Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Under the Sea

"We got no troubles/life is the bubbles/under the sea" - Sebastian, The Little Mermaid

This post is dedicated to my good friend P@.  These are the kinds of adventures he lives for.

In every group of friends, everybody seems to always be a different element.  Somebody tends to gravitate towards earth, another water, one fire, and yet another air.  I don't really know why.  Different personalities I guess.  
I'm always the earth/nature guy.  It's just what I enjoy/what I feel I identify with the most.  However, this post isn't about me.

It's about P@.  You see, my good friend P@ is extremely attuned to the water.  So much so, that every character he makes seems to have a connection, whether it be water magic/abilities, or simply having a background that encourages one to be close to the sea (like a pirate).  He has two DnD characters, both of which are tied to the water.

Nax - a water genasi swordmage.  Nax has a second elemental manifestation, but I cannot recall it at this time.

Niz - a elf (possibly a half-elf) pirate (rogue).

Niz fights an Aboleth with his friend Ragnarok (in wolf form).  Behind them, Llenherd and Celeste Veron fight another.
Lunaki - This character hasn't been created, but he has existed for some time in our imagination.  I foresee P@ creating this character at some point in the future, using the new Watershaper theme below, as it fits everything that he's done with the character.

Now that I've been able to introduce P@ and his characters, it's time to dive into the main focus of this article: water combat.

In my opinion, there seems to be a lack of water support at first glance.  DnD seems to encourage players to stay on dry land and simply venture into dungeons and fallen ruins instead.  But what about these characters that simply do not want to visit these places?

The more I've explored the rules and looked through various things, I've found a number of answers that leave me quite happy.

1. Magic Items - There are plenty of magic items that allow characters to gain swim speeds or bonuses to being underwater.  If you plan on running a water centered campaign, I would recommend (as a DM) to award some of these items in the treasure troves that are discovered.  Small rewards like that help support the story you're telling, and encourage players to want to face aquatic combat.  When I first ran "The Kraken's Skull", one of the first treasures discovered by the party was a Swimtide Harness, a item that gives bonuses to swimming and holding one's breath.  The party was glad to get it, as it gave another party member a better chance of helping Nax underwater.

I did a quick check through the online compendium.  Here's a list of items that help with water combat and being underwater, or just have a water theme.  I was surprised to see how many of these items were in the Adventurer's Vault.
  • Wave (Artifact, The Plane Below)
  • Potion of Water Walking (Dragon 393)
  • Elixir of Water Breathing (Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium)
  • Floating Shield (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Silt Sandals (Dark Sun Campaign Setting)
  • Shoes of Water Walking (Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium)
  • Opal Carp (Dragon 381)
  • Fishscale Armor (Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium)
  • Surfsurge Shoes (Dragon 381)
  • Swimtide Harness (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Waterbane Weapon (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Cap of Water Breathing (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Jade Sea Snake (Dragon 381)
  • Pouch of Frozen Passage (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Silt Striders (Dark Sun Campaign Setting)
  • Coral Armor (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Seashimmer Cloak (Adventurer's Vault 2)
  • Aqueous Armor (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Oceanstrider Boots (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Saddle of the Shark (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Whirlpool Weapon (Dragon 381)
  • Battle Standard of the Tides (Dragon 381)
  • Cloak of the Manta Ray (Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium)
  • Rom Kala's Tideshield Ring (Adventurer's Vault 2)
  • Ring of Aquatic Ability (Adventurer's Vault)

2. Train Skills - Certain skills, like Endurance and Athletics, come in handy when fighting and trying to cross water.  Training these skills gives characters a better advantage when trying to deal with water.

3. Themes - The Watershaper theme (in the brand new Heroes of the Elemental Chaos) is a great way to create a water themed hero.  The theme already grants the ability to breathe underwater and a swim speed, so characters who are looking to explore the depths have a great start.  Since themes are extra after race and class, one could simply build whatever character they wished, and then add the theme to give the final touch.  I really like the Watershaper theme, as its main power is a crashing wave, yet is also has other powers of healing and disguise. 

4. Feats - There are some really good feats that help certain races get a knack for being in underwater situations.  I found these browsing through the compendium.

  • Foamgatherer Heritage (Human only) (Dragon 386)
  • Thaliessan Blood (Half-elf) (Dragon 401)
  • Child of the Sea (Heroes of the Elemental Chaos)
While they don't seem to be many, I want to re-state using the Watershaper theme if you run out of options.  It's a great choice.

5. Rituals - One of the most common things I read about 4th Edition is the complaint that nobody uses rituals.  I think this is a poor excuse, and that DM's should take a more active role in providing them to the players.  Maybe give ritual scrolls in treasure parcels?  Maybe give the scrolls out and create the dungeon so that the players have to use the scrolls to proceed?  I think many players don't understand what rituals can accomplish.  It lends to more of a "think out of the box" kind of game approach, and good DM's will be quick to build on it.

Looking at water rituals, here's what I found:
  • Water's Gift (Primal Power)
  • Lower Water (Arcane Power)
  • Water Walk (Player's Handbook 1)
  • Water Breathing (Player's Handbook 1)
  • Waterborn (Forgotten Realms Player's Guide)
I really like the Lower Water ritual.  It reminds me of playing through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and making my way through the Water Temple, having to lower the water in order to get to new places.  Perhaps this might be something I use when re-doing my Kraken's Skull adventure....only time will tell.
Aquatic combat isn't much different from regular combat, except that characters can move up and down as well as side to side.  I've found that dice are useful for tracking where a character is at a given time.  Water can be a great challenge to players, most of whom wield weapons that don't work as well in water and will be penalized. 

Many water monsters can be stealthy.  Let them lurk, or retreat to the depths if the party purses them, simply to make the party fight the monster on its own terms.  You will see your players squirm in their seats as they consider what it will mean to descend into the murky depths to battle (most of them anyways.  The water lovers, like P@ will gladly relish the battle that is being presented).

In conclusion, water is a terrain piece that adds character and depth (no pun intended).  It creates a new sense of uneasiness as players move to explore it, and it creates adventures that will be talked about long after they have been concluded.

Hovering above the water, the dragon lets out a mighty roar.


  1. I love the pieces that you use for characters! (:

  2. Llenherd is an amazing animal companion. He always pulls through.

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  4. I wanted to include this in the post you just did regarding religion, but I think it's better suited for this post.
    Maybe an Atlantis location? Or a place with changing tides? For example, tides can change path ways and alter the gameboard?

  5. I love the tides idea. It would create a great way to explore/change things up a bit.