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Need a ride?
Spend enough time roaming the game world of Dungeons & Dragons, and you are bound to find your way onto the deck of a ship. Whether sailing the seas, flying among the clouds, or rumbling on earth, ships of all shapes and sizes venture far and wide across the realms. And while certain mages may be able to provide a faster or more direct alternative, there may be nothing more marvelous than the freedom and serenity one can find while traveling on a vessel.
The GM's imagination may be the only limiter to the type of ships available to the players. Whether to avoid the calamity below or search out the domains of avian creatures, mages and alchemists could have created various airships and balloons to travel the vast skies of the world. In other adventures, great artificers and blacksmiths may tinker away at hulking mechanical earthen travelers made to burrow deep within the planet's crust seeking out rare and powerful gems. However, most adventuring parties will more commonly find themselves part of a crew, crashing through the waves of the many seas throughout Toril.
Depending on the quest, the party may employ the stealthy assistance of a keelboat, a longship's carrying capacity, or even a warship's raw combat power. Whatever they choose, every ship must have a captain and a crew. The size of that team depends entirely on the size and purpose of the vessel the adventurer's charter. While it is perfectly acceptable to hire a crew, most ships have limited space and storage. Due to this limitation, to properly allocate the available bunks, there is a high probability that the adventuring party will take on some of the sailor's responsibilities. A captain could appoint any character to an officer's rank if they are lucky or skilled enough. This rank could include the duties of the first mate, bosun, quartermaster, priest or surgeon, or even a cook—a surprisingly important task on long journeys. Although, you could just as easily find yourselves among the common sailors, rowers, engineers, or guards. Unless the team charters a leisure boat, most captains will find a way to put everyone to work.
What could go wrong?
Real-life author, Samuel Johnson, may have said it best: "…being on a ship is being in jail with a chance of drowning." Though the freedom of sailing may be enticing, it can come at a great price. The gods may release any number of storms throughout the party's journey, including churning seas, sudden squalls, hurricanes, waterspouts, and unseen shoals and reefs. Giant creatures of all types lurk in the depths, hunting for their next meal. Even manufactured hazards and traps devised by pirates and thieves may impede and threaten the expedition.
However, the perils of ocean life do not exclusively originate from external sources. Many sailors have perished from the dangers within the ship itself. Occupational hazards like falling from the rigging, being struck dead by heavy equipment, or washing overboard are common. Although, many have also fallen victim to starvation, dehydration, disease, and the madness of isolation and malnutrition. The sea is a fair but fickle mistress. Those who prepare well and stay vigilant might live to see land again.