This week, Marc Radle shares his thoughts on the unique challenges of designing an underwater adventure. As the vast majority of action in The Sunken Pyramid takes place underwater, Marc approached the initial design differently to a normal adventure. This is the first of three weekly posts Marc will be making about The Sunken Pyramid; I hope you enjoy it. (And thanks, Marc very much for writing it!)
When designing an adventure that takes place almost entirely underwater, you have to keep one thing in mind at all times – it’s underwater!
OK, sure that seems obvious, but that one fact colours a lot of what you do…or, at least, it should!
As I was first plotting out the Sunken Pyramid, I fairly quickly came to understand one simple but important fact: the PCs were going to be, in all likelihood, air-breathing, land-dwelling creatures, which meant I was going to need to pay a lot of attention to things like drowning, swimming in armour (or, much more likely, NOT swimming in armour), and the ability to breath water and/or find sources of air to breathe. It was also important to remember certain spells are hard to cast underwater (fireball being an obvious example).
The fact that these elements, which are not normally part of your typical adventure, were going to a big part of the Sunken Pyramid meant this adventure was going to be a bit trickier to design (and a bit more challenging for the players). Hopefully, though, it would also make the Sunken Pyramid that much more interesting!
Luckily, many classes have ways to address these challenges: druids can wildshape while wizards and the like can cast spells such as beast shape, water breathing and freedom of movement. There are also a number of magic items which can help as well, including cloaks of the manta ray, rings of swimming, potions of water breathing and even plate armour of the deep (to name but a few).
One thing I was determined to avoid, however, was the crutch of simply scattering just the right magic items randomly throughout the adventure for no good reason other than the PCs would need them to survive underwater. After all, just how many potions of water breathing are aquatic creatures likely to keep around? Probably more or less the exact same number of air breathing potions we air-breathers are likely to keep nearby!
By the same token, though, I knew there was a very real possibility the PCs would need some additional help to keep adventuring under the waves (spells and magic are expendable resources after all), and it was my job as the designer to provide it. The trick was to do so in ways that made sense and felt both realistic and organic. I think the various ways we’ve come up with to provide such aid actually improved and strengthened the adventure. Hopefully you’ll agree!