8 Adventure Hooks for Campaigns on the High Seas

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 16, 2011

Adventures that take place on the high seas (or at least on a ship) and feature pirates seem to be very popular these days. When we posted the preview of Lair Assault: Talon of Umberlee last week it generated a lot of excitement – in large part because of its pirate theme. There’s just something about an adventure that takes place on a pirate ship that appeals to so many D&D players. I know that when I first saw the Pirates of the Caribbean movies I immediately started thinking about how to shift my existing D&D camping onto the high seas. The question was how to make that transition?

If you find yourself in a similar situation and you’re looking for a way to get your heroes involved in an adventure at sea than we’ve got just what you need. Below are 8 adventure hooks for campaigns on the high seas. These adventure hooks are easy to work into any game whether you’re already immersed in a campaign on the high seas or you’re looking for a jumping off point. Use them as presented or tweak them as necessary to better suit your needs.

8 Adventure Hooks for Campaigns on the High Seas

  1. A pirate captain has a reputation for both ruthlessness and incredible compassion. He’s a devout man of faith and believes that all evil actions must be balanced by equally good actions. No one ever knows if he’s in the process of balancing the scales by doing good deeds or if he’s back to even and looking to wreak havoc, while he overtakes another ship, kills the crew and steals the treasure. It’s unfortunate that the PCs are about to have a run-in with him.
  2. While on deck the PCs are witness to a heated lover’s quarrel between two rich nobles. The man storms off only to return with a small chest which he throws overboard. The woman is stunned and berates the man for throwing something so valuable overboard. One of the PCs recognizes the item the woman named and realized that it’s actually a powerful magic relic and not just a pretty bauble. If the PCs ever want to recover it they have to act now. Finding this exact spot later will be impossible.
  3. During a game of chance one of the PCs wins a ship from a pirate captain. When the PCs board the ship and inform the crew they are unfazed and agree to stay on. They explain that this isn’t the first time their captain’s lost the ship. But every time he does the new captain returns the ship in short order. They have no doubt it will be the same this time and welcome the PCs aboard.
    [The ship is haunted by the ghosts of the original crew. They torment and attack anyone onboard not wearing a special wooden ring carved from the ship’s original mast.]
  4. The PCs are at sea when the ship is damaged beyond repair (monster attack, random accident, lightning strike, etc.). It will sink in short order. With limited space in the lifeboats and land days away there is a frenzy to get a seat. Some people even argue that their material possessions are more valuable than some lives. The captain promises death to anyone using force to secure a seat. He is an exceptionally skilled swordsman and has an entourage of fanatically loyal crew that will back him if necessary. He insists that everyone plead their case and majority will decide who, and what, gets on the lifeboats.
  5. The ship’s crew was recently in two battles that looked like sure defeat only to emerge victorious thanks to the actions of a PC. The crew now believes that the PCs is their good luck charm. Fortune continues to smile on the ship and the crew as they avoid a natural disaster and find lost treasure. The PC is treated like royalty – until things start to go bad. It doesn’t take long before the crew thinks the same PC is now the cause of their bad luck and want him off the ship immediately. They don’t care that they’re at sea, he can swim home.
  6. The PCs are among the pirate crew searching for lost treasure. When they find the buried treasure the chest is full of gold coins. However, the markings on the coins are unfamiliar. When deciphered the writing indicates they were minted in an island nation that is believed to only exist in a children’s bedtime story. Could it really exist?
  7. The PCs hear that a notorious pirate captain they’ve had successful and profitable dealings with in the past is in port. When they go to pay him a visit the man who introduces himself as the notorious pirate captain is not the man they dealt with previously and has no idea who the PCs are. It’s definitely the same ship (albeit a different crew) and the name is right, but nothing else. Is this man an impostor or was the original captain?
    [He’s the Dread Pirate Roberts. Hopefully that clears things up for the DM. If not, see The Princess Bride.]
  8. While in the crow’s nest one of the PCs sees a small island. When he calls for others to look in that direction the island seems to disappear. The only time this PC sees it is when no one else is looking for it. The crew mocks the PC and share the tale of a “chosen one” who will one day find the fabled lost island. Could the PC be the chosen one?
    [The island could be real, but if a DM wants to have a little fun he can have the crew in on the joke. The ship’s Wizard casts an illusion whenever that PC is on lookout and when he calls out the rest of the crew pretend not to see anything. One or two of the PCs might even be in on the joke. The chosen one will be known because he passes three tests. Have fun and make the tests as outrageous, disgusting or hilarious as you see fit.]

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1 Thorynn November 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm

This is PERFECT! I am literally starting a pirate campaign this very evening. Nicely done dungeonsmaster, nicely done.

2 Brian November 17, 2011 at 10:12 am

These are excellent, well thought-out hooks! I especially like #6. I may not be doing a nautical campaign right now, but I’m bookmarking this for later!

3 Chris November 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I’ve always wanted to run a nautical themed game. A friend and I even worked on developing a setting in that vein. Thanks for sharing some good ideas.

4 Tarvyn Dreth April 18, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Mine was a heated conversation between a captain and a merc captain over ship protection prices leads the captain to hire the party. The ship is assaulted in the middle of nowhere, and the crew is slaughtered in the midst of a dying ship soaked in alchemists fire. The party is knocked out and wakes up to the pirate captain ( The mercenary seen earlier) offering them a deal. Join or die.

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