In previous articles, a small island and stronghold were detailed. When the PCs are ready to venture off the island, a GM needs to create a waterborne wilderness setting. This article covers creating a waterborne setting for PCs to explore.
Basic World Building uses the tools from 1981’s Basic Dungeons & Dragons and Expert D&D and re-imagined in Old-School Essentials to build a starting campaign setting. Even though it is based on Basic D&D, it could be used with other D&D rules or fantasy RPGs.
Waterborne adventure creation has three steps. The PCs need to outfit a ship, the GM needs to design a wilderness area for exploration, and the GM needs to create encounters to meet while sailing. Of the seaworthy ships, PCs are most easily able to afford a small warship, but for slightly more they can purchase a longship and open up traveling along rivers as well as the ocean.
Waterborne adventuring consists of five steps:
- Decide course: determined by the PCs.
- Losing direction: more likely without a navigator; the referee has rules to assist.
- Weather: The referee can roll on a table to determine the wind conditions.
- Wandering monsters per the rules for random encounters.
- Description: The referee describes the regions passed through and any sites of interest that the party comes across, asking players for their actions, as required. If monsters are encountered, the referee follows the rules for encounters.
- End of day: The referee records all the records.
The PCs decide which hex they want to travel toward. Most ships travel in groups whenever possible since buccaneers, pirates, and monsters sometimes travel in packs. PCs might coordinate with a merchant fleet for safer travel. PCs can hear rumors of treasure in seaside taverns, follow treasure maps found in monster hoards, and seek out new lands for trade or conquest.
The Darkling Sea
A large swamp to the east is home to coastal traveling lizardmen who ride giant crocodiles while hunting. Amber can be found here as well as gold, but vicious monsters and virulent disease threaten explorers.
The lower island to the west, Lost Island, is overrun with reptiles and large mammals. Elephants roam the land and seem to have a powerful bond within family units.
The smaller island, Shoal Island, is home to a few villages. The villagers fish and a few mine for amber. The bay is usable but has a dangerous reef that has to be navigated.
The part of an island to the north, Shadow Isle, has a bay that is a shelter for buccaneers and pirates. They have a ramshackle collection of broken boats turned into a shantytown called Haven and Hive.
Off the map, a couple of dozen hexes away to the west is a duchy with a small navy. The duke wants the gold, ivory, and amber found on the islands of the Darkling Sea and is willing to trade with any villages willing to do so or take it by force from pirates.
1 hex = 30 miles
A navigator has a 2 in 6 chance of getting lost as do PCs in sight of land (they automatically get lost in the open sea). The GM can roll a d4 to veer them one hex side off in either direction. A longship or small warship can sail 90 miles a day with normal wind. A 30-mile hex works for ocean travel and seafarers with clear skies can see land a hex away. 20 hexes are roughly the distance between England and France, and 10 hexes would separate England from Ireland. For PCs just starting sailing, having land within 10 hexes is probably a good starting point and 5 hexes if they are island hopping.
While experienced adventurers and merchants might be randomly encountered at sea, their descriptions do not include ships. Merchants will have1d6 small sailings ships with a third of that number rounded down in small warships crewed in the same way buccaneers crew small warships. Experienced adventurers have 1d3 warships with extra ships crewed like buccaneers.
The Wreck of the Wight’s Shadow Encounter
The pirate ship called the Wight’s Shadow is half sunk on a coral reef near Shoal Island with treacherous currents. PCs may want to loot the ship and go to investigate. A referee may require a navigation check to safely avoid having the currents pull the PCs’ ship into the coral.
The top two decks are home to 6d6 seafaring lizardmen. For every 3 lizardmen there is a large crocodile mount as well. They have gathered all the trade goods, foodstuffs, and rum into an intact cabin on the middle deck. The treasure itself is half sunk on the lowest level where the lizardmen don’t venture. A wight guards the treasure, and a shadow stays close, once serving the pirate king in life and still following him in undeath. The guarded chest holds 2000 gp, amber worth 400 gp, and has a 10% chance of holding a sword +1, energy drain with an ebony blade called the Wight’s Shadow. If not found, it is resting somewhere on the bottom of the sea.
Heart of Darkling – DiTullio Islands Encounter
The DiTullio Islands are home to a couple dozen humans with a large warship. If attacked or when night falls, 3d10 of the humans become berserkers, and 2d4 become wereboars. They are willing to trade, but all of them have terrible tempers.
Treasure chest: 4,000 cp; 2,000 sp; 2,000 gp, 4 100 gp ivory tusks, and the sailor’s star (a magical astrolabe) and the sailor’s clock (magic sand glass). Also tucked into the bottom is a treasure map to an elephant graveyard on Lost Island guarded by carnivorous apes.
When on a ship, the user can see through smoke, fog, and clouds and visibility for him is not reduced due to weather or smoke.
This magical sand glass is marked with one hour etchings. If turned over when a ship sets sail, the sailor’s clock attaches firmly to any surface and provides perfect time in one hour increments. The user can also move a result for variable wind conditions up or down one spot on the table, moving the ship into more favorable conditions with clock-like precision.
If both magic items are used together, the chance of a navigator getting lost at sea is reduced to a 1 in 6 chance.
Additional support for your nautical campaign can be found in The Minrothad Guilds, The Kingdom of Ierend, The Isle of Dread, and The War Rafts of Kron. Nautical adventures and areas like the Darkling Sea demand high adventure and derring-do. Treasure must be brought out of wild lands or taken from grasping pirates. Strange currents and fierce winds can drive a ship into the unknown, perhaps to danger or to riches. Maybe both.
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