In this month's exclusive interview, the designers and developer of the new Stormwrack book, discuss "mastering the perils of wind and wave." This brand-new environmental supplement introduces lots of useful material on water-based and shipboard adventures.
In the interests of better involving the player community with the features on the D&D website, questions for this interview were solicited in part via the message boards. Our thanks to the players who go by the screen names Aeolius, The Loose Canon, The Morninglord, Andrew, Obrysii, Dark Voivode, MerricB, Ravin Ray, Cli' San, Aquanova, Stormanu, Kobold Avenger, Xeviat-DM, Gez, and Halornn_Kaala for their participation. New questions are also now being solicited for the spotlight on the upcoming Heroes of Horror supplement.
Wizards of the Coast: The tagline for Stormwrack reads, "Mastering the Perils of Wind and Wave." Aside from seasickness, what hazards and perils might PCs expect from watery environs?
Stephen Schubert: The seas of fantasy worlds are filled with all sorts of dangers. For example, seafaring adventurers frequently have to deal with whirlpool-like maelstroms that can pull ships into their depths and massive sea monsters such as the tentacled scyllan (whose image graces the cover art).
Wizards: What kinds of watery environs can characters explore in this book? Can adventures take place beneath the waves as well as on the water's surface?
SS: Stormwrack enhances the rules for fighting underwater and provides guidelines for creating underwater "dungeons." But plenty of space is also devoted to adventuring on the high seas and exploring coastal regions.
Jennifer Clarke Wilkes: Well, in the water there are strong currents, hypothermia, the pressure of depth, as well as interesting magical and supernatural forms of water. But this isn't just a book about being wet; it's also about storms, winds, and the perils of adventuring by the shore, not to mention underground rivers and the elemental planes.
Wizards: How does the book cover shipboard adventures? Assuming a party could raise enough money, what sorts of vessels might be available for purchase? And does the book provide guidance on running ship-to-ship naval combat as well as melee aboard ship?
SS: A party wishing to purchase its own ship could spend a few thousand gold pieces for a simple cog, a bit more for a caravel, or even more for a greatship or elven wingship. And those options represent just the tip of the iceberg; many more ships are available for purchase. Some of those described in the book even include full deck plans! Stormwrack also offers a ship-to-ship combat system designed to replicate the maneuvering that takes place before gangplanks are lowered and charges are issued.
JCW: Rich Baker has a naval background and was very keen on broadening the options for shipboard adventures. He's expanded the types of ships available and came up with a simple naval combat system.
Rich Baker: Shipboard adventures are covered pretty well. The book contains expanded rules for using existing skills to handle various tasks involved with making a voyage -- for example, Knowledge (geography) is the place where navigating tasks are handled. Profession (sailor) is of course far more useful in a seagoing campaign that it is in most landbound games. There's a good discussion of the jobs your player characters might hold on a ship, including fantastic ones such as the ship's windsinger or ship's mage, and the various skills you'll need to stay on course or find your way to new ports.
The new ships introduced in the equipment chapter basically offer more variations on the simple "sailing ship" or "warship" described in the Player's Handbook, and also include a couple of more fantastic options, such as the theurgeme (a ship powered by a sorcerous engine). And finally, we built a system for dealing with fights between two ships. It's pretty impractical to draw a pair of ships on your battle map in 5-ft. squares and then erase and reposition them every round, so we came up with rules for determining "how far is the other ship from me this round?" and "which way am I pointing, which way is he pointing?"
Wizards: If I wanted to take on the role of a pirate, what options are available? Does Stormwrack provide information on bringing real-world weapons from the Age of Piracy -- such as cannons, muskets, and other post-medieval weaponry -- into the game?
JCW: It was something I thought about, but because there was an article in Dragon magazine a couple of years ago that covered these sorts of weapons very well, we decided further details weren't necessary.
SS: Piracy on the high seas is more a way of life than a choice of explosives. Stormwrack does not describe massive cannons and twenty-four-gun ships, but a number of ships in its pages could be outfitted with bombards -- an early form of cannon. Still other ships might be equipped with catapults, ballistae, or even the flame-throwing firespout.
RB: We did include information on fairly primitive cannons (bombards). We felt that a whole broadside of cannons was probably a little anachronistic, but a ship could easily carry a couple of bombards in place of a couple of catapults. There's a sidebar addressing the question of whether gunpowder, smokepowder (expensive alchemical gunpowder) or none at all is available in any particular DM's campaign, so it's really in the Dungeon Master's hands. However, we decided that we wanted most naval battles to be determined by the actions of the PC adventurers onboard, not by simple questions of armament, so the rules definitely emphasize magic over technology.
Wizards: What sorts of creatures can PCs expect to find troubling their waters?
JCW: There is a wide variety of interesting new creatures, from gigantic versions of real-world monsters of the deep (such as dire eels) to the scyllan, the bizarre sea creature shown on the cover; from monsters of myth (sisiutl, a two-headed serpent from Northwest Indian legend) to a new kind of fiend, the echinoloth. There are also deadly new swarms, including piranha and venomous jellyfish.
SS: The coral golem is one of my favorites from the book (though the piranha swarm runs a close second for those freshwater adventures). The coral golem is a Huge construct whose powerful slams can stun even the hardiest of adventurers.
Wizards: Does the book describe any new races, or any aquatic versions of the traditional PC races? What guidelines are available for creating seafaring versions of existing races?
SS: Stormwrack offers three brand-new PC races -- the Atlantis-inspired aventi, the strong darfellan, and the simian hadozee. Furthermore, aquatic elves finally get the treatment they deserve as a full-fledged race option. Seafaring variants of the traditional races are also provided for those wishing to play boat-loving dwarves and expert swimmer halflings.
Wizards: What new magic does Stormwrack bring to the game? Does it offer new versions of existing spells designed to suit the aquatic environment? What spell or item is your personal favorite? (I'd think a living figurehead would make a terrifying hood ornament, to say the least!)
JCW: Well, I am glad you mentioned living figureheads, because I designed several for this book, including a dragon figurehead that confers a breath weapon and a kraken figurehead to grapple an enemy vessel. There are spells that intensify currents and turn water into terrifying new substances, and ways to improve your ship or even conjure up a marvelous vessel. There are also some exciting epic spells, such as part the waters (this just had to be done).
SS: I'm particularly fond of depthsurge -- a spell that blasts away the water in the area, along with any creatures therein. The spells in Stormwrack are all new, designed especially to provide a seafaring wizard or cleric with more appropriately themed spells. You're right about the living figurehead, though -- just imagine the effect when the dragon's head on the prow of your ship unleashes a cone of fire just before you ram your enemy!
Wizards: Does the book contain any material that conveys the theme of the Stormwrack setting but is useful in other settings as well? In Frostburn, for example, the frost mage and primeval prestige classes both display the rugged fury of the setting but still function relatively well in other environments.
SS: A number of the items and prestige classes from Stormwrack could easily make the transition into other settings. The leviathan hunter prestige class, for example, focuses primarily on taking down Huge or larger creatures (specifically aberrations, animals, dragons, and magical beasts), and such a character would certainly excel in any campaign that features nonaquatic versions of those monsters. Likewise, the stormcaster prestige class is a good choice for any character who wants to master spells that are sonic or electric in nature.
RB: The stormcaster is a good arcane spellcaster class that works well anywhere--it doesn't have to be storms at sea, after all.
D&D Stormwrack, August 2005 Release Date, hardcover, full color, 224 pages, $34.95.
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