The mighty Tsu Ocean has been receding for the last two hundred years. Each year, a little more of the coastline is exposed, and a few more dispossessed Tritons venture onto the mainland.
I bet the Ocean Leagues are the least used Leagues in Arcadia. They can only be placed next to a Border or another Ocean. They have a very high Enter and Leave Trial (some even require a Might Trial of 7 to enter or leave!), and they generally don’t let you recover anything if you fail the Trial. There is only one Quest that requires you to use them (The Flower Quest, which has you travel to Orchid Isle), but apart from that you never have to travel to the Ocean. And since they seem too difficult to use, why bother? These Leagues seem pointless.
What do we know about the Tsu Ocean? It lies to the east of Ardenmore and Middlemarch, and stretches “to the edge of Arcadia”. As two Tsu Ocean Leagues state, the Ocean has been receding gradually for two centuries, bringing every year more Mer and Tritons to the shores of Ardenmore and Middlemarch. It has been the site of several battles between King Ironheart and Lord Gamine, and in the southern parts Ironheart’s military vessels still scour the seas. Though the shores are relatively safe, the Ocean can be treacherous, and underneath its gentle surface strong currents drag the inexperienced swimmer far from land. The Tsu Ocean is particularly dangerous in the South, where seafarers try to steer clear of Ironheart’s patrolling cog troops—like his Cog Dreadnoughts, “gargantuan mechanical war-boats” which are quick to see anyone else cresting the waves to be threat, or the rarer, but not less dangerous, Cog Submarines, that might be easier to disarm than to destroy. My favourite, though, is the Cog Squid: “First you see the rainbow sheen of oil rippling on the water’s surface. Then your boat shifts under you as something huge displaces the water as it passes below. Finally, the clanking tentacles snake into the air around you, and you know you have a fight on your hands.” But the Ocean itself is also more merciless in the South: its waves have broken even mighty ships and carry the flotsam and jetsam of countless vessels. Only the most experienced—or the most foolish—sail far from the relative safety of Middlemarch’s coast.
So why would you venture out into the Ocean? It does indeed not seem worth the risk. Except, of course, if you are a Mer. Or a Triton. Or a Selkie. These three kith live in the Ocean. The Mer and Triton live under the Ocean’s surface. Mer build their coral cities on the Ocean’s floor, and that is also where the warrior tribes of the Tritons normally dwell. Both have surfaced more frequently in recent decades not just because of the receding shoreline, but also to fight against King Ironheart’s mindless pollution which is literally spilling into their realms. Selkies too have joined this fight. They are residents not of the deep see but of the “continually shifting shoreline” (The Toybox p. 127), and to save their kind have taken up the fight against Ironheart, who has been stealing the sealskin of Selkie’s and thereby enslaving them.
That there are 3 kith in Arcadia with ties to the Ocean is remarkable, given that they are very rare in Changeling: The Dreaming. Selkies were only introduced in a later source book on San Francisco, Immortal Eyes: The Toybox (see page 127), but almost as an afterthought. Mer(folk) were alluded to in some places, but not as character you’d play. There were no other Ocean kith in Changeling at the time that Arcadia was published. Mer characters were introduced in The Wyld Hunt and these aquatic characters figured also prominently on the artwork of many Merits and Flaws, signalling that the Ocean might play a prominent role in this world. The other two Ocean kith—Selkies and Triton—were introduced in King Ironheart’s Madness. Mer(folk) and Triton would not appear fully in the World of Darkness until 1999, when Blood-dimmed Tides was published. This sourcebook (useable for all World of Darkness lines) deals with the oceans, and introduces Merfolk (see page 59-70) as well as Heiké Crabs (page 56), which bear a striking resemblance to Tritons.
Of course, you do not need to play with any of these aquatic Kith to venture into the Ocean. These kith may be at home in the seas and be able to breathe under water, but the other kith are not prohibited from entering into the ocean either, even from visiting the fabled coral cities of the Mer. They can swim, of course, but they are more likely to take a boat, a ship, a dingy, or a raft and sail or row or float away. Some of the Waylays actually suggest this: see Capsized, for instance.
There are quite a few Ocean Waylays, actually—perhaps more so than one would initially suspect. In Arcadia’s ports you might bump into Buccaneer Colony or some Pirates or Slavers who wish to ship you off to Middlemarch’s Fack Tories, or perhaps the Old Man of the Sea. The peaceful sea’s surface might suddenly turn into a swirling Whirlpool, “sucking you into the depths”, or you might have face a typhoon (see the Waylays Hurricane and Tornado, which can be played on Ocean Leagues). Along the shores of Middlemarch you are likely to sail into Polluted Water, at places where the sludge from his industrial sites is dumped into the sea. The creatures of the Ocean are no less scary. There are the Waterrunners, “large amphibians” who run on the water’s surface, and Water Elementals, who “have been known to attack boats and siphon their occupants down into the cold embrace of the deep waves.” There are Flocks of Harpies, who are the embodiment of stormy winds. And there are the vicious Rokeas or weresharks, who are luckily not all intent to kill you—some, like Dapper Rokea, even want you to work for them.
And then there is the Passing Kraken, which makes more sense when used in a full Ocean quest: “One of the two known Krakens in the Arcadian seas is swimming in this area, unaware of the disaster resulting from its passage. The water churns violently, and one of its tentacles smashes into you, upsetting your boat and leaving you to fight the monstrous undertow of the creature’s wake.” It does seem strange that such a giant creature would swim along Arcadia’s shallow shores, but if you are far at sea it seems more realistic to have one of these nonchalantly brush past you. (I do like that they gave it a Combat value of 89 just in case someone wanted to pick a fight with it!).
As I mentioned, Ironheart’s Cog Navy patrols in the South, but you will equally have to be wary of other troops. A Zip of Zeppelins might drift overhead. (You’d have to be really savvy to not be seen by them when you are in open waters! You’ll want to adjust the difficulty of this Test when using it in this setting.) Or you’ll be attacked from above by a swift Icarian Flying Skiff on their way to raid a coastal village.
There are quite a few common Waylays that can be played on Ocean Leagues, and they often have to be interpreted very differently than if they were played on land. Take Huntsman’s Snare: “You’ve triggered a huntsman’s snare. You’d best break free before the hunter returns.” As the illustration and name suggests this will generally be used on land when you are caught in a hunter’s trap, but it can be played on an Ocean League too, when you would be caught in a fisher’s net. Or take Lost! where you have become lost at sea, unable to determine where you are because there is no land in sight. Or Worn-out when you have become seasick or just sick of the sea. Each of these can be interpreted differently when set on the Ocean.
There are 5 different Tsu Ocean Leagues (3 in The Wyld Hunt, 2 in King Ironheart’s Madness), and a few special locations such as The City of Coral Ocean, the “last true home of the Mer” or The Graveyard of Ships, the site of an naval battle between Ardenmore and Middlemarch, and some important ports, such as The Shipyards and Oceanius. The Tsu Ocean Leagues are fairly common, and since they are so general they are also easily duplicated in your game. It is, therefore, not very difficult to build a significantly sized Ocean map, linking various islands and ports with each other and creating an adventure with a flavour unlike that of a normal Arcadia quest.