Ghosts of Saltmarsh has a lot of new content–new adventures, dozens of new areas to explore, but today, we’re taking a look at what it offers players.
Flip through the pages of the new Ghosts of Saltmarsh book and you’ll find adventure around every corner. This is a great book for the DM in your life, no question–just check out our review for more on that. But Ghosts of Saltmarsh also has a great blueprint for characters getting into the game, so today we’re going to take a look at how Ghosts of Saltmarsh helps get players into the heads of their characters, and offers up roleplaying hooks for everyone from newbies to seasoned vets.
Even this guy!
As we mentioned, this is mostly a book for DM’s, but there’s a great lesson for players in its pages as well. In our review, one of the highlights of the book is how easy it is to use–and if you take a look at the new background section of the book, you’ll find that holds true for players as well. The book is chock full of different ways not just to tie your character to the location, but to make them feel like they’re a part of the texture. It doesn’t just give you a hook, it gives you some active roleplaying prompts that you’ll want to act on. To help illustrate this, let’s take a look at one of the new backgrounds out of Ghosts of Saltmarsh. There are four all in all, Fisher, Marine, Shipwright, and Smuggler. But today we’re taking a look at the Fisher.
From a distance it’s not too remarkable. It’s a bit like the Outlander and Folk Hero decided to hang out. You start with proficiency in History and Survival, and can speak a language of your choice. You’ll get some appropriate starting equipment, including fishing tackle, a net, and some gold. Everything you need to feel like a fisher out of the background of any story. The class Feature isn’t overpowered either. You have advantage any time you’re using your fishing tackle, and if you’re near a body of water with marine life in it, you can a) maintain a moderate lifestyle, and b) feed up to eleven people, including yourself, each day. Handy if you’re lost at sea.
But the real centerpiece is the Fishing Tale that comes with the new background. It’s a story that your character has to tell. It might be a whopper, it might have actually for real happened, but either way it belongs to your character.
And looking at the prompts, how could you not want to tell those? These are some entertaining story seeds right here. And I will bet you that even if two characters have the same prompt, they’ll still tell two wildly different stories. And that’s what I love about this idea so much. It gives you such a great inroad into your character.
You can figure out a motivation all you like, and have a special accent you put on whenever you’re speaking in character–but nothing will ground you in the headspace of a character like imagining how they’d tell their story. It’s something so unexpected and mundane it’s magical. Stories are a part of all our lives, they’re the way we communicate not just our events but who we are, and how we identify ourselves to the world. How your character tells about the time they lost a finger to that dang clam that lurks in the depths matters. It tells you who they are.
I love it as an exercise and as a great scene to play out around the table. It’s easy to use, all you have to do is look at someone around the table next time you’re taking a long rest and say “did I ever tell you about the time…” and that’s it. Boom. Instant interparty roleplay scene. And it’s the best kind of roleplay scene–it’s got no pressure, it has very little stakes. And because you won’t be worried about how your character does in the scene, about what they stand to gain or lose, you’re free to really explore. It creates a great little vignette that can’t help but draw people in.
All of the new backgrounds have something like this. Marines have a tale of Hardship they’ve endured. Shipwrights talk about how they’ve been shaped by Life at Sea, and Smugglers have a tale of Accomplishment that might be as “believable” as the Fisher’s tales. But they all ground you in who these characters are besides their roles in combat. Even the backgrounds from the Player’s Handbook get a similar treatment in Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
And then on top of that, there are a bunch of new magic items. Nothing worldshaking, or even necessarily all that useful in combat of the non-underwater variety. But there are common and uncommon new items enough to aspire to. Like the Helm of Underwater Action which grants you a swim speed and water breathing. Or the pressure capsule which lets you ignore the effects of crushing depths. It might not be the most content for players, but you can really get a lot out of what’s there.