Officer Roles in Ship to Ship Combat

A ship’s officers have different duties in battle. They include:

Alternatively the Bosun, First Mate, or Sailmaster. This role is for someone on the deck of the ship shouting orders to the crew, relaying info from the lookout to the pilot and so on. Imagine them standing in the bow or on the sterncastle with a spyglass. In my game this has ended up being the Captain.

Combat Actions:
Full Ahead/Heave: To the Captain is in charge of determining the speed of the vessel by ordering the crew to lay on more sail or draw the sails in. This changes the ship’s speed by its acceleration up or down a step not exceeding maximum speed.

Look Alive: the Captain drives the crew to pay close attention to their jobs making the ship sail smoothly and well. With a successful DC10 Profession (sailor) check you grant the Pilot a +2 on Profession (sailor) checks to pilot the ship. This is basically an Aid Another, a good default for when the other actions don’t apply.

Take Cover: the Captain orders the crew protect themselves from incoming siege weapon fire, magical attacks, or to brace for the impact of a ram etc… the Pilot receives a -4 penalty to Profession (sailor) checks to pilot the ship, and the Master at Arms receives -4 to attacks with siege weapons, but the crew gets +8 cover bonus to AC and +4 to reflex saves (replacing their normal cover bonuses as occupants of a ship).

Grapple: the Captain calls for the grapple when the time comes. This gives the Pilot and the Master at Arms the same penalties as “Take Cover”, and then the Captain makes a combat maneuver check using the base CMB of the ship plus the Captain’s Profession (sailor) modifier as the total CMB of the grappling maneuver against the CMD of the target ship. This command can also be used to break a grapple in the same way, but with a -4 penalty.

Or Master Gunner, or Siege Engineer etc. This is a role for the person in charge of the all the siege engines on a ship. They do not actually fire the weapons (they have crew for that), but they rely on the Profession (siege engineer) skill to be successful.

Combat Actions:
Load/Aim/Fire: the basic job of the Master at Arms is to decide where and when to fire all the weapons on the ship, and at what. For the most part this just involves following the rules of Siege Engines as in the Skull & Shackles Guide and below. How many crew are on each engine? How many rounds does it take to load, to aim etc…? The Master at Arms can coach all the weapon crews simultaneously assuming there are enough crew to man each weapon. The Master at Arms then rolls a Profession (siege engineer) check DC10 to give each weapon crew a +2 bonus on their attack (as Aid Another). Calculate a basic crew’s attack with the following modifiers:
Base Attack = +2
Untrained with Siege Weapon = -4
Range increments = -2 per increment beyond first
Pilot’s “Evasive Maneuvers” Action = -8
Enemy Pilot’s “Make Way” Action = -4
Captain’s “Take Cover”, “Fix It”, or “Grapple” Actions = -4

Steady…Steady: The Master at Arms may spend an extra round coaching her weapon crews on their aim. With a successful Profession (siege engineer) check DC20 the Master at Arms may have each siege weapon that fires in that round deal Triple damage against structures on its next attack, if it hits, instead of double.

Make Her Bleed: if the Master at Arms has his crews target a part of the ship that they previously damaged she may make a Profession (siege engineer) check DC20 to have each siege weapon that fires in that round deal Triple damage against structures on its next attack, if it hits, instead of double. This stacks with “Steady…Steady” so it is possible to deal up to quadruple damage against structures with an extra round of aiming and two DC20 Profession (siege engineer) checks against a previously damaged part of an enemy ship.

The pilot’s initiative determines when that ship acts. The pilot rolls against all other pilots in the combat to determine who has the Upper Hand each round. The pilot should be the PC with the highest Profession (Sailor).

Combat Actions:

Tack or Jibe (Wearing Ship): The pilot turns the ship or moves diagonally forward on the battlemat. Make a Profession (sailor) check DC10 with the following difficulty modifiers:

0xAcceleration = -5
2xAcceleration = +5
3xAcceleration = +10
4xAcceleration = +20

Diagonally Forward = +2
Hard to Port/Starboard = +5

For example a pilot on a ship moving twice it’s acceleration trying to execute a 90 degree turn to Port would need to succeed on a DC 20 Profession (sailor) check. This will be the action pilots will need to take every round they want to do anything but move the ship straight forward. When the ship is just moving forward the pilot may do these other actions.

Evasive Maneuvers: The pilot makes an opposed Profession (Sailor) check against the other pilots in the combat. A success grants the ship a +4 to its AC and saves for the next round, but a -8 to the Master at Arms for any siege weapon attacks. For each 5 that the pilot beats her opponents she may increase this bonus by +2.

Make Way: The pilot makes an opposed Profession (sailor) check against the other pilots in the combats. Success allows them one of the following effects:

Enemy Pilot is -4 on Profession (Sailor) checks for a round
Enemy Ship is -4 on AC and saves for a round
Enemy Siege Gunners are -4 on attacks for a round

A role for a bard. Alternatively a role for a Bosun or First Mate. This person is leading the crew in songs, or cheering them on, and generally trying to raise their morale. They should be someone with a high Charisma since they will mainly use Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Perform.

Combat Actions:
Boost Morale: the Shantyman makes a Diplomacy or Perform check DC 15 + 2x(current Morale +1). See how to calculate Morale in Boarding Rules below. A success raises the Morale of the crew by 1 for the remainder of the encounter. Alternately Intimidate can be used in place of Diplomacy or Perform, but after the encounter the crew’s Morale drops by an additional 1.

Mock Enemies: the Shantyman can make an Intimidate of Perform check DC 15 + 2x(enemy’s current morale) to lower the Morale of an enemy crew by 1 for the remainder of the encounter. Alternately Diplomacy can be used if the Shantyman offers bribes (which must be given in the event of victory).

Sea Chanty: the Shantyman can sing songs which aid timing and cooperation among the crew resulting in +2 to all other roles in any of their skill checks.

Bloodthirsty Ballad: the Shantyman can get the crew riled up for battle with a successful Perform check DC 15 + 2x(enemy’s current morale), providing a +1 bonus to their attack and defense stats.

The ship’s carpenter usually leads the damage control crew, hurrying to fix damage before it can sink the ship.

Combat Actions:
Fix It: The ship’s carpenter uses this command whenever there is a mishap or problem on the ship either due to siege weapon damage or any other reason: a spar breaks, a sail flies loose, something catches fire, a siege engine misfires etc. This gives the Pilot and Master at Arms the same penalties as “Take Cover”, but with a successful Craft (ships) check (DC set by GM depending on severity of damage) the problem can be jury-rigged sufficiently to remove any penalties or prevent further damage.

Officer Roles in Ship to Ship Combat

Avast! karlprosek