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Captain Keimura takes the adage dead men tell no tales as a crew management philosophy. An exceptional necromancer she has crewed her ship with reanimated corpses. Not only does she have the unwavering loyalty and silence of her crew, she doesn’t have to worry about food or shore leave. “Secrecy and Privacy” is the motto of Keimura’s smuggling operation. The very existence of her ship, the Black Sonata, is known only to a select few in the ports.

Should you have booked passage on the Black Sonata, a small row boat crewed by hooded figures will meet you on a beach at night. The Black Sonata is waiting out to sea, her sails flat and quiet. The stench of decay will greet you a you step aboard before an undead crewmember hands you a contract. The terms are simple – pay in gold, do not go below deck, do not go in the state room, place a sample of your blood in the vials provided. Cause trouble and you’ll become part of the crew.

Said crew are a mix of all the peoples who travel by sea. Some are relatively fresh with the cause of death evident to see. Others are just skeletons in rags that click across the deck as they work. Those accustomed to sailors will find the crew unnerving. They are precise and efficient in their movements and stand motionless at their stations until needed. All traces of individuality has been erased like their voices.  Keimura prefers to keep the crew out of sun so that they don’t decay quite so quickly.

The Black Sonata is bare of any decorations and her hull is a dull black that barely reflects any light. The metalwork is tarnished but not corroded. Only the ropes and sails are in good condition. Curiously there is no sea life on the ship’s hull at all. The forecastle has been stripped of all internal walls and turned into a barracks-like guest quarters. Hard wooden beds have been fitted to the walls and a low centre table bolted to the floor. Other than the single curtain around the latrine, there is no other furniture. The crew don’t enter the forecastle and generally ignore the passengers. No food, water or supplies are provided.

The state room is Keimura’s quarters and laboratory. She sleeps in an ornate red silk draped four posted bed that sits in the centre of the room. The bed is surrounded by magical circles that prevent anyone but Keimura from approaching it. Various bits of magical creature sit in jars on the shelves in between the many necromantic magical texts. The navigation charts includes maps of islands that don’t exist and routes between nowheres. Her desk is made of bones and is unnaturally dry to the touch. Occasionally flashes of light can be seen through windows throughout the night.

The second deck is a maze of rope lines that tie the the turnstalls to the rigging above. From here the undead crew can sail the ship in good conditions without having to expose themselves to sunlight. In this confined space the smell of decay is oppressive. A hatch amidships heads directly down to the third deck where the cargo is kept. There’s space here for the tonnes of cargo but it is almost entirely empty save for a few large crates. Should the passengers be aboard the Black Sonata on the rare occasions that it actually makes port, they’ll see these offloaded and a few new crates taken aboard.

At the bottom of the ship, the lowest deck is divided up into a three dozen low ceiling rooms. Each is filled with small samples of blood, organised by race, gender and alignment. The vials are marked with ancient gnomish runes and are held in a copper framework that connects them all to the ship’s metal clad keel. There’s a strange white mist that is ankle deep across the deck that trails around your legs as you walk through it.

Plot Hooks

  • Sheriff Fo wants to properly bury his brother but his corpse is a crewmember of the Black Sonata. His efforts to retrieve the remains have failed, how will the character fair?
  • The crown prince of Medria has been kidnapped and smuggled onto the Black Sonata. Can the characters find the ship before it delivers the prince?
  • Keimura is willing to give the characters a reduced cost passage if they’ll assist her in raising a shipwreck. The characters can have whatever treasure they find so long as they leave the corpses for her.

Image Credits


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9 thoughts on “Smuggled on the Ship of the Dead

  1. It could be from different versions of the same systems, or completely different ones. How did that go? Was it worth it?

  2. Hello everybody, my group have been playing dnd for about a year and our campaign recently finished, were looking for something new preferably less combat more rp and investigation etc. Can you offer suggestions :). Thank you all for your time

  3. I printed out the Mongoose Traveller 2022 Core Rules updates, because I wasn't buy the $60.00 hardback again. And I learned a few things that I thought I would share. A lot of this may be common knowledge, but I thought I would pass it along as a self-proclaimed “stationary nerd.”

    Don't go with paper thicker than 20 lb. You can if you want to, but the book is going to be a LOT thicker than you would probably like. I printed out another book (Casstles and Crusades Player's Handbook, for the same reason), and I used a ream of 32 lb paper, because that's what I had lying around the house, and the thing was much thicker than I would like it to be. If the pages have a white background, try to get a paper brightness that's 92 or 94. 98 and 100 brightness paper looks really nice, but takes quite the toll on your eyes if you're spend a decent length of time reading and flipping through pages. If you're printing on an inkjet printer (only recommended if you have a “tank” printer), buy a paper that has colorlock or is specifically inkje paper. This will make sure that the ink does not feather and your text and images remain crisp. Staples sells Tru Red brand 20 lb paper in reams of 500 sheets for $7.99 a ream. Buy the smallest binder that will ft your book. I find binders to be incredibly unwieldy and large. For the Mongoose Traveller book, I got a 1/2″ binder, which fits the book almost exactly. Toner sticks to vinyl. If you're going to print a book out on a laser printer and put it in a binder with a vinyl cover, then make sure you put a piece of blank paper as your first and last page, or print the first and last page out on an inkjet printer.

    Rather than use a binder you might want to consider going to an Office Supply store and getting your pages spiral, comb or vellum bound.

    IMHO, vellum binding looks the best and provides the most rigidity, but is the most inconvenient, because the book won't lay flat and the process is permanent.

    Comb binding has some rigidity to the spine, but not as much as vellum or a hardback does. This process is reversible. So, you can open the comb up and remove and change pages. Comb binding will also lay flat on the tables, which is nice.

    spiral (or coil as some places call it), is also really nice, but it offers ZERO rigidity to the spine. It's nice because the book lays flat, and you can bend it around 180 degrees.

    Binding the printout will give you more of a “book” feel, allowing you to flip through the book. But it's also more expensive and isn't as rigid as a hardback. But binding is going to be more expensive than a $1.99 1/2″ binder from Staples is going to be.

    You need to do some math and figure out whether printing things out is even going to be worth it for you. If you have an inkjet printer that uses expensive cartridges, then printing something out may not be worth it. I used an Epson EcoTank ET-2750 and when I was done this 266 page printout, the ink levels on my tank (I can see them from the front of my printer) barely even moved. The binder was $1.99 and the paper cost me $2.12. So, worth it for me.

  4. I am interested in reading interesting events that happen to players in any rpg. I have read many of the horror stories from that subreddit and now am interested in hearing about cool events or things players did in their campaign or one shot

  5. As the title implies, I’m interested in a game they feels and plays like an Ace Combat game slower down to fit the tabletop. More concerned with a fast and flashy game than realistically simulating modern jets. Warbirds and Flying Circus come close, but they’re focused on WWII and WWI aviation respectively, which is nice but not what I’m looking for, even the Jet Age book isn’t quite ‘it’. In Harm’s Way: Wild Blue does modern planes realistic, which also isn’t what I’m looking for. Do you guys have anything?

  6. I have a great desire for an RPG that is sci-fi, so it has guns 'n shit, but the combat is fun, tactical, and crunchy.

    I like cover systems. I don't mind crunch, if anything my group and I embrace crunchier systems more. I want shooting a gun to feel like a better choice most of the time than swinging a mono-sword (or whatever)

    Ideas, y'all?

  7. Hello,

    How’re you all going?

    I am running a one session cyberpunk RED game this week and trying to use this as a chance to show the cyberpunk world a bit and also to play in areas not always seen by the typical edge runners.

    I expect to have about 3 hours of game play time and want to run a crew of a trauma team AV.

    I thought that the first job could be a simple, low level extraction from the combat zone. Just a corp or fixer who got too deep. The goal with this is to have a simple story line and a large combat with gangers and gronks. I want the team to shred them easily and feel like heros.

    I am thinking about a higher level extraction where the police are trying to arrest the patient and may not let the team have access to the patient. I think it could be a fun shoot out with difficult opponents. Maybe the patient dies here.

    I may run a cinematic down time to allow healing, etc here where people may be reprimanded for letting patient die or fighting police. I’m not sure how to expand it.

    The final scene of the night I was thinking about extracting an under cover detective who happens to be directly responsible for the reprimand from the previous scene. I’m not sure how this would play out. Maybe a cyberpsyco should be in here.

    Overall I want the team to feel big, epic and powerful, but also in danger. I don’t just want a black and white story, it’s not meant to be a dungeon crawl. I would love any ideas for twists, epic bad guys, ways to make it feel like a big plot. Any thing that you think would be cool. Thanks!

  8. I've been messing around with Swords of the Serpentine and there's an awful lot to love about the game. Character creation is rich and evocative. You can make all sorts of really interesting PCs and monsters. Combat is short and brutal. The investigative points give creative players a lot of power to look cool.

    I've only played one session, and it was a lot of fun. However, one thing did stand out to me, and that's the possibility of a death spiral. Or at least the start of one. I'm just checking to see if this is a problem other people have had? Or if it's a problem at all.

    What happened:

    We had two characters in the adventure: a talky one and a stabby one.

    The talky one (MaoMao) was a fairy noble with a lot of sway, some sorcery and plenty of charm, nobility and trustworthiness.

    The stabby one (HuLi) was a bodyguard with plenty of Spot Frailty and Tactics of Death.

    Point A: The scenario opened with a couple of conversations which could have turned into a fight. Sway was spent, as well as charm and nobility.

    Point B: There followed a trap, which was also bypassed by charm (they borrowed something from a guard).

    Point C: A spot frailty spend got them past another pinch point.

    Point D: We finally ended up with a big fight.

    The concern:

    At the end one of the players told me they loved the character gen. “Because of the gear, adjectives and drives, I knew exactly how to play them. It felt much easier than other characters.” However, they also were concerned that their abilities came out of a pool and were diminishing with each encounter. Although there's some refresh tokens, the general abilities tend to drop over time. The investigative spends never refresh until the adventure is over.

    If you think of investigative points as potential spends, then having two points in Charm means you have the potential to narratively input some oomph to charm two times. This is like potential energy coiled in a spring, waiting for the release to let it spring away. But once it's been used, it's just a coiled piece of metal.

    The player's concern was this: they had the most potential and the widest range of things they could do at Point A, right at the start of the scenario. By the time they'd reached point D and were going for the big fight, they were essentially less effective and had fewer options as a character than they had at the start. But this was the big fight. The very time they'd like to have all their options available and feel at their most powerful.

    SotS characters feel a bit like a D&D wizard where every spell is powered by Vancian casting and vanishes from memory after they use it. But in D&D, the usual thing to do is have frequent long rests so the PCs go into the last fight fully powered up. In SotS, the idea seems to be to gradually wear down through the adventure (partly with Genral spends, completely with respect to Investigative spends).

    This has a very different feel compared to our usual game of Fate, where the characters are always as competent as they begin, and get a refresh of Fate points every session, so each week they can start at full power again.

    There's a part in the rulebook where they talk about characters being captured if they lose a fight, and waking up in a dungeon. But that got me thinking: won't that put them in an even worse situation? They had a fight they couldn't win, spent some irrecoverable points, and now have to try to finish the adventure without those points as well?

    Anyway, I'm posting this to see what other people think. I have to be honest. I love every part of the game. I think it's a winner in terms of character gen, in terms of narrative spend, in terms of world setting. Poisons, traps and diseases are all wonderful.

    But I'm just not sure what I think about a character having an ever decreasing set of things they can do across an entire adventure. Maybe it's my loss aversion kicking in.

    I mean, my players did in fact win the fight in the end. They just felt like “if it went further I'm not sure I could have won another fight.” Which, on the one hand made it tense. But on the other, it made them very loss averse to spending points. Because, of course, they didn't know whether there was in fact another fight coming.

    How has it been for other people? Is this something that isn't really an issue? Or is there a way round it?

  9. TL;DR How would you implement roguelike mechanics in a TTRPG? Have you played any system that has those mechanics in it?

    So my GM and I had a discussion about implementing roguelike mechanics into a one shot we are planning to run together for our group. We currently play D&D 5e but we'd gladly try new games or systems. We raised a few questions we think are relevant for this sort of game, some we answered and some are still open for discussion.

    Firstly – why roguelike? Well, all of the gamers in the group love roguelike games, and we would love to evoke the same feeling of failing and failing and failing again, but within each failure lies a small improvement. The feeling of achieving new and strong powers, as though you played a whole campaign in a 1-2 sessions one shot.

    What can we keep after each death? What will we leave behind? We thought about going in either one of 2 ways: 1) use the D&D 5e level system, just level up much MUCH faster, and keep the exp from one death to the next, and having danger / challenge curve of the dungeon be steep. Any equipment you get will be randomised during the run (from tables we'll create specifically for the party). 2) Create a progression tree, with feats (some from the game, some we'll create), either specified for each character or a generalized and wide one that would let the players personalize their character with their choices on this tree. New feats can be unlocked by finding special items on the dungeon, or defeating mini-bosses.

    Would we penalize players for dying too much? Can we put a max deaths count before they completely perish? How would we encourage safe play, what would be at stakes when dying? We thought about using a system that is close to what there is in Situ – on each death you get older, which means you lose max hp but you hit harder. We haven't gotten to thinking about it mechanically yet.

    What are your thoughts? Why would / wouldn't you want to play a roguelike TTRPG? Do you know any that you enjoyed playing? What other questions should we ask ourselves to get a direction for this game?

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