Magazines‎ > ‎Pathfinder‎ > ‎Skulls and Shackles‎ > ‎

The Wormwood Mutiny

The PCs start the game press-ganged into service on a pirate vessel having been drugged and stripped of their equipment. It is an interesting premise and helps introduce the Path's main villain from the off, but immediately you have to think about the PCs motivations. This setup works best if the characters are roguish and bent on a piratical career anyway and this little piece of railroading represents an involuntarily frogmarched advancement of their plans anyway. Having characters with no interest in piracy is just going to cause problems later when the characters free themselves and then have no reason to join the freebooting.

I also had to smile wryly at the advice that this adventure contains a number of high-level characters oppressing the PCs with the expectation that the group do not confront them physically due to the suicidal imbalance of power. I can see how the writer wanted to do something interesting but the whole level system does lead to the suggestion that violence can be applied to solve all problems as it is for the GM to avoid throwing inappropriate hazards at the players.

Squaring these things up is the challenge of the writer but it is effectively punted off into some explicit player advice that trickery and social monkeying is the correct answer this time around and violence should be applied later.

This idea of the scenario not quite fitting the scenario appears in a few other spots. It tries to do something interesting with the fatigue rules to represent the hard work the characters are forced into as well as their nocturnal attempts to gain advantage over their captors. However whereas something like Mouse Guard gives a variety of conditions to play with to simulation this kind of exhaustion (Thirsty, Tired, Hungry and so on) here you cannot really escape the fact that you are dealing with the fact that we are talking about a general skill check penalty whose magnitude is being juggled. It is ultimately flavourless.

What works a lot better is the descriptions of the crew who the group are meant to influence into friendship and form the nucleus of their future crew. There are a few very detailed and distinct characters but far more realistically the others are just given a few lines of description and a generic template of stats. This blankness is more helpful than trying to come up with reasons why the thousands of possible characters might find common ground with the NPC as is done for the more signature characters. Instead the GM and players are free to spin rivalries and sympathies according to the needs of the story.

Recovering character's lost equipment also requires some imagination or social abilities, like a lot of Pathfinder series having very high Diplomacy or Bluff scores can be really helpful in the early episodes and rarely get called on again.

The ship itself is given quite a detailed description so as to provide a "mini-dungeon" to explore but the material doesn't exactly sing off the page when reading it. There is also a little sub-system for assigning tasks to the characters.

The major weakness I felt with this section is the question of why the villain for this section takes such a dislike to the PCs. After all at the start of the adventure the characters were unconscious and helpless and while there is a good rationale as to why the ship is so low on crew initially that the characters and their antagonists are locked together in mutual dependency. The only explanation offered is that he is a sadistic, paranoid bully; so it goes.

All this section ends with the sighting of another ship whose capture is going to a fulcrum in the plot. So at this point the PCs are going to be involved in attacking another ship and killing and capturing its crew. This is why the initial motivations of the PCs need to be thought through a bit and the traditional heroic type is probably going to be problematic.

So the PCs take part in the assault on the ship and then their psychotic captain hands out punishment and rewards. There's an interesting idea where if the PCs warned the captain of a surprise attack during the assault then they receive a reward. I thought this could have been built on. Since Harrigan is going to be the main villain of this series having a more ambiguous relationship between him and the PCs could have been interesting.

Instead I suspect most groups are going to think of him as a monstrous loon.

Final Act

So at this point we are on the home stretch, the PCs are going to acquire their own ship through mutiny against the senseless hate of their adversaries. But things are never that straight-forward, instead we are going to have a stormy shipwreck and an island exploration sequence.

The shipwreck is seen as the catalyst for the final conflict between the player characters and their antagonists but I cannot help but feel that maybe the mutiny should happen before the storm and the shipwreck, the dilemma would be the same (a lack of water) but the PCs would approach it as their first challenge as pirate captains.

The island has two interesting set pieces but there are problems with both. I am also not sure if it is a great idea to have the island infested with disease, it is probably very realistic but since the characters are unable to tell the mosquitoes are infected and can do even less about the fact we are really talking about a succession of saving throws that the players are likely to fail at some point. Since the possibility of them being infected is never really mentioned again I think this is just one of those things that seems a good idea on the page.

The first set piece involves the concept of "ship whores" which left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. I couldn't really decide whether this was a clever example of how social mores could be very different in a devil-worshipping society or just a kind of misogynistic "Joy Division" titillation. However the actual combat is spooky and well-staged, there is also a lot of story scattered around in the staging.

The second is also good but preceded by a bit of mini-dungeon which is a bit of the Pathfinder style but which seems to detract from the pacing, particularly as the characters are meant to be being lured in.

One thing that is excellent throughout this bit is the treasure distribution which offers treasure in all manner of imaginative forms such as hairpins, wedding rings, scrimshaw and spyglasses. I always find it difficult to think of what kind of valuable loot people might have on them so I admire the ingenuity.

So with water found and friends rescued the final boss battle happens and the players get to start a brand new tracker for this Adventure Path. This time it is going to be Disrepute and Infamy.


So I like the setting and atmosphere of the new series but while there are a lot of interesting ideas in this issue there is also a lot of pushing and pulling to try and meet a certain template for these games. It never feels like we are trying to marry the story to the game system and this time it is the game system that wins out.