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  #1  
Old 12-03-2019, 09:59 AM
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Sailors of 5th Edition

Hey all!

I'm incredibly interested in seafaring and other such adventuring games, where being out in the vast ocean blue things such as rations, how many hands are on deck, and more, all become important key features! I'm especially a fan of a group of PCs that are hired into different positions (low-ish) on the ship, and slowly work their way up into higher positions until they control their own ship, or even a fleet. It's an incredibly fun concept, full of dangers, and completely different from your standard "dungeon crawl" whilst still having a crawl like experience!

This could be in the style of One Piece, going from Island to Island. Or it could be more like the VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or the Dutch East India Company) where you are hired to traverse a route, each with its own challenges and dangers. Or, it could be like a Westmarches style campaign, but instead you go off exploring a newly discovered set of islands and coastlines.

All of this is interesting, but I've stumbled against a single issue. The Seafaring systems out there just don't tickle my fancy, and 5th Edition does. But 5th Edition isn't made for seafaring. Dwarves will very rarely get to use their Stonecunning. Rangers' Favoured Terrain... well... And the issues continue piling up.


So how do you all (and the forum in general) feel about homebrewing it a bit. Not to make whole new classes... That'd make no sense. But simple tweaks and simple refluffs. Stonecunning ADDS (doesn't negate the initial stonecunning skill) Master Shipsbuilder, getting advantage on Intelligence(History) skills related to ships and shipbuilding.

Favoured terrain would become Favoured Weather. Where if it is the right kind of weather (day or night), you get advantage on Wisdom(Survival) checks to navigate the ship.

The list goes on. Anyone else have any ideas?
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Old 12-03-2019, 04:34 PM
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The book "Ghosts of Saltmarsh" includes an assortment of mechanics, magic items, monsters, etc for a sea fairing adventure. I'm not certain what all it includes though.

Beyond that, Homebrewing is definitely worth putting on the table. I wouldn't necessarily adjust any racial or class details (other than perhaps some small re-flavoring where appropriate), and instead give characters who qualify access to appropriate backgrounds, like Sailor, Shipwright, Smuggler, Pirate, and Fisher, which should cover basic Sea Fairing skills and proficiencies. It makes sense for someone who operates exclusively at sea to gain a certain set of skills, even if they started with an entirely unrelated background.
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Last edited by Gaijin; 12-03-2019 at 04:46 PM.
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Old 12-04-2019, 01:31 AM
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I seem to remember an Unearthed Arcana article about this as well. Seafaring something? I'll try to dig it up.

EDIT: Here we are, Of Ships of the Sea.
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Last edited by ParzivalFair; 12-04-2019 at 01:33 AM.
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Old 12-04-2019, 02:50 PM
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Of Ships of the Sea was used as a prep for Ghosts of Saltmarsh I believe. I've looked over both and although they do cover things like ships and the balance of all that, it doesn't go into a lot of detail when it comes to PC options.

I'll probs stick to refluffing some stuff. I'm also in love with giving players a secondary background, like the ones mentioned bij Gaijin.
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Old 12-04-2019, 05:27 PM
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Ah, okay. I also remember a UA that was something to the effect of Waterborne Adventurers, but I think they put all of that stuff into the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.
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Old 12-04-2019, 05:50 PM
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As for class considerations,
The ranger's Natural Explorer ability doesn't really confer a whole lot of benefits on the ocean since it's all about traveling and forging, which uses an entirely different mechanic on a ship. Proficiency in Vehicles (water) basically renders Natural Explorer obsolete while at sea.

Druids would have a notable advantage, since nearly every encounter would be happening outdoors.

Flight and ship-to-ship battles would render grounded meleeists obsolete.

Sneak attacks would be highly impractical, since cover would be hard to come by.

AOEs will be extremely potent, since even the largest ships have a width equal to or less than the diameter of a fireball spell.


As long as the bulk of the adventure is happening on land and in conventional environments, there shouldn't be any issues. The biggest risk is of over-optimizing for ship-to-ship encounters.
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Last edited by Gaijin; 12-04-2019 at 05:58 PM.
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Old Yesterday, 02:58 AM
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Gaijin you hit the nail on the head! This is a perfect list of things that I'm struggling with.

In my experience, I've done the following (I've added numbering to your initial post to make solutions easier to compare). If you disagree with it or have a different idea, PLEASE let me know! These are in no way fool proof and have caused their own issues in the past.

1. Natural Explorer, I homebrewed to do the following. The ranger had to choose if they wanted the original or this version.
  • Difficult terrain => I DON'T give them disadvantage when trying to use the vehicle (ship) during a storm, or equivalent 'difficult terrain' at sea. It's been very cool to see the ship's captain give the helm to a ranger due to their natural ability in the face of such adversity, even if the ranger's day to day (DEX) is worse.
  • Not getting lost makes sense.
  • Engagement too.
  • Moving stealthily at a normal pace doesn't really work. Not sure how to change this but it's used rarely in a group game anyway.
  • Foraging becomes things like fishing, filtering water, etc. Although a bit of a stretch, I usually handwave it as natural ability at staying alive at sea when the ship's cook is a piece of work.
  • Tracking is next to useless as written, but I usually homebrew it in that when flotsam is found or a ship's outline is seen on the horizon, a Ranger is capable of discerning more from it. Flotsam? You know exactly what kind of ship, what 'nationality' and what happened to it. Outline? You know the ship's type, how many bodies it can hold, and what this kind of ship is commonly used for.

It's not perfect, but I THINK it works. Ideas?

2. I don't know if this needs 'solving'. My games are usually 75% ocea, 15% taverns, inns and city stuff, 10% dungeons and exploration. So although it's an advantage, it isn't going to 'break' the game.

3. Although you're right, most ship battles weren't actually fought at long distances. MOST ship battles were either done by ramming the hull, or by pulling alongside, especially during piracy etc when the other ship was a valuable resource. Only at WAR was the combat without looting somewhat common. And even then...

Cannons, shot from semi-close range were a LOT more effective than from long distance. The way I usually make cannons useful is by making it a Strength based ranged weapon. You're not really aiming them, just sticking them outta the hole and firing it, while holding it as still as possible for the highest possible accuracy. So I have users roll Strength on their attack roll with a broadside cannon, which gives 'melee' fighters the chance to help out in a rare long range battle. The rest of the time, the best way to preserve BOTH ships was by peppering the people on the deck with projectiles, then boarding and finishing them off with melee.

4. Yes and no. A ranged rogue could easily use the ship's hull and fire out of windows and remain unseen. They could use the railing of the ship (or shields like on the viking ships). And once the melee breaks out, pretty much everyone'll be in a giant heap of fighting bodies on the deck giving ample targets for both a ranged and melee rogue to get their SA damage in (since it also triggers when an opponent is simply in melee with another ally).

5. AOEs are indeed OP, but it would be a double edged sword more than normal. You could hit allies, make the terrain unsafe for allies, or worse, use fire. Fire was a HUGE taboo for ships, as the stuff to keep all the wood from rotting was often cheap and highly flammable, meaning something like a fireball would straight up doom a ship. However, your ALLIES would also be horrified at that ability. In history, there have been multiple cases of sailors stringing up their own allies after these compatriots used flames to destroy an opposing ship (again, rarer for this to happen at war). It was a huge taboo, almost like the whole "don't attack two combatants" rule in chivalry, and would cause allies to turn on you. So although effective, as a caster you'd have to really think of the implications.

Oh and enemies also have access to the spell...

Anyway, those are my solutions...


Quote:
Originally Posted by Gaijin View Post
As for class considerations,
1. The ranger's Natural Explorer ability doesn't really confer a whole lot of benefits on the ocean since it's all about traveling and forging, which uses an entirely different mechanic on a ship. Proficiency in Vehicles (water) basically renders Natural Explorer obsolete while at sea.

2. Druids would have a notable advantage, since nearly every encounter would be happening outdoors.

3. Flight and ship-to-ship battles would render grounded meleeists obsolete.

4. Sneak attacks would be highly impractical, since cover would be hard to come by.

5. AOEs will be extremely potent, since even the largest ships have a width equal to or less than the diameter of a fireball spell.


As long as the bulk of the adventure is happening on land and in conventional environments, there shouldn't be any issues. The biggest risk is of over-optimizing for ship-to-ship encounters.

Last edited by Homebrewster; Yesterday at 02:59 AM.
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Old Yesterday, 03:53 AM
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1. I'm not really too concerned about this mechanic for Rangers. It can be essentially handwaved or replaced with an alternate feature. If what you have works for you, then go for it, but it's pretty secondary, unless you specifically emphasizes it.

2. Yeah, this isn't really a problem, per se, but it does make Druids particularly appealing and they may outshine other players regularly.

3. That's because there isn't magic in the real world. With access to fly, fireball, mending, and teleportation, etc, ship-to-ship tactics would change dramatically.

4. It'll be situational. If it's conventional ship-to-ship, sure, but creative opponents are going to make it pretty difficult.

5. It's easy enough to get around friendly-fire and substitute elements. Black Tentacles is always nice. However, the druid once again has plenty of options at their disposal.

6. Enemies having access to spells sometimes makes things fall apart faster, rather than providing balance. If both ships risk sinking immediately after engaging in a fight, it simply becomes a race to shoot off the first Fireball.

Best thing to do might be to playtest with a couple of mini-sessions at a few different levels and see what breaks.
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Last edited by Gaijin; Yesterday at 09:48 AM.
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Old Yesterday, 06:35 AM
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Playtesting is indeed #1 when it comes to something like this. Better to make mistakes in oneshots than in super long campaigns. In my experience (and my style of games), there isn't the "Every ship has 6 druids and 3 wizards" conundrum a world like D&D might drum up. Although casters are indeed a part of the game, as well as a key element in creating terrifying and new scenarios at sea, all sides having casters actually does balance it out.

Some things to note is that the rules in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh book include a warship which (for example) has a 500hp hull. Before that's blown to bits by fireballs, that'll take a hot minute (even if you rule vulnerability).

I can't find any rules on Shape Wood?

And I feel like for ship battles, the rule "take out the caster" is even of bigger importance. And in my mind, putting your caster on deck to cast big ol' spells is a sure fire way to get them murdered FAST. When a Mangonel has a 200/800 range, deals 5d10 bludgeoning, and has a +5 to aim and fire (by anyone, even a one handed monkey, RAW)... I mean...

I will be playtesting it over on the campaign that I'll be running here on RPGx called The Red Sails!
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Old Yesterday, 09:53 AM
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Shape Wood isn't in 5e. I was writing on my phone in bed at 2am, so I wasn't all there when making that post.

I'll revisit it a bit later and see if I can contribute something more useful.
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