Arrr! The Pirate D&D Campaign

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I am DMing a seafaring campaign.

So far the party has captured a ship, renamed it and hired a crew. Now they're setting off in search of treasure, and we're trying to hammer out some rules for ship to ship combat.

Adventurer's Vault has some rules for using vehicles, which we are using.

We need ruels for ship to ship weapons, so far we are thinking catapults and ballistas. Catapults could be used with various types of ammo, such as alchemists' fire, and ballistas could be superior crossbows.

We need rules to repair ships when they are damaged.

Has anyone had similar campaigns? What did you come up with?
If I were to run a pirate campaign, I would require all players to use only pdfs, no hard copy books. :D
We need rules to repair ships when they are damaged.

Do you? Sounds like boring downtime stuff. I'd just have the party conveniently get enough supplies to repair the ship, or enough extra money in the treasure hoard to buy those supplies. Unless, of course, there's an adventure behind securing what they need to repair the ship.

If you're looking for handling it in a time-sensitive scenario, well, my understanding is that you're limited in what kind of repairs you can do on a ship out at sea, especially in the middle of a naval combat or a nasty storm. If anything, I'd say to make it a skill challenge based on what difficulty they're facing. If someone needs to climb the mast, use Athletics. If someone needs to stand steady on the deck of a storm-tossed ship, use Acrobatics. I don't see any of the existing skills as really fitting this sort of thing, but I guess you could kinda' use Nature for woodworking or Dungeoneering as a engineering sort of skill. Both seem to be a bit of a stretch, though.
Repair damage rule:
10 gp for every hit point of damage repaired.

Completely arbitrary, but for folks who want rules for this kind of stuff, arbitrary rules are the only way to go.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
Well, this old pirate can certainly help ye 'ere, I done me faire share of seafaring in me last campaign.

First of all, the most important thing is:

Ye shouldn't play it like a series of random encounters at sea, i.e. like some Pirate Sim game where yer players (meaning: yer players) be sailin' the seven (more or less, depending on your campaign world) and plundering every ship they come across. Trust me, that gets boring after a while. Ye 'd definitely need some sort of plot, and what's more, ye need some sort of opposition as well, an enemy faction which plays an active part in the campaign. Ideally, this enemy faction is taking actions of its own, e.g. a colonial power trying to subdue the pirates, or a rival pirate crew who doesn't like competition.

That shouldn't stop ye at plundering the odd merchantman or two or three. But then ye'll need to flesh out the possible prizes yer crew come across, and turn them into interesting encounters.

Regarding combat, methinks ye're better of if ye don't focus too much on long range combat. There be several reasons fer that:
- After all, it's not that wise to send yer prize straight down to Davy Jones without looting 'er first.
- Also, it 's a bugger to handle a ship's HP, even more so if ye're inclined to take details such as seperate damage areas into account.
- Ye 'ave to take into account that most pirate battles usually weren't that bloody, but more intent on making the enemy surrender.
- Thus, attacking at long range can only set up the inevitable boarding action (unless ye got a submersible with ye to haul up all the recently sunken treasure) or force the enemy to surrender.
- Well, all that and the fact, than in a boarding action, all party members can shine and not only the long range characters. Even the long range characters can't probably do much good in combat with a bleedin' ship, mind.

Thus, ship to ship could be either handled with a mix of combat manoevers and skill usage. If you are chasing a ship allow the players to employ their skills creatively, e.g. using acrobatics, athletics, and endurance for risky actions that increase their ship's speed temporarily (such as hoisting more sail or dropping some ballast).

Adventurer's Vault has some rules for using vehicles, which we are using.

If you want some ship to ship combat, I 'd recommend ye go forward and use the HP of an enemy ship as some sort of morale gauge if anything at all. Modify them to see fit (e.g. a merchant greatship with a cowardly captain only has 300 HP when it comes to morale, the same as a pinnace crewed by fanatical Pirate Hunters.) Also, consider counting a ship as a swarm, vunerable to area and burst attacks, but taking 1/2 Damage from melee and ranged attacks. Once it's down to its "Bloodied" value (more like Damaged in this case), yer crew can make intimidate checks to coy the enemy into surrendering. Other actions taken in combat (e.g. boarding the aftcastle and fighting enemy officers) can also contribute to the "HP loss" of the prize. Also, the less an enemy is likely to get away the more their morale will waver, so a member of yer crew could use a lot of the usual skills to aid in combat. (I had a skill list before but I lost it when I hit the Go Advanced Button, I 'm typing all this from scratch.) Also, CHarisma, Wisdom and Intelligence checks work great to emulate battle commands, tactics and so on.

This would be the most elegant solution and can be combined with the usage of skills as given above. A Bluff Check can also work as a shrewd maneover to lure the enemy into a trap, Stealth could manipulate a ship's mobile parts (like the rigging, the steerage and the ship's wheel) to cause it to crash on a riff...

For weapons, I recommend some large weapons which do damage around 4d6 (light ballista) to 4d8 (heavy catapult or cannon). And, do introduce cannons or at least some arcane substitute. Melee characters and leaders can use those or make skill checks while controllers make great living artillery (and scare the hell out of an enemy - I know I once had a slaveship whose crew included 6 Warmages encounter my old crew, they were too scared to fight it).

The following weapons are taken from the Adventure "Sea Reavers of the Shrouded Crags", Dungeon 158 (Free Download on the Issue Archive Page:
Light Ballista (standard action; at-will)
Ranged 20/40; +13 vs. AC; 4d6 damage.
The character aiming the ballista adds half his or her level as a bonus to the ballista’s attack rolls. The ballista requires a standard action to load.

Heavy Ballista (3 actions, see description; at-will, once per round)
Ranged 25/50; +14 vs. AC; 5d6 damage. The character aiming the ballista adds half his or her level as a bonus to the ballista’s attack rolls.

Lightning Cannon (2 actions, see description; at-will, every 2 rounds)
Area burst 4 within 40; +14 vs. Reflex; 4d12 lightning damage. Miss: Half damage. The character with the lowest Arcana modifier adds his or her Arcana modifier as a bonus to the lightning cannon’s attack rolls.

We need rules to repair ships when they are damaged.

Well, once ye 've won a battle there's enough spare parts t' be found on the other ship! Easily done that, trust me, the pirates of old often looted ships for their "hardware" as well as their contents of their holds.

Cheers!

Captn M.

PS: I 'll edit this mess if I come round to it tomorrow. But maybe this something for the DM or campaign subforums.

Better to fight windmills than become a miller!

I want simple rules, and I don't want to destroy the wealth guidelines and treasure parcels.

I was thinking of 2 possible ways to go, either ships are automatically returned to full HP after an "extended rest" in a harbour, or something like the 10gp / hp rule. The problem with paying to repair the ship is that I will need to offset the costs, possibly by increasing loot on the conquered ships or salvaging the ships themselves. This could lead to a trickly balance issue.

I am in favour of board and conquer tactics, but long range weapons seems inevitable. We only ran 1 encounter at sea so far, and the goblin pirates veered right into a collision course and quickly boarded the PCs ship.

Having too much ship to ship combat will quickly become boring and not make use of anyones nifty hero powers, but it's something the players want. I was thinking more for the sake of PCs without (decent) ranged attacks should be able to use a catapult or something during the first round or two of combat before boarding begins.

edit: I should also add that this campaign includes plenty of dungeon crawls, forest adventures and other classic gameplay. The world has been flooded, leaving only the highest elevations as islands, now the waters are receding and all kinds of ruins from the old world are being exposed and ready to explore. I don't want to bog the game down with ship mechanics, but there aren't many to speak of in the books I own.
I can see making ship-to-ship combat more abstracted, letting it fall into a skill challenge structure. If you're trying to capture a ship, you don't want it destroyed; your goal is to slow it and board to either get a surrender or rout the crew. The other ship's goal is to evade capture or repel the attackers. So you have...:

Part 1 - The Chase
Nature = navigation
Dexterity or Intelligence = piloting [Fail: Roll to hit ship (vs. pilot's Reflex)]
Dungeoneering or Athletics = repair (negate damage penalties)
Ranged Attack - Success: Ship damaged (penalty to pilot), Fail: Reroll [Success: Heavily Damaged (bigger penalty, will be harder to repair on sea), Fail: Miss] *Assuming capture, reverse damages for destruction

Make an attack on the ship every few actions (as above). On a hit, Acrobatics or Athletics checks to brace are needed, or else next action takes a -2 penalty.

There are some chase systems you can steal from other systems for this, or just assume if you hit the requisite failures, the enemy successfully escapes.

Part 2 - The Close-In
Depending on the other ship's goal, your success/failure for the previous challenge differs. A fleeing vessel is gone on failure, closed upon on success. A combative foe will itself engage them on failure, while their success will instead either sink the enemy ship or prepare it for boarding.

Pre-combat, your players may want to engage them in surrender, in which case you can use a social challenge to handle that. Otherwise, you can move directly into boarding combat.

As for the damage repair costs, I would say that normal operating profits handle unexceptional damage, while you may need to put some percentage of the ship's cost as an exceptional damage repair cost... or have someone play an artificer.
Well, just some general things.

1) A Ship is a means to move the party to other places. It may serve as a home base, but it's main purpose is to get them to the adventure. As such, the Ship is a place to come back to, have some PC interaction and bookkeeping, and then move onto the next scene or local.

2) Watch a LOT of pirate films. Note that for most pirate films, the only time you have Ship Vs Ship action is at the END of the film, where the Pirates get caught, or catch up to the villian of the peice, and have it man to man. Otherwise, they're in sea caves, they're in the Govenor's Mansion. They're on deserted islands, they are storming the keep. Have action, but don't keep it confined to the ships. Ship's take you to the adventure, they should not be the adventure itself.

3) You're in a land with Common Magic. Even a commoner can get access to a Potion of Strange Explosive Stuff. Lightning Bolt Throwers, Fire Ballista, Thunder Cannons, and much stranger *might* exist, but I would HIGHLY recommend against them, mainly because adding these things removes the players ability to participate. One or two people might get to do something, and everyone else waits for the ship to get close enough so they can actually do something. Just like bad skill challenges that encourage only one player doing something, and the rest just adding their "Assist" rolls, you want to avoid things that really make other players useless. (In case you can't tell, this has been my main beef with every Game that has one Large Ship, such as Star Trek and Serenity when it comes to Ship Combat)

Other then that, i don't have anything really useful to add.
IMAGE(http://images.community.wizards.com/community.wizards.com/user/blitzschnell/0a90721d221e50e5755af156c179fe51.jpg?v=90000)
If I were to run a pirate campaign, I would require all players to use only pdfs, no hard copy books. :D

*scribbles down notes for future adventures in comedic campaign*
-I got ran over my a squirrel the other day. -I'm going to steal my own idea. -My fruits of labor are not fruits... *sniff* they're vegetables. *sobs*
In the Trollhaunt Warrens adventure there is an encounter that has a really interesting spin on how to implement siege weapons. If I were you I'd definitely take a look!
As has been stated before, most ships tried NOT to sink or heavily damage there opponents ships. Most would try to kill crew or damage the rigging so that it could not move fast or well, so that they could more easily get away or catch up, as they wanted. And, most ships would carry the necessary goods to repair any damage, at least well enough to get to port. Unless your crew gets caught in a major storm or runs aground, most damage would be superficial.

If the players are worried about the costs, tell them that, after arriving in port and selling the goods and paying for repairs, upkeep, and paying the crews, they are left with X amount of cash.

Remember that bogging yourself down in little details can cause lots of problems.
Another way to handle shipboard weapons might be to run them as traps / hazards. Every round for the few rounds the ships are closing, the enemy catapult or ballista makes an area attack against the PCs on their ship. The PCs can use a skill (or ability) challenge to take out the enemy's weapons (or the crew manning the weapons) or damage and slow the enemy ship (to catch up to them more quickly). Either way, they're effectively removing the long range-only weapons from the fight more quickly and saving themselves some damage. Then they board and the fun part starts!
I did a ship-to-ship combat a couple of weeks ago in my game and I ran as a Skill Challenge/Combat hybrid. I had three "magic cannons" on the deck of the ship that allowed spellcasters to channel their spells through the cannon, but they had to use wisdom (to aim) to hit. Each "hit" based on a DC roughly equivilent to their power level counted as a success.

Meanwhile, other characters did other things that were standard in a skill challenge. One character dove overboard with a rope attached to his waist (this was an airship battle) and repaired damage to the ship because I would make attack rolls against their ship, which would impose penalties on their rolls and each success he had reduced the penalty by 1. Another character piloted the ship through the sky using an Athletics check (which should have been something else, but it was an off the cuff thing) and another character proceeded to intimidate the other group by making rude gestures, thus reducing their effectiveness.

Overall, it worked out pretty well.
You could always pick up a copy of Stormwrecked and do some quick and dirty conversions.
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I don't have a perfect memory, thus I don't always recall the rules and mechanics perfectly. I also don't usually peruse the book before opening my "mouth", so cut me some slack if I'm little off every now and again. When logic fails to be present, the rational must inject logic into the situation.
Ego pad:
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Groveborn: Mesinock, I have been complimented on my ability to convey a message, but I think you are my superior. I haven't noticed you posting much, except when things get very convoluted, but when you do post, it's worth reading.
I was thinking of 2 possible ways to go, either ships are automatically returned to full HP after an "extended rest" in a harbour, or something like the 10gp / hp rule. The problem with paying to repair the ship is that I will need to offset the costs, possibly by increasing loot on the conquered ships or salvaging the ships themselves. This could lead to a trickly balance issue.

Actually, mate, it isn't a balance issue. I recommend ye read a couple of books on pirates and how they conquered their foes and, most of all, how they split the loot.

- Treasure Parcels work as given in the PHB. Why ye asks?
Well, if there 's treasure and loot, every member of the crew is entitled to a share, so if ye increase the share, yer PCs will have to pay off their crew with it. But, with yer PCs being the heroes and commanding officers, they 'll be entitled to a much bigger share and will most likely receive the magic items as well. Ye can't trust some swabs with a mop why should ye give them a magic cutlass of extra cuttiness...

- The Pirate economy didn't work like "Plunder and Sell the Loot" alone, even if that's what Sid Meier's games make us believe they do. Actually - and it can't be stressed enough - many crews cleared and repaired their vessels on islands with no harbour in sight, that's why carpenters and other craftsmen are much sought after by Pirates. Your PCs' dependency on harbours is not that high as ye might esteem.

Having too much ship to ship combat will quickly become boring and not make use of anyones nifty hero powers, but it's something the players want. I was thinking more for the sake of PCs without (decent) ranged attacks should be able to use a catapult or something during the first round or two of combat before boarding begins.

That's the way to go. I 've been thinking more about the rules I suggested, and I found that if your PCs board the enemy ship early and attack a commanding officer in melee or close range, they can offset the penalty for attacking the ship on a whole and use the whole range of their melee powers with impunity (well apart from being right in the middle of the enemy poopdeck having to clobber the captain and their bodyguards...) I really come to like the idea I proposed above with the PCs fighting an enemy ship like a bleedin' big swarm to gauge enemy morale. Once I put it in the correct order, it's actually bleedin' simple.

Cheers!

Captn M.

Better to fight windmills than become a miller!

I can imagine a galleon captained by a powerful wizard fighting a naval battle. Instead of siege weapons, storm sorcerers call lightning down upon the opposing vessel. Swordmages leap the space between ships using one time use items (like a combination of the old ring of jumping and ring of featherfall). Summoned and enslaved air/water elementals propel the ship forward. If for some reason the battle starts going poorly, all casters launch fire spells into the sea to create a massive steam bank so they can escape.

If I remember correctly, back in 2e the Sea of Fallen Stars sourcebook had all sorts of rules for ship to ship combat, as well as unusual and unique crews. The above mentioned was one of my favorite themes, as well as the hill giant captain who enslaved a goblin tribe. He'd throw the goblins at the ship as his weapons and boarding parties.
as well as the hill giant captain who enslaved a goblin tribe. He'd throw the goblins at the ship as his weapons and boarding parties.

That was a dungeon adventure: Huzza's Goblin O' War.

I played it, that was a fantastic adventure. I remember it especially well, since I had just died and roled up a new wizard, I got to be the wizard Huzza kept captive and turned on him early. Tons of fun.

I've since got the issue with it in it and plan to convert it to 4e. Recommend it heartily for any sea based games.



I think ship to ship combat wise the boarding is the heart of the action. Cutting and Throwing grapples/boarding lines is another thing melee types can do while waiting to board. Moving mantlets (portable walls for cover basically) or using deck mounted weaponry is another option.

Repairs can probably be abstracted using gold (paying the carpenters/laborers) and say one extended rest per 1/4 of max HP recovered (so it doesn't take too long to repair) as long as it's a sheltered area(cove/bay, etc). I like the morale HP idea for the ships themselves in combat, I'd say 0 HP means the ship is disabled (and the crew is prone to surrender or taking your ship if they can), but still savagable and it sinks at negative bloodied value.

I'd probably use a simple chart that gives more HP based on size and modifies that based on the strength of the command structure/devotedness of the crew.

Make sure you come up with some flavor surrounding piracy, punishments, lifestyle, reception, clothing, etc to really give it a good feel and fit your world.
A new idea for ship fixing.

Take the Make Whole ritual.

Let one of your PCs be the ship engineer, give him a ritual: (considered a ritual because it follows the rules of a basic ritual. Kind of like Raise Beast Companion for BM Rangers)

Fix Ship

Ritual Components wood be wood. Expend X gold worth of wood to heal X amount of ship hit points. I'll let you work the numbers. Or you could go with 10g for 1hp like Seeker95 said.

It should be pretty simple to explain in terms of Make Whole. But you gotta buy the wood, man.

PS: one of your PCs must be a swashbuckler rogue, or else!