Monday, October 29, 2012

Interlude: The Hazards

This post details some of the hazards of sailing, especially sandbars and reefs.


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.

Coral Reefs
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.)

Contrary Winds
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.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Bit of Fiction and Another Resource

Today's post includes something of a new venture for me. Although I do a lot of writing for RPG-related projects, I don't write much fiction. I want to do more of that, however, and the short story included below is a start in that direction. While I was writing it, I also stumbled across a cool resource for 3.X D&D campaigns in general and Skull & Bones in particular.


The Benediction
How are the preparations going, Captain?” Able seaman Roy Williams stood on a pier in the harbor of Port Royal, next to his superior officer, watching as the crew of the Venture finished loading and securing a steady stream of cargo and supplies.

“Well, I'd say.” Ned Carstens stroked his beard as he surveyed the scene. “Another hour or so, and I reckon we'll be ready to sail.”

“Aye, Sir.” Roy nodded. “Your leave, then, to run a quick errand?”


“Thank you, Sir.” With something akin to a bow, Roy slipped away, jogging down the pier and then turning onto Fisher's Row, which ran parallel to the harbor. Before long he reached a small merchant's stall, where an old woman had various fruits and vegetables on display.

“Good afternoon, Miss Agnes.” He bowed.

Courtly manners always brought a smile to her face. “And good day to you, Mister Roy. What is your business today?”

“The usual, of course; we expect to sail in a couple of hours.”

“I'd heard as much, and so I saved something special just for you.” From the pile of produce she retrieved a large, ripe breadfruit and held it up for his inspection.

“It's perfect, as always.” Roy counted out the correct coinage, plus a little more.”

“Thank you, Mister Roy. Clear skies to you—and give my regards to the Reverend.”

“Thank you, milady; I will.”

With another bow he was on his way again, continuing up Fisher's Row until it ran into Thames Street. There, on the edge of a broad, open square, stood the Sign of the Boar's Head, tavern, inn and brothel. Ordinarily Roy would have had a considerable interest in what that place had to offer, but today he had other business.

Behind the building was a short alley that ended at a high wall. In front of the wall stood a makeshift shrine consisting of a small table and hat rack.

Perched atop the latter item as a parrot, wearing a small golden crucifix around its neck.

“Good afternoon, Reverend.” Roy broke the breadfruit in half, exposing the flesh and seeds inside it, and then placed it on the table.

“Rawk.” The bird hopped down from its perch and began to tear at the offering with its beak. “The Lord bless you and keep you,” it pronounced.

“Thank you, Reverend.” With a tip of his hat, Roy headed back toward his waiting ship.

Animal; CR 1/3; Size tiny; HD 1d8+1; hp 5; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 10 ft., fly 60 ft.; AC 16 (+2 size, +2 Dex, +2 natural); Atk +4 (1d4-2, talons); SQ Low-light vision, mimicry; AL N; SV: Fort +3, Ref +4, Will +2; Str 6, Dex 14, Con 13, Int 2, Wis 14, Cha 10.
Skills: Spot +6, Listen +12.
Feats: Weapon Finesse (talons).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

More Links to Resources

Continuing a previous post, I have another link. This is for the old D&D Map-A-Week feature, still available on the Wizards of the Coast website.

In particular, I recommend the maps for Islands Galore; deck plans for a keelboat, pinnace, cog and caravel, along with the Sable Drake; the Hag Caverns; Mansion 1; the Cathedral of Hope and Doom; a Pirate's Port; a combination Fort/Garrison/Prison Cells; a Small City and Marina; and the Pirate Roost.


Monday, October 1, 2012


Today's post is a set of reference tables for randomly determining a ship's cargo.


It is a common practice for pirates to go cruising, lurking in waters where they expect merchant traffic in order to find and overwhelm vessels loaded with spoils. If and when that happens in a Skull & Bones campaign, the GM might need a means of determining just what's in a prize's hold. To that end, presented here are some tables with which to do just that.

Note that this system can help provide possible adventure hooks, too. For example, if the PC's take a merchant sloop carrying beef off of Santo Domingo, which produces plenty of cattle, then they'll need to look elsewhere in order to sell the goods. This could force interactions with a fence, and perhaps even bring encounters with scrutinizing government officials or require some smuggling. Alternately, if the PC's find that they've captured a shipload of slaves, the situation could create a moral dilemma for them.

To use the following tables, the GM should first decide just what kind of vessel it is that the PC's are facing. That, after all, influences the CR of the enemy ship—although a wicked GM could randomize that aspect, too, pitting the PC's against whatever kind of vessel happens to come along and leaving it up to them if they want to attack it.

One ton of cargo space holds:
Two pipes
Three head of cattle
Four hogsheads
Six barrels
Six bales
Twelve casks
Thirty bushels

Large Cargoes
Roll 1d20 and consult the following list to determine the contents of a ship's hold. Then, roll 2d4+2 and multiply the result by 10% to determine how much of the hold is filled with that cargo. For a little more variety, roll twice and have each type of cargo occupy (1d4+1)x10% of the ship's cargo space.
1. Ale, barrel
2. Cattle, head
3. Cotton, bale
4. Empty
5. Flour, barrel
6. Fresh Water, pipe
7. Fruit, barrel
8. Indigo, cask
9. Molasses, barrel
10. Provisions (one month's supply per five tons of space)
11. Rice, barrel
12. Rum, barrel
13. Salt Beef, barrel
14. Slaves
15. Wheat (four per ton of space)
16. Wine, pipe
17. Two large cargoes (roll again)
18. One large and one small cargo (roll above and below)
19. One large cargo and one special cargo (roll above and below)
20. Special—This could include soldiers, religious pilgrims or similar surprises, good or bad.

Small Cargoes
Roll 1d8 and consult the following list to determine the contents of a ship's hold. Then, roll 1d4+1 and multiply the result by 5% to determine how much of the hold is filled with that cargo.
1. Brandy, barrel
2. Cocoa, cask
3. Oil, pipe
4. Pitch, barrel
5. Salt, barrel
6. Spice, barrel
7. Sugar, barrel
8. Vinegar, barrel

Special Cargoes
Roll 1d4 and consult the following list.
1. Ivory (1d6 tusks)
2. Precious Metals (5d10 x 1000 doubloons)
3. Silk (5d10 bolts)
4. GM's selection—This could include a magical relic, cannons and barrels of powder, or something else unexpected.

Refer to the equipment section of the Skull & Bones book to find prices for the items listed above.