C2E02 – Empress of the Waves

For the next couple of days, the party goes about their daily routine. They work the night ship, crash in the morning, and wake up in the early afternoon. This continues for a couple of days without much in the way of excitement.

Finding the Empress of the Waves

The Windbourne and her crew arrive at the entrance to the Shearing Channel and the mouth of the Parchwood Bay. The channel is everything they expected. The water is rough and the winds strong. Hundreds, if not thousands, of rocky islands, jut from the frigid waters. Finding the Empress among the many islands of the Parchwood Bay is not going to be easy.

Night looks over the information they have on the de Rolo’s voyage and the reports of the mysterious ghost ship. Confident, she plots a course to where she thinks it might be and relays it to Captain Valnora. He makes it clear to the de Rolos that he will allow them to search for no more than two days. They don’t have enough food and water to waste on an exhaustive search and these waters are too dangerous to linger.

DM Tip
Backgrounds are an important part of character design. Know their backgrounds and work their unique features and proficiencies into the story. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to work a proficiency with navigator’s tools into the story.

Carefully, the Windbourne makes her way through the maze of outer islands in the Parchwood Bay. The islands spring from the bay like rocky spires, topped with thick groves of evergreens on top. Some rise a few feet above the water, while others tower above the Windbourne, the rocky cliffs even with the galleon’s masts. The towering pines and firs make it difficult to conduct a proper search, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. They find the Empress of the Waves early on the first day. Right, where Night thought she’d be.

Boarding School

The wreck of the Empress of the Waves is an eery sight. Held afloat by finger-like rocks, the hull has large gashes and holes from bow to stern. The wood an unnatural greenish-gray confirm this ship has been here a while.

Captain Valnora brings the Windbourne to a position about a hundred feet out, but will not take her in any closer. The bosun, a half-orc named Braak, readies a boat, while Lord Simon relays some last-minute details on the chest’s location and appearance. With some well-wishes of “Good Luck and Be Careful”, the party climbs over the side and down into the skiff bobbing in the water below.

The approach to the shipwreck goes remarkably well. Allix’s experience with small boats pays off. She manages to guide the rowboat through the rocks, times the tide just right and saddles up beside the old wreck. They throw some grappling hooks up over the rail and clamber aboard. The boarding of the Empress of the Waves could not have gone better.

Empress of the Waves
You can grab my shipwreck map of the Empress of the Waves here.

Clearing the Wreck

Once on deck, the party begins its search. Debris litters the deck and a slight list to port makes the terrain difficult to traverse. The doors to the fore and rear cabins are intact and the party decides to try the fo’c’sl first. Allix opens the door, but it stops short. Debris and detritus seemingly blocking it from opening completely. Rialta steps up and the two of them push the door open.

Awakened by the sudden intrusion, two giant crabs and multiple swarms emerge from the muck and attack. The party backs up onto the deck and the crabs pour out after them. The giant crabs fall quickly to Allix and Rowan, but the swarms prove more troublesome than they expected.

The Best Laid Plans

As they dispatched the last couple of crabs, they heard yelling coming from the hold below. They trudged through the muck in the fo’c’sl cabins and down the stairs to the lower deck. One by one they descended the stairs and stepped into the ankle-deep seawater that covered the hold deck floor. As they stepped into the dim light, they heard a woman’s voice call out from the far end of the hold. Allix spotted her first and knew something was off about her. Rather than wait to draw them all in, the Sea Hag revealed her true nature. Her hideousness frightened Allix and Rowan, but the rest of the party was unfazed.

DM Tip
Expect to make mistakes when revealing a map in your VTT of choice. For this fight, I setup my battle map in the VTT, added the enemies, and then hid them with the fog of war. Instead of placing them as needed. The woman in this encounter was actually a Sea Hag waiting to spring her hideous visage on the unsuspecting players. Only, I forgot to change the name of the token and spoiled the surprise. It killed the RP I had planned and moved us straight into combat.

As the battle commenced, the old hag turned toward Allix and gave her a cold, dark stare. The battle-hardened marine dropped, her small halfling body face down in the water. Zap hit her with a blast of eldritch energy and Night struck true with her bow. Without hesitation, Rialta rushed to Allix and revived her with healing magic. The hag then turned her gaze on Rowan and he too fell unconscious. Too far to reach him, Rialta used a healing word to restore some life to Rowan, while the others focused on killing the old witch. Outnumbered with nowhere to go, the Sea Hag fought for her life but ultimately fell.

Lost Treasure, Found

With the Sea Hag dead, the party moved through the knee-deep water towards the stern of the ship. As they pushed through the galley, they eventually came to the brig. While Night picked the lock, they heard a loud thud and scraping noise along the port side. Undeterred, they pushed the door open and found a number of rotting crates and a large, heavy metal chest. Despite sitting in seawater, the chest was in good shape.

Before they could even think about peeking inside, a loud crash came from the cargo hold and the ship lurched to port. Almost at once, they could hear seawater rushing in. Too heavy for one person to carry, Allix and Zap each grabbed a handle and they began making their way out of the Empress of the Waves.

Escape the Hold

Night and Rialta led the way. The Tabaxi sprinted ahead and saw large tentacles thrashing through the sides of the hull. She ducked through the swinging tentacles and made her way to the stairs. While less agile, Rialta manages to deflect some blows with her shield and make it through the hold as well.

The water was rising quickly. As Rowan too made it to the stairs, the water was chest-deep. Meanwhile, Zap and Allix were moving very slowly with the big, heavy chest. The water was already over Allix’s head and she was holding her breath as they made their way through the filthy water. She managed to duck out of the way of the wildly swinging tentacles, but Zap was taking some hits.

Eventually, they made it up to the fo’c’sl and everyone could see a massive octopus attacking the wreck. While primarily focused on the ship, the tentacles were making short work of the old, rotting wood skeleton of the Empress of the Waves.

All Hands on Deck

They caught their breath and then darted out on to the deck. The ship was listing heavily to port and both Rowan and Zap lost their footing and slid down the slick deck and crashed into the port side rail. Night and Rialta got to the starboard side of the ship and looked down to see their boat had drifted. Rialta jumped in and swam over to get it. It took her some time to get in and back to the ship, but she managed.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party was struggling on the slick, listing deck. Rowan managed to climb up to the starboard side with Allix, but Zap slipped again and slid back down. The fall knocked him unconscious and it wasn’t looking good for the young Dragonborn. The ship was getting lower in the water and the incline less severe. It was now or never.

Allix and Rowan ran to the downed dragonborn and started dragging his lifeless body to the other side of the ship. They could feel the life draining from his body and Allix yelled to Rialta as they hoisted his body up over the rail. Rialta cast a healing word and Zap gasped back to life, as the three of them climbed into the boat.

A Hasty Retreat

As the party settled into the rowboat, a loud boom emanated from the Windbourne and a whoosh overhead quickly followed. With a splash, a cannonball landed on the far side of the ship, out of sight. Another boom followed and this time, the cannonball smashed into the side of the wreck. Allix grabbed the oars and quickly started rowing back to the Windbourne.

After a seemingly endless row back to the Windbourne, the party watched nervously to see if the octopus would give chase. Fortunately for them, it was more occupied with the old wreck than the little old rowboat. Eventually, they reached the side of the Windbourne and climbed aboard. As Zap climbed over the rail, the captain bellowed, “Braak, get that boat out of the water! Mr. Beckwith! Full sail! Get us the hell out of here.”

DM Tip
When I create an encounter I never allow the life of a player ride on a single roll. In fact, I typically use the following three strike rule:
1. Failure for the 1st roll starts a sequence of events. (ie. lose balance)
2. Failure for the 2nd is a failed reaction to the 1st roll. (ie. start to fall)
3. Failure for the 3rd finally results in the full effect. (ie. catch yourself)
In this encounter, Zap failed 14 consecutive saving throws! He took a beating in the hold, on the deck, and multiple death saving throws. Only the quick thinking of the party and some timely healing words spared a character this session.

Session:C2E2 – Salvage Operation
Session Date: 8 December 2019 – 05:00 PM to 08:00 PM ET
Present:Allix (Madelyn), Depth of Night (Renee), Rialta (Alison),
Rowan (Nate), Tibalt (Carisma), Zaptuse (Davey)
IG Start:20 of Fessuran 634 P.D. – Lucidian Ocean ~100mi WNW of Bisaft Isle
IG End:24 of Fessuran 634 P.D. – Shearing Channel
Rest:None
Resources:Shipwreck Battle Map
Alabaster Sierras Region Map
Sailing Ship Windbourne Battle Map
Ghosts of Saltmarsh from Wizards of the Coast
Fantasy Calendar

Thank you for stopping by & happy gaming,
Donald Farland

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Donald Farland Written by:

Don Farland lives in central Pennsylvania with his loving wife, two daughters, & the most troublesome, but lovable labrador retriever he's ever known.