Sunday, March 9, 2014

In memoriam - Mr. Tanglefoot

Those who know me well are aware that one of my cardinal traits is my cute little pygmy hedgehog, Mr. Tanglefoot (or Tangle, among friends)

He died last Thursday. And in the time that passed, I have realized I need to put a few words on this, for anyone who'll be willing to listen. Pet-owners who've been through the sad process of loss will likely identify, but even if you don't, that's entirely okay. I need to vent some words.

I bought Tangle from a breeder back in late October, 2011, and brought him home through almost four hours of driving. He was nothing but a strange little creature with spikes at the time; one that I was honestly kindof disappointed with, seeing how hard it was for him to accept me. After all, an animal that rolls up in pointy bits by the mere sight of you is not entirely flattering.

 I had the idea for a hedgehog in a friend's 4th edition D&D Campaign, in which my ranger chose him as an animal companion. I even made up the name by then, and quickly realized how much appeal such a creature had. I'll honestly say; finding a proper breeder in Denmark wasn't easy, but I'm glad my persistance brought me that far, to the night when I got home and unboxed him for the first time.

Hedgehogs are strange little creatures. They've always reminded me so much about...myself. Nocturnal to the core; more cute than pretty, solitary with no direct need for company and quite bright and loyal. They bite you when they love you, they shit way more than the laws of physics would lead you to believe, and their best form of entertainment is sticking their head into an old toiletpaper roll and go crazy for hours. Maybe it was this appeal that made me so insistant to bond with Tangle in the first place; spending hours sitting with him at night, gaming with the little curled up ball on my knee, watching movies (we watched a lot of star wars together) and just about everything I could think of. Suffice to say, Tangle was my pet right from the very start. With the exception of my closest family, not a whole lot of people saw the appeal in him; which I can't honestly blame them for. He was pointy and never really wanted that petting thing; so why bother?

But hedgies are fiercely loyal creatures once they bond with you. Tangle would spend a tremendous amount of energy trying to get out of his cage whenever I got home, just because he wanted to get out and play in my lap. The small black beaty eyes would almost beg to be let out, even when I was tired and could barely manage to lift him out.

It's important to know that Tangle arrived at a time in my life when I needed him the most. It's no mere joke that people have called him my familiar (and in D&D, hedgie-familiars give +2 will saves, kind of true, I suppose). It was  time when I felt alone, was going through a challenging relationship, with some very demanding surroundings and all too little understanding about a lot of things. You don't need to have been a pet owner for long to know how valuable an animal's love is in this situation.

I could go on and on about how many cuddly situations I've had with my hedgie; but I'll say he was my best friend; more than I ever knew, for a long periode of my life. I was impressed at how sturdy he was and how he always seemed to toughen through various falls and situations that left me shocked that he was injured. He lived through a devastating walk in a box in a snowstorm and all the times he knocked over his bowl of water, resulting dry times when I was gone for two days. So perhaps I made the folly of overestimating him.

Either way, two weeks ago, I noticed he was kind of lazy with his eyes slightly closed. Thinking he could be groggy, I didn't make a huge fuss of it and left him to sleep. When it got worse over the weekend I thought of eye infection or mites, and immediately set out to treat both. I've dealt with them before, so I thought this should be no different; but when nothing helped and I went to the vet the following day, it was evident that he suffered from a bacterial infection. And it was serious.
Tangle spent four days in the hospital with professional help, before they decided to go for euthanasia. He was suffering and could only drink and sleep; medicine wasn't helping. There was nothing more for them to do.

I'll honestly say I was shocked at how this crushed me. How I went home from work to my girlfriend (who was luckily around at the time) and cried like I haven't cried in years. There were feelings in me I thought would never surface; only to realize that I've never been this attached to a pet before. I was devastated, and yet surprised; because - aren't such feelings reserved only for the loss of a human being?

The thing is, the heart doesn't qualify love according to species. And I've never been good at dealing with death, even though it has taken up quite a significant amount of my life, and still does every day. Working with survivors with PTSD is a life with stories of death and misery on a daily basis; one I've been able to shut down and live through with my head up. But when death comes close, I shatter on the inside. Not because I know someone I love is gone, but because I know they are never coming back. There is a subtle, yet imperative, difference.

 I want to write this in memory of the best pet I've ever had. The little guy I learned to love and hate the nights when he kept me up with his playing around. The noises I'd wish so much to be annoyed by, in this moment of writing. How everything is silent in the apartment now and I still haven't brought myself to throw out his old cage. How conflicted I am that part of me grieves and yet another part of me wants, some day, to take another little hedgie home and provide him with a good home.
I know he'll never be Tangle, but hopefully he can be another very great friend.

So, rest in peace, little buddy. I love you. I'm so sorry I couldn't do more for you, but thank you for everything you gave me. I hope you'll wait for me on the other side, and I'll promise to bring all the meal worms you could possibly wish for.

Hug your pet today. And remember: better go that one day too early than too late to the vet. It could make all the difference in the world.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wrath of the Righteous - The Worldwound Incursion review

I suppose that one of the few blessings about being down with the flu is realizing exactly how much you suddenly have to catch up on. On the private front, blogging usually comes to mind, and how much I’ve been neglecting the stuff I want to write about. One of the things in particular is the latest update regarding our recently launched Pathfinder campaign; “Wrath of the Righteous”.

Once again, I sadly don’t have enough time to provide you guys with a thorough review session by session, ala what we did in Carrion Crown. (How the hell did I even manage to find that much time back then?) We stick to our regular weekly sessions and usually complete a chapter once a month or so, so I’d rather concentrate on a thorough review one at the time.

This time around, unlike our pirate campaign “Skull and Shackles” I’ve tried to maintain a closer structure to the original campaign. There were a lot of free initiatives I took in S&S simply because I didn’t like how the respective chapter was written. The detriment to this was, of course, that the reviews weren’t all that faithful to begin with. Even though there certainly are some things in Wrath that I don’t care much for, I’ve done my best to stick with the written word.

The setup…
Wrath is the newest campaign from the RPG giant ‘Paizo’ - our current delivery boy of fun when the hardworking GM (as yours truly) is too busy making up his own surreal stories. Where we have now been monster hunters of Ustalav and pirates of the Shackles, this time around it’s holy war in a justified crusade against the desolate and blighted landscape known as The Worldwound.

The heroes take up arms as a, preferably, good-aligned party of crusaders ranging from all classes and quickly become involved with the crusade against the demons who have tormented  the nearby cities for decades. As usual, this is set in Golarion, but again we decided to keep it to the Realms and neatly put the Worldwound down not too far from Amn. It fit quite well with how our previous campaign ended, and it should have little consequence for these reviews at all.

In a nutshell, the heroes get to wage war against the demons and their leader Deskari; lord of the locusts host. Along with plenty of other opponents, such as cultists of the Baphomet church; the ivory labyrinth. In our case, we play with my usual five players who this time consist of a human monk, an aasimar barbarian, a human red dragon disciple, a human paladin and a human cleric (yes, my group’s mentality is that of the galactic Empire; no aliens allowed!) - Their journey will bring them to various parts of the Worldwound for different tasks against the forces of evil.

The heroes aren’t without means, however. This time around, the campaign plays heavily with Paizo’s new sourcebook of Mythic adventures. For the uninitiated, mythic can sort of be described as ‘Epic levels for everyone’ - Instead of the old recipe of people reaching level 20+ and then everything starts falling apart with Dragonball Z powers; this time around, you get to be really special from a much earlier stage. In the case of Wrath, level 6. 

As your mythic rank improves by doing good deeds, you gain significant special powers to help you in your quest. It’s sort of a sophisticated prestige class system, and without going into too much detail here, I’ll have to admit it works rather well. In the case of the GM, you also get your own special mythic monsters to play with. Ranging from “Elite versions” of existing mobs, to your very own chance to build your own monstrosities. It’s great fun for everyone and Wrath makes good use of it.

“The worldwound incursion” in a nutshell *SPOIIIILLLERRRSSSSSSSSS!!!!*
The heroes arrive at the templar city of Kenabres; a significant settlement on the border of the Worldwound. The city is mainly known for its housing of one of the significant templar artifacts; a wardstone, which contributes to keeping up a magical barrier that holds the demons at bay. The heroes haven’t been long in the city before everything goes to crazy; not long after the festivities of a holy day commence, a vicious Balor known as the thunder-king strikes with his army in an attempt to shatter Kenabres. In the process, they manage to slay the ruler of the city, along with his protégé; the good aligned silver dragon. The dragon, however, manages to perform one last duty, which is to save the heroes from their otherwise impending demise.

As they tumble into the depths beneath the city, they wake up later with an injured couple of NPC’s who react very differently to their presence. A rogue who is first and foremost looking for her lover; the half orc paladin Irabeth, a blind elven wizard who is in a search for lore, and a hot tempered merchant who honestly just wants to get the hell out of there. The heroes make their way through the underground and along the way battle the undead, vermin and meet up with a tribe of mongrelmen who points them towards ‘a bad place’. A bad place that turns out to be the base of operations for the Templars of the Ivory Labyrinth, and the heroes have to smash their way through in order to reach the surface again.

The city they arrive in lies in ruins and as they investigate they are besieged by various minor demons and encounters from civilians who need help. As they eventually search the homes of their followers, they track the survivors down in an old inn from which they plan their next move. Irabeth along with her superior direct the heroes to the old Grey Garrison, in which they will launch an attack and let the heroes attempt to reach the wardstone before it’s corrupted.

Of course the heroes make good timing and manage to kill the demonic lieutenant and destroy the wardstone, in the process becoming mythic heroes and ready for chapter 2.

“The worldwound incursion” in a good light
I have an inherent love for almost all first chapters of every campaign Paizo writes. Perhaps it’s because of the energy, the ambitions, the dreams and how everything can be made possible. Perhaps it’s because it’s much easier to maintain focus when you know the heroes are quite limited in their capabilities for solving puzzles. I don’t know. They just seem a hell of a lot more fun.

This one isn’t much different.

I had a great time preparing and running this chapter; it has very little requirement of preparation for you to make as a GM. Basically, you need to run your players through it, in order to get them to level 6. That’s right, they have to reach level 6 by the end of it. Luckily, the nice Paizo guys have once again provided you with a chart that will tell you whenever they’re supposed to ding.

In continuation of this, maybe it was me or maybe my players are simply that much more experienced; but the usual deal with the first chapter usually involving one or more really tough and nasty encounters seems to be strangely devoid from Worldwound Incursion. Of course there were some encounters that dragged out and took party resources, but they never really struggled in the same way they did against the animated weapon in Carrion Crown or the Grindylow Island in Skull and Shackles. And I think this is a good thing; they had fun with the battles and did feel powerful right off the bat. Also interesting to see the reactions of a level 1 party when the first encounter they see consists of a Balor battling a silver dragon.

Then there’s the NPC’s. To address the elephant in the corner first; there has been some debate regarding the rogue Anevia; the lover of Irabeth. Not just because she’s a homosexual, but because she has, according to her background, had a gender-change. Apparently this has been a huge issue for some. But it doesn’t really play any huge part in the story; that is to say, at all. Along with the two other NPC’s the heroes will spend time with, they make up for a wonderful trio. In my case, the players quickly took the blind elf to heart and grew a natural distaste for the whiny merchant.

I especially liked the stay with the Monglremen during the first part of the adventure. The atmosphere was good and there was a lot of opportunity for the RP-elements to be included. Also, the pacing never seemed that bad; the heroes were always aware where they were supposed to go next, while at the same time pretty much able to keep it to their own speed. Each of their three followers comes with his or her own side quest once they return to the surface, and while none of them are particularly long, they’re a nice addition and possibility for the players to get to know their cohorts better.

Again, you don’t have to prepare that much as a GM. The mythic part doesn’t begin until the second chapter, and since there are so many encounters, most of them are ready to be run by the book. I recommend simply reading up on the middle stages, such as the intro, the mongrelmen town and then the stage just before launching an assault on the grey garrison. They will pretty much give you what you need to know.

A nifty little thing is how the adventure comes with its own gallery of good NPCs in the front and evil ones in the back.  The artwork is, as usual, quite good and pleasing to the eye, involving new monsters and items in the appendix just as you know it.

“The Worldwound Incursion” in a bad light
Be that as it may, chapter one has a clear goal of bringing the heroes to level 6 and it sure has to happen through rule-legal means. As in, there are encounters enough for you to go around and pull them all the way up there. Rather than just letting them start at, say, level 4 with their mythic, or simply dinging them twice in the end, the adventure starts the meat grinder and pushes on. That means lots of battles. And lots of those senseless ones I tend to loathe. You know, even though the heroes are somehow supposed to win, these encounters don’t even make an effort to make it hard. They’re purely just there to take up time and barely resources. 

On top of that there are two and-a-half-dungeons so to say, with plenty of rooms and random encounters around the city, and very little encouragement or situations to role play much, besides from what you come up with. The adventure comes with some suggestions and typical reactions from the NPCs in question, but mostly its left up to you how to run it. If at all. I suppose that for the combat happy groups this is a blessing, but I kind of missed out on some more social encounters, a bit like Ravengro in Carrion Crown.
Alternatively, you can cut down on the encounters a bit. I know I did in the end, especially in the just mentioned rooms. This, of course, has the consequence that the heroes ding swiftly with small intervals and that the adventure seemed surprisingly short. I believe we completed it in just four sessions á 5 hours each, more or less.

The narrative at the back of the book is still there. I’m aware that this is a personal complaint from my side, but it still annoys me, when we could have had more elements to the adventure, or a couple of more monsters instead. On a more relevant aspect; maybe I’ve been unlucky this time around, but both this book as well as the second chapter seemed in really poor condition with several pages falling out. None of this was an issue in Skull and Shackles and only one time in Carrion Crown. Not sure whether this is just me, but it kind of left me a bit disappointed with an otherwise high standard of quality.

Is this campaign for me, as a GM? What should I know in advance?
The first chapter is pretty straight forward, as said. There is no really big surprises, and the best thing to do is to read up on the start, the mongrelmen part, the meeting in the crusader inn and the final confrontation because they are the strongest narrative elements. Depending on how much you want the three npcs to follow the party later on, it would be advisable to read up on their respective entries. You’ll likely see your party take heart to one of them, maybe two, and then expand on that, would be my advice.

Is this campaign for you?

Well, as for now, not all of it has been published according to my knowledge. With the first four chapters or so out, I’ll say there is plenty of opportunity for you here, especially if all you want to do is run a classical good aligned demon-kicking story. Be aware, however, that it does make heavy use of the Mythic book and the Ultimate Campaign rules, especially for how to run an army. I’ll return to this in my review of the second chapter, but you should at least be prepared for these elements.

If the mythic aspect is kind of big for you as a GM to comprehend or get familiar with, I strongly encourage you to simply delegate it out to your players and let them read up on it themselves. Instead, it would be beneficial to read the player guide or even the small book about the Worldwound. It isn’t mandatory for the campaign, but as you know; every little bit helps.

So I’ll leave you here and return later on with my thoughts on the second chapter.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mansions of Madness - Intro

It’s no secret that I, along with a multitude of colleagues within our specialized nerd-field, take great joy in the writings of H.P.Lovecraft. I mean, say what you will about his tendencies as an author and the not-quite-so-subtle-elements of racism in his stories; but I respect an author that can instill me with such amounts of dread and fear in this modern day. Without really telling that much at all.

Tomes have been written about his legacy and the influence Lovecraft has had on so many games we know today, ranging from the obvious PnP game to the computer and the delightfully messed up ‘Amnesia: The Dark Descent’ - Work along with the thought, and you’ll often find that several stories and narratives today can be traced back to his ideas; sort of like the people that insist on linking all fantasy elements back to Tolkien.
While I’m not going too deep into that debate, I’ll still admit that I’m highly addicted to these eldritch tales and still have his black book of stories lying around. Which is why I decided to, at long last, give in and purchase “Mansions of Madness” - the board game of horror and a gruesome amount of tiny bits and cardboard stuff.

I’ve been playing Arkham Horror for some time; not that I’m a pro in any way or I’d be able to sit down and relate to you the rules, but I remember it fondly and as a great experience. It was one of those games in which we were actually all working together towards completion, which is kind of rare in my rather competitive environment. I suppose it says a lot about my friends, somehow…

As of this date, we haven’t yet been playing any games. I’ve read the rules so far, and with my relatively little base for comparison, I kind of like a lot of them compared to other board games. They do indeed have their strange odds and ends, yet if you’ve ever played Descent, you’re kind of familiar with such elements as a Keeper (in this case, yours truly) versus four players (in this case, likely to be Roque, SilverglassVonDottie and Hawk).  In its basic setup, the games is about a group of Lovecraftian inspired investigators poking around some kind of old mansion, Scooby-Doo style, trying to figure out what the hell happened and how they can stop it. The keeper, on the other hand, has his goal cut out for him from the start, and wishes to hinder the investigators before they dig up too much about the grand plan. This can happen through various means, such as hurling monsters at them, inflicting them with physical and mental trauma or hope they will succumb to devious traps. Sounds kind of familiar to Descent, right? 
In addition, this is one of those games that will challenge your mental skill on a very real life basis. There are cardboard puzzles whenever a player wants to short circuit a relay or pick a lock, which all have to be flipped and turned till they finally make sense. The thing is, you’re only able to flip as many tiles per turn as your investigator’s intelligence makes up for, and meanwhile time is ticking. Or that monster is busy battering down the door to your room.
The interesting thing is how the players choose not only the scenario, but also how the Keeper gets to decide what is really going on here. Every game involves three options for what the hell is going on, often meaning different objectives and places to go on the board. With the heroes needing to figure these places out, there is undoubtedly a whole lot of fun and games to be had with plenty of replay. At least I’d imagine so.

We count on going crazy with this game in the upcoming weeks or something, and I’ll make sure to return with an update once we get there. Till then, I’ll be brushing off my Keeper robe, and hope you will enjoy some of the minis that me and VonDottie made.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Skull and Shackles - Final Review

So, as those of you who’ve been following me on Twitter have undoubtedly noticed, we completed “Skull and Shackles” last week. And just as the dust settled, I realized how terrible I’ve been at updating the adventuring-log for this one. Compared to Carrion Crown, it’s almost pathetic and quite incoherent, seeing as how I’ve tried for both video- and written reviews. I really wish I’d settled for just writing the journals, but then again; time hasn’t been on the bright side, and priorities perhaps even lower.

The ironic thing is how it hasn’t really changed, but I really want to sit down and share my thoughts about this campaign in general, and some very brief reviews on Chapter 5 and 6. You can probably catch much more thorough reviews of the particulars on youtube anyway.

So, let’s go through the notions real quick:

In Chapter 5 - The Price of Infamy, the heroes are mostly following up on the two major plots - that of the infiltration of the Shackles and the assassination of their sworn blood enemy, Cpt. Harrigan. Along the way they’re setting off to investigate the black tower and recover a magic sword, and rescue some crew members that have crossed Harrigan the wrong way. As the fourth chapter of the adventure stopped, the heroes were full-fledged pirates of the council, meaning the primary mechanic of notice is the Fleet Battle-system.

Overall in structure there is little to say about chapter five. I’m not sure why it’s like Carrion Crown all over, in which Chpt. 5 was just the anonymous part which everyone forgot about. Among the so-and-so encounters are the expedition to the black tower and rescuing the crew members. These are pretty basic missions with a few funny elements, but I couldn’t help but feel the tower felt slightly out of place in a pirate campaign. It seemed way more like a sidequest at this point, and the fabled sword and the people involved with it don’t really seem that important.

There’s a brilliant setup early in the story, in which the heroes are asked to infiltrate and take down a group of propaganda Cheliax-actors, operating in Hell Harbor. My players had a lot of fun smuggling themselves into the place and tearing it apart from the inside, and the personalities of the actors are quite fun. Also, the chance for the heroes to join in on council-votes is great and can have some consequences for how the campaign turns out later. I like this mechanic and hope to see it more in later campaigns. For example, one player liked the idea that there should be more statues of the Hurricane King all over the Shackles, voting the notion through, meaning everything went ~20% more expensive for the rest of the campaign. Stuff like that is great, because it’s influence beyond just making attack rolls.

The fleet-battle system offers something for everyone and I enjoyed it. As written, there aren’t that many chances to try it out, and it depends heavily on how well your group of players have managed in getting allies. It can be pathetically easy and abuseable, or merciless to the brink of impossible if they brought too few ships. So I recommend you find out how much you want it to take place in your campaign.  The system is rather simple in itself, especially if you’ve played Wargames before. Things like wounds and morale checks are all common things, and if you just love oiling it up, there are several options for boons and traits granted by various player characters. Seeing as how my group is mostly one of roleplayers before rules, we went with the simplified version and left out a lot of that stuff for narrative elements. But there is indeed something for everyone.

Finally there is the grand battle against Harrigan, and what a delight to see. Storming his hold, working through his guards and confronting the mean fucker was one of the heights of the adventure. He’s definitely no pushover either.

In Chapter 6 - “From Hell’s Heart” it all comes together. Harrigan has fallen, the Hurricane King turns his back on the heroes and even though they have solid proof that the Cheliax fleet is on its way, they’re met with ignorance and cynicism. It’s time to take matters into their own hands, gather up allies and sail out and meet the foe head-on. Structure-wise there’s not that much going on here - the adventure is mainly split into two. First, the heroes encounter the Cheliax-fleet in a climactic battle. Then they return home and take the fight to the Hurricane King himself.

And again, the similarities to Carrion Crown were kind of impressive. This felt like the overall shortest chapter of them all, consisting mostly of encounters besides from whatever we forced into it. That’s fine, it IS cleanup time after all. While the heroes may want to do some piracy around here, it’s approaching the stage in which D&D isn’t really that fit for keeping that theme on the higher levels. It becomes progressively harder to provide them with challenges on the daily run, meaning they’d often just “go plunder some ships” and we’d skip directly to the aftermath. Seeing as how surprisingly few travelers have the means to deal with an average ECL 14 party. If we didn’t play with the Legendary Treasures-option, in which I had the chance to design some very challenging encounters for them, I imagine a lot of the sandbox feeling would be lost.

Perhaps it was just me, but while Admiral Thrune is indeed a hot thing in her own rights, she doesn’t break the generic villain-theme that also burdened Adivion in Carrion Crown. She kind of just appears in the middle of things to die, whereas Harrigan stood up to the task much better. I never got that much of an impression from the fight, since my players pretty much tore her apart, but the later battle against the Hurricane King was memorable and if you tweak him a bit, he can likely be one of the most dangerous folks they’ll encounter. Just be prepared, fellow-GM, that your players may in fact end up doing this adventure on reverse. Meaning they’ll assault Bonefist before going after the fleet.

So my general impressions about Skull and Shackles?

This has definitely been one of the best campaigns I’ve ever played. It allows for so much fun and theme-play, and pirates always equal good times. On the plus side, I’ll break it down like this;

The feeling of one huge geographical area; the Shackles is a damn fine place with plenty of things to see. 

Especially if you read up on the Guide to the Shackles-book. If you’re a very dedicated GM there is so much room for making every harbor and island unique and memorable. I’m kind of sad I skipped out on this, seeing as how it probably became a little bit too generic and classical-fantasy like at times, but hey…

This results in an enormous feeling of sandbox and freedom, which is honestly what pirate-life is all about. If you actually make some (or all) of those legendary treasures in the back of each book real, I guarantee you your players will have something to go for, in a very long time. I made all of them collectable, with a small sidequest to each of them. It’s  your chance to provide the campaign with your own ideas.

The amount of room and expansions you can throw at this campaign is nearly unlimited. It’s actually more of a framework with a mainstory, which you can expand upon, than a downright campaign in the same sense as, say, Carrion Crown. Your players can just follow the main-plot, but I’ll argue that’s missing out on a lot of stuff.

I also love how Paizo dared taking some chances with this one, adding in some new and kind of exciting elements and challenges. I especially liked the fourth chapter, in which the heroes had to upgrade the Isle of Empty Eyes and it was amazing how much fun they had arranging a feast for the pirate lords.  Things such as this, and the investigation at the lodge in Carrion Crown are why I love Paizo’s creativity and I hope they’ll keep it up.

For once, I was also a fan of the custom rules along the way and the ideas seemed mostly coherent. Even though we, around the end, stopped registering the Infamy track, the flaw is more on us. It’s a really great idea, add on top the way loot is handled and sold and how the focus escalates from deck-combat to ship-to-ship combat and finally huge fleets. I’ll have to say good job, and the rules were designed well enough so all of my players picked up the nuts and bolts rather quickly.

On the downside, I could have done with more conventional pirate-things like treasure hunting as part of the main plot. It’s subjective preference, I know, but compared to the unraveling of the spy-network it seemed more relevant to a pirate campaign. Also, you may run into issues with fully fleshing out all the NPC’s and important characters along the way, especially if your players are like mine and insist on getting to know every member of the pirate council in person. I recommend having some of them gone away or simply not that interested in talking. 

The dungeons went from interesting to rather boring, which I suppose is just what we should expect at this point. Make no mistake, the dark tower was actually fun it its own rights and the isle of empty eyes a blast. And then, at other times, such as the dungeon on Bonewracker Isle, it was more something that had to be done. As one of my players exclaimed “Ah, the mandatory dungeon, of course”. 

I still realize, however, that all of these complaints are so minor and subjective that they aren’t really that harsh. Which I suppose is really a huge kudos to this campaign. All of them are issues that you can easily solve on your own, and likely some I’d change if I ever did the campaign again. 

Things I wish I’d done different (aka Advise for other GM’s about to run Skull and Shackles)

There is one thing I’ve said before but bears repeating: NO. FUCKING.GUNS.!

I’ll repeat it just one more time. Don’t do guns!

Unless you’re prepared to take the precautions. I know what you’re screaming; A pirate campaign without guns is kind of like Tim Burton movie without Johnny Depp. The thing is, however, that as Paizo also states - guns seriously disrupt the world order. While you could argue that this isn’t that much different from the casters, there were simply too many encounters that suffered from the gunslinger and gun-focused marshal. 

The thing is that you CAN just give guns to the enemies too, but since these things are so damn valuable, you’ll need to reevaluate the income-balance. Or just make all enemies carry worthless guns.
I get the feeling that this campaign wasn’t written for people with guns. There are very, very few enemies with access to them and only one (as far as I remember) actually builds around it, who is the end boss.
In that line of thought, if balance is your thing, keeping it to “core only” is of course always a way to go, even though I felt this campaign in general suffered a bit from “the heroes are very powerful” and only some monsters in each chapter truly challenging them. In this regard, Carrion Crown seemed more unforgiving, seeing how they were only allowed the core builds. It’s up to you, really. I just wish I’d gone with pure core in this regard, even though we’re of course dealing with a system here that’s unredeemable on that front.

I also wish I’d read up more on the Cheliax. In the beginning, I just placed the Shackles down south in the uncharted areas of Forgotten Realms. I know, the lore freaks will have my head for this, but suck it. I treated Cheliax as the English Navy with a diabolical twist, which worked fine. But then again, I wonder why I didn’t just make them “Thay”. If you’re in my position, I strongly urge you to do so. Even though the diehard fans will scream at me for saying so, the difference between the two nations in negligible for the average player.
Chapter six felt too short, like in Carrion Crown. I’m not so sure how I would have expanded it, but perhaps letting in some more RP-opportunities or another angle rather than just storming the fort and have it over with would be nice. Perhaps a council meeting unofficially around Bonefist, or having the heroes chase him as he runs off for a grand scene on the Eye - something like that. I suppose it’s generally hinted at, but again, endings is a tough thing to manage.

A minor thing also: The rules for the fleet battles are good, but we mainly used tokens and dice to illustrate what was going on and such. It became a bit pathetic in the end, and I recommend doing something great for it. Maybe just draw it up on the grid, but perhaps you know someone who owns a copy of "Dreadfleet" (perhaps someone who has even painted it!) - Including just the blue map and the ship minis, I believe, can make a huuuge difference.

Compared to previous campaigns, I was ill equipped on the musical front for this one. Most of my music came from either Sid Meyer’s Pirates, Monkey Island or consisted of atmospheric sounds such as waves and ships. While “Nox Arcana - The High Seas” does have some really nice tracks, they all felt quite timed and specific for me, rather than just background sound. One option I haven’t looked into yet, would be the soundtrack to the new “Assassin’s Creed” ‘Black Flag’. Who knows?

All in all, I can absolutely recommend “Skull and Shackles”. It’s some campaign, of course, by a long shot not completed in just one week. But put in the time and energy and you have one of the most potential campaigns you have ever put your hands on.

Now let’s move on with some Wrath of the Righteous.