100 Waterborne Encounters

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0307

A Brief Word From Johnn

Website & E-Mail Sketchy This Week

I’m in the process of changing web hosts, so the website and my e-mail might be down over the next few days. Then again, it might not. If you do experience e-mail issues, feel free to reach me at: johnnfour -at- gmail dot com

Battery Day

Last week we hit Daylight Savings Time, which was a good excuse to declare it battery day. We put all our new batteries in a box, walked around the house, and replaced dead batteries as needed. It’s a pretty fast and efficient way to keep the clocks running.

This isn’t a roleplaying tip, but I thought you might get a charge out of it anyway.

Have a game-full week!


Johnn Four
[email protected]

100 Waterborne Encounters

This sunken treasure chest full of water related encounters, hooks, and snippets of detail is brought to you care of the GMMastery Group. Thanks to everyone who contributed their ideas! Use the following list as inspiration, in-game encounter seeds, or backdrops when your group next sets sail. Ahoy!

  1. Fallen tree along the shore – branches a haven for birds and fish
  2. Rogue wave rocks ship
  3. Bird circles ship overhead and follows
  4. Dolphins race ahead
  5. Wreckage spotted
  6. Whale sighting
  7. Sea monster sighting (kraken, giant turtle, sea serpent)
  8. Short squall passes over, drenching all
  9. Ship hull burned to water level in the distance
  10. Lone rock covered in gulls
  11. Large bird nest spotted in tree along shore
  12. Flying fish
  13. Life preserver floats by
  14. Secret compartment found on board; Captain mystified
  15. Shark fin sighting
  16. Buoy marking a sunken crab trap or shallow ground
  17. Fishing lure dredged up
  18. Debris crashes against ship
  19. A box floats past
  20. Iceberg in the distance
  21. Wind picks up
  22. Clouds form and skies darken
  23. Sea lions
  24. Large school of fish at the surface of water cross ship’s path
  25. Rigging comes loose
  26. Food supplies are destroyed by vermin
  27. Someone gets seasick
  28. Tide of coloured seaweed/kelp
  29. Gull droppings bombard one person over the course of several days
  30. Smoke in the distance
  31. River/wave carries the ship miles past it’s intended port
  32. Wave grounds ship
  33. Port closed due to plague
  34. Captain develops dementia
  35. A female crewmember finds she is pregnant
  36. A foundering, plundered ship
  37. Shipboard pet constantly steals small items from one PC
  38. A sailor who “plays a bit of flute” challenges a PC bard to contest
  39. Ship hits a Sargasso Sea, weeds choke movement
  40. Other stuck ships are visible, some with rotting sails
  41. Ship is boarded and searched by the Navy
  42. Sky fills with immense flock of migratory geese that stream by for five minutes
  43. Surface of the water is covered with an oily, coloured film
  44. Random rubble along sea floor resolves in your mind as a pattern of roads
  45. Ruins appear beneath the surface of the water
  46. An iceberg calves or a cliff face shears off and tumbles into the water
  47. Boat swept into a localized current flowing contrary to intended direction
  48. A low dark cloud appears and sweeps in your direction to engulf the ship
  49. Approaching low bank of fog is actually a swarm of insects
  50. Columns of kelp float on the surface while passing through what should be deep water
  51. Dull grey waters become strangely crystal clear as the sun zeniths
  52. Bioluminescent algae float in the water, giving off faint light and revealing dark shapes
  53. Your hair stands up as the rigging coruscates with electric blue light while balls of lightning move overhead
  54. A rain of stinging jellyfish falls from the sky; a waterspout roils water in the distance
  55. The navigator muses about two new stars that move each night
  56. Aurora Borealis in the night
  57. Globes of light move beneath the surface of the water
  58. Animals along shore migrate in the same direction, visibly agitated
  59. Unchecked forest fires burn along the shoreline
  60. Water calms, humidity rises to 100%, temperature climbs, you are driven mad with unquenchable thirst, the sun seems to stand still
  61. As a tentacle wraps itself up the side of the ship, though not over the railing, the ship lists until the suckered arm detaches
  62. A black cloud roughly the size of your boat is fixed above you, emptying sheets of rain in a permanent squall
  63. A flag pole protrudes from the water ahead of the ship– it is the top mast of another ship, submerged but upright, having achieved neutral buoyancy at this unlikely depth
  64. Alone on high seas, you are overtaken by another vessel under full sail but without a soul on deck
  65. Approaching port, no ship responds to your hails, and doors and windows are hung with black cloth; a single solid yellow flag flies from the end of the pier
  66. A rogue wave travels under the ship, lifting then dropping it
  67. A rogue wave crashes upon deck
  68. A floating, watertight chest knocks up alongside—it might contain a relic, philosopher’s journals, or junk
  69. The classic “message in the bottle” arrives
  70. One of the sails tears loudly
  71. A shipmate goes harmlessly insane, spouts prophecies
  72. A shipmate gets hit by the mast and slips into a coma
  73. An artist paints or carves in wood a portrait of a sunset
  74. Someone drops and chases something valuable that slides across deck
  75. A fishing net catches something valuable
  76. Someone is stealing rations from the ship’s supplies
  77. There is a stowaway that nobody knows about
  78. Snow or a freezing rain storm causes slippery decks
  79. Someone plays a prank
  80. Beautiful coral reefs
  81. Something big and heavy falls and rolls across a deck
  82. Something absurdly large is discovered in the hold; nobody realized they were transporting it (large mammal, ancient statue, fountain)
  83. Decayed body floats by
  84. Ship tilts to one side and corrects itself before anyone finds out why
  85. Nets or fishing lines are pulled by something massive, dragging ship along
  86. A gust of wind brings vomit back over the rail to hit someone
  87. Crew experiences scurvy
  88. Crew experiences communicable diseases picked up at port
  89. Whirlpool grabs ship, spins it, then ceases
  90. Navigation charts/equipment are lost causing the crew to navigate by
  91. more primitive methods
  92. Eclipse of the sun or moon
  93. Smell of flowers comes on the wind and lingers
  94. Bird drops dead on ship
  95. Bird lands on ship carrying an unknown plant
  96. Clouds appear that are unmistakable representations of crew members, then fade
  97. Whole crew falls asleep
  98. Cargo is discovered to be different, but of equal value
  99. Fisher man seen fishing with dynamite (or fireballs)
  100. Dragon catching fish

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Little Helpers For Busy GMs

From Mike Bourke

GMs have a lot of work to do, and many take advantage of random generators to help share the load. However, just as many don’t realize there are a lot of other options available, and those options are what this tip is all about.

  1. Day Planners
  2. Address Books
  3. Task Organizers & Planners
  4. Web Page Editors
  5. Recipe Collection SoftwareDatabase Software

Most of these fall into the general category of Business & Productivity Software, which is _not_ the place most people look for GM tools.

Day Planners

Don’t use these just for yourself; use them for your major NPCs as well. Block out who’s doing what and when. When is the changing of the town guard? When do the markets open? When do the inns close? When are the town gates barred?

Mapping everything related to a town or significant NPC gives you a wealth of information, but don’t stop there. Use them for your random encounters as well. Are there orcs at the guard post in the day? Is there a wyvern flyby at 7PM? Do the kobolds only come out when the orcs are eating?

Using a day planner for every room of your dungeon or every business in town is excessive, but doing some general ones can bring a location to life.

Use one that lets you save the day’s schedule to a text file so you can replace the date information (usually at the top) with a brief statement of who or what the schedule is for. Instead of planning what the PCs will encounter on their next shopping trip, simply let them wander and describe what they see.

Address Books

These can hold a wealth of character details. Use one that lets you export a text file of contacts. Just because the field is labelled “Phone Number” doesn’t mean that’s what you have to put there. It could be stats, or class and levels as email addresses: “Fighter@7,” “Thief@4.”

Use a phone book to generate summaries of the PCs and NPCs in your campaign. Use the address to indicate where the person is and perhaps what they do. “Blacksmith, 12 Petticoate Lane Sewer, Lower Scratchenbury.”

Use the postal code to point to the numbered page in a book or diary where you keep track of what interactions that character has had with the party, his equipment, and his daily schedule. The software doesn’t care what information you type so long as it fits the format. It always keeps the list alphabetical, except for those address books that let you organize the entries by address, so all the Blacksmiths in Lower Scratchenbury are listed, and then all the Candlestick Makers, and so on.

This can even be used for encounter ideas. Is the guide the party just hired related to the innkeeper they cheated 4 adventures ago and three towns over? They have the same surname….

Task Organisers and Planners

The most versatile of the lot. Don’t just use these to keep track of what you need to do before the next game session. Use them to track the villain’s master plan. Use them to plan your scenarios. Assign each random encounter check as a subtask. You can even use these to plan your whole campaign (the PCs need to be 14th level by the time they reach Lake Scrimshaw, so that’s at least two encounters on the way).

Think about what the software can do, not what it’s designed to do. This is a case in which older versions are probably more useful than the current ones-older versions might not automatically get the date from the system clock, it might let you enter it manually.

You can use your project planning software and make back- dated entries to compile a campaign timeline of events: “PC X made 5th level,” “Robber baron ousted from castle,” “Encountered goblins, rescued maiden”, and so on.

Web Page Editors

Make a personal web page for yourself every time you need to do a menu for a tavern, or a price list for a store, or a decree from the King, or just about any document you can think of. Then print it from your web browser.

Not only will it (usually) add the filename to the top of every page, but the date and time and the page number. Remember, a web page is just text and graphics over a background – so if you use the right background, you can make just about anything!

Recipe Collection Software

Wonderful for spell lists with effects (in the instructions section) and material components (in the ingredients).

Database Software

Make a database of people: who they are, what they do, where they were encountered, and what happened to them. Do another one for towns and communities. Another one for random encounters will stop you from becoming predictable by always pulling out your favourite monsters.

There are many other such examples out there. Again, don’t look at the purpose for which the software was designed, look at what you can do with it, and ask yourself if that will save you work in the long run or improve your game.

Graphic of section divider

Know Your Spells

From Helpful GM

One of my favorite speed-up-combat rules is “Know Your Spells!”

It started with just spells, but it really means “know the rules that apply to the thing you want to do.” As a tip in a previous issues suggested, players have several turns to think about what they want to do. They also have all that time to read up on the mechanic if they’re not 100% clear about it.

I’m still a tad soft on this rule because my players try; they’re just not adept at it. In my ideal world, it’d be something along the lines of, “if you can’t explain the mechanics of what you want to do in 10 seconds, you have to either do something else or delay until you figure it out.”

Graphic of section divider

Saving PCs With Surprise Items

From Sam

Thanks for the weekly feed of Roleplaying Tips in a game- scarce time for me. I enjoy every single line!

I was reading the issues on single player campaigns and I had an idea how you might keep the inexperienced or simply unlucky player from sudden and early death: use items instead of familiars and henchmen for players who are unwilling to take those with them.

For example, during character creation, give the player a small necklace, seemingly worthless so they don’t sell it. It could be a gift from someone special. The item could then have some enchantment or charm, like an alarm spell, some healing, or other protection.

There are many ways to incorporate this. Perhaps a friendly spirit lives in the item, or the one who gave it to the PC is dead, but can appear as a ghost to the one who wears it.

This item could also provide a side quest or hook. Think how would your player react when his only help in the dangerous wilderness suddenly goes missing. >:’)

I hope this is helpful. Cheers and smiles to all the readers.

Graphic of section divider

Comments On Diceless

From Sam

I just read the topic ‘Why Go Diceless?’ and as a fan of play-by-post RPing I thought I’d give my view. IMHO, leaving dice out results in a more realistic environment. Rather then trust the roll, you rely on your common sense.

The best thing about going diceless is it leaves more space for character development and focuses less on levelling. Sure, as you go you’ll get better, but levels can be no more than a rough indicator to compare the skills of two characters (PC or NPC). That doesn’t have to mean a lesser skilled character will loose, but instead of the dice and some luck deciding the outcome, it will depend on the character’s actions.

I think it’s also a way of stimulating more descriptive actions. If you have a character who “attacks his opponent,” it’s hard to figure out what will happen. How does he attack? Is there a follow up? What are his plans for defensive actions?

Another major part of character development is character motivation. Nothing you do is without motivation. Even spontaneous actions are motivated.

I’m not saying you should be giving a motivation for every tiny thing, but I believe it’s a necessity for the larger stuff. What’s wrong with a peaceful orc, or a necromantic faerie? Unusual, but possible. I believe, in such cases, there’s a need for decent background.

Also, it’s not because your PC doesn’t know the reasoning behind his action that you, as player, don’t. What your PC claims, what he really thinks, and what you know the reason to be, can be three different things.

Some other related articles, by Rich Burlew, can be found here: Giant in the Playground

These can be used both by players to flesh out their PCs and by GMs to flesh out their NPCs, regardless of the presence or absence of dice. In their absence, however, players might find it easier to focus on motivation and good choices, rather than racing for experience.

Graphic of section divider

Alien Language Resource

From Minstrel

Each week I am more and more amazed how one newsletter can make my GMing better and my campaigns more fun. I have a small tip for GMs searching for an alien language for their sci-fi or fantasy game. If you have a (preferably extinct) civilization that could think five or more times faster than man, and you need to supply players with some writing samples, look up this address:


The language is called Ithkuil, and even its creator, John Quijada, has never mastered it. Its script is so alien and elegant it would be ideal for any Ur-Quan-like civilization set out to confuse and baffle spacehardy adventurers. Look in “The Script” chapter for a large database of characters for all the puzzling symbols you will ever need.

Graphic of section divider

From Milan Cirovic

Ancient Names Galleria:

Medieval Names Archive: Collection of articles on medieval and renaissance names.

Kate Monk’s Onomastikon: Very big collection.

Lists of Monarchs

Regnal Chronologies: The study of king lists.

Behind the Name, the Etymology and History of First names: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Indian, Irish Names Mythology, Biblical, African names, and more.

Onomastics (the study of names): About names, mostly linguistics, with very good lists of Celtic names.

A Collation of Viking Names

“This paper is an attempt to collate all the different proper names of Vikings from various sources such as the sagas, rune stones and extant Viking artifacts.”

EBoN-Everchanging Book of Names by Sammy Pyorre: Generate lists according to your own list of names. There are approximately 350 different chapters on the home site:


Graphic of section divider

Resource For Faking Runes

From VTKuga

A wonderful resource that covers all (as far as I can tell) writing methods: Omniglot

Great for the DM who doesn’t want to spend time designing his own text cipher. Confound your players with notes written in Khmer, the language used in Cambodia, or even Tectonese from the ever popular film and TV series, Alien Nation.

Script away!

Graphic of section divider

Making Battles Interesting

From Devon

In combat I like to give my PCs the chance to shine and to help me speed things up. I do this by giving them finishing moves. It’s pretty much a diceless description of the gruesome particulars of an enemy’s death. This works best if the enemy is low on health, and it may not be useful for all situations.

I’ll give you an example:

In one game, a close friend was playing a gladiator and facing off against a few lizardfolk in a match. The last, pitiful foe rolled well, but could only reach his legs, so he stabbed his dagger straight through the PC’s foot, pinning it to the ground. Without missing a beat, my friend did a spin kick to impale said lizard in the head with his own knife. I decided to just allow it, and that’s how that got started.

Another idea is to allow for various applications of each character’s unique abilities. I often have players who like to pick a few non-combat skills, like knowledge, craft, perform, etc. I always try to use those in combat situations, making a unique challenge that makes the player glad he went out of his way to take that skill.

Along the same lines, I often try to litter battlefields with high ground for archers, thieves, monks, and wizards. I like to implement more natural surroundings for druids and rangers, even in big cities. And I always make my fighters and such useful for more than just soaking hits up.

In one combat, a party of three met a group of bandits in a busy city street. The assassin of our group started flipping up to a roof, via a signpost, while our druid started working on a nearby botanical store to entangle the enemy. With poisoned arrows and knives raining on the few enemies still free, our paladin was actually able to seek for the enemies’ surrender. It can’t always work out well for everyone, but I try to make it so that everyone has a place in both combat and roleplaying.