Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Pirate Interlude

Last weekend Erik over at Wampus County put out a call for a "Pirate Adventure" to run at a public event. In a fit of optimism I offered to draft up a one page adventure.  I still owe the man an adventure form a bet on last year's Superbowl, so it was the least I could do.  While not raven themed, I'm happy with the way this silly little piece turned out.

I also want to thank Brendan of Necropraxis for the best idea in the whole adventure (the ooze pool), as well as Nick at Paper's and Pencils and Logan of Last Gasp for taking a quick perusal of the thing before I tossed it out to the world.

An Treasure Map!
Anyhow - what was interesting about writing a "Pirate Adventure" for a vanilla fantasy one shot is that I felt free and unencumbered by setting details.  I could embrace genre cliches and use monsters straight from the manual - though ultimately I reskinned a minotaur, orcs/bullwugs, elves and a gargoyle (you don't have to fight most of the mean ones).  I am pleased with the result, though I don't think it's my best stuff, I think it will be good for a game of piratical fun.  It even has a running sea sodomy joke in the form of the ship's name, which seems juvenile, but I think is part of the pirate genre and easily removed.

Anyhow, I do think that accepting some genre cliches is not a bad thing, it certainly makes writing an adventure easy, and I don't feel like it automatically produces a less creative product. The issue is not taking the easy way out with the genre cliches.  Yes I have mutiny, a treasure map, an island, dangerous natives and a shrine full of lost civilization gold, but for me the thing with pastiche is keeping it high level (or trying - you be the judge).  The mutiny is a dull and meaningless act of petty cruelty amongst low lifes even if I steal the plot of Treasure Island and the ancient civilization is a Greek/Nordic hybrid dropped into a Polynesian setting. Hopefully this will be enough not to make the adventure a dull slog through predictable junk. (Link to PDF after break)

I also worry there's a railroad here.  A sea voyage is always a railroad of sorts, and while I included some basics I lacked the drive or space for a full salt crawl.  Mutiny is also a set piece, though in defense of such  'railroads', sometimes the NPC have plans that mess with player agency, and when you're at sea with them, players have to deal with the pre-written situation.  This feeds into the beginning of a rant I have about player agency as an excuse for bad player behavior.  Part of the thing in a old style game is consequences, and when player actions enrage powerful NPCs, ignore world events, leave behind things for later or decline jobs/quest then the world can bite back at players and remove choices. Through assassination, imprisonment, barring them from entering town, stealing the stuff they left behind, burning down their ancestral village and killing the other NPC they left to guard camp the NPCs will show that they are also actors.  This is another thing that makes tabletop games different from computer RPGs - computer game NPCs often remain static until the player acts, and quests never have timelines except those of the players.  This is not a railroad, this is letting the players know that the game is interactive and not a just fiction they tell about how awesome their avatar is.  As always I think playing one's character as a 'character' (like in a book) is the best choice, because it allows one to play true to the personality one has created, makes it fun to ignore player knowledge in favor of character knowledge, and makes the character's death less a tragedy and more a chapter ending.

Fond of the border on this - should have filled the sides - annoying to draw though

 Anyhow - here's a pirate Adventure!

ADRIFT ON THE SEA OF LOVE (Does not include any love) - PDF 


  1. I think you over-interpreting "player agency" in a rather radical direction (initially, your ultimate conclusions are correct).

    Player agency means player's get to make meaningful choices. It does not require that every choice a player makes has to be meaningful, nor that the results of their meaningful choices can't be overridden by other forces in the world or always will have the outcome they desire.

    A sea voyage (I would argue) is not a "railroad" in the gaming sense. A black and white dichotomy where anything not a complete sandbox is a bad ol' railroad is again a pretty radical (and limiting) interpretation! (Or alternatively, there are degrees of railroadyness and a sea voyage is a less bad one--but why use a loaded term?) Player choices are more limited in a sea voyage, true, but they can still be meaningful, which is all that is require for agency. Is a room with only two doors out a railroad? Limited choices are just as meaningful as less limited ones.

  2. Avoiding details - the discussion of 'railroads' above is based on some playing experiences I had and a general sense of the way I sometimes see the term fetishized.

    Player choice is such a holy principle sometimes that some folk try to ush it to extremes. As to voyage adventures they can be comstricting and should be when the characters are passengers.

    The point where I felt railroady in the pirate adventure is when the mutineers succeed in killing the ships officers aitomatically. Should that be done via die rolls between NPCs with rounds tracked to see if the players can intervene? I feel like a strain in the OSR community insists on such slavish devotion to randomly generated content.

    Hope you enjoy the pirate adventure.

    1. Yes, people do. It looks like a good adventure.

  3. The adventure looks great. I love the island map, especially.

    1. Island map was kinda a departure for me. I couldn't make one that looked treasure map enough so I just said "draw it weird" and figured people could assume it was exotic or something.