Making a combat on the docks "interesting"?


I am starting to brainstorm a combat that occurs on the docks of a small city.

In a nutshell, BAD GUYS A are going to sneak BAD GUYS B into the city. Bad guys A are going to cause a distraction on the wharf allowing BAD GUYS B to go get the mcguffin.

I am looking for some interesting ideas to make the dock combat special. As of right now I have:

LAIR EFFECT type action with waves crashing against the docks possibly knocking players or NPC's into the water.

PERCEPTION CHECKS to see if they see BAD GUYS B sneaking around.

INSIGHT CHECKS to see if they notice the leaders of the distraction looking for the BAD GUYS B to come back.

LARGE GIANT TYPE CREATURE throwing rocks onto the docks to break them and have someone fall through.

Any suggestions?

Thanks in advance!


Pelicans. Vicious nasty fish stealing pelicans that cause the fishermen and fishmongers to riot.

You could reskin a kenku.


LAIR EFFECT type action with waves crashing against the docks possibly knocking players or NPC's into
Seems unlikely unless there's a big storm going on. But you could have slime-slippery slipway with DEX save/Acrobatics check or fall in.

In general I think falling in the water should be a big deal, bull rushes, repelling blasts etc. And you could have seaweed, carnivorous fish or gators, or entangling nets, rusty broken spars etc under
the water to make it really unhealthy.
Two or more parallel jetties, with some boats docked. Allows for ranged fighting and swinging off masts and ropes without easy melee (it's something different than the open square or the narrow dungeons).

Also, obviously a water elemental lives in the harbor. Or a dragon turtle. :)


I would expect cargo to be a hazard. Imagine a big crane lifting heavy crates that the bad guys can swing towards the players, or use to drop the cargo on their heads.

Also, I would expect the bad guys to use a small sloop to sneak their men into the city via the canals as backup, with some extra firepower. The fight on the docks would simply be a distraction while the sloop is the main target. Such a sloop would be harder to spot under cover of darkness (especially if the men are hiding underneath a cloth or sail), and would have the advantage of being hard to engage in close combat, unless you go for a swim, or leap onto it from a bridge.

There could also be a nearby lighthouse that blinds players looking in that direction every few rounds, making ranged combat a bit more interesting.

There could be a storm that makes the docks difficult terrain, forcing players to make checks to keep their balance, or risk falling off.

There could also be environmental details that the players can use to their advantage. Think of powder kegs, a canon, a tower, ropes (for swinging towards where the bad guys are).

Ships could also be used as elevated terrain, giving the bad guys a clear shot on the players and any city guards, while making them harder to spot.

Maybe there are things that could be set on fire by the bad guys with a well aimed toss of a lantern, causing a ship to go up in flames. The inferno would make visibility more difficult, plus if any of the masts collapse, that could be a hazard too.
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Drunken military sailors on shore-leave emerging from wharfside bar get accidentally drawn into the decoy fight, turning minor skirmish into full-blown brawl.

The distraction could- in whole or in part- involve releasing of a shipment exotic creatures being brought into the docks on a cargo ship- they were intended for sale to the wealthy.


I once wrote (and never used) a scenario with aquatic enemies under an old dock, shoving spears up through the cracks to attack the PCs from below. I still think this could be really exciting as part of a bigger battle, but be sure there are lots of barrels, piers and crates for the characters to climb up on


Giant crabs can cause a distraction without giving away the bad guys. This summons the PCs plus guards from the city after a few rounds. You can also have bystanders see something later on for the PCs to follow if they fail to notice anything while the fight is going on. This lets them question the locals and discover information that becomes useful to continue the mission.


It depends on how you layout your docks, and how you plan on having the groups get to them. I like the idea of a ship sending out longboats full of Group B, while a longboat with Group A sneaks around from the other side to another pier. I'd have the attack happen at night, so that dim light will cause disadvantage to perception checks to notice Group A. If you have 3 piers, Group B, could move to land on two adjacent ones, while Group A lands at the third a few rounds into the combat. This forces the party to split between the two docks, since they have to repel from both.

Instead of waves knocking people into the water, I'd make random spots slick, so that moving into those spaces requires a Dex/Acrobatics DC: 10 check to prevent slipping (Dex save DC:10, fail fall into water, save drop prone instead).

Instead of a giant throwing rocks (which would be more useful attacking the defenders), I'd have some of the invaders throwing flaming oil from a catapult on the ship, creating random 5' areas that have to be avoided or take damage (per PHB), limiting movement and possibly hitting PCs/NPCs.

I'd take advantage of Passive skills for Group A. Each round, I'd roll Stealth for Group A, revealing their presence to anyone whose passive perception is high enough. Additionally, I'd roll Deception (probably with advantage) for Group B, revealing the distraction to anyone whose passive insight is high enough. If any player takes an action to figure things out, they get to make a check against the roll for the round as well. If you call for checks, it will make players suspicious even if they fail.


An impromptu musical number?
Something from the Pirates of Penzance perhaps... a little light opera never hurt anyone.

Seriously though, there's lots of stuff you could do. Even something as simple as adding large stacks of cargo could be cool (think the shipping container fight scenes from Daredevil or Dark Knight). You could have several ships moored together as an alternate way of getting from pier to pier. You could certainly add treacherous terrain, and you could also find ways to encourage shoves and whatnot to make good use of it. I also like the idea of things like cargo cranes to add both height and movement. Anything that makes the battlefield more 3D and interactive for the players will be a good thing.


You don't need bad weather, aquatic monsters or anything else.

A normal (busy) working dockfront is going to be a crazy place, all sorts of 3D structures and mayhem.

Add the above if you want of course, just don't miss what's awesome right in front of you.


Don't forget to buckle your swashes gentlemen, this is a dock fight, not your Mamma's sitting room.

I do tend to encourage swashbuckling action as a GM, and a lot of my advice and ideas tend to index facilitation of said swashbuckling. I was trying to think of ways to say 'swashbuckle' another couple of times, but it's tough to manufacture appropriate conversational openings.


regarding Lair effect type action: waves crashign against the dock.

RL experience, managing a large processing boat at the end of a long dock ( 1/2 mile long, on the Aleutian archipelago). It was Christmas day, and a skeleton crew, a white squall (or black rather) appeared across the bay and closed the distance of 15 miles in less than a minute we went from a normal calm day to 20+' swells at the dock, in a nutshell, the 300' boat almost sank at the dock.

So, point being, you dont need a creature, nature can happen...

I'd even just make it stormy conditions, or if you want, a Druid controlling weather for cover. Aside from terrain modifying conditions ( Lightly Obscured, Difficult Terrain), this creates a Lair Effect which happens at the top of the turn order to anyone in the AoE.