Excerpts Archive | 3/19/2010
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Plane Above Excerpts: Navigating the Astral Sea

In today's Plane Above excerpt we explore the astral Sea, to some extent amenable to the willpower of those traversing it. A navigator can fix a firm idea in mind of any destination that is at least as big as a dominion and head in the direction that seems right. Eventually the traveler will get there, though the route might not be swift, safe, or optimal. Therefore, in games that don’t use dramatic tension caused by faulty navigation attempts or the exhilaration of spot-on-navigation, run navigation through the astral realm as a combination of presumed navigational skill and DM fiat.

On the other hand, if you want a quick and dirty navigation system to provide player characters with some control over their course, here is one option:

Free Sailing

Point-to-point navigation without using a color strand takes time. Sailing through the entire Astral Sea is best reserved for travel to astral motes and citadels that don’t have color strands, or for unobtrusive approaches to avoid riding a color strand that enemies might be monitoring. Of course, it’s also what characters will fall back on when they can’t find the proper color strand.

The accompanying table assumes that the characters are traveling on a skiff of average speed or flying at average speed and are starting from one of the divine dominions rather than the far astral. Use the skill of the character that is navigating. Add a day of travel time if the characters use one of the secondary options. If the characters are in a notably quick or slow vessel, subtract or add one or two days of travel time per travel time die, with a minimum of one day per die. Reduce days from the trip if the navigating character rolls a natural 20.

Point-to-Point Astral Navigation

Destination Best Option Secondary Options Time with Success Time with Failure
Active Divine Dominion Religion (easy),
Nature (easy)
Arcana (moderate),
History (moderate),
Perception (hard)
1d4 days 2d3 days
Ruined Dominion Arcana (moderate),
Nature (moderate)
History (hard),
Religion (hard)
1d6 days 3d4 days
Familiar Astral Mote Arcana (moderate),
Nature (moderate)
History (hard) 1d6 days 1d10 days
Mapped Astral Mote Nature (hard) Arcana (hard),
History (hard)
2d4 days 4d4 days
Rumored Astral Mote Nature (hard) Arcana (hard),
History (hard)
2d6 days 2d6 days, and location isn’t found

Adventures on the Astral Sea

The eerie tranquility of astral travel is often shattered by eruptions of sudden danger. Characters aboard skiffs or other conveyances could face magical storms, arcane anomalies, hostile ships, or hungry free-flying creatures, such as astral dreadnoughts. Depending on the game’s pace, such a moment of navigational menace can be resolved with a single skill check, as a skill challenge, or as an extended combat or action set piece.

General Shipboard Actions

The following skills can be applied to nearly any shipboard emergency.

  • Acrobatics: Perform stunts requiring precarious climbing up, down, or through the ship’s masts and rigging. Tumble through falling obstacles to secure a critical piece of equipment knocked loose in the struggle.

  • Athletics: Momentarily hold stressed or breaking ship pieces in place. Man the ship’s helm, executing audacious maneuvers or steering the vessel in the face of great resistance.

  • Arcana: Pour additional magical fuel into the engines, momentarily (and dangerously) increasing the vessel’s speed or maneuverability (to compensate for missing crew members, for instance).

  • Endurance: Perform tasks while battered and nearly destroyed; survive with minimal food and water after supplies are lost or stolen.

  • History: Identify oncoming vessels by size and configuration, naming the origin and likely intentions of their crews.

  • Perception: Spot trouble before it starts, determine the weak point in an enemy’s hull, or see a creature’s vulnerability.


When the crew of one vessel tries to engage and the other tries to escape, a chase ensues. If you know that a fight will ensue when one vessel catches up to the other, resolve the chase as a single Athletics check by the character at the helm. In instances when the conclusion of the chase won’t necessarily lead to ship combat, run the chase sequence as a skill challenge of its own.

  • Arcana: Spot astral eddies to gain increased speed; locate nebulae or other astral bodies to hide behind; find portals allowing magical teleport to another sector of the sea.
  • Nature: Spot or avoid schools of astral creatures that impede navigation.
  • Stealth: Plot a confusing course while fleeing; identify a confusing course laid in by a fleeing vessel.

Conquering Enemy Vessels

In a skill challenge to board and overrun an enemy vessel, the characters contend for the opportunity to stage a fight on the enemy crew’s deck. If they lose, the targets successfully disengage before a fight can occur. Alternatively, a lost challenge could result in the fight occurring on the characters’ ship. Victorious invaders not only defeat their opponents, but can then seize control of the vessel.

  • Acrobatics: Use a piece of loose rigging to swing onto the target deck.
  • Intimidate: Frighten crew members into backing away or otherwise ceding ground.
  • Stealth: Sneak aboard from a different direction to achieve surprise.

Allow movement attacks and racial powers to substitute for skills as the logic of the scene permits. For movement powers such as fey step, where no skill modifier pertains, ask for an Arcana check to determine if the character’s "aim" is correct, or treat the use of the power as an automatic success.

Excerpt Schedule

Monday Friday

March 15

Intro & Themes

March 19


March 22

The Nine Hells

March 26

Fiery Descent

March 29


April 2


April 5


April 9

Hand of the Monolith

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