'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Friday, October 26, 2018

Naval Combat in the Hyborian Age: Conan 2d20, an overview and example.

It was just at sunrise when the lookout shouted a warning. Around the long point of an island off the starboard bow glided a long lethal shape, a slender serpentine galley, with a raised deck that ran from stem to stern. Forty oars on each side drove her swiftly through the water, and the low rail swarmed with naked blacks that chanted and clashed spears on oval shields. From the masthead floated a long crimson pennon.
Queen of the Black Coast
-Robert E. Howard

Overview

Like many things in Conan 2d20, small details are ignored to bring big action and quick resolution. We generally don't count arrows and we don't concern ourselves with exactly how many coins of gold we find. Naval combat works like this, scaling up regular combat to the high seas. Allowing us to resolve the epic ship battles of the open water in only a few rounds.

This is not a wargame by any stretch of the imagination. It is a high level abstraction of ship combat that allows PCs to still be central to the action. Like combat at a man to man level we have familiar ideas like zones, soak, stress(structure) and harm(breaks). Despite these similarities a man's weapon isn't going to cause damage to a ship, but flaming arrows, ramming and siege weapons can all batter and destroy a ship sending it to the depths.

Ship Positions & Roles

Crew Assignment - One or more crew members on a ship assigned to the same task. If the crew assignment is larger than one, then one of the crew assignment is designated as the leader and the others as support. For example a PC might be the leader on a crew assignment that commands the ship and have a number of NPCs to assist in the role.

A ship is split into various positions that describe the functions a ship might perform during its turn: Commander, Helmsman, Lookout, Marine and Piper. Each of these positions has a selection of actions they can perform; marines can try and grapple the enemy ship or fire flaming arrows at it, Commanders can attempt to coordinate actions or assign command crew.

Each crew assignment is able to complete one action in a ship's turn. In order for a ship to complete one of these actions in a turn, it must have a crew assignment to complete the skill test associated with it. For marines to shoot flaming arrows there must be one or more marines assigned to attempt a ranged weapons test.

Each position can only have one crew assignment associated with it. You can't have two command crews and perform two coordinate actions in a turn. The only position this is different, is the marine crew. You can have as many marine crew assignments as you have men for.

This is a list of the positions, what they do, and the number of crew assignments they can have.
  • Commander - Generally giving orders and coordinating. Adding momentum to the pool and moving crewmen around if needed. 1 crew assignment.
  • Helmsman - Making movement decisions and sailing tests to avoid shallows, reefs and debris. 1 crew assignment.
  • Lookout - Watching and adding momentum to movement and helping to coordinate attacks. 1 crew assignment.
  • Marines - Boarding, Firing arrows (Normal and flame), firing siege equipment. 1+ crew assignment.
  • Piper - Coordination of the rowers. Adding momentum to movement. 1 crew assignment.
Large ships will generally have enough crew to create larger crew assignments and be more effective. Smaller ships will have less effective crew assignments, or in the case of very small vessels, not enough crew to fill all the roles, causing them to not be able to perform an action from each position during a turn.


The term "Crew Assignment" is one of my own creation to help clarify the positions on a ship. Conan the Pirate talks about crew (generally the PCs) and Support crew. However support crew are a part of the rules that could use a little bit of clarity. I play them based on my idea of the crew assignment and assistance rules; the leader rolls their dice and the support crew roll their dice. If the leader is successful then the support successes are added in. If I was GMing a party of six adventurers on a sailing vessel and they had managed to scare up 20 crew members, they might organize their vessel something like this.
  • Commander - PC1 - 2 crew - Command rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 2d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Helmsman - PC2 - 3 crew - Helmsman rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 3d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Lookout - PC3 - 3 crew - Lookout rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 3d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Marines - PC4 - 4 crew (Squad with PC) - Marine rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 4d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Marines - PC5 - 4 crew (Squad with PC) - Marine rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 4d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Marines - PC6 - 4 crew (Squad with PC) - Marine rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 4d20 assistance dice from the crew.

Reactions

Although the rules state a single action per crew assignment, it lists actions as a Standard Action and as a Reaction. This is another area I feel the rules could use a little work, but it we assume a scaled up version of normal combat, in which players receive a single standard action and can still perform reactions, we can reasonably make the same assumption here. We can of course make the same assumption on the cost of these reactions being 1 doom for the first, 2 for the second etc.

The Ships

As I mentioned combat is essentially scaled up from standard melee combat. Each ship is given basic specifications, some matter for combat and some do not. The ones we care the most about are as follows.
  • Structure - Stress of the ship.
  • Breaks - How many breaks it takes to destroy/sink/incapacitate the ship.
  • Soak - How much armor the ship has.
  • Maneuver - How nimble a ship is, grants bonus d20s on sailing tests.
  • Qualities - Some of these are general concepts and don't lend themselves to combat, others allow combat centric abilities like quicker moves, or easier ramming.

Damage

Ships can suffer from a few types of damage. Ramming, flaming arrows and siege weapons can all cause physical damage that can sink the vessel. Boarding and regular arrows generally cause non-lethal damage, and again the rules are a little loose here, so use your best judgement on how many crew are actually killed if the ship takes several non-lethal breaks.

Final Thoughts

As a set of rules these could use a little more polish. There is a large portion of gamers that want to play RAW and some things just don't make sense as they are written. Others require more of a leap of faith than some are willing to make. If you can get past that, then you can easily use this as a framework to play out high level narrative combats on the high seas, while allowing each PC to handle a specific action on a ship.

An Example

In the example to follow we will break it down in depth and split each ship turn up into the crew positions. Our example will illustrate a battle between a Merchant Cog named "The Promise of Ishtar" being attack by a Pirate Caravel named "The Fury of Set". Below are the specifications for the two ships. You will see that the "Fury of Set" has a maneuver of 1, and so will gain +1d20 to sailing tests. It is also listed as agile which means it can move an additional zone with any movement action it takes.

Also take note that the "Promise of Ishtar" is a much heavier ship with more structure and breaks than the caravel has.

To further help in our example, we will call the "Promise of Ishtar" the PC vessel and the "Fury of Set" the NPC vessel. Further we will assume all crew positions have an acting leader, who is at least toughened, to give each ship equal actions during a turn. We will also assume play has been in sessions for awhile and the players have 3 momentum in their pool while the GM has 15 doom accumulated.

Fury of Set

Class: Caravel Sailing Range: 14 Days Maneuver: 1
Soak: 2 Structure: 6 Breaks: 3
Crew: 20
Qualities: Agile, Shallow Draft, Ship
Stowage: 100

Promise of Ishtar

Class: Cog Sailing Range: 8 Days Maneuver: 0
Soak: 2 Structure: 10 Breaks: 4
Crew:10
Qualities: Deep Draft, Ship
Stowage: --

Here I have laid out the crew assignments for the various ship positions. As well as the skill Target Number(TN) and Focus(FC) we are most likely to need in this scenario.

Crew Assignments
Fury of Set Promise of Ishtar
Commander 1 Leader
3 crew
Command Skill: 9/1
1 Leader
1 crew
Command Skill: 10/2
Helmsman 1 Leader
4 crew
Sailing Skill: 9/1
1 Leader
1 crew
Sailing Skill: 12/1
Lookout 1 Leader
4 crew
Observation Skill: 10/1
1 Leader
1 crew
Observation Skill: 9/2
Marines 1 Leader
4 crew
Ranged Skill: 10/1
Command Skill: 10/1
1 Leader
1 crew
Ranged Skill: 9/1
Command Skill: 10/1
Piper
None
None

One final note before we move to the example. It will seem long as there is a lot of writing, however it is only 3.5 rounds of combat. I have also not included any descriptive text as this was designed to be a mechanical example of the rules. Of course if you have any questions or find any mistakes please drop me a line or leave a comment on the blog!


Khemi was still a day away, and as the sun began to set, the crew of the “Promise of Ishtar” prepared for another night at sea. They sailed from Messantia loaded with cargo, headed for the northern end of the Black Coast. They had travelled this route many times, past dark coves and around small islands holding mysterious ruins.

The remainder of the day was quiet in the embrace of the dying sun, only the sound of the ship’s prow plying the waves made any discernable noise. Suddenly the silence was broken by a sharp cry from the lookout as he spotted a long dark shape sliding out of one of the shallow coves. Its mast flying a brightly colored pennon, floating on the breeze. Its triangular sails unfurled and full of wind as it bore down on them with remarkable speed.

“By Mitra!” The captain cursed. “Get ready ya dogs! That be the Fury of Set!”.


Opening set-up.  "Fury of set" sailing out of the cove to attack "Promise of Ishtar".


Round 1


  • Momentum: 3
  • Doom: 15
The Fury of set is headed toward the Promise of Ishtar, but is currently at long range and running with the wind.
Players always get initiative unless the GM interrupts.

Promise of Ishtar
"Promise of Ishtar" takes damage in the shallows.

Commander: Coordinate.
  • D1 Command Test vs. 10/2. Rolls 2d20(9,17). 1 success, 0 momentum.
  • Crew support of 1 rolls 1d20(19). 0 successes, 0 momentum.
  • No momentum spent.
  • No momentum is added to the group pool.
Lookout: Heading.
  • D1 Observation Test vs 9/2. Rolls 2d20(14,14). 0 successes. Failure.
  • No momentum spent.
  • No momentum is added to the group pool.
Helmsman: Full Sail.
  • It is a deep draft ship, so the difficulty is increased by 1 step due to crossing shallow waters.
  • Move 2 zones. Z5->Z6->Z4. D2 Sailing Test vs. 12/2. Rolls 3d20(13,16,5). 1 success. Failure.
  • The ship fails to cross the shallow water and slows as it takes damage ending its turn in Z6. The hazard causes 3cd(2,5,6).
  • Promise of Ishtar suffers 2 structure damage as her soak absorbs 2 points.
  • 1 momentum spent. (+1d20) (2 left)
  • No momentum is added to the group pool.

Fury of Set
"Fury of Set" softens her prey with flaming arrows.

Commander: Coordinate.
  • D1 Command Test vs. 9/1. Rolls 3d20(1,5,10). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
  • Crew support of 3 rolls 3d20(15,19,2). 1 success, 1 momentum.
  • 1 doom is spent. (+1d20)
  • 2 doom is added to the doom pool. (16 left)
Lookout: Heading.
  • D1 Observation Test vs, 10/1. Rolls 2d20(4,15). 1 success, 0 momentum.
  • Crew support of 3 rolls 3d20(8,4,19). 2 successes, 2 momentum.
  • 0 doom is spent.
  • 2 doom is added to the doom pool. (17 left)
Marines: The ships are now in close range. Flaming Arrows.
  • "Promise of Ishtar" attempts to evade and pays 1 doom for the reaction.
  • Reaction Struggle
    • "Fury of Set" D1 Ranged attack vs 10/1. 4d20(19,16,14,4)+crew 4d20(8,18,7,13)=2 momentum.
    • "Promise of Ishtar" D1 Sailing Test vs 12/1. 5d20(8,10,16,3,14)+crew 1d20(15)=2 momentum.
    • GM spends 1 point of doom to break the tie for the NPCs.
  • Flame arrows cause 4cd(4,2,2,3) damage to the "Promise of Ishtar". 2 points are soaked.
  • She takes points of structure damage.
  • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
  • 2 doom from PCs. (1 reaction, (+1d20)(18 left)
  • 2 momentum spent. (+2d20)(0 left)

Round 2


  • Momentum: 0
  • Doom: 18

GM interrupts initiative and "The Fury of Set" goes first.

Fury of Set
"Fury of Set" grapples and pulls in her quarry!

Commander: Coordinate.
  • D1 Command Test vs. 9/1. Rolls 3d20(12,12,13). 0 successes. Failure.
  • 1 doom is spent. (+1d20)(17 left)
Lookout: Heading.
  • D1 Observation Test vs. 10/1. Rolls 4d20(17,5,15,10). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
  • Crew support adds 4d20(10,14,19,18). 1 success, 1 momentum.
  • 2 doom is spent. (+2d20)
  • 2 doom is added to the doom pool. (17 left)
Helmsman: Standard motion. Z6 close – Z6 reach.
  • D1 Sailing test vs. 9/1. Rolls 4d20(17,2,17,4). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
  • Crew support adds 4d20(8,14,6,9). 3 successes, 3 momentum.
  • 1 doom is spent. (+1d20)
  • 4 doom is added to the doom pool. (22 left)
Marines: Grapple.
  • D2 Ranged attack. "Promise of Ishtar" attempt to evade spending 1 doom.
  • Reaction Struggle
    • "Fury of Set" D2 Ranged attack vs 10/1. 5d20(10,11,8,4,4)+crew 4d20(17,6,2,4)=5 momentum.
    • "Promise of Ishtar" D1 Sailing Test vs 12/1. 5d20(4,14,11,19,2)+crew 1d20(16)=2 momentum.
    • "Fury of Set" wins the struggle with 3 momentum.
  • 3 Doom is spent. (+3d20)
  • 4 doom from PCs. (reaction, +3d20)
  • 3 doom is added to the doom pool. (26 left)

Promise of Ishtar
"Promise of Ishtar" fails to cut herself free.

Commander: Coordinate.
  • D1 Command Test vs. 10/2. Rolls 2d20(7,3). 2 success, 1 momentum.
  • Crew support of 1 rolls 1d20(6). 1 successes, 1 momentum.
  • No momentum spent.
  • 2 momentum is added to the group pool. (2 left)
Lookout: Heading.
  • D1 Observation Test vs 9/2. Rolls 2d20(16,15). 0 successes. Failure.
  • No momentum spent.
  • No momentum is added to the group pool.
Helmsman: The ships are grappled and floating aimlessly within the zone.
There are no rules presented to ungrapple the ships, or at least non that I can find. You can assume it is not possible in combat or you can allow the grapples to be unhooked if a boarding action is successful. We will allow the grapples to be unhooked after a successful boarding action.
    Marines: Boarding Action. Attackers are at D0 when attacking during a grapple.
    • Command Struggle D0 vs. D1
    • Struggle
      • "Promise of Ishtar" D0 Command Test vs 9/1. 4d20(3,19,10,4)+crew 1d20(5)=3 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" D1 Command Test vs 10/1. 5d20(7,1,4,5,12)+crew 4d20(8,10,6,19)=7 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" wins the struggle with 4 momentum.
    • 2 momentum is spent. (+2d20) (0 left)
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 4 doom is added to the doom pool. (27 left)

    Round 3


    • Momentum: 0
    • Doom: 27

    GM interrupts initiative and "The Fury of Set" goes first.

    Fury of Set
    Savage pirates board and kill on "Promise of Ishtar".

    Commander: Coordinate.
    • D1 Command Test vs. 9/1. Rolls 5d20(19,16,2,15,2). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
    • Crew support adds 3d20(9,17,11,3). 2 success, 2 momentum.
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 3 doom is added to the doom pool. (26 left)
    Lookout: Heading.
    • D1 Observation Test vs. 10/1. Rolls 5d20(17,10,1,5,17). 4 successes, 3 momentum.
    • Crew support adds 4d20(9,17,11,3). 2 success, 2 momentum.
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 5 doom is added to the doom pool. (28 left)
    Marines: Boarding Action. Attackers are at D0 when attacking during a grapple.
    • Command Struggle D0 vs. D1
    • Struggle
      • "Fury of Set" D0 Command Test vs 10/1. 5d20(11,19,9,8,6)+crew 4d20(8,2,19,19)=5 momentum.
      • "Promise of Ishtar" D1 Command Test vs 9/1. 4d20(17,15,19,8,3)+crew 1d20(8)=2 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" wins the struggle with 3 momentum. Note this is not doom yet, but momentum generated from a test and so can be used for non-immediate spends.
    • Boarding actions cause 5cd NON-LETHAL damage.
      • Rolls 5cd(4,1,1,2,6).
      • 1 momentum to re-roll the 4 and a 1. Rolls 2cd(6,5). Total damage = 6.
      • 1 momentum to gain a penetrating attack ignoring 2 points of soak.
    • "Promise of Ishtar" takes 2 breaks. 1 for suffering more than 5 structure in a single attack and 1 for having it's structure drop below 0.
    • Note: You may wish to reduce the crew of "Promise of Ishtar" by about 1/2 as it's now suffered half of it's breaks. For this example we won't bother. You should do whatever makes narrative sense.
    • 3 doom from PCs (+3d20)
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 1 doom is added to the doom pool. (27 left)

    Promise of Ishtar
    "Ishtar" fails to cut herself free again.

    Commander: Assign Crew.
    • D1 Command Test vs. 10/2. Rolls 2d20(17,15). 0 success. Failure.
    • No momentum spent.
    • No momentum is added to the group pool.
    Lookout: Heading.
    • D1 Observation Test vs 9/2. Rolls 4d20(5,16,15,7). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
    • Crew support adds 1d20(19). 0 success, 2 momentum.
    • No momentum spent.
    • 1 momentum is added to the group pool.
    • 2 doom from PCs. (+2d20)(28 left)
    Marines: Boarding Action. Attackers are at D0 when attacking during a grapple.
    • Command Struggle D0 vs. D1
    • Struggle
      • "Promise of Ishtar" D0 Command Test vs 9/1. 5d20(14,1,9,8,10)+crew 1d20(14)=4 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" D1 Command Test vs 10/1. 5d20(12,16,5,5,9)+crew 4d20(6,14,7,12)=4 momentum.
      • Gm breaks the tie in favor of the "Fury of Set"
    • 1 momentum is spent. (+1d20) (0 left)
    • 2 doom from PCs. (+2d20)
    • 4 doom is spent. (+3d20, Tie Break)
    • 0 doom is added to the doom pool. (24 left)

    Round 4


    • Momentum: 0
    • Doom: 24

    GM interrupts initiative and "The Fury of Set" goes first.

    Fury of Set
    The Pirate's of Fury of Set finish the job, taking the ship.

    Commander: Coordinate.
    • D1 Command Test vs. 9/1. Rolls 2d20(19,10). 0 successes. Failure.
    • 0 doom is spent.
    • 0 doom is added to the doom pool. (23 left)
    Lookout: Heading.
    • D1 Observation Test vs. 10/1. Rolls 2d20(7,11). 1 successes, 0 momentum.
    • Crew support adds 4d20(14,19,11,3). 2 success, 1 momentum.
    • 0 doom is spent.
    • 1 doom is added to the doom pool. (24 left)
    Marines: Boarding Action. Attackers are at D0 when attacking during a grapple.
    • Command Struggle D0 vs. D1
    • Struggle
      • "Fury of Set" D0 Command Test vs 10/1. 5d20(9,1,6,15,2)+crew 4d20(19,3,16,9)=7 momentum.
      • "Promise of Ishtar" D1 Command Test vs 9/1. 5d20(3,17,19,10,2)+crew 1d20(6)=2 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" wins the struggle with 5 momentum. Note this is not doom yet, but momentum generated from a test and so can be used for non-immediate spends.
    • Boarding actions cause 5cd NON-LETHAL damage.
      • Rolls 5cd(5,3,2,2,2).
      • Total damage = 11 structure damage - 2 soak = 9 structure damage.
    • "Promise of Ishtar" takes 2 breaks. 1 for suffering more than 5 structure in a single attack and 1 for having it's structure drop below 0.
    • 3 doom from PCs. (+3d20)
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 5 doom is added to the doom pool. (29 left)

    "Promise of Ishtar" has now suffered 4 non-lethal breaks and so has been subdued and taken over by the "Fury of Set".

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