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Alcino
2008-10-08, 08:16 AM
I'm implementing a naval warfare system in my campaign and I'm looking for inspiration and feedback. These forums have always been a nice place for that.

My campaign world is pretty well-defined, so I need to do this by the numbers if I don't want my players to revolt or something. Here are the Core Assumptions of my world (DMG 4E p. 150):

The World Is a Fantastic Place. Pretty much as written. Magic is quite common.
The World is Ancient. Well... not really. There are no "ancient civilizations" to unearth and any artifact or crumbling ruin comes from this era, and probably this millenium.
The World Is Mysterious. Parts of it still are, but the campagin-relevant parts of the world are quite well-mapped and "great empires cover huge stretches of countryside, with clearly defined borders between them".
Monsters Are Everywhere. Not really. About half of the campaign-relevant world is safe and most of it has settlements.
Adventurers Are Exceptional. They're not that much. The players have met a few. There's even an international Adventurers' Guild whose membership provides legal benefits.
The Common Races Band Together. They pretty much do. Racism situational and wars are fought over religion, ideology and expansionism.
Magic Is Not Everyday. Nah. Some towns are ruled by mages and magic item shops exist, usually part of a larger organization.
Gods and Primordials Shaped the World. Yes, but it's far from a concern.
Gods Are Distant. Quite. Their business is dealt with by their followers and the only celestial creatures are summoned ones.

The campaign is more than three years old but has been converted to 4th edition with little trouble and great benefit. Having all classes on equal footing makes all of my players relevant and the monster categories (role and worth)... anyway, that's not the point.

My campaign revolves around an ongoing war between two small nations, one united under the Church of Heironeious and the other under the Church of Hextor (respectively equivalent to Bahamut and Bane in 4E). They've been at war for over 150 years, back when the Heironeious representatives were a bunch of adventurers and the Hextor ones were an expanding cult.


(WARNING: OPTIONAL BACKSTORY EXPOSURE)

The players are firmly in the Heironeious camp. The Heroic stage ended with them being given titles by the King and the Paragon stage is underway and should end along with the war. An Epic continuation is planned from the beginning but carefully kept under wraps. You know, major plot twists and the like. I'm patient.

Very early in the campaign (like, three years ago in real life), the players, setting off from the capital, had not even reached the war and were busy getting the trust of a Thieves' Guild. They were sent on a mission to recapture a stolen ship prototype from enemy pirates in a hidden base. Anyway, they succeeded, kept the loot and left the ship with the trading-hub-coastal-city-based Guild. Shortly after, they left for the war front.

Some time ago (what, 1 year in real life?), the players passed by the coastal city on their way elsewhere and paid a visit to their Guild friends. The Guild had pretty much kept the prototype hidden in the old pirate base so as not to attract to much attention. The Guild is in good terms with the local authorities, but the ship could potentially be recognized by a foreign fleet and cause trouble, so they're not using it.

At some point since then, one of the players (as a mutual agreement, for story purposes) has been dominated out of the blue by who-knows-who and no one in the party noticed anything out of the ordinary, the domination being very subtle in execution. A few weeks later (and by a random dice roll to determine target), that player was coincidentally possessed by a ghost, prompting a protection from evil spell from the party sorcerer. This revealed the domination as the player frantically explained what it entailed and how they should never tell him about it, instead waiting for an opportunity to reverse it. He then drank a potion that erased his last 5 minutes' worth of memory.

Right now, things have taken a turn for the worse as the plot unfolded. The dominated character, well-trained in Perspicacity, anticipated his party's move. The initiative-boosted mage rolled poorly (twice) while the (usually last) dominated character went first, easily escaping. In less than one day, he was back at the main army encampment with "proof" of the party's "treason" (solid, too). The (remaining) party (with a story-relevant replacement) escaped to the only teleportation circle not in either allied or hostile territory, one north of the front in a big neutral city that supplies both armies with magic items. Unfortunately, within one hour, they had to escape that city too as the authorities turned against them for some reason (all will be made clear...).

The party decided they'd just go west for one day and a half, reaching the also-neutral and teleportation-circle-deprived coastal city where their old Thieves' Guild friends keep a boat prototype.

So... the players are about to acquire that very boat prototype. As established three real-life years ago, it's a residuum-fueled ship with one paddle wheel on each side. It's somewhere between 3 and 5 squares large and 8 to 16 squares long (can't find the three-year old map). Anyway, it's big enough to serve as a base of operations, it's faster and especially more maneuverable than other ships and has enough place for some artillery. While such an acquisition can be campagin-changing, I intend to go with it for three reasons:

1. It's cool. Getting your own boat in any RPG is a thrilling moment. It's even more thrilling if your ship has something special and if there are game rules to make sure you're in full control of its capabilities (so no random story-based shipwrecking).

2. It's... needed. The party has just made a powerful enemy and has nowhere it can stay while remaining relevant to the story. The last, like, seven games have been quite hectic, so it's about time to release some tension. A fast ship that can keep them away from threats for a small while will be welcome.

3. It'll be totally useful. The party has know for a while that the allied army (that now considers them traitors, but anyways) is planning an attack on a peninsula held by the enemy. The attack should start in four days, but the party has learned that the enemy has secretly allied with sahuagin to repel the invaders, making the assault potentially doomed to failure. Having their very own war-ready ship will allow the players to go to the front and make a difference there even though both the ally and enemy armies will be against them.

(END OPTIONAL BACKSTORY EXPOSURE.)


After thinking about it a while and reading about others' implementation of naval combat in their campaign, I decided I want a full-fledged system. I want ship speed, maneuverability, artillery and all that. I want encounters where the players only control their ship, firing on enemies and maybe closing in for boarding. I want them to take enemy artillery and install it on their ship; if they're up to it, even take whole ships.

Here's what I have in mind. Some of it is pretty much set in stone as far as my campaign is concerned, but I'm really open to discussion and criticism.


Stats

Ships should have the obvious stats, like speed and defenses, However, for those who have looked at the vehicles in the Adventurer's Vault, I think that the official rules on boats are entirely inappropriate. A swarm of archers could down the biggest boat in rounds. Also, ships do not nearly have the maneuverability depicted in those rules. Something the rules do quite well, though, is the crew requirements.

So I need different stats. One's that's easy to implement is acceleration/deceleration. Every round, a ship's speed can be increased or decreased by its acceleration value. Some emergency maneuvers, like dropping the anchor, can bypass that value. The players' ship might even have a once-per-encounter "boost".

I figure a maneuverability stat might make ship-to-ship battles more interesting, but as of now, I'm not sure how to implement it. Ships will obviously have facing, so maybe the stat could dictate what angle a ship can turn in a round. Heavy ships could even have to "prepare to turn" by spending a round getting ready to turn in a particular direction. Maneuverability could also be influenced by speed, but that might be taking things too far.

While less important, ships should also have a measure of draft. Probably just a category. Low-draft ships can access shores while high-draft ships can access the open ocean.

Each ship has a crew requirement for maximum efficiency. Most ships will lose maneuverability and perhaps speed if they're not fully crewed.

While I fully endorse that player HP has little impact on their fighting capability, I think that ships should be affected by HP loss. Until the ship is "Bloodied", which I will call "Leaking", there are no adverse effects. A Leaking ship, hoever, could take ongoing damage unless a certain amount of crew members are assigned to preventing this. A ship could also have something that has to do with its propulsion damaged, such as a mast for sailing ships or a wheel for the players' ship. Historically, ships were incapacitated by crew deaths and propulsion damage more often than otherwise.

A ship at 0 HP is "Dying", i.e. "Sinking": it's not irreversibly damaged. At this point, it is taking lots of ongoing damage unless many crew members are working against it and is probably slowed down, but again, maybe not.

I don't think that ships should be easier to hit from the side than form, say, the front. While in real life, it's obviously that way, shots to the front ro rear were also more damaging if they hit, which could even out in the rules as a welcom simplification.

A stat which I'm still working on is reliance on wind. I think it is entirely possible to devise a clean system that provides realistic wind rules, but at worst, wind will simply be a "forced movement" that applies at the end of sailing ships' turns.


Ship classes

Anything medieval goes, I suppose, but I would probably scale them down. Late galleons could carry up to 74 pieces of artillery, which is slightly deadly and maybe inappropriate. Not to mention the crew size of bigger ships, which would make them a very big threat to players.

I'd go with smaller ships, probably with caravels, cogs and carracks as the main sizes. Caravels were small, maneuverable coastal ships. Cogs were early medieval ships with small crew requirements that were not confined to coastlines. Caracks were pretty much their direct evolution, with new engineering that allowed for bigger ship sizes and thus better open ocean faring. Both were quite war-worthy, with optional fore and stern castles.

Galleons were even bigger and more maneuverable, which is why they pretty much replaced everything else. I don't want that. Maybe an enemy flagship could be an early galleon, giving players a long-term objective.

I also thought about galleys, but I don't want to deal with the moral implications about killing possibly innocent oarsmen when sinking their ship. I prefer when everyone aboard an enemy ship is evil, leaving moral choices for other, specific situations. Anyway, oars take out space better used by artillery.

I am considering giving my campaign's ships modern names even though they are based on medieval designs. Thus, corvettes and frigates would be the main sizes.

That's for realism, anyway. D&D being fantastic, there are tons of other options.

Flying mount carriers. Not nearly as big as aircraft carriers, but same general concept. Big, slow, bad handling, need a support fleet, bring a lot of utility.

Submersibles. Any campaign where the players don't own a ship is ripe for them. Hopefully, the armadas of the world have developed countermeasures. I don't intend to include submersibles in my world because of the hassle they represent to the players.

Sea mounts. I haven't given them much thought, but they certainly have their uses.

Sea monsters! Those are totally cool. A giant squid solo encounter with individual tentacles has so much potential.

Magic-propelled ships. I don't want to go overboard with them and make the players' magic-paddle-wheeler obsolete, but a few of them can make ship-based encounters more dynamic, especially if they have some kind of advantage over the player's ship but an exploitable weakness.

Airships... nah. Maybe in the Epic tier.


Armament

Ship-to-ship (and ship-to-coastal settlement) armament is an obvious consideration. I don't think D&D worlds are quite ready for typical pirate volleys, with tons of retractable cannons on multiple bridges. After all, ballistas are still in vogue in D&D. My world has developed gunpowder, but it's more of a niche because of magic.

So I'm inclined to go with ballistas. They have a base attack to which the user adds half his level and their damage rolls are fixed. They can be magick'd the same way normal weapons can be, although special properties are specific to them. I see them in two sizes: regular ballista and bigger scoprion, with slower reload but higher damage and range.

Ships should be highly resistant to piercing damage, so cheap alchemical bolts that explode on impact should do the job as a main projectile.

I've thought about high-priced more potent alchchemical bolts but decided against them. Some players would always use the cheapest munitions and otehrs would only use the costliest. If you ask me, the best solution would be munitions that require a daily magic item use.

Obviously, ships are limited in capacity by crew size and space. They carry most of their artillery fixed on each side and sometimes install some at the front and rear, for chases.

Most of the artillery in the times of cogs and carracks was carried on-deck, but that makes the artillery users vulnerable. I prefer not worrying about individuals in long-range engagements. Let's just pretend cannon traps already exist and put ballistas on the lower decks.

Fire ships and explosion ships are cool but to be used with moderation. Don't know if they'd be appropriate.

Exotic artillery can be quite interesting. A "magic cannon" that can canalize arcane spells would probably be welcome, as are other forms of magic artillery with different properties than ballistas.


Scale

There's no way I'm using normal-sized squares for ship-to-ship encounters. Instead, if each square represents ten "normal" squares, every small-sized ship can have its own square. Medium ships can occupy four and big shiips nine, at worst.

Time should also be scaled. I think each naval round should correspond to 5 normal rounds. That way, every even ship speed is perfectly represented on the grid and base ballistas can fire, say, once per naval round.

Or each naval square could represent 20 normal squares, with one-minute rounds. I'm not entirely sold. I might even use hexes.


PC involvement

I don't think artillery use should be affected by PC skills, and the official rules seem to agree with me on this. I see, however, how a stronger PC could reload a ballista faster.

Same thing for control. Simply maneuvering a ship should not require special ability, although again, points may be made for strength or dexterity.

There are ways in which PCs can directly get involved, though, like a ritual to repair the boat, the firing of a spell through a magic cannon or perceiving an underwater hazard.

Typically, the trained crew will simply be doing its job, and the PCs' role will be to decide the course of action.


Engagements

Ships can be seen from really far away and usually have very similar speeds, so historically, there were no skirmishes, only full-fledged naval battles. No side would commit to a losing battle. This has many impacts. Every naval fight in which the players participate is likely a fair battle, for example, and chase scenes are easy to implement.

Engagements will happen when two sides are committed to battle. Sometimes, a ship's crew will try to board another ship, in which case the battle will switch to normal D&D rules for 5 rounds or more.


Okay, I'm out of steam for now. I hope that with help from the forums, a complete naval combat system can be devised.

Truwar
2008-10-09, 01:48 PM
I also thought about galleys, but I don't want to deal with the moral implications about killing possibly innocent oarsmen when sinking their ship. I prefer when everyone aboard an enemy ship is evil, leaving moral choices for other, specific situations. Anyway, oars take out space better used by artillery.

Zombie Oarsmen. If the enemy is basically an evil theocracy, zombies would be easy to come by (or skeletons, if you do not want the smell) and could row all day without tiring. They could also drop their oars and fight, if the galley was boarded.

Enchanted ballistae seem like they would make their way onto these ships as well. With all the money spent on a vessel, at least a few enchantments would almost certainly exist. Artillery that loaded itself comes quickly to mind. A ballista that causes everything shot out of it to burst into flame might be handy as well.

For wind, simply have the wind blowing a certain direction at the start of a fight. Give ships a speed value based on how they are facing the wind. Large ships might be much faster than smaller ships with the wind at their back but smaller vessels might be able to sail against the wind more effectively, thus granting them greater maneuverability.

Yakk
2008-10-09, 02:31 PM
So I need different stats. One's that's easy to implement is acceleration/deceleration. Every round, a ship's speed can be increased or decreased by its acceleration value. Some emergency maneuvers, like dropping the anchor, can bypass that value. The players' ship might even have a once-per-encounter "boost".
Coming to a stop is relatively easy, isn't it? (Compared to speeding up while near full speed). That is based off a physics intuition.


While I fully endorse that player HP has little impact on their fighting capability, I think that ships should be affected by HP loss. Until the ship is "Bloodied", which I will call "Leaking", there are no adverse effects. A Leaking ship, hoever, could take ongoing damage unless a certain amount of crew members are assigned to preventing this. A ship could also have something that has to do with its propulsion damaged, such as a mast for sailing ships or a wheel for the players' ship. Historically, ships were incapacitated by crew deaths and propulsion damage more often than otherwise.
*nod* -- I'd be tempted to have HP for some parts of the ship, but most attacks damage the crew.


A stat which I'm still working on is reliance on wind. I think it is entirely possible to devise a clean system that provides realistic wind rules, but at worst, wind will simply be a "forced movement" that applies at the end of sailing ships' turns.

So, sailing ships can sail into the wind up to a certian angle.

Sailing ships can move down wind faster than they can move up wind.

In the age of cannon, the side of the ship was where the guns where mounted, and the front/backs where relatively weak.

Without cannons, you fought ship-to-ship ... mostly by ramming and boarding other ships.

Galleys are useful in that they can move when there is less wind -- quite key for military reasons.

...

Now, what is your existing, established naval fiction? What kind of feel do you want?

If boarding other ships is the standard way to engage in combat, you can leverage D&Ds existing combat mechanics. ;-)

Ie: fleets should engage in ranged combat as they close. Ranged combat does weak damage, but can cause status conditions (slowing a ship, making they use crew to repair the ship, etc).

Those with the wind-gauge have the ability to decide if they want to engage. Someone upwind of you cannot disengage, while someone downwind generally can.

Ranged weapons are relatively ineffective, while ramming and boarding is reasonably effective.

This makes naval combat very neat -- ships fire ranged weapons to damage the ability to move of the enemy ships (damage enemy sails etc), which lets them win the movement battle, which lets them choose to attempt to ram and/or board the enemy ship.

Alcino
2008-10-09, 11:19 PM
Un-living Oarsmen

"Zombie oarsmen [...] could row all day without tiring."

That's actually a great idea if I want a little diversity. Unfortunately, it won't work for the evil theocracy as their stance on undead is pretty much that they're abominations.

However, other factions could use undead oarsmen. Maybe allies of the evil theocracy. D&D isn't really about large armadas; most of the official fluff about fleets is that when they're needed, they're partly assembled from mercenaries and requisitioned merchant ships. Just like in early medieval naval warfare, actually.

Hmm. The evil theocracy does use golems, though. Clean, odorless iron golems. Maybe they could employ similar constructs to row some boats.

I can even imagine boats being pulled by sea creatures.

Anyway, even though sailing ships are still the norm, you've convinced me galleys have their place in my world.


Wind Rules

"Coming to a stop is relatively easy, isn't it?"

True, it shouldn't be that hard, but ships are hydrodynamic and can drift for a while.

Then it hit me: all types of ships have a simple way to apply "brakes", whether it's reversed rowing/wheels or purposefully-angled sails. A separate, active deceleration stat would not be out of order.

"So, sailing ships can sail into the wind up to a certain angle. Sailing ships can move down wind faster than they can move up wind."

"Give ships a speed value based on how they are facing the wind."

Seems elegant to me.

At first, I was reluctant to use a "speed/acceleration table" with 2 columns and multiple rows for each sailing ship, but then I remembered how many things players and DMs are used to keeping track of in combat.

Ship-to-ship engagements having way less maneuvers and things to keep in mind, I think there's much depth to be extracted from detailed ship movement. Also, I've decided to use hexes, so a particular ship can only have 4 different angles to the wind: up, up/side, down/side, down.


Turning

Turning is a single value indicating how many hex angles a ship can turn in one naval round. Small ships can likely make a whole 360 -- 6 hex angles -- in a round, but larger ships would be restricted to 3 ha or less.

Optional rules I'm not decided on yet are maneuverability, or having to "prepare" to turn by spending 1 ha just to re-angle the ship and 1 ha to stop turning. That would make battles in reefs totally exciting, I think.

Another optional rule is turning and speed affecting each other. Realistically, a ship, regardless of its propulsion system, must sacrifice speed in order to turn. Maybe 1 hex for each ha. Sailing ships could very well not have to make such a sacrifice, though. Speed could also hamper turning; at its maximum speed, a ship would very well capsize by turning too hard. No way the wheel would support such a hard turn, though.


Naval Engagements

I've never found pirate movie ship-to-ship battles very interesting. They usually only involve two galleons firing at each other with little consequence, then it gets fun when one side boards the other.

That's why I'm not using galleons: they overshadow every other ship class, making every encounter seem like a lone PC trading arrows with a lone standard-type enemy archer. Different relevant ship classes allow for more variety, somewhat like minion-standard-elite-solo and soldier-skirmisher-brute-lurker-controller-artillery. Ship roles would be great, especially when fantasy rears its head.

"Artillery that loaded itself comes quickly to mind. A ballista that causes everything shot out of it to burst into flame might be handy as well."

You speak the truth. However, with limited capacity on each ship, price would not likely be a deterrant, so ballistas should be balanced against themselves.

I'm thinking of a system similar to magic weapons. There's a base ballista that has a +1 enhancement for 360 gp, +2 for 1800, +3 for 9000, etc. However, some could have special properties, like:

Causing ongoing fire damage once per encounter/day Reloading faster but with weaker attacks ( la Twin Strike) Reducing the target's speed by one once in a while Producing smoke that obscures vision
In other words, regular ballistas most of the time, but with encounter or daily powers.

Scorpions are still in, but only on a few key emplacements in each ship. Magic-firing cannons and more exotic weapons might be more unique and pretty much unavailable to buy.

While we're there, a ship's hull could also be enchanted and gain a special property or two. Its sails/oars could too. And its rudder.

Heck, let's equip ships just like we equip characters! Ships will be much less boring than movie galleons, making battles quite unpredictable. Most importantly, that allows ships to "drop loot" once captured.


On Realism

"Without cannons, you fought ship-to-ship ... mostly by ramming and boarding other ships."

Now that I'm psyched about ship roles, ramming is definitely in. Maybe rammers would immobilise the other ship until a saving throw is made, not to mention the boarding possibilities.

Fire ships and explosion ships would make great lurkers, too. There's a lot of potential here.

"This makes naval combat very neat -- ships fire ranged weapons to damage the ability to move of the enemy ships (damage enemy sails etc), which lets them win the movement battle, which lets them choose to attempt to ram and/or board the enemy ship."

It's a deal then. A ship's "Bloodied" value indicates a point where the ship just lost significant speed. For sailing ships, it would represent the loss of a mast. For the magic wheeler, a wheel was damaged. Different ships would be affected differently once they hit that value. Hitting 0 means they start taking water, though.

"If boarding other ships is the standard way to engage in combat, you can leverage D&Ds existing combat mechanics."

The players will definitely want to in some occasions. They're at a power level where the common enemy soldier is a minion, so they can deal great damage to enemy crews... unless they get peltered by dozens of archer minions, anyway.

And however I want it, most real ship-to-ship battles took place at pistol range, meaning less than 20 squares in D&D terms. Allowing the player archers and magic user to attack the enemy crew has potential even though it involves more bookkeeping. I guess there's no way around it; individual crew members must be available for targeting even in ship scale.


Crew considerations

HP represents ship state: at half HP or less, it has usually lost speed; at 0, it is sinking and will soon be gone unless something's done. However, the ship otherwise loses no combat ability by HP damage alone.

But HP damage should not be the only way to cripple a ship: taking out crew members should be part of the strategy. A ship has a certain amount of crew members; for simplicity and balance, most will be considered minions.

Their main jobs are:

Rowing/taking care of the sails. A galley loses speed as it loses oarsmen. A sailing ship lacking sail attendance has worse maneuverability (I think it's a worthy concept). Manning the ship-to-ship and normal weapons. Whether they're reloading ballistas or making arrows rain, they provide the ship's firepower. Making saving throws against ongoing effects. A ship cannot recover from a fire or other debiliating effect without people being assigned to it. The amount of crew members taking care of a problem affects the quality of their collective saving throw.
That's where I'm at right now. Thanks for the feedback! I think flavor is pretty well-defined now, and I can start working on cold, hard stats.

I still need to work on how crew members can be affected by ship artillery, which is only statted against HP now.

Artillery should always be aiming towards an enemy ship in general, just like policemen aim for the middle of the torso. No called shots. Specific powers can have ballistas cause effects other than ship HP loss, but taking out crew should be a normal feature.

Maybe artillery that misses the ship by 1 hits a crew member instead... but then only one shot in twenty would do so. How about missing by five or less? Nah... at zero ship-hit chances, the crew can be hit when the ship cannot, which makes no sense.

How about rolling half of the artillery against the enemy ship and the other half against its crew? Or each bolt that hits the ship also takes out a crew member? Considering the crew's vulnerability to normal attacks, a vulnerability it doesn't share with the ship, this might be overkill.