Navigation / Campaign Diary: Archipelago Adventures - Pt. 3
Last time we talked a bit about the story of our campaign and kept far away from mechanics. Well, today we are going to start brainstorming how exactly our characters will encounter Islands and how they will be the pilot of our system.
Come Sail With Me
Unsurprisingly, our characters will have a boat to set off on their journey. Since we are using the Of Ships and the Seas - UA from WotC, we have a pretty good body to create our rules on. More specifically, we have a decent place to start working on Navigation in our uncharted archipelago. The UA states:
Navigate (Quartermaster Only)
The quartermaster can try to prevent the group from becoming lost, making a Wisdom (Survival) check when the DM calls for it. (See “Becoming Lost” in chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for more information.)
That’s a bit bland for a major mechanic in our campaign, so let’s talk about how to clean it up. First, I’d like the role to be a more active part of the ability. Instead of just the Navigator twiddling their fingers until the DM calls on them, let’s give them a larger role. They are in charge of getting their craft from one island to the next, they must make a check every time they are on the ocean at the end of the day, similar to my normal rules on Traveling.
But how do we figure out how to make Navigation a more active role? Looking at Polynesian Navigation, it involves a lot of star/sun checking, currents & swells and lots of luck & time. None of those can we consider super interesting for our entire table, let alone a larger audience that we hope to use this system. If we tried to cram all those components into our game, we may as well just be making a Polynesian Island-Hopping Simulation game and call it quits on DnD.
Since we can’t cram all that into a rule system without bogging down play and forcing a table watch one person have all the fun, we are going to strip away a chunk of the nitty-gritty. My idea is for the Navigator to make a check or two before they head out to try and measure the currents/swells to figure out where an island might be, from there the Navigator will have to ensure that the party is going the right way or get the boat lost.
This Way! … I Think
For our Navigator, they have a huge job in front of them. They must get a party from one place to the other in a timely manner. To do this, they need tools, more specifically Navigator tools per Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Xanathar has this to say:
Proficiency with navigator's tools helps you determine a true course based on observing the stars. It also grants you insight into charts and maps while developing your sense of direction.
Components. Navigator's tools include a sextant, a compass, calipers, a ruler, parchment, ink, and a quill.
Survival. Knowledge of navigator's tools helps you avoid becoming lost and also grants you insight into the most likely location for roads and settlements.
Sighting. By taking careful measurements, you can determine your position on a nautical chart and the time of day.
Activity / DC
Plot a course / 10
Discover your position on a nautical chart / 15
That gives us a bit more to work with than the UA supplement, and the words “Plot a Course” gives me an idea about how we can make the Navigator a more active participant in our archipelago. When they make a check, that check helps shape how our map will take form, they are plotting a course and our world will be ‘discovered’ by that course. The Navigator will have two major checks to make in our campaign: Determine the Location of a New Island and Staying on Track.
Staying on Track
We will go with the easiest one to explain first. While our party is out on sea from one island to another, our Navigator will have to make checks at the end of the day to ensure they are following the right path. The DC will be based on how familiar they are with the area, and if they are in explored vs unexplored territory.
Determine the Location of a New Island
When the adventurers want to find a new island, they don’t have a pre-drawn map. They are literally in uncharted territories and they are drawing the map for the area. For our Navigator, it is there job to figure out where those islands are so they can island hop and find their ultimate goal. For them to make this check, they will have to use their tools and knowledge of the sea, and this will shape the archipelago.
When they roll, regardless if it is a high or low roll, this will affect what they find going forward. On a low roll, they may be pointing their party towards tiny islands that are barely any more than just sandbanks to stretches of empty ocean with no land for days and days. On a high roll, they can be pointing their party towards islands that are filled with natural resources/provisions, interesting sights and quick travel times. This will all be determined by rolls the GM makes behind their screen on different island charts.
The different island charts will have a variety of hospitable and inhospitable islands for the GM to roll on or to choose from. Our charts, though, will be determined by our Navigator. If they consistently roll low, they may ‘discover’ an archipelago barren of resources and have a harder fight against the monstrous hordes. On the flip side, if they roll really well all campaign, their ‘discovery’ of the archipelago will be one of riches and wonder with raw resources fit for selling, wondrous sights, and an easy fight against the monstrous hordes.
That’s the beauty of having our Navigator be an active participant in our exploration of the archipelago. It’s not a predetermined place for our table to ‘discover’, but a living world where each campaign through the islands will be different based on the interactions of the characters.
Now that we have a new understanding of how our Navigator will work in the adventure, let’s adjust the abilities of the Navigator in the UA.
The navigator is responsible for moving from island to island with the use of Navigation tools. This is reflected in two checks that the Navigator is responsible for: Island Searching & Sea Travel. The Navigator can not be helped on these tasks unless the other person has proficiency with Navigation Tools.
Before the Navigator can set a course, they must know where they are going and where they are. Over the course of an hour, the Navigator can study the Stars/Sun, the currents and pinpoint their location on the Material Plane. They then can make a Wisdom (Survival) check to determine where another island is. They can only make this check when they are on an island.
While the ship is on course, the Navigator must ensure that it doesn’t get lost due to the hazards of the sea. By spending time every day to check the positions of the Stars/Sun and watching the natural world, the Navigator can ensure they remain true to their path. If the party is lost, they lose a day of travel and must re-orient themselves on the Material Plane.
Now that we have updated rules for our Navigator, we have a good point to start working on the nitty gritty of finding islands. Next week, we will work on the system a bit more and create a few sample charts to help give us an idea how our navigation works, and if our Navigator is a viable idea or not.