[WOIN] Battle system for Broadsiding sailing ships

Greetings everyone!

I was trying to knock up a system for age of sail ship combat using the existing starship and vehicle combat rules. Borrowing elements such as turning circles and crit tables from regular vehicle combat, and classes and the like, plus firing and other travelling operations from NEW.

I'm however looking for input on a few things. I don't know if there are people here with more historical backgrounds details that might be worth fitting in, such as travel increments and the like.

Personally, I thought setting each gun deck on a broadside up as a weapon bank under the command of a gunner crew member/ gunnery officer/ ... could potentially work to keep rolling to a minimum, and ensure that ships with smaller class could still pop of all their shots.
Any kind of raking fire would get added damage and attack bonuses ...
And for speed and wind gauges I was thinking of using some of the rules of Warhammer dreadfleet ... with wind during traveling being a second roll next to random weather, and weather shifting every few turns in tactical battles. Navigation, medicinal stuff, discipline and the like would use normal extended star travel rules.

But I also wanted to add in a difference between carronades, cannonades and cannons of varrying throw for the player to diversify (ideally, the PC's will have two ships for their ... operations ... :) ).

Extra armour, maneuverability, potential early ironclad-style heavy casemates or topside cannons/turrets could be upgrades and enabled using the starship construction manual.

But I'm having a little trouble putting it all together - slow progress. Does anyone else have other ideas that might fit in?
Or suggestions for armament diversification?
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The most important factors in Age of Sail combat are Crew quality and Morale, everything else is secondary. It takes a massive imbalance in weapons and numbers to overcome a better crew . For most of the time Royal Navy ships were facing larger and better armed ships with larger crews and expected to win , more to the point their French and Spanish adversaries expected them to win.
I would say that means that worrying about weapons and details are much less important than a solid mechanic for morale so that weaker ships surrender or at least stop fighting and for crew quality so that a poor crew achieves very little even with good weapons.

If you want fancy toys
Explosive cannon balls mean the end of wooden sailing ships , a battle between wooden walls with good reliable explosive shells is suicide for both sides , hence the development of armoured ships. Good armoured ships (HMS Warrior) and her peers though require a large scale industrial revolution as you simply cannot make that quantity and size of steel/iron until the 1860's. Steam powered ships without sails are not practical for ocean going ships until you have refined your engines and have good enough metal construction to make large ships to carry enough coal (also a network of overseas coaling stations)
Steam engines in sailing ships are practical earlier and make combat manoeuvres (and more importantly getting off a lee shore in a storm) much easier are around much earlier , usually with raisable screws so as to minimise drag when the ship is under sail which it will be for all long journeys.


True fact: my first post on this forum was on a thread about tall ship combat in WOIN.

As Andrew nicely put it, crew quality and morale are the deciding factors in a pitched battle. However, I don't think that a pitched battle would appear often nor be particularly fun. Most pitched battles (eg Trafalgar) involved the two sides closing, adopting positions, dropping anchor, and then just pounding the everliving bilge out of the other guy until someone stuck colors. The difficult part of the battle was always the setup and making sure your fleet is in the favourable position at the start of the engagement.

An engagement between a small number of smaller vessels would be much more about the maneuverability of the vessels involved. A 12-gun sloop will vanish in the broadside of a First Rate, but the sloop can exploit its small size and the fact that it can sail much closer to the wind. One ship might want to attempt to disable the other (chain shot, called shot to the rudder, etc) to allow for a boarding action.

For dice, as much as I would like Warhammer's hit-wound-save and one dice per cannon, to fit with WOIN you could group guns into decks or increments of 10/15/whatever, with each deck/increment giving an additional damage die or two. However, with the emphasis on maneuvering small ships around, the guns that would get the most usage would probably be 9-lb guns on swivel mounts in the bow and stern, as they have much larger firing arcs. One interesting thing to think about would be an FTL-style mechanic for crew, where you don't have enough crewmen to both man half the guns and all the sails at the same time, so you have to decide if you want to furl/trim sails or fire guns.
I think even in one to one duels crew factors are dominant, it is rare for either ship to be so hammered that it is unable to fight, unlucky mast hit maybe. But what settled most actions was which ship struck its colours first. I agree though that clever maneuvers could help with that, but much of the time single ships come down to broadside duels followed by a boarding action. The ultimate example is HMS Speedy (14 guns 54 crew) vs El Gamo (32 guns , 314 crew).

Fleet actions are either line of battle duels (Cape St Vincent) which tend to be somewhat indecisive or pell-mell mellee's (Trafalgar, Nile) where manuever is important but both are less fun for players as they are very subject to the actions of others either the demands of formation or the risk of by chance being the ship which is surrounded by 3 or 4 enemies and gets pounded.
I am not an expert on WOIN, but I would probably track crew morale as a separate value from Hull damage and have the balance set that except for the most extreme cases of elite crews or worn out ships that morale gives way before the hull, not many wooden ships sink in action after all. This would let PC officers recover morale with leadership and use their leadership to boost the maueuver or weapons rating of a ship.
I would probably assign a base value to each broadside of a ship , and its chase armament and then modify that with its crew value representing faster firing, better aiming and sticking to the guns of a better crew so that a High grade crew outguns a low grade crew in a moderately superior ship.

Most wargames I have seen break down the crew into deck crew and gun crews and track casualties desperately with losses to the deck crew and damage to rigging slowing and making the ship more clumsy , while casualties to the gun crews reduces firing effectiveness, further if you get a fire or flooding crew has to be taken off the other duties to fight the fire or flooding, and a fire must be stopped fast or a wooden ship is doomed. Most ships did not have enough crew to man both broadsides at the same time, with many of the gun crew moving across the ship as different broadsides engaged.

I think I have the old Hearts of Oak RPG of napoleonic sailing , I will have a look and see if that had any good ideas
These have been some helpful suggestions. I suppose I could try to work the old fear track into the crew's morale somehow. My knowledge of age of sail combat only extends as far as patrick o brian novels, so getting some more learned input is great.

I wonder though. I'd love the players to be able to sink some money into the ships' armament piecemeal for small increments of damage increase. More to add a sense of progression so to say. Upgrading from 8 pounders to 12 pounders, making some mechanical diversity for short range brawlers based on armaments, ... . At that point I'm straying into the territory of making it more fun game for my specific gamers wise rather than adhering to reality or realism.

Most likely, there will only be smaller engagements between upstart groups of oceangoing criminals smugglers and pirates, or the occasional envoy or sanctioned privateer. If they get in trouble with a ship of the line they might as well run and run hard. Untill they somehow manage to obtain one, but I'll try to limit that until they've advanced quite a bit.

So, crew morale should be the primary dimension in combat scenario's, and having a great (pricey?) crew should outweigh other factors. I'll mull it over.
Smaller ships also had problems mounting large guns , as the decks and timbers cannot cope with the weight and recoil which is why smaller ships ended up with such small guns.
Well trained and well paid crew with good officers(the pc's) will probably do the best.
Things like different ammo Chain shot for masts and sails, grape shot to kill crew on deck could be something they could do for upgrades. A long 9 pounder for a long ranged swivel mount or bow chaser could be nice.
Better made cannon with ammo which fits them well could give accuracy and range bonus as they would shoot better and be more expensive to make, such better made cannon could also be double shotted or given a large powder charge with less chance of bursting.
If you are late 19th century equivalent you could have expensive and unreliable explosive shells, or Rifled cannon which have much better range and accuracy but maybe slower to load unless breakthroughs in shell design have happened.
Another dangerous gadget would be congreve rockets they allow a lot of firepower for small weight and recoil but have a nasty chance of igniting your sails or due to instabilityin flight turning around and hitting your own ship. No one used them for naval combat but the British did use them to burn down a few coastal towns and British rockets appear in the US National anthem , although that was not a very successful bombardment


Something you could do if the PCs acquire for themselves a ship of the line is make it difficult for them to recruit enough good crewmen to properly man the vessel, leaving them with the option of a smaller ship with good crew or a larger ship with not such a good crew. In terms of upgrading guns, I think a small ship would have difficulty in carrying anything heavier than, say, 16-pounders, while a ship of the line would probably start with mainly 24s and have the option of upgrades to 32s. You could also (as you originally pointed out) mix and match between carronades, cannonades, maybe some mortars, and the aforementioned rockets, which would make a ship more a jack-of-all-trades rather than a focused sinking machine.
Weren't low-rate ships of the line notouriously expensive to maintain at sea? If so, the party would need to be high level stronghold and perhaps a few tonwnholds to even be able to maintain such a ship at sea ...

I've been thinking. The crew maneuvers the ship, shoots the guns, does the rigging stuff, makes emergency repairs etc. Therefore, a bad crew can easily handicap a vessel in all these regards. A good crew is good, but perhaps high tier cannons, quality ammo (no patches of rust) and a decent supply of powder and alchemist on board (in hte parties case) could offer something akin to equipment modifiers? Won't carry the day by itself, and will be hardcapped depending on crew quality itself, but can offer a small time bonus if the expertise is there to start with?

In any case, I will certainly try to make crew a dominant factor. Diversifying the guns and armaments is again mostly for gameplay purposes, I'm willing to go a little past the boundaries of conventional realism on that :)

For example, in a past campaign, the players had a frigate sized wooden tall ship, but I let them sacrifice half their broadside guns for structural enhancements so that they could mount a dais with a 64 pounder civil war siege gun in between two masts. It really crippled them in some areas, like rough weather stability on prolonged journeys, so they'd always stick to coasts. But in battle, it was quite hilariously powerful.

Those mad kinds of no-holds barred things are something I hope to bring back too to my current Woin campaign. But it's taking some work.