Naval Combat

Much as in the basic rules, 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).


  • 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 90degree turn to Port would need to succeed on a DC20 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 straight 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

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.


  • 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).
  • Fix It the Captain 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.
  • 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.

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.


  • 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.

Master at Arms
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.


  • 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.

A few additional little rule systems I tweaked are Siege Engines and the way Crew functions during boarding, including some Crew upgrades the party can purchase.

Siege Engine Rules:

The first rule change I made is to declare that all damage against structures and vehicles by Siege Engines and Special Ammunition for Siege Engines is doubled. Their base damage is simply way too low to be any threat. I also gave the Master at Arms several ways to increase the damage as you’ve seen above.

Second:, Ships of Gargantuan or larger size have 4 hull areas: Bow, Stern, Port, Starboard and their hit points are evenly divided among these areas. Any single area below half receives the broken condition giving a -2 penalty to Profession (sailor) checks to pilot the ship. Any area reduced to 0 is taking on water and the ship’s maximum speed is halved. Any two areas reduced to 0 means the ship is sinking.
A ship has 4 arcs of fire that correspond to the 4 Hull areas. A siege weapon may only hit targets within the arc of fire of that part of the ship. When attacking a ship with a siege engine you may choose Sails or one section of Hull you have line of sight to. Indirect fire weapons like catapults may target any section of a ship within its arc of fire.
Everything else is the same as in the basic rules.

Boarding Action Rules:

I wanted a way for the crew to simulate the crew’s part in boarding actions that was quick and dirty, but offered SOME way to determine how well your crew performed and also ways for players to influence it. The ultimate victory/defeat is still based on whether the players win their fight against the officers, but this offers a way to simulate what else went on during that time.

I based these rules heavily on the Fleet Rules in the Price of Infamy so that the transition will be easy. Hopefully.
A crew has three stats: Attack, Defense & Morale.
Attack is equal to the captain’s Profession (sailor) skill.
Defense is equal to the captain’s Profession (sailor) skill + 10.
The following modifiers apply to both Attack and Defense:
Every 5 crew below minimum = -1
Every 10 crew over minimum = +1
Masterwork Arms = +1
Won previous round(s) = +2(cumulative)
Lost previous rounds(s) = -2(cumulative)
Morale a crew’s starting Morale score is equal to their side’s Infamy score divided by 10(round down), with a minimum Morale score of 1 and a maximum score of 10. Morale can be modified by the Shantyman prior to boarding, or by purchasing the “Well Paid” upgrade below, or by circumstantial bonuses or penalties the GM applies.
Once starting Morale has been determined the attacking crew rolls a D20 + Attack and compares it with the defending crew’s Defense stat. Whichever side is higher deals 1 point of Morale damage to the other side. The victor of that round has a +2 in the next round (cumulative). Keep track of the total amount of Morale Damage each side receives during the Boarding Action. This continues till one crew reaches 0 Morale.
A crew that reaches 0 Morale stops fighting and either surrenders or retreats to their own ship or tries to escape. This ends the Boarding Action. The victorious side receives an immediate +1 to their Morale.
Roll 1d4 per point of Morale Damage each side received during the Boarding Action. This represents the number of fatalities that side suffered. For example if a crew started with 4 Morale and was defeated, then roll 4d4 to determine the number of deaths they suffered. If a crew started with 4 Morale and was victorious ending with 2 Morale, they still suffered 2d4 fatalities during the Boarding Action. Casualties (serious non-fatal injuries) are always double the number of fatalities.
Disregard any obviously ridiculous results such as a crew suffering more fatalities and casualties than they have members of their crew.
With this system it is possible for the PC’s to win the battle, but for their crew to have been routed (or vice versa). In this case, have the losing crew come storming back when they see the success of their officers. The battle is won, but with a heavy cost.

Crew Upgrades:

Got Your Back this upgrade represents a crew that looks out for each other in combat (or a skilled surgeon), resulting in 1d4 fewer casualties per combat. 2,500gp

Landlubbers Need Not Apply this upgrade represents a crew of more highly skilled sailors than normal providing a +1 on any of the Pilot’s or Captain’s skill checks. 1,000gp
Masterwork Arms this upgrade grants +1 to the crew’s Attack & Defense stats. 10,000gp
Siege Weapon Training this upgrade removes the -4 penalty crew normally has for operating siege weapons. 1,000gp per weapon type
Vicious Fighters this upgrade represents a crew that fights in a particularly bloodthirsty manner dealing 1 extra damage to their enemy’s morale per successful round in a Boarding Action. 10,000gp
Well Paid this upgrade gives a +1 to the crew’s Morale stat. 10,000gp

Naval Combat

A Pirate's Life for Me Greycastle