Pathfinder 2E Sea Campaign

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
Historically, cannons attained widespread use before handguns. So if you envisage having pistols and muskets freely available to players, it makes sense that there would be ship-mounted artillery as well.
Our RPGs are chock full of anachronisms, so I wouldn't worry about your 50-year timespan of access to these strange new islands.
I use the Golarion setting as well, but added a few personal touches. I added the city of Freeport (from Green Ronin) to the setting, putting it some 100 miles offshore from Magnimar, near the edge of the islands refered to as Old Azlant.

One thing you should keep in mind about cannons is that they are very heavy. Large cannons couldn't be mounted on ships until they began using cannon ports along the lower decks. Putting heavy cannons on upper decks would make ships unstable, and liable to flip over with the slightest wind. As a consequence, only lighter cannons were used on upper decks, and these weapons had at best an anti-personnel role. The heavier cannons that could damage or even sink other vessels were invariably installed on lower decks.

IMHO, boarding actions are more fun to run with a group of players than maneuver and gunnery actions. When a ship is maneuvering, you only have one player or NPC, the ship's captain, acting at a time. Sure, you could also have various players or crew NPCs rolling for individual actions, like setting the sails or reparing battle damage or sniping at opposing crewmembers (at long distance), but with boarding actions you can let them run wild with the full gamut of combat options.

Of course, the presence of magic almost makes ship's guns redundant. Imagine what damage a few well-placed fireballs could do to a ship's rigging. Or what havock summoned sea monsters could wreak on other ships. If you don't want the players to find their ship suddenly smashed to pieces, and their characters scrambing for water breathing spells and potions, you'll need to moderate the ship-to-ship actions, relegating maneuvering and artillery duels to narrative sequences, punctuated by boarding actions or narrow escapes.
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I'd use Fire As She Bears for Razor Coast, rules designed third party for PF1.0, but better ship combat rules than Core PF1. It breaks up a ship into 20' x 20' cubes, and each cube has it's own hit points - working kind of like hit location. Like Starfinder, all members of the party has leadership position, and they must make rolls and participate in combat, for the cumulative acts by all players to win in a naval engagement.

Off the top of my head:
  • Dolphins follow the ship and the crew takes it as a sign of good luck. (Crew gains small bonus on checks for the rest of the day)
  • Sharks follow the ship and the crew believes it to be an ill omen. (Crew takes a small penalty on all rolls for the rest of the day)
  • Snagged on rocks, kelp, reef. Party/Crew must make checks to free themselves without damaging the ship.
  • A siren sings to the crew as the ship passes by. Make saves or be enraptured.
  • The ship must sail through a narrow pass or near some cliffs. But monsters lurk overhead.
  • A friendly ship passes by and the crews exchange news.
  • Pirates! (of course)
  • Bad weather. (Fog, storm, wind dies and the ship is trapped in the doldrums, etc.)
  • A giant/dragon/whatever demands tribute to pass through his territory.
  • The party comes across an uncharted island. What strange and mysterious monsters live on it? Dinosaurs? Giant apes? Radioactive lizards the size of a skyscraper?
  • Why is all the rum gone?! The crew mutinies.
  • The ship stops at a tropical island to gather provisions and brings back souvenirs. One of the sailors has a pet snake now that he's taught to drink alcohol. It has a tendency to bite crewmates.
  • The crew mistakes a nearby fishing vessel for an enemy and attacks. (Do the PCs realize their mistake? Can they solve any diplomatic fallout?)
  • Provisions run dangerously low. Without fresh water, the crew will likely die. (What do you mean you can't Create Water?)
  • The ship comes across a skiff (or other small craft) with a lone survivor. (Are they a castaway? Were they marooned? Perhaps they tell a tale about how all the crew on the previous ship died off one by one. And after they come on board something begins to kill the crew of the Party's vessel?)
  • A ghost ship. (Perhaps something similar to The Octavius or the Ourang Medan.)

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