Players are tasked with clearing out and dismantling an old abandoned ship, currently rotting away at the edge of the city. They find that the ship is a lot less “abandoned” than previously thought and that a group of cultists is using it to worship and summon their demonic amphibious lord: an aboleth.
The party can overhear townsfolk in the local tavern sharing stories about the “haunted Stayflower.” Some talk about friends of cousins of friends who know someone who disappeared while walking too close to the horrifying heap in the middle of the night.
If the players decide to approach the vessel and see for themselves, they will notice the town’s mayor talking with a few other officials about the “eyesore.” Seeing the party, and assuming them capable “destroyers”, he will offer them a job to “take care of” the Stayflower.
- Colin E. Plymouth – Town mayor who is all about PR and keeping up appearances. As a result, he offers the party a handsome sum to get rid of the Stayflower and help beautify his city.
“It was really impressive back in its day,” Mayor Colin E. Plymouth says, frowning at the hulking mass of water-logged lumber and rusted metal. “It was a project taken on by some pious clerics. They were planning to sail to a new world, where they could practice their religion freely. Inspiring, isn’t it?”
The mayor picks up a stone and throws it at the hull of the ship. There is a faint rattling inside before a few bats come flying out of an opening between two of the ship’s warped planks.
“If only they could budget as well as they prayed,” Colin continues. “The poor group spent all their money on building this impressive vessel before realizing that an ocean voyage requires lots and lots of supplies. So, just like that, their sect sort of fell apart, and they left this wooden behemoth cluttering up my city’s harbor. Hence the name…the Stayflower. People don’t even remember the original name anymore; the letters painted on the side of the hull have long since worn away.”
The mayor will pay the party handsomely if they can get rid of the vessel. Players can pursue one of two options:
- Destroy the Stayflower – The ship is massive and water-logged (meaning it won’t burn easily), but it could still be torn apart and destroyed the old-fashioned way…doing so will awaken those creatures calling the derelict ship their home (more on them below).
- Repurpose the Stayflower – The ship can also be cleared out and fixed up, allowing it to be used by the party as their own means of transportation.
Exploring the Vessel
The Stayflower is made up of multiple floors, and players need to keep descending deeper to uncover all of its secrets. Alternatively, loudly attacking the ship in an effort to demolish it will simply bring the creatures up to the surface, expediting later combat.
- The Deck – The deck of the ship is very slick, covered in moss and other plant-life. Players might need to make Dex saving throws to avoid breaking through planks and falling down to lower floors. Not much remains except for broken barrels, looted crates, and moldy coils of rope.
- Below Deck – Feel free to add some lesser sea-life/creatures here (e.g. giant crabs) that might spring out from hiding if players snoop too much. Again, there are beds, but everything is moldy, gross, and half-collapsed. However, what does stand out here is that, upon occasion, the players discover small “shrines” with a few lit candles, usually in front of drawings scratched into the wooden walls of the ship. Successful history checks could help monster-minded players determine that these are very crude drawings of an aboleth (and its cloaked followers worshipping it).
- The Hull – Descending into the bottommost regions of the Stayflower reveals an unsettling sight: an opening in the muddy earth, like a carved out cave/ tunnel, descending into the ground. Perception checks reveal chanting from below.
DM Note: If players determine that there’s clearly cultist activity and resurface to inform Mayor Colin, he will deny such things, claiming that there would never be demonic cultists in his sparkling city. He might even suggest that any chanting is the sound of the Stayflower’s wood settling or its metal clanging because of the draft.
Exploring the Underground
If the players descend into the earth, they will find dark-robed cultists setting up a feast of various sea-life and drowned vermin for their “god.” They are excitedly talking amongst themselves, grateful that the day has finally arrived. A deep pool sits on the far end of the room, surrounded by small altars made from repurposed shipping crates and barrels covered in half-melted candles.
The irony that evil cultists are using what was intended to be a holy vessel as a “hideout” is, hopefully, not lost on the players.
These shadowy beings are called the PilGRIMS, and they are devout worshippers of the aboleth. They seek to empower the aboleth and call it forth so that it may seize power from all of the other “lesser” gods that plague the realm.
If confronted, the cultists will immediately do battle with the party. Use the cult fanatic stat block to conduct this part of the battle. Ideally, the party will need to face off with about six cultists who are currently gathered in this subterranean chamber.
Just as the battle with the cultists is coming to a close, the pool will begin to bubble. Any cultists still engaged will cease attacking and, instead, turn toward the bubbling pool and fall to their knees, giving thanks for the arrival of their lord.
Just then, an aboleth surfaces. This part of the battle will be significantly more challenging. Players may choose to continue fighting the aboleth in this subterranean cave, but doing so will allow the aboleth to perform its lair actions.
Climbing back to the surface will prompt the aboleth to come tearing up out from his underground cavern, thrashing about and destroying what remains of the Stayflower in the process (if your party was hoping to repurpose the ship for their own uses, this will ruin those plans entirely). Once on the surface, townsfolk will begin shrieking and taking cover while the party dukes it out with the aboleth right there in the city proper.
Once the Stayflower, and the aboleth slumbering beneath the Stayflower, have been taken care of, Mayor Colin rewards the party with a handsome sum of gold, as promised. As DM, you can also think of other assorted items that can be uncovered during exploration; although the ship itself should be picked-clean, the underground caverns where the cultists conducted their nefarious ceremonies can contain assorted cursed magical items, poisons/potions/etc.