This week's Flashpoint session will be on Wednesday rather than Monday so I don't have any Actual Play for you. I will, however, let you have a sneak peek into my preparation schedule which is terribly exciting, I know. So the upcoming session is based around the primary mission of rescuing their old crew from a Prison Hulk and a secondary objective of rescuing a number of slaves from the Prison Hulk (ideally everyone according to Lhye).
Oh, and don't worry my players, there are no clues hidden within.
So originally I thought I'd just need a deckplan (which I've done) and a basic set of staff with a few different combat NPCs. The deckplan really isn't pretty but it's given me basic sizes and with a ship of this size I'd need a massive amount of paper to draw up a battle map of it. Still, it would be nice to have pretty deckplans similar to what you get when you're using Adventure Paths. Alas, it is not to be. I could create something that pretty using Microsoft Paint and a lot of time but, uh, no thanks.
I also need the NPCs. There'd be spouses living on the top deck alongside laundresses and cooks and I need an idea of how many of them there are and where they're likely to be. This is doubly painful since I don't know when the players will assault the ship. I'm guessing in the hour before dawn when most people are likely to be sleeping but you never can tell. They might start with a con, in which case they're likely to be there in the afternoon.
I need wardens, sergeant wardens for each section, the superintendant and secretary, and perhaps other people who are there to purchase the slaves. I need to do classes for all of these people, sort out their equipment and balancing the CR against making them interesting. I could just use NPCs straight out of the Game Master's Guide but they're pretty stand up and ordinary combat classes so won't really be enough to make for an interesting dungeon crawl. Three identical enemies are interesting. Three identical battles are not. I should sit down and pin them to sections of the deck and figure out how to combine their feats and weaponry so that the combats are at least partially interesting - especially since the players are likely to mow down each encounter in a round or two (or be mown down).
I need a rough idea of the slave break down - how many are seamen (very important), soldiers, or thieves, and how many are basic civilians. Out of them, how many are willing to fight. Are any of them willing to stay behind? For this I just need a rough estimate.
I also need a basic dock lay out. I need to figure out Okeno. What is it like? How many people are there? How many ships? How many galleys? What are the protections for such vessels? Who is in charge at the moment? How many levels do they have? What are their basic alarm systems? How do they protect themselves? Do they have any caged monsters or what-not?
In short, Pathfinder games need a lot of preparation. Locations and sizes and information and NPCs with levels are all important factors here.
I need to balance some degree of realism and this is an ambitious enterprise against the fact that this campaign style should allow cunning and derring-do to let the PCs get away with surprising feats of impressive bravado even at lower levels. This is bigger than most. They're not planning to sneak in, steal a few, and sneak out. Or at least there's a few that are planning something bigger.
I need to encourage them to be as clever as they can be in order to self-manage the CR they may be facing. Rousing Okeno itself is not a good idea. Luckily if they all lose they'll likely be taken as slaves unless they go down fighting (which they probably will) and suffer enough HP damage to actually die (possible but not a guarantee at this level as the enemies are likely to drop them with a final blow dealing 8 HP damage, rather than the 30HP damage that later levels likely to wreak). I don't want this to fall down to an inventory exercise or an overly brain twisting exercise in ultra-planning. There needs to be some flow to it.
The best bet is to have the next session be a planning session with a twist. Yes, they must plan, but they must steal the deckplans or scout out the harbor. They might need to thwack someone over the back of the head or cut the rudder chains on the enemy vessels and hole the galleys. A planning session with a lot of action. One where failure doesn't lead to a massive security alarm so long as they're at least a bit cunning (this is rough and tumble Okeno and not a Nazi German fort with alarms around every corner).
In other words, they need to plan but that plan can also be the action. The action can come through the plans and be caused by the plans and be part of the planning process. And this way, when they come to the final series of battles on the Hulk itself, they've done the hard yakka to ensure that the CRs remain reasonable and, most importantly, give themselves a chance to escape.
It also justify the oodles of fame they would get later.
Of course, it all depends on what the players themselves want to do. I'm happy for them to choose instead to simply purchase their crew members back. It all works for me.