By Frank Gori
Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!"
- Moby Dick, Herman Melville
- Moby Dick, Herman Melville
If you haven’t read Moby Dick by Herman Melville I highly encourage you to do so, your life will be richer for it. That said it isn’t required reading for what follows below. On Monday I gave you a take on Moby Dick that should terrify most adventuring parties, yesterday John gave you a bizarre possibility of a whaling vessel based on the Pequod, today I’ll give you a set up, some NPC concepts, a chase scene, and a combat. Basically the bones of what you need to make a tale inspired by Melville’s classic come to life at your table.image from http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/coffin-ships.html
The Set Up
Use whatever story hook you wish to get your PCs to travel by Sea. Normally they’d probably avoid the creepy looking whaling vessel decorated with whale teeth and bone however it happens to be headed where they are going and no one else is willing to take them. There could be ill omens that dissuade the superstitious sailors from traveling or a festival might have hired all cargo vessels.
If you’re not a fan of such heavy handed tactics try enticing them with mystery or simply make it fiscally rewarding (free passage or even rewards and training.)
Once you’ve effectively corralled your players on the ship, introduce them to the cast of characters below except for the captain. The first mate Starbuck hires them, their captain is seeing a healer regarding regenerating his arm, that is all the PCs are told.
Once the voyage has begun it’s another week before the captain makes his appearance along with his personal harpoon crew which looks to be a shady lot. PCs with a strong survival score (DC30) might notice the ship is taking a very indirect route to their destination.
PCs that have a good diplomacy score may well pick up rumors from the crew:
Captain Ahabar lost his arm to a white whale. (True)
The cabin boy is a witch of some sort and can see the future. (False the boy is an oracle)
Ahabar had a harpoon specially forged for the whale. (True)
Starbuck is talking to some of the crew about mutiny, but they are afraid of the harpoon crew. (True)
After properly setting the tone and tension (and about a week game time) the whale is spotted. Set the scene for some high drama as the crew readies itself for a fight, then give everyone a reflex save DC 18 to not get knocked prone when the whale rams the boat. If they are near the rail and fail the save by 5 or more the PC is overboard and will need swim checks.
Roll for Initiative
At this point we are going to do a modified version of a chase scene. There are four zones on the ship each has two or three tasks that need to be dealt with before six rounds have passed; in order to accomplish two objectives 1) Get the harpoon crew on rowboats and 2) get the ship back under control. Failure on any one task will allow another capsize attempt in round seven and reset 1d4 of the challenges. If the party fails twice there’s a sickening crack and the ship sill go down.
Moving from one zone to the other requires an acrobatics check DC 14. To determine where each character starts roll a d4.
Spells can cheat just like in any chase however due to the chaos and unsteady ground make spellcasters make concentration checks DC 12+1d4 each time.
The Stern or Rear of the Ship:
Man Overboard: The boatswain has gone overboard roll either a swim check DC 16 to dive in after him (with a tow line) or a ranged touch attack DC 19 to hit him with a net.
Up Anchor: The anchor unintentionally dropped and needs to be pulled up roll either a modified climb check (uses same muscles) DC 25 or a diplomacy DC 15 to get the attention of other crew members to help.
Lock and Load: The Stern has a ballista load it with a harpoon (chain detached) to dissuade pursuit Knowledge (Engineering) DC 12 to load properly or jam it in CMB against CMD of 22
The Bow or Front of the Ship:
Who’s Drivin’: The ship’s pilot was thrown and is currently stuck to some of the whale teeth that garishly decorate the ship either grab the wheel and steer Profession (sailor) DC 30 or help the man to his feet and bandage him Healing DC 14.
Shark: Just before the boat got rammed the men had caught a shark and pulled it aboard. Un fortunately it’s still alive and with the rolling about a bit of a danger either called shot against AC20 to coup de gras (touch AC but +10 to called shot) or Diplomacy to get help DC 16.
Mid-Starboard or middle right:
Lend courage: The Captain is a bit shaken by the hit to the boat you need to lend him some courage by either making a perception check DC 18 to notice and hand him his hip flask or Bluff 12 that he can win against the whale still.
My Harpoon Good Man: The Captain needs his weapon DC 20 perception check to find it or Diplomacy 16 to get the crew looking.
Lower the dingy: With the ship listing its actually a test of balance DC 18 Acrobatics or hit AC 25 to cut a tangle of rope and drop it forcibly.
Mid-Larboard or middle left:
Catch the Line: loose is preventing the sail from being taught catch it by jumping Acrobatics DC 22 or climb and follow it DC 16.
Secure the Line: You got the line now pull the sails taught and secure it by making either a Profession (sailor) roll DC 12 or a Survival DC 20 roll.
Assuming the PCs succeed the harpoon crew rows out to face the beast which will buy the PCs a luxurious 14 rounds before the whale resumes trying to capsize them (if they have not spent at least 3 rounds fleeing.)
Before it engages the captain though it summons four kytons who immediately grab the harpoon chains and will then attempt to climb a mast and destroy your sails. Otherwise it’s a normal battle with Chain devils.
Failure gives another opportunity to capsize the vessel.