Portals in Time
By Robert Wiese
The seas of Faerûn possess many dangers. Rock shoals, underwater monsters, surface monsters (including the ones that use ships), and weather can cause the wreck of any sailing vessel. Add to this list the whim of deities and one can sometimes wonder why anyone chooses the life of a sailor at all. Beshaba, mistress of unluck, can visit her attentions on a crew without any provocation. Auril the Frostmaiden sometimes brings chilling winds to batter ships. And Umberlee, goddess of the sea, is known to be a danger to all on, or under, the water. Umberlee is among the most malevolent and unpredictable gods, accepting offerings from a crew for safety and then visiting misfortune on them a day later if someone on the ship says something to displease her. Sailors are very careful when speaking of her, but no crew can be too careful.
Many disasters at sea are blamed on the Queen of the Deeps, some of which are not even her fault. The active presence of the gods in Faerûn, however, leads many to attribute natural occurrences, or even stupidity on the part of mortals, to the designs of a god.
Sailors and wizards alike report that somewhere in the seas of Faerûn there exists a giant whirlpool called Umberlee's Fist. The name refers to its ability to crush ships with ease, and once a ship sights the Fist it does not survive. Some seagoing captains believe that its currents reach much further outward from its center than the surface currents would indicate, and that ships can be caught in its deadly grip from miles away. To the common sailor, it is a sign of doom, and the despair at seeing it may freeze sailors on their decks and contribute to the loss of ships.
The reasons this whirlpool is attributed to the Queen of the Deeps are twofold. Firstly, it is not in a fixed location. Reports have come back from ships in its grip (through spells or teleportation) of it being in one place, but a ship passing that same place the next day won't see it anywhere. Then it appears in another part of the seas. It has been reported in the Sea of Fallen Stars, the Sea of Swords, and even in the Shining Sea.
Secondly, the great mystery surrounding Umberlee's Fist is where the ships go. Adventurers and others have explored the depths beneath the locations of reported sightings, but no ships have been found. It's as if they disappear when they are pulled down, and indeed they do. For Umberlee's Fist is a huge portal as well as a navigation hazard. Ships pulled under the water are sent through the portal to other places in Faerûn -- sometimes places on land. Farmers have been amazed to wake to the sudden presence of a wrecked ship in the midst of their fields, and sailors have reported coming upon derelict ships just disappearing beneath the waves where no cause for the destruction could be found. Most strangely, some of these ships have not existed; no record of a registry in any port anywhere could be found, and sometimes no record of the existence of the captain could be found.
Created by some deity, the portal is a circle about 200 feet in diameter that sits 20 feet below the surface of the water under the whirlpool. It is constantly active and has no fixed destination. It selects a random location in Faerûn every time something passes through the portal's interface. Because of this randomness, it is not anchored well in time either. Sometimes, but not always, it sends its prey backward through time as well as across space. Thus, shipwrecks have been found hundreds of years ago that involve ships from the present, and occasionally a ship from the future is discovered wrecked in the present. No one has studied the temporal aspects of the portal, and anyone trying would find it frustrating because of the randomness. Those wise in the ways of gods would say that Beshaba and Umberlee worked together to create the monstrosity.
Swimmers who find themselves being pulled down have a chance to avoid it (Swim check DC 20). Ships that are caught can avoid being drawn down into the portal if a successful Profession (sailor) check (DC 15) is made. Apply the following modifiers to the check based on the ship being drawn in: rowboat (-5); keelboat, sailing ship, or longship (+0); warship or galley (+5).
How to Incorporate Umberlee's Fist Into Your Campaign
- The player characters find a strange shipwreck while on another adventure or perhaps while returning from a successful adventure. The ship has a design unlike anything seen today, and it carries some strange journal entries in a language that no one knows. The ship is from the future, and knowledge of its existence could bring great wealth to the adventurers. However, the ship also carries some extremely valuable magic cargo, and someone from the future comes back to retrieve it. Thus, you can introduce a number of strange new monsters that will be in Faerûn in the future and give the characters a little look ahead.
- The PCs are aboard a ship when it is pulled toward Umberlee's Fist. Despite a desperate fight, the ship is pulled into the vortex and teleported through the portal to a remote location in Faerûn. Some members of the crew survive, but some do not. The PCs find themselves off the shore of mysterious Kara-Tur, or shipwrecked at the Calim Desert, or up near Icewind Dale. They are also a few days or weeks in the past, and when they finally return to civilization after several adventures in this strange remote place, they find that they have arrived in a city several days before they boarded the doomed ship.