I have always thought this is the single hardest enviornment in which to run an adventure. The issue I have with ship bound adventures is how to deal with the long hours, days and weeks of plain sailing? It always feels to me that as soon as you mention a sail on the horizon the party leap into battle readiness because as a GM ou would not have mentioned it otherwise and besides they are adventurers and these things happen to adventurers.
How many times can you attack a ship with pirates, sea monsters, flying monsters and hurl it into natural storms, maelstroms and so on before the crew will be throwing the party overboard?
Twice before I have used ships successfully and both times the ship only featured in the very first session. In an introductory sessions for completely new roleplayers I had them start out on the deck of a ship hugging the coast. The players knew that was where they were going to start and so it was worked up into their character backgrounds as to why they were on the ship. This opening scene gave me an opportunity to show how the story telling element of RPGs work describing the landscape gliding by and letting the players talk to the crew and to each other in character. The captain explained the danger on this part of their journey were coastal pirates that paddled out to ships who were forced in tight to he coast because of the tides and currents. As night fell on their first day the lookout gave the call that canoes had set out from the shore. As so the adventure began with the players being lost overboard and making for a hostile coast where they knew they would be made slaves if they were captured while their ship sailed off into the night.
The second use was in a campaign I ran that shadowed the life of Thomas Pellow. He was a Cornishman that was captured by pirates and spent 23 years as a slave to a sultan. Her served in the army and had several adventures. In this campaign the party were bought and sold as a unit because of their curiosity value and used for many suicide missions because they had no choice but tot do as ordered. Again the ship was just a jumping off point and not really a part of the adventure.
There has to be a way of having epic voyages become part of the narrative without it just becoming a case of “20 days later you hear the lookout cry ‘Land ahoy'”, “Ten days after setting sail you see sails nick the horizon to the east” and so on; completely bypassing the entire life at sea element.
Has anyone ran successful ship bound adventures?