Dead in the Water: A new maritime TTRPG!

I’d like to take a little break from talking about Carcassay (currently 20% off!) to talk about the Mark-of-the-Odd game that I’m writing now where you play as the crew of a somewhat piratical ship, upon a cursed sea, exploring islands, fighting warships and krakens! No, it’s not Pirate Borg (which I recently picked up and found quite cool). It’s…


I’ve been writing Dead in the Water for quite a while now, so I’m going to starting talking about it now too. I’ve taken Chris McDowall’s delightfully stripped-down RPG engine from Into the Odd, changed very little about it, and then built on a nice little system for running a ship, exploring a sea, having sea battles, and basically doing pirate things.

Dead in the Water takes place on the Shrouded Sea, a cursed ocean that is always obscured by fog and silted up to be no more than 10 feet deep. That shallow sea means we have cozy little pirate ships with cozy little crews to battle cozy little sea monsters! The Shrouded Sea is pulsing with necromantic energy, so its full of undead fish and people, which are just mobile meals for the countless scavengers of the sea. Quite a hideous circle of life.

What do you do?

Player-characters choose from a variety of nautical backgrounds that bestow stat bonuses, equipment, skills, and challenges. And of course the world is full of “regular” treasure, as well as a wide array of ancient relics with magical powers.

The players form a little crew with a little ship, which they manage jointly. The ship has 3 stats, similar to the PCs, and can be upgraded in a variety of ways. To improve its stats, the crew can have a shipwright enhance the sails, rigging, and hull. They can also get more and bigger cannons, in addition to magical and mechanical devices (from pumps to cats!) to provide unique abilities and features.

As the crew sails around, they roll for a variety of encounters every day, including Wonders, Hazards, normal Creatures, huge Leviathans (living and undead), unknown Ships (including ghost pirates, merchants, alchemist vampires, warships, and crab colonists), and Uncharted Islands. These encounter-related tables and tools take up most of the current draft of the game manual.

What’s the point?

Dead in the Water takes the classic fantasy world notion of a “points of light setting” and just drowns it. Instead of wandering the forest, you sail the mist-choked sea. Instead of stumbling upon a village or ruin, you discover an island or (sunken) ruin. The players are re-cast not just as adventurers but shipmates, with the task / challenge / opportunity of managing their mobile base of operations, their ship.

No two versions of the Shrouded Sea will be the same. Players can run small missions or massive campaigns, engage in trade or piracy, play a role the political machinations of living and undead navies, or build an island paradise for themselves.

Why? Because I like boats.

Coming… eventually.

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