Winner of the 2022 Ennie Awards Judge’s Spotlight! Nominated at the Indie Groundbreaker Awards for Most Innovative and Game of the Year.

It’s 1880. You are sailors and scholars traveling the world’s sea lanes to document the dying art of the sea shanty. Commercial sail is obsolete in the face of new steam technologies, and its majesty is fading from the world. Shanties will surely vanish unless someone writes them down. But a wicked spirit doesn’t like shanties falling into the hands of landsmen. It manifests the imagery and events from each song to oppose you, threatening the very ships you sail aboard. Can you anticipate these dangers before they strike? Can you safeguard the ship and her crew? Sing shanties with your friends, then overcome the perils hidden in these wonderful old songs of the sea!

Shanty Hunters is powered by the award-winning GUMSHOE engine.

The author, Tristan Zimmerman, is a trusty shellback, having crossed the equator off Somalia aboard USS Essex. He went to sea before his first birthday and has circumnavigated the globe. He writes the Ennie Award-nominated RPG blog at This is his fourth book.

You can buy the book in pdf or high-quality print-on-demand here.

CHARACTER CREATION. In Shanty Hunters, your character is a sailor or scholar drawn to the sea lanes to document shanties – even though doing so angers the campaign’s villain and imperils your life and the lives of your shipmates. You are defined by your Profession and your Drive. The book presents twelve example Professions compatible with disappearing to sea for months at a time: from client scholar to spy to three different kinds of sailors (pollywog, shellback, and mate). Your Drive is what compels you to continue documenting shanties, even though doing so endangers you and everyone around you. The book presents ten examples from occultism to naiveté to romanticism. Creating characters is fast and easy, but if you want to jump right into play, the book presents six pregenerated characters, all of them bold and strongly-written.

THE GAME. Every session, the characters document a new shanty and the players are encouraged to sing it at the table. Then the events and imagery in the shanty begin occurring aboard the ship! The PCs can use the shanty’s lyrics to try to anticipate what will happen before it occurs, or figure out how to respond to it after it does. Shanty Hunters uses a version of the award-winning GUMSHOE rules engine that’s been streamlined for episodic play. Characters have eight skills. Skills give you bonuses to your rolls and can be invoked a limited number of times to automatically succeed instead of rolling. There are also simple, straightforward rules for things like finding core clues and surviving shipwrecks. Shanty Hunters also encourages groups to collaboratively build their villain: the supernatural being that causes the shanties to come to life. Six sample villains are included, along with explanations of what sorts of campaigns they’re likely to engender: from the fiendish politics of a Davy Jones campaign to the horror of the cruel Fiddler to the slapstick comedy of Gilbert & Sullivan’s incompetent Pirate King. The book also provides extensive advice on how to build entertaining adventures, one-shots, and campaigns for this unusual game.

OF SHIPS AND THE SEA. Seafaring is a complicated profession, and Shanty Hunters does not assume any knowledge on the part of the player or GM. A full chapter lays out information about the sea, winds, waves, important regions, and – most detailed of all – what the different parts of a ship are and how they work. There’s also material on sailing in storms, different kinds of ships, roles and duties aboard a ship, the psychology of sailors, and all manner of details about shipboard life. Sixteen colorful sample NPCs round out the chapter.

PORTS OF CALL. Twenty important trading ports, from Algiers to Yokohama, receive overviews in this chapter. It also serves as a setting guide to the year 1880. Learn of the First Boer War through the lens of the port of Cape Town, of the legacy of slavery in Kingston, and of how the docks of Shanghai are carved up between European powers. All this information is focused on the perspective relevant to your Shanty Hunters game: that of what your characters experience in a port of call.

SHANTY SONGBOOK. Shanty Hunters presents seventeen shanties suitable for use at the table. Some are old favorites, like Drunken Sailor. Others may be new to you, like Alabama John Cherokee and A Long Time Ago. All come with advice on how to use them in your campaigns: what lines work well as obstacles to ‘come alive’, what secret occult information might be hidden in the verses, and which shanties work best with each of the six sample villains and why. Plus, the book provides a concise history of sea shanties and their influences.

SAMPLE ADVENTURE. Things get hairy when the lyrics of the shanty Sacramento come alive aboard the good ship Continental! There’s a mermaid, an ancient tablet, tentacles from the deep, and a terrible curse. Combine that with a secret cargo, a philologist passenger with something to hide, and a mate who is perhaps too likable, and you’ve got yourself a delightful evening of play!

You can watch an actual play here.

You can buy the book in pdf or high-quality print-on-demand here.