Tag Archives: Nautical

Two Page Mini Delves: The Secret of the Pale Reaver

 This article is part of the May of the Dead blog carnival. For lots (and lots) more May of the Dead goodness, check out Going Last’s carnival page here.

There are a few things that I’m trying out with this two page delve. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not I was successful. Of all the two page delves I’ve made thus far, this was the one I really wish I could have playtested and tweaked. Unfortunately, this was not an option. So even if you don’t think the delve would work out for your group as presented, at the very least this will hopefully be a starting point for ideas.

I tried out an isometric view when I made the map. It turns out that isometric dungeons are quite easy to make, as long as you have some isometric graph paper. You can print out isometric graph paper for free online; I used at 1/4″ grid. I also drew the map with a 6B pencil instead of the usual black gel pen. You’ll have to let me know if you like the look better or worse than the cleaner lines of a pen.

And of course this is my first shot at horror. There isn’t really a way to “win” this delve, only a way to survive. Many players might not like that. I tried to incorporate advice on horror writing that I’ve found in various places – I’ve used lots of foreshadowing before the final “encounter” and included advice for the DM to generate suspense during the delve.

The map for this dungeon is an exact replica of the Fat Dragon Games “Sea Dragon” model, which I talked about last week. You certainly don’t need the model to run the delve, but if you want a 3D representation on the table, that’s where you can get one.

 You can download the mini delve here.

The Pale Reaver

May Of The Dead: Papercraft Ghost Ship

As you know, this month Going Last is hosting the May of the Dead blog carnival. (You can click here to see the other articles, but not until you’ve read mine.) When they announced the carnival, one of the first things that came to mind for me was “ghost ship.”

This is actually an experiment that came to mind when I was making World Works Games’ (WWG) “Sea Maiden,” but instead I decided to try out someone else’s papercraft – I went with the “Sea Dragon” by Fat Dragon Games. The idea is this: instead of printing the ship out in full color, could you create a simple ghostly effect just by printing in black and white? Continue reading

The Sea Dragon’s Maiden Voyage, Part III

Yes, that's one of my players on his cell phone in the background. I'm so ashamed...

In Part I of this fun little series, I outlined a skill challenge that took place aboard World Works Games’ “Maiden of the High Seas papercraft ship.  If you don’t remember the skill challenge, take a second to go back and read it over again.  Even though it’s been two weeks since you read about it, keep in mind that the following combat happens immediately after the PCs pass or fail the skill challenge.   

The Combat (Level 4)    

First, let me emphasize that this combat isn’t really “winnable” in the traditional sense.  It has been designed to keep replenishing monsters every round.  Instead of just killing everything in sight to end the encounter, the PCs have a goal (which should be made very clear to them) that has to be accomplished in a certain time frame.    

Second, the combat will be far more difficult if they did not successfully complete the prior skill challenge.  Before I dive into the actual combat, here is what the PCs face if they were unsuccessful at the skill challenge:    

  • All squares are difficult terrain
  • At the beginning of each round, everyone makes a moderate acrobatics check.  On a failure, you slide 2 square toward the port or starboard (random, by die roll) as a gust of wind catches one of the unfurled sails and tosses the boat violently.  This forced movement can push a PC overboard.
  • Both of these combat conditions can be ended by completing the skill challenge.
    Protip: Ranged strikers do their thing from the crow’s nest really well.


    One of the sailors bellows a war cry, drawing your attention to the side rails.  Swarming over the sides of the boat are dozens of sahuagin. Plus, with an adequate passive perception, players are given the following information before the combat starts. Otherwise, they receive it after the first round of combat: There seem to be two of the shark-men who are not involving themselves in the combat; one at the fore of the boat, and one at the aft.  Instead, they are performing some kind of ritual.  If you look closely, you can see a faint thread of energy running between them.  A moderate arcana or religion check will reveal that the ritualists are performing a summoning ritual.  A difficult check will reveal that they are summoning an elemental.   


  • Goal: Kill the two ritualists before 5-7 rounds have passed. (DM discretion, determine ahead of time based upon your party)
  • Enemies: 4 sahuagin raiders, 1 sahuagin priest, 6 sahuagin guards (pg. 224 of the Monster Manual) PLUS the two ritualists who are also sahuagin priests, but do not involve themselves in the combat in any way.
  • Special 1: At the beginning of every round, add 3-6 sahuagin guards to the combat, DM’s discretion. They start their turn next to one of the ship’s side rails.
  • Special 2: The Arcane Ballista from Part II is in play.
  • Tactics: The ritualists start the combat at either end of the boat, and the raiders are with them, as protection.  The guards (minions) should run interference, making it more difficult for PCs to get from one end of the boat to the other, and otherwise distracting them.  They should not all bunch up around the ritualists, making them impossible to reach.  The idea is to make it as much like a chaotic melee as possible.  Finally, the priest (the active one) should stand near one of the ritualists, taking advantage of the raiders’ protection, and attack the party from range with Spectral Jaws and then Water BoltAny sahuagin that is pushed overboard will “lose a turn” and reappear on deck on their following turn.  Therefore, pushing one of the ritualists overboard will extend the number of rounds allowed for success by 1.  In other words, it does not interrupt the ritual, but it does slow it down.   


There was a mini shortage that night, so I resorted to using odd minis and dice.

If you want to make the combat even more interesting, you could have some of the sahuagin start attacking the captain as he steers the boat, threatening to lose control of the boat if he is killed.  If that happens, revert to the “skill challenge failure” conditions unless a standard action is spent every round behind the wheel to keep the ship under control.  I would only recommend this if it seems like the PCs aren’t having too much trouble.    

Of course, the “why” of the combat is up to you.  Perhaps it’s a random attack, but perhaps the sahuagin are attacking that ship specifically for some reason.  Maybe there’s a certain cargo or passanger aboard that they want to get at.  Alternately, the attack could be a precursor to widespread attacks by sahuagin on sailing vessels.  So, if you want to just drop it in your campaign as a one-off, you can, and if you want to make the combat more meaningful, you can do that too.    

That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell.  What’s that? I missed something?  What happens if they don’t kill the ritualists in time, you ask?  Let me tell you:  a gargantuan water elemental shaped like a shark appears and smashes the boat to tinder in his monstrous jaws.  Seriously.  (By the way, if the PCs are successful, the same water elemental appears and smashes into the boat, but this time, only the sahuagin are washed off the deck, and once it’s gone, everything is mysteriously dry, the sun is out, and the storm is gone.  So either way, you get to describe the fearsome elemental.)    

Unfortunately for my players, they didn’t recognize the urgency of the situation, and decided to engage the minions, raiders, and priest for 7 rounds instead of really focusing their attacks on the ritualists.  I know they will probably argue with that assessment, but I think the results speak for themselves.  (Sorry guys)  They are now adrift in the middle of the ocean, one dead, and the rest struggling for survival on whatever pieces of wood they could cobble together from the remains of the Sea Dragon.  Will they survive?  We’ll all find out (myself included) tonight…    

One final note: I mentioned that one of the characters died.  Since January, I’ve been bringing the Going, Going, Gone! Dicie award from WeXogo.com to every session, and just letting it sit next to me.  So I was finally able to give that away.  Here is the lucky recipient, whose Shaman died as his ethereal celestial bear wept tears made of pure sunshine, or some sentimental crap like that:

Large Scale Naval Conflict In Your D&D Campaign

I recently bought the WorldWorks Games “Maiden of the High Seas.”  It’s a huge, beautiful papercraft ship for use in D&D and other fantasy games.  As I’ve been cutting, gluing, and folding, I’ve also been brainstorming ways to incorporate it into adventures.  After all, it would be a little depressing to do a bunch of work putting it together only to let it gather dust on a shelf somewhere.  One of my brainstorms involved a large scale naval battle.  Unfortunately, the size of the finished ship and the time it takes to build just one disqualifies using the papercraft model for such an endeavor.  It occurred to me, however, that there is a way to simulate something like this within your game – by dropping an already complete miniature ship battling game into your D&D adventure.

A few years ago, I got into the game “Pirates of the Spanish Main” by WizKids games.  I have quite a ship collection.  All my cards have been sitting unused on my game shelf for a while now, and it occurred to me that I could drop the entire rules set, slightly modified, into a D&D adventure.

For those of you who have never played Pirates of the Spanish Main, it’s a cross between a collectible card game (CCG) and a miniatures battling game.  Your ships come as pieces that you punch out of a plastic card (think credit card) and assemble.  Assembled ships are a little less than an inch across, and generally two or three inches long.  Each ship has a number of masts with cannons attached, a cargo hold size, a given speed, a point value and usually a special ability.  Players build fleets in a “point-buy” system; in other words, players agree on a number of points to build fleets with, and use the point value assigned to each boat (and special crew members) to choose ships.  Movement is free-form (there’s no grid).  During gameplay, players move around to attack one another’s ships, land on islands (which are also included in ship packs) and gather gold.

I hadn’t read the rules in a while, but after a quick refresher, I decided that I could slightly modify the rules to work in a D&D setting.  Here are the changes I made:

Drop the Exploration & Gold Gathering Aspect

For the purposes of what I want to do, there’s no reason for players to gather gold.  They’re only engaging in a naval battle.  So immediately, the rules for exploration, pillaging others’ ships, and cargo hold capacity get thrown out.

Drop the “Ram,” “Pin,” and “Board” Rules

Pinning and Ramming add something to the game, but they’re too detailed for what I’m trying to do – make a boiled down version of the game.  Plus, I have in mind a battle with one or two really big ships (the DM) against several smaller ships (the PCs).  Having one of the DM’s ships pinned during the combat would be akin to the PCs stunning a solo monster.  There’s a fairly good chance one of my players will want to try and ram anyways, in which case I’ll fall back on the rules as written, minus the pinning aspect.  Boarding is something I would want to “zoom in” on and use the big papercraft model ship for, so I’m dropping those rules as well.

Use a Grid for Movement

Dungeons & Dragons players are used to using a grid for movement, and to be honest, I always thought the free-form movement rules for the original game were a bit fiddly.  I replaced free movement with a simpler, grid-based, rule: short equals 2 squares, and long equals 3. I left the rest of the movement rules intact.

Adding a Risk Component

I needed to incorporate an aspect of risk to the battle as well.  After all, if there’s no fear of death, why would it be fun?  So I added the following rules:

  • If your ship is sunk, you need to make a moderate DC athletics check every subsequent turn.  If you fail your athletics check by 5 or more, you sink below the waves, and die.  (Note: Hardcore DMs could probably leave out the “by 5 or more” part.  I certainly considered it, but I guess I’m a bigger softie than I’d like to admit.)
  • If you haven’t died, any ship can pick you up as a minor action by stopping in one of the squares you sank in.  You are now considered a musketeer aboard that boat, and roll your own attack roll on that ship’s turn.

Making it More Familiar

Finally, I decided to use the action economy that D&D has, to make the game more familiar.  On their turn, each player gets a minor, a move, and a standard, with the same “trade down” system that D&D uses.  Not only does this put the players farther up the learning curve, it will also move the combat along; the original game only allows a move OR an attack on your turn.

An Anachronistic Problem

Of course, there is also a “fluff” issue we have, but it’s easily solved.  Most D&D settings do not have gunpowder, let alone cannons.  Instead, we’re going to say that every ship has a wizard in each crow’s nest.  These wizards are one-trick ponies, but they do that trick really well: they can only cast “Force Orb” (PHB p. 160) as an at-will power.  There are varying degrees of ability among these wizards, which explains the different ranges and to-hits of each cannon.  Finally, it’s a good way to explain why there are only a number of cannons as there are masts, and why you can no longer shoot the cannon when the mast is destroyed.  You might also introduce the “mast wizards” earlier in the adventure to help players suspend disbelief when you introduce the naval battle.  As a note in the rules, I described them as wizards that have been nicknamed “canons” because they are generally smarter than the rest of the crew.

Check out our Downloads page to view the full rules set that I gave my players as a handout.

The idea is to have one or two big ships on the DMs side against one ship per PC.  Referencing ship point values is the best way to make sure the encounter is balanced.  For example, the DM could pit two 15 or higher point ships against five or six 4-6 point ships.   The best resource I have found on ship names and their point values is at Miniature Trading.  They have complete lists of all the ships, and their point values, though you have to click on a ship’s name to pull up its point value.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, WizKids no longer makes the Pirates of the Spanish Main booster packs.  Fortunately, at the time of this writing, the secondary market for these little ships is still booming.  Aside from the Miniature Trading site, you will want to check out Ebay and Amazon, and you can also check out online game sellers like Troll & Toad.  Most dealers that carry Magic: The Gathering cards and D&D Miniatures will carry the ships as well.  I might also mention that there were several expansions to the game such as Pirates of the Revolution, Pirates of the Barbary Coast, etcetera, so feel free to use ships from those collections as well.

Hopefully, I’ve sparked your imagination a little bit.  Perhaps you have no use for naval combat, but there are a myriad of miniatures games out there.  What others could we easily drop into our D&D games to change things up?