Inner Sea - Chapter 3 - Welcome to the Sandbox

Inner Sea - Chapter 3 - Welcome to the Sandbox

Mar 14, 2023    

** Major Spoilers for Call from the Deep Ahead **

** Major Spoilers for Dragon of Icespire Peak Ahead **

Sessions 16 through 24 (9 sessions) start with the players leaving Mist Island, now captains of their own ship. They are 4th level. But have recovered a clue from the sunken galleon letting them know that the free ports will be attacked by an evil coalition of which the Sahuagin were members.

an encounter with ships
The players defend the Fiskrbak from Captain Callous and the Devil's Fin

Creating a timeline

Rather than leaving the timing of the attack vague, which would probably prompt them to rush to the next scene, I decided to make the time left before the attacks explicit. Here’s the cue as presented:

Clue! You recovered a cryptic message written in excellent calligraphy bearing the following message

Hope Islands : 8th moon
Crater Island : 9th moon
Herakleion : 9th moon

It is currently the 7th moon of the year, meaning you are one month from the 8th moon and two months from the 9th moon.

With a month before Free Port Hope being attacked it is up to the players to decide what to do to pass the time, I hoped that it would turn the flow of Chapter 3 into more of a sandbox. There were a few adventure hooks open but also a whole map to explore. The party chose to travel to Crater Island first to learn more about it, and possibly acquire tools to help them fight the dragon disturbing Free Port Hope.

Visiting Carter Island

Map fo Crater Island
Except for a few hidden points of interest, I opted to start with the map of Crater Island revealed to promote exploration

Rather than the ‘draw a map and leave spaces’ approach, I drew a full-color map with lots of fun Inkarnate stamps hoping they would bring some inspiration. The main town, Free Port Springs, acted as the launch point for exploration. I intended to reskin other 5e adventures and smaller scenes of my creation to take place somewhere on this much larger island.

Free Port Springs map
Free Port Springs, complete with a town on the back of a turtle.

With a week to spare I used the players’ return to FP Springs as a chance to broaden the world-building. They visited an observatory of a Cartographer, an important faction for later to learn more about the psionics wielding the threat of the campaign. They had some downtime activities and also learned that one of the characters was being pursued by bounty hunters who wanted a stolen magical item, and element from his written backstory.

Map of the cartographer observatory
From the vantage point of a mountain observatory, the players can see the mountains on the other side of a jungle, setting the scene for adventures in Chapter 4

8th Moon - Defending Hope

The players return to Free Port Hope to defend it on the 8th moon. By this part of the game, I had my isometric art generation workflow figured out. I’d learned more Blender3D to help create scenes, the grape_juice isometric plugin for FoundryVTT was out, and the Wellerman sea shanty escaped TikTok (which I don’t use) and infected the ears of even those not running a pirate D&D game.

The players learn that Isabella Stone, the island’s Cartographer is the target of the attack. After repelling the cultists and taking a few captive they learn that the “Black Fleet,” a group of pirates who do not follow the code have fallen under the sway of the mind-controlling big-bad.

isometric map of the Stormwatch
The map for the Stormwatch - Isabella Stone's home

As this is the town I wanted them to feel a connection to, I threw them a victory party, with the town putting up Red and White striped flags (the symbol of the pirate code) in appreciation. The flags were made with a physics simulation and cloth deformation in Blender3D.

Before and after
The town square of FP Hope before and after

Time to deal with that Dragon

At the request of the town’s mayor, the party finally goes after the Dragon which represents the end of the Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure. Iona Stone, the plucky kid from Chapter 1, stows away and effectively joins the party. They encounter a village of Kuo Toa worshiping the dragon and fight a skirmish with it there to weaken it before continuing to its castle.

Instead of the frozen mountain of the WOTC adventure, I had reskinned the dragon’s castle to be in the center of a whirlpool. In this case, the whirlpool was a magical sinkhole in the ocean leading to the Depths … a location meant for higher-tier play. I went all out and rendered the dragon using an STL from Miguel Zavala (@mz4250) and made a looping water simulation for the map.

the dragon
Cryovain the dragon

Looking back on Chapter 3

The sandbox nature of this part of the adventure makes it harder now, two years later, to recall what happened and how the story was tied together. In my notes, it says that the players turned the Kuo-Toa away from the worship of the dragon, which is very dangerous as Kuo-toa can dream new gods into existence. The cleric failed to convert them to his “storm” religion and instead got them to invent a new god called Thunder Pain. I honestly don’t recall how that happened.

I think Chapter 3 was also the beginning of what would, twenty sessions later, kill this campaign. I was having lots of fun learning new techniques and tools for isometric play, but it was the learning that was fun. Eventually, the prep would turn into work and I would burn out. We’ll get into more of that when it comes time for a post-mortem.

For those interested in that art, I’ve made some of it available for download through my Isometric content pack series. The whirlpool castle is here

Continue to Chapter 4 - read here