Thursday, 4 June 2015

Ships, sheets and proficiencies

So I did not have time to figure out a proper ship combat/sailing system before my first D&D game with a ship combat in it. I fudged it and I think it went OK, but I definitely don't want to be making it up as I go along every time. So here are my thoughts. I want the following to matter in ship actions: 
  • Where a ship gets hit: masts/rigging? Hull? Below the waterline? 
  • Manoeuvre: in particular, turning in combat is tricky for sailing ships. 
  • Decisions made by PCs: rallying/commanding, steering, shooting, and of course magic. 
I think the easiest way to do this is to give each ship a little character sheet, like the ones in Man o' War: 

This example, taken from R. Fuller's Man o' War page, is easier to see. 

There are also no skills that reflect the different things ships can do, which on the one hand is a good thing but on the other means we run the risk of a single skill becoming dominant. So here's what I'm gonna do:
  • Separate ships into bands: high/medium/low as above. Allocate damage effects to each band. Maybe if you exceed a certain damage threshold, or on a crit, you create some special damage effect like killing a vital crew person. I would assume that typically imposes disadvantage on whatever it is that part of the ship does. Like, kill the helmsman, disadvantage on steering or whatever. 
  • Give ships proficiencies. So instead of using characters' skills, we use characters' stats but ship proficiencies. For instance, let's say the skills are: Tack/Wear, Chase, Ram, Board/Grapple and Broadside. Galleys are good at Ram and Chase, big battleships are good at Broadside and Board; basically each skill is a maneouvre and certain ship designs are good or bad at them. 
  • Allocating PCs to a certain station on a ship helps you do something cool with them -- tops, helm, sick bay, guns, whatever. Maybe just allows them to roll their own stats or something, although that might not always be a great thing. But it would certainly help figure out where everyone was. So maybe the character sheet is a little mini-map; put a figure on that area of the ship, that's where the character is. 
  • Obviously the PC ships are going to be more detailed than the NPC ones. 
I guess the real question is the skill list. I like the ones I've listed; tight turning, fast pursuit, and some different combat actions. I don't know if there's anything I'm leaving out. 


  1. Okay, here's an idea for implementation:

    A ship has a number of locations; bigger ships, more locations.

    A ship has a number of crew tokens; bigger crew, more tokens.

    PCs and major NPCs (officers, warrants and cheeky ratings with lines and an arc) aren't counted in the tokens.

    A ship has one skill for each location. Rigging locations might have Tack/Wear, Chase etc, the prow might have Ram, the rope store Repair or the bilges Fast Bailing, just to grab some examples. Aside from very specific skills which require things like rams or guns, each skill would be a high, middle or low skill and could go in any location in the right level. This means that big ships have more skills.

    To use a skill, you have to have a crew token in the location, and the location can't be destroyed. This means that loss of crew and ship damage deplete ship effectiveness.

    A PC or NPC can go to a location and *either* a) allow you to use the skill even with no crew there, or b) allow you to use the skill even if the location is destroyed, or c) double the effect of the skill. Multiple major characters can stack to activate uncrewed, destroyed locations, and even double the skill, but not to double multiple times. This all represents the main characters running about, egging on the crew, hauling on the wheel, tossing cannonballs across a shattered gundeck or just plain railing at the heavens to 'give me your best shot!'

    1. In D&D, skills come from two things: proficiency and attribute. So maybe sending a character to a location just lets them use their relevant attribute, like sending someone with high Dex to helm and sending someone with high Wisdom to the crow's nest. Maybe a location being destroyed gives disadvantage on a particular skill (you can't steer with a destroyed rudder, you're slower if your sails are shot full of holes). Each location might have multiple slots for crew or PCs -- you can fit a bunch of people manning the "guns" or in a boarding party, but multiple people at the helm won't be much help.

    2. I like your idea of PCs in locations.

      You may also want to consider the effects such as the allocation of repair teams/pumpers. This will depend on how many hits your crew has had - was the opponent firing grape (anti-personnel), shot (anti-hull) or chain (anti-rigging) or their magic equivalents? But also if crew are pumping, they can't be in the rigging.

      Has your carpenter or bosun (NPCs) been hit? That might effect the effectiveness of the repairs or chain of command. Would one of your PCs have the ability to take on one of those roles?

      The rules I've used for AoS naval combat are 'Blood, Bilges and Iron Balls' which I enjoy. I can send a scan of a ship's sheet for comparative purposes if you'd like.

    3. Yeah, I have made a point to distinguish the different types of damage, although I need to figure out what can really hurt hulls other than ramming. And, sure, send a sheet! I'm interested in any inspiration I can get.

    4. OK, I'll send a sheet shortly (say that five times quickly!).

      As to what can damage hulls. Canon fire! Magic. Denzins of the deep (summonsed or otherwise).