An oft-neglected, but fascinating, area for adventure is that great and
mysterious realm that lies beneath the waves. Here, ancient civilizations, green and
dark, lie waiting to be discovered. Vast treasure hordes are said to lie
scattered and open on the murky bottom. Creatures, fearsome and fanciful, rule
kingdoms unknown to man. Many are the mysteries of the ocean, but, to solve them,
players must deal with some unusual problems.
The biggest problem facing characters underwater is, naturally, breathing.
Before any kind of underwater adventure is undertaken, they have to find some way
to stay underwater for long periods. Characters can use magical spells or
devices; they can use water breathing potions; they can even polymorph themselves into underwater creatures (although this
might lead to other, unexpected problems). If none of these solutions seems
workable, the DM can provide oxygen-supplying seaweeds or kelps the characters can
Without some method of breathing underwater, the characters are going to have
a very short adventure! Rules for holding one's breath (a short term solution,
at best!) and drowning can be found in the Player's Handbook .
There are two basic ways to move in water--swimming or sinking like a stone
and walking on the bottom. Rules for swimming can be found in the Player's Handbook. In rare cases, player characters may be able to find and use trained
mounts such as giant seahorses.
One major limitation of underwater combat is the lack of available light. In
fresh water, vision is limited to a base of 50'. This is reduced by 10' for
every 10' of depth. Characters exploring the depths of a murky lake, 50' below the
surface, could see about 10'. Below this, the darkness would close in about them.
In salt water, which has somewhat less algae, the base extends out to 100',
modified for depth in the same way as fresh water.
Natural and Artificial Light
The vision guidelines above assume a bright sunlight day on the surface
overhead. On overcast days, the distance a character sees can be reduced by half or
more. On moonless nights a character's range of vision is virtually nil.
Artificial light sources function underwater (although players will have to
think fast to keep torches and lanterns lit). Artificial light sources illuminate
half the space under water that they would light on the surface.
In addition to low light, vision can be obscured by seaweed, sea grass, and
kelp forests. These hamper vision in much the same way as thick brush on the
Schools of fish with their often silvery scales can reflect and scatter light
in hundreds of different directions, creating a shining cloud of confusion.
Even without the reflection, their darting forms obscure an area.
Finally, the ink from a giant squid, or even mud stirred up from the bottom,
have all the effects of a darkness spell. Infravision and light have no success penetrating such murky waters.
Infravision functions underwater, though not with the same efficiency as on
the surface. In no case does it extend past the normal ranges allowed in
dungeons. In addition, the sheer alienness of the environment makes it difficult for
the character to be certain of all he sees.
The greatest factor in fighting underwater is overcoming the resistance of the
water. Even though a weapon still retains its mass and density, the resistance
of the water greatly weakens the impact of any blow. Thus, only thrust weapons
can be used effectively underwater (except for those possessing magical items
that enable free action).
Thrown and hurled weapons (except nets) are useless underwater. Of the missile
weapons, only specially made crossbows can be used effectively underwater.
Even so, all rangers on these weapons are reduced by half.
Nets are particularly effective in underwater combat. They tend to remain
spread once opened, and characters should find them useful for close-in combat.
Properly weighted, nets can be thrown by tossing them with a slight spin, so that
the force of rotation keeps the lines taut. The range is very short, only 1'
for every point of the thrower's Strength.
Combat Problems of Surface-Dwellers
In combat, surface-dwellers suffer special disadvantages when fighting the
races of the sea.
Being unaccustomed to the water resistance and changed in apparent weight,
surface-dwellers add four to their initiative tolls in hand-to-hand combat. This
does not apply to missile fire or spellcasting. Surface-Dwellers also suffer a
-4 penalty to their attack rolls, due to the slowness of their movements.
Spells are also affected by the underwater world. Not surprisingly, fire-based
spells have no effect unless cast in an area of free oxygen (such as a domed
Electrical spells conduct their energy into the surrounding water. Thus, a lightning bolt originating 60' away from the caster acts like a fireball at the point of origin.
Spells affecting forces of nature not normally found underwater have no
effect--call lightning, for example. Spells that summon or command creatures not native to the
depths are also pointless.
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