Welcome once again to the weekly Nerdarchy Newsletter. This week we are feeling a little inspired by the new Wizards of the Coast adventure Ghosts of Saltmarsh. Also, Frog God Games currently has a live Kickstarter for Sea King’s Malice: a 5E Adventure in the Deadly Depths. It’s designed to take adventurers on a sweeping quest across the ocean, to previously uncharted lands, and finally down under the waves to the very depths of the sea.
The fantastic part about running aquatic adventures is you get to explore alien worlds or another plane without leaving the existing game world. While you aren’t truly leaving the world for another planet or plane you might as well be. The depths of the sea can be so alien and foreign to us. It creates opportunities to introduce flora and fauna into the game that is rare and exotic to the characters. But down below in the depths of the sea they might commonplace. Not only that, challenges like moving and breathing will make it seem like a new strange world. The characters will be able to move in three dimensions. I think a really creative thing we could do as Dungeon Masters is come up with ways for the characters to interact with this world beneath the waves.
I know Sea King’s Malice: a 5E Adventure in the Deadly Depths introduces giant man o’wars the sahuagin use to transport air-breathing prisoners to their watery realm. That gets me thinking of some other nonmagical solutions to problems. Like what about symbiotic jellyfish that can slip over someone’s head and allow them to breath underwater as if it was air? Or small manta rays the characters can hold onto and be pulled through the waters? There is a whole world of possibilities beyond just using magic. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: Bestiary of Benevolent Monsters in the Nerdarchy store has three creatures ready to fulfill Nerdarchist Dave’s wish!]
From Ted’s Head
Aquatic Adventures can be a lot of fun for both players and DMs alike. For good tips on this you might want to check out our video on how to survive aquatic adventures and prepare to face foes like the sahuagin.
But I thought it would be cool to add some additional elements here you might consider helpful. If you are going to be a player and you are focusing on making your backstory feel free to incorporate some additional story pieces to make the game more fun for you.
Did you you have a traumatic water episode as a child? Did you almost drown? Were you or someone you know attacked by an alligator? Consider adding in a fear element, not to debilitate you but to give you motivation to keep up roleplaying. Do not use this type of tip to halt the game or cause frustration to your DM, as that takes the wind from everyone’s sails, but use it as a catalyst so you have a character who has room to grow. In the case of the alligator maybe you get the DM to throw in a combat against one to allow you to show your fear and overcome it. Use the fact that the fear of a thing is almost always bigger than the thing itself, especially for an adventurer. Unless you are afraid of dragons and then you have every right to be afraid.
Do you have a love of the water? Are you playing an aquatic race or something that can hold its breath for a long time? Perhaps you have a dream of finding something under the water. Perhaps you get antsy and excited at the prospect of the mission or an aquatic adventure. Maybe you only look for those kind of adventures. They offer a thrill and enjoyment that land-based ones do not. You can use this as your major factor in finding the right kind of group, one that excels at what you love. Honestly this would be a great way to start a game where all the characters had this love or at least the ability to breathe water or hold your breath.
For the DMs out there let’s look at some simple adventure ideas you can use to get you started. Obviously you can use all the typical stuff of maps, lost items and captured people but I wanted to look at a few very aquatic adventures so you can slowly introduce your major plot arc rather than dive right in.
I am going to use the lost item or relic but with a twist. Sailing up a large river, the boat strikes a rock and begins taking on water. It is one thing to investigate a cave but what about going to the bottom of a massive river and looking from the start of the crash and follow from the river bed the direction of the current. Having the hazard of the water current and maybe having to deal with ships could be some unexpected fun. What will they find down there? Will it be treasure? Will the inhabitants — that you did not know were there — be friendly or foes? Were they responsible for the destroyed ship? Do they have the relic?
To completely steal from Mel Odom, what about a threat from the sea? Is a coastal town under attack from an enemy they do not see coming as they come from under the waves? You can use sahaugin, kuo-toa, a new race or even a gigantic monster like Godzilla. This would be a great game as you have the ability to fight off attacks, investigate, learn why and possibly negotiate to stop it, with encounters in town as well as underwater.
These are just a few D&D ideas to help get you started on your way to aquatic adventures whether you be player or DM.
From the Nerditor’s Desk
I’m going to take the opportunity provided by our topic this week — aquatic adventures in D&D — to spotlight the very best resource out there for Dungeon Masters to help with this or any other unusual environments. Chapter 5: Adventure Environments in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide contains a whole section on underwater adventures. There’s much more to be said about aquatic adventures than the material in the DMG, and many creators — including Nerdarchy — have produced content to expand on the concept. But very often the DMG is a great place to start for just about anything you’re wondering about as regards running a D&D game.
One of the first and best resources for D&D aquatic adventures is frontloaded in the underwater section and that’s a random encounter table. Nerdarchist Dave would love this because it is level agnostic. A party of 20th level superheroes could pass by an “enormous kelp bed” as easily as a group of 1st level rat catchers come face to face with a storm giant walking on the ocean floor. There’s even a second table for random encounters at sea. (The first one is specifically for those times the characters are beneath the waves.) Ghost ships, planar portals and krakens are all fair game on the wide open oceans. And I can tell you from experience, a random sea encounter can absolutely lead to aquatic adventures, whether you intend to or not.
In my home game, a fresh group of 1st level recruits into the Adventurers of Adventure get shipped off across the sea to set up shop in a sleepy little fishing village. As part of character creation we explored what happened on the voyage, using the idea of bonds from Dungeon World to develop starting relationships between the characters and create a narrative of their meeting together.
By the time the characters arrived at their destination, the seeds for several aquatic adventures were planted by the players themselves. I asked them each to share one thing that happened on their ten day ocean voyage, and then another player for some way their characters interacted during the scenario. There were whale sightings, pirates, derelict vessels with desperate survivors along with close saves, philosophical discussions and friendly rivalries established between party members.
So if you’re looking to incorporate aquatic adventures into your D&D games, try this out. Set the party in a location near to water, give them a couple of prompts and let the players provide the hooks. Explore one of them on the fly, and between sessions imagine how the different elements players provide, along with what takes place during the impromptu adventure, and the next thing you know you’ve got yourself a D&D campaign of aquatic adventures.
Before this exploration of the deep surfaces, I’ll leave you with one more thing maybe you can use to add a different dimension to your underwater aquatic adventures. This mechanical element is something I’ve used in my Spelljammer games to represent zero gravity environments, but it can certainly be used for underwater scenarios too — especially if there’s lots of debris or other objects in all around in the water.
Acrobatics and Athletics are your bread and butter here. A successful DC 10 check allows movement in a straight line at full normal speed. Stopping or changing direction requires you to be within 10 feet of another surface, spend a bonus action and succeed on a DC 10 check or continue to move. A failure by 5 or more and you crash into the surface, stopping movement and considered prone.