Need some tips on DMing a naval/sailing non-combat encounter!

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Hey everyone!

This may have already been addressed on some other thread (if so, I apologize and please leave me the link), but I need help running a non-combat encounter for my player's characters who are about to board a naval vessel for a 2-3 day journey.  I am thinking weather perhaps?  Maybe some other believable, non-catastrophic event?  My main problems are: the ship is already crewed, so the players won't begin the encounter as crew members needing to actively sail the ship (Maybe some crew members will perish in the encounter, and thus, will have to be replaced by the players, but that's where my brain stops working) and the fact that I truly know nothing about the dangers of sailing ships.  What sort of things can happen in a large storm?  

Very simply, I imagine my two player's characters running around the tipping ship, solving particular problems, one by one, in order to survive the storm.

Any help you can loan me would be glorious.  Thanks!
Follow this link:

www.livingforgottenrealms.com/#gencon201...

SPEC 4-5.

The module contains a bunch of stuff.  Among them is a description of a ship docking under pressure.  You can draw ideas from that. 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here

Have the ship be manned on a skeleton crew, so if something outside the normal happens they need assistance because there are not enough crew to man the ship and deal with the unforseen problem.  Maybe the sails rip loose and the players have to fight the wind, rain and crashing waves while fixing the sails.  Failure can mean the ship loses control and takes a bad wave (possibly pushing some of  the already slim crew over the edge and out to sea), and they have to decide if the crew can be saved or if they have to continue on, and now they are really short handed so a player has to take over an oar, or work with the rigging - meaning there are fewer players to help on the main issue.  If they succeed in the encounter then the ship and most the crew make it out alive, failure might mean a damaged ship and heavier losses, so maybe the journey takes more time (if they are in a hurry to reach their destination), or they get stranded on an island or outcropping of rock until they can find the materials to fix the ship or at least get it off the rocks - this can lead to a few other encounters while they deal with the new problem.

Just some ideas, take them and run.

"The great epochs of our life come when we gain the courage to rechristen our evil as what is best in us." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Follow this link:

www.livingforgottenrealms.com/#gencon201...

SPEC 4-5.

The module contains a bunch of stuff.  Among them is a description of a ship docking under pressure.  You can draw ideas from that. 



Downloading as we speak.  Docking under pressure sounds like something I am looking for.  Thanks!

Have the ship be manned on a skeleton crew, so if something outside the normal happens they need assistance because there are not enough crew to man the ship and deal with the unforseen problem.  Maybe the sails rip loose and the players have to fight the wind, rain and crashing waves while fixing the sails.  Failure can mean the ship loses control and takes a bad wave (possibly pushing some of  the already slim crew over the edge and out to sea), and they have to decide if the crew can be saved or if they have to continue on, and now they are really short handed so a player has to take over an oar, or work with the rigging - meaning there are fewer players to help on the main issue.  If they succeed in the encounter then the ship and most the crew make it out alive, failure might mean a damaged ship and heavier losses, so maybe the journey takes more time (if they are in a hurry to reach their destination), or they get stranded on an island or outcropping of rock until they can find the materials to fix the ship or at least get it off the rocks - this can lead to a few other encounters while they deal with the new problem.

Just some ideas, take them and run.




Just the brainstorming I needed!  I like the idea of having one of the characters have to climb the mast to fix the sails during the storm.  
 
Many thanks! 

Or may in the storm they are hit by a rogue wave which washing some of the crew and maybe some of the players off the ship.  The players have to save each other and maybe the other crew before the ship sails off into the storm.  If they can't save some of the crew they need to take over their jobs to keep the ship running (Acrobatics/Thievery to run the rigging; Athletics/Endurance checks to man the oars; Nature/Perception to guide the ship; whatever else you can think of).

I had an encounter where the palyers were trying to launch the ship in stormy waters, and that was a good challenge.  Or trying to maintain speed and control to outrun the storm/enemy ship/nasty sea creatures.

"The great epochs of our life come when we gain the courage to rechristen our evil as what is best in us." - Friedrich Nietzsche
That's a great idea.  I would love to have one of my 2 players fall overboard and have the other player make an attempt to grab at his hand and same him (Reflex?), but I'm unsure of what to do if they fail at the check.  A storm that is bad enough to tip a player off a ship is bound to be strong enough to drown a player, and I'm not sure I want to kill anyone off yet.
Follow this link:

www.livingforgottenrealms.com/#gencon201...

SPEC 4-5.

The module contains a bunch of stuff.  Among them is a description of a ship docking under pressure.  You can draw ideas from that. 



Thanks again for that link!  This is a perfect encounter for the docking of the ship and has jump-started my brain.  Exactly what I needed!
sure, any time 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
Show
Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
Sea monster attacking the ship? Maybe it takes out a few of the crew and the PCs have to fight the monster(s) and take the crew's place?

Don’t forget about seasickness! (perhaps a Constitution based Saving throw with a penalty for dwarves because of their preference for solid ground) Feeding the fish may not be very heroic but it is realistic…

Panartias, ladies-man and Jack of all trades about his professions:

"Once, I was a fighter -

to conquer the heart of a beautiful lady.

Then I became a thief -

- to steal myself a kiss from her lips.

And finally, I became a mage -

- to enchant her face with a smile."

Besides the storm idea, there are other fun things to do when trapped on a small lump of wood surrounded by water.

There's a stowaway! The PCs might notice odd sound or missing supplies, and investigate. Alternatively, the crew find the stowaway and want to punish him, leaving the PCs to stick up for them (or not, as the case may be).

Maybe the damage they thought was done by the storm is later discovered to the intentional - one of the crew is sabotaging the voyage for some reason. Again, the PCs can investigate, and try to discover the traitor, but they also have to deal with the damage done, which could include a lack of rations, damaged rudders or sails, or stolen navigation charts. 

Perhaps the captain is a bit of a tyrant, and the PCs have to decide whether to support a mutiny or not. Maybe one of the conspirators offers to take them on a more direct route, but who's to say he keeps to his word, or even survives the uprising? 
Sea monster attacking the ship? Maybe it takes out a few of the crew and the PCs have to fight the monster(s) and take the crew's place?



Where I will probably be wanting to use that idea in the future, I'm trying to make this a non-combat encounter.  My reasoning?  The players have already had a shipwreck as well as a combat encounter on a ship.  I'd like them to get to shore safely, so as to not be so "jaded" when it comes to naval combat/catastrophic problems.

Appreciated still! 

Don’t forget about seasickness! (perhaps a Constitution based Saving throw with a penalty for dwarves because of their preference for solid ground) Feeding the fish may not be very heroic but it is realistic…




I love that idea.  I only have two human characters in my campaign, but I'm sure I can make this work.  Humans get sick too, right?    Con throw, you think?
Besides weathering a bad storm, you could have PCs dealing with a strange disease that starts to weaken the crew when they're a few days out.  Likewise, food could become spoiled or lost, requiring the PCs to stop at a not-so-friendly port or sneak ashore in small boats to get provisions.  The captain of the vessel could be young and inexperienced, have trouble maintaining order with his crew, and the PCs have to find some way to stop a mutiny.  After a night of heavy drinking and gambling, one crew member kills or severely beats another with unfounded accusations of cheating.  How should this NPC be punished, especially considering that she's the only expert navigator on the trip?  For three straight days the island way off the distance doesn't seem to be getting any closer.  On the third night the crew member in the crow's nest confides to the players that the star they ship is following has disappeared/or/the stars show that the ship hasn't made any forward progress the last few days?  What's going on?  What's to be done?
Besides weathering a bad storm, you could have PCs dealing with a strange disease that starts to weaken the crew when they're a few days out.  Likewise, food could become spoiled or lost, requiring the PCs to stop at a not-so-friendly port or sneak ashore in small boats to get provisions.  The captain of the vessel could be young and inexperienced, have trouble maintaining order with his crew, and the PCs have to find some way to stop a mutiny.  After a night of heavy drinking and gambling, one crew member kills or severely beats another with unfounded accusations of cheating.  How should this NPC be punished, especially considering that she's the only expert navigator on the trip?  For three straight days the island way off the distance doesn't seem to be getting any closer.  On the third night the crew member in the crow's nest confides to the players that the star they ship is following has disappeared/or/the stars show that the ship hasn't made any forward progress the last few days?  What's going on?  What's to be done?



All fantastic hooks that I will certainly be using.  How do you come up with so many hooks at once?  Any particular strategy or is this just a gift of your mind?
Besides weathering a bad storm, you could have PCs dealing with a strange disease that starts to weaken the crew when they're a few days out.  Likewise, food could become spoiled or lost, requiring the PCs to stop at a not-so-friendly port or sneak ashore in small boats to get provisions.  The captain of the vessel could be young and inexperienced, have trouble maintaining order with his crew, and the PCs have to find some way to stop a mutiny.  After a night of heavy drinking and gambling, one crew member kills or severely beats another with unfounded accusations of cheating.  How should this NPC be punished, especially considering that she's the only expert navigator on the trip?  For three straight days the island way off the distance doesn't seem to be getting any closer.  On the third night the crew member in the crow's nest confides to the players that the star they ship is following has disappeared/or/the stars show that the ship hasn't made any forward progress the last few days?  What's going on?  What's to be done?



All fantastic hooks that I will certainly be using.  How do you come up with so many hooks at once?  Any particular strategy or is this just a gift of your mind?

I'm glad they were helpful.  I'm a big believer in the shotgun method of idea generation.  Just don't be afraid to come up with a few bad ideas.  The disease one, for instance, might be a little difficult to pull off well because diseases are so rarely fun in a fantasy setting -- to say nothing of real life -- but once you come up with an idea you can think about ways to avoid common pitfalls and make it more fun, interesting, whatever.  

I'm a teacher by trade, and one thing I hammer into my students' heads over and over is "You can cut it once you write it, but you can't edit what's not on the page," meaning that no idea is a bad idea until you get to the drafting stage.    
Whatever you do, make sure that both failure and success are interesting.

As usual, I recommend talking to your group for ideas about what they think will occur during the trip, with a focus on things that would directly involve the party and their individual characters.

Travel is boring. Good luck spicing it up.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

If you can get it, Stormwrack is a 3.5 supplement loaded with ideas about this sort of thing. You'll have to adapt the mechanics to 4e, but overall the book was fantastic...
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Didn't Pathfinder people put out something about naval encounters that is (supposedly) 4e convertable?


Travel is boring. Good luck spicing it up.



I turn travel into an encounter in it's self. Anytime players are going to a city/settlement/dungeon/whathaveyou, and have to go through a forest or a canyon or a desert. I set up a map accordingly either with my heroscape tiles making a canyonesque landscape or a forest with my model trees. My players move around the map as if they were in an encounter, turns, movement, minor actions to check out rocks, tree's or ponds for herbs, hidden treasures etc,. They meet dangers along the way and usually some kind of randomozied event to make it unexpected and fun.

I assume sailing on a ship could be done in a similar way.

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