Actual Play – Flagship Atlantis Playtest (11/27/2009)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Trevor, Joel, Meghan, Alex, and Sam
System: Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies

I wasn’t exactly ready to play test my con, but went for it anyway. The stuff I had thought out went well, the stuff I didn’t went okay. Here’s a breakdown of what bits I used (leaving out plot specific stuff that may change and/or be revealed in game).

Intro to the System:

I started with a very brief intro the PDQ system, describing it with the now famous “You can punch Spiderman in the girlfriend” line. It got some laughs and covered the basics of the system.

I then described the world. I was going to leave out the details of the skies, winds, and Islands (as that is quite a bit) but the players wanted to know more so I told them.

Game Prep:

Antagonists: Merciless Virdize Warmasters. Using their letters of Marque from other islands to rob sailors of their life, liberty and loot!

Goal: Recover Flagship Atlantis, the key to each characters motivation.

Pressure: Since word that the Dread Pirate Radu went missing in the Ghost Sky after capturing the ship from the Viridize, treasure hunters of all stripes have been seeking it, along with a substantial contingent of Veridize Warmnasters!

Common knowledge: Some say the Flagship Atlantis is lost Kroy artifact, others that it is a modern Koldun-Craft and some (mostly the Zultinates who call it the Gift of Thunder) that it is a gift from Vaoz. Regardless is it said to be able to traverse the Sky of Fire, which would give any pirate a freedom no other could imagine or grant the Virideeze unprecedented control over the Seven Skies. Everyone knows that the famous Dread Pirate Radu “liberated” the ship from some Royalists who had found it. After a miraculous theft however he disappeared. Many assumed into the Sky of Fire until reports started coming in that the ship was seen drifting unmanned through the Ghost Sky!

Start of Play

Selecting Characters: I set up placards with little snippets about the characters. A name, descriptor and their physical, social and mental appearance. For instance we had Fiery Zhava, the Amir’s Daughter. Physical: Jaw-Dropping Gorgeous. Social: Life of the Party. Mental: Devious. I also listed their foible and motivations but had those covered up to reveal just before play started. Each player selected a character and we already saw some “Good Form” when Joel deferred the character of Katya to Meghan who really wanted to play her (Earning style dice already). I handed out character sheets with a one page background that specifically addressed foibles, motivations and other uncommon Fortes (like gifts, gear, etc.)

Creating Superstitions: Going around the table each player creates a superstition their character believes to be true, then the officers vote and in Ilwuz tradition, each person present gets a vote and the man with steel get’s two (I had a dagger to pass around if we had an even number of players so the person creating the superstition would be the tie breker). If the superstition is ratified it is widely believed, otherwise only that hero, and maybe a few others believe in it and it became a candidate for Ephemera for that character. We got some good ones:

  • When you see and airwhale you must drink to lost sailors.
  • Eyebrows must be groomed before a duel. (this one in particular was awesome and people suddenly were obsessed with carrying mirrors around to be able to quickly prepare themselves)
  • Never cut your hair or fingernails in the Ghost Sky (a real life supersticion which also played out beautifully in the game when the First Mate held the enemy captain hostage and put a blade to his hair “Have you ever heard what happens to a man when his hair is cut in the Ghost Sky?” It was brilliant.

The two that weren’t ratified were:

  • If your gun misfires you must throw it over the starboard bow (which came up for the character in question). (Ephemera for Katya Eyebright)
  • Never accept drinks from a one-eyed barkeep. This one I’m sure got voted down because only one other character would ever turn down a drink! (Ephemera for First Mate “Grim” Rogers)

Building a ship:Starting with the captain I told them their ship was a Sky Junk and they each got to pick a detail about the ship including: Name, Foible, and four Fortes (starting at Average +0 but moving to Good +2 if two people picked the same one). This made the ship slightly more powerful than a normal vessel would be, but worked out well for distributing elements, we got the following vessel.

  • The Bonnie Zhen Ke (Good +2 Sky Junk)
  • Foible: She’s Pink! (A poor mix of Redstone paint on the hull)
  • Forte: Bonnie (Good +2), Accurate Guns (Average +0), Maneuverable (Average +0)

“She’s not Pink, she’s Mauve!” became the saying of the night.

Backstory: I asked the players, starting with those who didn’t already have candidates for Ephemera (i.e. un-ratified superstitions) questions about their fellow officers. Some of these questions need some work, but here’s the ones I asked: Why is the captain in command? Who can you count on? Who’s going to betray the group? Who is smitten by Katya? What’s Brother Nazor’s problem with the First Mate? (asked specifically at the end because Nazor didn’t have any potential Ephemera). At the end I told everyone to pick either a question that someone answered about them (Such as the Jailor being smitten by Katya) or one of their superstitions that was voted down and make than an Ephemera for the game.

We had these:

  • Jailor: Smitten by Katya
  • Captain: Respected by the Jailor
  • Katya: When a firearm misfires, you must throw it over the Starboard bow
  • First Mate: The captain trusts me
  • Brother Nazor: The First Mate is such a worrywart.

Revealing Foibles, Motivations and Secrets: So here is my problem with secrets, they never get addressed in game an at the end of the session, players have to tell each other about the secrets rather than the characters experiencing them. For more on this listen to Narrative Control, Episode 32 (

So I tried something different in this game. On the little placards I covered up the foibles and motivations with post it notes. If the foible or motivation was common knowledge it was covered with a green post it and written in normal ink. If it was a secret it was covered in a pink post it and highlighted (so you could still tell it was a secret after the post it was removed). I prefaced to the players that all secrets would be revealed to the players but this did not mean the characters knew. I also specifically offered players style dice to protect the dramatic integrity of a secret. Dancing around it at the beginning and revealing it when it would improve the story. My feelings on this below.

Each player first revealed their public knowledge and then their secrets. I’ll say this much, by this point we had already been playing for a while and some of the players were in character, so even at this stage of the game, the reveals were fun.

The Play is the Thing

After finishing off the character creation, we jumped into the game. I won’t go into much detail but the first scene was very open ended. I set the scene for the players to perform challenges of their choice, with difficulties varying based on what they were trying to find. This was a total Wilderness of Mirrors/Dirty Dungeon technique. The player’s successes and failures generated the challenge in the second scene. Fun times. Mechanically this scene existed to familiarize the players with the core mechanics of a Challenge.

The next scene we had a Vehicle Duel which, in retrospect I probably won’t do again, at least not that early. It was WAY to fiddly for the players (or me) to get our head around. I was glad that I tested it, but it really bogged down the game.

Wrap up.

I called the game early because it was closing on midnight and I had gotten most of what I needed in terms of playtesting. From my players I took the following:

What Rocked:

  • Characters had great backgrounds and motivations.
  • Creation of Ephemera felt organic and fun.
  • Creation of superstitions was a blast
  • The core mechanics of the game were fun, light, intuitive and dovetailed well into the swashbuckling genre.
  • Role-playing has an easy transition into mechanical advantages (using techniques, gaining style dice from Good Form, etc).

What could have been improved

  • Providing a summary sheet that reviewed the game mechanics and the setting (skys, islands, and a few nautical terms)
  • Ship creation was a bit slow because the players weren’t sure what kinds of Fortes to give the ship, some examples would be good. I’m contemplating Matt Gaston’s approach of putting a pile Legos in front of the players and letting them “build” the ship. A canon might represent guns, while another sail would be maneuverability, etc. This could be cool or a distraction and a waste of time.
  • Brother Nazor needs a justification for being with the party, otherwise his nature would be antagonistic to them. I think one of the Backstory questions will be “Why do you know the Captain is an honorable man?” This could be answered that he has a letter of Marque or that he has done some deed that impressed Nazor, etc.
  • The first scene could have also introduced the dueling system
  • Most of the players really worked hard to never fail a roll. I need to remind players that failing can be very cool (specifically because the players get to narrate how the fail, potentially bringing in foibles and getting style dice) and it is the only way to get training points (which I’ll have to figure out something to do with in the con setting)

The other thoughts I have:

  • Zhava (who wasn’t played) has a background that creates a strange love/hate triangle between herself, the First Mate and her husband Brother Nazor. Unfortunately I think that will just breed antagonism in the group and I’ve got to figure out how to keep the characters bound together by their motivations or foibles. This is hard to be sure about because she wasn’t played, it’s just a feeling I have reading her character sheet and background.
  • Secrets were, as a whole, flat. Players didn’t do the totally asinine thing of revealing them in game with no justification (which would have been “Indeed, Bad Form!”) but they just acted as though the secret was somewhat moot or not present. I know this because I never awarded a Style Die (and I was on top of awarding those things!) for someone getting close to another character’s secret. At one point one of the PCs revealed his secret to an NPC just before throwing him overboard. It was a pretty awesome scene (the NPC had a wingcloak so we all knew he would live) but it didn’t get the player characters closer to a reveal. It’s really, really tricky to manage secrets just right.
  • Story hooks were also pretty weak. In scene two, three characters and the ship took damage and so I wrote down four story hooks for the next scene. Of those I barely worked in one. I’m just not sure how you can have enough room to tie together that many hooks!


I’m going to play test the game again and this time reveal to the players that the characters do have secrets, but not what they are. It will be cool to see if that gives people more incentive to wiggle that information free.

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