Skipped a few reflections, but definitely wanted to weigh in on this session. If you have not or do not have the time to read the recaps, here is what is going on: the party has been asked by the Frost Giant Shaper, their holy person, to kill a rival to the Jarl that has violated the treaty established by Thane Baern Thunderknuckle. In tow they have a frost giant, Olve, and are heading east to cut off this rogue frost giant, Angrboda. What she wants is unclear, but they are worried about the implications of her even being spotted. To reach the destination before her, they must cross the flooded town of Nainkein in northern Toell’s Bed. There they met one of Baern’s former allies, Ellywick Timbers, gnome champion archer that disappeared decades ago. She is waging a one-gnome crusade against the warped and twisted merfolk (known as Nainkein) of the former river, now flooded plain…
Merrow, I dig them. Twisted merfolk sound like a blast. Early in my previous campaign I established that there were merfolk living in the river north of Toell’s Bed. Every year their population was culled by the people of Toell’s Bed as part of the Nainkein festival. However, during part of that campaign the mountains further north came apart, causing avalanches and massive amounts of ice and snow to melt rapidly. This made Toell’s Bed, an agricultural area to heavily flood.
What does this all mean to me as a DM, well that there would be underwater combat. Now that is not an easy environment to fight in, nor should it be. Giving them a little help in the form of Ellywick made a lot of sense. She is a ranger and had favored enemies monstrosities and aberrations, what merrow are along with some of their potential allies. Also being a ranger means she could survive along with having tons of animal allies due to forest gnomes being able to speak with small animals at will. If the players did get in trouble, Ellywick could bail them out or just give them some assistance before they dive in (i.e. cast water breathing on all of them). That said, a more three dimensional space for combat would be a fun challenge to run and play in.
With all that mind, I wanted to depict Ellywick both as she was and as she has become. She was light hearted, a good public figure and local hero, sweet with animals and the like. However due to her isolation and crusade against ridding Toell’s Bed of the Nainkein, she has become suspicious and quicker to attack, fighting a guerrilla style warfare. Think Rambo in the 2008 film and Disney’s Snow White’s interaction with the forest creatures…
Both combats I ran underwater were objective oriented, that is there is a goal besides just trying to kill all the monsters. In addition, because of the watery depths, they would have to look beneath things, whether a shipwreck or the ruins of the town; giving me all the more places to hide the vile merfolk and their companions (they have a penchant for large mutated fresh water eels). That means showing depth on the grid. I saw Axe N Shield’s Combat Risers featured on Critical Role and a few other places. These things are gorgeous, well made, well packed, and easy to use. However I needed about 10 of these risers to show the 40 foot deep flood. I picked up the starter sets, but would end there. I found a more cost effective solution, though not as glamorous: Pizza Savers. 200 of these things for $7! Not content with them so short, I ended up using a glue gun to get them to stack up to five high. Using both solutions in tandem worked great and the players bloody loved it!
Now you may be noticing the underwater flora. These are just cheap aquarium plants I got on Amazon. The only issue with these is that they are top heavy. Meant for water, they are weighed with ceramic bases. To compensate I did two things. First, I spread the plant parts in equal separate directions. Second, if needed, I glued a penny to the base to help weigh it down. I feel like putting these on two inch bases would have gone a long ways, but was not up for that.
The adventure became a snatch and grab. Ellywick explained that there were items among the ruins that she wanted to retrieve that may be of help to both her and the party. Yet, she has not been able to retrieve them due to be heavily outnumbered. I planned out how long the merfolk would have to retrieve allies and reinforcements. The players had a time frame to work in, not knowing that time frame. As such they had to rig a means to get the cargo and treasures top side to their boat.
Even with all the challenges of underwater combat and retrieval of objectives, I had more in store: boss fight. Well more like fights, I wanted to show that the Nainkein, while largely vicious and vile did have some intelligence but worse than that they were evolving and some were getting smarter. Here are the two I came up with:
What I did to create these monsters was take miniatures I had but never really used. Look at them for a while then figure out what they would be for my context. Both the images used are derived from miniatures in the Pathfinder line: Daughter of Urgathoa and Drowning Devil, respectively. They are undead and a devil, but would work as monstrosities and aberrations spawned by the Nainkein’s exposure to the vileness that flowed down the mountain so many years ago in my campaign. I wanted a priestess styled boss and a more brutal horrific creature that could actually leave the water (the River Horror has a land/swim/fly speed). Both these creatures were huge hits. Initially the players thought the witch was the main baddy and they eluded her until she summoned the Horror forth. That is when things got interesting.
Have to say there was a lot of “oh shit” and “WTF” coming from the players when they saw each of these. My favorite moment was when the Horror snatched up Miyuki, knocking her unconscious with the slams and proceeding with a bite granting an immediate death save failure. Flying off with her, the Horror was struck heavily by Olya’s flames causing it to drop Miyuki. Miyuki was being carried off by one of the Nainkein but then rolled a 20 on her death save, waking up in the arms of this creature which she proceeded to gut in the water, barely making it back to the boat. So dramatic!
Gah, cannot wait for the next session this week. I have a whole lot planned and I cannot wait to share with everyone on here. Hit me up with any questions or concerns about water combat or anything regarding DMing on Twitter @OnlyPlayWizards