Where our heroes travel back in time to 1991 when TSR was frantically trying to get all grimdark on our asses to compete with Vampire: The Masquerade.

As Jon has done several times before, our heroes find themselves stuck in an old school D&D module from the past. This time around they unwittingly join the crew of The Ship of Horror.

I think there was some kind of nostalgia here for you?

Very much so.  The first major campaign I ran was a 2nd edition Ravenloft game, and its 4th chapter was the Ship of Horror.  Took most of highschool, started with 2 players and grew to 4. There were 6 adventures, from level 1 to 13 or so.  If for some inexplicable reason you could survive the end of Ship of Horror, that is.

An adventure starring Jaxxo the Lizardfolk Monk, Jim Clocks the Half-Aquatic Elf Rogue, Brubax the Goliath Barbarian, Tidus the Triton Cleric and L’Eau D’ur the Genasi Warlock.

 I’m in black and Jon (the DM) is in blue.

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Point of order, in my brief little dive into the history of this module I found that it was written by Anne K. Brown. A few things here. One, big props to her for being a lady in what was certainly a male dominated industry in the late 80s and early 90s and going from Assistant Editor of Dragon Magazine to designing modules in like a couple of months. Two, she was apparently a big fan of Greyhawk but wrote for Ravenloft, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance so that is cool. In fact, Ship of Horror was the first module supporting Ravenloft which I am assuming is kind of a big deal and shows that the company had a lot of faith in her. Three, she had a bit of a renaissance in the 2000s as an author of non-fiction aimed at middle-school aged kids. Wait, what? That’s right, you can read Anne K. Brown’s take on the lives of Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani, Roger Federer or her takes on “Staying Safe Online” and “Migraines”.  Weird.

Now that the history lesson is out of the way, let’s get started. We actually took two sessions to get through this little adventure, but I seriously took like 20 little pages of notes. That said, we’re going to be skipping through some of the narrative and just focusing only on the best bits. You’ll thank me later.

Dealing with Those Githyanki

The session started off with us onboard The Clepsydra, the fast little sloop owned by Jim Clocks. We were on our way to a treasure island, which in fact will be our next adventure. While stopped at a port city, the Ne’er Do Well Cads are pulled away from the important business of drinking by the sounds of a ruckus in the town square.

If you’ve been keeping tabs on our little foray into Spelljammer, you might remember that in the very first adventure we kind of happened upon a +3 Vorpal Sword that has since been wielded by our Cleric, Tidus. Small problem: the sword belonged to someone called The Lich Queen and every so often we are kind of ambushed by Red Dragons and Githyanki. I think this session marked the third such encounter.

But anyways it wasn’t an encounter, Tidus just gave the Githyanki back the +3 Vorpal Sword without a fight. Womp womp.

Almost certainly the first time in the history of DnD that someone gave back a silver sword.  Color me a little disappointed. See, yeah, red dragon/githyanki wizard battle in populated area is no good, innocent bystanders and all.  But I wanted that stolen silver sword to connect Tidus’ divine destiny into having to go to war with the Githyanki. Womp womp indeed.

According to the player (Eric):

Come on guys, I took the high road! A lawful good cleric chose the lives of innocents over his own personal gain. Give me a little credit!

I mean sure, but here is the DM saying an intergalactic holy war was in your divine future. Think of the innocents you could have saved from the tyranny of an almost universally Evil race! Think of how many more innocent lives they will take with that weapon back in their possession!

And Now, Ravenloft

The heroes go to sleep and when they wake up, they find themselves in another ship’s cabin. 

Spookiness is afoot.

I kind of like the sort of house rule you’ve put into play that when we’re stuck in these modules we just sort of acknowledge that the only way “out” is to let the thing run its course. Our motivation is always to just get back to our regular lives. It circumvents a lot of the problems I think might be inherent in jamming modules into games.

It helps a lot you guys are game.  If you wanted to get stuck when something crazy happened or have a freakout about being teleported or plane shifted again it would put a damper on things.  A lot of players might consider a little freakout to be ‘being in character’ and that’s cool, but I also don’t run scenes where characters go poop.

A man calling himself Jacob knocks on the cabin door, looking for someone. The heroes haven’t seen anyone so they send him on his way.

Jim Clocks, a man who has a hard time differentiating between reality and pirate tales at even the best of times is sure of one thing: he loudly proclaims, “We are on a ghost ship.”

A bunch of spells later the magic users confirm what Jim knew in his heart all along: They are on a ghost ship.

Ghost Ship Lightning Round

And away we go! Jono, please comment as the mood moves you.

  • The heroes masquerade as ship workers and put together the following:
    • The ship is called The Endurance.
    • It is 100% Cursed.
    • The Captain is named Garvin.
    • He is 100% Cursed.
  • Not everyone on the ship is a ghost, but everyone on the ship is cursed.
  • There are only really 3 ghosts and they are related to the curse:
    • Jacob – a guy bent on vengeance.
    • Madeline – a little girl who is sad.
    • Some lady who’s name I legitimately did not write down for two sessions.
  • An almost fully aquatic/seafaring adventuring party making nearly every “boats are hard” challenge completely trivial.
  • L’Eau Dur the Warlock doing all sorts of stuff with the sad little girl ghost including:
    • Going to see her sad little ghost bed.
    • Not actually holding her hand but casting mage hand to make her think she was holding her hand.
    • Making a doll for her out of hair.
    • Singing her to sleep.
    • Wait, making a doll for her out of hair?
    • One at every table
  • Getting attacked by another ghost ship? This one is full of skeletons.
    • How many ghost ships are there in Ravenloft? My guess is: many.
    • Turn Undead just does not work here I guess.
    • Sickening Radiance really does a number on skeletons
    • The caster falling down through a rotten floor board breaks concentration on Sickening Radiance.

Some comments:

  • The Endurance and its crew are described in exacting detail.  Like 10 of the crew get names and identities. I guess you guys spoke to 3 of em?  8 full pages of the book.
  • Charlotte the little ghost girl has popped up in essentially every DnD game I’ve ever run.  The lost little ghost girl is such a compelling little side character, she can lead the PCs wherever or reinforce whatever themes you want
  • The other ghost ship battle… what a missed opportunity.  It could have been tied in to Garvyn some how, maybe had some logs in the hold you had a chance to get to if you boarded it in time.
  • Literally everyone I’ve run the module on jumped onto the ship.  When I was 14 or whatever and my buddy ran this on me I jumped my characters onto the ship.  When Eric ran it in his game we boarded the ship to loot it. “There is no treasure on board” why not?!

And that brings us to the point where the heroes look upon The Endurance and see it as it truly is: a decrepit, rotting vessel. The figurehead, once of a beautiful maiden, now a weeping hag.

The heroes are now cursed to be a part of the crew forever… doomed to toil away in eternity aboard… The Ship of Horror!

Set your internet alarm clock for two weeks from now when the heroes start messing with zombies and everything gets a little frosty.

Keith does all sorts of things here on 9to5.cc, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.

Jon is a Master of Dungeons of the highest caliber. He podcasts with me over on 9to5 Entertainment Systemand occasionally blogs here in Jon’s Junk.

Vorpal Sword image by heavywaters on Deviant Art.
Ghost Ship image by daRoz on Deviant Art
Ship of Horror cover image Copyright Wizards of the Coast.