Pirates are a really good megagame theme, as it turns out. I spent Saturday at Blood And Thunder, the latest run of Jim Wallman’s pirate megagame, and it was an amazing day from start to finish.
Rackham’s Ghost at the Blood and Thunder megagame
I was cast as Captain Ariadne Haddock of Rackham’s Ghost. This game was massively different to many other games, in that the teams were massive. Our ship had 17 crew, including a Cook, a Musician and a Sawbones (Doctor).
The main sub-teams within my crew were the sailing team (headed by the Sailing Master and supported by the Master’s Mates, the Navigator and the Bosun), the Gunnery Team (headed by the Master Gunner and supported by his Mates and the Carpenter) and the Boarding Party (headed by the Quartermaster and supported by his Mates and the Musician). Directly under me were the Cook, Sawbones and the First Mate.
Unfortunately I had a few dropouts on the day and we set sail without a Cook, a Gunner’s Mate and a Boarding Mate. But we were optimistic and set about our tasks with enthusiasm (if not expertise).
We had also each been given a personal briefing on the day, which had three elements to it. I was already eager to be into the task of the day, so I took a quick skim. First and foremost – I wanted to be Pirate Queen. Obvs. Secondly, a book I had read led me to believe that obtaining a specific coin and the skull of Evil Emil Gargunza would lead me to a buried treasure. Finally, I had a “rare form of scurvy”, which honestly I forgot about for the whole game and kind of figured control would be keeping track of.
Elsewhere around the room were four other pirate ships, as well as the entire town of Freeport on the Spanish island of San Serif, which contained taverns, merchants, street sellers, a Mayor, a Viceroy, and all manner of savoury and unsavoury characters.
The rum was already flowing (in real life, as well as the game). We raised the anchor and set sail.
Ahoy! We’re at Blood and Thunder, the Pirate Megagame!
Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 16 June 2018
The first 45 minutes of the day was a run through of the ship mechanics. With 17 (or in our case, 14) crew to keep busy, the ship mechanics were pretty complex. Luckily our Navigator took the helm early on and figured out how to plot a heading. We made a few errors, loading and manning the cannons on the wrong side of the ship, but after the first raid we got into the swing of it.
My job as Captain was to not micromanage. I was responsible for determining our approach, when we should attack, when we should hold off, and when we should board, but other players were responsible for actually doing each part.
Image credit: Jim WallmanThe Master Gunner kept an eye on the condition and stock of the cannons. The Bosun gave the call to lower the boarding boats (there was little dramatic swinging across on a rope). And the Quartermaster was the one expected to be first to board an enemy ship. In a way, I was a middleman. It suited me – it was a lot less risky than I feared.
Several of the crew came up to me to tell me how much they admired me. It was very flattering… and incredibly suspicious. I made a mental note of the crew that I suspected were up to something. Top of the list – the Quartermaster and my First Mate!
We took the first ship, a French merchant, easily. Their ship wasn’t very shipshape when we finished with her, so we took the cargo “for safe keeping”. We were given a significant chunk of gold, and my eyes welled up before I remembered I’d need to share. I was well and truly a pirate.
And then it came time to deal with the merchant crew. I asked them to join us, they declined. Then, already pretty tipsy by 11am, I declared “join us and you won’t die immediately”. I’d meant eventually, but the words were out of my mouth. Three terrified crew came aboard, the rest cowered in fear.
I didn’t want to lose this bloodthirsty rep, but I didn’t want to kill them. So I left a few men behind with instructions to fire off some shots, then tell the merchants to stay below deck until we’re out of sight. Otherwise we’ll come back and end them.
As we sailed off I divied up the loot, which took a while. We sailed to the minor trade routes in search of booty and glory.
Rackham’s Ghost comes to town
We came across another ship and again took it without much trouble, picking up a noble captive, his followers, and a quantity of gold bullion. This was by far our biggest prize of the day.
With 15 minutes left until we were to head to shore, for our first interaction with the townsfolk of Freeport on the island of San Serif, our control assured us we had enough time to chase down another ship. We did, but I ran out of time to distribute the booty.
We marched into town, singing loudly (our musician had written six songs and I think we sang them all over the course of the day). A taxman stopped us at the border and ordered us to hand over 10 gold as port tax. I sighed, took out my bag of gold, poured it onto the table and counted out ten… making it very clear we had far far more than that. Then I bought two rounds for everyone at the tavern and headed off myself to meet the merchants.
On the way I was invited to meet the Viceroy, aka the most important man in town. Really I should probably have gone with, and sent my Quartermaster on to deal with the traders.
As it was, we both went, and while he haggled for a long cannon, I faffed with some of our more exciting booty. Speaking to the Viceroy’s Secretary, I ransomed the noble for 13 (up from 8), although apparently if I’d kept hold of him there were a few townsfolk looking for him too, and I made have done better. We sold some slaves (it didn’t even cross my mind to free them).
I also handed over the gold bullion to receive a hefty 100 gold in freshly minted coins.
Meanwhile, I’d ask my First Mate to deal with an issue that had arisen – the French crew from the first ship had friends in Freeport, and they wanted them back. I asked the First Mate to negotiate, hoping he’d get us some coin for our trouble. Instead he landed himself in jail for refusing to cooperate. I managed to find one of the three crew (one had died and the second had vanished) and handed him over in return for my Mate.
Pirates will be pirates
Then the cry came out. It seems that buying pirates two flagons of grog each and leaving them to it was a bad idea. They’d gotten into a bar fight with the crew from The Hawk of the Sea and now the tavern owner wanted compensation.
I managed to get the story – the bouncer had threatened to shoot the first person to throw a punch, and the Hawk’s Master Gunner had took that as a challenge and punched one of my crew. So the bouncer shot him in the head. The rest of the crew, loyal to the last, had piled in to support their wounded crewmate.
I had to get back to the ship in a rush, so I hurriedly negotiated paying less than half of the ransom (15 to Captain Kathryn Brady’s 18). Then I took the crew back to the ship for a proper telling off. I don’t think the lesson stuck – I divied up the gold immediately after, and that gold bullion went a long way towards wiping all their memories. Everyone got at least 10 gold in that haul.
Unfortunately two of the crew had not been enjoying life at sea, and made the decision to leave in search of a better life. Now down to twelve crew, we did what we could, and I chose a new Sawbones and Bosun.
Sailing the high seas
Over the course of the day we spent 3.5 hours at sea and 2 hours in Port. It’s actually pretty hard to separate out the different ships we attacked.
During our second time at sea, we again headed to the Minor Routes in order to find a nice easy sizeable prize.
A few memorable moments from this stretch included being informed by my new Sawbones that one of my crew, a Gunner’s Mate, had a “rare form of scurvy”. By this point I had completely forgotten that I suffered from the same ailment. I decided that the only thing to do was to go up to him, produce an orange from my bag (a real life orange, not an in game item) and consider the matter settled.
It might have been during this part of the day that we managed to ram another ship and swing dramatically over rather than boarding via boats. I personally was very disappointed when I discovered that generally pirates didn’t swing across. Nor did they often have helpful mischievous monkeys that would go cause a distraction while we snuck aboard. I felt misled.
Back to Freeport
We returned to San Serif for the second time, and this time I was immediately collared by the Viceroy’s Secretary. He invited me to a card game with the Viceroy. I tried to stall. It wasn’t an invitation – it was an order. My crew had caused such ruckus last visit that the Viceroy wanted a proper look at me. In return, our conduct might be forgiven.
I strolled along, and took part in a terribly pleasant card game, Slippery Jack. Also at the table was a merchant who told me that my crew had robbed him last game. I apologised, and told him I’d get him the stolen goods back. He turned me down, demanding 30 gold as compensation. I declined, and turned conversation back to the cards.
The Viceroy and I got along famously. I wasn’t too bad at the game, nor was I better than him, which is the best way to get along with gamblers I find.
It all started so well… and then my crew did their thing again, starting ANOTHER brawl in the SAME tavern. A short conversation between the Viceroy and his Captain of the Guard, and I was now a hostage.
A very pleasant hostage situation
Luckily, I wasn’t treated like a hostage, and we carried on playing cards while the Captain went out to get my ransom. I’d kept hold of some of the ship’s treasure for major purchases. But my crew did have their own cash too. I kind of hoped that if I stayed quiet, they’d put up the cash themselves (after all, they’d got me into this mess).
After a bit of back and forth, it was obvious they weren’t going to be able to gather enough money to buy my freedom – the Captain was asking for 50 gold. So I sighed and got out my items. I’d already figured out that the Viceroy was a man of expensive tastes, so I took out two bottles of fine wine and offered them as my ransom. The thief of a Guard Captain took them and demanded more money, which I reluctantly paid.
Then I turned to the Viceroy and offered him a drink of a bottle I’d be holding back, a tasty looking 12 Vintage wine. Boy, was he impressed. I poured a glass for each of us, and he got his taster to try it first. No tricks, just treats.
No, really guys, I’m fine
Then a cry came from outside the window. My crew were marching on the castle. They hadn’t had the money to free me, so they’d gotten together an army! I was touched. And also a bit annoyed. I’d already paid the ransom, after all, and I wasn’t likely to get that back. So I went out on the balcony with the Viceroy and told them I was fine and to go back to the tavern.
Most of them did, except my First Mate. He continued to press towards the Palace, apparently convinced I was in danger. I insisted that I was not, but he refused to leave, and I reluctantly accompanied him back to the ship, leaving behind a full glass of Vintage 12 wine and my winning card hand.
Last time in port he’d got himself imprisoned. This time he’d recklessly endangered me while I was (according to him) a hostage. My suspicions certainly weren’t going away.
A pirate’s life for me
Next was a long stretch at sea.
Buoyed by success in the first round, we decided to head to the major trade routes. This was definitely riskier – we stood a chance of running into the Navy, but this was where the big merchants were. My crew pointed out that we hadn’t lost a single fight. I mean, that was mostly because we were blasting the ship to bits before attempting a boarding, but that’s the point, surely? Arrr, what are pirates if not risk takers?
And we struck gold quickly. Unfortunately, it was one of those Navy ships, not a tasty-looking merchant. But we’re not one to turn down a fight, and my crew was behind me when we decided to run her down.
I actually managed to film the entire chase of the Navy ship on my Facebook Live (although I did forget I was filming a few times), including a very dramatic encounter that happened during it. It’s a long video so free free to skip to the 43 minute mark when things start getting interesting…
Rackham’s Ghost is out to sea
Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 16 June 2018
This was definitely our toughest fight of the day (well, except for one I’ll get to later). 25 minutes in, we had a massive number of wounded crew, a downed mizzenmast, a broken rudder and quite a few fires onboard when I decided we were losing and should retreat.
The Navigator plotted a course to safety, and we fired off a few more shots as we limped away… when the Navy ship stopped moving. It seemed we’d won, just as we ran away. I told Sawbones about the massive stock of medicine in the cargo (which I’d forgotten to mention earlier), and we healed up our crew and returned to pillage.
Distractions during battle
By the start of the Navy chase, I’d developed a deep suspicion for my First Mate. He’d started saying a lot of very confusing and worrying things. It seemed like he didn’t trust me – he kept saying that “he knew something was going on”, but he was deliberately vague when I asked what it was. So when my Quartermaster came to me with a plot to kill him mid-fight, I agreed to turn a blind eye.
This was also when I heard the first whispers of a cult called the Sons of the Sea. Apparently while on shore, they’d attempted to recruit some of our crew. I was confident that my loyal friends could not be turned.
Then my First Mate told me that he’d identified one of the Sons of the Sea: our musician. I told him to leave it until after the encounter with the Navy ship… and naturally he ignored me.
Part way through the naval battle, the Gunner’s Mate who had scurvy shouted out that the First Mate had shot him. Unfortunately, I was far too busy taking part in the fight (mostly bossing people about), so I mostly ignored the situation, and the First Mate dragged him away. Many of the crew seemed to think this was staged, but they they began to worry that they were setting the powder store alight. Eventually I sent my Quartermaster below deck to find out what was going on and to “stop the situation from developing”, at least until combat was over. He returned shortly after, telling me it had been dealt with.
At long last, the combat ended, and I finally headed below deck. There I found a grieviously beaten Gunner’s Mate, and a First Mate who had been shot in the leg. When I demanded an explanation, they both began talking at once. The Gunner’s Mate said he’d been set upon for no reason, while the First Mate said he’d attacked the Mate after he suggested a mutiny instating my First Mate as Captain.
I hesitated, not knowing who to believe. Then my First Mate drew his gun on my Navigator, who had accompanied me below deck, and shot him in the leg. The Navigator’s gun jammed, but luckily the First Mate was out of shots and finally we could talk like sensible people.
We dragged the First Mate and the Gunner’s Mate above deck, chained up, and called the crew together. We had Ship’s Articles that we had agreed on, and these men had violated them. They had drawn arms against another crew member. Now they must be judged and punished.
I called forward the other two men who had struck another crewmate – the Navigator, and the Quartermaster who had apparently dealt with the situation by shooting my First Mate in the leg.
The majority of the crew found the First Mate guilty, while only a couple wanted to punish the rest. After discussing shooting him, keelhauling him or abandoning him on the burning Navy ship, we decided that the best option was to maroon him on a desert island with a gun and one shot. We sailed off into the distance. But his last words echoed in my mind: “you’re making a mistake.” I feared that I had judged wrong.
Too OP for our own good
The next job was to find another ship. We’d wasted most of our longest stretch at sea on a Navy vessel which we’d absolutely decimated (including any cargo it was carrying). While I’d been dealing with the situation below deck, the boarding team barely had time to get onboard and raid the captain’s purse before the fires nearly engulfed them.
Desperate for a quick win, we headed to the coastal trade routes. The first ship we came across was Spanish, but I didn’t want any trouble in Freeport so despite the short deadline we let that one go.
When we did run down a merchant ship, again our firepower proved too strong. It was hard to strike a balance between stopping a ship and sinking it.
Nevertheless we managed to salvage some items from the ship, but I didn’t dare join the boarding party this time. I left that job to the Quartermaster, afraid that if I left the ship I’d never return. This definitely cut down on my control over the booty gathering, but I wasn’t betrayed.
Throughout the day I’d been working on my pirate reputation, and by this point I’d reached the level of Pirate Eminence, just a single rank below Pirate Queen. There was already a Pirate Queen, the Captain from the Queen’s Revenge, who had been ordering her crew to hand over all their reputation. I’d been gifted some by the crew here and there. But until this point I hadn’t made it a requirement, and most of my crew was level 4 or above. But now I told my crew that if they wanted to sail under a Pirate Queen, I was going to need their help to get the 130 reputation that I needed.
The boys are back in town
Our last hour of the day was to be spend in Freeport. Having divided up every single gold coin we possessed, I paid for the port tax out of my own pocket. Our ship was in poor condition, with the main mast significantly damaged, and a single shot left for the cannons. But that didn’t seem to matter; we weren’t heading back to sea during the game.
We arrived back to the news that the Viceroy had been kidnapped by the Hawk of the Sea, and the Viceroy’s Secretary was desperate to find him. He asked if I could help, but was interrupted by the Captain of the Queen’s Revenge, whose status as Pirate Queen was naturally turning heads. I did think that rescuing the Viceroy would be a good way to earn all that reputation, but I couldn’t think of a way to do it.
Next I ran into some very smug crew from the Queen’s Revenge who told me how they’d attacked not one but two Spanish cutters. I was shocked that not only they did it, they confessed it openly in Freeport. They ran off before I could take their names, but I knew their faces.
A rare form of scurvy
Meanwhile, a particular member of my crew was causing an issue. The Gunner’s Mate with scurvy had apparently gone mad. He seemed perfectly lucid when I spoke to him, but Sawbones assured me he was quite mad. I told him to do what he needed to do: “what happens in Freeport stays in Freeport”.
Then they decided to set upon him in an alleyway, and the Captain of the Guard came across them.
After a brief Mexican standoff, they dragged him back to the boat, at which point I pointed out that killing him on the ship was a violation of the ship’s articles.
I took a good look at him. Clearly he was in no fit state to stay aboard my ship, not least because my crew wouldn’t trust him. But he didn’t deserve to die. I told him to go to Freeport to seek a cure for his affliction.
At that point we were down to 10 crew. Luckily, a crewmember from another ship came over at that point. I’d struggled to fill my First Mate position (mostly because all the rest of the crew had other important roles by then and First Mate would have been a bit of a step down), so I decided to go ahead and name him my new right hand man.
Bang goes the ship
I was briefly considering trying to recruit more crew when a loud bang shook the town of Freeport. Initially I didn’t think much of it… until I found out it had come from my ship. I ran to the docks in a flurry, and together we put out the blazing ship.
I marched off in search of who the hell had done that. My trail led me to a man who looked suspiciously like my old First Mate (the same player recast into a new role), but while I was accusing him, another explosion rocked the port town. We again returned to the ship to deal with the fires.
Somehow I found out it was actually the Queen’s Revenge behind the attacks. I reported this to the Captain of the Guard, who said they needed someone to testify against them. Unfortunately, while I was fetching one of my crew to testify, a spy in the guard told the Queen’s Revenge, and they got someone in to testify against me!
I was ordered to return to port to face the charges against me. Knowing I would never receive a fair trial, I turned to my crew and shouted… “man the sails!” We were going to flee!
Poorly laid plans
Unfortunately, we still had a damaged main mast, no wood, and a single shot. We were being fired on by the town, and chased by the Queen’s Revenge. It wasn’t looking good.
My Navigator had been left ashore and I saw him as we fled, and I didn’t realise that my new First Mate had fled. There were nine of us against the world. It was time for an impassioned speech.
“Crew of Rackham’s Ghost!” I called out. “We have no wood. We have no shot. We are being pursued. If we keep running, we will certainly die. If we turn back, we will be hanged as pirates. Now, I ask you… will you die a prisoner, or will you die a pirate?!”
The cries of ARRRR echoed loudly across the sea to the Queen’s Revenge. I noticed one of the crew slip quietly away to one of the boats, but I didn’t care. My crew was behind me, and we couldn’t fail.
To die a pirate
Okay. We could fail. We fled as fast as we could, taking apart the deck to repair the mast and manning the sails like a well-oiled machine. Our single shot was loaded into a cannon, and we took aim… but as we lit the fuse, a cannonball pummeled the hull into smithereens. We sank quickly, with no survivors.
Posthumously, control awarded me a Pirate Queen sticker, giving me the last 30 reputation I needed for my valiant efforts bringing the crew together. We died as we had lived – with very little idea what was going on.
Later I discovered there were three theories why we were attacked so viciously. Firstly, that we’d kidnapped the Viceroy, although he’d vanished before my ship had docked. Secondly, because we were taking down the Sons of the Sea, and that’s hopefully the one that shall live on in the annals of history.
The actual reason? A merchant had become mayor, and it happened to be the merchant that a couple of my men had robbed earlier. The Navigator, who was safe on land, had been the one to take it. It happened that he was one of only three of my original crew to survive the day, having been left in port when we fled.
It was an outrageously fun day. Being pirate captain was a lot of fun, and my crew had each other’s backs constantly throughout the day. I heard afterwards that the entirety of Freeport shuddered when they found out we were about to dock. I’m not 100% sure why, but I’m happy to take the rep.
My crew absolutely made my day. Starting brawls, attacking each other, attacking other people, marching on the palace… whatever they did, they did together, and I’m immensely proud of our team. Oh, and by the way… no one on my ship was briefed to act against me. Sure, there were cultists, but they all had our best interests at heart.
I think the ship mechanics were a little complicated, and I wish I’d had more time on the ship for crew interactions. And I had basically no way to interact with any of my plots in a meaningful way. But I loved my time aboard Rackham’s Ghost, and this game will be joining my top megagames list for definite.
Quick fire questions
Best moment: when my crew agreed to sail to certain death with me.
Worst moment: realising my First Mate had been loyal all along.
Lie of the game: whoever told the Captain of the Guard that I had kidnapped the Viceroy.
Loved to play with: well, my whole crew, but especially my Quartermaster, Navigator and First Mate. And the Musician, his songs were excellent.
Wish I’d had more interactions with: the other ship captains.
Would I play it again? YES
What role would I ask for? Honestly I’d love to be Captain again. I didn’t need to do anything to make the game interesting, I had thirteen loveable idiots to do it for me!
Total megagame tally: 46
The next game I’m playing in is Megamunda on 28th July in Manchester, though I’m still waiting to find out what role I have!