Actual Play – A traitor on board (9/15/2015)

Skull and ShacklesGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen Twelves, Meg Pressley, Rocko Moran, and Adrienne Mueller
System: Pathfinder
Adventure Path: Skull and Shackles

Day 13

During the day, as most of the crew did their duties, albeit reluctantly, Vyv wasted away in the sweat box. It was hot as a Salamander’s kiss that day, and Vyv was suffering because of it. They made it out, but only barely, and only because of their allies doing everything they could to keep Vyv alive.

Anand decided that day that Scourge and Plug, or at least one of them had to die.

Bloody Hour

That night Tilly was put to the mast for punishment, but in a yet unheard of measure of mercy, Scourge merely gave her a single rope bosh, barely hard enough to leave a mark. While many wondered at the cause of his lax punishment Madeline was sure he was giving some kind of sign. Some conspiracy was in motion and she was sure the stars or sea would show the truth of it at midnight!

Nighttime activities

Anand asked Ratliner what was up with Tilly’s punishment, but he wasn’t sure either. He’d ask around though.

Davey took Vyv to Habbly for ministrations. Habbly gave them some tonics to re-hydrate and some salves to help with the sores that formed from confinement in the hot and cramped box.

Madeline planned to stay up till midnight, she had done all sorts calculations of the stars, but she passed out in the galley, her head flat against piles her her notes. Notes which Jape later used to blow his nose during a quest for more rum.

Vyv, after being tended to wet to the bow of the the boat, looked out over the sea, and, realizing they were now too far from land to swim, relented the idea of leaping off the boat and swimming… to any place other than this.

Davey found the captain and tried to get a read on him as to whether or not it would be okay to, you know, murder, Scourge or Plug. The captain’s response was “It’s their job to make you hate them so much, you lie awake at night dreaming of slitting their throats instead of dreaming of slitting mine. It seems like they are doing their job well enough.” I.e. no, I don’t endorse you killing them you little shit.

Late night activities

While most of the crew slept out on the deck (by the gods it was hot!), Davey and Jack snuck off to the netting under the bowsprit. One of the only places you could find privacy on the ship. A nice place to be on lookout for suspicious activity and a nice place to for coitus.  As Jack and Davey caressed each other, Davey took special care to be on the look out. Jack’s attention was quite distracting, but nevertheless he saw it. The reflection of a light on the water. At first he thought it was the moon, but then he realized it blinked off and on again, in some kind of pattern. A pattern like a code! After a few moments though it stopped, the ship was dark and quiet again, and Jack’s attention pulled Davey away from his troubled thoughts.

Day 14

Anand woke to the warriors call of Riaris Kraine. “WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU DOING LAST NIGHT?” Though it was loud enough to wake the dead, Anand soon realized she wan’t talking to him. Riaris had dragged Ratliner down from the crows nest and was hanging him by one foot over the edge of the deck. “I’m going to cut you, wait for your blood to draw the sharks, and then drown your pathetic, worthless, self in the Fever Sea!”

Riaris was upset. Ratliner was scared. So were most of the crew. Eventually the master gunner calmed down and let Ratliner back on the deck, though she said has was going to pay for his incompetence.

Word got around quickly that a ship was supposed to be in sight today, but it was nowhere to be seen. Ratliner was up in the crows nest as lookout last night but he fell asleep. There was much muttering on board and nobody was feeling very friendly to Ratliner. The officers were expecting some action toady, and once the crew found out they missed an opportunity to slit throats and take coin, they were equally dismayed.

As punishment, and in some part as preparation, Riaris called out that today would be a training day, and everyone would learn how to board a ship with grappling hooks, or they would drown trying!

The process was a challenging one for those unaccustomed to it. The took the dinghy forty feet out (the distance you’d normally start trying to board from) and on that wobbly wreck, in groups of three the crew had to throw a grapple so it caught hold of the Wormwood, fasten the end to the dinghy, and then climb the rope onto the boat. As they approached, the other crew members were tossing all sorts of refuse and the occasional scrap of broken rigging at the “assailants”.

The results were not ones Ratliner would have bet on. Vyv and Davey both fell in the drink enough times that Riaris eventually told them just to swim back, others needed time practicing. Anand, and to everyone’s surprise Madeline, made it though. Scampering along the rope and getting on deck despite the harassment from their crew.

Night time activities

Anand asked Ratliner what happened. The halfling thinks he was poisoned with tanic oil, just like they used to press gang the crew. He doesn’t know who did it though. The brawler then went to go find out what Tilly was up to, what her story was. She found sitting beside scourge, braiding his beard.


At this point we rushed things a long a bit to move some days forward. Each player chose some actions for the days and we rolled some dice. Here were the results.

Day 15

Vyv failed to influence Badger. Discussion of loss came up and if not for Sandra, Badger’s disposition would have gotten worse!

Davey and Madeline tried to influence Habbly and though they failed, he was not put off by them [Devil’s bargain: Habbly inserted something inside Davey while he was stitching him up.]

Madeline and Anand worked together to improve Maheem’s disposition. Success! [He is now indifferent]

Day 16

Vyv – failed to influence Badger (though did not make it worse)

Davey and Madeline – failed to influence Habbly.

Anand – succeeded at influencing Slippery Sly Lonegan. More knivsies! [She is now indifferent]

Day 17

The day of interrogations. Without a traitor found yet, tensions were on a razors edge, so the captain started bringing everyone in to account for their whereabouts on the night the Chelaxian ship was supposed to travel by.

Of our friends Vyv and Ratliner seemed the most suspicious. Vyv, because they had always been so vocal about hating being on this ship, and Ratliner, well, because he was on lookout.

The crew became further polarized after this and it was clearly team Scourge vs. team McTavish. Everyone who hadn’t picked a side started drawing heat. The shorties faction disbanded, some siding with Jape, Fipps, and Tate, some with Anand and Maddie, and a precious few holding out, still yet unaligned.

XP Awarded

Boarding School: 100
New XP Total: 2675

What Rocked

I figured out a few more voices for my NPCs. I was listening to Three Body Problem, narrated by Luke Daniels. There is a character in the book named Shi Qiang (often called Da Shi, which means “Big Shi”). Whenever Luke speaks his dialog, it sounds like he takes a giant breath in first and contracts his diaphragm to have a gravely voice. I decided this was the voice to use for the captain. It came off a little more “Batman” than I wanted, but it was still good, still distinct.

I love that our crew has each others backs. When Madeline and Anand were first attempting the climb, Davey and Vyv were bumping people and getting in the way, making it harder for them to throw things at them. When they finished Anand and Madeline did the same for their friends [Mechanically I handled it as an aid action, bumping up their allies AC by +2]. Its a small thing but it’s great to see that despite the horrors of the sea, the characters are good to each other.

I didn’t even ask for something this creepy but Adrienne had the idea of Habbly inserting something into Davey while he was working on him. Sure, that makes sense. It took me a few weeks to decide what it even was. Something that was serious but didn’t turn the game into some kind of body horror show. I found something… and it’s good!

I love the moxie Davey showed to just straight up ask the Captain if they could kill Scourge or Plugg. It didn’t work out, but wow, was that fun.

Poor Ratliner. I so hope he makes it out of this alive.

Davey and Jack and pretty darn adorable together. I’m glad someone found love on this rotten ship.

Whatever this thing Anand and Sly have is really unhealthy and really fascinating. There is some strange tension and attraction between the two of them. Sly is impressed by Anand. He’s clearly capable and in her mind brave. Anand thinks she’s fucking unhinged (not inaccurate) but it fascinated him. I’m glad we haven’t gone with a frankly tired trope of making their relationship a sexual one. I want to see how this plays out.

What could have improved

I realize I’ve forgotten some details about the characters. Jape is supposed to be mute. Whoops. Scratch that. Ratliner is missing three fingers. I guess that will come up at some point.

My notes! I can hardly read them after the game. It’s easier for me to do when I’m playing that when I’m running because I can write down notes when I’m not active, but as a GM I’m active all the time. So they end up getting scrawled very hastily. I may start recruiting volunteers [read: Adrienne] to help me keep track of events and day/night actions.

I need to remember my own advice about mysteries. Don’t give people clues that lead to more clues. Give them clues that lead to situations they have to deal with, that then lead to more clues or answers. I feel like the “who done it” has been a lot of the players trying to figure it out, with me only giving them scraps of information, not consequences from getting that information.


  1. Adrienne

    Thanks for the write-up, Sean!

    I also really like the Sly-Anand dynamic. And I can’t wait to find out what’s in Davey’s back!

    Your ‘there’s a signal’ clue could have led to a situation. We just never forced it (eg telling the Captain). It’s going to be great when all of this comes to a head.

    Also, am delighted to keep track of events and actions. (Although I’m afraid I’ve got no notes at all for our most recent session.)

    Favourite Bits:
    – Rocky having Madi devote herself to her botched Perception roll – and roll with it. It was wonderful!
    – Vyv & Krine. Having fun peg-leg moments.
    – Anand jumping to Vyv and Ratliner’s rescue but also verbally sparring with Krine and Maheem. He’s a great mixture of attitude/irreverence and loyalty.
    – Jack. Not only did we get an entertaining wooing scene, but his easy affection the following day was so heartwarming!

    Other Thoughts:
    – Speeding up a few days seems like a good thing. I really like the RP in the fuller scenes, but we still got some great moments, even in abbreviated form.
    – Felt bad about using ‘Are there any real men?’ as an argument to goad Maheem into arm-wrestling. Didn’t feel like Davey’s style.

    • Sean Nittner

      Oh, I forgot about the peg leg moment. Yeah, that was really fun for me, since Krine is normally such a hard ass.

      No worries about not having existing notes, but if you take then in future games that would be a godsend!

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