GM confidence: 4/5. I was prepared for this one to get messy, and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t. It basically came in two parts:
I was afraid I’d overpowered the PCs, but in the spirit of “sandboxing,” I didn’t want to pull my punches here. But with some subtle disadvantages (no boat, and the need to get information before killing everyone), and clever placement of distractions, the players had the space to deploy their typical shenaniganry to their advantage. I was actually prepared for “normal” combat here, but that didn’t end up being necessary. The players finally used some Bennies, to good (and expected) effect. “Dora” and her pursuers were not a random event—that thread is much more important than it might at first seem.
I’ve long tried to figure out the best way to make suggestions to the players without feeling like I’ve handed them the solution. Most GMs rely on die-rolls for this: they make it, and you tell them the answer. I never liked this solution, because it means there’s a chance you don’t get to tell them that thing they need to know, and if that’s not so, there’s really no point in the die-roll. As it happens, this campaign has an outlet for this: the NPC crewmen. That is, if I need to make a suggestion, I can have the NPC crewmen give it to them. It gets the information to the players, and it makes the NPCs feel a bit more alive. Win/win. In this case, I had Mr. Bold deliver the suggestion to circle around and walk in from behind. I need to look for more opportunities to use this.
Travel to Santo Domingo
Now to the truly sandboxy part. This was a bit of good and bad, and as usual, it’s far easier for me to focus on what went wrong, minor though it was:
- I discovered, in the middle of it, that my spreadsheet voyage calculator had a bit of a bug, which prevented me from setting the proper departure time. By the time we got to the end, I had forgotten, and I screwed up the narrative a bit. I didn’t realize the error until after the game, though, so it didn’t cause me any real stress.
- I “misplaced” my weather data for the trip. I didn’t want to subject everyone to 15 minutes of dead-air while I dug around for it, so I just went with what I had on hand, correct or not. The players wouldn’t likely know the difference.
- There was a glitch at one point, where my random event generator system kept telling me there was a “traffic” event after it had been determined that there was no traffic. It threw me off my game, a bit, at the time, though I realized afterward that I could have just generated some traffic anyway—I’m sure nobody would complain, “But we rolled no traffic?”
- I had some content for Mr. McNeill—the (randomly determined) NPC-focus for the session—but I forgot to sort out where that content should fit. It got a little jumbled, though again, the players would never know.
- We wrapped up at a spot that didn’t make for a good cliffhanger.
But some stuff went well:
- The incident with the guarda costa was completely random. I didn’t mind the back-and-forth about signals—good fodder for some research afterward—though I would obviously rather have known those answers beforehand. I established the PCs’ level of “vulnerability” long before the campaign started, so I don’t feel the need to worry about them getting inappropriately belligerent towards a strong enemy. Plus, the shakedown was a fact-of-life I wanted to establish, anyway.
- The ship “stations” map seemed to be well-received, and did its job. I think this will keep things nicely organized for the future (and potentially, for other games).
- I added a travel checklist the players could see, which should also help keep the travel processes better organized, and we established an SOP. This travel segment went pretty smoothly as a result, and I expect good results in the future.
Overall, I felt pretty good about this session. There were some lessons learned, that I’m in the process of addressing, and that’s always good news for the remainder of the campaign. We’ll be missing a couple of players for the next session, so I decided to run a “side-mission” with the ones that are available—I did want to get away from the “adventure at every stop” tendency, but it fits here, under the circumstances. The trick will be how I merge the other PCs into the narrative for the session that follows. We’ll see.