View Full Version : Naval Campaign Question

2007-05-20, 05:37 PM
With POTC3 coming out next weekend, it has been requested that I put together a naval campaign for us to play after seeing the movie.

It is for a party of about 3-6 characters, and I'd like it to be levels 2 and 3 (the two who are using existing characters are halfway to third level).

My question is this: What are some sutible encounters and combats for characters of that level that fit the pirate/naval/tall ships theme?

I am allowing the Complete Series,PHB2, and Stormwrack for characters.

For monsters, I have the MM and Stormwrack. MM2, Draconomicon, Libris Mortis, and Fiend Folio are available if I need them.

I am hesitant at using undead too much, as the two pre-existing characters are a rogue and a beguiler.

I appreciate any advice, as I'm sure my players would like to fight something other than Sahuagin and Pirates.

2007-05-20, 05:53 PM
maybe they find a lost civilization or secret island?

The Prince of Cats
2007-05-20, 05:58 PM
I have a great book called Corsair, by Adamant Entertainment. It is really more focused on the mechanics of sailing and on realistic sea-faring, but it has many useful rules for how far away you will start to see approaching ships and land. It also has ship classes; a way for a ship to become a legendary vessel with its own 'character' too.

If you want encounters, you could try boarding encounters. Another ship comes close and all the sailors swing across on ropes. Normal crew fight normal crew and the players can take on special NPCs who the ship's crew shy away from. True, it does require a little suspension of disbelief but 'special' characters in swashbuckling paradigms can often walk through a melee in a bubble of calm to face down the enemy captain. You know, swinging across to fight on the spar of one of the sails or else just having both crews back off by mutual agreement to let the 'champions' fight.

Another idea is from Sid Meier's 'Pirates' - the melee around the players swings to and fro as they fight the enemy captain. Take it as two equally matched crews whose only advantage is the increased morale they gain from seeing 'their' champion winning over the enemy. So if the players are trouncing their opponents, their crew starts to gain confidence and fights more effectively, ignoring minor wounds and doing some serious damage. (I suppose you run it as hurting an opponent for 50% of the hp means your crew killing or forcing the surrender of 50% of the crew)

I like sirens (use harpy stats) and there are creatures like hags, sea cats and scrags (a type of troll) which might make for interesting enemies. (try using fire or acid on a troll while travelling on a ship; that will make the captain happy)

2007-05-20, 06:06 PM
I've been playing 7th Sea a lot recently, so have a few ideas.

Put them up against something they can't fight, the weather.

Hit them with a storm. Or, worse, the doldrums. Try to ramp up the tension as they discover their food supplies have been wiped out, or are getting low. That way, you could force them to make landfall and all the associated problems therein.

Or how about a mutiny? Bad news if they own the ship. Worse if they have to pick sides. Do they go with the brutal ship's captain, and hope they win? Or do they go with the rebellious crew, and hope they win? What happens if they lose?

Krakens are always fun. They don't have to win, just survive. They might be able to drive the beastie off by doing enough damage. They might have to leg it and make their way to land in a small boat.

What if they're already on a pirate ship, and don't know it? How would they deal with the authorities coming after them?

They could encounter another ship at sea, requesting aid, it might be sinking. The could take on the crew and passengers and cargo, only to find when they get to port, they have criminals/contraband/monsters.

If none of this takes your fancy, just go with the good-old ghost ship theme.

For inspiration, I reccommend Deep Rising, Ghost Ship, Captain Blood, Muppet's Treasure Island (better than the rest), etc, etc, etc.

2007-05-20, 06:09 PM
Sea travel, attacked by flying beasties of all kind. They're attracted to a mysterious artifact in the hold that has some sort of sway over flying creatures, letting a character with sufficient will power (pretty high charisma check) cause all flying opposition to fall out of the sky. Your characters and the ship crew have no knowledge of this item, but a fellow passenger who dies of a mysterious condition near the start of the voyage has it in his luggage.

The task of the players is to fend off the attacking hoards of flying creatures, controlled sea animals and mercenaries, while also not being killed by the normally winged assassin (hiding on-board with the aid of a polymorph spell) who is trying to steal the artifact to aid his kingdom.

Being limited to the ship they're travelling on, your players are limited in space, resources and skilled associates. While there might be a doctor and a few first level NPCs on board, their supplies of potions, scrolls and the like will be limited, and anything thrown at an enemy (that's not returning) is likely to be lost. Players with good climb abilities can be murderous among the rigging, while those with familiars/flying companions will find them more useful than normal. A druid might be forced to spend his daily spells on "wood shape" to fix holes in the ships hull, or the party wizard use up cantrips on mending a vital ship componant.

Should your players FIND the item in the hold or retake it from the on-board assassin, they can use it to hold off the attackers, and then flog it for massive cash or donate it to whichever group they currently support once they reach shore.

2007-05-20, 07:41 PM
I would suggest that you look at this: http://www.d20srd.org/srd/variant/adventuring/defenseBonus.htm

On a water based campaign, characters, NPCs and PCs, would tend to avoid heavy armour that can become a serious liability if they've gone overboard. The defense bonus is an alternative way to improve the AC if you cannot use medium and heavy armor, it's good for swashbuckling campaigns.

2007-05-21, 06:05 AM
Friend of mine DM'ed a Piratesque game where we were shanghi'ed into the pirate life and all the problems therein (weaponless and unarmored on a ship full of ruthless pirates having to do some unpleasant stuff to survive, the sorcerer sequestered and forced to cast spells to benefit the ship). Magic changes alot of pirate tactics too. Crystal balls of claraudiance and clarvoyance let you hit'n'run very effectively. Also he thru a curve with a friendly pirate meeting (both captains were friends and had that honor among thieves thing going on) that turned into a planned assassination throwing all plans to the wind. Just some ideas.

2007-05-21, 07:56 AM
I recommend "The Sea Hawk" for inspiration -- just try really hard to ignore Brenda Marshal's character... Captain Blood is another good one, with Olivia De Havilland as a much better female lead.

The key, I think, is answering "Why is the party romping around on the oceans rather than on dry land?" I'd be sure to include a war, or at least a simmering conflict, and the model offered by Spain and England is both historic and fun.

For added fun, forget introducing the party in a tavern -- have them all start as galley slaves!

2007-05-21, 09:47 AM
I would do the investigating a shipwreck off the coast of a secluded island thing. Have skeletons and ghosts attack the party.

Or better yet, toss out rumors / legends of a long lost ship that haunts the sea. It's a ghost ship filled quite literally of ghosts that attack the party / ship crew from below going through the decks of the ship and such. You can apply the Ghost Template (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/ghost.htm) to pretty much any type of creature which bumps up the CR by +2.

As a player I was freaked out by getting attacked by ghosts, granted I was playing Savage Worlds. But still, out on the open sea and getting attacked by ghosts going through the decks of the ship was freaky. We turned the first wave away one night, but they came back a second night. Very tense and very well done by the DM.

Good luck!


2007-05-22, 08:36 AM
As far as why they are on the ocean, the campaign world is based around an island trading nation, New Losthelm. Most "adventurers" in they typical sense do not exist, but many sailors fit that mold rather well. They aren't tromping around on land because it is more lucrative to be at sea.

I'm having them be hired by a merchant sailor and have basically planned that they will be smuggling supplies. One of the PCs is a government spy (a beguiler) but is chaiotic, and so not necessairly loyal. The other is a wanted (but framed) murderer--I did a "Jack the Ripper" style thing where the player was framed. The trading company is being investigated on charges of conspiracy. The other two characters have not been created yet.

For encounters, I have pirates attacking them, and a trade gone bad. This is fillowed by a naval ship hunting them down (because of the murderer on board). Then a storm in wich they take refuge in a cave haunted by allips (and the home to a shipwreck of a notoriously insane captain who has hidden his treasure somewhere else). Then a sahuagin attack (slave traders who are trading slaves with an aboleth in exchange for protection).

I wanted to stay away from cliche, but as you can see it is a little difficult.

Storm Bringer
2007-05-22, 09:14 AM
just add a few things:

first, a rival humaniod seafaring nation of some sort. maybe a large land empire seeking to expand into the islands. or, even better, make the Islands a area of colonial expansion for several nations (a la the carrbiean or the south china sea), with each trying to stop the others form gaining too much power.

then, add in a freeport or other netural site for less than squeaky clean NPCs or PC to meet/trade/fight. for a fantasy bend, why not make it a set of reefs owned by merman or other aquatic race?

for encounter ideas, here is a few:

A privateer (pirate ship with the backing of a government) tries to take the players ship. Que long, drawn out stern chase (a feature of many Books and acounts of the time), with each side useing whatever tricks they can think of to outrun the other

The port they were docked at is attacked by a rival nation, who manage to get into the city. The players must excape the city with their ship and escape the blockading ships.

the Players and a rival merchant are both carrying a supply of a rare cargo to the same port. The frist one to reach the port will make a fortune, the loser will be nearly bankrupt (his cargo now worth nothing like what he paid for it). the Rival trys everything to get their first.

the players ship is hired to transport food and weaponry to a port under siege. they must find a way to get thier cargo to the desperate men inside.

quick question: is this a gunpowder era game or still in late medievil times? I'm assuming the latter, but i may be wrong.

2007-05-22, 09:16 AM
Should you plan on reaching level 5-10: ban druids or remove ship to ship combat ;)

The Prince of Cats
2007-05-22, 10:39 AM
I wanted to stay away from cliche, but as you can see it is a little difficult.
Swashbuckling naval campaigns need some cliché just to keep them going.

2007-05-22, 11:37 AM
I had started a naval campaign with elements of lovecraft-style horror. I think these styles fit perfectly together.

Here is an adventure I created for this campaign, which won WDMT #6 on wizards forum. It takes place mostly in a coastal city and involves smugglers and privateers.

And some other elements that I had in this campaign, could inspire you...

Just before this adventure, the PCs were on their boat, going back to meet their allies who were in a small bay doing repairs. As they arrived, there is an ennemy ship besieging the bay, and small boats have just been put on the water for these ennemies to go attack the allies on land. The PCs have to use their sailing skills to go unnoticed to board the ennemy ship, making a very interresting fight, as they have to take control of the cannons and use them against ennemy boats to help their allies on land.

Aquatic elves (able to shapeshift to dolphins) are living and traveling on their evil god, a huge turtle. It is too big to see it is a turtle, to those who see it it is like an ordinary island.

Draconians (taken from the Dragonlance setting) make interresting ennemies for ship battles. As humanoids with small wings that can be used to glide, before the boarding, they climb the mast and glide from a distance to the other ship

2007-05-22, 11:50 AM
Cats makes a good point. I wouldn't avoid cliches necessarily, since your players will probably appreciate seeing staples of the genre pop up in some places. What I would do with it though, is throw a twist into the cliche somehow. Say, make a boss who's a giant squid, only the giant squid is a wizard (instead of Smashy McGrab) with some kind of casting ability that takes advantage of his/her multiple arms.

This way you can keep things familiar without being predictable. The PCs will see a cliche and probably assume the usual about it ("Look, Pirates") but find something odd about it ("Why are the pirates acrobatic clowns with poison bite attacks? Why?!"). Also, mix in other genre cliches to make something weird but strangely familiar (Curse of the Were-Dolphin? What?)

Also, since this is in part riding on PotC, I'd want to include some undead. Given your party makeup, undead would make good minibosses/bosses, since that way they wouldn't show up much, but they'd throw the party through a loop due to their immunities.

And maybe this is just me, but I think a naval campaign is begging for a submersible or airship. One or the other, either would make a convenient vehicle for a major baddie, since they both have special abilities beyond a normal vessel. Just be sure that it conveniently starts falling apart while the PCs engage the final battle with the owner, both to increase dramatic tension, and ensure the PCs don't get to take it over after they defeat the guy. Better yet, have the PCs destroy it (preferably through onboard sabatoge- you've got several sneaky people in the party) as part of their quest, so they don't consider taking it over.

The Prince of Cats
2007-05-22, 12:26 PM
Also, since this is in part riding on PotC, I'd want to include some undead. Given your party makeup, undead would make good minibosses/bosses, since that way they wouldn't show up much, but they'd throw the party through a loop due to their immunities.

I am hesitant at using undead too much, as the two pre-existing characters are a rogue and a beguiler.

I think I would have to agree that undead are just not good here. Those immunities really cause trouble for rogues (no sneak attack damage, few kinds of undead with DR X / Piercing) and anyone who relies on mind-affecting spells (mind? what mind?) unless you treat them as being a couple of CRs higher.

2007-05-22, 01:46 PM
I like the race to deliver cargo thing. I think I will consider that.

There is no haven for outlaws, but they can gain support from other nations, as there is always tension.

There are four main nations in this area, but no colonization.

Cormance is French influenced (a la Dumas's D'Artanian Romances). It is at war with Espainana (obviously Spainish influenced). New Losthelm is decidedly neutral in this because of it's very strong trade based economy (no agriculture, so it has to trade), but has the most powerful navy (I did an intrigue type thing with the beguiler where he uncovered a plot by which a trading company tried to create tension between Espainana and New Losthelm to favor Cormance in the war). The fourth is a semi-barbaric clan based area with strong Scottish and Nordic influences called Celtland.

2007-05-23, 11:10 PM
Oh yeah, I'm planning on running the Savage Tide Adventure Path from Dungeon soon, but the PCs will just remain in the ocean setting on a slightly less grandiose campaign.

2007-05-24, 08:05 AM
Two more questions:

What would you recommend for representing ships? I use a one inch square grid.

Is there anywhere that has more detailed diagrams of other ships (stormwrack only has them for a few)?

2007-05-24, 08:58 AM
What about adding some river naval scenes?
I've in mind barges.

Yes, escorting a barge caravan on its journey to the sea, assaulting it also.
Or running an adventure where PCs have to steal a ship in a river city (fortress, camp, whatever) and then flee on it along the river.

EDIT: For ship's plans you can search in the web, I'm sure you can find something you can use in your campaing