You can place the Zephyr Rising in any remote coastal area in the Sea of Fallen Stars, or put it in other coastal areas with small adaptations. Though it possibly serves just as a curiosity or a place to fight some creatures and gain some treasure on the way to somewhere else, this old ship could also start up an adventure that takes the player characters deep into pirate territory. It is suitable for four 9th-level player characters.
The sea is a dangerous place, especially with Umberlee dwelling within it and sending forth disasters at her whim. A large number of ships sink beneath the waves of the Sea of Fallen Stars, but so many ships ply the waters that those lost are barely noticed overall. Some fall victim to the Queen of the Deep, while others fall prey to pirates. The Sea of Fallen Stars is deep enough that once a ship slips beneath the waves, it is lost forever. However, the most certain thing in the Realms is that nothing is really certain, and sometimes, rarely, ships return from the deep in mysterious ways.
The great pirate king Immurk ruled the Pirate Isles from 1164 DR until he was lost in a great battle around 1201 DR. The pirates of the Isles united as never before during this time, and they became more brazen than at any other time in history. Some say that Immurk would sometimes demand tribute from coastal towns in return for not burning them to the ground, and then he would set them to the torch anyway. Many ships found themselves victimized by pirates under Immurk's command, including enemy pirate vessels. A great many of these ships simply disappeared, never to be heard from again. The navy of Cormyr was hard-pressed to defeat him, and though he finally met his fate beneath the waves, his legends live on.
Along the desolate stretches of the coastline of the Sea of Fallen Stars, people report strange events. Ghostly ships appear and disappear, and pirates emerge from the fog to victimize the unfortunate. In one particularly desolate place, the seas have regurgitated a piece of the past. Rising from the shallow waters of a coastal bay is the hull of an old ship. Nobody knows when the ship first appeared in this spot; locals say that the seabed shifted and heaved and brought up the wreck from the depths. Whatever the true explanation, it is clearly older than its first appearance. It huddles mostly on its side, but a mast stretches along the surface of the water and points slightly into the air. The hull shows some black streaks, as if it were once on fire, and there is a hole in the top side near the back. Though the ship lies 60 feet from shore, the water around it is only about 10 feet deep, thanks to a wide sandbar. Nothing around the wreck suggests how it came to be here. It has lain in this spot long enough that some seaweed has taken root on the submerged portions.
The ship is a two-decked caravel named the Zephyr Rising; the name appears in very faded lettering on the side of the bow that is buried in the sea floor. The ship was 23 feet wide, so it is buried 5 feet in the sea floor. The forward mast remains; the other two were destroyed long ago. The ship had a cabin in the back under the wheel, but only part of it remains since the attack destroyed the wheel deck. The cabin area was once two cabins, but now it is one open area partly underwater. Part of the main deck is missing -- also burned in the attack that sank her -- so the hold is easily accessible. However, if she was carrying any cargo, someone took it long ago. The hold now stands empty save for water, sand, some undersea plants that have started to grow here, and a surly dragon turtle that would rather be left alone. It does fight, though, if the player characters seem determined to search the hold.
Dragon Turtle: hp 138; see Monster Manual, page 88.
Getting to the ship should pose no problem, but clambering around in the wreck is not as easy. Since the ship is on its side, few surfaces (other than the hull) are available to walk on. The wood is very waterlogged -- even that above the surface. Too much weight could break sections of the hull, especially near the already-broken edges. If the hull breaks underneath player characters, those player characters fall into the water. The debris falling on them acts as a fusillade of spears trap. The chance for a section of hull to break through is 35% per 10-foot section. For added spookiness, a light fog can blanket the whole wreck most of the time. (See Concealment on page 152-153 in the Player's Handbook; this fog could conceivably provide 10% concealment if the DM wants it to.)
Falling Debris Trap: CR 5; mechanical; touch trigger; no reset; Atk +20 melee (1d4 spearlike pieces of debris per PC for 1d8/x3 each); multiple targets (all PCs within 10-ft. square); Search DC 20 to find weak sections; Disable Device DC 20. Market Price: 12,500 gp.
Immurk sunk the Zephyr Rising at the height of his power because of something she carried. That something is still on board, waiting to be found. Unlike most pirates, Immurk had several hoard locations. Most of his wealth was "invested" in the Dragon Isle and his fleet, but he did keep some back for a rainy day. Over time, he developed more than one rainy-day hoard. The most secret location was in a cave underwater on the southernmost side of the Pirate Isles. This hoard, he boasted, would be turned over to his successor, and it contained objects given as gifts to Immurk himself. By these gifts, the successor would confirm his or her claim to Immurk's legacy. The location of the hoard was encoded somehow on a golden statue of a ship, and that statue sat prominently in Immurk's castle. Since Immurk never announced a successor (he did not have time), and the golden ship is long gone, most of the stories passed into legend and what remains of the tale is that Immurk had a secret hoard.
The golden ship disappeared because the captain of the Zephyr Rising, in a bold move, stole it from Immurk just before setting sail that last time. Immurk pursued, but he never found the statue on the Zephyr Rising before it sank; the captain hid it in a secret compartment in the back wall of the vessel as soon as it was on board, so the crew never knew it was there. And there it waits even now.
The log's covers and binding have rotted away, but its parchment pages are still intact. The PCs can read the pages (which are written in Chondathan) if they first carefully separate them and dry them out. The journal describes several pirate missions, and it lists booty captured and the amounts that the captain shared with the crew and with Immurk. Later entries record the captain's growing dissatisfaction in serving under Immurk, whom he characterized as an uncouth barbarian. The last entries describe the ship leaving port at the Dragon Isle and sailing toward Cormyr. Then, an entry says, "A ship approaches fast and seeks to ram. It flies the flag of Lord Immurk. I fear that my theft has been discovered. I hope I have not led my crew to their deaths." There is no more.
The secret compartment under the captain's bunk is now underwater, and thus harder to find (DC 26 Search check). A simple needle trap that was damaged when the ship heaved into its current location protects it (Search DC 20 to find it). The secret compartment in the stern wall of the vessel, where the golden ship model lies waiting, is cunningly disguised and also partly buried in the sea floor. Once found (DC 28 Search check), the player characters must unearth it before trying to open it. An excellent lock keeps it safe (DC 30 to open), though characters can break in the panel with a DC 18 Strength check. (It is low due to the condition of the wood.) Once someone tries to move the door without opening the lock properly (or when failing to open the lock), a spear trap fires through the secret door.
Poison Spear Trap: CR 6; mechanical; touch trigger; no reset; lock bypass (Open Lock DC 30); Atk +15 melee (2d8+4/x3 plus poison, spear); poison (Large scorpion venom, Fortitude save DC 18 resists, 1d6 Str/1d6 Str); Search DC 28; Disable Device DC 24. Market Price: 26,600 gp.
Finding the ship model, and understanding what it represents, are two different things. In a campaign, the player characters might find the model and later learn that it can lead them to great wealth. By then they may have to recover it somehow. The code on the ship matches markings on a map that Immurk made and hid in his castle on the Dragon Isle. It remained there when he was lost at sea, and the PCs have to find it to attempt to claim the treasure. The golden ship is worth 16,000 gp to a collector, possibly more. The treasure it leads to is worth nearly five times that, at least.
Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Master's Guide.
About the Author
Robert Wiese is a veteran of the RPGA offices, where he worked for seven years and has been a member since early 1991. In that time he has written over 60 adventure scenarios for the club, a couple of articles for Polyhedron, and the Living Force Campaign Guide (the last one with Morrie Mullins). He also got the Living Greyhawk and Living Force campaigns off the ground and into the hands of wonderful members to develop. Now he works at the University of Nevada at Reno in the Biochemistry department, proving that you never can tell where you'll end up.