20 Things to Enliven a Sea Voyage

Adventurers go where adventure takes them, and often they travel great distances in search of gold and glory. Sometimes, they must travel by ship to reach their destination.

By Noel Patton

By Noel Patton


Normally, such journeys occur without incident—the GM simply hand waving the whole trip—but in reality such journeys are punctuated by minor events of interest. Use the below list to breath life and flavour into the journey; none are designed to be a fully fledged adventuring hooks, but many offer a good excuse for memorable role-playing. The GM could use them to introduce members of the crew—or other passengers—simply as local flavour or perhaps because they are destined to play a greater part in the PCs’ lives.

  1. With a sudden cry of alarm, one of the sailors slips and falls while reefing in a sail. Luckily, he becomes tangled in the rigging as he falls. He requires assistance to reach deck safely, and is the butt of many jokes from his fellows for several days. He is grateful to any PCs who help extricate him from his precarious position.
  2. Dolphins leap and swim about the boat’s bow as it cuts through the waters. The sailors see this as a good omen and consequently are in a good mood for several days.
  3. Sharks—attracted by refuse thrown over the side—follow the boat for much of the day. Their angular fins cutting through the water are a constant reminder of the dangers of ocean-going travel.
  4. The winds suddenly die down and the boat is becalmed. This state of affairs could last a day (50% chance), two days (30% chance) or even longer.
  5. A sailor is swabbing the deck, when another of his fellows—or perhaps a passenger—who isn’t paying attention slips, falls and breaks his leg.
  6. A cry from the crow’s nest heralds the distance glimpse of another ship. For the whole day it follows the PCs’ ship, slowly drawing closer. At night, the captain orders all lights to be doused and a radical course change. In the morning the pursuer is gone.
  7. Two sailors argue about the gambling game last night—apparently one of them cheated. A fight quickly develops, before being broken up by the ship’s first mate. As punishment, both sailors are given night watch for a week.
  8. With a thud, the ship runs into a half-submerged rowboat bobbing in the swell. The captain quickly orders the ship’s boat to search for survivors, but there are none—indeed there is no clue as to what a small rowboat is doing so far from shore.
  9. Dark clouds—pregnant with rain—scud across the horizon. Luckily, the wind takes them away from the ship’s course.
  10. A huge bird—an albatross—swoops low over the ship several times before eventually landing on the poop deck. It struts about for a bit, before once again taking wing.
  11. A huge bird swoops over the ship, but miss-judges a thermal and slams into a sail. It falls to the deck with a broken wing. If the bird is not healed, the sailors see the event as a bad omen. Even if the bird is healed, the crew mutters of curses and voyages of ill aspect.
  12. A sudden, brutal rainstorm sweeps across the ship, drenching everyone on deck. It lasts for 2d4 hours, and cuts visibility by half.
  13. Another passenger becomes violently ill. Initially, it’s assumed he is just seasick, but when a member of the crew falls ill it becomes evident an illness lurks aboard ship.
  14. A huge flying creature—perhaps a dragon—is spotted by the lookout. The creature is so high up making out any details are impossible. In any event, it quickly disappears over the horizon (and does not return).
  15. A pall of smoke smudges the horizon, marking the spot where another ship is dying. If the PCs’ vessel changes course to investigate, they discover nothing but charred wreckage.
  16. A sudden strong gust of wind rips one of the ship’s sails. Unless the PCs can employ magic to help, half a day is lost while repairs are made.
  17. Shouts of, “fire, fire” from the galley punctuate the air. An accident has scattered burning coals across the room and every nearby crewman rushes to help extinguish the fire before it catches hold.
  18. Some of the ship’s supplies are discovered to have gone bad—water has gone off, food has spoiled and so on—and the remaining food must be rationed for the last portion of the journey.
  19. Several of the crew liberate a small keg of brandy from the ship’s stores and sneak off to get drunk. This they manage spectacularly and spend much of the night staggering about the deck, laughing, joking and singing. The captain punishes them with three days on night watch. They are not happy, and spend much of their time grumbling and making trouble.
  20. Sunlight breaks through the clouds and bathes the ship in golden light. Everyone’s spirits are raised by this lucky happenstance and before long the crew are singing lusty shanties as they go about their daily duties.

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4 thoughts on “20 Things to Enliven a Sea Voyage

  1. I like the idea of foods that can be found in an Inn. but it could have subsections. the Beer and bed level (grog and potato mush with catch of the day) places. A selection of “travelers inn type food including normal meals (from medium size settlements). and a selection of food from “good” inn at a large settlement.

    • We’ve actually already covered this in GM’s Miscellany: Urban Dressing funnily enough with random generation tables for all three levels of tavern (poor, common and good). Liz Smith wrote that section and did a cracking job!

  2. A few more random suggestions:
    20 shops to find in a town
    20 strangers to find in a tavern
    20 meals to find in an inn
    20 ales to find in a dwarven brewery