Pathfinder 2E Sea Campaign

Gfreak2x9

Explorer
Hello,

I haven't posted on EN World in years but I've decided to come here for some help. I just decided to start a new sea based campaign and I'm already drawing blanks on random encounters. I want the sea to be a dangerous place but I also can't justify every square inch of the ocean being infested with sharks. I've got some ideas brewing but I'd like some advice, what random encounters would you run in a sea based campaign?
 
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Gfreak2x9

Explorer
Sea campaign as in above it, or under it?
Mostly above! It takes place aboard ships, on islands and in port cities. However there are portions of the world that are in fact under the water! Ex: A society of Aquatic Elves living in an underwater city!
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Well before you consider encounters you have to contend with weather, which of course means high seas in storms, but also means getting trapped in doldrums, where there are no currents, nor wind and your ship just sits, not going anywhere, but still expending supplies. You could get stuck in heavy fog, and you cannot see to sail. There is the rare maelstrom, a giant whirlpool that can suck down ships. Under wave hazards like near surface seamounts, coral reefs, that could breach your ship and sink it, and no way to be aware of it until you hit it. Then of course pirates, or more rarely, the nation you hail from is now at war with another kingdom, but you weren't at port to know about it, and you get attacked by a foreign naval ship. After all that do you start to think about monsters. If just sticking with normal, you have sharks, perhaps some megalodon sized sharks to contend with, giant octopi and squid. You could also get stuck in near surface kelp forests catching your rudder and holding your ship in place. At this point you can finally look at your Monster Manual/Bestiary. Here's one of the few underwater cities in existence, and the only one I've made...

ryukyo.jpg
 
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Gfreak2x9

Explorer
Well before you consider encounters you have to contend with weather, which of course means high seas in storms, but also means getting trapped in doldrums, where there are no currents, nor wind and your ship just sits at season, not going anywhere, but still expending supplies. There is the rare maelstrom, a giant whirlpool that can suck down ships. Under wave hazards like near surface seamounts, coral reefs, that could breach your ship and sink it, and no way to be aware of it until you hit it. Then of course pirates, or more rarely, the nation you hail from is now at war with another kingdom, but you weren't at port to know about it, and you get attacked by a foreign naval ship. After all that do you start to think about monsters. If just sticking with normal, you have sharks, perhaps some megalodon sized sharks to contend with, giant octopi and squid. You could also get stuck in near surface kelp forests catching your rudder and holding your ship in place. At this point you can finally look at your Monster Manual/Bestiary. Here's one of the few underwater cities in existence, and the only one I've made...

View attachment 156906
That my friend was solid advice! And what a beautiful city you've created! I'll use this for inspiration in my own Campaign! Thank you for the help! :)
 

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard

Gfreak2x9

Explorer
Any time you think about ships, you need to make several important decisions.
  • Are you going to emphasize black powder weapons and heavy guns?
  • What types of ships do you plan to feature?
  • Do you plan to have ship battles focus on naval maneuvers and gunnery, or will you prefer more close combat boarding actions?

I wrote an article on my blog in 2019, "About sailing ships, historical naval technology and anachronism" that you might find interesting.
I decided to read your article! Afterward I came back to type this reply. I feel the need to give you some basic info about my campaign so here is my introduction...

50 years ago a strange portal appeared in The Inner Sea (see Pathfinder world map). This portal lead to a strange place unknown to anyone. A seemingly endless sea filled with countless unique islands. Many sought to colonize this new place but none were quicker to do so than the many Dragons of Golarion (Pathfinder's Planet). First to arrive these dragons quickly grew in power and influence taking many Islands as their own. Thus this strange place has been named "The Dragon Isles". Although they were not the only ones seeking to take advantage of this new place! Cheliax, a nation of Devil Worshipers (See Pathfinder 2e Wiki) saw this a golden opportunity. With much of their strength diminished in recent years they set forth to claim new territory for their dying Empire. Seeing this many other nations began colonization in hopes of stopping this expansion. Many nations of Golarion have settled here making it a place filled with multiple cultures and beliefs. An even stranger anomaly, Clerics have not lost connection to their gods along this process leaving many curious as to origins of this place! Some believe it to be a plane of existence unlike any other, others believe this is an unknown planet amid the galaxy not previously observed by scholars. One thing is clear less is known than unknown about this place and the last 50 years have yielded few answers. We find our heroes aboard a ship traveling from Absalom (see Pathfinder Inner Sea map) to The Dragon Isles. What happens next is up to them!

Upon reading your article I do see some plot holes here. The main one being that in merely 50 years the use of gunpowder became widespread and therefore cannons are available to every ship in The Dragon Isles! I can fudge some stuff and say that at some point within those 50 years somebody got ahold of schematics for gunpowder technology and spread it worldwide, but that is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. Then again this is fantasy where literally anything can happen so maybe it isn't too far fetched!

This also brought to my attention that there are no rules for firearms in 2e, let alone cannons! That means I'll be making it up as I go! I both love and hate the idea. It will be fun and difficult at the same time!

As for naval combat, both maneuvers/gunnery and boarding actions will be taking place! I haven't decided if one will be more present than the other, as of this moment.

I'd like to keep in touch with you as the campaign moves along! You seem to have experience on the subject and I think you'll be able to help as things progress!

 
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Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
IMHO the vague suggestions that pass for PF2 rules for naval maneuvers are woefully inadequate, and you'd be better served by just handwaving things like ship position and relative speed on a battle map. This is one case where theatre of the mind will do the job better than trying to calculate ship movement on a grid.

Not to mention the fact that the ship types proposed in extant PF2 rules are abstract amalgams rather than specific ship types from specific periods. This may work fine for you, but others will want a wee bit more granularity.

More soon.
 

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
Historically, cannons attained widespread use before handguns. So if you envisage having pistols and muskets freely available to players, it makes sense that there would be ship-mounted artillery as well.
Our RPGs are chock full of anachronisms, so I wouldn't worry about your 50-year timespan of access to these strange new islands.
I use the Golarion setting as well, but added a few personal touches. I added the city of Freeport (from Green Ronin) to the setting, putting it some 100 miles offshore from Magnimar, near the edge of the islands refered to as Old Azlant.

One thing you should keep in mind about cannons is that they are very heavy. Large cannons couldn't be mounted on ships until they began using cannon ports along the lower decks. Putting heavy cannons on upper decks would make ships unstable, and liable to flip over with the slightest wind. As a consequence, only lighter cannons were used on upper decks, and these weapons had at best an anti-personnel role. The heavier cannons that could damage or even sink other vessels were invariably installed on lower decks.

IMHO, boarding actions are more fun to run with a group of players than maneuver and gunnery actions. When a ship is maneuvering, you only have one player or NPC, the ship's captain, acting at a time. Sure, you could also have various players or crew NPCs rolling for individual actions, like setting the sails or reparing battle damage or sniping at opposing crewmembers (at long distance), but with boarding actions you can let them run wild with the full gamut of combat options.

Of course, the presence of magic almost makes ship's guns redundant. Imagine what damage a few well-placed fireballs could do to a ship's rigging. Or what havock summoned sea monsters could wreak on other ships. If you don't want the players to find their ship suddenly smashed to pieces, and their characters scrambing for water breathing spells and potions, you'll need to moderate the ship-to-ship actions, relegating maneuvering and artillery duels to narrative sequences, punctuated by boarding actions or narrow escapes.
 
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gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
I'd use Fire As She Bears for Razor Coast, rules designed third party for PF1.0, but better ship combat rules than Core PF1. It breaks up a ship into 20' x 20' cubes, and each cube has it's own hit points - working kind of like hit location. Like Starfinder, all members of the party has leadership position, and they must make rolls and participate in combat, for the cumulative acts by all players to win in a naval engagement.
 

Off the top of my head:
  • Dolphins follow the ship and the crew takes it as a sign of good luck. (Crew gains small bonus on checks for the rest of the day)
  • Sharks follow the ship and the crew believes it to be an ill omen. (Crew takes a small penalty on all rolls for the rest of the day)
  • Snagged on rocks, kelp, reef. Party/Crew must make checks to free themselves without damaging the ship.
  • A siren sings to the crew as the ship passes by. Make saves or be enraptured.
  • The ship must sail through a narrow pass or near some cliffs. But monsters lurk overhead.
  • A friendly ship passes by and the crews exchange news.
  • Pirates! (of course)
  • Bad weather. (Fog, storm, wind dies and the ship is trapped in the doldrums, etc.)
  • A giant/dragon/whatever demands tribute to pass through his territory.
  • The party comes across an uncharted island. What strange and mysterious monsters live on it? Dinosaurs? Giant apes? Radioactive lizards the size of a skyscraper?
  • Why is all the rum gone?! The crew mutinies.
  • The ship stops at a tropical island to gather provisions and brings back souvenirs. One of the sailors has a pet snake now that he's taught to drink alcohol. It has a tendency to bite crewmates.
  • The crew mistakes a nearby fishing vessel for an enemy and attacks. (Do the PCs realize their mistake? Can they solve any diplomatic fallout?)
  • Provisions run dangerously low. Without fresh water, the crew will likely die. (What do you mean you can't Create Water?)
  • The ship comes across a skiff (or other small craft) with a lone survivor. (Are they a castaway? Were they marooned? Perhaps they tell a tale about how all the crew on the previous ship died off one by one. And after they come on board something begins to kill the crew of the Party's vessel?)
  • A ghost ship. (Perhaps something similar to The Octavius or the Ourang Medan.)
 

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