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Aquatic Adventurers


People of the deep have much in common with those who live on land. Aquatic creatures have homes and families, they fight to keep their communities safe from predators, and they work hard to support themselves and their loved ones. These undersea people build colonies everywhere in their watery domain, from the reefs and ridges near the surface, where the sun’s rays still pierce, to the deepest ocean trenches. Some prefer coastal settlements where they can interact with surface-dwelling creatures on a regular basis, but most value their privacy and have little to do with the dry world above. However, as with people living anywhere, aquatic creatures sometimes leave their homes in search of adventure—or are forced to out of desperation.

The thrill of danger and the call of riches motivate some of these intrepid undersea explorers. Hidden treasures lie beneath the water, some so ancient that no one alive knows of their existence. Aquatic creatures in search of secrets and power may well find them in a sunken temple or ancient palace, habitually shunned by undersea locals due to a long-standing fear of curses or of dark memories of aberrant horrors that lurk in the pitch-black depths of the vast oceans.

Necessity drives others from their homes. Peril looms everywhere, and the threat of the sahuagin’s territorial expansion or the awakening of a leviathan can force adventurers to leave the comfort of their undersea lives to seek aid or to quest for a unique relic to save their communities. Some have no home to protect or no longer have one to return to. Others have sworn an oath that they can fulfill only above the waves. It is in these precarious times that aquatic adventurers must plan their expeditions into the dry world all the more carefully, for just like air-breathing creatures preparing for a descent into the sea, having the right gear makes all the difference.

Aquatic adventurers may travel the darkest ocean depths or rise to the surface and explore the alien and hostile environments of dry land.

Aquatic adventurers traveling on land often wear as little as possible and prefer loose, light fabrics. Robes and skirts are popular among aquatic adventurers of all genders for the freedom of movement they offer. Even after they learn the extent of propriety in public, aquatic adventurers lose no time stripping out of confining clothes in private.

Surface adventurers have many reasons for traveling under water. Some of the oldest civilizations have strong ties to the ocean, and the waters still hold countless secrets and treasures from those forgotten empires. The ocean is home to ancient creatures that have survived for centuries, guarding knowledge no one else can provide.

An underwater journey poses many dangers for land-dwelling creatures. Even if an adventurer finds a way to breathe underwater reliably, she still must deal with impeded visibility, vicious monsters, and xenophobic settlements.

This section details mundane and magical methods to assist a surface adventurer exploring underwater and provides tips on roleplaying a land-based character in a group that also contains aquatic characters.

Local Knowledge

Perhaps the greatest help an aquatic creature can receive when adventuring on land is the friendship and support of surface allies. Trusted friends can explain foreign customs to aquatic adventurers, help them learn how to function out of water, and intercede with ignorant land dwellers. Few aquatic creatures risk traveling alone on dry land because, as with all expeditions to strange places, a local guide usually proves invaluable.

Movement

Most aquatic creatures, even amphibious ones, move slowly on land. This can be a challenge for companions who travel overland quickly—an aquatic party member not only restricts the speed of the whole group but also makes it tactically difficult for a party to retreat from combat without leaving the slower ally behind.

Mundane Solutions: Aquatic creatures can use many mundane items to expedite overland movement. The simplest solution for an aquatic adventurer traveling overland is to purchase or hire a wagon or similar conveyance. These explorers can also ride horses or other mounts to keep up with their companions, but creatures without legs, such as adaros or merfolk, must use specially constructed saddles (treat these as exotic saddles) or suffer a –4 penalty on Ride checks. Aquatic races familiar with underwater mounts such as eels, hippocampi, and seahorses usually find travel by land mounts to be uncomfortably jolting.

Alternatively, land limbs can improve an aquatic adventurer’s land speed. In an emergency, an aquatic adventurer might have no choice but to be carried by a brawny companion.

Magic Solutions: Magic is the most effective way to counteract a slow land speed, but an aquatic adventurer must balance duration with expense. Expeditious retreat can grant a considerable boost to land speed, but only for a short time. Polymorph spells such as alter self or beast shape I can provide fully functional legs, but for a similarly short duration.

The spell fins to feet offers a better solution because of its longer duration. Overall, aquatic adventurers might wish to use mundane conveyances for the most part and use potions and spells strategically for combat or other emergencies. Magic items such as a seafoam shawl or a shimmering kilt generate a pair of legs reliably, but such items are rare and expensive. Aquatic adventurers might prepare for a long overland journey by seeking out these items or by commissioning a spellcaster to craft one.

Other Movement: Aquatic adventurers can look beyond land speed for other magical solutions. Floating disk is an often-overlooked spell that is particularly useful to those who move slower on land. Even a low-level caster can support another creature on his floating disk, and the spell lasts for an hour per level. The only disadvantage is that he and his aquatic companion must remain close together, as the floating disk won’t stray far from the caster. Many other spells and effects can help an aquatic adventurer move adroitly for short periods of time. The fly spell provides a quick method of travel regardless of land speed. A carpet of flying or wings of flying grant a long-term fly speed, and a cauldron of flying not only provides reliable flight but also can be filled with seawater for the comfort of aquatic creatures (such as gillmen) that require regular submersion.

Not Relying on Movement: In combat, the best strategy to deal with slow movement can be to avoid having to move at all. An aquatic PC might specialize in ranged attacks or spells that do not rely on battlefield movement to be successful. A cecaelia adventurer can fire a bow comfortably from a cart, and a merfolk wizard can cast spells from horseback. Even aquatic PCs who prefer melee combat should keep a ranged weapon on hand to prevent faster land-bound foes from outmaneuvering them.

Water Dependency

Traveling on land can be uncomfortable for aquatic adventurers, even beyond the physical act of moving in a dry environment. Most aquatic creatures have some degree of water dependency, which can make journeys on land irritating—or outright deadly.

Breathing: An aquatic creature without the amphibious subtype cannot breathe air and begins to asphyxiate when out of the water, just as a surfacer would drown trying to breathe water. Water dwellers breathe by extracting oxygen from water, so if an aquatic adventurer uses a small, limited quantity of water—such as that carried in a bucket—to breathe on land, the water will eventually run out of the oxygen the creature needs to survive (just as an air breather can’t simply bring a bladder of air underwater and breathe indefinitely). The most reliable methods of dealing with this limitation are magical. A crystal helm provides continuous water for an aquatic creature to breathe.

The air breathing spell likewise can assist an aquatic adventurer for several hours.

Transmutation effects such as alter self, beast shape I, monstrous physique I, and polymorph can transform an aquatic adventurer into a creature that can breathe air and travel easily on land; unfortunately, these spells have a short duration and are thus most useful in emergencies.

Submersion: Amphibious creatures have a much easier time with adventuring on land, though they may still face certain challenges. Gillmen and other water-dependent creatures can’t leave the water for long, for without regular submersion in water, they weaken and die. A sponge suit can help offset this dependency for a time. Water-dependent creatures traveling on land should nevertheless plan their journey carefully, never straying more than a few hours from a bathhouse, lake, or pond. Coastal and river travel is easier for these creatures, and they might alter their course to follow a river or coastline for as long as possible, even if it adds time to their journey.

Aquatic adventurers treasure the simple spell create water and can use it to refresh themselves so long as they have a container large enough to soak in. Experienced adventurers with access to powerful items may come up with more elaborate solutions, such as bringing a decanter of endless water on their travels or filling a portable hole with seawater.

Communication And Appearance

Aquatic adventurers journeying on the surface must be prepared for clashes in culture and expectations. As with any voyage to a foreign land, the more aquatic adventurers are able to learn about surfacer ways, the fewer obstacles they will face in their travels.

Language: Most aquatic races can speak Common, allowing them to communicate with many surface races. But aquatic creatures, particularly those who are nonamphibious, are used to talking underwater, where sound carries differently. As a result, they speak with rounded consonants and elongated vowel sounds. Some surfacers may mistake the accent as one from a different land region, while others don’t even notice the lilt to an aquatic speaker’s Common.

Generally, a character who succeeds at a DC 15 Linguistics check can identify an aquatic speaker’s accent as that of a person who learned to speak underwater.

The Paradox of Boots

Aquatic adventurers lacking legs and feet often seek out magic items to help them move when traveling on land.

However, most magic items that enhance movement are boots. This can leave an adventurer in the woeful situation of finding that the perfect magic item to help her is one she cannot wear.

Some aquatic races have feet—or appendages close enough to feet—to be able to wear boots. Aquatic elves, gillmen, locathahs, sahuagin, and tritons can wear boots normally. Cecaelias and grindylows can use magic boots by fitting each one over a tentacle. The result may look somewhat ridiculous, but this can be a small price to pay for the benefit of the magic item.

Adaros and merfolk do not have a boots magic item slot, so they cannot wear magic boots without some form of transmutation magic to first give them legs. If a legless creature polymorphed into a form with legs is wearing magic boots when the spell ends, the boots appear on the ground next to the wearer; neither the boots nor the wearer take damage from the transformation. A better option might be to talk to your GM about creating a variant item, such as a fin band of striding and springing, that your legless PC can use.

Since sound and speech travel farther through water, aquatic creatures tend to talk in a lower, firmer tone in their native environment. This doesn’t always work in the air, and aquatic adventurers new to the surface may have a hard time making themselves heard. Land dwellers may accuse their aquatic companions of whispering or muttering. Some aquatic creatures tend to overcompensate for their habit of speaking quietly by shouting; locathahs, in particular, enjoy raising their voices to make themselves heard (though this is a benefit to surfacers who don’t like to get close to the fishy-smelling creatures anyway). After several weeks or months on land, however, most aquatic travelers learn to speak at a moderate volume.

Meeting Locals: Residents of coastal communities may have long experience interacting with aquatic creatures, while individuals farther inland may have never met aquatic creatures. Some adventurers, especially cecaelias and locathahs, enjoy being the first aquatic creature a person has ever seen. They happily engage with strangers, proudly displaying their anatomy (in whatever manner they deem socially appropriate, of course) and discussing their life under the sea. Tritons generally don’t mind conversing with surfacers, but they aren’t prone to idle chatter the way cecaelias and locathahs can be.

Disguises: Some aquatic creatures are more reluctant to stand out. Aquatic elves, gillmen, and merfolk all value their privacy and are suspicious of surface dwellers. For aquatic elves and gillmen, it’s relatively easy to take on the appearance of a surface race. Merfolk and members of monstrous races have a more difficult time concealing their appearances. However, aquatic creatures with humanoid torsos and facial shapes—even merfolk—can make good use of mundane disguises. A long robe or gown can conceal a finned tail, a hood or wide-brimmed hat can shade facial features, and a scarf can obscure gills on the neck.

Locathahs and cecaelias have trouble disguising themselves as land dwellers; cecaelias’ tentacles are too bulky to easily conceal, and locathahs emit an unmistakable fishy odor.

Nonetheless, spells and magic items can bolster any aquatic adventurer’s disguise; alter self and disguise self are the most common spells, and a hat of disguise is relatively cheap (although note that cecaelias and tritons are monstrous humanoids and outsiders, respectively, so they can’t use disguise self to pass themselves off as humanoids).

Prejudice: Disguises are a matter of privacy, but also one of safety. Some communities fear or hate aquatic creatures, and even a community that welcomes aquatic races in a given year might turn against them the next.

Coastal villages raided by sahuagin might suspect all aquatic individuals, especially those with inhuman appearances, such as locathahs, of being raiders or spies.

A harbor plagued by destructive storms might blame a nearby merfolk colony. An aquatic visitor might be blamed for poor fishing. Some paranoid land dwellers believe all aquatic creatures have sinister agendas and serve aboleths, krakens, or even demon lords. An aquatic adventurer entering these communities could be arrested or attacked on the flimsiest pretense.

Adoration: While some settlements fear aquatic creatures, others embrace them. Tales of the beauty and talent of merfolk are common along coastlines, and villagers may gather to gaze in wonder at a merfolk traveling on land.

Aquatic elves, tritons, and other races seen as beautiful by surfacers might receive the same awe-filled treatment.

Besotted surfacers may beg for a strand of an aquatic adventurer’s hair, a scale shed from her tail, or a song to carry in their memory.

Other Challenges

Aquatic adventurers face many challenges on land beyond walking and breathing. Land customs and environmental changes can be difficult for an aquatic adventurer to predict or understand, especially the first time out of the ocean.

Materials: Salt water is incredibly harsh, and few materials can remain submerged for long without disintegrating or corroding. Aquatic races, therefore, have several materials upon which they rely: coral, eel skin, shells, stone, woven kelp, and similar materials are all practical and useful underwater. An aquatic adventurer might be surprised to learn that such materials aren’t in common use on the surface because they can dry and crack too easily. Conversely, an aquatic adventurer might be unfamiliar with materials common on the surface, such as leather, paper, wood, and textiles such as cotton.

Gravity: Aquatic adventurers who have lived their lives in the water may be unaccustomed to the pull of dry land.

At first, these adventurers might rely on buoyancy that no longer exists, often tripping, falling, or even having difficulty lying down. Aquatic adventurers may overestimate their ability to jump, leaping blithely off rooftops or into gullies without properly gauging the distance. Many aquatic explorers end their first week on land covered with bruises. Just as it can be difficult for land walkers to think in the three dimensions of undersea travel, it can be hard for aquatic adventurers to learn that three-dimensional movement isn’t easy on land, and that going around a structure, or using stairs or a ramp to descend from a high surface, is inconvenient but necessary.

Sleep: Travelers from the water may also have trouble sleeping. Aquatic species tend to rest floating upright, so lying down can feel unnatural. Insomnia commonly plagues aquatic adventurers when they venture on land, and they may develop elaborate rituals to ensure a good night’s sleep, such as insisting on cold temperatures and complete darkness.

Some may dampen their bedroll with water, taking comfort in the cool and clammy feel of the fabric.

Heat: In most climates, the air is warmer than the sea.

Aquatic adventurers may be used to the cold, particularly if they are accustomed to venturing deep into the frigid and lightless depths of the ocean. They might not, however, be prepared for consistently dry and hot climates outside of the water. Apart from being unpleasantly warm for them, dry climates can cause their skin to crack and flake away, which aquatic races find exceedingly uncomfortable. Pale-skinned aquatic races may have never experienced a sunburn, so they may be unprepared for how quickly skin can redden and burn when constantly exposed to the sun.

Weather: Surface weather can seem unusual to aquatic adventurers who live mainly in the depths of the ocean. The ocean experiences weather of a sort, but shifting undersea currents are unlike surface winds, and cyclones are very different underwater than they are on land. Undersea creatures that have lived near the surface might be familiar with rain, thunder, lightning, and wind, but other weather phenomena such as sandstorms, snow, or tornadoes may surprise them. Aquatic races might lack the basic instincts to protect themselves from a lightning strike or a blizzard, simply because they haven’t experienced them before.

Conversely, aquatic adventurers are particularly sensitive to unseen movements in their environment, due to operating in dim or murky water for most of their lives.

Surfacers might be surprised to find an aquatic companion seeming to “read” a change in the wind or perceiving an oncoming storm much sooner than they themselves can see the signs.

Fire: of all the strange new phenomena aquatic adventurers face on land, the most common and the most dangerous may be fire. Aquatic adventurers may have never encountered it before. Even magical fire often fails to burn underwater, so adventurers may have heard about fire, or even seen flames flicker into life and die once or twice, but never really experienced it.

Even less-seasoned undersea adventurers can keep from burning themselves around fire; the heat of the flames warns away flesh long before it begins to burn. Common fire knowledge and care, however, may escape them, and it might be difficult or impossible for an aquatic adventurer to light a torch or start a stable campfire.

Fire safety is another topic aquatic adventurers may not understand. If they are not supervised, characters could inadvertently build a fire in a dry, brushy area without clearing a safe space first. They might build blazingly hot fires that give off enormous clouds of smoke visible for miles, or they might select materials that look flammable but don’t burn well (such as wool or wet wood).

Cooked food is a novelty for most aquatic adventurers. Some find cooked food unappetizing, declaring it tough and smoky compared to crisp sea vegetables and fresh fish, and they insist on eating food (including meat) raw. Others enjoy the new flavors of cooked food, perhaps even learning to prepare hot meals themselves.

Locathahs especially adore surface cuisine.

Clothing: One of the biggest cultural differences between land dwellers and aquatic creatures is that the latter rarely wear clothes. Fabric disintegrates quickly underwater and hampers efficient swimming. Many aquatic creatures have learned to read currents, temperature, and water conditions by the feel of water moving across their bare skin as they swim, so they find that clothing dulls their senses. At most, aquatic creatures operating under the sea tend to wear leather or silk harnesses on their upper bodies and shorts or a loincloth if they have legs. While some races, such as aquatic elves, may boast more developed fashions, few other races are used to wearing clothing to the extent common on the surface.

Movement

Even land dwellers who swim very well can’t match the speed of aquatic creatures. Fortunately, there are methods for surfacers to compensate for their slow speed in the water.

Boats: If an adventuring party travels near the surface, nonaquatic adventurers can travel in a boat while their aquatic companions swim alongside. In a pinch, an aquatic companion could tow or push a small vessel.

Mounts: Aquatic mounts can provide a comfortable and novel way for surface adventurers to travel. Locathahs favor giant eels fitted with riding harnesses and are often eager to demonstrate these mounts to members of surface races looking for a smooth method of travel. Giant seahorses and hippocampi also make fine mounts and are often more comfortable for surfacers familiar with riding horses.

Magical Solutions: The spells ride the waves, slipstream, and touch of the sea all grant underwater movement, although only ride the waves—a higher-level spell—offers a long-term solution to aquatic travel. Certain magic items grant swim speeds for as long as they are worn, such as a cloak of the manta ray, helm of underwater action, pearl of the sirines, or ring of the sea strider. of these, the cloak of the manta ray is the cheapest, although its side effect of changing the wearer’s form might prove to be a hindrance, and novice adventurers might find even the cloak of the manta ray prohibitively expensive.

Air Dependency

Undoubtedly the greatest challenge surfacers face when they go adventuring beneath the waves is their inability to breathe underwater. Spellcasters have devised numerous ways to help air-breathing adventurers explore the ocean’s depths with magic, and surface dwellers can learn to make good use of these tools.

Spells: The water breathing spell allows a single character to breathe underwater for several hours; if necessary, the duration can be divided among several individuals. Spellcasters must plan carefully to ensure their water breathing spell doesn’t end before they have time to cast a new one. The aboleth’s lung spell also enables water breathing, but it robs recipients of their ability to breathe air for its duration. An air-breathing adventurer traveling underwater would be wise to carry her own potion of water breathing for emergencies, in the event she is separated from a spellcaster or if the magic she relies on is dispelled by a canny opponent. Some adventurers also carry potions or scrolls of buoyancy or water walk for emergency ascension.

Magic Items: As with magic items that provide a swim speed, a magic item that provides a permanent solution to breathing underwater is more useful but much more expensive. Items such as a bottle of air, a crystal helm, or an iridescent spindle ioun stone provide the ability to breathe underwater, while still other magic items that provide both a swim speed and the ability to breathe water are even more valuable.

Communication and Appearance

Undersea communities are foreign lands in that surface adventurers rarely know the customs or language and often look dreadfully out of place. The Aquan language serves the same role among undersea races as Common does on land—providing a single language that creatures of many types can use to communicate. Aquan is particularly easy to pronounce with a mouthful of water, whereas Common words with harsh sounds can be difficult to speak underwater without a hard-edged surfacer accent.

Magical disguises, including disguises provided by a hat of disguise or the spells alter self or disguise self, are useful for fitting in underwater. Mundane disguises, however, are much harder to pull off. Most aquatic races wear very little in the way of clothing, and voluminous robes or cloaks seem suspiciously hindering and out of place. Even a skilled disguise artist can’t make a human look like a locathah without significant difficulty. A surfacer trying to fit in underwater is best served by mimicking the closest aquatic analog. For example, humans can impersonate gillmen with the addition of fake gills and violet eye lenses, and surface elves can impersonate their aquatic kin with fake webbing between their fingers and toes.

Disguises may be difficult to create underwater, but they can be incredibly important. Many aquatic races, particularly aquatic elves and merfolk, are startlingly xenophobic and refuse to admit outsiders. Even in cosmopolitan settlements, surface adventurers draw a lot of attention.

Other Challenges

Many adventurers from the surface feel claustrophobic underwater. Unless an adventurer stays in the upper reaches of the ocean where light is abundant, being underwater can feel like being in an unendingly vast, dark cave. Surfacers can also find constant submersion uncomfortable. Skin becomes damp and swollen, clothing ill suited for immersion can chafe or irritate, and surface travelers often feel cold even at very shallow depths.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Pathfinder Player Companion: Blood of the Sea © 2017, Paizo Inc.; Author: Amber E. Scott.