Oceanic undead encounter for parties of 1st-level or higher, with stat blocks for use in D&D 5e.
The water reflects the sun’s warm light, glistening gently like plains of crystal. It is peaceful in the daylight, each wave stretching out to wash away the stresses of those gazing across the ocean blue. But it is at night when these stresses gather in the depths and long-forgotten memories catch their scent.
The seas surrounding the Wake ‘n’ Waves tavern hide their history beneath a surface of beauty. Shallow tides and jagged reefs once claimed numerous ships in the days before they were accurately mapped, these vessels left to sink along with their cargo and crews. Many still remain, now claimed by the same flora and fauna that sank them. They are used as tourist attractions and advertisements for the tavern. Its proprietor tells embellished stories to lure in customers, selling them on the tales of pirate kings and sea monsters before offering guided tours of the closest wrecks. The grim truths of the dead that litter the ocean floor have been all but forgotten.
But the water remembers. It holds to the souls of the dead and washes their dregs to shore. In rare, oft-forgotten cases, they manifest as strange apparitions that crawl from the ocean to drag others into the watery depths. These occurrences are heralded by shadowed new moons on nights when they should shine bright, drowning the beaches in darkness as the water stirs to life. Such signs have been comfortingly relegated to legends and fairy tales, alongside those of the wrecks, the truth to them lost in each new retelling. Yet one fateful night sinks black beyond the tavern’s light, these stories surfacing in the minds of workers and patrons, clawing their way into reality.
The Drowned Attack
Nightfall brings an attack by creatures that crawl forth from the waves, heralded by the area plunging into darkness and the water consuming the beach. These signs give the characters time to prepare before the drowned appear. And prepare they must, as not all of the tavern’s inhabitants are trained to fight, and such a battle is sure to affect the rest of their lives.
Before the Attack
Anticipating the apparitions. The attack on the tavern is preceded by an unexpected new moon, a dangerously high tide, and the illusion of lights in the water. These effects cover a 1-mile radius area around the tavern and occur as night falls, appearing to be natural.
A character that looks or stands outside during the night sees the lights of the tavern and brightest stars reflected in the water intermittently resemble the reflections of ships, the effect never lasting more than a few moments. If the character succeeds on a DC 14 Intelligence (Nature) check, they also notice the discrepancy in the moon phase, recognizing that the current phase should not be a new moon.
A character that walks around the tavern’s exterior after nightfall sees that the tide is high enough to surround the entire building. If the character is proficient in the Nature skill or succeeds on a DC 12 Intelligence (Nature) check, they realize that the tide has risen more than it naturally should.
Tavern inhabitants. If they are made aware of the strange conditions surrounding the tavern, both Reginald Porinn and Priscilla Nightingale recognize that the signs match the stories of the area. This puts them both on edge, causing them to look to the more experienced adventurers for instruction.
If none of the characters notice what is happening, Rose Graidolm makes an offhand mention of the darkness outside to Reginald, causing him to personally investigate. This occurs late in the night, likely giving the group less time to prepare.
Tensions rise once the people inside recognize what is happening. It quickly devolves into arguments if the party doesn’t take command, as they question whether the stories are real and if they should be preparing or trying to escape. Reginald attempts to downplay the situation, while Marco Pryor begins to panic and suggests barricading the doors and windows. Both Priscilla and Lorok arm themselves but do not step forward to lead.
Plans and preparations. The tavern contains a number of resources that may aid in its defense. In addition to furniture, the bar and kitchen area have several barrels and crates that are all weighed down by their contents, as well as implements that can be wielded as basic weapons. Many of the tavern’s floorboards are also loose enough to be removed, though doing so may leave openings to the water below.
The tavern also has a small number of available weapons; Reginald’s hidden heavy crossbow, several decorative but functional swords, as well as knives and other tools that can function as weapons. These are enough to fulfill the weapons listed in the characters’ respective stat blocks, with more available for the party to use if they wish.
Looking for furniture assets to show the party’s preparations and defences? Our many asset packs should cover anything they might try, whether it’s boarding windows, moving furniture, or ripping planks out of the tavern’s floor…
During the Attack
Everyone in the Wake ‘n’ Waves does their best to defend from the attack. Their confidence in fighting varies according to their ability and is influenced by their individual relationships and motivations.
Reginald Porinn. Reginald fights to protect everyone in the tavern, but not at any cost to himself. He likewise objects to damaging the building itself.
Priscilla Nightingale. Though she outwardly protects everyone in the tavern and shows particular concern for Marco, Priscilla ultimately only fights to preserve herself. She never shows open manipulation or hostility but will always choose to ensure her own safety above anyone else’s.
Following the Attack
Once the attack breaks, the atmosphere in the Wake ‘n’ Waves is reduced to simmering, hopeful tension. Reginald and Lorok use what little first aid they can to deal with any injuries while Priscilla keeps careful watch for any further attacks. Both Rose and Marco quickly collapse from the exertion and rest. None of the characters relax enough to sleep for the remainder of the night and it takes at least an hour for any conversation to spark.
Once dawn breaks, the characters finally experience a moment of calm and consider what to do next.
Reginald Porinn. Reginald is the quickest to recover, seeing that everyone’s injuries are tended to before planning for any repairs the tavern might need. He spends the following days patching any major damage while leaving minor scuffs as they are, later using them to enhance the retellings of the attack that he adds to his repertoire of stories. Reginald capitalizes on this story as the new primary draw for the tavern, going as far as to rename it to the ‘Wakened Waves’.
Rose Graidolm and Lorok. The tavern’s employees both remain and help to repair any damage. Though they continue as usual, both Rose and Lorok develop a habit of keeping concealed weapons within reach, similar to Reginald’s crossbow. They likewise establish an evacuation strategy in case of future attacks. Lorok, in particular, also becomes more vocal, often defying Reginald’s less tasteful attempts to use the attack as a marketing tactic.
Marco Pryor and Priscilla Nightingale. Emboldened by the attack and reminded of their limited time, Marco and Priscilla depart from the tavern in the days following. They leave together and head for the nearest city in hopes of fulfilling both of their dreams together.
These decisions are naturally based on the assumption that the characters all survive and are not otherwise affected by the encounter. Deaths, injuries, and potential character developments can and should affect how they act in the aftermath. An example would be Marco witnessing Priscilla abandoning someone to protect herself, which may color his opinion of her. You should make a note of any of these occurrences and be sure to factor them into the characters’ actions.
Map & Asset Downloads
The whole of the ‘Tides Will Tell’ encounter was created for use with our Seaside Bar battle map but it is not limited to it. The drowned might appear from any ocean or body of water. They could shamble onto the beach near a coastal town, scale a seaside cliff, or crawl onto the deck of a passing ship. We have a variety of maps and assets for whichever way you might wish to use them, as well as a handbook with advice for running oceanic encounters, with 20 other ideas you might use…
Driftwood CovePWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Seaside BarPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Seaside Bar Pack$5.00
Ocean Surface AssetsPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Ocean Water TexturesPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Seaside PrecipicePWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Beach DunesPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
ShipwreckPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
The creatures that wash in with the rising tide are haunting reflections of lost sailors. They appear from the water itself, resembling the shipwrecks’ victims as they were lost to the ocean. Some are twisted visions of drowning crewmen, others seek to drag others to the same end, and some have spent long enough in the darkened depths to be corrupted beyond recognition, now only manifestations of the reefs’ malice.
Looking to give the drowned a truly ghostly appearance? You can lower their transparency by following this link to 2-Minute Tabletop’s token editor. Just click a token and use the “Advanced” drop-down menu to lower its opacity, making it as ghostly or as tangible as you like, or even edit its colors to match whatever body of water the drowned might be emerging from!
A shimmering humanoid form staggers out of the water, its shape shadowed and indistinct. It steps, feet grazing slowly over the sand as if walking across the ocean floor, and malformed words wailing from its mouth in muffled groans.
The most basic of the apparitions is the drowned shade, which manifests as a shambling vision of a drowned humanoid. The shades are slow and do not possess the intelligence of those they replicate but are deceptively dangerous for their ability to shroud themselves in their distortion and drain the strength of their victims, inducing the sensation of drowning to leave enemies vulnerable to other attacks. Many of these and the other drowned’s ability requires them to be shrouded in darkness, however, with direct sunlight stripping much of the magic that empowers and protects them.
Another shade floats effortlessly through the air. Its body roils and rolls limply, a corpse swept along by invisible currents, yet its gaze remains fixed on its target.
Named for their abilities, drowned kinetics are a variant of the shades that are held by the currents that once claimed them. Embodying the water’s movement allows them to create and manipulate currents of force that they use to both glide through the air and pull objects to them, granting themselves protection and ammunition for later attacks.
An apparition, a ripple like the surface of unseen water, glides a few feet above the surface. The semblance of a shadow seems to hide within it. This lurker surfaces as it approaches, the fused upper bodies of two humanoids appearing with a garbled cry. The same appears from the underside of the ripples, perfectly reflecting the one above as both scream and thrash wildly.
As the drowned grow more powerful, so too do they grow more abstract. The shadowed magic of the water takes prominence over the bodies it inhabits, bending and twisting them in new ways that disregard the conventional limits of humanoid bodies. One example of this is the drowned reflection. The reflection’s physical body can hide itself, appearing as little more than a watery disturbance before manifesting as mangled, mirrored corpses to assault and grapple foes before dragging them into the water.
Is it a drowned reflection or a devourer? With the ripple token, you don’t have to worry about spoiling the surprise of what might burst from the depths!
A disturbance washes across the ground, rippling as if a creature were swimming just below the surface. But your gaze finds no single creature visible within. You instead spy multiple shadows folding and tumbling over each other, all obscured beneath the surface, yet filling you with the feeling of being watched.
Beside the reflections are drowned devourers. These shades likewise manifest as only ripples, the water reaching out beyond its physical bounds. But where the reflections hold mostly complete bodies, the devourers manipulate countless disjointed limbs and pieces that have collected in their depths. These all chaotically breach the surface of the devourer when it attacks, taking ahold of its victims to pull them into the creature itself, where they begin to drown as the shade returns to the ocean.
A jagged, pulsing distortion sweeps forward. It flows gently through the air and yet violently churns like the surface of water being broken in every direction. It grows as it progresses, whirling currents manifesting blurred, blackened shapes that reveal themselves as people. Limbs, faces, and entire upper bodies reach out, clawing for you with screams that choke to silence.
At its most powerful, the water can form a drowned maelstrom. These apparitions embody the waters of storms and tempests and swirl with the many crewmen who were lost to them. They can expand the influence of the ocean into an aura that replicates the dark waters, impeding and even crushing enemies with its pressure. This aura, in addition to the maelstroms’ greater power, makes them effective leaders in the Drowned attacks, as other creatures use the ethereal water to hide themselves.
Balancing the Drowned
The first factor in planning the attack on the Wake ‘n’ Waves is to balance the Challenge Rating values of the drowned against that of the people defending the tavern. The additional inhabitants fight alongside the party, raising the group’s effective CR by 5 and allowing you to pit them against a greater number of creatures than they could handle on their own. The added power is not spread evenly, however, as some of the inhabitants are far weaker and less experienced than others. This means that the CR is, as always, not an exact science.
Fortunately, the structure of the attack itself provides an effective means for balancing. The drowned do not all attack in a single strike; rather, they arrive in waves that can vary in composition and strength. It is perfectly reasonable for these waves to grow more deadly as they progress. You can use this to gauge how well the party and tavern characters respond by intentionally undershooting their combined CR in the initial waves and then adjusting later attacks to achieve your desired difficulty level. It is important, of course, to consider that the characters will be using up their spell slots and other resources as the night advances, though this can be left as an obstacle for the party to realize and overcome. They should become aware of the need to conserve these resources once they realize that the attack will be a prolonged encounter. You may also wish to give them enough time for a short rest between particular waves to help them recuperate.
Here are some examples of creatures that you may use to achieve different CR values for individual waves of the attack:
CR 1: 2 drowned shades, 2 drowned kinetics
CR 2: 1 drowned reflection or 1 drowned devourer, 2 drowned shades, 2 drowned kinetics
CR 4: 1 drowned maelstrom, 1 drowned reflection or 1 drowned devourer, 2 drowned shades, 2 drowned kinetics
CR 5: 1 drowned maelstrom, 1 drowned reflection, 1 drowned devourer, 2 drowned shades, 2 drowned kinetics
Support the Creators
If you enjoy this content and would like to support Troy in creating more, please consider joining the community that makes it all possible. You can receive discounts, early access, and other exclusive bonuses in exchange!
You can also further support our talented token artists by buying them a cup of coffee!
Before You Go
You may also want to be notified when we upload something new. Please come join us on social media, or subscribe to the email newsletter!