This encounter is intended for five PCs of 5th level
A few years back I started what was intended as a long-running campaign, and wanted to open it with a bang. But more importantly, I wanted to use he fancy viking longship square-grid map I had found on-line. I combined those purposes to assemble the following encounter, which ran pretty smoothly. I’ve updated it, adjusting it to be for a higher level and adding the complication of the sea monster – just to up the ante on the danger level. Naturally I’d pass along the battle map as well but in the intervening years the website has gone done and I foolishly never saved a file of it. I’ll rough out the boat’s dimensions below to approximate it but it won’t be very pretty. In it’s stead, I’d recommend picking up this Game Mastery set for the pretty awesome Longship it features. Its a bit larger than the ship I used at first, but the encounter could probably use the extra space. This might reduce the risk of characters being washed to sea, so keep that in mind if using maps with other dimensions for this encounter.
I know it’s merely a representational thing; but the fact that hazards in 4th edition make “attack rolls” against a player’s defenses always compels me to say things like “the sea attacks!” or “the ice attacks!” I assure you that yelling that over and over will gain you no good will with your players, but is VERY satisfying.
Structure and Goal
While en route across the sea, the PC’s will book passage aboard the only ship available – a sturdy if small longship with a handful of other passengers already prepared to board. During the voyage a large storm hits. To make matters worse, several of the passengers are slavers who are plotting to hijack the ship and sell off their shipmates to the highest bidder. A battle ensues, meanwhile the tossing and churning of the waves threatens to wash passengers, slavers, and PCs alike into the dark and freezing waters. And if that weren’t enough, the boat is being trailed by a hungry sea serpent, intent on gobbling up anyone who gets flushed off deck.
The key here is to keep the passengers alive. With the violent storm waters wracking the ship and slavers not too concerned with roughing up some of the more unruly merchandise, the other passengers (treated as minions) are in serious danger. But keeping them safe will yield an incremental experience bonus for the PCs.
The storm is terrible. Between the sea rocking the longship steeply, the roar of wind and thunder and the cries of the crew you are shocked that sleep is even possible. Still, it has been a long journey and huddled under a few furs you manage to nod off here and there. But as you come to this time, the situation has changed. The urgent yells of the crew are now pained screams, and you see figures struggling about amidst the frequent blasts of lightning and the everburning lanterns bolted to the mast. One of the crewmen is flung off the edge into the furious waves. The captain gurgles his last breath as a blade slides out of his gut. Its clear now – some of your fellow passengers have mutinied. “Stay where you are, meat!” Yells a half-elf with a bandana covering his left eye. “You’re to be fresh product in the slave markets, so keep your seats and close those mouths!” The shouting has alerted your companions and you quickly raise and arm yourselves. There’s a moment of hesitation as the mutineers turn to see you stand fast, their eyes shifting to one another uncertainly, before moving to attack. The other passengers panic, and flee from flashing blades and searing spells.
The PCs may position themselves in any square to begin with. This is where they were previously huddled sleeping
The Sea Attacks!
As waves buffet the sides of the boat, water surges across the deck, threatening to sweep passengers, hijackers and PCs out to sea. Alternating every other round, a wave will strike any creatures in all squares on one side of the boat or the other. Players, passengers, and slavers are all aware of what side the wave is about to hit on (they can see the swell coming).
On every even numbered round, at initiative 1 make the following attack:
- Waves Hazard
+7 vs. Ref
Target: All creatures in squares to one side of the boat (Roll 1d20: even = right side, odd = left side)- On Hit: The target is pushed out to sea three squares. If a creature falls into the water in this way or any other way, the creature begins to take ongoing 5 cold damage (from the frigid water) and cannot make a save against this damage until they are no longer submerged in water.
With the waves as violent as they are, swimming is a Moderate Athletics check, and climbing back into the boat requires 3 squares of movement
- For opponents who have been washed to sea, for simplicity’s sake, make a saving throw. On a success they spend their entire turn getting back to the nearest square on the boat. On a failure, the NPC is swallowed by the sea serpent – have fun describing the despicable slaver’s screams and desperate flailing as the beast grinds him up into a digestible paste
- Passengers who fall into the sea likewise disappear beneath the waves or into the sea serpent’s gullet (they have gullets, right?) Passengers get no saving throw or skill roll to escape – if the players fail to prevent the waves from washing them off deck, they are gone
- PC’s who are dropped to 0 HP or otherwise fall unconscious begin to sink. For simplicity of book-keeping (and to prevent a likely character death) bringing a fallen ally to the surface is a Hard Athletics check that takes a standard action. To do so the rescuing character must be in a square adjacent to the fallen character. Don’t forget the ongoing cold damage from being in the frigid waters
The Sea Serpent
Treat the sea serpent as more of a hazard than a monster. Seeing as how it’s over forty feet in length it would be quite a foe for players of this level. The sea serpent attacks the first target that fell into the water on its initiative. This can be a slaver, but does not include passengers who are considered “dead” as soon as they hit the water, regardless of how you describe their end. Any player may attempt an attack roll against the sea serpent to cancel its attack for the current round by readying an action to attack on the sea serpent’s initiative. The sea serpent remains underwater until it makes an attack.
Sea Serpent Hazard Level 5 (200 EXP)
+10 vs. AC 2d8+6 damage and the target is slid 1 square further from the boat
AC 20 Fort 22 Ref 15 Will 12
Targets: First creature to enter the water in a round
Countermeasures: Successful attack roll cancels attack for the current round
Range: Moves fast enough to make it to any square near the ship
The Passenger’s Actions
There are 5 passengers who are merely bystanders. None of these passengers are particularly bold or have any experience in battle. Their goal is to keep clear of both the slavers and the sea. When possible they will shift rather than provoke opportunity attacks. If the sea is poised to make an attack roll, they will risk the opportunity attack in order to avoid the waves.
A PC may shove a passenger to safety Sliding them one square) as a move action
Passenger Medium Humanoid (40 exp)
Initiative: Act on initiative 10 Speed 6
AC 12 Fort 12 Ref 12 Will 12
Though the slavers goal is to take all of the passengers alive, they accept that the crew is likely to fight back and are happy to dispatch a few of them. This was supposed to be a lucrative smash and grab, but the PC’s have thrown their plans into chaos. As such, when the PC’s put up resistance the slavers won’t take any chances – even though they are worth more alive. The Bandits and Captain thread they way through the safe sides of the ship doing their best to flank opponents. The duelist is the most dangerous, happily immobilizing PC’s along the edge of the ship to let the sea or the serpent take them.
If a passenger provokes an opportunity attack the slavers will make the attack. Overcome by the adrenaline rush of battle and concerns that the meek might be emboldened by the PC’s resistance, they will strike at their prey (against their better financial judgement)
x4 Human Common Bandits B (Monster Vault pg.170)
x1 Human Duelist D (Monster Vault pg.173)
x1 Half-Elf Bandit Captain C (Monster Manual 2 pg.138)
Each of the 5 passengers still alive at the end of the encounter grants the group 40 exp
Grant the players an additional 40 exp if all passengers survive the encounter.
(I determined this value by taking a minor quest’s exp value and dividing it between the passengers)
Experience for the sea monster and rocking waves are calculated together under the sea serpent’s hazard stats.
Total Monster and Trap Experience (Excluding Quest): 1,300 — Though technically a 6th level encounter, attack and defenses are intended for 5th level, and this is purposefully a difficult encounter.