The Strangling Sea is for 13th Age, the dramatic Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG published by Pelgrane Publishing. Written by Robin D. Laws—better known for Pelgrane Press’ GUMSHOE System series of RPGs like The Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues et al—it is designed for a party of First Level heroes and takes them to a strange environment on what is essentially a McGuffin hunt. It is about as straightforward an adventure as you would want and is easy to set up and run.
The McGuffin in question is Inigo Sharpe, famed architect, inventor, magician, and seer. He has been missing for several years now after having annoyed one Icon—one of the beings or personalities that drive and direct the events of the world—and then having done a runner, is currently thought dead! Now one of those Icons has heard that Sharpe is still alive and wants him found, whether that is to have him finish one of his fabulous devices, build one of them, or repair one of them. Or indeed destroy one of them. It all depends on the Icon and on the device—and that depends upon the relationships that the player characters have with the Icons.
The Strangling Sea begins with linking the McGuffin to the player characters’ relationships with the Icons to establish both an antagonist and a patron. Nine of these relationships are offered as a potential patron. Each explains what Sharpe was doing for that patron/Icon, gives an alternative, how the fact that Sharpe is now alive was discovered, and what one of the player characters will receive as a reward/incentive from the outset. Each of the magic items is something that a player character would want. Alternatively the Book of Loot is a ready source of substitutes. Now each of these set-ups is good—good enough that it is shame that just the one of the several given will be used in the scenario. Oh and the patron also provides the player characters with the initial lead.
One lead and one battle later and the heroes are on their way to a quite singular location. This is the Stranglesea, a seaweed mat that forms a sargasso in the midst of the ocean that has long imprisoned ships and stranded their crews, the latter falling prey to previous inhabitants, the sea life above and below the seaweed mat, and the strange lassitude that falls upon its inhabitants. As the player characters arrive, the Stranglesea is home to three ships and crews. They include a crew of desperate Dwarves and their blocky steamship, motley sailors with neither ship nor hope, and a tribe of sea goblins trying to make the Stranglesea its home.
Naturally they hate each other—and it is this hatred that drives the main section of the scenario. In addition to navigating the dangerous flora and fauna—on and under the Stranglesea—the player characters will have negotiate back and forth between the three factions if they are to locate Sharpe. Which given that this is 13th Age means a fight—or three. This does not mean of course, that the players cannot negotiate their way out of one fight or another, but everything in The Strangling Sea is set up for a fight… Just in case.
The factions themselves are nicely drawn with clearly defined motives, but the GM is free to change these as he likes. It helps that the exact location for Sharpe is not set in stone, but rather can be decided upon by the GM or defined by the actions of the player characters. Once the player characters have found Inigo Sharpe—and then had to deal with him because he is a ‘character’, one whom the GM will enjoy getting into his teeth into—there is the matter of getting him to the player characters’ patron. This ideally should involve another battle and with any luck, one that should should descend into farce as everyone makes a grab for Sharpe.
And with that, Inigo Sharpe should be out of the characters’ hair, but being an awkward sod, the likelihood is that he will abscond from his next employer and either want the player characters’ help in getting away or said employer will want help in bringing him back to finish whatever job he was hired to do. This though, is for another scenario. In the meantime, The Strangling Sea will be enough of an adventure to raise the player characters from First Level to Second Level.
The Strangling Sea is clearly laid out and well organised to provide the means for the GM to create a decent first adventure for his player characters. It is also a good adventure for a starting adventure for beginning GM as it is very easy to set up and get playing and the adventure itself is very straightforward. In fact it is probably too straightforward an adventure for an experienced playing group. What it does do though is nicely take the GM through the set-up process of linking the plot and events of the scenario to the relationships that the player characters have with Icons. Indeed, this is probably more interesting than the scenario itself and thus of course, such a shame that so much of it will go unused.