Epic Experience: Reality sets in…

So I did some work to my closet office area. I added a noise and light cancelling curtain. My wife and I wanted to see if it would help our kid sleep while we play. Mission success! With very few interruptions at the start of the night, we made it through a lot. It netted the group their first big experience point night. They still haven’t hit level two, in the third week of playing. It feels weird, but good. I’m so used to faster systems. For the first time in any of my campaigns with them, characters died before they hit level one and reality hit them hard… Warning: Spoilers for the Skulls and Shackles campaign lie ahead!

We hit high seas and a bad storm right at the start of the session. All of the players were forced to do jobs that normally only one character does, rigging work. On top of that, it was harder because of the storm, and they had to work all day and night. It seems like everyone had the same idea at the start of the night. Get friendly with the simple minded pet of Mr. Plugg; Owlbear. A beast of a man. Several of them decided to get him some food. The goblin, Scorch, player couldn’t complete his job and shirked from it. Only to be punished for it later, 6 lashes enough to knock him out.  Some other characters failed as well but they at least made the attempt.

Over the next few days the weather cleared up enough and the players finally started making attempts to entertain and gamble with the rest of the crew. Slowly making other crew members more friendly towards them. A game of “Fives” was played as well as some strip poker by my wife’s character; she lost… Boosting the morale of the ship’s crew. It was around this time that Scorch decided to take a gamble of his own. He wanted to spy on the ship’s officers. He had been warned that several traps protected the various more important areas of the ship.

He snuck to the mid-deck, where he had become friendly with Owlbear. Owlbear said nothing, just munched on some of the rat that Scorch got for him earlier. Scorch placed his ear up against the door to listen in on what the officers might be up to. ZAP! He was hit by a lightning bolt trap that sent him flying into some crates. He lived up to his name by leaving a scorch mark on the floor where he stood. He managed to make his reflex save, only taking half damage, but it was enough to knock him out in one hit. When the officers stepped out to see who it was, they hauled him off into the bilges and tossed him in the sweat box. When two of the player characters realized he was missing, they searched for him only to find officers and crew standing guard on the middle deck. They didn’t decide to pry into that. Some things are best left alone.

Other than that one event all was going astoundingly well until day eleven hit.

On day eleven, Captain Harrigan decided he wanted some fresh crab for the evening meal. The Wormwood had made it close enough to shallow waters to see reefs, no land was in sight yet. Some of the players learned that they were nearing the slithering coast. A small clue as to what was up. Some of them know that there are trade routes nearby…

In either case, on the morning of day eleven, the skies were clear and the water calm. Perfect for some crab hunting. Mr. Plugg gathered the player characters together, handed them a spear and a fishing pot. “Fill one up with crab, and yer set to come back; don’t bother otherwise.”

So they set out on the 200 foot swim from the boat to the reef that peeked out of the water just a bit. Scorch had been left behind, they knew he was missing but had no way to find him; or even a clue that he was in the bilges below, in the sweat box. Rook (my wife, Strix Gunslinger) used the calm weather to her advantage and flew instead of swam. The others were stuck swimming.

I moved everyone to the new ocean map and showed them the reef, and even where they were in the water and how deep it was with a little slider image. It was pretty nifty. They welcomed some action off the ship as well. They all began to make perception checks to hunt for crabs, and when they found one; a swim check to go under and spear one. All was going pretty well. Rook was overhead, able to move the most. She used this to help spot the would be dinner. The players slowly moved closer to the reef, where hunting was easier.

Round three of hunting, two larger crabs (I wanted to exaggerate their sized so made them ten feet, and a little easier to hit) swam out and attacked the players. One got Machev (human swashbuckler). The crab grappled and proceeded to poison with its claws. It dealt some minor STR damage, but that was enough to someone who only had +1 to STR. Zak (Tiefling Sorcerer) moved forward to color spray but the crab had concealment and the spell missed. That crab got him good, doing the STR damage and grappling. It was at this time Rook realized she only had a spear. Her musket was back on ship. She spent several rounds flying back, getting her gear and flying back. Renza (human rogue) got greedy and proceeded to actually try and fish up other crabs. So for two rounds Machev and Zak were stuck struggling against ten foot beasts.

I was very surprised at this. We just ended a campaign where the group was so well coordinated that the fights ended up being a breeze. Here we are, new campaign, and everyone does their own thing. Machev held his own till Rook got back. But, poor Zak… He was knocked out from the damage, and dragged under the water to the ocean floor thirty feet below. A bloody trail showed he wasn’t doing so well. Several rounds later a cloud of blood and floating bits of flesh showed his ultimate fate. Renza tried to help Machev… In a critical failure, she broke her spear. She saved the falling pointing end and tried to use it more. In the mix of the fight, Machev got away and left Renza to her own fate. He was at four hit points. Rook had popped a couple of shots at both crabs, but she just wasn’t putting out enough damage. When the other crab surfaced from killing Zak, and went at Machev, Rook got smart. She used some rope she brought along and actually managed to lasso the crab in what turned out to be one of the most surprising successful rolls of the night. She looked back to see a struggling Renza, then down to see that Machev was well on his way to swimming to the ship…

She flew … To the ship, with crab in tow. Renza’s head fell under water and was never to be seen again. The night ended with Machev and Rook on deck, with enough crab needed for dinner. Mr. Plugg got Harrigan, who saw the crab and deemed a reward in place of their success. They had two options, recover their gear, or free the goblin from the sweat box. After some debate, they would lie if they wanted their gear recovered, since they already got it back… or they would save the goblin. They actually decided on saving the goblin. They knew that being two down on crew members would be bad enough, three would drop the crew to a measly seventeen.

Wow. What an exiting night. In past adventures I would go out of my way to save player characters. This time… Two die before level one. It was actually a highlight of the night because it’s never happened to them. And, to be left behind like that. These players were actually playing their alignments, rather than focusing on what would be best in a fight. It was awesome.

They knew the adventure path would be harder that what I’ve been doing in the past. So when they asked do we roll a new character or what? They were pleasantly surprised. I said yes, but you will be part of the crew that was already here, someone who you don’t know much about. The available races were two humans, a half elf, a halfling, and a half orc. Follow the same character creation rules at the start of the game, and you start with half the experience that everyone has currently earned after tonight’s xp is awarded.

Yep, punishment for getting killed. The rule is, you lose half of your level. Also, you have to enter as a character that is plausible to the location. Sure, they could find two random people floating by. But, I wanted something more out of it. Instead they come in as less hostile crew members, people who have been there so they know the current story. They’re semi established and it makes a natural fit.

It’s the first time I’ve run punishment for death. The reason I added it is pretty simple. Some of my players wouldn’t care if their character lived or died, and would just decide to let one die to make a new one for next week. “Eh just not powerful enough, new character next week.” Now, they come back just a bit behind the group. It’s not enough for a huge disadvantage, but if you keep dying… It can be.

It may change later on, but I figured it fits really well for the start of the campaign. On top of this, they are short some crew members and now all of their jobs get harder. A new cook’s hand will be needed. Selecting that ought to be fun. Someone’s gonna have to break the news to Fishguts, the current cook.

Till next time! ~Vexar


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