The World of Xoth

Where cold iron meets non-Euclidean geometry!

21 July

Simple 5E Rules for Sea Travel

Illustration for “Queen of the Black Coast” by artist Aitor Prieto

Here are some simple rules for travel at sea. It is assumed that the player characters own a boat, but the rules can also work if the PCs are simply passengers.

Design Goals: The purpose of these rules is to create a little mini-game when going from A to B, somewhere between just stating “you travel for X days and arrive at your destination” and having to play out a bunch of random encounter in detail. The problem with the former is that travel feels too easy (and does not carry any cost or risk), and the problem with the latter is that it takes a lot of time away from the main adventure.

A note about resting: These rules assume that long rests are not possible while the vessel is at sea. Only short rests are possible at sea. Long rests require a port.

Roles: Each of the below roles can be assigned to a player character. No PC can have more than one role. If a role is not assigned to a PC, assume the role is held by a crew member with a skill check bonus of +0 (or a +5 bonus if the PCs are merely passengers and not the vessel owners).

  • Captain: Is responsible for commanding the crew and maintaining overall discipline and morale among the crew. Skill check: Charisma (Intimidation) or Charisma (Persuasion).
  • Quartermaster: Is responsible for supplies, food and equipment [not entirely consistent with the historical definition of the word in a naval context, but used here for flavor]. Skill check: Wisdom (Survival).
  • Navigator: Is responsible for steering the ship and staking out the proper course. Skill check: Intelligence (navigator’s tools).

Daily skill check: Once per day, each of the above roles roll a skill check against DC 15 (the GM may adjust the DC up or down depending on the area and environment, and/or may adjust the frequency from a daily roll to 5 or 3 rolls per week for an easier voyage). Success gives a +1 modifier to the result of the Daily Event table. If the skill check fails by 5 or more, it gives a -1 modifier to the result of the Daily Event table (see below). Since there are three roles, the maximum modifier that can be gained is +3 and the minimum modifier that can be gained is -3. Note that this skill check represents a full day’s worth of effort; spells and magic items that provide bonuses to skill checks must have a minimum duration of 1 hour to be applicable (for example, Enhance Ability and Foresight do apply, but Guidance does not). Assistance or help from others does not apply to the daily skill checks.

After the skill checks have been rolled, roll on the Events table below and apply the modifier to the rolled value.

Repeat the skill checks and the event roll for each day of the voyage.

1 – Disaster (maelstrom, violent storm, iceberg, kraken) – Roll 1d20, on a 1-5 the vessel sinks (all PCs take 4d10 damage, half the crew drowns), on a 6-20 the vessel is severely damaged (2d6 days to repair, all PCs take 3d10 damage, and 1d6 crew killed)
2 – Pirates, reavers or tax collectors – Pay 250 gp to avoid, or all PCs suffer 3d10 damage in battle
3 – Mutiny attempt – 1d4 crew killed, and all PCs suffer 2d10 damage
4 – Monster attacks, all PCs suffer 2d10 damage
5 – Man overboard – 1 crew is lost
6 – Severe weather (storm) – Add 2 days to travel time, and all PCs suffer 1d10 damage
7 – Disease (plague, rats, etc) – All PCs suffer poisoned condition for 1d6 days (Constitution DC 15 avoids)
8 – Infighting between crew – Captain must roll Charisma check (DC 15) to resolve peacefully, or fighting breaks out (1d10 damage to all PCs)
9 – Low crew morale – Spend 25 gp to boost morale, or suffer disadvantage on next day’s skill check
10 – Bad weather (fog, ill winds) – Add 1 day to travel time

11-15 – Nothing happens

16 – Meet friendly ship or locals – Gain advantage on next day’s skill check
17 – Rescue castaway – Gain 1 crew
18 – Discovery – Roll 1d20, on a 1-17 pick up flotsam worth 1d4 x 10 gp, on a 18-20 find a special item (potion, treasure map, dungeon entrance, etc)
19 – Favorable winds and currents – Reduce travel time by 1 day
20 – Natural shelter – Roll 1d20, on a 1-15 all PCs regain a spent Hit Dice, on a 16-20 it is possible to make a long rest

EXAMPLE: Our brave band of adventurers are setting out on a sea voyage that will take 9 days. They have a sailing ship with a crew of 20 sailors. The player character assigned as the Captain has a Charisma (Intimidation) bonus of +5, the PC assigned as the Quartermaster has a Wisdom (Survival) bonus of +3, and the PC assigned as the Navigator has an Intelligence (navigator’s tools) bonus of +4.

On the first day at sea, the Captain and the Navigator succeed at their skill checks against DC 15. The Quartermaster fails, but not by 5 or more. The PCs gain a total bonus of +2 to the daily events table. A random PC rolls on the event table and gets a 2. With the +2 bonus, the result is adjusted to 4, which means a monster attacks and is driven away, but not before each PC has suffered 2d10 points of damage (roll damage separately for each PC). The PCs are already off to a bad start, and there are eight days left of the voyage! Note that the PCs may take a short rest and spend Hit Dice to restore lost hit points, but may not take a long rest (until they reach a port).

The next day, all three PCs (Captain, Quartermaster, and Navigator) succeed in their skill checks, for a total bonus of +3 to the daily events table. A random PC rolls on the event table and gets a 4. With the +3 bonus, the result is adjusted to 7, which means a disease has spread on board! The PCs suffer the poisoned condition for 1d6 days, unless they can succeed at a Constitution save. If the Captain, Quartermaster or Navigator gains the poisoned condition, they will suffer disadvantage on their daily skill checks as long as the condition lasts.

And so it goes, day by day, until the PCs reach their destination… and then the main adventure can start!

No comments

Place your comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.