Looking for inspiration for your nautical D&D or other roleplaying game?
Here’s a list of 25 ocean plot hooks you can use in your game. From classic pirate tales to strange beasts to a corruption from the heavens, I’ve put together a list of ocean plot hooks you can either use as your main story or as a side quest.
If you use one of these plot hooks (either as inspiration or outright), tag me on Twitter @RolePlayRespite.
Check out my other D&D plot hooks here or see some of the specific lists below!
- A ship that disappeared centuries ago mysteriously appears a few miles off the coast. They say the ship looks empty save for the soft sound of whispers. Sailing too close to the ship causes nausea and dizziness for anyone aboard the approaching vessel.
- An uncharted island appears a distance out on the horizon. The island becomes surrounded by a thick, unnatural fog once the party’s ship gets close enough.
- Rumors arise of a powerful and wealthy pirate captain’s death, leaving their vast treasure up for grabs. The problem is, no one seems to know where the treasure lies.
- A coalition of governments delcare war on piracy, mobilizing their navies and razing any pirate port they find. Do the players side with the pirates or the crown?
- A mysterious individual hires the party to transport a lockbox/chest across the ocean. They don’t specify what the box contains or why it needs transporting, just that it’s “precious to the world’s health.”
- A terrible sea-dragon terrorizes a coastal kingdom. The monarch places a bounty on the beast’s head. But, the creature vanishes over the ocean horizon shortly after the declaration.
- Random water spouts start appearing along major ocean trade routes. The violent vortices erupt from the ocean’s surface without warning even on clear weather days. Rumors arise that malevolent water-monsters burst forth from the spouts, attacking any ship unfortunate enough to sail nearby.
- Ships start vanishing in a specific area of the ocean. Anyone who sails into this area never returns. But, those who sail close enough say they see strange faces in the water below, just outside the boundary.
- A massive whirlpool forms along a major trade route. Out of the vortex, an unscathed ship appears with an unfamiliar structure and design. Aboard this ship is a single person who speaks a language no one understands.
- For several weeks, ships have disappeared at an alarming rate. Some survivors make it back to port through either rescue by other ships or through drifting back by sheer luck. They each tell the same story; a massive, rogue wave rose from the ocean and nearly swallowed their ships whole.
- A group of aristocrats host their annual island race, hiring local sailors and ships as their representatives. The prize is a percentage of the pot the aristocrats pool with funds from their own coffers as a “friendly” wager.
- A mysterious person sails into port one foggy night on a small, black ship with a single sail. They approach a number of dock workers, sailors, and tavern goers with a tale of a powerful artifact lost somewhere out on the sea. They won’t tell what the artifact is, but they do say that whoever finds it will rule the ocean.
- An unidentified group of people raid the coastline and island towns nearly every night. They wield strange weapons that not only kill their victims, but also drain them of blood. Once a raid ends, the people board their small ships and sail off into the ocean night.
- A small band of pirates attack the ship the party sails on. They seek a particular person not aboard the ship. Once they find out, their captain orders the rest of the crew killed.
- War rages betwee two seafaring nations over a chain of islands containing powerful, elementally-charged crystals. In the middle, various pirate crews fight and steal from the governmental powers in a hope to secure the magical gems for themselves.
- Slowly, the ocean rises, engulfing the land as its level rises. No one’s sure why. But, many people along the former coast claimed unearthly growls echoed fromt the ocean in the weeks leading up to the beginning of the floods.
- Ribbons of ocean start turning blood red, stretching out like tentacles from an enormous creature. The tendrils creep closer and closer to the coast until they eventually reach the land. As the tendrils become closer, people all along the coast start acting strangely; bursting out in violence, speaking in a language no one understands, or drawing or carving unknown runes onto buildings, into the ground, or on their bodies.
- A dense fog rolls into a coastal town one day. With it comes the figures of hundreds of humanoid shapes claiming to be the lost souls of relatives to residents of the town. They speak of a great horror that dwells far out to sea; a horror that, if left unattended, will bring unspeakable terror and suffering to the world.
- A kindly old sailor offers any who would hear his tale a map to a long-forgotten treasure buried on an uncharted island somewhere on the ocean. Allegedly, the treasure belonged to a great pirate captain who suffered a terrible curse. The captain supposedly left clues leading to the treasure in hopes of returning one day, but perished before they could reclaim it.
- The party learns of a small ship ran aground some months prior from a surviving crew member. They learn of the ship’s history; it was tasked with transporting a special cargo but fell to pirates in transit. Those pirates then ran afoul of some seafolk during a terrible storm. This battle resulted in only a few survivors and the ship running aground some miles away from port. The crew member tells them of the small fortune the cargo is worth, but of the curse that seems to follow it, bringing misfortune to any who attempt to transport it.
- Seemingly random people start going catatonic and standing a short ways out in the water, facing the horizon. The following morning, these people have no memory of the night before. This goes for several weeks before those same people start disappearing, often leaving remnants of clothing or other items at the water’s edge.
- An enormous, dead, multicolored creature washes ashore. Many who approach the monster begin exhibiting strange, shared behaviors including worshipping the corpse as a god, hallucinating unexplainable beasts along the shore near the body, and speaking in a language no one understands. As time passes, some of those afflicted by the beast state they wish to return home, violently lash out at others, then swim out to sea, never to return.
- A string of hundreds of seemingly uninhabited islands mysteriously appear far from the mainland. Once news arrives from an exploratory crew, it becomes a race between several of the world’s factions to discover, explore, and claim the islands and the secrets they hold.
- The floating ocean tomb of a long-dead emperor becomes the subject of rumors. Rumors of spirits and the walking dead sailing out from the enormous fortress and attacking any ship that comes to close. The many keys required to open the emperor’s tomb became scattered over the centuries. So, it falls upon anyone wiling to find the keys, open the tomb, and put an end to the emperor’s curse.
- An enormous falling star crashes into the ocean, sending magical energy rippling across the world. This energy corrupts the sealife into twisted, violent versions of their former selves.