Open the Gates! – Open Ended Adventures & Skeleton Crew


In the GM scheme of things, I’m relatively new. I’ve created several adventures for Skeleton Crew and my other games, and heard positive feedback. However, they would definitely fall under the “on the rails” category. In the case of the Masters of Umdaar game, the characters were literally in a single hallway, without a single side branch they could veer down. Of course, that was a 2-hour demo game, but Sophie Lagace’s blog inspired me: could I create a really short adventure that wasn’t on the rails? If New Manchester, the SC city, was so such a great setting, why not show it off some?

SPOILER WARNING:  If you’re signed up for the Skeleton Crew game this Saturday at Victory Comics at 12pm in Fairfax, VA, this contains a few spoilers. If you’re in the Northern Virginia area and you’re not signed up, WHY NOT?! Post here to reserve a spot!

maria eyes serious


When I started writing the adventure, the following quote was bouncing around in my head:

“I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom;” – Nick Bottom, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

That was my goal: to create an adventure with a strong start, but no predetermined “bottom.”  Here’s the premise I used for the story, based on a comic idea cowritten by Monica Marier.

The story begins in Oldetown New Manchester, next to the old Town Hall, which is now a historically protected building. It is the local holiday Name Day, and the streets are filled with tourists, small-fry politicians, vendors, and street performers.  The smell of funnel cake permeates the evening air.

Mayor Mayer reaches the podium and gives an unenthusiastic speech, which includes the following exposition:

The city of New Manchester is celebrating Name Day because, on this day in 1689, a group of ragtag villagers and tradesmen defeated an invasion by vicious pirates. Until then, the community had been nameless waypoint between other settlements, but after their victory, they christened the area New Manchester.

As Mayor Mayer is wrapping up, storm clouds blanket the sky, and a glowing rowboat descends from the sky, landing on the steps. Enter Blackstache, a skeletal pirate of glowing green light, dust, and hate (with a surprisingly well kept mustache.)

“These be nuttin’ but lies! I know, for I was there- Captain Blackstache! (Not Blackbeard, that poser came later.) Me and me mates weren’t invaders… this was OUR home! It was our place of refuge, and them traders wouldn’t have been nuttin’ if it weren’t for us. This town ‘ad a name- it was Pirateton! And in the name of the Skull Dogs, the Sea Vultures, and meself, I claim it Pirateton once more!” [Insert Arrs and other piratey language here.]

From his rowboat, several other skeletal pirates (these looking a little more solid) join Blackstache’s side. Together, they grab Mayor Mayer, and make their way through the crowd to the street. Overhead, a dozen more spectral rowboats glide overhead, heading inland under a canopy of darkness.


The heroes will hopefully get involved at this point (the precon character Zomboy has the aspect “Superhero in his own mind,” which can definitely be compelled for this purpose.) If the players don’t give a reason, maybe the skeleton henchmen start robbing the crowd members, including your heroes. In my Roll20 Game, the person playing the little girl Peek-a-boo demanded Blackstache give her his awesome tricorn hat.

As soon as a conflict occurs, I want to establish the following things:

  • The Crew is divided into two gangs of pirates, the Skull Dogs and the Sea Vultures- for the sake of the session, I had the Skull Dogs be the melee fighters, and Sea Vultures be the long range marksmen. They CAN suffer stress from mental and physical attacks. (If Caomh Culainn is in the party, he’s the only one who can Intimidate them, or it’s +2 harder for everyone else). If beaten, they can be questioned.
  • During the first scene, Blackstache is invulnerable to all physical and mental attacks. All physical attacks go straight through him, and because he’s invincible, he laughs off any intimidation attempts. I go more in depth about Invulnerabilities in the Skeleton Crew rpg rulebook, but in a nutshell, it’s a Compel- the first player to discover a physical or mental immunity gains a Fate point at the end of the scene. Any attempts to capture him will ultimately fail. More on that later.
  • Blackstache’s objective in the first scene is to kidnap the Mayor- it IS possible for him to fail, meaning the player do have a way of winning the Conflict. If the Mayor is rescued and is not recaptured in the next turn or two, Blackstache will give a conditional defeat; automatically escaping without his prize. If the players don’t rescue her in a few turns, he’ll leave with her. After he leaves, any crew still around will continue fighting until they are defeated or concede.
  • Blackstache and his crew are greedy to the Nth degree, but not very well organized, and a bit on the dump side. It’s pretty clear that they hadn’t really planned this whole thing in depth. If questioned about their demands, they’ll start with “take what is ours!” and then waffle a bit if you ask for specifics.

Making them Care: At this point, hopefully the party is eager to twart Blackstache. If not, you’ll have to make them interested. Some options:

  • Have a skeleton crew mate hint about gold on the ship.
  • Have the mayor (or, she’s abducted, the deputy mayor) pay you.
  • Have the pirate rampage take out the city’s power and cell towers (thus, disrupting all TV watching.)
  • Have the skeletons kidnap a love interest or family member of the party. (Stupid boyfriend, always getting kidnapped!)

Beating Blackstache

So, to repeat what is established above, the players cannot beat Blackstache as they are at the beginning of the adventure?

Q. How do they break through Blackstache’s invulnerability

A. Anyway they come up with.

Really, any scheme they concoct can potentially work. For a comedy/adventure game like this, no scheme is too stupid, so long as it requires a little effort. That’s the goal: an adventure that can go anywhere the players want. In a more complex system, this might be a bit harder, but luckily Fate is loose enough that it can be done on the fly.

Of course, to be safe, I have a few things preplanned:

  • Weapon / Invention: If they want to build an invention, I would use the “Building Invention” rules, as they appear in the SC book (it’s essentially a variation on the Challenge rules). This makes the players struggle as they scrounge the city for essential parts, even as the pirate gangs create chaos around them.
  • Ritual: Using the same rules as Invention, but with a magical twist.
  • Book Run: If they want more info, they can swing by the library, where they’ll find the condescending Librarian Dezi Dewey.  She greets them on the steps, and tells them the essential book they need, “Journal of Goody Goodwife,” is a blue book in the Reference section (no, you’re NOT allowed to check it out!) Upon entering the library, you find the place ablaze, as some lesser skeleton pirates are wrecking havoc. Getting the book can be run as a Challenge or a Contest. For results, see “Useful Info” below.
  • Achilles Heel: maybe Blackstache has a secret weakness, such as a magical talisman that gives him invulnerability. Maybe it’s closer to a horcrux, such as a part of him that is stashed somewhere else, like his heart in a music box, or his soul in a hourglass. This is a good plan b if the party is adamant in charging after Blackstache (who’s residing on the ship) before learning how to hurt him. No doubt his weak spot would be kept near him for safekeeping, probably in his cabin.
  • Séance: If your members try to gather information from the dead (in their lair or in the Oldetown cemetery) they’ll be able to talk to actual colonial residents. Using the info from them (or even bringing the spirits along), and leverage, shame or even scare Blackstache for good.

What info can you find? There are several options:

  • Blackstache had united two warring pirate factions based out of Pirateton, the Skulldogs and the Sea Vultures (who were bitter rivals.) It is possible to wedge them apart.
  • Blackstache was honest that the pirates were the founders of Piraton, but he neglected to mention that the mob that drove them off consisted of their fed-up wives and lovers. The very name of these old flames wills them with shame and fear. If you can resurrect or impersonate them, expect them to run for the hills (perhaps after a Mental Conflict?)
  • Blackstache’s real name, Bartleby Briganmeyers. Names have power, and potentially, the name is all you need to cause him to quake. This can be used in a binding ritual, or be added on top of an attack spell. If there’s no spell caster in the party, maybe just mentioning the name will break the shield. Of course, you can always start a social conflict and shame “Bartleby” with just how ridiculous his name is.
  • Burial Site – this one is not information I would OFFER, as I imagine Blackstache as dying out at sea. However, if players insist on finding his burial spot, your sources will reveal that his corpse wound up on a small island off the coast. As any Supernatural fan knows, you can always salt n’ burn the body.

What else did I prepare?

  • Blackstache’s stats.
  • Several levels of skeletal henchmen. Taken strait from the SC RPG rulebook, plus a few pirate aspects:
Skeletons are puppets of dried bone, controlled by a necromancer from the outside. They have no memory or emotion, and no connection to person they used to be- they are practically robots with a grim skeletal smile.
Skeleton Aspects –Undead – Skeletons are undead, and as such, might have weaknesses to holy magic, silver, and other magical purities.; No Pain; Rattling Bones.
Commonly Level: Average (+1)
Stunts: Brainless – Skeletons are immune to normal mental attacks. They may not actively resist any mental Aspect placed on them (ex. attempts to lure them to a better spot, attempts to distract them.)
Autonomous Parts – It is possible for a skeleton’s body part to keep moving, even after it has been severed from the rest of the body.
Wight Stuff (Good +3 Only) – Skeletons of Good +3 or higher are considered Wights. They lose the Brainless stunt. However, they grant +1 to any Attacks they make with Fight (but not defending.)
Alternative: You may have the skeletons be resurrected marksmen (musket men, pirates, crossbowman.) If so, replace all Fight skills with Shoot.
Physique   +1, Fight +1
Stress: No stress boxes—a one shift hit is enough to take them out.
FAIR (+2)
Physique   +2; Fight  +2
Intimidate   +1; Wilderness +1
Stress: One stress box—a two shift hit is enough to take them out.
GOOD (+3)
Aspect:  Undying Rage
Physique   +3; Fight  +3
Intimidate   +2; Will +2, Wilderness +2
Notice +1, Athletics +1
Stress: Two stress boxes—a three shift hit is enough to take them out.
  •  Some useful locations, like Hubris University, Bell & Cat Magic & Book Shop.
  • Phone a friend: If the players are lost or failing to come up with an idea, I was prepared to have an NPC call them up and guide them to a conclusion, such as Ol’ Man Jenkins, the Caretaker at the Library and/or Graveyard; or Prof Ephipany at BIFZAP Research labs.
  • Had a list of funny colonial names:
    Bartleby Briganmeyers
    Goody Goodwife
    Upton Ecclaire
    Charity Miser
    Amias Cork
    Primrose Hedge
    Jotham Lazarus
    Winston Ermergaurd
  • Because this was a Roll20 game, I had a few maps handy, like an Oldetown cobbled street, a modern city street, a library (with flame tokens), a pirate ship (inside and out), a graveyard, etc. Roll20 isn’t perfect, but it’s darn handy (I could write a whole blog on it, and probably will.

My first test with it was a huge success. It ran about 3.5 hours, but at least 30 minutes of that was figuring out how Roll20 worked.

What are your thoughts? Share your awesome stories.

If you haven’t already, sign up for the Skeleton Crew Beta test, and receive a FREE copy when we release.

Feedback to Back – Part 2


It’s been Nearly a month after GenCon, but I am determined to finish my synopsis of the play testing. So, I’ll skip to the good parts.

Dungeon Tours – So far, at most of my games, the average age of players was 20ish, and the gamers were pretty green. Even before I started my game of Dungeon Tours, a caper / construction game set in a Fantasy-Adventure world, I could tell this would be different. The average age around the table was older than me, and some had probably GMed before I even knew what an rpg WAS. When picking characters, they opted out of picking the silver-tongued Bard (though I reminded them it was a game about running cons.) One gentlemen in particular, sighting opposite of me, worried me the most. Pre-game time, I barely got a NAME out of him.
The second the game started, I realized that my fears were unfounded. The stern-faced individual (we’ll call him the Rogue, after his character), immediately livened up, and took gentle charge of the operation. The party immediately jumped into it, and quickly founded a loathe/hate relationship with the drunken noble serving as sucker client. The built a piratical adventure, featuring everything from fake musical puzzles, real graverobbing, fake trapdoors (that they might have forgotten to make “fake,”) and using a cannon as a tactic in contract negotiations.

dungeon map

No doubt, the star of the show was the taxidermied bear-boar composite fake monster, who was named “The Jeff.” I asked for an illustration, and they did not disappoint.

the jeff

  Feedback: Most of the feedback, it seemed, could be handled by GMing it better, it appears. I had forgotten one of my own rules, and as such, the board was littered with free invokes, making the game far too easy. The players, all of whom were new to Fate, were unsure of where my new rules started and where the old rules began. In the future, I’ll try to distinguish, “you’re testing THIS” before set-up.
Masters of Umdaar – for those who don’t know, this was a game I’d been working on since last spring or so. We signed up for GenCon, including 2 sessions, and then, to make a long story short, Umdaar was picked up by EvilHat as a supplement in the Fate Adventures and Worlds Patreon.

Premise: Masters of Umdaar is a pulp sci-fantasy, in the strain of John Carter of Mars, He-Man, Krull, Flash Gordon, and other corny but thrilling adventures. The game features a lot of random elements, including a random generator to create the adversarial race. This chart was originally a d6 chart, but I took the trouble converting it to 4dF chart. It was spick, it was span…

…it was on the laptop, back in the hotel. Dag. So, I took my buddy & GMing-guru’s advice, and I had them pick random animals out of a bag- I had brought with me an extensive collection of plastic toy dinosaurs, fantasy army-men, and other toys that I had purchased at Toys R Us and the Dollar Tree. One session had them facing off against a Mutoats (four-armed, mutant goatmen), the next group against the sneaky Centauripedes (insectoids that were Humanoids from the waste up, and centipedes from the waist down.) The final arena also featured such random threats as Megarats, cyborg Rozebras, and Lazerwolves (with robotic lazers on their tails, of course.) To keep the game under 2 hours, I had them on the rails for the whole adventure, (heck, the tunnel didn’t even have any forks), but they both tackled it in completely different ways. I never noticed how well Fate Core & FAE lends itself to cinematic adventures: If a player wants to overturn a fiery basin, climb a random chain, or swashbuckle from the ceiling, Fate makes it fast and easy.
Feedback: All seemed very positive. I’d love to test out a game without the “rails” given the chance.

SKELETON CREW – This was our last game of GenCon. After this game, we’ve got a 10 hour trek home, before I start a brand new job the next morning. I love GMing, but we’re all ready to go home. During set-up, Vince Salzillo, head of Double Exposure, comes over and says, “I’ve got some great guests lined up for you.” We don’t doubt that he’s got a good group, but I just nod, smile, and thank him. It would seem that the Vince-man does not exaggerate.

The event starts up, and Vince starts the game selection process. It’s on the far end of the hall, so us playtesters only hear every third word. Suddenly, I hear him drop my name, and he points in my direction. He asks me to wave, but being the goofball I am, I start waiving both arms, a la one of those fan-blown figures outside of a car lot. He then announces to the room who will be joining the game: Rob Donague and Fred Hicks of Evil Hat. I drop to the floor (only half of it acting.) Let us be brief and say that my thoughts were no longer on going home.

The group testing at the table was probably the perfect mix you could hope for for a playtest: two people (a couple) that had played rpgs, but never Fate; a young gentleman who had played it a litter (who was also a super-helpful aide for Double-Exposure, taking a much earned break); and two pros (Fred & Rob, who kinda invented the system.)  I introduced the system basics, and passed around the character sheets. The couple picked Peek-a-boo and Weston Peese respectively (and she even spoke in a little pre-schooler’s voice), and the aide took on the geeky hero-in his own mind Zomboy. Fred asked for a simple character (it’d been a long con,) and took on the role of Caomh Culainn, the Wight Berserker, while Rob gave the Mad Scientist Doc Turnell lots of life and even more melodramatic volume.

What was tested?: Our tweaks to the Fate Core system aren’t too elaborate, especially in a simple pick-up game. Our skill mode didn’t seem to cause too much confusion (one exception, noted later), and players seemed to really enjoy the “Round 0” effect, which lets players set up the conflict before punches are thrown.  Steve and I were both really pleased by the Team Spirit teamwork system, which we had only conceived of the night before. Previously, players had interpersonal aspects and a team concept- but that was the first time we had merged it onto a Team-Character Sheet. Rob and the Aide picked the interpersonal aspect of “Former Enemies,” which meant the Rob would constantly bellyache how the Doc (in his more megalomaniacal days), had been thwarted by the idiotic Zomboy… to which the aide would play Zomboy as a dumber and dumber still (it was a vicious cycle).  We had hoped to test “The Final Round,” but with a 2 hour playtest, we had to concede the fight before I would have liked.

Feedback – Rob had a question with one of the skills (Engineering) which I later got a chance to clear up… hopefully the full rulebook explains it better than I can. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the dry-erase Fate Game Aids. Learning from Dungeon Tours, I tried to make very clear from the beginning what they were being tested on, and several players seemed interested enough to sign up as playtesters.

Speaking of which, guinea pigs players are now allowed to sign up for the Skeleton Crew RPG beta test. Submit a form, and receive a FREE copy of the BETA test next month!

Skeleton Crew Beta Test – GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN!


It’s official: this October, we’re releasing the Beta Test for the Skeleton Crew RPG! If you’re an interested in being a playtester, watch this spot- very soon, we’ll give you information on how you can sign up.

sc rpg beta ad

In the meantime, here’s sneak preview of one of the Pre-generated character :

Enchanter – Jynx Goldie, Muffinmancer

Jynx is an Enchanter, who focuses on creating potions, charms, and artifacts on the spot.

Jynx is a natural at aleuromancy- or as Jynx’s teammates dub it, a muffinmancer.  Jynx’s baked goods used have strange effects on its consumers, changing their moods or energy. After years of practice, Jynx’s treats now have an effect even if they’re not eaten- breaking open a devil’s food cake can release demonic energy, while the gingersnaps actually snap.  Jynx always preps dozens of treats before every mission, but also brings a battery-operated EZ-Cook Oven into the fray, just in case.

High Concept (Permission): Young Bread-based Crafter Mage

Example Trouble Aspects –All Bark, Little Bite; Barely in Control;

Example Normal Aspects for your Sorcerer: Eccentric Genius; Here’s One I Made Earlier (Somewhere); Doing It On the Fly; Don’t Bother Me, Magicking!; Perfectionist; Handy Work Bench


Enchanter Skill Set (Intrinsic Magic)

  • Great (+4) skill –   Fabricate
  • Good (+3) skills –  Shooting (Magic Muffins), Rapport
  • Fair (+2) skills –   Mythos, Resources, Sixth Sense
  • Average (+1) skills – Notice, Investigate, Athletics, Will

Enchanter Stunts-

Weaponized Magic – Flour Power Spell – Once per scene, you may summon a spectral fist of flour, and may use Fabricate as if it were Fight, to deal a close range Attack. Alternatively, you may use this once to defend against a Fight attack.

Specialized Magic – Tantalizing Aroma – You gain +2 Rapport to Overcome rolls when convincing weak willed individuals (aka mobs and lesser NPCs) to eat one of your baked items, if you have an item handy.

Derived Magic – Enchant Grain – You may use Fabricate to Create an Advantage to attempt to quickly make a baked good with a magical aspect attached to it, or place an aspect on an existing baked good. This aspect can be a property belonging to the food (ex. Luminescent Crescent; Exploding Nut Muffin), or a property that is passed on to anyone who eats it (Love-Potion Lemon Square; Naan Bread of Nausea). You can also use this to bake useful items and tools, like rock-hard battle baguettes or a sturdy pumpernickel ladder. Likewise, you may spend a Fate Point or a muffin-based invoke to already have a baked good with that aspect all ready to go.

Stress: Physical: 2                           Mental: 3                             Refresh: 3
Permission to copy for personal use!