Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fire As She Bears

Design your own ships from the hull out and fight Age of Sail combats like you've never fought before!

Hoist the staysails, catch the weather gauge, you have the helm sir! All cannon, the enemy is in sight. FIRE AS SHE BEARS!

Building on the winning entries of a contest to create new rules, authors Lou Agresta and John Ling, with contributions from James MacKenzie, wrote a book to empower players and GMs to fight cinematic “Master and Commander” style ship battles in Pathfinder or Swords & Wizardry that stay true to the spirit of history and Age of Sail realities.

This complete 50+ page subsystem of ship-to-ship combat, includes over 35 new magic items for characters and ships, new feats, new uses for familiar skills, new weapons and equipment, new spells, and best of all? Roll up and equip an Age of Sail warship just like you’d design a new character – in as little as 30 minutes.

Isn't it time every player at the table had a hand, every round, in sinking the enemy ship?

Question and Answer

Backer Spence asks: I have seen a large number of settings that purport to be nautical and involve ships of sail. And yet not a single one did. They mostly had fantastical or to be more precise nonsensical ship rules and really idiotic ship plans. Nothing crushes the suspension of belief like non-existent ship rules. So the question is this. Have you picked an era to base your ships on and has anyone read an actual book covering ships design of that period? 

Lou Agresta answers: I did choose a time period on which to model the ship rules. Late 16th through the Napoleonic, recognizing that many late 16th century ships still hung around into the early Napoleonic era depending on your geographic arena. In addition to liberal use of wikipedia, I relied on O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin novels (themselves historically well researched) and Little's The Sea Rover's Practice (1630-1730). For my own part I minored (oh so long ago) in military history with a particular focus on naval history. I used the historical HMS Surprise (originally French) of 1796 as my loose cap on naval advances and technology. 

While its possible to design a gonzo, magically tricked out ship of the line with the Fire As She Bears rules, there core focus is to bring battles on a ship like the HMS Surprise to life in a fantasy setting. I tried to keep the historical constraints in play that make naval combat challenging and fun -- and hold the unique flavor of Age of Sail battles. However please be advised the rules are not an attempt at historical simulation. Rather I used historical reality as a guide to verisimilitude and to "keeping it in line". Where my heart really called out for rules that echoed historical naval development and tactics of the period, I created advanced rules. For example, there is an advanced rule for introducing "getting the weather gauge" to naval combats. We simplify wind effects to "for and against" but I couldn't resist an advanced rule that covers points of sail, so that we can pull in the gamut of beam reach, close-hauled, etc. and have it impact the engagement, if that's your bent. I finally had cave and abandon advanced rules for rigging and sail plans, I regret to say. The complexity drifted over the "game" line into simulation. Instead I've contented myself with allowing the creation of a number of rigging locations limited by the number of hull locations, so that masts and sail configurations inherently match historical realities (within a reasonable degree). 

I may write a supplement after we're funded of more advanced rules for those of us who really dig this end of things. The primary design goal, however, was to make sure that in every single round of naval combat, every player at the table has something fun and meaningful to do. To solve that problem I allow the players to take on ship roles (captain, mate, gunner), allow them to lead crew, and give them the ability to solve ship problems or improve performance. On a player's turn they can do the things they normally do (cast a spell, etc.) plus do the things that their role on the ship lets them do: improve the accuracy of the port broadside, lead the marines to repel boarders, shift the ship to steal the wind from the enemy sails, take a team below to plug leaks, etc. 

Finally, crew are a resource. The more of your crew that get shot up, blown up, eaten, knocked into the ocean the harder it gets to fight the ship and the more the PCs have to step up their game and become ship's heroes. Loose too many crew and you can't fight your ship. Ultimately, the rules aim for slightly cinematic Master and Commander style battles of the sort that appear in O'Brien's novels. They allow for fantasy elements, firmly stay a game and not a simulation, but are constructed on and constrained by historical reality. I hate exploding cannon balls, for example. Most of all I wanted true Age of Sail flavor.

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