Drowning in the Skull and Shackles

Last nights game was an epic fail in my Skull and Shackles campaign.  So epic that I think it is the first game I have called off early in years.  I had been looking forward to this game as I knew for a fact that I was going to be using one of the most iconic creatures of all time too, the Stirge!  Here I will detail what happened in game and then relate it to what happened out of game after it.

The mage started the night by identifying a magic ring he had found and I handed him a note about it as he informed me through the week that he wanted all identifies through note passing (being an evil campaign and all).  It was a ring of swimming though he tried to pass it off as a necromantic ring.  There was then a lengthy discussion on how treasure sharing would occur in the party (being that they are evil) and came up with a system that was suitable to all.  With that Claude took the ring by bidding away 2000 GP of his future treasure.

Ahh the stirge, let me count the ways I have never
used thee… (image from obsidianportal)

Then there was a long discussion about where to go next.  They had thirteen hours before the Man’s Promise will sail off without them.  It would take them two and a half hours to get back to the Man’s Promise and they had two locales they wanted to look at.  The first was a sunken ship about a mile and a half off the coast and the second was a cove where they had seen Grindylows frolicking the day before wearing the hat of one of their companions that was taken off the ship.  The momentum early on was for a mission to the ship as it was nearing low tide but then the pendulum shifted back and the group decided that the cove would be good.  Largely because three of the party had been stricken with ghoul fever and none of them made their saves overnight causing two of the party to lose three con and two dex while the third lost one off each.  In other words they needed a cleric and she was likely in the cove.

They finally headed down to the cove and the mage decided to feather fall everyone to the water below.  This was a cool novel approach but they decided to do it pretty much from the highest point of the cliff face which was an 80′ drop, or a two round fall.  Now, as the first group jumped the stirges appeared.  Had they dived into the water the stirges would not have had a look in but as they used the spell it gave the stirges time to attach.  Two attached to one of the party, one on to another.  These two had been the ones worst affected by the Ghoul Fever and I was really wondering how they were going to survive.  The people at Pathfinder had really layered an attack on Con in this adventure that it seemed hard to deal with.

The battle went on for around half an hour before they got away from the stirges and came into an underground tunnel from under the churning water which is the point that I turned around and said (it had been about an hour and a half of play) that I was going to call it as no-one seemed interested.

I should have known things were going to go awry because I forgot the video camera!  It is funny to think actually that the players hounded me all week to get the video up online (which is not an easy process) and they all watched it.  Honestly, I do not watch my videos back.  I get them up, insert the transitions, put titles on front and back and then process them.  I have no time to sit and watch an hour and a half of my life that I have already lived, but my players love it, and based on the comments from one viewer on yesterdays upload, so do other people.  So the night started with a conversation on if we were going to try taping the session with an iPad or an iPhone but no-one really had any charge so we forged on instead.

Travelling the mysterious island (taken from Journey 2)

When the game started I noticed one major thing and that was Claude’s player was quite detached from the game.  I would ask something to do with Claude and he would think I was talking about Claude’s Eidolon, Major.  When I asked about Major he talked about Claude.  I was also quite tired but I put on the Captain’s hat, flicked on my eye patch and pulled myself together for the sake of the game.  In the earlier parts of the game when they were discussing what to do about treasure and where to go I played Devil’s advocate to inject some spice into their conversations.  Some tried to claim that I wanted them to go in the way I was suggesting but then I would pull a 180 turn and argue the other point.  I really have gotten into the zone of making this campaign the player’s story and not my own.

So the group got down to the point where they headed to the cove and the battle with the stirges began. Things were flowing (kind of) and then Claude’s player and Daranas’ player (they are brothers) had a heated argument about an out of game issue (a tiny issue blown out of all proportion).  This extended to be a few minutes worth of heated conflict and verbal abuse.  I tried to continue through this as it was my daughter’s turn to be attacked by the stirges and I tried to keep her focussed on the game but failed.  My daughter is high functioning Aspergers and there is NO better way to get her to draw into herself than have a real in life argument in front of her.  In essence she drew completely in to herself.  So much so that for the next three rounds where her character was submerged underwater she kept saying the character couldn’t do anything so did nothing, even though all of the other players by this time had looked for the exit, spotted it and were fighting to swim for it so they did not have to deal with the stirges any further.  I had to say to her that her character would drown if she did not act and that got her to move.

After the battle Daranis’ player then had his turn of attitude.  He told me that he could cast two different shapes of cone and I advised him this was not the case and that a cone was a cone was a cone.  He then disappeared into the rulebook to show me how wrong I was.  About a round later he showed me a portion of the rulebook that related to the facing of the caster and how a cone is shaped if it is diagonal or straight based on the square gridded map.  If you are a long term follower of my blog you will realise that I think the square (in fact most grids) are the antithesis of miniature representation.  They add a set of rules to abstract reality and really slow the game down.  If you are not a long term follower of my blog you can see more of my opinions here.  I have not used the grid for a long time though I do use a flip mat to draw maps on that have the grid on it.  I told him what the pictures were for and that we didn’t use a grid and he replied that it was in the book and therefore he could do it.  I retorted it was only in the book to show how different facings could be represented on a grid and he knew we did not use a grid.  He then pointed to how he was halfway over a grid point so how would he be able to represent a cone and I retorted we did not use grids.  He then took me to task about how could a cone be represented then and I said it is how ever far the cone is expected to be with a 45 degree angle extended from the caster.

The Man’s Promise sailing away?  Taken from a dutch
tall ship website.

So, at this point I worked out that I had only two people interested in playing the game.  Me and Lem’s character.  The game was falling apart at the seams so I determined that as soon as they all got to the solid land portion I would put it to the vote about pulling the pin for the night.  This is what I did.  We all packed up in pretty much silence and went our separate ways and I was home by 9 P.M. which is unheard of on game night.  I thought about having a rant.  I put my all into these games and I was solo looking forward to this one because of the stirge aspect.  Now the name simply leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.  I am hoping that the players will now see that I am willing to pull the pin if the game is not the priority and will come to game.  Let loose, have a bit of fun.  Relax.  That is what gaming is to me.

I suppose the take home message here for a GM is if the game stops being fun, stop the game.  There is no point pushing on even though there are very few people enjoying the game.  The damage had been done with my daughter.  The conflict was out of the bag and therefore she would be unresponsive for the rest of the game and as much as there was argument when we pulled the pin, it was the right thing to do.  Have you had this happen in a game?  I read a blog that was very similar to this where the GM simply upped, grabbed his screen and dice and walked out.  How would you handle this situation?  Hit me up in the comments and let me know!


  1. The work that a GM puts into a game can only be known by another GM, which is why our group tends to switch it up every now and then; I’ll run a game for a few months, then the next guy will step in, and so on. As a player it’s east to focus solely on your character and all the cool things that your character can do. Then again sometimes everyone just needs a break from gaming. Perhaps this is where your group is.


  2. Remind me to tell you about our Iron Kingdoms game and how the phrase “shit on a desk” has become synonymous with ruining games. I think you did what was right, and games are called games for a reason. If no one is having fun, it may be time to retire the game.


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