D&D 5E Ship rules crafted with love for your scrutiny

Voi_D_ragon

Explorer
I'll start out by saying I really dislike how 5e has treated naval gameplay thus far. Most of the time, player characters will use a ship basically as a "fast travel" (in the video game sense) option and barely interact with it at all. Not to mention combat, which boils down to being normal D&D combat on a ship battle map.

So for a while now I've been working on a new system of naval combat that would work with D&D, and this is what I have. I posted this project about a year ago in this thread (here's the link to the old old version of the rules in case anybody cares)

I stayed off the project for quite a bit, but I'm back working on it since I want to include it in an adventure I plan on writing, so here's Version 0.2, ready for your feedback!

Main changes:
  • Initiative (seamanship) is now rolled at the beginning of combat and remains the same throughout
    • But you may manipulate your place in the initiative order using actions
  • Ships now have a specific number of actions based on how much crew they have left (instead of requiring different amounts of crew for different actions)
  • Boarding Actions have been overhauled.
  • Marines now have something more to do outside of boarding actions.
  • Naval feats have been reworked
  • A "resting" mechanic has been added for ships
  • Added special ammunition, which allows your attacks to have some extra effects

Also, if anybody wants to playtest this, I randomly created a roll20 game with a large map divided into sections with some ship tokens you can use to get a feel for the game here: https://app.roll20.net/join/16389910/-5n0hw

Would love to hear your feedback, either on the feel of how it plays out or just on the rules by reading through them! Thanks a lot :D
 

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FitzTheRuke

Legend
I'm pretty sure that I read your old rules at some point. I'll take a look at these, but I'm not very good at assessing rules without actually trying them, so I'll have to try to find some time to give them a shot. I really really would like some good ship rules!
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Likewise, I'll need some time to digest this as there's lots of moving pieces that interact (e.g. ships having ~6 actions then crew damage can whittle that down), but it looks interesting. Two things jumped out on a super quick skim-through...

1. Points off Heading is written like something out an old nautical text and is just awful to try and make sense of. I was looking for number references in that paragraph (like you use in the diagram). It needs a hard rewrite.

2. Ship Mage feat might be cool if instead of moving numbers around it did something more dramatic like allowing the mage to bond with the ship, sharing "Self" spells with the ship at the cost of putting themself at risk from damage to ship in some way.
 

Evilhalfling

Adventurer
im using rules from Saltmarsh, with the officers it suggested and more handwavy rules for combat.
Mostly I'm very happy with them - instead of all the ships moving on grid with facing rules, its just sort of handwaved.
While I understand lots of people like naval/space tactical games, it was my least fav part of earlier ed.

if you need to stay out of boarding distance, that's a skill check situation. the same with stealth and fleeing.
the fights my player's ships get into, usually involve 1-3 of missile fire and then boarding.

Here is what we have actually done over last 7 sessions, that involved the ship.
1. PCs rented merchant ship attacked by a larger pirate ship. (the only standard naval combat)
2. PCs new pirate ship encounters elemental whirpool/gate - handwaved fight with other pirates. (PCs have 3 L9 casters)
3. PCs transform their ship into spelljammer.
4. PCs dodge through a pod of space whales.
5. Elementals run off with Mcguffin/Bomb being carried on ship - they come under heavy fire from ship heavy weapons and party.
6. flying ship through the nose of a goddess, coping with breathing.

7 Coming soon? -PCs explode the moon/goddess and the ship must escape the debris. there might be lunar dragons.

I like your roles of Marine Lieutenant and Master gunner, and I will work them into future ship encounters.
Hazards and skill checks based on PCs ship roles are what I use most.

Your ships have a at least x2 HP then the official ones. I wasn't using cannons, so each ship only had 1-2 heavy weapons on swivel platforms.
I may add your control/helm component (at 1/2) hp as a possibility for future fights.

I use a critical hit table for ships modified from 2e Spelljammer, it happens automatically when ship hull is reduced to 1/2 hp.
or with any heavy weapon crit.

how do you handle Control Water (100' trench version) that can be an "I win" button
 
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Voi_D_ragon

Explorer
Likewise, I'll need some time to digest this as there's lots of moving pieces that interact (e.g. ships having ~6 actions then crew damage can whittle that down), but it looks interesting. Two things jumped out on a super quick skim-through...

1. Points off Heading is written like something out an old nautical text and is just awful to try and make sense of. I was looking for number references in that paragraph (like you use in the diagram). It needs a hard rewrite.

Fair enough, I hadn't really thought of touching that part because it's mechanically unchanged from the last iteration and I've been concentrating on actual gameplay changes, but bad readability certainly is an issue. I'll write up a fix.

Edit: something like this?

"To determine how many points off a ship's heading a direction is, count how many squares one must move from the square determined by the ship's heading (counting only squares adjacent to the ship's own, but not the ship's square itself) to reach the square pointed to by the direction in question.

The distance is how many points off the ship's heading that direction is."

At least it's shorter. The diagram helps, of course. I'm not sure how I can reference the actual numbers in the text though :/

2. Ship Mage feat might be cool if instead of moving numbers around it did something more dramatic like allowing the mage to bond with the ship, sharing "Self" spells with the ship at the cost of putting themself at risk from damage to ship in some way.
That does sound pretty cool, but it's also a bit convoluted. I'd rather keep all the feats on the simple side, but the bonding mechanic might work well as one of the special equipment options.


Your ships have a at least x2 HP then the official ones. I wasn't using cannons, so each ship only had 1-2 heavy weapons on swivel platforms.
I may add your control/helm component (at 1/2) hp as a possibility for future fights.
Yeah, I gave them crazy amounts of HP, considering a decent-sized ship's broadside will be 16-24 cannon shots you're going to need some sturdy vessels to survive more than a couple of rounds in combat (or multiple combats a day).
how do you handle Control Water (100' trench version) that can be an "I win" button
Honestly, hadn't thought about it. I've rolled the idea of battlefield control spells into Navigation Spells just to keep everything streamlined. However, if I did have to come up with a solution, I'd have a few:
  • If the PCs have just hit 7th or 8th level, their highest level slots are going to be few and precious. You could sap them a little with encounters and then hit them with a ship attack as they leave their adventuring location.
  • Or, just like a normal adventuring day, when you want to run a day of naval encounters, you make sure they have multiple. Maybe they auto-win the first one, so it's a good thing you have 3 or 4.
  • It's also not granted that all ship encounters will be 1v1. A frigate could easily take on 2 or more sloops, which should be kept in mind when designing encounters. So sure, a 4th level spell might just devastate one ship, but any others would be fine, since
    • 1) Control Water can't be moved (I'd defend that with this argument, which is for Control Winds, but it's the same wording), so you're only affecting 1 square on the map.
    • 2) The range is a good deal shorter than most cannon's (300 ft is, if you're being generous, up to 2 squares away on a 200ft x 200ft grid). So you'd only be able to cast it at relatively close range.
  • Since the casting time is 1/10th of a ship's turn, if you're facing a "boss" ship, I'd say it's safe to assume they'd have their own mage, and they'd be in time to cast control water themselves with an effect opposite to what you are attempting (so your casting's value would essentially be to shut down their mage - and even then only until the ship leaves the affected square).
  • Should you adapt this to fighting with flying ships (in space or otherwise), control water is moot.
 
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Evilhalfling

Adventurer
the old campaign ended last night, they decided not to blow up the moon.
Wandering Writer — Today at 4:31 PM"OH MY GOD WE SOLVED IT THROUGH THERAPY!"

someone suggested an Age of Sail game for the next campaign...
I decided that 3 frigates could show up from a nation on the other side of the ocean. With (checks your notes) 1800' long range cannons
and some antimagic properties built into the ships for defense. they tore through the Imperial navy like tissue paper. The newcomers couldn't take a city with 3 ships, but the coasts and islands are now up for grabs.
I may be using the resources on this thread more if that's the campaign that we go with...
 

Voi_D_ragon

Explorer
I decided that 3 frigates could show up from a nation on the other side of the ocean. With (checks your notes) 1800' long range cannons
and some antimagic properties built into the ships for defense. they tore through the Imperial navy like tissue paper.
Yep, that's pretty much what I'd expect if sending 3 ships from the 1800s against ships from the 1200-1400s (which is more or less the technology level D&D ships are as printed).

Sounds like a blast though, you could make each frigate a different boss fight by giving them differently flavored abilities, like a frost one, a fire one and an undead one with regeneration or something, and the players would need to figure out the ship's weaknesses to take them out.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I've tried this before and always found that the bang was not worth the buck.

The problem with designing a set of naval / ship rules is that they tend to end up lacking importance. Once the combat begins, the actions of the PCs outweigh the impact of the features of the ship, the setting, etc... We generally want this to be true as the characters, not the ships, are the stars of the story. The rules end up being a fun toy for the DM, but the players just don't tend to care overall.

To that end, I minimize rules for naval combat and instead focus on the PCs. I do the same for mass war rules. I put the PCs in a situation where they make a meaningful impact and their actions decide how the situation arises around them. For the actual ship rules, I try to minimize them and just announce them on the fly to accomodate the situation. This keeps the focus on making the storytelling dynamic and making the heroes the central figures - which tends to be the best way to focus the game in D&D, regardless of whether you're in a dungeon, on a ship, or in the middle of a battlefield.
 

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