The Undying Sea: Playtest 01

Remember that project I mentioned earlier called “Dead in the Water” ? Well, it’s now called The Undying Sea and I ran the first playtest this afternoon and it went pretty great.

The Undying Sea is built on Chris McDowall’s Into the Odd engine for running a character and on Emmy Allen’s Depth-Crawl engine for creating a setting that becomes stranger the farther you go. And then I created a bunch of mythic island-hopping sailing pirate stuff for it, set in the Shrouded Sea where mists hide the shifting islands and the shallow waters are full of undead monsters.


So anyway, today we played. Our four intrepid heroes (Elle, Skeet, Buttons, and Peg Leg Meg) awoke on their nice little island home to discover their cemetery had been dug up and several of their dearly departeds had been taken from their graves! They followed a trail of muddy footprints down to the shore where they saw a ship vanishing into the mist, but they caught two pirate ghouls stranded and left behind.

With a bit of earth-bending magic and brute strength, they caught the pirate Yorgos and got the full story. The ghoul pirate Captain Laconia Silver of the siltcutter Grave Revenge had press-ganged the dead islanders (a strangled brother, a hated father, a beloved grandma, and a pet cat) into her service to help her search for a Fountain of Life, so she could live again!

Our heroes ran back to town and launched their own siltcutter Skeet’s Skeet to start the chase. [d100 roll for Sea Encounter] Late in the afternoon, they were attacked by a handful of rotting goblin sharks, which tried to leap over the ship and knock them into the sea. A wild fight broke out on the deck, and the crew killed two of the undead sharks.

[d100 roll for Sea Encounter] During the night, our heroes chanced upon a huge glowing portal that beckoned them with the question, “Where?” They told the portal to take them to a place just behind the Grave Revenge, and sailed through. They appeared directly behind their quarry, and followed the pirates until they dropped anchor.

Our heroes waited for the pirates to go ashore, and then raided the pirates’ ship, but their loved ones were not there. So they headed ashore as well. [depth-crawl generation of an island] They cleverly survived the crashing waves and reached the beach alive, and headed inland. While crossing a grassy field, they were attacked by a massive swarm of plague rats, and Peg Leg Meg went down! But her friends carried her to safety and she recovered.

They soon found the pirates huddled near a strange glowing pool full of crabs and algae. [depth-crawl generation of an island feature] Peg Leg Meg pretended to be a captive of the pirate Yorgos and went down to talk to the pirates, while secretly using her magic to dig some pits around them. Captain Silver immediately turned on Yorgos, while Meg dove for safety and the other undead pirates made a run for the Fountain of Life.

The rest of the heroes charged in! Skeet skewered the ghoulish captain with a single throw of his harpoon. Buttons and Elle hurled the pirates into the pits. In all the confusion, Meg’s undead grandmother drank from the Fountain and was restored to life! But this exhausted the Fountain, and it vanished.

With the battle over, the pirates Yorgos and Olga decided to join the crew of Skeet’s Skeet and continue the search for more Fountains of Life, along with Button’s undead brother Whiskers and Elle’s wretched cat Tiger. And last but not least, Elle looted the dead captain to find some precious jade. Huzzah!


The game ran 2.5 hours. It was non-stop action and laughs. We only used a tiny fraction of the content that I had prepared. Everyone loved the simplicity of the Mark-of-the-Odd system for characters and combat. And I loved the effectiveness of the Depth-Crawl to generate locations and encounters.

My original plan was to do eight encounters at sea and explore two new islands. We only did two encounters at sea and one new island. Lesson learned! This system could easily support a really long campaign and constantly generate entirely new locations and events, with essentially zero prep. I’m pretty happy.

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