Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Plunder & Peril

One of the great things about fantasy roleplaying adventures is the vast variety of locations you can set them in. From the dungeons that started it all to forests, mountains, cities, and even bizarre planes of existence, the options are virtually limitless. Yet perhaps one of the least represented is the seafaring adventure. That’s not to say that they are never seen, just that the vast majority of Pathfinder and D&D adventures tend to be set on solid ground. The Skull & Shackles Adventure Path is a notable exception, and so is the adventure Plunder & Peril.

In fact, Plunder & Peril is presented as three mini-adventures that can be linked together to form one longer one or played separately. However, despite this presentation, I question how effective these adventures would be as stand-alones. The first would work reasonably well on its own, but the other two are too dependent on the set-up of the ones before it. As such, they will be far less effective run on their own and much more satisfying if run together.

The quality of the three adventures does vary though, with the first two being good and the third being weaker. Put together, they make for an adventure that starts strong, stays relatively strong, then ends weakly, making the whole average out to about mediocre. There are also a lot of ways in which the PCs can “derail” the adventures and there aren’t a lot of options for what GMs can do if this happens.

SPOILERS FOLLOW (including minor spoilers for Skull & Shackles)

Plunder & Peril is also offered as an alternative to Raiders of the Fever Sea, the second part of Skull & Shackles. Essentially, GMs running Skull & Shackles can choose to remove Fever Sea and replace it with Plunder & Peril. The introduction to Plunder & Peril contains some guidelines on how to do this, including how to handle Infamy scores (a mechanic used in Skull & Shackles). The adventures also include plunder values (another Skull & Shackles mechanic) for treasure.

I haven’t read Skull & Shackles, so I can’t comment on how effective a substitution this would be. However, the text suggests that it would be a particularly good substitution for groups who are not fond of ship-to-ship combat. That said, from what I do know of Skull & Shackles, I’m not sure why the PCs would go from having a ship of their own (gained at the end of The Wormwood Mutiny) to giving that ship up to become crew on another ship. I suppose the Magpie Princess, the ship the PCs serve on in these adventures, might be a better one than the one in Wormwood Mutiny, but unless they plan right from the start to take over the Magpie Princess (ultimately, they’ll probably end the three adventures in control of the ship, but they won’t know this to start), I’m not sure the change is necessarily worth it. However, there may be other details of Skull & Shackles that I’m unaware of that might make this choice more obvious.

The first adventure in Plunder & Peril is “Rum Punch” by Alex Greenshields. This is a delightful little adventure in which the PCs take part in a literal race to be part of the crew of the Magpie Princess under Captain Varossa Lanteri, with the draw of gaining a share of a legendary treasure being their lure. Once they have secured a place on the crew, they work to help refit the ship. Ultimately, they discover and help to stop a mutiny by some of the crew.

Rum Punch” is the shortest of the three adventures, but it does a great job of setting up a nautical feel, even though very little of the adventure takes place on the ship itself and none of it takes place while at sea. It’s set in a small little cove town named Lilywhite during their Rum Punch Festival. The stakes in this adventure are not particularly high, although they set up much higher ones. Captain Lanteri is not being particularly truthful about what her intentions are, and it’s possible the PCs could learn of this in this adventure.

This is one of the areas in which Plunder & Peril can go off the rails. This adventure and the second both assume that if the PCs learn that Lanteri can’t really be trusted, they’ll still choose to serve under her, rather than leave or even stage a mutiny themselves. Lanteri does try to bluff them into believing her lies are minor, but if she doesn’t succeed in that, I can see a lot of PCs choosing to leave or work against her, which will either end the series of adventures or change them substantially. That said, this is one way in which “Rum Punch” will work well as a stand-alone adventure. The PCs might actually end up siding with the mutineers, oust Captain Lanteri, and take off on their own adventures.

The second adventure is “Dangerous Waters” by Matt Goodall. Of the three adventures in Plunder & Peril, this is the one that most readily lives up to the swashbuckling, high seas theme of the module. Indeed, it showcases the variety that can come from such adventures. In it, the PCs, now crew on the Magpie Princess, begin a search for the pieces of a magic item called the Three Reasons to Live. The adventure takes them to several disparate locations and includes encounters with a siren, a brine dragon, lizardfolk, and more. There’s a search of a sunken ship, journeys to remote islands, and an exploration of a ruined monastery on one of those remote islands.

Dangerous Waters” is probably my favourite of the three adventures, but it does have one major issue. It relies too heavily on the PCs following all of Captain Lanteri’s directions. The adventure ends with Lanteri betraying the PCs and leaving them stranded on the final island. The PCs can then make an arrangement with a local triton to gain hippocampus mounts to transport them away from the island. However, as this adventure progresses, observant PCs will have less and less reason to trust Lanteri to begin with, much less expect her to actually wait for them while they explore the island. Arranging for the abandonment could potentially take a lot of contrivance from the GM.

This ending (and the subsequent beginning of the next adventure) is a reason why the second and third adventures don’t work well as stand-alone adventures. After being stranded by Lanteri, PCs are likely to want to find her again for revenge, not just wander off to completely unrelated adventures. Likewise, the opening of “’Black Coral Cove” by Steven T. Helt relies on the background and set-up that “Dangerous Waters” provides.

Black Coral Cove” is, unfortunately, the weakest of the adventures in Plunder & Peril. It’s not so much that this is a “bad” adventure, but rather that it just leaves the whole idea of high seas adventure behind by being almost entirely a dungeon crawl. Now, it makes sense that in seafaring tales, the characters are going to come ashore once in a while. Indeed, they may well go dungeon crawling once in a while. However, it’s an odd choice to make a dungeon crawl the climactic conclusion of a seafaring adventure. If there needed to be a dungeon crawl in Plunder & Peril, it might have made more sense as the second adventure, thus allowing the module’s theme to be present for the closing adventure rather than to just seem to disappear. Of course, the PCs may well go on to other sea-based adventures after this one (which would certainly be the case if you are using this as part of Skull & Shackles), but it still doesn’t quite work for me.

In “Black Coral Cove”, the PCs chase after Captain Lanteri, either for revenge or to beat her to the fabled treasure—or probably both. This takes them to Brightglass Island and a temple of the ancient cyclops nation of Ghol-Gan. Inside the temple, they face undead, golems, and various aberrations—typical dungeon crawl encounters. Eventually, the dungeon leads them to a secluded cove—the Black Coral Cove of the title—where they find the Fearsome Tide, the ship containing the final piece of the Three Reasons to Live. There they have their final confrontation with Captain Lanteri and with an incutilis lord who has taken control of Lanteri.

Although the inclusion of incutilises—aquatic aberrations—is somewhat different, there’s not really a lot about “Black Coral Cove” that really stands out. Indeed, it’s a very generic adventure in a module that has not been generic at all prior to this. Yet despite its genericness, it won’t work very well as a stand-alone since it relies on the PCs having a history with Lanteri.

Plunder & Peril also contains two extensive appendices. The first provides full details on the Magpie Princess, including full statistics for key crew members (including Captain Lanteri) and rules for influencing the crew over to the PCs’ side. The second is a bestiary of new monsters that appear in the module, including the statistics for an incutilis lord (standard incutilises are in in Bestiary 4).

Overall, I like much of Plunder & Peril, but I feel it fails in certain key areas. It’s an interesting experiment to present three short adventures in a Pathfinder Module. However, I think trying to make them both linked and workable as stand-alones was not necessarily the best decision. It has resulted in three adventures that don’t work well on their own (except maybe “Rum Punch”), but as linked adventures, have many ways in which the PCs can go drastically off-script. I also feel it was a poor decision to conclude the three adventures with a dungeon crawl. It loses the style and flair of the other adventures and doesn’t have the opportunity to regain them that it might have if the dungeon crawl happened in the middle. In the end, Plunder & Peril ends up as a mostly mediocre module.

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