Large Scale Naval Conflict – Post Playtest

The players made short work of my "solo" ship

I mentioned a post or two ago that I had tried my Large Scale Naval Conflict rules with my group.  I thought I’d write a few words about how it went, and how I might have done things a bit differently.

First however, for those of you unwilling to go back and read the original article, the gist is this:  use the miniature ship battling game “Pirates of the Spanish Main” as a starting point, and pare the rules down so they can be learned in about 5 minutes.    

The advantages to doing this are twofold.  First, the miniatures for this game are really quite stunning.  Moving little model ships around the battlemat when you’re simulating a naval encounter is really the only way to go, in my opinion.  Second, since it’s already a miniature battling game, the mechanics are already there, and only have to be tinkered with (or not!) to successfully bring them into your 4e Dungeons & Dragons adventure.    

First, the setup.  Each of my players had a two mast ship, worth about 5 or 6 points.  The number of masts rougly corresponds to hit points – without any masts, you can’t move or shoot, and if you’re hit, you sink.  The points are merely a measure of how “good” the ship is.  I had two ships, plus a special crew member.  The first ship was a 5 mast, 21 point ship (El Acorazado), and the other was a 3 mast, 8 point ship (El Corazon Del Mar).  The first ship had a special ability that required a player to make two successful hits to remove one mast.  On top of that, the pirate crew member they were after (Joaquin Vega) had a complimentary ability that ignored the first hit as long as the ship had all its masts.  So basically, my big bad solo ship could take two hits from every player, every turn, without showing any damage.  It was the third hit that took out a mast.  The second ship was there to lend support, be a distraction, and balance out the points (I had 28, my players had 30).      

Now, a ship gets one shot per mast, so the two mast ships that my players had were going to have a difficult time damaging my ship.  I was ok with that because it was 5 on 2, so the odds were stacked against me otherwise.   It was my way of balancing the encounter, and keeping the ship threatening.  Otherwise, the sheer number of cannons on the players’ ships would easily take out mine.  This way, I was able to keep shooting for a few more turns.  

So how did it go? If the metric we’re using is fun, I’d say it went very well.  If the metric we’re using is challenge, I feel I could have done a better job.  Even with a “three hits to damage” setup, I was only able to sink one of their ships.  I did have another of their ships down to no sails as well, but in the end, it was too easy for them to use the force of numbers to hem me in and pound me with cannon fire.   

 Here are a few tweaks that I would suggest if you’re considering doing this as well: 

  • Instead of a second “medium sized” ship, I would have used several smaller ships (think minions).  I had opted for two ships in order to keep my turns simple, but in the end, that wasn’t really an issue.  Having more cannons on my side would have been helpful, as well as more ships to run interference.
  • Don’t be afraid to put more than one type of crew member on your ships – having a musketeer AND a helmsman makes you more of a threat.  I wouldn’t recommend more than two, however.  Since crew members have point values, you can use that to keep the encounter balanced.
  • Like D&D solo monsters, give your big ship an “action point.” 

Finally, I realized that I didn’t need the “correct” ships to make the scenario work.  As long as each ship had the correct number of masts, it would be possible to make up cards with the rest of the relevant stats to reference.  You’re not playing the “official” game; the ships are mostly for visual appeal, so having the “right” ship to go with the stats in front of you isn’t necessary.  That’s good news, because I’m guessing you can pick up some of the less desirable ships on Ebay for pretty cheap.  If you need ideas as to what different ships can do, I’d suggest this link to Miniature Trading.  Pick any of the Pirates of the Spanish Main expansion sets, and sort by “Type” to get all the ships.  Hover on any ship name, and you get a popup picture of the mini; click on it, and you get all its stats.  Pretty cool. 

I would definitely do this again.  I’m not sure the opportunity will come up again anytime soon, but I’m going to keep it in my little bag of tricks.  It was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. 

So, I’m sure I didn’t cover everything.  Do you have any questions about how the scenario went?  

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2 Responses to Large Scale Naval Conflict – Post Playtest

  1. Alphastream says:

    It has been years, but I recall a massive ship battle in Spelljammer during my college days. I am curious if you happened to glance at those rules. I wonder if they can be used at all? I particularly like the use of siege weapons, the movement (including 3-D!), and the ability to translate spells to ship attacks (fireball for the win!). Then again, it was college and everything seemed awesome back then.

    • Benoit says:

      I didn’t. For me, simplicity was the required component, and Pirates of the Spanish Main does simplicity very well.

      I know Stormwrack (3.5) had a lot of nautical combat rules. There are also quite a few board games that are naval combat simulations (Wooden Ships and Iron Men comes to mind). I should do a blog post comparing different naval combat systems, since that isn’t something “official” 4e has done yet.

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