Going Aquatic Part 7: The GM Stuff!

You’ve done it… You’ve got the table onboard (no pun intended) with an aquatic campaign. They’re looking at the world notes, they’re bouncing character ideas around, it’s a solid session zero. But now you’re wondering what to do for their first adventure. Time to dive into the GM side of aquatic campaigns again and look at adventure content.

One Shot Adventures

These are self contained adventures that are ideally completed withing one to three sessions; depending on how long your games are and how focused the table is. They’re great for introductory experiences, side quests, filler between major events, or just plain fun. Within the aquatic theme, there’s a few types of jobs/missions/events that work really well for this.

Gear Test! The players are approached by a person or group to test the device they’ve created. It might be technological, might be magic, that’s all done to the setting. The point is that the players will be given the device and some instructions on how to test it and what needs to be tested. The person or group might accompany them, or might not. The challenges in this adventure come from competitors, people trying to steal the device for unknown reasons, actually completing the tests, stuff at the testing sites that might not like the testers, and even just getting to the test site! So there’s some good monster, skill, social, and environmental challenges that can be wrapped up in a nice one shot.

Recovery! A ship, person, item or device has been lost at sea and the player characters are the only people available to recover the object/subject. This is good for doing a simple shake out of the on the sea and undersea skills and mechanics of the game in a way that feels organic. The recovery can be as challenging as needed depending on the kind of game vibe you’ve all agreed to. This kind of one shot adventure can also be good for introducing a starting area to kick off from for the actual campaign, and to bring in some of the major NPCs that the group will be interacting with.

Short Campaigns

Very broadly speaking, these are more like extended one shot adventures with more storyline. The world stays relatively “small”, the goals remains very focused, but there’s more to do and accomplish to achieve the end goals and often more story development. In my experience, there are usually around four to ten sessions long. And as before, this is a YMMV situation depending on duration and focus.

Exploration! The players are hired or directed or find something that gets the ball rolling to drive them to explore a new location. Of course, things go sideways and the plot unfolds. The key thing with this set up is that the exploration has to drive the plot. It reveals the things the players need to see/know in order to meet the end state of the campaign. To keep it tight, I like to limit the exploration campaign to the homebase location, exploration area, and a final zone in, near, or only accessible from the exploration area.

Facility Crawl! I call it this, but it can be a dungeon, facility, compound… Pretty much anything big with lots of hallways, rooms, scary creatures, and the like that’s isolated, has a dock, sub pen, or a place for the characters to stash their transport. This works great for fantasy and sci-fi, but needs a few things to make it stick. The first is a good theme. It doesn’t need to be everything all at once; pick a selection of creatures/challenges, and stick to it. Save some of your good stuff for future stuff!

The Hunt! This is a targeted move on the part of the player characters. There’s a monster, rogue AI, or some other threat out there that has to dealt with one way or another. This short campaign will combine aspects of the Exploration and Facility Crawl, but has a better defined and known end challenge. Additional challenges for the player characters can include double crosses or deceptions on the part of the people pushing them to act, environmental challenges, and more. You can also include enemies to friends or allies aspect to the story with timed reveals that result in the story going in a new direction.

Long Campaigns

It’s the proverbial holy grail. Your players have schedules that sync, and it looks like the next three to six months or more are going to feature regular sessions. It’s time for a long campaign. This is going to be a 15 session plus operation, and it’s going to be awesome.

Reality here is that a long campaign is just narratively linked one-shot and short campaigns that can happen in a space as large or as small as you want. An important part of your campaign design here is one that I talked about in a previous article for Aquatic Summer, and that’s maintaining focus. It’s really easy to lose the aquatic aspects as a campaign moves, similar to how “outer space” can be lost in a space based game. Another thing to watch for is pacing. Long campaigns can be hard on players, so adding in some one-shot action now and again to give them a break is key. You’ll need some flexibility too, for when people miss sessions. Keep a few things in your back pocket.

Final Thoughts

It can be challenging to build campaigns or adventures around an aquatic theme. And I’m absolutely certain that people reading this have looked at these ideas and thought “That’s a normal adventure/campaign!” and that’s the part of the point. There’s not anything really inherently unique or challenging about an aquatic adventure or campaign except it’s on, near, or under the water. One of my main focuses this whole series has been breaking down the barriers people face around aquatic stuff in games. And this is no different. But it is important to remember that THEME is a defining factor. Yes, a conventional dungeon crawl is similar to the facility crawl; except it’s not aquatic. The aquatic aspects (air supplies, pressure, limited vision, distorted vision, etc…) are more than just a monster palette. The vibe is different.

Only two posts left in this series! Thanks for sticking with me through all of this, and watch for more!

Read the whole series! [Part 1][Part 2][Part 3][Part 4][Part 5][Part 6][Part 8]