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Ship to Ship Crew Combat Options

DM_Jeff

Explorer
Just asking for general inquiry, what DM's prefer regarding running combats between ship crews (not PC's) during play.

* Ghosts of Saltmarsh offered "Typically the crew is too busy managing the ship to do anything else during combat." Yeah.

* I used to describe it in the background, changing the flavor depending on which side was winning, the "PC's vs Villains or Monsters" bit. Worked OK, but not too satisfying.

* Use some kind of quick and dirty mass combat system, nice and small, to derive the outcome (never found one that wasn't too much trouble).

* My latest experiment with this? Stat up ship crews as swarms. Yes, I'm serious. Then they can duke it out and you get some satisfaction.

Anyway I know in the end the answer is "whatever you prefer", but I was just curious what others use as options for their game?
 

Attachments

Mort

Community Supporter
* I used to describe it in the background, changing the flavor depending on which side was winning, the "PC's vs Villains or Monsters" bit. Worked OK, but not too satisfying.
This is what I did last session, worked well enough for the session.


* My latest experiment with this? Stat up ship crews as swarms. Yes, I'm serious. Then they can duke it out and you get some satisfaction.
That's actually not bad, though I think the numbers are a bit high.

My thought, if ship combat becomes more of a thing, was to treat the crew as a hazard, difficult terrain, some damage etc. Haven't worked out the details yet.
 

iserith

Explorer
In a recent Eberron game wherein the PCs were fighting boarders on an airship, the situation was that the crew were trying to get passengers to safety as the ship was crashing. So I set it up where I put crew member tokens on the board and that space plus 5 feet around them was difficult terrain, half cover, and you could go into the space to take the Hide action. They would be removed from the map if they were hit with an AOE that did 10 or more damage.

The idea was that they were not fighting and were sometimes helpful terrain and sometimes not, depending on the situation. The PCs did the heavy-lifting in the actual combat.
 

Lanefan

Hero
To clarify - are you asking about situations where two or more ships have got close enough for the crew to potentially interact in melee (e.g. the ships have collided, or one has sent boarders over to the other)? Or are you referring to situations where the ships are still apart and combat is mostly by missile fire e.g. bow, cannon, musket, etc.?
 

Bacon Bits

Explorer
Last time I did a ship-heavy campaign, I assumed that any ship intending to attack another (so pirate, privateer, or warship) would have a moderate contingent of marine soldiers. Other ships would have a small contingent. The standard method of attacking that everyone would expect would be grappling, where the attacking ship would maneuver to get close enough to throw lines with grappling hooks on them to pull the ships along side each other, at which point the attackers would invade and try to kill everyone on board. Really dedicated attack ships might employ ogres with grappling chains. The primary defense, then, is speed. You can't attack what you can't catch.

Once two ships are grappled, there's a lot of danger. Anyone falling between the two ships is liable to get crushed. The ships themselves might rip each other apart if the seas are rough enough. There's essentially no control at all, too, as the sails become tangled and neither rudder is going to be strong enough to control both ships. Because of that, once grappling has begun and the crew has failed to cut the lines, basically everyone stops sailing and starts fighting.

Other methods of attack would be fire arrows (for the sails), magic if a spellcaster were on board, and the odd catapult (loaded with solid shot or chain to rip up the rigging or alchemists fire) or a ballista (to pierce the hull) on dedicated warships. Warships designed for ramming would also exist, powered by galley slaves and equipped with large rams intended to break apart other ships.

I ran a combat of five small, fast attacking pirate ships against two "lightly" defended large merchant vessels (I say "lightly" because the PCs were the defenses of one ship). I had two ships attack each merchant, with the last ship taking damage from the PCs before it could engage. The second ship had no PCs on it, so all I did was decide how many of each type of sailor there were (something like 18 marines vs 4 mercs and 25 odd crew) and rolled one attack for each each round spread out as evenly as possible (3 attacks against the mercs, the rest against the crew). Each "hit" took off one hit die, so if the marines were in breastplate with 3 HD then 3 hits would kill a marine. The mercs were 5 HD in chain mail, and the crew were 1 HD with no armor. (Yes, the marines were intended to win on the second ship.) It was close enough to real combat even if we skipped the benefits of higher ability scores.

On board the PC's ship, I ran combat standard if any of the PCs were involved, but I used the accelerated combat with the 1 HD crew and just took 1/3 hp when the marines were hit by the crew. It went fast enough for me, but I have a lot of d20s.
 

DM_Jeff

Explorer
To clarify - are you asking about situations where two or more ships have got close enough for the crew to potentially interact in melee (e.g. the ships have collided, or one has sent boarders over to the other)? Or are you referring to situations where the ships are still apart and combat is mostly by missile fire e.g. bow, cannon, musket, etc.?
The former, where the ships have connected and boarding actions are underway.
 

77IM

The Grand Druid (level 22)
I like your reasoning, but I think you should scale the HP and damage by the number of crew members. 10-40 is just too big of a spread. Swarms typically do half damage when they are at half hit points, although I think a better idea is to give them multiple attacks.

So you could do something like: The swarm has X hit points per 10 crew members, and 1 attack per 10 crew members. This lets you very easily represent crews of different sizes. E.g. if the PCs have 24 crew members, they get 2X hit points and can make 2 attacks; if you're repelling a longboat with 80 vikings, the enemy crew has 8X hit points and can make a whopping 8 attacks. (I think that 8 attacks is not too many, but YMMV.)

I feel icky about the resistance/vulnerability based on effect area. I'd just say "resistant to single-target attacks; vulnerable to area effects" and leave it at that. Things that are neither attacks nor area effects deal normal damage (e.g. magic missile, ending your turn next to a flaming sphere, etc.).

I also don't like the area-effect archery volley. If you go the route of multiple attacks, then a large swarm can just target multiple people.

You could actually make this a restriction on the multiattack: "The swarm makes 1 attack per 10 crew members, but can't attack the same target twice." This lets your 24-person crew live a little longer against the 80-person longboat, while making the enemy crew into more of a hazard for the players. A slightly softer restriction would allow them to attack the same target twice, but not 3 times, or maybe each attack against the same target after the first is at disadvantage (because it's hard for all the attackers to reach the target).
 

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