GM Confidence: 4.5/5. I think I finally hit my stride on this one. Despite feeling a bit under-prepared before the game and making a lot of last-minute changes, it ended up roughly where and how I wanted.
From humble beginnings
By this point in the campaign, I knew I could build the entire session around the Havana-to-Campeche sailing segment—in fact, it might be inevitable—but I really didn’t feel like that would be enough to make it a “good” session. In fact, I expected that would actually be rather boring (and possibly, too short). I spent the better part of the week worrying over how to prevent such an outcome.
There was a need for a “planning” segment. It’s not exactly exciting, but the players are making decisions and plans, and that takes time and energy, so that’s something. I learned, from session three, that I didn’t want to go from the crunchy sailing stuff directly into the crunchy shore stuff—I needed to break that up with some interactions of some kind. I’d likely end the session on that beat, and maybe work in a cliffhanger-reveal of some kind. There are a number of easy entries there I could use to that end: customs, pilots, other ships. Plus I had an upcoming-event backlog of Treasure Maps, Enemies, Secrets, etc, that all needed to be addressed—most of which I had plans for already, once they got to shore. But the session needed a little something more in the middle.
The solution came (later) in two parts:
First: Payne’s player had decided to officially take “Amira” as an Ally. I had him roll her Frequency of Appearance offline to see if she would be immediately available, and she was. I had some ideas how to work her in, but it was mostly “perfunctory,” just to get her aboard the ship. I wanted to do something more to make the player feel like he’s “earned it,” so I was working on some sort of “escalating” scenario—Payne sees her and goes to her, then a pimp shows up and he has to interact with him, and then something else… The preceding interaction between Spenser and Payne, with Boissonade’s letter, was, in a way, “prearranged”—the players had discussed it offline—but working with them, I/we arrived at the idea of using Spenser’s Serendipity ability to “cause” her to appear. If Payne had performed less well at the start, the soldiers would have arrived during the interaction and possibly arrested him, which would have delayed their departure—consequences.
Second: To give the sailing part a little more spice, I decided the PCs needed to chase someone (rather than be chased by them, for a change), or otherwise have a “need” to reach the destination ahead of their quarry. I believe it was Thursday before all the puzzle-pieces finally fell into place for me—the “slanderous dispatch,” the negative outcome of which would certainly be uncomfortable, though not deadly. Having “Amira” deliver the news tied it all together nicely. They would also need a clever plan to prevent the delivery of the letter, should they succeed in catching or passing their quarry.
The mechanical aspects
Knowing there was going to be a lot of crunch in this session, I wanted to do as much behind-the-scenes as I could, and try to keep things moving, to get to the narrative parts—fortunately, the PCs were all in one place, now. The chase/race was a simple matter of duplicating the navigation spreadsheet and applying pre-rolled skill checks for the opposition, to determine their daily progress. Just add PCs—only they rolled ridiculously well (and would have been worse if Rogers’ player had been making the Control rolls). I would have liked it to be a bit more challenging, but worse for me, their excellent rolls had them arriving nearly a day early, which screwed up the plan a little—that’s GMing for you. I continued the “mechanics, then narrative” approach from before, and it still feels like the right call. Breaking up the crunch at the end felt right as well. It was a shame, though, that I had to cram a little at the end to get in the cliffhanger I wanted, and it resulted in taking a few shortcuts that I’ll have to clean up next time. Still, it may be the first time since session one that I felt satisfied with the results when it was over.
- Pacing—finally got a session to end where I expected
- Payne’s Intuition was actually helpful here—allowed the GM the necessary excuse to direct the PCs where he wanted
- This was the first instance of someone swinging on a rope in the campaign—a long time coming 😛
- The “stuck ship” was actually a random event, not something I planned to give the PCs a “hard choice”
- This was the first time since I added the “disease check” that someone failed
- I think this was the first time a “spoilage roll” came up with a loss of provisions
- The spider was the result of Davino’s Treasure Map that fired off a few sessions back, but had to be delayed since the player wasn’t available
- I revamped the Long-Term Stability thing after the previous journey; I pre-rolled for the crew, and Furlong critically failed—hence the “snippyness” during the voyage; rolled 4 LSPs on 1d6
- This was the first time I had a player “draw from the tarot deck”—rolled via table—which is something I had been intending to do from the very beginning, but just happened to have the need for a little more “color” at this moment
- Cpt. Button of the Fortune is the second reference to our regular Twitch follower by that moniker, as promised