Actual Play – Flagship Atlantis (5/29/2010)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Matt, Justin, Jennifer, Erica, Bryan, et al.
System: Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies

This was the fourth and smoothest run of this game yet. And yet it could still use improvement. Enough so that I’m going to run it two more times. It was fun enough and had characters that were rockin enough that I want to port this game into a Lady Blackbird hack. I think it’s got the legs to do it.

The game structure and mechanics were similar to the last run:

With these changes:

Katya got a second person to hate, allowing Ryovak to be just outside her grasp most of the game, and giving her a chance to fight/kill/send into the blue Xorga Teresa, the woman who actually pulled the trigger killing her lover.

Act 1 overall was sped up and made more uncertain. I reduced the Viridia Wants You in Chains deck by one card, the number of complications and leads needed by two each. To make it more dicey instead of Viridia getting closer at set intervals (i.e. on my turn) I made new complications that were semi-sorted in the deck (like epidemics in Pandemic)

Speeding up the game also made it harder, which was good. Many characters still had piles of style dice but some of the rolls got as high as TN 17 and they were spending those dice like mad, which was the flow I was looking for. I changed the helping mechanic as well, so that it cost the person giving the help (instead of the person receiving it) which meant that if a player was out of style dice, they weren’t doomed. A tougher challenge with more options for others to help is just what I was looking for.

I capped each character at using two forte of their own, with a possible third from someone giving them help. This worked pretty well to keep the challenges in check.

I nudged the narrative a bit towards the end to make sure everyone knew they could leave Crail. We traveled the Jungle and the Ghost sky in search of the Atlantis.

During the ship to ship fight I abandoned the Ship Dueling rules. I’ve used them three times and always felt like the game ground to a halt as the players wrapped their heads around the mechanics. This time instead I told them they each had two rounds before the fleet arrived. We went round robin to see what each of them would do in this time and I made sure to offer plenty of opportunities. The ship needed to be captured (obviously) but there were also rival Coloronan’s to one up, a duel between the First Mate and Brother Nazor over the chastity of Nazor’s wife, The woman in red for Viztor or woo, Xorga Teresa to kill, and many others.

During the exploration scene I allowed a lot more time for inter-party discussions, trying not to rush the “plot” in favor of the character’s getting to have it out with each other. Also, I had the players read the cards to themselves and them describe the effects in their own words.

Rather than trying to pressure the players into engaging the Flagship’s fire sails, I just narrated it in, ending one scene and beginning another, that wasn’t so awesome but it was a lot less awkward than trying to railroad the players into making that choice because they believed they didn’t have any others.

What rocked

We had some very saucy superstitions including that it was bad luck to copulate with a woman on the ship… in the rigging however was a whole different matter.

My players were awesome. The secrets revealed, the superstitions, the duel over Zhava’s honor were all brought by the players and were epic.

This was a great line “Captain, perhaps we should perform the barrel roll!”

Act 1 has really good pacing now. It’s faster and has more danger associated with it. It has been commented on a lot as being the best part of the game.

I found this on Facebook regarding the game:

Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies… This was an amazing experience. The GM was brilliant and put on a great game. Very well prepared. The story was epic. The roleplay was a thing of beauty. It’s hard to even start to describe. Fiery Zhava, The Dread Pirate Radu, the Knight, the Musketeer… It’s a sprawling sky-world setting. We got to make up superstitions. We had to find this magic ship called the Atlantis before the evil imperials, and the GM used a pretty ingenious set of cards for us to reveal complications. Meanwhile we also had to reveal the secrets of the other PCs. My character was a total landlubber, and a hopeless romantic, an actor who woke up from a drunken stupor to find himself the captain of a pirate ship. Though everyone was after this magical ship, all I cared about was finding the “woman in red” whom I had seen the night before I became captain. I busted out the chorus of a song I (in real life) wrote for my wife and sang it for the woman in red during a climactic scene. We were about to be bombarded by enemy cannons, and two of the PCs were having the most excellent bantering duel on the deck. It worked =) There was so much more to it. Each character had a real arc of growth, a worthy tale. It was like a really amazing 4 hour epic film. If pirates of the Caribbean had been as powerful as Star Wars, that was this game.

Wow… I’m just not sure I could receive better praise than this. Thanks Bryan.

What could be improved

I should be explicit about the fail condition in Act 1 in advance so the players know what will happen (and will know that it will be just as fun as winning)

Costumes. Thanks to the UCD costume shop, I’m never going to a themed game without a costume again. Heck, I might even start LARPing because of that, but that’s another story.

The ship. It’s always been a fun process making the ship (in this case the Black Rose) but it hasn’t come into play enough. The players get to make all of these Average forte’s which, ostensibly would be used in the Vehicle Duel, but now that the duel isn’t in the game, I was hard pressed to find reasons why they would use the vehicle Forte (especially when there is no modifier to the roll). Instead, I’m going to make each ship forte start at Good [+2] and then during Act 2 when the ship is engaged I’ll have the players use one of the ship’s forte’s alongside their own.

Act two needs to be split into Act 2 and 3. Act two will just be the sailing off in Atlantis before the fleet arrives or rescuing her from the Viridese blowing her to flinders. Act 3 will start as they crash land on Telleram. This is only important because it’s when I put breaks in the game.

Rather than narrate the Deus ex Machnia (Atlantis flying into the sky of fire and rescuing the party), I think I’ll give it up to each player to and in some details of how the Viridian fleet is overwhelming them, with some twist allowing them to get closer to opening the fire sails and heading into the Sky of Fire.

Duels just continue to frustrate me. They don’t have stakes associated with them (the stakes are always who falls down first) and they take too long (at least in a con where the players have to learn the rules from scratch). I do like the idea that the action stops and everything focuses around the two people dueling but I had to do a lot of finagling (including calling the duel after 1 round by having a flashy challenge resolve the so far tie) to make it resolve quickly enough to get back to the rest of the game.

The exploration act still needs work. I had the players read the cards but it was still too much of a passive information dump. Justin suggested giving each player enough information on the card to frame a scene of their own revealing the information.

For the Atlantis, for Freedom!