Each naval combat turn has five phases. All ships involved in combat act simultaneously, but the focus is on what the PCs do.
During this stage, the PC captain makes a Command check. If he succeeds, he can stay in the current sea location, or move the encounter to a different location, such as a deadly whirlpool, or a crowded ship graveyard. Failure means the enemy ship makes that choice.
If the winning ship wants to move, the losing ship can refuse to move. In this situation, the winning ship can choose to end the encounter by sailing away, or to continue. If the encounter continues, the losing ship takes a –5 penalty to Command during this turn’s Range and Bearing stages.
If the ships move into a sea location with dangerous terrain, resolve those conditions now.
During this stage, the PC captain makes a Command check. If he succeeds, he can stay at his current range, or move one range step closer or farther away. If he fails, the enemy ship makes the decision.
During this stage, the PC captain makes a Command check to see how good a bearing he can achieve. He can get a critical success (natural 20), succeed (beat the DC), tie (equal to the DC), fail (below the DC), or critically fail (natural 1). How well he rolls determines what angle the two ships end up at.
There are 5 angles.
- Side to Tail. The ship picking its bearing can fire broadside, and the other ship can only use rearward weapons.
- Side to Point. The ship picking its bearing can fire broadside, and the other ship can only use forward weapons.
- Point to Tail. The ship picking its bearing can fire forward weapons and/or ram the other ship if the two are at Close range.
- Point to Point. Both ships can fire forward weapons.
- Side to Side. Both ships can broadside.
On a critical success, the PC captain can pick any bearing. On a success, the PC captain can choose from 2 to 5. On a tie, the PC captain chooses either 4 or 5. Failure means the enemy captain can choose from 2 to 5 (so they could fire broadside against your point, or ram you from behind). Critical failure lets the enemy captain pick any bearing.
For each of its firing arcs, a ship can make one attack against a target in that arc (d20 + its attack bonus against the enemy ship’s Defense). A successful attack causes one hit, plus an additional hit for every 5 points by which the attack roll beats the target’s Defense.
Attacks at Close range use the full attack bonus. Attacks at Medium range take a –10 penalty. Attacks at Long range are normally impossible. For each hit, roll on the table below to determine the location struck.
If the rolled component is already destroyed, or if the ship doesn’t have the listed component, the ship takes 1 point of Hull Integrity damage instead. For instance, hits to weaponry deal Hull Integrity damage if the ship has no weaponry, or at least no weaponry on the side of the ship that was hit. Roll 1d10 on the following table to determine the hit location.
Rigging or Engine
Effects of hits are detailed in Ships and Crews, below.
If the ships are at Short range, the captain who won the Command check during the Bearing stage can choose to ram. His ship must be oriented with point toward the opposing ship. The PC captain makes a Command check to aim well, or to reduce damage from a hit.
Ramming deals 2 points of Hull Integrity damage to the target, plus an additional 1 for every size category the attacking ship is larger than the target. The attacker takes 1 point of Hull Integrity damage. If the attacker fails his Command check, halve the damage to the target and double the damage to the attacker.
If two ships end up at Short range, begin tactical combat. Place the ships on the battle map in an orientation determined during the Bearing stage.
The ship with the higher Command check determines the starting distance, from adjacent to 25 ft. apart.
Ships are like characters, but have a few rules of their own.
Ships have 5 main locations.
- Rigging. On a steam-powered ship, this is replaced by an engine room.
- Main Deck. The exposed upper deck, this also includes fore- and aft-castles on typical sailing ships, or command bridges on steam ships.
- Miscellaneous. This section includes a variety of internal components below the main deck, like brigs, sick bays, laboratories, crew quarters, or holds.
- Weaponry. On small ships, the main deck might double as a gunnery deck. On magically powerful ships, a gunnery deck might be supplemented by a Brand, a supernatural weapon that must be operated by magic-user. This section also includes the ship’s magazine—the ammunition stores for cannons, or the charged energy for Brands, both of which can explode if disturbed.
- Hull. This is whatever element of the ship keeps it from sinking.
Because ship weapons can damage crew based on where they hit, it is useful to have a map for each ship, especially the main deck. Before attack rolls are made each naval turn, every PC should have chosen where he is. Crew usually keeps to the same location unless the bosun directs them otherwise.
Every turn, each PC can take one action to aid the ship. Someone must act as Captain, or else the ship automatically fails all Command checks.
- Captain. Decides ship’s movement. Must be on main deck.
- Navigator. Plots courses to grant bonuses for maneuvers. Must be on main deck.
- Look-Out. Helps avoid hazards and tricks. Must be in rigging or on main deck.
- Gunner. Aims shipboard weapons, or uses own ranged attacks. Usually on gunnery deck, but varies based on ship’s weapons.
- Engineer. Repairs damage, or adjusts ship components to improve performance. Must be in whichever location he’s fixing or modifying.
- Bosun. Manages the crew and can grant small bonuses in various roles. Must be in whichever location he’s directing crew.
Characters might also attack an enemy ship, or try some other task. It’s impossible to cover every tactic, but usually you can rule that an effort grants a bonus or penalty to some other aspect of the rules already detailed. Weather magic might aid a Command check in the Range stage, while feigning damage to lure an enemy in might aid a Command check in the Bearing stage.
The captain’s Command score is equal to half his level plus the highest ability modifier out of his Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. He must be able to communicate with his crew. During naval combat, a captain can hand off this role to another character between turns.
Other crew roles can grant the equivalent of rerolls on specific actions. This typically represents the difference between the captain giving specific orders (“Set a course at 15 degrees North Northeast at twelve knots”) and the captain providing general goals and trusting his crew to carry them out (“Cut them off so we can bring our port guns to bear”).
One PC can act as Navigator at a time. Once per turn, after the captain makes a Command check, the navigator can make a Dexterity or Intelligence check. The ship uses the better of the two rolls.
The Navigator can instead try to use evasive maneuvers. This increases the ship’s Defense by the navigator’s Dexterity or Intelligence modifier.
One PC can act as Look-Out. Whenever the captain would make a Command check to avoid the danger of sea terrain, the look-out can make a Perception check. The ship uses the better of the two rolls. Opponents attempting a trick must beat both the captain and the look-out’s Sense Motive.
One PC can act as Gunner per firing arc. A gunner lets the ship roll twice for its attacks. Also, the gunner can choose the location of the first hit each turn.
Multiple PCs can act as Engineer, but each needs crew to help him, based on the size of the ship, which might leave certain aspects of the ship under-manned. An engineer can choose one damaged component and make a saving throw (or roll an unmodified d20 vs. DC 10). On a success, the component is repaired.
The engineer can instead try to repair 1 point of Hull Integrity damage, but in a given encounter, no more than half the ship’s Hull Integrity (round up) can be repaired. Repairing damage can halt listing or sinking.
One PC can act as Bosun at a time. By efficiently relaying the captain’s orders, he can grant a +2 bonus to any one Command check, or to an attack roll, after the check or attack has been rolled.
For ease of gameplay, we try to limit the use of personal attacks before tactical combat begins. However, a character can spend his turn to use a single ranged or area attack power against an enemy ship. Assume that during the other 9 rounds worth of time, conditions of waves, winds, and visibility make attacking pointless or ineffectual.
The attack must be able to reach 800 ft. (160 squares) at long range, 150 ft. (30 squares) at medium range, or 25 ft. (5 squares) at short range.
The PC can aim the attack anywhere he normally could. Most attacks do nothing against a ship, and are only useful for injuring crew.
[hide][top]Non-Player Ships and Crew Roles
Usually ships controlled by NPCs cannot take advantage of crew roles. Each ship will have a captain who determines its Command score, but for ease of play the GM generally won’t have any NPCs trying to improve the performance of the ship. In special circumstances, however, the GM might have a prominent NPC perform a crew role.