10 Things to Find in a Ship’s Cargo Hold

Loads of adventures seem to happen on or near ships. Whether the PCs are storming a pirate ship, infiltrating a smuggler’s vessel or searching a shipwreck they’ll inevitably end up in the cargo hold at some point.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Most of the stuff stored in a ship’s cargo hold comprises mundane mercantile goods destined for some market or another. Sometimes, however, other more interesting things are mixed in (or hidden) among the normal cargo. Use the table below, to generate such items of interest:

  1. A common lamp hangs from the hold’s ceiling. The lamp is clearly faulty—oil drips from its base and pools on the floor. Not only could someone slip and fall here, an open flame might prove disasterous.
  2. Boxes and barrels fill the hold from floor to ceiling. One particular pile seems precariously balanced…
  3. The carcass of a dead rat lies on the floor; its back is broken. Of what killed the rat, there is no sign.
  4. A sailor lies behind several crates clearly maneuvered to shield a small, shadowy recess. He is dead drunk; a flask lies near his outstretched hand.
  5. The chattering and scuttling of rats comes to the PCs’ ears. From the volume, it seems the hold is literally infested with the things.
  6. The lid of a long, low box set carefully against the far wall is loose. The box smells of damp earth. Within, earth fills the box. PCs searching through the soil find it riddled with plant seeds. The seeds are from a rare and expensive species of rose; the whole is bulky—it weights 400 lbs.—but worth 125 gp. (Of course, paranoid PCs may at first suspect a vampire lairs within.)
  7. A slop bucket and mop stand against one wall near the door to the hold. The bucket contains cold, dirty salt water.
  8. Rusty hooks hang from the ceiling; short lengths of rope swing free from each hook. Faint dried splatters of blood speckle the floor below the hooks, perhaps providing an unthinkable clue as to what has gone on here.
  9. A score of sacks—piled atop one another—stands against one wall. One has been ripped and a small pile of grain lies in front of it on the floor.
  10. The planks comprising one part of the floor have been weakened by the attentions of woodworms. A weight of over 300 lbs. causes the planks to snap, dumping the unfortunate into the bilge below.

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This article will appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things II, available in March 2017. For more, check out our Free Resources page.

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