Seafaring adventuring in 4E

12 posts / 0 new
Last post
Hello, all.
I'm planning a seafaring adventure for the summer.  I'd like to ask for people's thoughts on the peculiarities, benefits, possibilities and possible pitfalls of adventuring at sea.  I'm interested in both the fluff and the crunch aspects, and I'd appreciate any suggestions people may have for useful resources.  Has WOTC published anything for 4E to help with a seafaring adventure?   

I'm interested in ideas relating to:
-Combat on ships
-Combat between ships
-Conditions, diseases, traps/hazards of seafaring
-Creatures and NPCs well suited to seafaring
-Classes that lend themselves to seafaring
-Pitfalls or problems with seafaring adventures
-Terrain and battlemaps


"As the good archmage often admonishes me, I ought not let my mind wander. It's too small to go off by itself"

Danilo Thann

  There are rules regarding vehicles (ships/boats) including statistics on pgs. 14-20 in the Adventurers Vault.  Rules regarding swimming, underwater combat etc. are found in PHB and DMG.  Stormwrack is a 3.5 book that could be helpful.  There are pirates in Monster Manual 2.  Aargh matey!

Chelsea FC - winner of 2012 FA Cup and Champions League Champions of Europe! Three Lions Resident Footie
I don't know of anything 4e related, but one of the Legends & Lairs products for 3e (by Fantasy Flight Games) had some general information about sea and undersea adventuring (written by a marine semi-expert) that you might want to look into (the crunch is probably useless otherwise, however).
I'm not sure how it happened, but somehow I managed to delete this thread and re-post it, and, in the process, I deleted the post of the person who responded to my initial post, asking for clarification regarding what sort of seafaring setting I'm thinking of.  So, here is my answer:

I'm planning on running a high fantasy adventure.  In terms of technology, it would set roughly in the high to upper middle ages (hanseatic league).  Specifically, I'm setting the adventure on the Sea of Fallen Stars in the 4E Forgotten Realms timeline (1479 DR).  In terms of ships, I'm thinking of long boats, cogs, knarrs and Mediterranean galleys.  I'll go as far as caravels and carracks, but not huge galleons or brigantines.

In terms of story, I'm interested in providing a mix of land and sea based adventuring that could include a peppering of things like piratery, trade, secret societies, kidnapping, treasure hunting, etc.  In terms of game play, I'm interested in creating a mix of sea and land-based encounters, that includes both PCs vs. NPCs and ship vs. ship combat.  I'm not really interested in extended underwater adventuring. 

Magic in its various 4E forms will be a factor.  I'm not averse to having early firearms, as long as their power is offset by the potential for catastrophic misfires, lengthy reloading times and the moisture problems of black powder. 


"As the good archmage often admonishes me, I ought not let my mind wander. It's too small to go off by itself"

Danilo Thann

I just switched my pirate-themed game over to 4e (though there hasn't been a lot of true pirating recently, as the party is very much in paragon tier).

Believe it or not, the recent Plane Above book has "rules" for ship-to-ship combat... by which they mean a list of relevant skill usages for Skill Challenges (nothing that I wouldn't have done anyway). But they also have some Astral ships that might be good inspiration for mechanics.

The other nice mechanic example is in the D&DI adventure "Sea Reavers of the Shrouded Crags" in Dungeon 158. It has some nice ship-to-sea combat examples and such.

Basically you just run the adventure as normal, but the terrain on which the PCs are standing is somewhat mobile.

I'm also a big fan of the vehicle combat system from Star Wars Saga Edition--if you're looking for small vessels like launches and rowboats then that might work well for you. And of course, there are many other systems that could be helpful as well.  
Check the Implement Games link in my sig for the Nautical Compendium.
It supplies DMs with:
Gridded layouts of tons of various ships
Combat on ships
Combat between ships
Underwater exploration
Underwater combat
And other useful info for seafaring adventurers.
It's free, so if you should think it sucks you're not out anything.
You might also want to take a look at the Iomandra campaign on the community here (don't know exactly how to find it) for ideas.
     Instead of a ship, the party has a small, strange floating island that goes wherever they will it.  Nobody knows why it does this; perhaps the crew was shipwrecked and washed ashore on it, only to find that somehow it would obey any heading they willed it toward.  This could be a good development for the party going into paragon tier.

     Around epic tier, a plot reveals hidden passages in the caves that lead down below the island's surface.  Ultimately they discover that the 'island' is a vast creature of ineffable origin, similar in appearance to a gargantual coral reef, and that it's many times the size of the small, earth-encrusted atoll that rides above the ocean's surface.

     The creature has been slumbering for centuries, its drifting movements in the seas unconsciously guided by its ability to hear the thoughts of those riding on it.  In the course of this discovery, the creature is awakened.  If the players can earn the creature's trust, it may reveal that it's a vessel of the stars -- a spelljammer -- and it may take them on as its new crew of astral pirates/explorers.

     Just a thought, use it or don't.
(I employ zie/zie/zir as a gender-neutral counterpart to he/him/his. Just a heads-up.) Essentials definitely isn't for me as a player, and I feel that its design and implementation bear serious flaws which fill me with concern for the future of D&D, but I've come to the conclusion that it isn't going to destroy the game that I want to play. Indeed, I think that I could probably run a game for players using Essentials characters without it being much of a problem at all. Time will tell, I suppose.
My fiance ran some seafaring stuff in her game recently.  She ran gaining your sealegs as a disease, with Endurance or Heal rolls needed to overcome it.  Without overcoming it characters couldn't move more than two during combat without needing to make an Athletics check to avoid falling prone.  Since about half the party hadn't gained their legs by the time the first shipboard combat happened it made things pretty interesting.  Additionally she made sure to have a set of Athletics and Acrobatics DCs for various common movement options, such as climbing netting or masts.  Went pretty well for her first time DMing.  The some of the pirates who attacked used a special "molestation" attack which has gone down in our group's history as a horrifying prospect for player characters.

Just remember, it 's going to be challengng for ranged attack based characters if combat breaks out ON a ship, but it tends to be easy for them in ship-vs-ship combat, so I'd make sure both happen at various stages of encounters.

I did a whole lot of thinking about seafaring adventures in my blog here on the site. Thoughts on how to keep the sea important through the tiers of play, what ships are affordable when, that sort of thing.

That was me who got deleted.  I'll second the Plane Above.  Good rules in there for all the conflict/combat.

For purely nautical encounters without your typical pirates/sea serpents/storms/etc:

-  Variables/Doldrums:  basically the wind dies in your sails.  Wind born ships can't move
-  Rotted Victuals/Leaking Water: need to get back to port sooner than expected
-  Sunburn: especially bad when stuck in a doldrum
-  Scurvy:  when you're eating everything salted you need your vitamin C
-  Uncharted Island:  what's there?
-  Malfunction:  sometimes you break a spar or rip a sail even in nice weather

A seafaring game seems like it'd be tons of fun in D&D4.  I'd make sure to let the ship level up along with the characters.  Maybe give it the granted powers like in DMG2 or else let them "upgrade" in each tier -- galley, caravel, galleon.

Thanks everyone for all of these fantastic ideas and pointers to resources.  Keep them coming. 

I thought I'd just add, for the sake of future people searching the forums for this sort of information, that I recently purchased the "Companion to Freeport (4E)" by Expeditious Retreat Press to accompany the "Pirate's Guide to Freeport" by Green Ronin.  The Pirate's guide provides piles of interesting fluff, mostly land based, while the Companion provides piles of crunch, including 100+ NPCs, Items and Rituals, and a new seagoing class: the Corsair.  There's little in either about actual seagoing, but there's a nice rule for seasickness as a disease.

"As the good archmage often admonishes me, I ought not let my mind wander. It's too small to go off by itself"

Danilo Thann