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Having Trouble As A DM

Allistar1801

Villager
[MENTION=6813585]ModernApathy[/MENTION]

The albino minotaur pirate sounds awesome, the hidden port base would be cool, and the air elementals in the sails would be rad!

I'm not too familiar with Spelljammer, what exactly is that?
 

Allistar1801

Villager
[MENTION=37579]Jester David[/MENTION]

Yeah... I'm a bit infamous at the table for overthinking things into oblivion and back.

I'll definitely try out that index card method, thanks for the suggestion!
 

Allistar1801

Villager
[MENTION=37579]Jester David[/MENTION]

Yeah... I'm a bit infamous at the table for overthinking things into oblivion and back.

I'll definitely try out that index card method, thanks for the suggestion!
 

ModernApathy

Explorer
[MENTION=6813585]ModernApathy[/MENTION]

The albino minotaur pirate sounds awesome, the hidden port base would be cool, and the air elementals in the sails would be rad!

I'm not too familiar with Spelljammer, what exactly is that?
Spelljammer was an old 2nd Edition campaign setting with ships in space, powered by magical helms.
I think there's some stuff on Spelljammer ships in the module Dungeon of the Mad Mage which came out today, but if you have never heard of the setting, it's probably not worth looking into to deeply. Space D&D is an idea that's not for everybody.
 
Great stuff [MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION]!
[MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION]

This stuff is awesome!
Thanks robus! Thanks Allistar1801! I was just listening to Mike Shea doing one of his Lazy DM prep videos on my drive back home, and I really like what he said (paraphrasing): "Randomness can be foundational...inspirational...for creativity." That's what I tried to do with the encounter tables in that Buccaneer's Bestiary product.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
[MENTION=12377]77IM[/MENTION]

My favorite parts of DMing the previous campeign was probably the crazy stuff the characters got up to. One time while adventuring back to the tavern where they got their first quest the gnome bard decided he wanted to play some travel tunes and asked if he could roll for it, and I said sure why not. He rolls a nat 20, I ask him to roll 1 more time and he rolls another nat 20. I ask him to pick a number between 1 and 10 and if I roll that something wierd would happen. I roll the number he said and then I had to come up with something on the fly. I decided on having an awakened shrub coming out of the forest and dancing to the song. The party took a liking and adopted him, naming him Lord Leafy III. Later when they were with some dwarves sieging a city that was being occupied by ogres and a hill giant, they tried to intimidate them into surrendering. I didn't think it would be so bad, so I let them try, the bard and leafy played a haunting tune while the tiefling druid chanted in infernal and summoned black fire and the silver dragonborn barbarian stood on the front lines and roared. There were 2 nat 20s rolled on that check, but when I rolled insight to counter them I got a 3, but then as the hill giant got there I had them roll again. This time i rolled enough to beat them and the combat started. Near the end of the combat everyone but the bard and leafy was down and the hill giant was at 6 hp. Leafy who at this point had only helped during the intimidation check looked to his "father" and said I'm sorry. He scrambled toward the giant and in a last ditch effort attacks him. He crits and deals max damage to this thing dealing exactly enough damage to kill it. This then spread the legend of Lord Leafy The Giant Slayer.

Other than that I had them go into an arc of espionage, black market deals, and fight pits where they made some connections to the underworld and saved the dwarven government from a doppelganger crime syndicate. That was about when that 1 player had to leave, so the campeign wasn't super long lived but we still have some pretty good memories from that game that we still reference today.
This sounds amazing!

The reason I asked about your favorite parts of DMing, is that it's really important to make sure that you are having fun, because if you're not, it's very hard to run a good game. But if the DM is enthusiastic and energized, that usually bodes well for player fun. Since it was the players who suggested a nautical campaign, there's a risk that you might feel too uninspired.

If your favorite part of DMing is player hijinks, that's great. It means you need to give the PCs plenty of opportunity to do unexpected things. In general, this means presenting them with decisions where the "correct choice" is not at all obvious. For a nautical campaign specifically, here's what comes to my mind:

Isolated Islands. You know how, on every episode of Star Trek, they show up on a weird planet with some odd inhabitants and some thought-provoking science-fictiony thing? That works super well in a seafaring campaign, because each island can develop its own culture, magic, and "personality." Maybe the PCs want to avoid Wraith Island, so they wind up on Grung Island instead, and it turns out the grung are not such bad people, and would you like to take part in the 247th Annual Grung Games?

Cosmopolitan Port City. Well this is kind of the opposite; more like the cantina in Star Wars. Often in a naval region there will be a central trade hub where exotic individuals gather and scheme. This is a great way to introduce more interesting NPCs, and lets you run an urban adventure whenever you are in the mood for it.

Exaggerated NPC Personalities. This is a staple of pirate fiction AND it's a great way to prompt player hijinks. Some classics are: the salty old fisherman full of legends and tales; the ruthless pirate captain; the dashing honorable pirate captain; the wide-eyed swabbie; the greedy merchant; the intrepid explorer; the naive professor; the dainty aristocrat; etc. Then, you can also mix in all your favorite fantasy tropes: the reclusive wizard; the fast-talking bard; the mysterious assassin; the genial-yet-threatening head of the thieves' guild; the compassionate high priest; the stern guard captain; etc. If you've already run a game featuring espionage and doppelgangers, I feel like you could probably rock this part pretty hard.

Treasure Maps. Holy crap, few things motivate players like a good treasure map. Make it full of dilemmas though. What if X marks a spot right smack dab in the middle of hostile territory? What if it's underwater, guarded by a giant crab (and if you fight it, blood attracts sharks on round 2, etc.)? What if getting to the treasure or interpreting the map requires you to make a deal with an NPC, or work together with a rival?

Double Deals. A great way to instigate hijinks is to have NPCs who are enemies with each other, and both sides want the party's help. For example, smugglers vs. the harbormaster; both could be valuable allies. Pirate captains and crews often had fierce rivalries, that the PCs could get caught in the middle of. Maybe your new friends from Grung Island really, really don't want you to engage in trade with the residents of Serpent Island, but the Serpent Islanders pay really well...

Un-fightable Villains. This means, villains that you can't just run up to and attack. Bonus points if the villain doesn't really see the PCs as a direct threat. This way, the players can decide how to approach the villain issue, instead of reacting all the time. The sea-hag is a great idea because hags are manipulative, so I'd milk that for as long as I could. Krakens and aboleths are aquatic enemies that would hatch dangerous schemes, but aren't necessarily out to get the PCs in particular, and are kind of hard to fight. An evil storm giant would be pretty cool too. These are the kinds of bad guys that can send a variety of minions bubbling up to the surface. For non-aquatic villains, try placing them on islands that are surrounded by dangerous rocks. Maybe an old lich lairs in a floating pile of shipwrecks that moves about and is difficult to locate at sea.

Purposeful Exploration. Don't make the pirate campaign "about exploration." Instead, use exploration as a means to generate hijinks -- each discovery leads to a tangled knot of conflict, and the players must be creative to unravel it. And you can also use exploration as a reward; after the party uncovers the doping ring involved in the Grung Games, the grateful commissioners give them the directions to Solid Gold Island...
 
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Eltab

Villager
Stuff to do:
- IRL, watch all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. You want the legends and the lore.
- The ship barely makes it through a storm. The PCs get to find the raw materials and spare parts to fix things up. During the storm, fight an air / water elemental or Cleric of Talos, who is ginning up the storm into a hurricane.
- Sunken wreck holds treasure. Add a few unexpected things to the cargo manifest. Magic cutlass, navigators toolkit, 300 gallons of fine wine, 50 leather armors (soaked and ruined), 10 plate mail armors (salvageable), watertight treasure chest full of citrus fruits (still edible), 300 lbs of mahogany wood, a drowned beholder. And of course an electric eel that moved into an old rotten crate.
- The NPC captain will follow the PCs' lead to seek adventure but he is absolute master of handling the ship. Sometimes they have to remember 'who is in charge here'. Role-play opportunity.
- Rival ship / crew. Tries to take away their prizes or discover the treasure first.
- Explore a far-away island with its own unique monsters and lost inhabitants / culture. Lost Shrine of Tamochuan (in Yawning Portal) could be dropped in.
- Negotiate a treaty among The Powers That Be to cooperate against some outside threat. None of them will be second-fiddle to each other.
- Tavern brawl that spills out into the streets and begins drawing in various ships' crews. Creates rivalries and friendships.
- The Authorities want something done which is illegal / out of their jurisdiction, and a pirate might be a good proxy to do the deed.
 

Allistar1801

Villager
I suppose another thing i should ask about would be the traveling. Should I time skip or let them play it out? So far I've been having them play it out and it offers up a few wierd encounters, but I feel like it kills the pacing.

Also, does anybody know about any resources for fishing? On no less than 3 occasions the bugbear has gone fishing. I rolled percentile dice to determine what he catches. So far I've rolled a 99, a 87 and a 72. I just kind of came up with stuff as he caught them. So far I've given him a trout with clear skin that refracts the light going through its body to produce a rainbow of colors, a fish that's basically a magikarp that the bugbear has been using as a greatclub for the past 2 sessions, and another magikarp that is a large creature. The bugbear actually had to wrestle it to catch him and once he did he tied it to the bottom side of the boat. It's currently pulling their ship along at the moment, so there's that...
 
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Eltab

Villager
Travel time - away from table, ask the group if they like having random encounters at sea. If they don't, then don't. Of course this means that you subliminally signal "this is going to be important" if they DO run into something while travelling at sea. They might be fine with having one "significant" encounter per day (meaning break out the map of their ship and the minis) as a way to judge time spent travelling.

Mordenkainen (and I think the other hardcover releases) has a chart of Monsters by Terrain that may help you decide what to use during an encounter.

I'm writing this up for my own AP, but you can modify it to suit:
The PCs have come to the attention of a BBEG. He intends to get rid of those meddling interlopers by sinking their ship at sea with them on it. His trap has two parts. First he must determine the right ship; this is easier if the PCs are already associated with one vessel than if they are passengers on whatever ship happened to be in port. A fishing boat has a Wizard with an imp / quasit familiar on board. The captain has orders to approach all inbound ships and offer to sell fresh catch, taking a while to haggle over the price and quantity. The wizard has orders to tell his familiar to turn invisible and search the other boat for the PCs. If they are indeed on board, they will be allowed to continue on after the purchase is completed. The Wizard will then ritual-cast Summon Sea Monster to get something that will make for the Deadly encounter for the day. The creature is compelled by the summoning to attack the PCs' ship, eat anybody who falls overboard, rinse lather repeat until the ship sinks (then attack lifeboats again eating all survivors). The PCs get to somehow defeat or banish the creature - or maybe get inventive and somehow move the ship to safety.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
There are ways to make random encounters meaningful. For example,

1. Have enough factions and villains running around that nearly any random encounter winds up being connected with the plot, somehow. E.g., the party has pissed off the Pirate King Blackhook, so when you roll up a "pirates" encounter, of course it's a ship loyal to Blackhook... and what is this strange cargo they're transporting?

2. Make them learn something. E.g. the party fights a random encounter against sahaguin who wear red seashells, and one of them has a red trident with a nasty poison. Later, when the party encounters those guys again, they will ALL have red tridents...

3. Get clues. E.g., inside the stomach of the dire-shark is a glass bottle with a letter in it. But it's in a code! And it's written in dwarven...?

4. Introduce a dilemma. E.g., the Red Shell sahaguin are attacking a ship loyal to Pirate King Blackhook! Who does the party hate more? Is there an opportunity to earn favors with one faction?

5. Foreshadow the random encounter. E.g., the salty dogs down at the tavern are always going on about the Giant Two-Headed Octopus and how they narrowly escaped it, and the Duke has put a 2,000 gp bounty on the beast (1,000 gp per head).

6. Use a not-very-difficult encounter as an opportunity for character development. E.g., when some merrow attack, the swabbie decides it's time to show her valor and charges them with a mop! Meanwhile, the bosun and the carpenter choose this moment to take their feud to the next level, engaging in fisticuffs over some tangentially-related issue (like "should we lock the deck door to keep out the merrow?"). The sketchy passenger the party took on uses the chaos of combat to finally make his move, and slinks off belowdecks suspiciously...


I recommend against using random encounters unless you can make them meaningful, the vast majority of the time.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Lots of great ideas on this thread. I'll focus on specific tools and content that you might find helpful from free to expensive.

First - nice to have a model or battlemap of the ship. It helps build a sense of possession and personality for the ship. On the expensive side is the upcoming Wiz Kids "The Falling Star Sailing Ship" (https://wizkids.com/the-falling-star-sailing-ship/). Or you can get a battlemap that you can print to scale, such as the Galleon in the 0one Crimson Sea PDF set (see below). I used Zero Hour's Sailing Ships battlemap. I just printed them out on cardstock and cut out and put each level on top of the other. If there was action above AND below, I could just place the ship segment battlemaps next to each other. It worked well and is inexpensive: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/76432/0-hr-Sailing-Ships. Another excellent battlemap set, is Scrying Eyes Games Ships of Fantasy: Tall Ships series. I bought the Caravel Fleet PDF, which had three Caravel maps and versions with sails furled and of the ship at dock. https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/111743/Tall-Ships-15-Caravel-Fleet

Next, have a good set of mechanics that give each player a role on the ship. These can act as additional class features while on the ship. Also, different NPCs will have specific jobs and skills that will make them worth protecting and keeping happy. Have rules for moral and ways to upgrade the ship. Some nautical combat specific magic rules, etc. I VERY MUCH prefer Ronny Hart's nautical adventure rules over the recent Unearthed Arcana rules. I highly recommend checking out his Nautical Adventures: A Supplement Providing Ship to Ship Combat Rules, published on his Dungeon Master Assistance blog: https://olddungeonmaster.com/2015/05/05/dd-5e-nautical-adventures/ It provides much more than combat rules. There are discriptions, images, battlemaps, and stats for a variety of era-appropriate ships. Rules for crew costs and moral. Prices for ships and upgrades. Travel rules. A character sheet for the ship and more. This PDF is a must have for nautical adventures in DnD IMO.

0one's Blueprints series has the excellent Crimson Sea "virtual box set". It contains nine Blueprints plus a color map folio. The color map folio contains a color version of the Crimson Sea Map plus a poster map of the Black Leviathan, the Galleon of the pirate lord Karnak. For the 9 blue-prints, they are actually a sett of many maps giving you entire islands and pirate village locations. The "Rule the Dungeon" feature of 0one's PDF maps is pretty cool, allowing you to show and hide layers before printing. The 0one "blueprints" are great for homebrew games. They are just very detailed maps with a key that will give a name for different rooms/locations, but you fill in the descriptions, plot hooks, npcs, etc. Some will give introductory paragraphs with some optional fluff, but they are all about the maps.

If you want a well fleshed out coast and island setting material, check out Frog God Game's Razor Coast setting book and map folio, which they offer in both print and PDF: https://froggodgames.com/frogs/?s=Razor+Coast&post_type=product It is for Pathfinder, but you can easily just use the 5e stats for the same monsters, you would mostly be buying the books for the maps and descriptions/stories.

The 7th Sea game system has a wealth of setting material you could repurpose for a 5e game. Get the old or new PDFs and use them as inspiration for maps and story ideas. https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse.php?filters=10101_0_0_0_0

John Wick's Ships and Sea Battles (Swashbuckling Adventures), written for d20 system and 7th may give some inspiration. I bought it, but found I didn't use it. Ronny Hart's Nautical Adventures was sufficient for my needs, but check it out: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/12492/Ships-and-Sea-Battles-Swashbuckling-Adventures?it=1

Hope this helps!
 

Thyrwyn

Villager
I usually let my players tell me who the BBEG will be - meaning that I don’t start with a specific BBEG or even a specific endpoint in mind. I throw out ideas and encounters with groups and organizations that inhabit the world and pay attention to which ones the players/characters react most strongly. Which ones do they start plotting against? Which ones do they start seeking out? Which ones do they enjoy thwarting?

Once they’ve done that, it’s just a matter of narrowing the focus and fleshing out the NPCs they’ve crossed paths with until one really stands out - or until several stand outs get together and form a cabal intent on dealing with “those pesky kids” (the pcs).

That said: pirates are historically a response to a distant, but powerful, authority or authorities. They make an excellent source of enemies for pirate campaigns: who’s been sent to deal with the “pirate problem”? Who’s responsibility should it have been to begin with? How unified are the pirates? Are they freedom fighters? Thieves? Opportunists? Some of each? Is someone or something trying to unify them - and to what end? Who’s trying to keep them divided and why?

Throw some of these ideas out there and see what sticks. Your BBEG should develop naturally from there.
 

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