An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet
Type: Monster Hunt, Aquatic
System: Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons
Ideal Party Size: 4-6
Recommended Levels: 10-12
The undead can take many forms. Whether they be a decaying zombie, a shambling skeleton, or a spectre, death is not always the end of a creature’s story. And when something dies in the grip of a terrible rage or intense sorrow, dark forces may imbue them with a second life in which they can seek vengeance.
In this tale, a great and majestic beast was wronged, and from that incident a seed of evil took root. Out of the endless blue springs a bakekujira, a re-animated whale corpse that spreads corruption everywhere it travels. This necrotic leviathan is both a vicious adversary and a harbinger of great disaster if left unchallenged. It will take a team of highly-skilled and powerful monster slayers to quell its supernatural fury.
This adventure requires the party to be staying at a settlement situated near the ocean. The storyline begins in medias res; the party members are going about their business and suddenly attacked by zombie-like creatures spawned from the ghost whale.
Read the following flavor text to the PCs at the beginning of the quest:
“It began as a distant song carried upon the coastal winds. A mournful melody echoed across the port town as an eerie fog crept inland. Then the water levels rose as the temperature plummeted, and the air became filled with the scent of decay. When the heartbreaking harmony finally ceased, it was already too late.
From within the murky depths, countless living corpses arose and attacked all they lay before them. Some unseen entity amassed an army of undead and unleashed them upon the unsuspecting populace. As the slaughter began and pandemonium swept across the seaside town, your eyes were drawn towards the horizon by a loud splashing noise. Past the dense obscuring fog, you glimpsed the faintest silhouette of some massive beast breaching the water before sinking away.
But before you can comprehend the nature of the distant leviathan, you must stand your ground against an oncoming wave of rotting flesh and rusted steel.”
A bakekujira, or “ghost whale,” is a formidable beast that could easily overwhelm a party of veteran adventures in a direct confrontation. In regards to this creature’s stats consult either the Pathfinder version or the Homebrew D&D 5th Edition version.
The creature itself houses several terrible creatures within its decomposing husk. Otherworldly species of fish and birds circle the carcass and gradually pick away at the carrion. This imposes no mechanical disadvantage to the bakekujira, but these wild creatures may attack the PCs if they are provoked. The creature is also viciously protected by a crew of draugr sired from the people it has killed. These barnacle-encrusted zombies display humanoid intelligence and can climb structures and use tools, but cannot speak or be reasoned with.
The presence of the ghost whale also has negative effects on the environment. It spreads disease and corruption wherever it goes, so the local flora begins to die off and most of the fauna is either driven away or destroyed. This means that resources such as food are greatly diminished for the duration of the adventure. The water is also rendered putrid and unsafe to swim in or drink, unless magical precautions are taken.
The adventure is composed of three sections. The party is first attacked by an army of the ghost whale’s sired undead. Then, if they choose to accept the follow-up mission, the PCs can hop onto a ship and track down the creature through the mist. If they successfully locate the beast they can finally attempt to destroy it.
I. Attack the Dock
The town is attacked by a massive wave of draugr coughed up from the putrescent bowels of the creature. For the monster has become so seeped with necrotic energy that even the creatures it devours has a chance of becoming undead slaves to its will. This section is an opportunity for the players to be heroes and mow down waves of baddies in rapid succession. They can also participate in the rescue of innocents, if they so please. The encounter can end once they have either successfully slain a satisfactory amount of foes, or when they are in danger of being overwhelmed by the numbers disadvantage.
Optionally, if the players have a beloved NPC in the seaside town under seige, hurting or killing that character could spur them to hunt down the bakekujira for a personal vendetta.
At the conclusion to the draugr attack, a warship called the Seraph (see NPC section below) arrives at the harbor and the crew members assist with finishing off the undead scourge. The captain is an aasimar named Andrea Demoray, and fills the party in on what has just transpired. She has been tracking the elusive creature for months but it always manages to be one league ahead of her. She will offer the PCs a place on her ship if they wish to join her in the hunt.
II. Set Sail
This section is an extended seafaring journey in which the PCs track down the fleeing bakekujira through naviational and investigatory checks. Apply weather changes and add random encounters to break up the monotony of overland travel. This is also a good opportunity for the players to get to the know the captain and crew, so you can twist the knife if any of them die in the final confrontation.
Whenever the ghost whale emerges again to attacks a settlement, the party has a chance of intercepting the sighting if they plan accordingly and the dice favor them. If they arrive too late, they can resume clearing out the undead and saving the town in the aftermath. But once the ship carrying the PCs successfully catches up to the undead whale, the final battle begins.
III. The Vessel of Vengeance
This battle consists of maneuvering the ship around the beast and attacking it at distance. The creature will sink below the depths after taking damage and attempt to attack the boat from underneath in an attempt to capsize it. At close proximity, the creature emits a nauseating odor that can induce status ailments. It may also regurgitate more draugr onto the deck of the galleon to act as distractions. The crew must use harpoons to secure the beast and prevent it from escaping so they can begin attacking it directly.
Throughout the battle, the undead whale sings a depressing dirge that can be heard by everyone within proximity. A successful Knowledge Nature (Intelligence) DC 22 will reveal that this is a mother’s call; the bakekujira is searching for its child and using the tune to draw it out. Sadly, the child has long since grown old and died on its own accord, but the mother continues to fruitlessly sing her song, ever hopeful. After assessing this information, any musically-inclined characters can attempt a Performance (Charisma) vs Will/Wisdom Save to emulate the corresponding song in order to deceive the beast. This can lead to wrangling advantages such as drawing the beast to a vulnerable position, calming it down, or reducing damage and hit-chance. The effects are entirely up to the GM’s discretion.
Once the bakekujira has been reduced to half hit points or fewer, pieces of its rotting mass will begin to peel away, revealing more of its skeleton. A successful Perception (Wisdom) DC 20 will allow the PCs to notice a massive rusted harpoon deeply embedded into the creature’s throat. This weapon is larger than anything their current ship has onboard, and is far too decrepit to have been pierced into the beast recently. The fight can proceed as usual until all the creature’s hit points are depleted. But climbing atop the beast and physically removing the harpoon with a Strength DC 25 will end the fight immediately, as the source of the whale’s pain will finally be removed. The husk will reliquish its grudge and finally sink to the ocean floor.
NPCs: The Seaworthy
Andrea Demoray is a chaotic good aasimar arcane trickster and captain of the warship Seraph. This galleon contains a force of twenty-six sailors, mercenaries, and privateers that are collectively known as the “Angels of Mercy.” Captain Demoray has a sardonic demeanor and often invokes gallows humor whenever she find herself in a precarious situation, which is all the time. She is a take-charge commander who fights wildly with a cutlass in her left hand and spells in the other. Easily bored, Andrea is also prone to fidgeting and is often seen puffing on a long and slender wooden pipe. Last time she encountered the bakekujira, it nearly devoured her and she was rescued by her first mate, but at the cost of his own life. She now seeks to destroy the ghost whale before it can cause any more harm, as well as to avenge her fallen comrade.
After the zombified whale is slain, the PCs can decide to go their separate ways after being dropped off at shore by their temporary allies. Alternatively, they can continue sailing around with the motley crew if they want to have more adventures at sea.