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  1. #1

    Question Ship to ship combat rules?

    Well, I'm pretty new to mapping, but I'm also new to Dungeons and Dragons. I am interested in building a campaign setting that is pirate-themed. I was wondering if anyone could direct me to ship-related rules, prices, tactics, etc. Are the ship combat rules too complex for a newbie DM to really get a handle on? I was thinking about maritime classes/powers, things like that. This will be a pirate/trading world, something like a fantasy British empire, where many of the big battles will be naval rather than hand-to-hand...

  2. #2
    Community Leader mearrin69's Avatar
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    Sep 2009
    Portland, OR


    The only thing I'm aware of is Wizard's Stormwrack for v3.5. I'm pretty sure there was some stuff in there. It's possible that Paizo's new adventure path (first book due out at GenCon) will have some rules in it...I think it's piratey.

  3. #3
    Community Leader Facebook Connected torstan's Avatar
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    Jul 2007


    Yep, Stormwrack is really good. Definitely worth looking into whichever system you use. Which version of D&D are you playing?

  4. #4


    We're playing DnD 4e, and I am still trying to fill in the gaps in what we know. Though I am really more interested in creating (maps, plots, NPCs, so on) than I am in playing lately...

  5. #5
    Guild Artisan Juggernaut1981's Avatar
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    Sep 2009
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    You need to know 4 or 5 things usually...

    1. Ship speed, hardness/armour, size
    2. Weapon Range & Damage
    3. Adjusted Attack Rolls for Cannon-Like devices
    4. Weather/Conditional Modifiers (e.g. a moderately moving ship would probably reduce the effective range of a bow/spear by a range increment)
    5. Wind effects on projectiles (e.g. a very strong wind would probably reduce effective range of all weapons by 3 range increments or more)

    That should point you out to find what you need to know. I'd be suggesting that purely magical attacks would ignore conditions, but cause problems for casting (% fail chances or similar)
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  6. #6
    Community Leader Facebook Connected torstan's Avatar
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    Well Stormwrack has a pretty good stand alone system that's relatively loosely tied to 3e. For 4e - I think the best bet is the Adventurers Vault books as they have vehicles in them. I don't have them handy so I can't tell you how far they go into the vehicle combat rules.

  7. #7
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    I have "Seafarer's Handbook" from fantasy flight games - its filled with maritime stuff (shock) also a combat system for ship to ship combat
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  8. #8


    Nice! Thanks a lot for the tips, guys! I'll see if I can look those up or get my hands on them. I think I partly just want to make a world map full of archipelagos and island chains...

  9. #9


    if you're after something more 'war-gamey' I can recommend 'Action Under Sail' which I used to play years ago. Simple miniature rules for napoleonic era ship to ship combat. Great fun too. A while back there was a clever 'collectible card game' in which the 'cards' had die cut bits of ship which you popped out and built the ship out of. The rules were really simple and the ships looked great. Can't remember what the game was called though :: Edit :: Got it, Pirates Constructible Strategy Game Here is the link -. If you like playing with miniatures that would be a good choice particularly as once the shelf life of these games expires (as I think this has done - it's moved to an online format), they probably go for peanuts on ebay.

  10. #10
    Guild Novice Mercutio's Avatar
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    Jun 2009
    Ocean City, NJ


    I recently started a play-by-post game of pirates using the Pathfinder rule set. I didn't like any of the rules available for ship-to-ship combat. The Stormwrack ones were a little too complex and the Pirates CSG rules were too simple. So I melded them together myself. You can check out the rules in my game forum at -

    Edit - Sorry to link off site in my first post. I didn't think copy-paste was a better solution. Maybe it is. In any case, I've been lurking CG for awhile, and while searching for ship deck plans I came across this thread. So, rather than send you off-site (if you're still in the market for the rules), I'll repost part of the rules from my game.


    I didn't like any of the systems out there. Arms and Equipment Guide is too complex. The Pirates Constructable Strategy Game is too simple. The Pirates of the Spanish Main is too reliant on the Savage Worlds rules. The Stormwrack rules are the closest to what I finally created, but they were still too complex. So below is what I designed for this game.

    Each turn a ship can take two of the below actions, but can only take each action once.

    Move - a ship has a base speed listed in its entry. The base speeds are founded on the ship's length. Example--Brigantine has a base speed of 1. That means, barring other factors, the Brigantine can move 1 ship-length on its turn. The ship lengths are for each individual ship. For simplicity's sake, all ship move their full Move per turn.

    Turn - a ship has a turn radius listed in degrees. Those degrees are 45, 90, and 135, and each ship will have a different radius depending on its construction and basic ship type. The aforementioned Brigantine has a turn radius of 45 degrees.

    Broadsides - each ship can take a broadsides attack with the guns on one side of the ship. The Crimson Widow, which I designed for you, has 12 guns, or 6 per side. So the broadsides action allows for 6 of the guns to be fired at once. Each gun rolls its own attack. More on that later.

    Wind speeds provide a multiplier to the base speed of a ship. The wind classes are Light, Moderate, Strong, Heavy, Gale, and Hurricane.
                 Light  Moderate  Strong  Heavy  Gale  Hurricane
    Multiplier     x1      x2       x3     x2     x1     x1 Random
    The multipliers are what they sound like. For a Brigantine, with base speed 1, in Light winds it can move 1 ship-length. In Strong winds it can move 3 ship-lengths.

    The hurricane multiplier says Random, and that's just what it means. During hurricane force winds, ships have all their sails furled and are at the mercy of the seas and winds. Random will move the ship 1 ship-length in a random direction.

    Attacking shipping is based not on ranged attacks and armor classes, but on Profession (sailor) checks against Difficulty Classes for targets. The targets are Rigging, Hull, and Personnel. The DC's are also based on the distance between the ships in battle. Damage is assessed based on the type of guns onboard, with each section having Hit Points. Those are Hit Points are noted in each ship's entry. Once all the Hit Points for a section have been erased, there is a specific effect on the target ship. Dropping Rigging to 0 or below HP makes the ship unable to Move. Dropping Hull to 0 or below HP makes the ship start sinking. It will take 10 rounds for a ship to sink completely beneath the surface of the water (which may or may not change depending on the winds/seas). Dropping Personnel to 0 means the ship loses its ability to Turn. Note that Personnel is an abstract and doesn't denote actual damage to PCs or NPCs.
    Ship-lengths (sl)  1sl     2sl     3sl     4sl
    Rigging           DC 15   DC 30   DC 45   DC 60
    Hull              DC 10   DC 20   DC 35   DC 40
    Personnel         DC 20   DC 30   DC 40   DC 50
    The DC's may change due to weather, and I'll always note the actual DCs that need to be hit.

    Each gun is fired separately by a Player Character or Non-Player Character as you deem it and relies on that character's Profession (sailor) skill.

    Guns (cannons are land-based, guns are sea-based) are classified by the weight of the shot they propel and type of shot (Solid, Chain/Bar, Grape). Each gun does damage based on that size as noted below and on the type of shot chosen. Solid Shot is used against Hulls, Chain Shot against Rigging, Grape Shot against Personnel. I am not going to micro-manage the amount or types of shot onboard and the types of shot for each target are set, for simplicity. It is up to the gun captain (the PC or NPC doing the firing) to determine the target, although the ship's Captain may pass on orders to the gun captains to follow.
                Solid   Chain   Grape
    4-pounder    1d6     1d4     1d4
    6-pounder    2d6     2d4     1d6
    8-pounder    3d6     3d4     1d8
    12-pounder   4d6     4d4     1d10
    24-pounder   5d6     5d4     1d12
    32-pounder   6d6     6d4     1d20
    Note: Guns listed in the ship entry are per side. Double for the full complement of guns onboard.

    Navigator's Duties
    The Navigator of a vessel has the ability to affect the actions taken during a round. That effect is determined by a Profession (sailor) check against Difficulty Class for the effect. The Navigator must determine which effect he wishes to use for each turn before rolling and can only use one such effect per round. The effects are Speed Increase, Speed Decrease, and Turn Increase. The base DCs for these effects are listed in each entry, but are subject to modification based on environment or other such factors. I will always post the DCs required.

    Speed Increase - Standard DC is 20. By trimming the sails and expertly handling the ship's rudder, the Navigator can increase the ship's speed by 1 ship-length overall. This is not multiplied by the wind. Example - A Brigantine in Light wind can move 1 ship length. With a successful check, the Navigator can increase that speed to 2 ship-lengths. A Brigantine in Strong winds can move 3 ship-lengths. With a successful check, the Navigator can increase that speed to 4 ship-lengths.

    Speed Decrease - Standard DC is 25. Usually a ship travels its full Move each turn. By luffing the sails or rocking the rudder back and forth, the Navigator can decrease the ship's speed by 2 ship-lengths to a minimum speed of 0. This is not multiplied by the wind. Example - A Brigantine in Moderate wind can move 2 ship-lengths. With a successful check, the Navigator can decrease that speed to 0 ship-lengths. A Brigantine in Strong winds can move 3 ship-lengths. With a successful check, the Navigator can de crease that speed to 1 ship-lengths.

    Increase Turn - Standard DC is 25. While ships can always opt to turn less than their max angle, they cannot usually turn more than it. By maximizing speed and rudder planing, the Navigator can increase the ship's turn angle by 45 degrees. Example - A Brigantine has a turn angle of 45 degrees. With a successful check, the Navigator can increase that turn angle to 90 degrees.
    Last edited by Mercutio; 08-31-2010 at 12:11 PM.

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