Ghosts of Saltmarsh dropped at a very convenient time in my household. Summer’s approach means a lot of time opening up for my family. This meant I could actually run some Dungeons and Dragons for a change! Wizards of the Coast sent me a review copy of Ghosts, but I didn’t receive it until fairly late in June so at this point I’m fairly certain if you wanted a review of the entire book, you’ve gotten it elsewhere by now. So instead I’ve decided to focus on one adventure in the book, and the many changes I invoked before putting it in front of my players.
*WARNING* this post will contain spoilers for the Ghosts of Saltmarsh adventure Salvage Operation. This is mostly for Dungeon Masters looking to run the adventure a little different than as written.
Salvage Operation, built for a party of 4th level or higher, starts with a great hook, years ago a local lord lost a boat with important documents aboard that essentially prove up most of his wealth. He hasn’t been fairing so well since. However, recently it has been reported that a ghost ship was spotted floating in the open sea five or so days out from Saltmarsh’s harbor. It has also been reported to bear the name of the very ship our lord lost at sea many years ago. In comes your adventurers. They are tasked with sailing out to sea, boarding this floating wreck, and retrieving the lord’s lost paperwork. Should be easy enough yeah?..
Obviously it won’t be or else where is the adventure eh? I loved the concept of this adventure and felt like it would set a great starting tone for my group. Especially since I was starting them at 4th level to make up for the last time we played for a while before having to call it quits. It does a great job of introducing the sea into the mix, and that was something everyone was craving. My only issue with the adventure? Almost none of the encounters on the ghost ship were themed in a manner befitting an adventure on the open seas.
Behold! The ghost ship “Emperor of the Waves”!
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the original author’s concept, a mad half-orc druid has launched the ship off their original island seeking new ground to lay down stakes, I loved that skeleton of an idea. My changes were all wrapped up in who that druid was, and the types of critters he commanded. As written the half-orc druid reveres Lolth, and boy does it show. You have a creepy scene where spiders of all ilk roam over this ship. Swarms, Ettercaps, Giant Spiders, and Giant Wolf Spiders, the ship is lousy with them. It’s deeply disturbing, and haunting. I wanted things to be a little more nautical though so here are a few changes I made.
Spiders became crabs…and a few giant toads
I really liked the idea of the spiders crawling over everything, and wanted to keep that creepy vibe, so pretty much every instance of a spider became either swarms of crabs, giant crabs. These guys didn’t always pack the same kind of punch though so I also added a few Giant toads. Giant toads are great fun by the way, bite and swallow makes for some frightening encounters for players.
Webbing morphed into writhing seaweed
The spiders brought a ton of webbing, and that added some nice aesthetics I wanted to keep. For me it wasn’t a huge stretch to believe that our new ocean based druid (more on him in a bit) might use seaweed to help keep this wreck afloat by wrapping itself around broken timbers and clogging holes in the boat. The players were very uneasy around this slimy stuff. Plus it was easy to add difficult terrain where I needed. Slippery stuff!
Introduction to my Thanoi Druid, and his polar bear friend
I’m not always a fan of grabbing stuff from unofficial D&D sources but I was really into these Thanoi guys when I came across them. Essentially they are walrus people. Pretty barbaric types typically, but it seemed like a lot of fun slapping one in this adventure as our druid who revered Umberlee, The Bitch Queen herself, instead of Lolth. Plus I gave him a polar bear animal companion rather than the Phase Spider the original guy had. For this I had a fun pairing the Druid NPC stat block with the Thanoi one, cutting spells that just don’t thematically work as well and adding new ones like Ice Knife, and adjusting flaming sphere to be a ball of ice instead!
Lastly, that fight in the hold
In the original adventure the cargo hold, where the thing the players want resides, contains some ghasts that were originally sailors on the ship. This works fine but I went with something new here as well. In my narrative our Thanoi trapped a Sea Lion (not the cuddly type) below deck with the intention of trying to tame it for his purposes but has so far been less than successful.
This made for a suitable last fight for the players.
All of these changes made for some fantastic fun with the group. I have a lot of pretty cool resources generated from this as well. I’m happy to share them with you too!
P.S. Ghosts of Saltmarsh, on the whole, is an excellent book for DMs who want to add some coastal flair to their campaigns. If you’re looking to add things like boats, sea baddies, pirates, etc. into your games I’d highly tout this reference manual as a great accessory.