Help me design a ship encounter (4E) - Myth-Weavers

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Help me design a ship encounter (4E)

Help me design a ship encounter (4E)

Okay, so my 23rd-level party (consisting on a cleric, ranger, rogue, fighter, and wizard), are sailing on a ship. They are being pursued by the BBEG's attack ship. If they could get a straight-on fight, they would likely make mince meat of the enemy crew, but I want to design an encounter that is a genuine challenge for them. The enemy ship will try to sink their ship. In the middle of the ocean, drowning is a real risk even for 23rd level PCs. So I want some sort of mix of skill challenge plus fighting that will challenge my characters. Got any ideas?

Here's a few ideas:
  • The enemy ship could fire cannons (Range 100-200) with explosives and liquid fire that set their ship on fire. Skill challenge would be to put the fire out and keep the ship in one piece until they can get closer so their own powers can take effect. (Their ship would also fire back, but they may not have special ammunition unless someone has alchemy and wants to try to make some on the spot).
  • Their ship could be compromised so that they can't aim as many cannons as they have at the enemy boat. They may have to help maneuver the boat to reduce the vulnerability of their position.
  • The enemy ship could also be sending little row boats (or elemental-powered "motor" boats) with a few boarders who can harry the PCs and the crew as they try to keep the ship afloat.

Good luck!

I like the cannons idea. The ship they are on has no cannons or armaments of any kind. Their only artillery would be the wizard's longest range spells.

Communications Mage:
In fantasy, especially high fantasy, mages with knowledge spells and counter spells serve as great ship assistants.

They can call in the fleet, navigate the ship, deflect enemy spells and of course, drop the meteor swarms on the enemy ship. Some of them may also decide to reanimate the dead to continue fighting the enemy.

Mages rule (especially for GM's) for one simple reason... if you ever get stuck with your phlebotanum's reasoning, you can always say "a wizard did it" and it's a perfectly viable explanation.

Fire in the hole:
Consider starting a fire on the PC ship (enemy blinks in) as well so they have to defeat the BBEG and take his ship to survive.

If the player's defeat the ship at range, have the enemy troops teleport in to the bowls of their own ship for a fight for survival, take-no prisoners battle.

From the beyond!:
Maybe the weather turns sour and a sea storm with severe ley line activity gates in a horror from the beyond and both ships have to work together to defeat it...

There's literally tons of things you can do.

There's also a good deal about types of conflicts and encounter set ups here

Smashing into the ship is a useful tactic. The Roman Trireme is a good example of a smaller, yet more maneuverable ship capable of sinking larger vessels. Fire was also a common way to destroy ships from a distance, either using alchemical or magic to do so. Having a high level clergy of the sea Deity is also helpful to provide useful interventions on behalf of the enemy. You could also have trained and equipped "Frog-men" to swim out and cut holes in the vessels, destroy oars, break the ruder, etc as well or send a delta force shock troop to board the ship when they least expect it and kill the whole crew..

Throwing in my two scene

First determining the level of technology so far as scuttling weapons. Cannons have already been mentioned but they aren't the only high seas style of making a crews day miserable. Before the invention of the cannon, highly flammable materials were used and launched by lariat catapult from ship to ship. I was highly effective. The substance know as Greek Fire would burn on the surface of water for hours and was down right impossible to remove from the surface of the ships. As the only difference, crews on the opposing ships would use a heavy parafin wax to slow the fire and make it more manageable. This wasn't the only weapon. Windless Scudda crosbows were used to poke holes in certain areas of the ship to reduce its maneuverability. The shafts of the bolts where even fluted to assure the ship took on water. The extra weight down that end of the ship causing it to list. The whole tactic was to slow the opposing ship down for the coup de tas, THE RAM.

Later developments of cannons didn't even end the use of these practices. Now, inflammatory shot was propelled over a greater distance by mortars. Even more interesting was a device used by blue beard. A cannon shot an anchor attached to a chain into the side of the hull. A trebuchet would then launch a heavy weight over the other side causing the ship to list heavily. The idea was to make maneuverability impossible and at the rick of capsizing. Chain shot was another adaptation used to destroy rigging and mast on the opposing ship. A weighted chain was shot like a bolas, decimating ropes, rigs and anyone in the way.

If you're looking for a good mechanic, look only to the 7th Sea adaptation of ship to ship. Rogue trader has some good ones too. It's basically like this. every section of the crew represents an important function of the ship. Speed maneuverability, fire power, hull capacity, the crews backbone, the leadership and their knowledge of tactics. Each are vulnerable to specific attack and each has a specific response.

In my fantasy gem there are several fazes.
Tactics and Leadership: The commanders ability to get the crew moving functionally and identifying the kinds of incoming attacks. This also includes Moral Resolve if the crew is losing moral.

The Magic roll off: Every ship is armed with three kinds of mages, Communications mage/Assault mage/Meta Mage (defense Mage). They all roll off and the dice determine who is capable of doing what (usually by contest.) Obviously the Assault mage is trying to hit the opposing ship with a spell, the Meta Mage is trying to prevent that and the communications mage is constantly trying to feed the captain with intelligence on the other ships maneuver. Any one F*cks this up? And an attack gets through.

Maneuver Faze: The ships movement comes after all this believe it or not. This is to represent attempting to maneuver a better opportunity and is largely based off of the Leadership faze.

Ordinance faze: What ever the appropriate Cannon, Mortar, Ballista, Scudda, Trebuchet, Lariat, etc. This will also include mand fire power like guns, longbows and cross bows even spears.

If the two ships have maneuvered close enough together
Boarding Faze!: Siege devices are linked between ships including more daring feats such as swinging in. You don't roll for every person of course. You roll the tactics of the boarding commander (either the captain or a crony). Of course for this section you may want to determine the difficulty modifier of boarding the ship plus the weapons being used for the boarding procedures as well as the time spent in combat (given fatigue and moral over a certain period of time). The cutlass for instance was designed for ship boarding, the awl headed polearm became a great weapon of defending against boarding parties. These are just things to consider.

Who wins?: Remmeber your crew represents that ships ability to function. the more each station loses, the smaller that stat gets. Out side of that, the ship itself has hit points segmented around certain sections (the broad side being the weakest)

The BBEG ship could be equiped with a "Call the Kraken" device... It might take a few turns to activate (thus allowing the PCs to 1) recognize it and 2) destroy it before the Kraken appears).

Your clergy of the sea Deity might be able to call forth a storm over the PC's ship.

Your Communication Mage could be a coven of Sea Hags.

Any of those spellcasters could have a fiendish Albatross familiar to spy (and scry) on the PC's ship.

A neat spell to create is this: Cymothoa exigua, (tongue-eating louse) AKA Tongue-Whale- cause the target to have their tongue replaced by a parasite, draining them of a small amount of HP and rendering them unable to cast spells that require speech for the duration. Remove curse instantly dispels.

Another thought:
Introducing a timer could also greatly increase the challenge factor, just as a GM mechanic. If, for example, you want them to have X rounds before their ship gets blown out from under them, economy of the limited actions they have will come into play if they want to succeed. That will have less to do with them being level 23, and more to do with how well they can work as a team. Especially if each counter-action they have to do to keep the ship from going up takes two successful standard actions to accomplish.

You don't even need to work out the mechanics for exactly how their ship gets blown up--that would be some epic flavor text that puts a little fear for their characters in them.

Maybe a little extreme or overly annoying. Have the PC ship run aground on a random ocean sand barge. Leaves them trying to free their ship while at mercy of the BBEG's cannons or they have to attempt something more interesting. Heck, upon collision with the sand the ship could start taking on water.


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