Sea Dogs, Chapter II:IV, GM Debrief

GM Confidence: 4.25/5. I felt a lot better about this session, compared to the ones that preceded it. We finally got past the “crunchy outer shell” into the “meat” of the campaign, and it showed. Not perfect, but much improved.

24 Hours Earlier…

As a response to some grumbling over the excessive crunchiness last week, I decided to establish some personal Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) during the week for the PCs, specifically with regard to things like what they do to unwind at port, and where they’ll be spending the night. The purpose: by establishing this information, I don’t have to waste time asking the question during the game, especially for something so repetitive and, seemingly, unimportant (though the information can certainly become important). Unfortunately, as has always been the case, participation was not 100%, so I suppose this will have to be part of an ongoing effort. As a result, though, it became clear to me that it can be a difficult question to answer, and might benefit from a “multiple choice list” of suggestions—very much like my Activities In Town list, which serves a similar purpose. But then I need to create a list…

I had to wrap things up quickly last time, and Rogers’ player’s decisions resulted in advancing to the next day before we had even dealt with the first, so a “rewind” was inevitable. (I hate the “24 Hours Earlier…” trope, generally.) Therefore, we started the session by finishing up the crunchy bits from last week. Fortunately it didn’t take too long. One benefit to the early cutoff, however, was that I had all week to weave the search-roll results and whatnot into the narrative. I decided I want to make that the norm from now on, and pre-roll as much of that sort of thing as possible, allowing us to get to the good part sooner. In this case, it worked out nicely.

It is of some interest to me that, lately, I find myself “backing out” of mechanics I had previously determined to use—case-in-point: my intention to use the “Actual Price” tables to randomize currency conversion rates, which, in the moment, I decided to throw out. I usually like crunchy mechanics, but it felt like too much when it came time to execute—you need to sense when you’re about to cross the un-fun boundary, and be able to stop yourself.

Never Split the Party

Havana is a (in this context) big city, and I want it to feel big. Everybody had something to do, and (mostly) they all split off to do whatever-it-is on their own. I would usually advise against having the PCs split up like this, but there are cases like this where it is inevitable. When you do so, it becomes, primarily, about “time management”: you mustn’t linger too long on any one character’s perspective at the expense of the others. I think I did alright, here, but there were still some elements that needed to be broken into smaller chunks. The average ended up around fifteen minutes, which isn’t too bad.

Incidentally, during the week, I realized some of the characters didn’t really have anything going on for this or that reason, so I ended up reassigning some things, to make sure they all had their own plot-thread. In one case, an event got (partially) reassigned to another character, and in another, events intended for a later part of the adventure got moved up. It all worked out, though.

Social Engineering

This session was all about the social encounters, and I got to make full(er) use of some elements of GURPS Social Engineering I hadn’t before—specifically, the “Search” (“for an individual,” “for information,” “for a government office,” etc.). While I’ve grown more accustomed to the mechanics therein, I still feel like I don’t have a fully-functional understanding of how best to use them. That is, behind-the-scenes, at least, social encounters still often feel a bit clunky to me. It’s something about how the die-rolls and modifiers translate to a narrative-in-miniature, I think. I’m still not satisfied with this.

Regarding the “Search,” though: It might be of interest to other GMs what I did here. The book says that the GM should make the search rolls in secret—which I (effectively) did—but rather than a binary go/no-go, I applied what I call the “Take the Clock” concept—that is, failure just takes longer, according to the Time Spent mechanics (B346). The effect is that the player doesn’t know how long it will actually take to find what they’re looking for, and they may assume failure and leave before it happens, or decide “maybe just one more day…”

Set Pieces

There are a lot of player elements—Enemy, Treasure Map, etc.—firing off here in Havana. But the primary impetus for the PCs’ arrival here is Rogers’ search for Pickford Rodney, the first step in finding his Treasure. I planned for the situation at the graveyard to be a combat encounter, or chase, or possibly be short-circuited by some social shenaniganry. I really didn’t expect the combination of Rogers, Spenser and Dora, though. The Chase itself dragged on a little—I think the images were helpful, but I needed a little more “tactical” variety there to make it interesting. It might be useful for the future to think of particular advantages one party might have over the other, and provide opportunities to showcase them along the way. I’ll admit the ending was a bit of an ass-pull to keep the Chase from going on indefinitely.

The introduction of Lady Amira Mercedes de Luna is a big element, too, but I won’t go into detail on it just yet, not until it’s played out. I put a lot of thought into getting this one “just right.” As it happens, though, I really hadn’t delved into the “high society” stuff before, for which Payne is especially fitted-out, and this was a perfect chance to fix that.

Both of these will probably wrap next week, if not bleed a little into the week after. I’m definitely looking forward to it.


  • This was week two absent Davino’s player. He’ll be out one more (at least.)
  • I found it amusing that the bookish Spenser was paired with Rogers to go pub-crawling, looking for Rodney, while Sir Randel was paired with Captain Hayden to comb through boring naval records. Not sure how that happened 😛
  • There is remarkably little I could find regarding Treasure Fleet voyages (that didn’t end in catastrophe), but I did find some stuff about a fellow called Gemelli Careri, who traveled with the Fleet in the 1690s, and wrote about his experience—very helpful. I also found some records regarding the South Sea Company “annual ships,” through which I was able to determine that the Fleet did in fact sail in 1725, though I had to extrapolate some of the specifics. The arrival at Havana and departure of the South Sea Company ship, Elizabeth, is historical, though. The Fleet does not sail in 1726, however, due to war with Britain.
  • The random crew events were the result of tarot card draws. There was also the “crash” event at the docks as a result of tarot, which I should have made into something the PCs needed to actually do—decision, die-roll, or whatever. Oh, well.
  • There was some grumbling from (one of) the players about the (in)Stability gained from the voyage at sea. Though I don’t entirely agree with the grumbling, some valid argument was made. But actually, I had already decided that the gaining of Long-Term Stability Points as rolled up on their last stint at sea might have been a bit much. So, I took the opportunity to rethink it a little, and there will be some adjustment for next time.

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