|Do not taunt the Sharktopus|
Tilted observation spires and the deck castles of the wrecked fleet are visible above the mangrove canopy from ½ a day’s distance by sea or land, and approach is possible from either direction. No sane captain, familiar with the waters and legends of the Morass will approach closer and neither will Crouch swamp guides or polemen.
Seaward, modern wrecks begin to appear in the shallows about a mile out from the first ancient ships, grasped by claws of bright coral with the newest still awash or with masts above the surface. Anchoring or staying among the wrecks is sure doom for incautious vessels, as within hours wandering coral will surround the vessel, a jungle of poisonous varicolored life drawing a tighter and tighter circle until it reaches up to tear the bilges open with calcified spires.
Vessels smaller than 20’ or those that can be pulled onto shore such as jollyboats, pinnaces and canoes escape this fate, but may fall prey to predatory sealife warped in the Morass’s strange esters. Every turn that a smaller boat spends in the water roll a random encounter check. Note that a standard rowboat will take about 2 turns to reach shore from a mile out.
Each turn in the waters near Green Flow Delta (including during passage between wrecks) the GM should roll a Wilderness Encounter Check - a D6. On a 1 a second D8 roll provides for an encounter with one of the delta’s denizens. Further details and statistics for each type of creature follow below the table. Rolling a 2 on the Wilderness Encounter Check calls for a roll on the Sights and Signs table that follows.
For random encounters it’s important to determine the distance at and exact location where they take place, but that’s easier at sea. All of these events or encounters occur on open water, where the clear azure of the Pyre Sea mingles with the murky currents of the Green Morass like oil is a clean pool, hiding the white sandy bottom in silt and dead leaves. Most creatures will be spotted 2 + 1D6 rounds from a small boat and 1D6/2 turns from a masted vessel with crows nest or other lookout. Likewise, not all creatures will be hostile, rolls 2d6 to check the current attitude of the creature with a low roll indicating hostility, the broad middle uncertainty and a high roll (11 or 12) a positive impression of the party. Reaction is dependent on the creature involved of course - a friendly Sharktopus will simply be curious and playful, limiting its aggression to a tipping a boat or nipping at anything in the water, while even hostile Scavengers are unlikely to attack unless they recognize the party as enemies. Some creatures such as polyps and sea dead don’t have a broad range of emotion beyond hunger and fear - but there’s always a chance they are currently well fed and placid.
Wilderness Random Encounters
The wilderness, long distance travel and really any exterior space has to be treated differently as an arena for play than the dungeon, and the more expansive, larger and open a space the less design principles appropriate to dungeon design and play apply. Long distance travel and wilderness exploration have traditionally relied on board game like progression across maps interspersed with scenes generated by random tables. The original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set even suggested the use of the 1972 Avalon Hill board game “Outdoor Survival” as a way of running wilderness travel and adventure. The “hex crawl” still uses at least the basic conceit of the board game - terrain types and a hexagonally tiled map - and wilderness adventure generally has a more gamified scope then dungeon exploration: time ticked off in hours or days instead of turns, and while spatial considerations are still involved, the environment is necessarily more abstracted. This compels wilderness travel to include Scene Based design - encounters, obstacles and other interactions within the wilderness will be discrete scenes, informed perhaps by the larger map, but separate from the wider scope or frame of the travel mechanics.
Scene Based design should be familiar to readers of contemporary Dungeons & Dragons products as the Encounter Design described in the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide is a variety of it. However, unlike a lot of scene based design, random encounters within a classic wilderness or dungeon are only loosely tied to a larger narrative, they primarily serve the purposes of embodying the risk of inaction, placing time pressure on party and threatening party resources -- largely as a counter balance to cautious play and goad to take risks. Yet each random encounter is a scene, perhaps more so then the dungeon random encounter, because there’s no larger location to wrap it in and to offer descriptive help to the GM. Because their design is so unconnected from a level or each other wilderness encounters are best when they carry their scene or location with them, and when they supply some larger context. This context can lodge even a random encounter within the setting introducing factions, creature types, hooks, rumors and secrets that contextualize an area and give clues about its contents or ecology. Fans of pure wilderness exploration adventures, generally the “hexcrawl” style of adventure, often enjoy the way that the juxtaposition of several random elements and encounters over the course of a session or play offer tools for a GM and players to interpret a story or relationships between them - sometimes labeling this phenomenon “emergent play”. In as small a space as Plague Ship’s Green Flow Morass this sort of design isn’t really effective, as the number of outdoor encounters is likely to be limited. Still the random encounters here offer introductions and information about all the major factions within the Green Flow Morass as well as examples of its characteristic deadly fauna and magical corruption.
Because wilderness travel (even the two turns it takes to row ashore) should offer more than encounters with roaming monsters, I’ve also included a second table. Unlike later supporting tables this is not a list of clues that hint at the identity of the random encounters but memorable events that provide setting context or detail. The purpose of these is to both indicators of what’s to come, and break up any monotony in travel. In a larger wilderness (and indeed in the later section on land encounters and the peculiar environment of the Morass’ arcane sink) I would use multiple tables, mirroring the “exploration die” or “overloaded encounter die” mechanism I use for tracking supply depletion in dungeon locations. Specifically I tend to roll an exploration die 3 times a day for the periods of dawn to noon, noon - dusk and dusk to dawn. The numbers on that die each correspond to a table for the region: 1 for encounter, 2 for signs or clues regarding encounters, 3 for changes in the base weather, 4 for a landmark (useful for color and as a reference point for future trips in the hex or as a new point), 5 for an event, obstacle or occurrence and 6 for exhaustion. At night 4 and 6 have no effect.
I don't think I've commented on the art so far, but I'm really digging the 4-color stuff that you've been making for this series. There's also something so uncanny about an ocean setting with red and yellow highlights, but nothing green or blue.ReplyDelete
That sharktopus looks appropriately terrifying. It feels equivalent to a "dragon" of the seas. I liked the 4-eyed whale that was (I think) map decoration last time.
Glad you're enjoying them, it's been nice to have a project with clear self-imposed art limits and I also think the style is pretty effective, even if my hand is quite out of practice. Thanks!Delete