Sea Dogs, Chapter II:III, GM Debrief

GM Confidence: 3.75/5. I felt pretty bad about this one immediately after it was over, but when I rewatched the stream the next day (while adding the chapters in Youtube), I decided it wasn’t quite that bad. It actually got off to a decent start, and then started to unravel for me in the last 30-45 minutes. Having two weeks off (for various absences) both helped and hurt: I had plenty of extra prep time, but lacked any “earned” momentum.

Improvements over last time

There were some missteps in the previous session, which I discussed previously. I took corrective measures. For starters, I rearranged my notes, and added colors and redundant references that reduced the need to scroll around the document, and made it easier to keep my bearings when I had to scroll anyway. This worked pretty well, though I’m sure it will improve—there is a noticeable “evolution” in the arrangement of my GM notes over the years.

To combat the problem of the “interrupted narrative” problem I previously identified, I decided to try something new(ish): breaking out and front-loading the mechanics—all the die-rolling and modifiers, and critical decisions, etc.— to get them “out of the way” ahead of the narrative segment, which should then flow together, ideally, incorporating the results. This actually felt pretty good to me, through the sailing parts, at least—better than the past attempts. (But read on for the “bad.”)

I completely revamped (actually a third time) the travel/navigation spreadsheet I was using, and all that blood, sweat, and voluminous cursing did pay off. It was easy for me to use and modify on-the-fly. Unfortunately, it was also the source of the first big failure of the night: I had assumed that any sensible sailors would shorten sail to slow down through the Great Bahama Bank, so as not to risk running aground, so that’s how I set up the spreadsheet. I never asked myself the necessary “what if they’re not sensible?” question, and at least investigated how that would change the situation. There was a ripple-effect to that failure, though it was easily corrected, for the most part. The second failure was realizing, too late in the process, that I had been applying the modifiers for the PCs’ in-game performance in reverse—I forgot to add the “minus” (-) to their daily mileage total, so it actually increased instead of decreased. Oops. I’ll get it right next time.

The Chase

There’s not much to tell, really, except that (a) it was the first time they’ve gotten a proper (sea) Chase, and (b) it went about like I expected. For whatever reason, I didn’t include the extended Range Bands, and I really should have—I’ll fix that for next time. I did have a plan for their possible failure, though I didn’t really expect that to include ship-to-ship combat, if needed at all. I wanted to give them a good scare, not sink the whole campaign right there.

Because I had front-loaded the crunchy bits, I could work the Chase into the narrative without much fuss. That actually felt pretty good, too.

The real problem came later, when I realized that the PCs’ brazen full-sail charge across the shoals meant this event actually shouldn’t have occurred before they exited the shoals, but some time afterward. This would have changed the conditions quite a bit. With the Chase ending at sundown, there was no way to move it “temporally,” and as exiting through the reefs in the middle of the chase was not something I had considered in advance, I really didn’t have a quick fix for it. Ultimately, the geography was ambiguous enough that, at the time, it wasn’t so noticeable to the players without it being pointed out—unless they read this, they may never know—but I consider it “bad GMing” to rely on the fog-of-play(?) to hide the seams.

The Unraveling

For starters, the failure with the navigation plan resulted in the PCs’ arrival ahead of schedule—by a full day. This screwed up planned events. This screwed up the weather conditions. Not an insurmountable problem, but I did have to take a break to process all the consequences. Also, it was later in the session than I had expected—pacing failure, again. The arrival went well enough on its own, though.

Then we started getting into the now front-loaded crunchy bits of entering port and getting about their expected business. Things got out of order. And it took too long. And it was confusing. And it was kinda boring—even I, who usually like this sort of thing, really just wanted to get on with it. And I found issues with the situations I had planned there as we were navigating them. And then Rogers’ player had to leave in fifteen minutes, and I really needed to interrupt the process to wrap things up in time. Ultimately, it ended on one of the cliffhangers I really wanted to use, but not in the way I wanted, and it felt rushed and weird.

I’m not sure how this could have been handled any better, given the situation. But I do have some ideas to make things run a bit more smoothly in the future, that I will undoubtedly discuss next time.


  • I almost tossed out the Pyramid 3/103 Setbacks “Mad as Bones” concept before this season started as it wasn’t amounting to much in the previous one. But I only just now realized how I’d misunderstood it, due to some problematic editing/writing of the article. Now that I’ve corrected, it may end up needing some fine-tuning—I may end up giving everyone a bonus to resist gaining Long-Term Stability Points during the voyage, or maybe change how often they accrue, depending on how it goes.
  • Davino’s player announced he would be missing this session a bit late in the week, and I now know he will miss at least two more. So, anything I had in mind for that character will have to be put off. Such is the unfortunate lot of the GM.
  • I put off creating any sort of random tables for generating age-of-sail ship malfunctions due to its being a large and complicated task, but it’s clear that was a mistake: it requires far too much mental processing to come up with something “truly suitable on-the-fly. But the most common hull problem, to my knowledge, is a “leak,” so I copped-out and went with that in the heat-of-the-moment. It might have been more interesting if they weren’t just pulling into port at that moment (like they were meant to 😛 )
  • The mystery-ship was, in fact, a guardacosta, the San Antonio y Animas of Havana, Cpt. Bartolomé Diaz; a 45 ton sloop of six guns (plus a bunch of swivel guns) and a crew of 20 or so. It would have been a tough fight, if the PCs had given one, and they would undoubtedly have lost men in the process.
  • The Old Man’s “riddle” is taken directly from the TV series 12 Monkeys, first introduced in S1E6 “Red Forest”—I always really liked it, and had been looking for a good place to use it. I almost used it for Spenser instead, but Claude seemed to fit a little better.

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