Secret of the Black Crag: Post-Campaign Review

According to my log of scheduled events, I began running Secret of the Black Crag on 9 September 2023. We had our final session on 15 June 2024, which is about 9 months of play. We played weekly via Foundry and Discord, for 3 hours per session, missing only a handful of sessions. When I set out to run it, I could not have anticipated that it would run this long, but everyone in the TTRPG hobby knows very well how unpredictable players can be, especially in a sandbox.

We started the game with 6 players. As sometimes happens, a player or two ends up feeling overcommitted, so we lost two of those players over time, but picked up another later. By the end, 4 players always showed up, and the fifth usually did, even if they said they might not. The character roster shifted over time as well, not just from the inclusion of new players or the absence of players who could no longer make it, but also because there was character death. I'll go over some of these situations below, but suffice it to say we lost some characters, but mostly NPCs.

Before I delve into spoiler territory, let me just offer my high level review of the module. Overall, the module is well structured, with plenty of clear and concise locations, situations, and people. While I can always wish there had been a little more of this or a little less of that (and I will outline those wants in detail below), these are fairly minor quibbles that should in no way dissuade anyone from running the module. Now, I ran this most weeks with zero preparation. It was just a matter of remembering where the party was and what they were doing. While I probably could have done a little more reading and synthesis to connect situational narratives, the module worked quite well even without that. That meant I could sit down each week, fire up the Foundry server, open the book, grab my timekeeping notes, and go. Minimizing between-session prep is crucial to keeping DM burnout at bay, especially as I also have been running a second campaign that requires more work.

Black Crag is tonally consistent and oozes gameable flavor. It's generally light-hearted, occasionally silly, and suitably weird in places. There's a lot of treasure, and a lot going on, which is how we got 9 months of play out of it. I had a great group of players who leaned into the humorous and absurd and helped shape this into something I doubt anyone would even accidentally replicate in their own playthrough. Additionally, things like weather and the various kinds of encounters felt suitable for the location. Many of the random and placed encounters offered fun surprises and made for good longer term situations for the players to interact with. Interaction overall was good in the dungeons and on some specific islands, and there was a lot to keep the players busy.

Now, on to the spoiler territory. Stop reading here if you don't want spoilers.

The party decided to retire with some 40,000 gold pieces worth of treasure and possession of the Scimitar, Captain Janzoon’s ship, after having freed Gyara and earned the gratitude of Morgawra. Their ultimate retirement plan was to build a settlement on Skeleton Cove, Nereus’s island, since they had won him over through lots of interaction. They did not go back into the Black Crag, so it’s left to future adventurers to see what other secrets lie below. The simmering war between the slageela and the nephroids was left unresolved, though freeing Gyara dealt a mighty blow to the slageela, who were planning to summon their Nameless Avatar to annihilate the nephroids.

I would have loved to see more detail in the situational rivalries between the various factions. There was ultimately enough there for me to work with, but between the merfolk, the slageela, the nephroids, the sea dragon, Nereus, and Red Roger Rathbone, I would have liked details on what these factions wanted with each other, and why they had such enmity. I still don’t quite understand what the neprhoids were up to, which may stand as the ultimate secret!

Some stuff that was unique to our game: One PC, having been possessed by the spirit of Black Tom, ended up in a weird situation. The party had purchased a “poison cure” from Mama Fortuna early on, which I had decided would work as a monkey's paw. A chance encounter with some pit vipers while searching for sheep on Nereus's island (they wanted milk for a dish they wanted to cook for the cyclops) resulted in the “death” of the possessed character. A quick administration of the “cure” then resulted in the transformation of that character into an undead body with the original soul attached (thanks Journey Quest for that idea). He slowly decomposed, losing and reattaching limbs until his charisma fell below 4, at which point he became a mindless zombie and turned on the rest of the party. I also decided that the presence of Janzoon's ship in the Crag was the animating magic for all the coral skeletons, and the waters in that chamber were healing in a way that made dead people into coral skeletons. At some point the party had two undead PCs (the aforementioned fighter, previously possessed, and the cleric, which really impacted the party's healing capacity), one undead NPC, and one undead parrot. Out of these, only the undead cleric and the parrot survived.

More specifically, I have the following quibbles.

What would I have liked to see done better? Or, what might you want to do to supplement this if you plan to run it? This is pretty subjective, but here’s a list:

  1. Some new classes would have been welcome. A pirate, for instance. Or reskins of existing classes. (Or see #2)
  2. Some ways to help DMs and players integrate the tonally different OSE classes into a pirate game would have also been very welcome.
  3. The starting assumption of PCs as outsiders required some choices about how to arrive and what kind of vessel the party might have already had access to. Some priming here would have gone a long way.
  4. The navigation procedures are thin in OSE and could have used a more robust subsystem. I made one that works for me, and will look to refine it.
  5. Additional wilderness procedures would also have been good. I pulled fishing, foraging, and hunting procedures from Dolmenwood, but it clashed in some ways. I'd recommend some system agnostic fishing and foraging and hunting tables.
  6. The seas felt a little empty, and maybe could have used additional chances and types of encounters, though what was there was often quite engaging.
  7. Land navigation on the island relied entirely on the OSE encounter procedures, and were fairly generalized. Most of the islands weren’t very interactive outside the main points of interest.
  8. I would have LOVED a table for “What’s Nereus Doing Now?” The players really liked Nereus and spent a lot of time with him, cooking food for him and otherwise befriending him. Having a range of different habitual activities would have been fun.
  9. Similarly, they spent a lot of time in Tatunca Village. A table to generate random villagers would have been more useful in the long run than the pirate generator table.
  10. Which also is to say that the pirates themselves felt a little sidelined. They just rarely came up as an issue or presence outside of Port Fortune.
  11. The Black Fish / Ancient Vessel doesn’t seem to work well with the sailing mechanics on offer, and while not impervious to weather, far less left to its mercy (especially wind speed, since the vessel has no sails). We had to make some guesses as to how the thing operated and under what conditions.

None of this is insurmountable, but if you're going to run it, perhaps you want to take this list into account.

Anyway: Good adventure, players had a lot of fun with it.

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