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Doctor
Doctor's picture
Ships and 'Shippers

There are a lot of different ways to approach naval combat, from tactical miniature battles to the purely cinematic. I hope to use this thread to get some ideas arising from the answer to two questions:

 

1) What is your ideal level of detail for ship battles? Do you love the gritty details of rigging? Maybe the fun of customization? Or the tactical battle of positioning? What makes for good naval battle mechanics? Etc...

 

2) Knowing what we know about the system and John's design philosophy, what kinds of ship mechanics would you be happy with? Not thrilled, not ecstatic, but happy. By happy I mean that you would use the system as is or with only minor revisions.

 

I am still working out my answers to both these but my initial thoughts are something like this:

 

Too Much Specialization Breeds Contempt

One of the things I have always hated in sci-fi games is that no matter how large or complex the ship is, there are very few meaningful options for actions if you're not the pilot or a gunner. Whatever system I come up with or use will have to provide meaningful and varied options for at least most of the major archetypes; at least enough to sustain combat through a decent number of rounds. Profession (Sailing) is a good place to start but more skills need to be involved. Still, there needs to be room for that characters who dedicated some points to naval combat to shine. Figuring out the balancing act will be the most important part.

 

It's Not a Ship, It's MY Ship  

I like customizations not merely for mechanical benefits but for the attachment they generate. Knowing all the little tweeks and modifications gives me the sense that I know the ship like the back of my hand, which is precisely how my character would feel. Pirates were known to make radical alterations to a ship (such as a razee) and I'd like a system where I could at least distinguish my ship in some fashion both mechanically and otherwise.

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“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

KC Krupp
KC Krupp's picture

I basically rewrote the 1st Ed rules for ships. I spent a good deal of time sailing growing up and had a Player that was really into British Naval and Military history, which had a big impact on me. It doesn't directly answer your question, but it does present what I was looking for in nava combat while I was playing 1st Ed (Note I'm not putting my whole system here, just an overview of some of the key points - I may have been a bit...obsessed at the time I wrote these rules.)

The biggest thing is how do you give the other Heroes something to do? It's no fun to spend an 1/2 to 1 hour while the boat nerds play with miniatures on a table, and it's even less fun to listen to the boat nerds argue about wind direction, sail plan, time to reload shot when it's just pieces of paper and there are no minis to at least look at.

I decided to consider the following as things that "mattered" during a naval battle and then found ways to represent them and allow players to manipulate them.

  • Position of the Wind (and how close the ship is sailing into the wind)
  • Speed of Travel (Which is impacted by wind position, wind speed, rigging, sail plan, draft, etc)
  • Damage from shot to the ship's masts, hulls, etc
  • Damage from shot to the men
  • Fire Power
  • Marines for sniper fire and boarding

Diversifying the Crew

I divided the Crew up into 3 types: Sailing Crew, Cannon Crew, and Marines. At the start of each round, each gets to roll their rank as initiative and to determine the rounds they go. So a ship with Rank 3 Sailing Crew would roll 3 dice at the beginning of each Round to determie when the Sailing Crew would take their actions. Same for Cannon Crew, and Marines (although unless the ships were in close combat or boarding there was no need for Marines to roll initative.)

  • During their actions, Sailing Crew could either adjust the direction of travel (if they wanted to cross into the wind they had to spend 2 actions,) or increase or decrease the ship's speed (either +1 or -1 per action up/down to a max/min amount based on the Ship's sails and wind speed)
    • Each Phase the ship traveled a number of Hexes forward equal to its speed.
    • Adding the Player Element:
      • If the Ship's pilot/master was a PC, they were in charge of the Sailing Crew's actions. If the Sailing Crew were to adjust the direction of travel and this would cause the Ship to cross the wind, instead of spending 2 Actions to do so, the Sailing Crew could spend a single action to Tack and the Ship's Master/Pilot would roll Wits+Rigging or Resolve+Rigging against a TN that varied based on the strenght of the wind.
      • If there was no PC as the Ship's Pilot/Master the Sailing Crew's actions were either in command of the Captain or another PC that wanted the responsiblity.
  • The Cannon Crew used their actions to fire shot (I didn't bother with reloading)
    • Adding the Player Element
      • If the Ship's Master Gunner or Bosun was PC they were in charge of the Cannon Crew's actions. For each Rank in Gunnery they could add an Unkept die to one of the Cannon Crew's rolls per Round.
      • If there was no Ship's Master Gunner or Bosun this responsibility either fell to the Ship's captain or another PC that wanted to play as the cannon crew.
  • The Marines could use their actions to target an opponant's crew or officers and they played a role in boarding actions.
    • Adding the Player Element
      • If the Ship's Master-at-Arms was a PC they were in charge of the Marine's actions.

Other Roles Onboard

There are several other roles that needed consideration:

  • Captain
    • The Captain commanded the actions of the crew if they didn't have PCs available to fill those roles.
    • The Captain rolls intiative at the beginning of each round and could spend his actions:
      • If the battle wasn't in open water, the Captain could spend actions to consult charts that would reveal the terrain of the coastline. This could become useful information if he decided to try to trick his opponant into running aground or wanted to make a retreat (This requires expo markers and a dry-erase hex-grid)
      • The captiain could using his Strategy or Tactics to guess what the opposing captain was going to do next
      • Add his rank in Leadership as Unkept dice to the actions of another hero or the crew.
  • Ship's Doctor
    • Was able to help injured crew members (which was important as enemy fire took out crew)
    • It was important to make this cinematic. While in some cases crew would bring their injured crewmen to the doctor, many times I made the doctor dodge shot to get to the injured crew and then get them back to the operating table.
    • This is a good place for PCs without a specific role to be involved. They roll intiative like everyone else and they can help shuttle the wounded to the ship's doctor and help hold the men down while the doctor does what he needs to do.
    • If there was no PC serving as the doctor or helping, then there was a single check at the end of the Round  made by the Captain; occasinally I would just skip this step entirely.
  • Ship's Carpenter
    • Repair damage done to the ship.
    • Similarly to keeping the doctor's role cinematic I made sure the Carpenter had to spend time clamboring down to damaged parts of the ship, procuring materials, and patching up damage.
    • If there was no PC serving as the carpenter or helping, then there was a single check at the end of the Round made by the Captain; occasinally I just skipped this step entirely.

Giving PCs More To Do

In keeping with the focus on the PC's, it was really important that the actions of the enemy ship had a direct impact on the PC's experience. If the opponent hit the ship, I made sure they had to duck to avoid getting hit by shot or splintered wood. I would have lines snap or come lose and they'd have to snag them and tie them down. They would catch sight of opposing marines taking aim at a crewmate and quickly push them out of the way. Opposing boarding parties would grappling lines over and the PCs would have to quickly remove them. This was usually done outside of the regular Phases and Actions.

Conclusion

I fully recognize that the rule-set I put together was over the top and extremely detailed (almost exhaustingly so.) It fell under the category of "Extremely Advanced Sailing Rules." I mean, they weren't as detailed as they could have been, but I reached a point where I decided it was "realistic" enough and I wanted to keep it leaning closer to "cinematic." Basically what I wanted to recreate was a system that served both the player that wanted to "Play captian" and was really excited to direct the miniature ship around the table while still creating opportunities for those really heroic moments you see in cinematic ship battles. As far as 2nd Ed goes, what I would like to see is a set of really stream-lined and stripped down rules for ships that focus on the player's actions aboard them AND a set of more advanced rules that goes into these sorts of details...basically becoming a mini-game of sorts.

Cthulhu Netobvious
Cthulhu Netobvious's picture
Thanks Doc and Kevin. I sometimes forget that carpentry was a skill in those days on par to having a "Scotty" type on the Starship Enterprise. Ha ha ha!

TAJ-07: Technopriest And Justicar Of 7thSea2e

Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

Never laugh at the carpenter. You need them to keep your giant wooden, floating, death trap from disappearing under your feet with nothing but miles of open water between you and land.

There's also the cook...never piss off the cook, but for the most part the cook isn't going to be that involved during combat (although of course there are ways they can participat.) And if you're Gosse's Gentlemen, the Cook is a key part of negotiation; delcious food makes your enemy more willing to accomodate your demands. 

Doctor
Doctor's picture

I think a major focus for me will be keeping the actual ship-to-ship portion of the combat fairly brief. Most historical 'private' battles (i.e. those not fought by two national navies at war) were not extended engagements defined and decided by  inspired maneuvers and brilliant gunnery; they were either over before they'd begun or decided by a few brisk cannon volleys and a boarding action. Fortunately, in mechanical terms, this means that for most battles at sea, the ship-to-ship portion will be relatively limited, which may be why John Wick did not appear overly concerned about ship statistics and variances. Of course, 7th Sea has never been bound by historical accuracy, but the logic behind why engagements went the way they did will likely hold true (mostly because the purpose will remain to taking of the ship and her cargo). Additionally, there are likely more than a few reasons that heroes might want to sink the enemy.

 

I suppose the upshot of this is that I would expect most of the attack mechanics to make crippling a ship fairly quick and efficient. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Kevin Krupp
Kevin Krupp's picture

Oh, those rules are fully intended to keep naval combat quick; it becomes apparent very fast that circling around a hex map is pointless. I mean, there are really only 5 ways that naval combat is going to end:

  • The target ship escapes the attacking ship before they have a chance to engage
  • The target ship surrenders to the attacking ship when it becomes clear they can't escape
  • The target ship engages the attacking ship and then manages to escape
  • The target ship engages the attacking ship, and one or both ships are sunk.
  • The target ship engages the attacking ship, and one of the other ships (more commonly the attacking ship, but possible the target ship attempts to board as a last ditch effort)
    • From here it can end either by having one of the ships surrendering and being captured, one of the ships breaking free and escapting, or one or both ships being sunk.

This is one reason why I have ships move every phase. It becomes apparent very quickly that depending on how the encounter begins what option is the most prudent, which is usually escaping from the get-go, surrendering, or quickly boarding and capturing the target, because the last thing you want is to have the ship you're on so full of cannonball holes that it starts sinking in the middle of the ocean and you have no other alternatives.

I made the set-up to naval combat very important - the steps between spotting the other ship and then deciding what to do based on the wind conditions, bearing, and whether or not the party thought they were in the position to defeat the other ship in a boarding action (or in the inverse, run away.) I allowed the Captain or Ship's Master to essentially "set-up" the board, based on their skill in tactics, in a way that is actually very reminiscent of how 2nd Ed is using Raises. For every 10 the Captain/Master rolled they could adjust the wind direction by 60 degrees, adjust the opposing ship's bearing, and a number of other conditions.

This is also why the Marines are jimportant and should not be forgotten. wink

Comments on 1st Ed's Ship Design

For 1st Ed, I always assumed that not equating points to ship classes/size was a purposeful abstraction between the mechanics and cinematics. If you have to group ship classes by points, for all rights and purposes, a starting party can't start with anything close to a 6th Rate Frigate (about a 30pt ship,) but that's not very exciting or cinematic or in the spirit of the game, so by abstracting the traits it allowed heros to purchase a ship that mechanically wasn't as impressive as The Black Dawn, but she could still "look" like a 6th Rate Frigate instead of having to be a sloop. In my opinion the biggest mistake in the 1st Ed ship rules was trying to equate the Traits to literal parts of the ship: Panache = Rudder, Finesse = Crew, etc...because why is the ship's rudder deciding when it can fire its cannons? If you edit out that bit from your memory and just view the traits as abstract qualities about the ship (similar to the Hero,) i.e.  Panache isn't literally "the rudder" it's the general capability of the crew to move and execute their duties quickly, the system works. I do still wish it accounted for wind direction, but...eh.

Doctor
Doctor's picture

I think one of the reasons the old system ignored wind direction is also why I very seldom used minis: a good Captain would just know. Just like you or I would rarely drive into oncoming traffic as a solution to a problem, a good Captain would keep the ship with the wind. I think abstractions in a lot of the nautical stuff were purposeful, done because I, the player, should only have to buy the correct stats to make my character a good Captain. If you get into a miniature battle, if I know nothing about sailing, I the player may do things my character would never do, like bollocksing up my heading relative to the wind. Think of Assassin's Creed Black Flag: the wind is there, but it's not something you constantly adjust for because you're too busy unleashing bloody havoc. 

 

Also, the whole wind direction, weather  thing: on account of the great propaganda that comes from nearly ruling the seas and the world with it, we tend to take a lot of the tenants of British Royal Navy as absolute fact when we likely shouldn't. The French were not without their successes fighting from the leeward gage. I, for one, accept the possibility that the Royal Navy ruled the sea because they had superior sailors and not necessarily because holding the windward gage was objectively a superior tactic in all cases.

 

As for the statistical abstractions, I think it got a little too abstract in that perspective could easily get lost. A First-Rate ship could hold 850 men and was, in effect, a floating city, while even a particularly gustsy sloop had over 80. A lack of mechanical distinction between one ship with 80 men and another with 10 times that was something that got revised in the Blue Books and while I don't like the d20-fication of the later books, I think the lesson to be learned is that different ships do different things and while the leaked stuff on ships puts all stats at 2, I'll likely be making +1/-1 tweeks to most of them. 

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

KC Krupp
KC Krupp's picture

But I played with Ship nerds, so they DID care about their heading relative to the wind, and that's my main interest in wind direction; I don't worry too much about a windward vs leeward gauge. I mean, I get that a good captain "would just know," (but isn't that what a quick Wits+Navigation of Wits+Strategy check is for?)

I agree about the distinction and that "different ships do different things." I mean, I personally gauge ship class based on points and would laugh if a player tried to run with anything more than a sloop with a moderately sized 30-man contignent for 10 pts. I just suspect that the abstraction was the original intent for the system.

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

I'm more interested in the Crew, actually.  I wonder if there might be a way to have a Crew character sheet, some kind of mini-version of a PC.  I'd love the opportunity to design a whole ship full of characters, but of course not with the same depth as the PCs.

KC Krupp
KC Krupp's picture

If I were your GM, I'd love you for that; nothing better than having players do my work for me.

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

Character design is one of the best parts of RPGs for me. :)  Especially when it comes to building your own team of characters.

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
One of the best things I ever got was a copy of a complete crew for a ship created by a German player. (It didn't get down to swabs and general sailors but it covered all the important positions and most of their assistant staff). He asked me to look it over for mechanics problems and balance. And they all had backstory descriptions. Still use them all the time, just swap some names and nationalities as needed.
Doctor
Doctor's picture

I would think the Crew might be made  up of various specialized Brute Squads while officers migh have 1 Background plus the discretionary skills and Advantage points.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Doctor
Doctor's picture

"Ships have Backgrounds (like characters). And Advantages (like characters)." - John Wick

 

So what do you all think these will be and how many ship specific options do you think there will be?

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Bradley
Bradley's picture

1) What is your ideal level of detail for ship battles? Do you love the gritty details of rigging? Maybe the fun of customization? Or the tactical battle of positioning? What makes for good naval battle mechanics? Etc...

Depends on the purpose of the game. A game focused on ship battles, it depends on what level of battle. Fleets, I want less customization, but a high level of tactical movement and positioning. A ship on ship or a couple of ships facing off, I want to be able to customize a lot more. In an rpg, which is what you were probably really asking about, it depends on the situation. I ran a scifi game where my players were space pirates (very bad space pirates. Space ninjas and space gangsters, they were good, but they were not very piraty). They were planning on taking over a ship and decided to sabotauge the ship so they could easily tow it. That made the ship combat very minor, but they were tactical about it by shooting out the weapons, then boarding. After the weapons werre shot out, everything was pretty easy for them thanks to the situation.

For RPGs, my general thought is that the GM decides based upon what the players do. So, if there was ship combat there needs to be something the players can do or not do to either help or hurt. If they do nothing, then maybe the ship they are on wins, but is left with a much more skeleton (possibly literal) crew. Or they are captured and are now going off to some far off port to be sold as exotic slaves. If they do things, then it depends on what they do and how well they do it that determines the result. Maybe they only lose Jimmy, the wise cracking deck hand that was the first to meet the opposition head on. Maybe they end up being the ones to steal the other ship. Or maybe there is some loss of crew, but at least that other ship is gone.

2) Knowing what we know about the system and John's design philosophy, what kinds of ship mechanics would you be happy with? Not thrilled, not ecstatic, but happy. By happy I mean that you would use the system as is or with only minor revisions.

A general frame work is fine with me. It does not need to be spectacular. It just needs to be a guideline because I agree that unless you are playing a game that is specifically focused on the ship combat, you don't need anything too heavy. And if you are playing a game focused on ship combat, you are probably playing less an RPG and more a miniature game.

And now that I wrote my initial answer to those questions, I will read other people's responses.

KC Krupp
KC Krupp's picture

I fully agree about a general framework. I like the idea of having "Optional Rules" where you have a base-line set for the folks that just want to use Naval Combat/Mass Combat/Whatever sparringly with the option of more in-depth optional rules for us ship nerds. (Seriously, I would only bust out the miniatures if my Players were seriously invested in Ships and running a very ship-oriented game was "their thing.")

I actually suspect that this might be where Wick and Co ultimately go. He already did something like that with Houses of the Blooded where he added two sourcebooks with additional sort of "Pick and Choose what you want to use" rules, and I fully expect that's where he sees the fan-driven Explorer's Society going, because I think in the case of HotB, neither of those additional *books were written by him (if I'm remembering correctly.)

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture
Ship related question: What were general crew sizes for the different kinds of ships - merchant, pirate, man-o-war, etc.? I'm trying to get a sense of the minimum number of men was needed to operate a ship, as well as the actual number most commonly found on them.
Red Jenny
Red Jenny's picture

I did some research on this once for a D&D game I was in where I had a merchantman ship. The answer really seems to be 'it varies'. It's been a while, so my memory may not be exact, and I don't know what I did with the links I had, but as I recall: Most pirate ships were sloops, and tended to have crew around 40-80 -- enough to easily overpower the less-well-staffed merchant vessels. Merchantmen generally tried to have as few as possible (increased cargo space, less need to split the profits), so would often have a crew of 10-20; perhaps 50 for a really large vessel. Naval vessels would have on average 5 or 6 men per gun, so a lot of them tended to have crew in the hundreds. I seem to recall reading once that a pirate captured a merchantman sloop with a crew of 2-- which makes the bit in Curse of the Black Pearl where Sparrow and Turner sail the Interceptor by themselves more believable.

Cthulhu Netobvious
Cthulhu Netobvious's picture

Reliable insiders have mentioned "Ship combat exists" and the hero characters (usually 4 to 6 in number) could command a sailing ship (recommending the Brigantine, they are pretty fast) with a playable complement of 10 extra crewmen, using the Brute Squad rules in 7th Sea 2nd edition. And the crew can be split into two groups for combat purposes (for example one group of 7 crew and another of 3). Each group gives you dice pools equal to their strength (their total number). In combat if a Brute Squad is damaged and loses members, it also loses dice from its pool (the loss equal to the number of members lost).

The primary leading characters include the Captain (of course), First Mate, and Able Seamen. For added authenticity you can also have the Helmsman, Boatswain, and even a Doctor. ;-)

The ships themselves can be damaged too. The rules are also pretty quick (trush John Wick, he is not one to belabor the mechanics too much). 

TAJ-07: Technopriest And Justicar Of 7thSea2e

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

1) What is your ideal level of detail for ship battles? Do you love the gritty details of rigging? Maybe the fun of customization? Or the tactical battle of positioning? What makes for good naval battle mechanics? Etc...

If I want nitty-gritty, give me something like ICE's Run Out the Guns.  For 7th Sea, I want something that helps further the story of the PCs.  

 

2) Knowing what we know about the system and John's design philosophy, what kinds of ship mechanics would you be happy with? Not thrilled, not ecstatic, but happy. By happy I mean that you would use the system as is or with only minor revisions.

As such, something like Savage Worlds' Mass Battles rules would work beautifully.  Short version: Each round, the players announce what they are going to do (generally attack or magic) then roll and count successes and raises.  Based on the result, the character might suffer damage and/or add a bonus to the end of round Battle roll.  Both sides make a battle roll at the end of the round and remove X tokens from either side.  Once one side is reduced to zero tokens, they are routed and defeated.  It keeps the event focused on the principle characters and keeps things moving right along.  Battles between hundreds of thousands can be resolved in 3-4 rounds.  Add potential for bordering actions, sabotage, and crippling the ship and you have about all the detail I'd need to run a great battle scene.  Maybe some random events (powder stores, fire, torn sails, etc.)

I think you could easily build this sort of thing into the proposed Action Scene framework, even with consequences and opportunities, and never miss a beat.  It would be almost seamless, so it wouldn't offend John's NO MINI-GAMES philosophy...too much, anyway.  :)

But really, anything that lets all the players participate in the scene and help them build towards a cohesive narrative would be fine with me.

True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

I'm reviving this thread because I didn't want to post a new ship-related thread just for one question for those well-versed in ships:

What is the smallest type of ship that would be able to make a long-distance voyage like Avalon to the New World?  My PCs will definitely want a ship and I'm trying to find something suitable that would be usable in most situations (combat, speed and maneuverability) as well as something that would be conceivably able to make a trip to Cathay.

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
Well, if you are good, the Vikings managed it in some pretty tiny oared boats. I would venture anything seaworthy and able to hold enough food and water could do it. Safely...that is another question.
Joachim Deneuve...
Joachim Deneuve du Surlign's picture
True Iskander
True Iskander's picture

I don't think 2e has a listing of how fast a given ship sails unobstructed.  1e didn't either, but an essay on AEG's 7th Sea Resources page says that one can assume a ship trip travels 2 knots per hour per point of Panache.  

Should I use the same rate for 2e?

Doctor
Doctor's picture

Do we have the distance to the New World? (didn't see it on a quick skim).

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

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