Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Walking Dead - An open letter to everyone and follow-up on Becky Chambers

I don’t like zombies.

There, I said it. They just never managed to connect to me on any layer; they always seem boring with amazingly little variety and a pretty similar motivation across the board. They aren’t, as you might say, interesting. This statement is rather ironic, as in my upcoming book "Pandegnomium", zombies end up hogging a significant part of the antagonist-bench, which is likely a symptom that deep inside of me, somewhere there is a soft spot screaming for brains.

And then I stumbled on Becky Chambers’ essay over at The Mary Sue. An open letter to all of us who’ve never even considered the game ‘The Walking Dead’. If you have plenty of time, stop and read that before you go on. If you don’t, go on here, because this is as much my own opinion as a reply to said letter.
So, if you’re like me zombies never meant that much to you; perhaps not on anything else than a pure mainstream level. You might’ve giggled at Shaun of the Dead, splattered your share of them in various games (shooters, I’d imagine) or even back on the SNES where they ate your neighbors. Somehow, the pseudo-zombie-apocalypse has begun, because they’re darn hard to avoid in modern culture as it is.

The Walking Dead.

That’s different.

If you’re like me, you’ve only heard the name mentioned sporadically. Something with a comic. And gore. Is it even a game? Well, yeah. A zombie-adventure game; imagine that, huh? Developed by Telltale, the people who brought us those awesome Sam and Max along with Monkey Island 5. 

TWD runs over five episodes in which we follow our protagonist Lee Everett, teacher and convict, as he’s initially on his way to prison. Lee is of the old school of brooding heroes, but don’t let that fool you; you easily get a portrait of a tormented man. He’s remorseful for his sins and it’s hard not to take a liking for him during the first few minutes of the game.

Lee never makes it to prison, which suddenly seems like an appealing alternative to the sudden zombie-apocalypse. Like we’ve seen it in, say, Dead Space 2, the plot doesn’t hesitate to kick in with a violent explosion, but here it never feels forced; just claustrophobic as hell.

As Lee wakes up from the car crash, the world has established itself in a classic post-apocalypse-every-man-for-himself setting, not entirely unlike what we’ve seen in “The Road”. Just with legions of hungry, walking dead. And then it’s all up to you and Lee from there.

Sounds familiar? So what makes it different?

As a psychologist, I can’t even start on how many mechanisms and psychological notes this game plays on. And the notorious irony of it all, is that I can’t tell you most of it. You know; just like it was so insanely hard explaining to your friends why “The sixth sense” had such a brilliant ending.

Just like I mentioned “The Road” before, it provokes the essential question in us about how far we as humans would go when the world comes crashing down. When everyday Man suddenly walks a narrow line in a brutal survival-of-the-fittest-world. Do we attempt to remain true to our modern ideals of ethics, altruism, morals; or do we sooner or later succumb to the Fall of Man and degenerate more and more into selfish beasts. Which, in a zombie-apocalypse scenario bids the question; how far can we go and still distinguish ourselves from that which hunts us?

Just like I previously wrote about Deus Ex: HR provoking questions that kept me awake at nights; TWD will kickstart your thoughts through the sinister, wicked and disgusting choices you’ll be forced to make along the way. Be not fooled about its adventure game demeanor; this game has brutal decisions in stock for you. We’re way beyond “Pick up” “Use” and “Talk To”. 

While the initial dialogues are ran by the book, you often have a very limited amount of time to chose a reply, otherwise you do nothing (and inactivity in a zombie-game is never good thing). This is something I desperately hope to see in more games. These are child’s play, however, compared to the several decisions you eventually have to make; those I came to name the “Fuck you, game…”-decisions. If you thought Dragon Age was hard in this regard, it’s got nothing on TWD. In fact; I don’t hesitate to say that no game, whatsoever, has had such an emotional impact on me as TWD. Neither do I hesitate to say that a certain decision in Chapter 3 had me put down the iPad for a second and let some tears go. This is likely the first time since what happened to you-know-who in Final Fantasy 7.

In a psychological sense we all at least have an idea about our moral compass and where it points. We pretty much define our limits and opinions on certain topics, even on taboos. But I’m willing to bet you that TWD will shake up those beliefs to some extent. While I too thought I’d breeze through this, sticking to my own ethics, what this game does so well is how it says; “Sure, we’ll do it your way. Later, look how that ended with fucking up everyone.” Even when I wanted to remain true to the light, a paragon of virtue, the depravity which surrounds Lee on a constant basis is ever threatening and beckoning for you to go along with it. While you at first think that one break of your ethical principles might be an acceptable exception to your rules, you suddenly realize how the game is chipping away at your psyche. And that’s when the true terror of the zombie-apocalypse rears its hideous face.

Combine this with simple, gloomy, surroundings and a smashing cast of well-voiced actors and you’re set. Even the biggest assholes I ended up having a liking for and some of the characters will truly grow on you, which makes it all the harder to go against them whenever they do or say stupid stuff. And trust me, you will be forced to pick sides, eventually.

But of course there is Clementine. Dear, sweet Clementine…

A child Lee rescues very early on in the story. Becky Chambers describes her so well; she’s a child in a dangerous world. She’s not the conventional problem-solving oracle that kids usually end up as; but she’s bright and intuitively gifted. But she’s also a child coping with a world she doesn’t truly understand yet; leaving you with the decision of how honest you want to be with her. She’s forthright, she wants to know, and deep down inside you know that teaching her the virtues needed to survive in a zombie-apocalypse will also strip her of the childlike innocence. 

And the way she bonds with you is likely the most authentic portrayal of a child I’ve seen in a game. She’s perhaps the epitome of innocence; what is humane and benevolent in a depraved world, and then there’s you deciding how much of this you want to sacrifice in order to face the harsh truths of reality.
Clementine grew so much on me; I think it truly appealed to my father-gene in a sense. She tagged along initially, but it didn’t take long till I turned into her fierce protector. We could go along with most plans, yeah, but her safety came first.

Need I mention how the game had expected this and sure made… No, seriously;

Interface-wise there is little to say. Point and click. The game is more like an interactive story with the occasional “Push Button Not To Die”. Even if you screw up, you can try again. Some of the action sequences require you to think and click fast, but again, nothing serious. Despite what you might think, this never becomes a detriment but a force of accessibility. Pretty much everyone with hands can play this game, and as I’ve done so on both my PC and iPad, I can say you catch on very early.
Just don’t expect fast action, FPS, XP or anything like it. Just sit down and listen to this rollercoaster of a story. It’s horror, yes, there is some gore, yes. In general, it’s gruesome, but it will stay with you, make you think, keep you wake at night thinking about whether you really made the right call back there.
And then, when you’ve played it, come back and read mine and Becky Chamber’s letters. And I hope you will understand.

I can’t give a rating about this game, except say that it’s the best game I’ve played in 2012.

So, Becky Chambers; Thanks for making me see! And at the same time; curse you for such a ride of a story!

Nicolai Grunnet is a clinical psychologist and author of the “Heureka” fantasy novels. When not writing or diagnosing, he usually hangs out with hedgehogs and tries to be as nerdy as possible. /

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Skull and Shackles chapter 2: Raiders of the Fever Sea

It's been a long time since we heard any updates from the brave pirates of the Shackles and their perilous journey into the pirate-infested waters in the ever optimistic hunt for fame and fortune. We're here to remedy this fact, today, in which we take a deep delve into the grand tale that is chapter 2 of the skull and shackles adventure-path; Raiders of the Fever Sea.

Whereas Chapter one of Paizo's beloved adventure path was split into a couple of separate reviews, this time around I've been so pressed for time that I couldn't attend to it on a weekly basis, as I did with, say Carrion Crown

So strap in people, for a combined review and journal for the second installment, in which the players, now having broken their shackles, set off into the horizon with their newly gained ship, and set sail for a hopefully grand journey of plunder and captured maidens.

As an additional bonus, the final appendix will explain how I've handled some of the legendary treasures of Skull and Shackles in my campaign (you know; the ones found in the back of every adventure path). Using them is entirely optional, of course, and I hope they can at least inspire some of you to make use of them, as they're a really nice and original touch to the campaign; something the players should likely be interested in hunting down.

Last time on PIRATES:
As read in the previous blogs, the players had a blast through chapter one and committed mutiny against Mr. Plugg and Master Scourge, slaying them both in the process and sailed off with Sandara, Kroop, Rosie, Owlbear, Crimson and Mr. Shortstone (the latter having developed some romance with the party's ranger). As their newly and unofficially dubbed ship "The Last Chance" took off, they were caught in a storm and jumped by Grindylows who kidnapped Sandara and Mr. Shortstone off to a nearby island. In a tropical adventure, the heroes assaulted the island and fought their way through ghouls and flooded tunnels, finally saving their crewmembers and in the process found the fabled treasure, "The Lost Messenger". They named it "Molly".

At the start of this campaign they held an officer's meeting in which Kroop attended. Though the heroes had seized victory over Harrigan in a diabolical voodoo explosion (see last blog entry) it was well-known that Harrigan housed supporters all over the Shackles. They would be folly not to take precautions and redecorate their newly captured vessel; so with their current position in mind, it would seem prudent to set sail towards the nearby dry docks Rickety's Squibs and start covering their tracks.

This campaign involves Jamal the halfling gunslinger, Jack the human oracle of Besmara, Captain Logan Darkwater the human rogue, Pig the dwarven alchemist/barbarian, and Sandra the human ranger. They began the campaign at 4th level and finished it at 7th level.
As always, my GM-comments and observations are in blue.

PART ONE: Hiding the Evidence
(If you're going to GM this chapter, allow me to empathize one thing that can't be recommended enough: Before going through with this, you'd do well and read the Isles of the Shackles installment from Paizo. It's a rather short read, really, that will run you through every major island in the Shackles, presenting their cardinal traits and ports. I didn't bother with it, and quickly realized what a detriment it became and how many mistakes I made. While the book isn't strictly necessary for the first chapter, too much information goes on across the region later on to make this book obsolete. Trust me on this.)

Heeding the advice of Kroop the Cook, who held much respect aboard "The Last Chance" the players decided to set out towards the dry dock "Rickety's Squibs". Despite the massive craving for some real piracy they stuck to the secure routes along the coast, avoiding contact. They were told that the old Rickety Hake would likely welcome them, provided they were on their best behavior and had coins to show. Luckily, this proved to be the case as they arrived and were greeted by an old timer and his followers; turning out to be the ruling organ of the dock. Rickety did a short inspection of the ship and was impressed to hear Logan's tale of how they defeated Harrigan. He arranged for them a deal, redesigning the exterior and name of the ship for a mere 2000 gold. Provided they had six days to spare, in which they were welcome to stick around the docks.

"The squibs" weren't crawling with opportunity and entertainment, but it mustered enough to keep their attention. There were beds, a bar and merchants were ready to take their il-gotten gains off their hands. The heroes spent some time spreading the word of the mighty captain Logan and how they got their hands on The Lost Messenger (who seemed agitated in its cage, till they fed it some gold pieces). They also recruited a couple of more members for their crew over a friendly game of cards at the riverside, which was sadly interrupted when a naga jumped them. It wasn't a terribly tricky fight, and in general the heroes had a harder time, when they at one night got hammered and robbed by harlots.

On the final day, the squibs had an important visit, as Captain Pegsworthy arrived and took particular notice of the heroes. They greeted him in a friendly fashion and the venerable captain shared his advice. He recommended they began making a name for themselves by simply sailing the Shackles and plunder to their hearts' darkest desire. When they told him about Harrigan's demise he was particularly baffled and yet had some hesitation about trusting them. Still, he recommended they set out immediately, because by now they would undeniably have created some very powerful enemies. Pegsworthy recommended they, whenever they felt ready, took their chance against the old fortress at Tidewater Rock; said to bring good fortunes to those who knew how to crack it. There was great potential for a pirate stronghold there, for those able to "tame the widow".

(This part of the adventure is pretty straight forward; it's mostly a chance for the heroes to recruit additional members for their voyage or gain infamy-points. It can be really good to build some atmosphere from a GM-point-of-view, or you could have it over with quickly, depending on the rush of your players. At this point my group was getting very eager to go out pirating and I therefore didn't bother with three minor encounters originally described in the adventure.)

PART TWO: Piracy on the Fever Sea
The second part of the adventure is pretty much one huge sandbox that can either constitute and independent part in itself, worth the entire focus of the heroes, of an overshadowing cascade of events that will haunt the heroes as they sail through the Shackles. In other words, it can be a royal headache for you as a GM or a blessing to throw at them, depending on various factors. Such as how much you've read up on the adventure and setting beforehand. If you're like me and read up on the chapters one at the time, and don't know much about the Shackles in general, this can easily be rather confusing.

In my case, the players decided to thrive on the sandbox element, which is indeed very well designed, and pretty much set out. I worked out a house rule in this regard, that they could go looking for prey and define how big a treat they wished to pursue. In minor regards, they would encounter a CR (Average party level -2) and CR (Average party level) for a standard fight. If they went for a big haul, I would design an encounter around CR (Average party level + at least 2, likely more). There are some statistics for the various ship-sizes the heroes can encounter on page 16 in the adventure, alternatively I just made up the individual fights on deck up as I went along.

I believe it can pay off for you, if you add some exotic flavor to some of the ships, in an attempt to limit the effect of "Ho-hum, another ship". Here I have added the themes and various ships the heroes encountered in my campaign so far:
- A primitive tribal ship of barbarians
- A strange rural-looking ship full of animals, sailed by druids
- An arcane ship sailed by wizards (of Thay, if in Forgotten Realms, like me). Great danger with great rewards.
- A missionary ship of Lathander (likely bringing medicine or fugitive children to somewhere) forcing the heroes to make a moral decision.
- A plague-ship
- A strangely abandoned ship with something making strange noises in the cargo hold.
- A haunted ship (the haunts of small ships in a bottle from the third chapter of the adventure path are particularly good at this).
- A strangely half-submerged iron-clad vessel (used with one of the legendary treasures)
- A mad wizard's ship, mostly sailed by golems.
- A disgusting ogre-ship full of food and ogre-pirates.
- A band of halfling pirates simply out to investigate the world
- A ship sailed by someone the heroes remember from a previous campaign (in my case, this could be either Kendra from Carrion Crown or Lavinia Vanderboren from Savage Tide, depending on the time-scale between your campaigns).
- A dwarf and his father out fishing for precious fish.

(This may sound basic; but don't forget to award the heroes with infamy points for completing these deeds. For a long time, I skipped it)

Then there were all the described events in the adventure, that can pretty much take place anywhere and whenever. Ranging from Event 6 to 14 there certainly seems to be plenty for your players to do, and I believe we spent around three sessions just on these, of which "Event 14: For whom the bell tolls" was my definite favorite. As the old Captain Whalebone sets his unearthly ghost ship after the heroes they're frankly spooked about what to do about it, finally clashing in an epic nightly battle, in which they race to destroy the bell that will undo the sinister captain. They also get to fight other pirates and fall into an ambush planned by a band of Sahuagins. Depending on how big a part you want the Chelish nation to take in your current campaign, it is also possible to expose them in a couple of encounters, and finally the heroes initiated a raid towards one of the small tribal settlements along the coast. The adventure provides you with plenty of information in this regard, although I found the challenge to be rather weak, especially when seen in the light of the nasty fight against Whalebone. If you're the kind of GM I am, the raid against the coastal village brings in an interesting moral discussion, if you think your players can handle it; after all, raiding the city is one thing. Deciding whether to take the women, children and elderly as slaves (easily worth an additional unit of plunder) is something else entirely.

The primary goal for this part of the adventure seems to be about raising the players' Infamy score; around 10 is ideal in case they wish for a non-violent solution at Tidewater Rock. When it gets really problematic, is if they, like mine, decide to go hunting for the legendary treasures instead; meaning they spent three or four sessions on this alone. This means they went hunting as described in the appendix and after that finally decided to head out to Tidewater Rock.

PART THREE: The Lady of the Rock
Lady Smythee is also known as "The Lady of the Rock", indicating her now sole rule over the small tower-like fortress stationed there. It's a solid bastion that has stood its time watching well over the surrounding waters and the heroes knew there was potential here, provided they figured out how to crack it. Now in possession of a small handful of the legendary treasures in the Shackles, their reputation was growing rapidly. With an Infamy score of 19 by the time they arrived, they hoped this would serve them well.
Logan wanted to avoid a military confrontation with the fort and sailed in with his officers to parlay. They were greeted relatively coldly by the sergeant-at-arms, Royster McCleagh, who'd heard of Captain Darkwater's exploits well enough. He wasn't about to be impressed, though, and insisted to hear the reason for their arrival. Logan told him he brought a proposal for her ladyship if she would hear him out, and Royster wasn't bold enough not to discuss such matters with her first.

Instructing them to wait, he returned later, explaining she would see them, provided they left behind a hostage in his custody. Should they try anything funny, this person would be executed at the smallest indication of trouble. They agreed to this and left Sandra tied and defenseless in the storage room, while attending dinner.
Lady Smythee was on her best behavior, and yet stern and professional in her dealings, as she bid them enter and dine with her. Years of solitude here had taught her to count on herself only, and the threatening looks from Royster told them that the sergeant would like it to remain that way. Still, Logan presented his proposal shortly; he needed a base of operations in order to gain recognition in the Shackles; in trade the lady would reap the benefits of his protection and the service of his fleet and crew. Also, it would beyond doubt help the place prosper. To this, Lady Smythee suggested marriage under Shackle-laws; an arranged marriage of convenience that could be beneficial for both parts, as it had worked through traditions so far. With a professional demeanor both Logan and her signed an agreement, pushing their Infamy score to the final 20. Not long after, both Kroop and Lady Smythee encouraged the heroes to set sails towards Port Peril, in which the Hurricane King would hopefully accept their application for a letter of marque. Thus they would be recognized as a fully included member.

As the Sahaugin-dungeon had already been cleared by this time, the heroes proceeded unobstructed and set sail towards Port Peril, hoping to plunder some ships along the way, from which they could pay proper tribute.
It's rather hard for me to provide you with an entiribly accurate opinion about the structure of this chapter, as we didn't really play it in the intended order. Content-wise, however, this is undoubtedly one of the best chapters in an adventure path I've seen. While the first part at Rickety's Squibs felt somewhat boring and only there for atmosphere and some encounters, it all got up to speed once the players sat sails for the high seas. In this sense I say 'somewhat boring' in the sense that the encounters at Rickety don't really add that much to the campaign, with the exception of Captain Pegsworthy who can be an interesting addition to the campaign.
As some of you know, I'm a huge fan of sandbox-models; giving players choice and freedom to expand upon the adventure and decide what they want to do is not only a great way for them to define their style. It's also pure fun. As you can see there are so many events you can throw at them in the adventure alone and even just pick out the ones you like the most in case your players just want to get on with it. And if you dare to design your own flavor for the various ships they encounter along the way, you have the chance to design some truly memorable fights.
It comes to a somewhat lacking grind around the end, which is however something I've learned to accept in most of these adventures; likely because there needs to be something for everyone in there. Including the notorious dungeon-crawlers. The sahaugin-tunnels felt quite long, to be honest, although they were never terrible and weren't particularly challenging. I didn't get to use Iseballa much as a plot-element (is it me, or does she seem to have a strange similarity to the character by the same name, in Dragon Age 2?) but I'm sure she could work out well.
It's worth communicating with your players about their intentions in this one, as this is likely one of the peaks of freedom they will have in this adventure-path. There doesn't seem to be any formal limit on how much time they can spend and they're basically free to go everywhere they want in the Shackles. As mentioned earlier; reading through "The Isles of the Shackles" will be a massively good tour guide.

This adventure is a definite 8/10.

One of the huge perks of this adventure path is the portrayal of four special treasures in the back of each adventure, in total making up 24 unique pieces of loot scattered all throughout the pirate-infested waters. Most of these are rather exotic and seem to be pretty much one of a kind, which earned them the label "Legendary Treasures" in my campaign.

While these are entirely optional and can easily be left out in your game, I believe they bring an interesting aspect to the table in terms of motivating the heroes to go hunting. Of course, 24 is a lot in this regard, meaning you'd likely have to expand massively upon the campaign, make some of them pure rumors or simply make some more accessible than others. We have decided to make a small adventure for each of them, and I'd like to provide you with a general overview of how we handled each of them in our campaign, and where you could possibly place them. Remember, their descriptions are pure rumors and you should therefore feel no obligation to remain particularly true to them.

Legendaries can be nothing more than additional units of plunder or collectibles nobody would care/dare buying. Some of them might even provide the heroes with special powers, sort of like very minor artifacts. It's entirely up to you. I've aimed to keep a healthy mix, and have the feeling that my players are treating them like collectables (gotta catch them all) first and foremost.
They can also be a valuable way for them to gather in additional Infamy if they're low.


The Lost Messenger
This little birdie was the first legendary the party found, in the back of the Grindylow-cavern in Chapter 1. There it had been captured by the greedy creatures and held in a cage. It's an intelligent "bird" that will likely bond with whatever party member spends the most time with it or feeds it a lot. It's worth noticing that the bird only eats metal and prefers gold-pieces instead of crackers. Nobody really knows what happens to the gold, as it seems to disappear down its maw for good.

Suggested powers: The messenger bestows certain familiar-powers to whoever it bonds with. These have to be unlocked by feeding it enough gold, set by your preferences. It can also be a great scout or life-saver, though it's not exactly discrete.

The Buzzard's Bounty
Having heard of the rumors about giant pearls in Tempest Cay, the heroes sailed out, hoping to find fortune. They were warned, however, by other sailors who told them it was suicide; plenty of ships had gone after the same and never came back. They would do well to leave this area alone.
The players ignored this, however, and sent people scouring. They realized that there were no pearls to be found on the ocean floor, however, and that they had all been abducted by an insane gnome calling himself "Talos". He sailed beneath the waters in his submerged vessel "Talos' Harlot" and soon set upon the pirates in a daring ship battle, making good use of his constructs in the process. The heroes defeated him in a fierce battle, and captured an enormous blue pearl.

Suggested powers: Amidst the pearls is a strange stone pulled up from the depths of the ocean. It looks old and of unknown origin. When worn for 24 hours a blessing of the depths is betowed upon the wearer, providing him with 50 additional hit points. At the same time, it bestows a -6 penalty to all saving throws. This lasts for as long the stone is carried and 24 hours after it's dropped.

Ol' Captain Mutiny
This figurehead has a dark and sinister past indeed, and should stir the curiosity of most adventurers. Though rumors tell of its sinking near Slipcove, this unholy construct was actually found by some of the native tribes deeper within the nearby island and brought to the chief. Problem is that it's now heavily guarded and hidden away, although rumor has it that whoever manages to propose to the chieftain's daughter and pass the trials has his free pick from the tribal treasury.

In this regard, the trial for my players was to enter the Sahaugin tunnels from Chapter 2, seeing as they strayed too far from the plot. The excuse for doing so, rather than going treasure hunting from the map on Iseballa's body seemed just as fine, and the result was the same anyway. It wasn't like the players needed anymore treasure hunts, with 24 items to search for during the campaign.
So Sandra finally married the chieftain's daughter and got her hands on the figurehead. It now rests on their ship, while they're considering what to do with it.

Suggested powers: It is said that the figurehead is fond of sacrifices to feed its dark energies. Perhaps by sacrificing different people or races in specific combinations will have a rather interesting effect on the ship and its passengers...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Wormwood Mutiny pt. 4

At this time of writing, this session took place more than two months ago. The details are therefore sketchy at best and in general this will be a summing up and half review of the first chapter of Skull and Shackles - Wormwood Mutiny.

This session involved Logan the rogue (captain of “Last Chance”), Jamal the halfling gunslinger, Pig the dwarven barbarian/alchemist, Sandra the human ranger/barbarian who really hates humans and Jack the Oracle of Besmara. The average party level was 3.

Time Ashore - Welcome to the jungle!
The pirates, now realizing they’d lost their most priced crew members Sandara and Shortstone to an unknown fate, set out towards the newly discovered and mysterious island. As they did so, they noticed how several odd-looking scarecrow-like beings stood in the water to greet them as they approached.
Their landing was at a pure white beach in which an old deserted fishing village was located. They spent some time rummaging through it, as well as some strange post up on a hill with an old torch-station. What ill fate the village had fallen to remained largely unknown, so they decided to set south, in which they found some strange tracks. More than likely from a pack of medium-sized creatures.

Needless to say, they got lost pretty soon.

(I find this to be rather interesting, compared to the fact that they carried a compass and decided ‘Let’s head fucking south!...and still we get lost?’. But a failed check is a failed check, I suppose. Judging from my players, the fact that they read a compass wrong isn’t entirely implausible, so say the least…)

They scoured the jungle for several hours, finding no other signs of life of beings than more of the strange totemtic skeleton-constructs. At some time they even tried destroying them, which didn’t prove much effect besides a few birds staring at them eloquently in the process. So eventually they got so lost that they ended up back at their original position; found a path and decided to set down towards it, with the much ashamed ranger keeping her position in the back.

After some time, this led them into a boggy area, in which large mosquitoes and smelly marshland  stretched as far the eye could see. The abundant sounds of wildlife around them led them to believe they had found a lot more encounters than they had bargained for; yet they decided to try and make it across the quicksand. Mandatory liana-swinging incoming.

Everyone but Pig made it, who instead plunged deep into the marsh and started sinking. Immediately they heard a large buzzing-sound as two swarms of mosquitoes hungrily aimed for their tasty blood. It was one of the usual “Queue Benny Hill-theme” fights that so often characterizes swarms, in which they all ran and hurled Alchemist Fires in every direction. They hauled up Pig and pressed onwards.

Ghouls just wanna have fun
They found an old clearing in the midst of the swamp and decided to investigate it despite the foul stench. Immediately three repulsive ghouls set upon them, dressed in tattered clothes that had once been rich and decorative. They were known as the “Ship’s Whores” and craved man-flesh more than anything.
(This was likely the first “OH SHIT!” fight in the campaign. Ghouls always tend to bring those moments to the table at lower levels, when people majorly start failing their fort-saves. In this case, they eventually managed to paralyze the entire party till only one of the ghouls stood along with the gunslinger, who luckily landed a critical hit on her, blowing her head to pieces. )

Where these fiends came from they couldn’t decide, and their disease-infected wounds started bothering them, so the pirates pushed on towards the nearby coast, in which more scarecrows rested and a strange field of corn stood oddly out of place. At this time the captain decided not to investigate further, and instead head for the nearby path leading up into the hills. On their way they’d seen an old building, which could likely shed some light on the mystery of this island.

Besides, the rotten head on a spike scared captain Logan.

As they reached it, they realized it too had been abandoned for some time, its former owner hanging from a rope in the middle of the room. As the party split up and started searching it, Sandra found an old spyglass edged into place on the top-floor, through which she noticed an odd sight. On the southern shore of the island, a couple of Grindylows flowing around on the surface, one of them wearing Sandara’s tricorne hat. As she pondered on this, she heard a scream from downstairs. Logan, who’d been investigating an old box, also howled in terror as two swarms of botflies set upon him and chaos erupted.

The hanged victim turned out as a ghast who now tried choking Jamal and spreading up the party started bashing in brains on both floors. Logan decided to call it and crashed through the upstair window, to join the fray downstairs. It was a lengthy battle, one that didn’t leave them without injuries and they decided to call it for the day and make camp in the house. Judging from the clothes of the ghast, it was Chelish in nature.

To Riptide Cove
The heroes ventured to Riptide Cove in the south, in which Sandra had spotted the Grindylows. There they found an entrance to the dungeon and descended into the watery depths.

Again, I must mention my loathing for long, pointless encounters so therefore I stuck with a much more simplified version of these tunnels, mostly settling for a simpler layout of a long series tunnels, descending till they reached the final chamber.  Of the encounters in the original adventure I only sprung D3, D5, D6 and D8. Especially encounter D8 was a very, very tough encounter when played correctly, especially for certain parties if they want their party members to survive, but my players did rather okay. I have little remembrance of their exact strategy at this time, but it mostly involved nuking down The Whale and keeping one person on distruption-duty against the Queen.  They sent in their most tough character to attend the crew members, but at this time saving them was optional. The encounter definitely gets a lot easier if the players ignore the factor of their captured friends and instead focus their fire on one enemy at the time.

As they triumphed, they received their much needed prize; a good sum of gold gathered by the grindylows and the safety of their two friends. Also, one of the fabled legendary treasures of the Shackles, The Lost Messenger, had been captured by the beasts, and now rested in a cage in the back of the cavern. It was frightened to see them at first, but they took it along as the first out of several treasures.
And with that, they returned to their ship to sail happily into chapter 2!

OPTIONAL: Adding a Le Chuck-Herrigan to your campaign
If you’re like me you love Monkey Island and you find that Le Chuck is beyond doubt the best villain to ever sail the sea in all his gory. Eh-- Glory. If this doesn’t make any sense you’ll likely want to skip this part.
I decided I wanted Herrigan to be the looming threat he is made out to be in this AP, but in the classical undead pirate sense. So how to make this possible while manifesting him as a hardcore villain early on?
What I did was to let my players spring their friends from prison and return to their ship, only to realize Harrigan had in fact caught up to them by some cruel twist of fate (perhaps Mr. Plugg managed to send a feather-token?) and now holds their ship, cargo and crew hostage. The players have the element of surprise, however, and if their two ship-mates are a live they might help them devise a cunning plan as to how to get free of Harrigan’s grasp. 

Basically what I wanted to happen was a rip-off of the famous scene of Monkey Island 3: Escape from Monkey Island:

Which would mean blasting him up with something unholy, to make him come back as something even fouler. In this regard, Shortstone recommended the heroes to wait till nightfall and sneak aboard Harrigan’s ship. He might be so direct as to recommend they blow it up, or you can have them infiltrate it and during a fight have someone accidentally knock over a torch or an oil lamp. What’s important is that they notice the strange crates of exotic voodoo-materials resting nicely in the cargo, next to the barrels of gunpowder.  In my case the players snuck aboard, got discovered and during the fight accidentally put everything on fire and fled to their own ship. As soon as they realized Harrigan was setting upon them, his ship blew up, damaging their own badly in the process. In this way they also have a much stronger enticement to sail to Rickety Squib in Chapter 2.

Of course you can improvise as you see fit on this, depending on how railroaded you want it to be : )
And so they thought Harrigan to be safely off their backs. Of course he isn’t; the voodoo-energies made absolutely sure he would reappear as an immortal zombie-captain.

Overview of “The Wormwood Mutiny”
I find that this is one of the very best first chapters I’ve found in any adventure-path to be honest. While my love for “The Haunting of Harrowstone” was great as well, this one brings some absolutely fantastic opportunities for roleplaying, while not forcing anyone at the same time.

In our case, roleplaying has been rather crucial as this is what we enjoy doing above rule-grinding, so I suppose this is what you should heed the most, when listening to my opinion. Especially the first part of the adventure in which the players interact with the various people around the ship involves a lot of opportunity to flesh out the NPC’s as you see fit; undoubtedly they will find their favorites, which in my case was Shortstone, The cook and Rosie. Ironically, Sandara failed to make much of an impact.

There is opportunity for plenty of animosity towards Scourge and Mr. Plugg; in my case I even made them possible crew-members when the heroes seized control of the ship, as possible allies of an evil-aligned party. I imagine seasoned players will adapt better to the impact these two characters make on them in the beginning of the adventure; knowing better to ‘go along with it for now’, rather than new players. They are a provoking duo of scumbags and should rightfully be played as such. I found that; take off the gloves and let it all out of those scurvy dogs if you think they can take it.

There is very little naval combat, practically none, in this adventure, so there really is no need to get acquainted with it. Instead, the adventure ends on a really classical note with a dungeon with the BBEG at the end. The island is a nice addition; it’s interesting enough to remain interesting and we got a good atmosphere going, as did we with the several small encounters along the way. They were all very charming, and the first sea-battle was absolutely thrilling.

I have very little negative stuff to say about the Wormwood Mutiny. It’s first and foremost solid and easy to get into. But if I could give you a recommendation, reading up on the player guide, the guide to the shackles and perhaps the inner sea guide will really give you a huge edge as a GM, once the players get free reins in the shackles. Especially if you’re like me and know nothing of Golarion, and shoehorned the entire thing into Forgotten Realms.

To be continued in the near future.