One of the great things about fantasy games like Pathfinder is the sheer number of different styles of adventuring that are possible. There's a lot more than just dungeons and dragons (pun intended). You can explore the wilderness, journey through tangled jungles, climb towering mountains, get involved in politics, lead armies and overthrow empires, and more. The opportunities are endless. One of the many environments ripe for adventure is the open sea, where you can be travellers to distant lands, merchants carrying goods to various ports, or pirates who plunder what the merchants are carrying. Indeed, shipbound adventures can be amongst the most exciting and fun.
Ships of the Inner Sea provides material for gamemasters to use in seafaring campaigns. It describes seven ships that sail the Inner Sea, including details of their layouts, histories, and crews. Some of the ships and crews might be allies of the PCs, or the PCs might even join their crews; other ships contain enemies and villains to fight. All the ships make for interesting encounters, either one-off or recurring. Ships of the Inner Sea doesn't just have to be for seafaring campaigns either. Even campaigns that are mostly landlocked may spend some short periods at sea as the player characters travel from one location to another, and such an occasion could also be a perfect opportunity for an encounter with one of the ships from this book.
I generally like these kinds of sourcebooks as they provide material that GMs can draw on when they need something last-minute, while also being supplements they can build entire campaigns around. For the most part, Ships of the Inner Sea doesn't disappoint. There's a good variety in the types of ships presented and all of them contain enough ideas and adventure seeds to keep any group occupied for some time. It's certainly a resource I will turn to if I run a seafaring campaign at some point in the future.
The book opens with a brief introduction that contains an overview of the book's contents as well as a listing of other Pathfinder books that deal with the high seas, such as the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path. Indeed, this book uses mechanics first introduced in that adventure path for providing the ships' statistics, including expressing ships' wealth in plunder. However, it's not absolutely necessary to be familiar with Skull & Shackles to use this book. The introduction provides a quick method for converting plunder to gold piece values, and the other statistics are only really necessary for ship-to-ship combat. In such cases, the rules can be found in the Skull & Shackles Player's Guide, which is available for free without having to purchase the entire adventure path.
Before getting into the descriptions of the individual ships, there is a short chapter on sailing. This contains a glossary of basic nautical terms, as well as brief descriptions of the types of sailing ships (such as caravels, galleys, and frigates) that can be found sailing the Inner Sea. There is also a description of the common trade routes used in the Inner Sea Region, along with a map showing the routes. This is a great bit of added detail, as it's something GMs can use even when they aren't using any of the specific ships in the book. Finally, there are some brief descriptions of natural hazards and particularly dangerous areas, such as the haunted coast of Geb and the Sodden Coast.
The remainder and bulk of the book is devoted to the seven ships. Each ship gets eight pages of description. Packed into these pages are the ship's history, its layout (including a map), an overview of its crew, some adventure ideas, the ship's stats, typical tactics, and full stats for a couple of the crew members. Every chapter also contains an illustration of the ship as well as illustrations of the crew members with full stats. In a couple of cases (generally for the smaller ships), the chapters contain a few extra things as well. For example, the Kraken's Spite has only one deck and needs only half a page for its map (as opposed to a full page like the other ships), and the description of its layout is thus fairly short. As such, there is room for a section on the treasures the Kraken's Spite's crew has brought back from Arcadia, including three new magic items. Each chapter provides just enough information to set the scene and get ideas flowing. While a lot of information is given, not every secret is revealed. Instead, many are only hinted at, which gives GMs leeway in adapting each ship to their own campaigns.
One of the best aspects of Ships of the Inner Sea is the variety present in the seven ships—in the types of ships and the characters who crew them. There are many different lands, races, and ethnicities from across Golarion represented. The Burnt Saffron is a slave galley whose captain is said to have made a deal with Asmodeus. The ship has been thought destroyed on several occasions but always shows up again. The Cetaceal is a ship of Andoran's Steel Falcons, dedicated to freeing slaves. The Hu-Hazhong is a merchant junk from far-off Lingshen in Tian Xia, captained by a kitsune alchemist and a samsaran druid. They have made a long, dangerous journey to the Inner Sea for the purpose of trade. A contingent of Hell Knights makes up a part of the large crew of the Chelish man-o'-war, the Impervious. Hailing from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, the crew of the Kraken's Spite have (somewhat reluctantly) given up raiding and pillaging to instead fight against slaver ships. No collection of fantasy ships would be complete without a ghost ship, and that's where the Mark of Yunnarius comes in. Its captain was betrayed and killed by her lover, who had organized a mutiny. But the captain rose as a banshee and slew everyone—except the ex-lover. The crew became draugrs and the ex-lover a prisoner. She is still a prisoner on the ship, tormented for her betrayal. Finally, the Ravishing Ruby is a pirate ship whose captain is obsessed with recovering a treasure map that was stolen from her.
If I have one criticism of Ships of the Inner Sea, it's that I wish there was a little more information on the crews. In many cases, the details on the individual characters are rather sketchy, with only very broad statements describing each person. Even the crew members with full stats (generally two for each ship) have very little description with their stats—in some cases, none at all (although there is some general information elsewhere in the chapter). This is, of course, a space issue, and the only way it could have been avoided would be either to include less information about other aspects of the ships or to leave out one entire ship so that the remaining ones could get an extra page or so of detail.
In all honesty though, it's pretty impressive how much information is squeezed into each chapter's eight pages, especially considering that some of the space is taken up by artwork. Even though I might wish for a bit more information about the crew members, there is still more than enough information to get the creative juices flowing, and as I've said before, any book that gets me thinking and plotting new ideas is a good one, and this book certainly does that. Reading through it has already sparked off several ideas for future adventures I might someday run.
Overall, Ships of the Inner Sea is a book that will almost certainly see use at my table at some point—whether as part of a future Skull & Shackles campaign or just a one-off encounter as the PCs travel from one place to another. The seven ships in here provide enough material for many exciting adventures.