Interlude 27: The Hazards
Many are the dangers that a ship's crew members face, what with storms, pirates, sea monsters and the like. There are other perils, however, that, while less spectacular, can be just as harmful to a vessel. Detailed here are some of these potential threats—or, in the hands of a skilled sailor, perhaps even tools of the trade.
In many ways these hazards function just like traps in the dungeon setting. Each has a DC for Spot or Search checks to notice it, along with DC's for other skill checks to avoid it. Success in one or the other means that the party can avoid it, while failure in both forces characters to suffer the consequences.
These clumps of coral are probably the greatest danger to vessels, if they go unnoticed. They are very sharp and quite solid, acting like a spear to be driven through the hull of a ship. The difficulty for seeing them, along with the damage that they can do, depends on the size of the reef in question.
Huge—DC 26 to notice—DC 20 to avoid—Damage 4d8
Gargantuan—DC 23 to notice—DC 23 to avoid—Damage 6d8
Colossal—DC 20 to notice—DC 26 to avoid—Damage 8d8
Furthermore, a vessel that suffers more than 50% of its hull points in damage from a collision is stopped dead in the water. In order to free it, the crew of the ship must succeed at a DC 24 Profession: sailor check, a process that last one hour. The DC of this check is reduced by two for every step that the tide rises, representing the fact that rising water can simply float a ship free (see below for more details). This means that ships which hit an obstacle during high tide are in big trouble. At the GM's discretion, each time the tide falls by a step, the obstacle does one quarter the original damage again to a trapped ship; this represents new stresses on the hull due to the falling water level. Woe to those poor ships that should be trapped in such a way if a storm arises.
While not as big a danger as reefs, given the fact that they're neither solid nor pointy, sandbars can still be dangerous if they bring a ship to a halt during a dangerous situation.
Huge—DC 26 to notice—DC 20 to avoid—Damage 2d8
Gargantuan—DC 23 to notice—DC 23 to avoid—Damage 3d8
Colossal—DC 20 to notice—DC 26 to avoid—Damage 4d8
Just as with reefs, mentioned above, sandbars can also stop a vessel dead in the water. In this case, the collision only needs to cause 25% of a ship's hull points in damage. What is more, the DC for a Profession: sailor check to free a vessel is only 20, and still decreases by two for each step by which the tide rises.
While these fluctuations in the depths of the world's seas are not in and of themselves dangerous, it can be important to have information about them if a ship is trapped on a sandbar or a reef. When that happens, roll 1d8, with the following results: 1—High tide; 2—Ebbing from high; 3—Middle tide; 4—Ebbing from middle; 5—Low tide; 6—Rising from low; 7—Middle tide; 8—Rising from middle. It takes about fifty minutes to move from one stage to the next, or just over twelve hours to move from one high tide to the next. (This is based on an average of tidal fluctuation; it does not apply exactly to all places in the world.)
The direction of the wind can become important when a party is facing obstacles such as these. To do so, roll 1d8, with the following results: 1—North; 2—Northeast; 3—East; 4—Southeast; 5—South; 6—Southwest; 7—West; 8—Northwest. Ships sailing into the wind suffer a -2 circumstance penalty to Profession: sailor checks, while those with it at their backs receive a +2 bonus. Those with the wind off to one side or the other have neither a bonus nor a penalty.
The Ship's Draft
The rules mentioned above assume that the obstacles are shallow enough to endanger a ship, while not being so shallow that they can plainly be seen. At times it could become necessary for a vessel to seek out dangerous waters, so as to escape from pursuit by a larger ship. For example, a Bermuda sloop could sail over a reef that doesn't threaten it, while a pursuing Spanish galleon faces grave danger. To represent this, the obstacle should be given a depth ranging from zero to five fathoms. Ships that sit higher in the water are not threatened by these obstacles. Indeed, the location of such hazards can become an important trade secret for pirates and smugglers, providing them with a weapon to wield against enemies.