D&D Ideas — Oceans
Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is oceans, which we discussed in our weekly live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of oceans in Fish Food a chance encounter on the high seas leads to a potential trifecta of terror: drowning, water issues and being lost at sea. A pleasant sea voyage turns upside down by attacking water enemies and a rapidly sinking ship along with 54 other dynamic scenarios in Out of the Box. Find out more about it here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy plus snag a FREE GIFT by signing up here.
Up the dragon ante with the week that was! Homebrew some fun new options for your game, go all in on the dragon population and so much more plus new live chats with creative folks and industry pros round out this week’s Nerdy News. Check it out here.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
Many worlds are covered by more water than land. These vast tracts of water are another wilderness to be explored. You could run a whole fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign in this vastness without ever stepping foot on land. You could even go the Water World route where there isn’t any dry land or it’s a mythical thing. All the adventures could take place on a ship encountering other ships or things at sea. What about a sailing city upon the ocean moving along the surface of the waves? This campaign could be a whole mix of urban and aquatic adventures. Let’s discuss an idea for a 5E D&D campaign on the oceans.
Jewel, the City that Sails
Jewel is a city powered by arcane devices crafted from another age. The magic to construct such works has long been lost but the city does have a host of magi-architects (artificers) who understand how to maintain and keep things operating. The city is 50 square miles of surface area. Many buildings rise into the sky 100 feet into the air. A latticework of bridges expands from building to building. The poorest of the city live above in the high rises of the city stacked upon each other like cords of firewood. Most of these folks work on the growtops. Every roof has space used to collect rain water and grow crops to supplement the bounty of the oceans.
At water level you’ll find the bulk of shops, warehouses, factories, craftspeople and tradespeople, restaurants, theaters and more. Very few people actually live at water level. This is also where the Navy of Jewel operates from.
Jewel extends 50 feet below the waves. There is a whole undercity with watertight windows providing amazing views into the depths of the oceans. There are two tiers of residential communities down here. The wealthiest denizens of the city have housing below the hustle and bustle of the city in these sections. Below these dwellings are the inner workings of Jewel. This is where the machinery keeping the city powered and functioning is housed. This area is the providence of the magi-architects who keep everything working. Another group often found lurking beneath the city are the Underguard. The Underguard deals with unwanted nuisances. Sometimes creatures find their way into the inner workings and must be dealt with.
The rulers of Jewel and the hub of the bureaucratic workings of the city can be found at the Helm. The Helm is an enormous castle at the center of the city. This is where the locomotion of Jewel is controlled, command of the city’s military is housed and the college of magi-architects can be found.
Adventures in Jewel
- Members of the Underguard
- Troubleshoot threats that find their way into the inner workings
- Magi-Architect Guild Members or Operators
- Find, fix and repair the arcane devices of Jewel
- Students at the college of magi-architect
- Jewel Sailor or Marine
- Military of Jewel combating threats to the city
- Part of a salvage team
- Members of a Thieves Guild
- No city is without crime and a seedy underbelly!
- Members of Jewel’s watch
From Ted’s Head
I did not sea you there. Please allow me to wave hello. I am sorry all these puns are just too fishy but I could not kelp myself. When it comes to exploring the oceans in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons there are two options. Either above it on boats or under it by exploring the oceanic depths.
The real hassle in doing so in 5E D&D is ship to ship combat can be rather tricky and failing leaves the adventurers sinking to early graves. The other side relates to the fact most races have no ability to survive in water. These limitations apart from the complex ship cannons and fighting underwater without a swim speed make running 5E D&D campaigns centered on oceans interesting in concept but the mechanics slow things down and make it extra challenging for the characters.
There are of course ways to make exploring the oceans more fun in 5E D&D. Simply granting all the characters a swim speed and the ability to breathe underwater comes to mind. Would this destroy the challenge or take away from the experience? I say no. In 5E D&D the heroes, or adventurers, are explorers. They have a love for going places others dare not tread.
If the expression a fish out of water has a meaning then putting adventurers into water could wind up having the same kind of experience. They could learn about combat in three dimensions, explore new types of hazards and monsters and meet new people and see sites surface dwellers only dream about.
Besides kraken there’s sahuagin, dragon turtles and more below the oceans waves and there are so many cool things that can be done. Surface dwellers thrust into an underwater world experience cultures vastly different than the ones they know. Buildings and structures are made of new materials and have designs not seen on the surface. Beyond the traditions, laws and daily practices might shock and surprise the newcomers.
If you are going to have an adventure on or beneath the oceans waves the weather is your greatest strength as a Dungeon Master or your greatest adversary if you are a player. The weather can be a hazard causing as much damage or more than monsters on the waves. It can blind you to other hazards lurking out in the waves be they other ships, rocky outcroppings or dangerous monsters seeking to attack the ships.
However you decide to explore the oceans make sure you have a blast (of salt water), or get carried away by all the sea air.
From the Nerditor’s desk
I’m not a huge nerd about oceans or watercentric activities (do hot tubs count?) but you’d never know it through the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons adventures I’ve run. Just about every campaign incorporates oceans in some fashion whether adventurers travel across them to start their careers, make regular use of oceans to explore or expand on the concept through science fantasy elements like including the vastness of space as an analog for oceans.
There’s two distinct reasons I find oceans the similar situations useful for 5E D&D. First they’re more controllable environments. Characters let loose in an open world they’re adapted for (on land) means they have much broader scope of options. Seems kind of weird right? Hear me out. Even a party at the command of a vessel traveling the oceans encounters far fewer people, places and things generally speaking. Oceans of water or outer space are vast and deep but mostly empty.
The second reason flows from the first and creates pockets of time to work some Dungeon Master magic. Unless characters confront something to fight they’re pretty much stuck engaging in social interaction with each other and any NPCs on their ship or exploring the surrounding oceans. These make terrific opportunities to thrust player agency upon the group. Traveling upon or beneath oceans suggests lots of time each day to fill up and since it’s typically not a native environment for characters they can really explore their own imaginations this way.
During the live chat when Nerdarchist Ted and I discussed this topic I grew excited by the idea of a one shot featuring characters native to oceans who experience a fish out of water scenario when they plan and execute a heist on dry land. This intrigues me greatly! I’ve been champing at the bit for an aquatic campaign for a while and since we run our monthly one shots with the Nerdarchy community I think I’m going to try this out next time. I’ll provide pregenerated characters for the group and we’ll find out what happens when natives of the oceans depths are tasked with navigating a much less three dimensional world.
If you’d like to game with Nerdarchy every month we randomly select players from subscribers to this very newsletter for a one shot so keep an eye out for those opportunities, especially if the oceans fascinate you as much as they do us when it comes to 5E D&D.
*Featured image — The oceans demand a price be paid in Fish Food, one of 55 dynamic encounters ready to drop into your game in Out of the Box. [Illustration by Kim Van Deun]