In a typical campaign, the closest most PCs get to a body of water is when the clumsy dwarf spills his ale. But this need not be the case -- plenty of opportunities for adventure exist on (or under) the blue waves of the ocean or the sunless seas of the Underdark. If you've ever longed for high seas action, or even if you're just interested in putting your PCs into a foreign environment to test their mettle, Stormwrack: Mastering the Perils of Wind and Wave may just be what you seek.
That said, it might be tough to incorporate a seagoing adventure into tonight's gaming session. That's why this column presents two options. The first assumes that your upcoming game is a fairly typical dungeon delve, so you can insert a flooded tunnel into the adventure. The second option, however, is perfect for campaigns at a point where hopping on a ship is a reasonable next step for the characters.
The Watery Corridor
Somewhere beneath the surface, the PCs come across a flooded section of dungeon tunnel, created by rainwater dripping through from above or maybe an underground river seeping through the wall. Hiding in the murky waters is a potentially deadly threat. Depending on the level of your party, this threat might be one, two, or four leech swarms (EL 2, 3, or 5) or a hungry uchuulon (also known as a slime chuul; EL 7). For tougher parties, add a spectre (or two) living in truce with the chuul so that they can share food that swims past -- the incorporeal spectre can ignore the combat penalties for fighting underwater.
Read This: Go over the monster description for the creature you choose -- leech swarm (page 162, plus the swarm traits on page 316 in the Monster Manual) or uchuulon (page 163).
Also, review the rules on fighting underwater (Dungeon Master's Guide pages 92-93 and the sidebar on page 21 in Stormwrack), the Swim skill description (Player's Handbook page 84; note that the Player's Handbook is considered the "primary source" for rules on holding your breath and thus take precedence over differing information found elsewhere). The rules for visibility in murky water appear on page 11 and are reproduced in a sidebar below.
If you're using the leech swarm, take note of the PCs' Spot checks and Constitution scores before starting play. That's because damage dealt by undetected leeches isn't conveyed to the player until the character actually notices the attack -- a PC might be rendered unconscious without realizing he's being drained of Constitution!
Say This: (At the start of the encounter) "A staircase ahead of you leads down into murky water. Only a few inches of space are between the surface of the water and the low ceiling of the tunnel."
What's the Big Deal: This encounter forces the PCs to fight on the monsters' turf. Unless the PCs have easy access to water breathing and either freedom of movement or swim speeds, this encounter will likely be significantly more difficult than normal. You should probably increase the XP reward by 50%; the Encounter Levels listed above are increased by +1 to reflect this difficulty.
The tunnel is 10 feet high, with all but the top 6 inches filled with water. It can be as long as your dungeon allows, but somewhere between 30 feet and 60 feet is best. At the start of the encounter, the monsters occupy the area at the far end of the flooded tunnel and remain underwater (and thus are likely invisible, particularly considering their good Hide modifiers). They
Murky water reduces the radius of illumination provided by a light source (the sun or a carried light source, such as an object with a lightspell cast on it) by 50%, since light scatters and reflects from matter hanging in the water. For example, a sunrod normally provides bright illumination to a range of 30 feet and shadowy illumination to 60 feet, but in murky water these are reduced to 15 feet and 30 feet, respectively.
Very murky or muddy water obscures all sight, including darkvision, beyond 5 feet. Creatures 5 feet away have concealment (20% miss chance).
move forward to attack any PC who comes within 20 feet.
The sediment in the water makes it murky, reducing light's ability to illuminate it (see sidebar). As soon as any creature of Medium or larger size starts moving through the water, all squares such creatures occupy or are adjacent to become very murky (since they stir up additional sediment from the bottom), making it impossible to see anything more than 5 feet away.
Unless a PC has a Swim speed, she's best off fighting while standing on the bottom. Of course, she'll have to hold her breath to do that, which means she likely has only 6 or 8 rounds of combat before Con checks are needed.
Aftermath: This encounter isn't likely to have a significant impact on your storyline (unless the PCs are extremely unlucky, that is). It's more about introducing the players to some of the basic rules for operating in water.
However, the very presence of the water-filled tunnel (and its inhabitant) may suggest some larger plot element. Why is the dungeon filling with water? If a subterranean river or sea has broken through a wall, it might lead to additional invaders, such as kuo-toas, skum (scouting for their aboleth master), or a water naga. Are other areas threatened by the flooding? If so, the characters might return for another foray to find the landscape has changed significantly.
Your campaign may be at a point where a shipboard voyage (long or short) is appropriate for the storyline. Maybe the characters need to cross a great lake to speak with a wizened sage living on the far shore, or trek downriver to investigate reports of river pirates, or even board a seagoing vessel to travel to another continent. In that case, the encounter below should fit reasonably well in your session. Depending on the voyage (and the vessel), you may need to adjust some details, but the basic elements are generic enough that the encounter should work without too much change.
Read This: Familiarize yourself with the monster description for the seawolf (pages 158-159). Though similar to a lycanthrope, this sly creature is not the result of a template, but is instead a specific magical beast. If you have augmented the encounter with additional creatures (see below), review their descriptions as well.
Choose a vessel appropriate for the journey and peruse the map and basic information regarding the ship. Chapter 5: Ships and Equipment in Stormwrack has several sample ship maps to choose from, including a keelboat (good for river or lake trips), a cog (a basic sailing ship), and a caravel (a large ship designed for travel on the open sea). If you use a battlemat, it's best to draw the ship out before starting the session to save time.
Read the information on pages 19-21 regarding the unique marine terrain known as "Ship's Deck" to handle situations that may come up during the encounter. It's worthwhile to review the Swim skill (Player's Handbook page 84), just in case someone falls overboard.
Say This: (At the start of the encounter) "A light rain has been falling all afternoon, but as the sun sets on the first day of your voyage, a strong wind has kicked up, creating whitecaps on the water's surface. Your vessel rolls noticeably as the weather grows worse, which may indicate an uncomfortable night to come."
What's the Big Deal: One or more seawolves have targeted the ship the PCs are aboard for an attack. One has infiltrated the crew of the vessel, while any others come aboard just after sundown a day away from port, relying on the poor weather to help conceal their approach. (They can see perfectly well in darkness or low light.) The seawolf among the crew is armed as described in the monster entry, while any others are unarmed and fight in hybrid form.
The total number of seawolves attacking depend on your party's level. Unless you plan on running additional encounters during this day, you should set the total EL to about 1 to 3 higher than the party's level. A single seawolf (EL 3) is appropriate for characters of level 1 or 2, while a pair (EL 5) is good for 3rd- or 4th-level PCs. For higher-level groups, increase the number of seawolves appropriately. If your party is higher than 8th level, consider augmenting the pack of seawolves with a single creature of CR 7 or higher, such as an amphibious medusa (see page 135 in Stormwrack) or a dragon turtle, working in conjunction with the seawolves.
Remember that fighting aboard a ship isn't the same as fighting in a house or dungeon, and it shouldn't feel that way. The deck is wet (from the rain), making it slippery; for added fun throw in a heavy roll or two during the encounter, or maybe even some green water, thanks to the rough weather that's blown in. Don't overdo it -- the goal isn't to make your players hate water travel, just to introduce them to some different tactical elements.
Before the encounter begins, place the characters' figures in locations appropriate for early evening, either out on deck or safely inside away from the weather. You can either ask the players what gear their characters are carrying aboard the ship (fighters may not want to be wearing heavy armor out on the ocean), or you can just assume that they're always prepared for the worst.
Start the encounter as appropriate for the characters' positions. Assuming that the encounter includes more than one seawolf, those out on deck with darkvision or low-light vision are allowed DC 18 Spot checks to notice the seawolves approaching from about 30 feet away (modified for distance); if they succeed, roll initiative immediately. Otherwise, the seawolf aboard the vessel strikes first, attacking the captain (Exp 3; hp 11) with surprise just before his fellows climb aboard. The cries of the captain and crew (1st-level experts and warriors; quantity depends on the ship) alert any PCs aboard, allowing them to join the fight immediately.
Aftermath: After the assault, some questions may be posed. What kind of creature did the PCs face? Though clearly no werewolf, similarities to that lycanthrope are obvious; a DC 14 Knowledge (arcana) check can identify the seawolf and provide basic information regarding the creature. Are any more of them among the crew, or lurking in the waters for another attempt? Do these creatures have a lair nearby? If so, what riches might they have plundered from other vessels traveling through the area? If the PCs aren't in command of the vessel, a side trip may not be an option, but a return to the region might well be in order for another day. A possible worst-case scenario: If the crew took serious casualties, the PCs might even find themselves in the awkward position of having to get the vessel safely to shore!
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About the Author
By day, Andy Collins works as an RPG developer in Wizards of the Coast R&D. His development credits include the Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Eberron, and Dungeon Master's Guide II. By night, however, he fights crime as a masked vigilante. Or does he?