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Blood in the Water

"The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do."
-Captain Jack Sparrow

SPOILERS for those who are playing in my Christmas game.  This means you!

I've got exactly (almost to the minute) one week until my Christmas D&D game will kick off.  As I've continued to write about before, I will be customizing Evil Tide, by Bruce R. Cordell for my group.  Like all D&D modules, I've done some adjustments to the module to suit the needs of my own campaign world and for my players.  The result?  I have a lot of excited players ready to throw down.

For the longest time, I was worried/confused about how I was going to produce the Upper Caves, a network of caves/underwater passages that the sahuagin have taken over.  The Upper Caves lead to the Lower Caves, which are the ruins of a long lost underwater civilization.  Mapping the Lower Caves was no issue, I was just going to use tiles from the Essentials Dungeon Set and Cathedrals of Chaos.  The Upper Caves were a whole other story.  They were flooded, with mazes and all sorts of twists and turns.  Trying to map them seemed almost impossible.  I don't have any cavernous Dungeon Tiles, and I felt that trying to draw every single cavern and allowing the players to explore wouldn't have looked half as cool when compared to the sweet other terrain pieces that I've created.  Here are two for reference, the first Sharleena's, a large tavern in the city of Genkar (where the adventure will start), and the second is the docks of Trawler's Isle (the island's name was changed for my own campaign world).


I also spent some time worrying about how I would portray the ship that takes the players to the island.  In my games, ships have been a major factor.  Ironically, our campaigns never started off as a huge ship adventure with pirates and things like that.  We eventually just found ourselves on the sea on time, and I DMed an adventure I made up on the fly about exploring an old pirate fortress.  From then, most of the characters wanted ties to the sea.

I thought about purchasing the Pathfinder Pirate ships map, but for some reason couldn't bring myself to do it (I was already buying minis and all sorts of other stuff).  Dungeon 208 had two really solid pirate ship maps, but I couldn't find a way to re-size them correctly.  The squares weren't the size they needed to be, and stuff like that drives me crazy.  So, I was under the impression I was just going to draw it.

I typically like to browse ebay and Amazon.  There have been times in the past that I've found exactly what I need, and then I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.  I guess fortune was smiling upon me again, for I found exactly what I needed.

The Lair Assault adventures have always been impossible for me to get, as they only put them out for stores.  Some I didn't care too much about owning, others I wanted like you wouldn't believe.  The maps were always pretty cool, and I wanted certain monsters' stat blocks, as well as new tokens.  And so, for the longest time, I've been looking at the Lair Assault called Talon of Umberlee.

Art by Tyler Jacobson
 I was able to find an unopened copy of Talon of Umberlee that was up for auction (and compared to some of the other prices, it was at a pretty good rate).  I was also fortunate that there was about 24 hours left on the bid, meaning I wouldn't have to wait another week to see what was going to happen.  I placed a bid and waited, and in the end, I won!  So now I have an awesome pirate ship map, and sahuagin tokens soon to be arriving in the mail.

This still didn't help the Upper Caves situation.  I continued to wrack my brain, and thought about the other advice I've read before.  Mike Shea, of Sly Flourish, preaches the wonders of poster maps (found here).  Taking some of his advice, I decided to peruse my poster map collection.

At Gen Con this summer, I picked up Vaults of the Underdark.  I wasn't sure if I would ever use the maps, but I'm also of the opinion that more poster maps are never a bad thing.


Perusing the maps brought a few thoughts to mind: 
  1. Most of the maps were caves
  2. They had a greenish tinge, making it look like there was some glowing algae/fungus in the water
  3. Who said you can't pretend that a lot of the maps are underwater?
  4. Who says I have to keep the Upper Caverns exactly as the map portrayed them?
 With those things in mind, I pulled out two of the huge maps to join them together.  My Upper Caverns were complete.

The first part of the caves (towards the bottom) will have small pools and little water.  The table and "living area" is home to a sailor who possesses at item that has cursed him with lycanthropy.  While his furnishings look almost too nice, describing them as crafted from driftwood and crude supplies will make it believable.

The entrance to the Lower Caves will be the pool in the center of the Mushroom section of the map.  While all the greenish areas will be underwater, the pool represents going deeper and having to take a tunnel to get down to the Lower Caves.  This room will be swarming with sahuagin.  I plan on having some other sahuagin patrolling various areas of the caves as well.

I also found a poster map from the Book of Vile Darkness.  This map has some greenish areas that look like water.  Whether the characters swim through the hidden tunnel by the waterfall of enter through the excavation site, I plan on having them starting their underground journey here, discovering the bodies of the lost excavators.

The sahuagin sometimes possess bladders of octopus ink, which they can use to blind their enemies in the water.  To convey when a sahuagin uses the ink, I'm using the smoke tiles from the Cathedrals of Chaos dungeon tile set.


While my Upper Caverns is smaller than the adventure originally has, I feel that it works out better in my case.  I'm trying to run the whole adventure in one sessions (which could possibly be about 7 to 8 hours).  I'm starting at 1pm, and plan on taking a break for dinner and then having my players finish after dinner into the evening.  I believe that with the dynamics of the story and the group that I'm bringing together, it will be a perfect amount of time.

I'm going to flesh out Trawler's Isle a bit more as well.  They have a forest to the east, which has access to an inert fey crossing.  The Isle also has a lot of open plains and things of that nature, so I think that horse raising would be ideal.  The Isle raises horses and then ships them to Genkar for trade and use.  This ties the island to Genkar in a much bigger and vital way, and fleshes out the world a bit more too.  Due to the importance of the horses, if the players decide to try and explore the forest some more, they will see a unicorn at some point as well.

The adventure divides the sahuagin into two groups: those that are attacking the island, and those at work in the Upper Caves.  The groups know nothing about one another, though the players will have to discover this for themselves.  I foresee the players attacking the raiding sahuagin at some point and maybe trying to find their lair.

Due to Genkar's history with piracy and things of that nature, I think that the sahuagin will be nesting out in an abandoned fortress and ships that have crashed together.  This is the second map from Talon of Umberlee that I will be getting, and I would rather use it than have it sitting and waiting.  So, if the players decide to try and pursue the other sahuagin raiders, this is where they will end up.  I think this will impress the players either way.

And that's where I'm at!  Leave your thoughts/comments below, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf


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