It highlighted the worst aspect of pre-scripting one’s dialogue, in that it tends to tie you down. I had encountered this before, to my detriment, when I’ve relied on heavy scripting in the past; I had hoped to rise above it this time. But this is not to say the scene was a failure. In spite of the difficulty, I think it went well, and more lessons-learned is always good.

Other Stuff

  • This is now, officially, the longest campaign I’ve run for Olympus—the others have not exceeded six weeks—though not my longest yet for any group (still twelve)
  • Davino will have the opportunity to make a Deduction roll next week, due to the slayer’s journal, which means I will have an opportunity to do a better job of it this time 😛
  • Details of the “traders” Sir Randel interacted with were the result of tarot draws. I didn’t design the scenario with Payne’s girl-in-every-port in mind, though I did expect it might go that way.
  • I am amused that at least two key elements to the PCs’ survival next session were completely random—the Princess Mary was a random event, and Captain Lockhart was the result of an off-hand comment by Hayden’s player and a bad Reaction roll
  • I couldn’t predict on which day the PCs would leave Barbados, therefore my prep for the journey North wasn’t as sure as I would have liked. I might have pressed on a little longer at the end, but for this fact, it seemed ideal to take the extra week to really think this next segment through—it could be important.